Saturday, December 31, 2011

WAITING TO FORGET by Sheila Kelly Welch

T.J. and his little sister Angela love their mother, but life with her is dangerous.  Jobs come and go.  Men come and go.  Money and food come and go.  Their mother says she loves them, and T.J. clings to that through all the chaos and turmoil that is life for Angela and him.

There were some happy times.  T.J. remembers going to live with the grandparents he had never met.  Times there were good until grandma got angry with his mother and they had to leave. 

Life when Ray was around was really good.  Ray acted like a real dad.  He spent time with T.J., and Ray was the one who taught little Angela to make the paper birds.  But, one day Ray's parents came saying something about paying for college not for him to shack up with some woman.  They even held up a picture of some girl they said was engaged to Ray.  That was the end of Ray.

Most of what T.J. remembers is bad.  He remembers when their mother left them alone and when the men she brought home were mean.  He remembers missing school because he was "sick" and rarely getting to play outside or having friends like other kids.  Through it all though, their mother supposedly loved them.

WAITING TO FORGET takes readers on a journey through T.J.'s life.  The story flashes back and forth between what he thinks of as THEN and NOW.  The NOW portions offer the promise of better times, but T.J. isn't sure that's possible or if he and Angela even deserve it.  Author Sheila Kelly Welch captures the heart-wrenching emotion of two innocent children who deserve so much more out of life.  I found their story painful yet riveting and their resilience inspiring.

THE PREDICTEDS by Christine Seifert

PROFILE is a scientific computer program that can predict future behavior.  Daphne's mother is the creator of this unique program, but Daphne never realized how it might come to touch her life.

Daphne wasn't sure if her mother resigned from Utopia Laboratories or if she was fired.  All she knew was they were moving to Quiet, Oklahoma, and she would be attending Quiet High.  Change is good, but fitting in in Quiet proves a bit more difficult than Daphne expected.

Daphne soon discovered that their move to Quiet did not mean leaving behind the controversial computer program.  The citizens of Quiet had approved the testing of most of the high school students, and they were impatiently awaiting the results. 

During Daphne's first weeks in Quiet, a student entered the school with a gun.  She ended up barricaded in a supply closet in the classroom where the shooter ended his attack by shooting himself.  Fortunately, he was the only victim, but his actions had convinced the town that finding which students might be a future threat was information they truly needed.

Anyone "predicted" by the computer program was supposed to be genetically prone to criminal or antisocial behavior.  Before the list of those predicted was released, Daphne could already "predict" how people in this town would react.  She could see the idea of good kids and bad kids was already dividing the town. 

THE PREDICTEDS by Christine Seifert is a frightening look at what could happen if scientific advances allow us to look into the future.  The computer program didn't take some things into account; for example, the question of whether fate supersedes free will is never consider in the testing or if personal choice can overcome genetic tendencies.  The behavior of the people after the list of predicteds is made public, unfortunately, reflects the prejudice that would most likely influence human behavior.  Scary, but true.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Here's the first giveaway contest of the year. Enter now to win. A winner will be chosen January 15th.

Monday, December 26, 2011

DEEP ZONE by Tim Green

Ty White and his brother Thane have survived a lot.  Their parents were killed in a car accident, and then the two became unintentionally involved in a mob gambling scheme.  Both Ty and Thane are glad all of that is in the past.  Or is it?

Ty is finally getting settled back in his school routine, and Thane is wowing fans in his NFL career.  Out of nowhere bad luck strikes again.  Thane suffers a devastating knee injury followed by a life-threatening infection.  While he is in the ICU fighting for his life, Ty is once again face-to-face with members of the mob.  An upcoming trial involving their uncle who is testifying against the mob has the FBI worried that Ty will be a target. 

Throughout all the excitement, Ty is also working to earn a spot on a team headed to a 7 on 7 tournament scheduled to play as an opener for the upcoming Super Bowl.  If he can make the team, it will mean a chance to spend some quality time with Thane and show everyone that he is just as talented as his brother.

An added complication to the story is the fact that if Ty's team makes the cut for the Super Bowl play-off, he will possibly be facing the team with the famous Troy White, the football genius.  Ty wonders if his team has what it will take to beat a team with a player who can supposedly predict exactly which plays the opposing team plans to run. 

