Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rain brings new beginnings

My oh my, I just finished The Day of Tears today and I must say it was quite wonderful. The book was written in diaglogue and was a touching story of many different individuals that were slaves. The people in the story were such strong personalities and I found myself becoming very emotional in many different parts of the book. One of the parts that touched me the most is one a young girl named Emma was sold to a woman who lived in Kentucky and she was not allowed to say goodbye to her mother and for the rest of her life she never saw her mother or father again. I highly recommend this book to young adults to read. It is a wonderful display of literature and I wouldn't be surprised if it won the California Young Reader Medal.

The new job is going really well. I will be doing my first booktalk tomorrow and I am excited and a bit nervous as I always am when embarking on new challenges. The theme I am presenting is love, so it should be fun for the students. I am also doing more booktalks next week on historical fiction and biographies/autobiographies.

Got to be real

In Rules, by Cynthia Lord, Catherine is a twelve year old girl who thinks that she must have rules for her brother David who has autism so he will not embarrass her in front of people. This story has so many heart- tugging moments such as when she strikes up a friendship with a boy who can’t talk and volunteers to write picture cards with words for his communication book. Catherine is a deep and thoughtful girl who learns a lot from her new friend Jason. Read this book to find out if Catherine will rewrite her rules or completely throw them out to start a new way of thinking and living all together.

King Arthur is the bomb diggity

Jane Yolen’s Sword of the Rightful King is an imaginative reinvention of the old legend of King Arthur. The book includes familiar character such as Arthur, Merlin, Morgause, and Gawaine. There are also elements of the traditional story, which include the trusty sword in the stone Caliburn and Thomas Malory’s wonderful phrase "He so pulleth the sword from the stone" is mentioned as well. Yolen manages to revise this legend and turn it into an original that works for a younger audience without any silliness or modern day slang. Read this book and you will experience a bit of magic, treachery, and romance, and you will also find out who pulls the sword from the stone this time.

Dreams are Fierce

In Gossamer by Lois Lowry, Littlest One creeps around in the middle of the night practicing dream-giving on an elderly woman and her sleeping dog. Toby is training to be a dream-giver, which is someone who gathers shreds of memories and gives them back as dreams. Then the elderly woman takes in a foster child who is an eight-year old boy named John. Littlest One now has to take on a great challenge, she must try to help John with his bad dreams. This book is an interesting fantasy that offers a clever view on how dreams can help us heal. This book can help us all to open up to our dreams, and not be afraid of our nightmares.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catcher in the Fly

King Dork by Frank Portman is a fun and crazy story about a young man named Tom Henderson who doesn’t even go by his real name. He was nicknamed Chi Mo in the 7th grade and no one calls him anything else. Tom happens to find his recently deceased dad’s copy of the Catcher in the Rye and his life begins to change. He thinks that he sees little tips and signs of long forgotten code that maybe his dad left for someone to figure out. Tom discovers lots of exciting things like how much fun making out with a girl is and also how to play a guitar and rock with a band even if they are losers. Finally, in the end Tom accidentally becomes a hero. Read ths book to find how he becomes a hero and to find out if gets the mystery girl he’s been dreaming of.

From Riches to Rags

Esperanza Rising is about a young girl named Esperanza that was born into a privileged family. Esperanza lives a fine life with beautiful clothes and dolls on a ranch that has gorgeous roses on it. In the beginning of the story she and her family seem to have a close relationship, all intertwined within each other. Her father Sixto is portrayed as a kind man that looks out for his family and loves his homeland. Her mother Ramona is portrayed as a dignified woman that likes to cook and throw parties. There is also Abuelita the grandmother who is portrayed as all knowing and she totally adores Esperanza.

Esperanza’s parents are extremely giving to Alfonso and Hortensia the couple that works for them. There is a relationship there that is deeper than it looks. Alfonso and Hortensia are deeply devoted to Esperanza and her parents. Their son Miguel is also very connected to Esperanza, for even at a young age she said she was going to marry him. Pam Munoz Ryan gives us a feeling of contentment and love that this family and extended family share on the Rancho de las Rosas.

The way this book begins you would think of it as a fairytale world for a girl and her family that seems as if it will never end. Then, after her father is tragically killed Esperanza has to totally redefine her entire life as she loses everything that she has ever known. When her uncles show up they are mean, soulless creatures that only want to take over her land and take her mother as well. These men are depicted as ruthless and cruel and they will not stop at anything to get what they want. They even burn down Esperanza’s house and threaten to send her away to boarding school. The uncles’ behavior is completely oppressive and in the beginning of the story they have total control over Ramona and Esperanza.

Esperanza’s mother must come up with a plan to escape from the tyranny of the uncles. With the help of Alfonso and Hortensia, Ramona and Esperanza are able to sneak out of Aguacalientes and off to California to live and to work with Alfonso’s cousin Juan. However, they must leave Abuelita behind because she been hurt and can’t travel. When they arrive in California and see how the Mexican families live it is very surprising. They living conditions are poor and there are absolutely no amenities like Esperanza had at home. She and her mother have to share a bed and they live in a little cabin. Her family has now changed and Esperanza, Ramona, Hortensia, Alfonso, Miguel, as well as Juan, Josefina, Isabel, and the babies are all one big family. They are all concerned about one thing and that is doing whatever it takes to keep the family with a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Esperanza is not willing to admit that she is no longer rich. She continues to hang on to the doll that her father gave her and she thinks that she will be able to go back to her old life very soon. When she finds out that she has to take care two babies and sweep a platform while the adults go to work she has a meeting with reality. She has never had to take care of anybody, not even her own self. Ramona must also go to work with Hortensia and the other women. The women in the story go to pack fruits in the sheds and the men pick the fruit in the fields. Miguel must also look for work with the railroad and even though he is a skilled mechanic he is passed by for good jobs because of his ethnicity.