Author Tim Green continues his Football Genius series in DEEP ZONE.  There is plenty of his signature football action and a lot more including desperate mobsters, man-eating alligators, and Burmese pythons.  Green's young fans won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

LOVE ME, LOVE MY BROCCOLI by Julie Anne Peters

Thanks to a generous neighbor, I have some new books to add to my classroom shelf.  LOVE ME, LOVE MY BROCCOLI by Julie Anne Peters was part of the donation.  I've read most of Peters' more recent books but hadn't read this one until now.

Chloe is a teen with a mission.  She is an animal rights activist.  She volunteers her time at the local Humane Society, promotes animal rights through a club she organized at school, and organizes and participates in protests aimed at the prevention of animal cruelty.

Chloe's recent efforts have been complicated by a new relationship.  Her first ever boyfriend, Brett, isn't exactly supportive of her causes.  He isn't in favor of her involvement in protests saying he fears for her safety.  He is also critical of her vegetarian lifestyle when it interferes with his plans.  Chloe finds herself having to decide between love and what she believes is her true mission in life.

Chloe is an extremely likable idealist.  Her character is sure to appeal to many middle grade readers looking for a young person willing to stand up for her values despite the odds.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

TROUBLEMAKER by Andrew Clements

I'm always interested in the latest by Andrew Clements.  He's an easy sell to the fifth graders who come to my room looking for books.  TROUBLEMAKER is one of my favorites.

Clay Hensley prides himself on being a troublemaker extraordinaire.  According the principal's secretary, Clay does have quite an impressive file.  Most of his pranks are innocent fun, but he is about to have his eyes opened to another side of the situation.

Mitchell, Clay's older brother, has just returned home after a month in jail.  While Mitch was gone, Clay listened to his father berate the judge, his brother's lawyer, and the police about how unfair Mitch was treated, but when Mitch gets home, he takes another stand.  As Clay's older brother, he steps up to impress on Clay the fact that being a troublemaker will get him nowhere.  After he hears about the insulting picture Clay drew of the principal, Mitch makes Clay promise to turn over a new leaf and stay focused on not getting in trouble.

The change is not easy for Clay.  He gets a lot of ribbing from his friends, and he's surprised that the principal and teachers don't take his efforts seriously.  However, through the experience Clay comes to realize the effect his poor behavior has on his parents and the worry he and his brother have caused them through the years. 

Although, some may say Clements is a bit preachy, TROUBLEMAKER reflects the real life pressure many kids face.  Clay's grumbling father sends a confusing message that many adults often convey to kids who don't understand the sometimes subtle meaning behind adult behavior.  Clements acknowledges the influence of an older sibling, both positive and negative, and the incredible pressure kids feel from their peers.  Overall, TROUBLEMAKER offers a lesson wrapped in a fairly entertaining adventure.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Cam Cooper has grown up surrounded by Disney World.  Having parents who work as entertainers at one of the world's most famous amusement parks, mean that Cam and her sister Perry live quite an amazing life.  It's a life most kids would envy, but Cam simply takes it in stride. 

Unfortunately, Cam's world came crashing down when her father died.  Memories of their close relationship have helped her deal with another unfortunate obstacle.  Her life has been filled with hospitals and doctor visits.  For years she has been battling cancer, and she knows that she won't see her eighteenth birthday.  Doctors have pretty much said they have done all they can, but Cam's mother is not satisfied.  There may not be any more drug trials available for Cam, but her mother has found a new possibility - a place called Promise, Maine. 

According to Cam's mom, miracles happen in Promise every day.  If they follow the quirky directions and are able to make it to the tiny ocean side town, Cam may have a chance of being cured.  Cam isn't convinced, but she agrees to give it a try to humor her mother and her little sister.

Right from the start, Promise proves to be an odd experience.  The motel they are never really able to find is supposedly being renovated, but that doesn't prove to a problem when a handsome, young man offers them his grandfather's vacant house.  There's the magic of the sunset that appears every evening in the east against a backdrop complete with a lighthouse and leaping Orca whales.  There are hundreds of flamingos feeding in a tide pool on shrimp that are native to Florida but definitely not this stretch of Maine beach.  There's even a rare July snowfall that turns the summer setting into a winter wonderland.  Maybe miracles do happen in Promise, Maine.

Debut author Wendy Wunder has created a marvelous story of a girl trying make the most of her last summer.  Wunder's character faces her certain death with courage, humor, and a sense of hope that inspires everyone around her.  Cam learns so much that summer, and with her help, so do all those whose lives she touches.  I can't wait to share this fabulous book.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

PRETTY UGLY by Karyn Langhorne Folan

Jamee is struggling with a number of problems.  Her grandmother recently died, her mother is about to have a baby, her math teacher says she is about to fail the class, and everyone expects her to live up to the standards of her perfect older sister Darcy.  In addition to all these issues, Jamee is determined to tryout for and earn a spot on the Bluford cheerleading squad.

Several of Jamee's friends are hoping to become cheerleaders, too, but the competition is tough.  There are a few girls who act like the bosses of the cheerleaders.  The coach seems nice enough, and the tryouts put everyone on a level playing field, but a girl named Vanessa leads several other girls in bullying the newcomers.

PRETTY UGLY presents the issue of bullying in school.  Vanessa texts an unflattering picture of one of Jamee's friends to everyone at Bluford High.  Jamee is frustrated when none of the other girls steps forward to put a stop to the bullying.  Jamee risks the anger of her parents and the wrath of her math teacher when she disobeys them to stand up for her friend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DON'T EXPECT MAGIC by Kathy McCullough

After her mother died, Delaney found herself moving from New Jersey across the country to California.  She hoped that moving in with her father would be a short term solution.  After all, he had never really been a part of her life except for a handful of short half hour visits when she was very young. 

Delaney's father is a world famous for his motivational books.  Millions of people have improved their lives thanks to his inspirational words.  The very first night Delaney spends in her new home, he rushes off to "help" a client.  One would think a daughter who just lost her mother would take precedence over some slightly panicky client.

Several days later when the client calls again, Delaney insists that her father take her along.  She promises to wait in the car but immediately breaks that promise.  What she sees through the window of the client's house changes her life forever.  Delaney discovers that her father is a fairy godmother.  Inherited genetic traits give him magical power to identify people's deepest wishes, and he also has the power to make the wishes come true.

When Delaney finds out she too might have the f.g. gene, she is determined to learn about and control this strange power.  It's not an easy task, but she discovers it will most likely draw her closer to her father which might not be as bad as she had once imagined.

Debut author Kathy McCullough gives a traditional, old fairy tale symbol a new twist.  Delaney is a likable character, and readers are sure to cheer her on as she learns to harness her own magical powers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

WAR HORSE by Michael Morpurgo

No way am I going to see the movie recently made based on this book - I'll definitely cry.  I bought the paperback thinking I could read it tissue-free.  Nope. 

Set during World War I, Joey, the farm horse, tells his story.  He was acquired by a farmer and treated poorly until the farmer's son, Albert, took over his care.  The two became inseparable.  Albert was furious when his father sold Joey to be used by the military, and he swore to join the war effort as soon as he could and find his loyal friend.

Joey tells of working as a war horse pulling ambulance wagons and wagons loaded with shells and carrying soldiers into battle as part of the cavalry.  The first officer treated him kindly, but this wasn't always the case.  Joey and a companion horse named Topthorn worked tirelessly for both the English and the Germans depending on where the winds of war took them.

Joey's story is an amazing one filled with happiness, pain, and tragedy.  WAR HORSE should appeal to a wide-range of readers, but be sure to have a tissue or at least your sleeve handy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

KILL YOU LAST by Todd Strasser

Shelby doesn't know who to trust.  The world of comfort and security she has always known is crumbling around her.  Yes, she lives in a super cool house in a top notch neighborhood.  Yes, her father is a well-known photographer who drives a Ferrari, but suddenly life is changing.

Shelby and her father have always been close.  She loved zooming around with him and found him much easier to confide in than her more distant mother.  Over the past several years, she had begun to notice that her parents were growing apart.  They now slept in separate bedrooms, but they had a ready excuse that was supposed to explain the change.  Her father had also decided his photography business would perform better if he moved it to a different location that required him to be gone for days and sometimes even weeks. 

Despite these subtle changes, Shelby didn't suspect anything.  She was busy finishing high school and making plans for college.  However, when the news reported three young girls missing and evidence pointed to the possible involvement of her someone in her father's business, Shelby found herself doubting everything she had always known.

As more news surfaced, Shelby discovered that her father seemed to be living a double life - that of a devoted father and confidant, and that of a man interested in luring young women to his business for more than just head shots for their would-be modeling careers.  How could she have been so trusting and yet so blind?  How could her mother not have noticed some telltale sign that her husband was fooling around?  And now, who can Shelby trust to help her figure out the truth?

KILL YOU LAST is the third book in Todd Strasser's "thrill"-ogy.  Each book highlights a mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.  If KILL YOU LAST sounds interesting, don't miss WISH YOU WERE DEAD and BLOOD ON MY HANDS.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

BELLY UP by Stuart Gibbs

BELLY UP by Stuart Gibbs is fabulously fun!  It is packed with action, mystery, suspense, and lots of laughs.  This one will not be gathering any dust on the shelf.

Twelve year old Teddy Fitzroy is not your average pre-teen.  He has lived with his parents in the wilds of Africa.  His everyday life has been like a continuous African safari.  Now he's back in the United States, but his life is still far from average.

When war broke out in the Congo, Teddy's parents decided for the sake of their son they needed to seek jobs in a safer environment.  They both landed jobs at an innovative theme park in Texas known as FunJungle.  Created by billionaire J.J. McCracken, FunJungle is a zoo/safari experience combined with a Disneyland type theme park.  People from across the country are flocking to this new vacation destination.  However, the success of the park is threatened when its mascot and main attraction, Henry the Hippo, is found dead.

Teddy can't believe it when he sees the hippo partially submerged with its legs sticking straight up toward the sky.  After the initial shock of seeing Henry dead, Teddy begins to wonder exactly what happened.  Since FunJungle is Teddy's home, he knows his way around and manages to sneak in to observe the autopsy conducted by the park's resident vet.  The procedure reveals that the hippo was murdered, and Teddy sets about trying to solve the case.

What follows is a non-stop adventure.  Teddy tries to enlist the help of his mother and several other park employees, but his ideas are dismissed as just those of a kid.  Determined to get to the bottom of Henry death, Teddy gets involved with J.J. McCracken's thirteen year old daughter, and together they discover some incriminating evidence.  Someone must think Teddy is getting too close because he suddenly finds himself the victim of several potentially deadly attacks.

Author Stuart Gibbs has filled BELLY UP with tons of fascinating animal facts and plenty of intriguing twists and turns as the search for Henry's killer reveals many secrets surrounding FunJungle.  Readers won't be able to stop once they've started reading.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder

The lives of two people are about to change.  Amber has chosen to spend this last day at her favorite spot - the beach.  She meets Cade who has chosen the beach for his day as well.

Both their family situations are about to change forever.  They feel the changes are out of their control, and both fear the potential effects on their relationships with parents and siblings.

Amber's fears involve opening herself to strangers about to become part of her family.  Cade's situation fills him with guilt as the change he faces causes him to fear for his very life.

As Amber and Cade go through the day, they try to focus on the moment and make the day perfect.  Spending the day together, they make a connection that could very well turn into more than just a casual acquaintance. 

Lisa Schroeder uses her poetic talents to involve readers in the one day experience of Amber and Cade.  They will be touched by these young teens and the dramatic changes they are about to embrace.  THE DAY BEFORE is Schroeder's best work yet.

Friday, December 2, 2011


After an interesting discussion with my 8th graders about successful opening lines, this one was judged to be pretty good.


"For fifty cents and a Gobstopper
I lifted my shirt for the neighborhood boys."

We'll be back with more later.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram

STIR IT UP by Ramin Ganeshram combines a great story about an ambitious young teen with a bunch of mouth-watering recipes for traditional West Indian dishes.

Anjali has grown up working in her family's restaurant.  She learned all about cooking from her mother, father, and grandmother, but she possesses a true natural talent for combining ingredients that leaves even those veterans around her in awe. 

What Anjali wants more than anything in the world is to have her own cooking show on Food Network TV.  When she hears about a contest for Super Chef Kids, she is determined to enter.  Unfortunately, the contest takes place the same day as the entry exam for the special high school her father wants her to attend.  He refuses to listen to Anjali's arguments that winning the cooking contest will offer her a better chance for a successful future, but she decides not to let his objections stand in her way.

As a fan of the Food Network, and especially the cooking contests, I loved this book.  Anjali's determination and dedication to make food her life had me rooting for her even though she defied her father's wishes to go for her dream.  I haven't tried any of the recipes, but I'm sure many readers will be inspired to do so after reading STIR IT UP.