The main character of this story is definitely Esperanza and the main emphasis is how she deals with her plight of being rich and becoming penniless. To add to her pain, her mother becomes very ill after a big dust storm hits the area. Ramona becomes weak and depressed and she must be hospitalized. Here is where we see Esperanza step up and take on the role of responsibility for herself and her mother. Her motivation is that she will work with the women make money so she can bring Abuelita to California to help her mother get better.

Through working and achieving a sense of her own self, Esperanza begins to see the world in a realistic view. She can see that justice is not always given, but that each person can make a difference in his or her own way. I believe that Esperanza accomplishes more than she ever dreamed of. Yes, she may miss her old life but she has built a new one and that one includes her being able to be with Miguel on a level of equality which she would have never had before back in Aguacalientes.

This story is very inspiring and also wonderfully written. Esperanza is a great role model and I think children could identify with her and want to overcome obstacles as she did. When reading the book children might feel sad or sorry for her because so many awful things happen to her. However the bad things that did happen like the death of her father, being driven out of her homeland, leaving Abuelita behind, her mother’s illness, working in the sheds, being looked down upon by others are all experiences that help Esperanza to grow and learn about herself.

Pam Munoz Ryan wrote this book from stories she had heard about the life of her own grandmother when she was a young girl. She mentioned in the Author’s Note that her grandmother had told about when she grew up in Mexico and how she had been rich and then had to move to California to work on a farm camp. Esperanza’s story is fictional, but Ms. Ryan took some of the names and places from her grandmother’s childhood. The main point is that the author is familiar with this time period called the “Mexican Repatriation” and wanted to write about it because there is not much literature that focuses on Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. This story had a very balanced approach because it told of how some families immigrated to the U.S. and how they lived in camps and worked in the fields.
Esperanza Rising was published in 2000. Ms. Ryan did a wonderful job relating the way that a young woman would have to acclimate from living a privileged life to having to start life all over again. She did not use any loaded words and I think she portrayed the Mexican culture in an extremely dignified and elegant way. The way that she portrayed the strength of the characters and their love for one another was really intense. I also thought that there was a great intensity with many of the thoughtful things that the characters did like when Alfonso and Miguel replanted the roses outside the cabin in California. That was such a sweet and touching thing to do. When Miguel secretly took off to Mexico to get Abuelita and bring her back to California I knew that there was a bond between he and Esperanza that could never be broken no matter what. These were acts of love that really spoke to me in this story.

Monday, January 28, 2008

I can see your aura

Move over Mean Girls there's a newer and better story in town! I just finished reading the book Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This book is really fantastic. The story begins with a girl named Lissy James who's mother and grandmother have what they call the Sight. The Sight comes in different form and Lissy's happens to be that she can see people’s auras. She sees different shades of colors like purple, green, blue, and the worst and evilest of all an aura with no color at all. Lissy has to move from California to Oklahoma and start a new life with her family and when she arrives in town she meets the girls who call themselves Golden and believe me, they make the girls in the movie Mean Girls look like pussycats! On the first day of school, Lissy realizes that her aura power is becoming stronger and she now has the power to make auras connect. Another problem for Lissy is that when she sees her math teacher she sees that awful colorless aura she call garn. His aura is so evil that it makes her sick to her stomach. What could have made his aura so awful? And, are there forces of evil at work at her new school? This is a really intriguing book with powerful images of extra sensory perception and other magical qualities that might just jump out and grab you. I think you might want to add this book to your Spring reading list!

Take a bite out of this one!

Vampire High by Douglas Rees is a nominee for the California Young Readers Award.
In this story, Cody Elliot is a self-destructive flunk out who is quickly on his way to becoming a high school drop out. His Father is sick and tired of his smart mouth and ridiculous tactics and gives him the choice of going to Our Lady of Perpetual Homework or Vlad Dracul Magnet School. Cody decides to go Vlad Dracul because the idea of perpetual homework just does not sit well with him. Maybe he should have thought his decision over a little better. What ever do you think the Dracul stands for? Cody finds out quickly that the students at Vlad Dracul are definitely not the same as he is. Slowly, he realizes that his fellow classmates are vampires and that his view of vampires was not quite correct. Cody makes friends with Justin and Ileana who have been long time childhood friends. Quirky and silly at times, this book has the essence of a hero that just didn’t know that he was until he puts forth the effort to succeed. Highlighted in the story are the drunken swim coach, the belligerent headmaster, the annoying bully vampire, and the mysterious wolf that follows Cody around campus. Read this book and find out how Cody saves the swim team from disaster and puts Vlad Dracul on the map!

The Fair Ones

In legends and folk lore, fairies are magical beings who can sometimes be seen by humans, they can be friendly, and quite often they behave impishly. The name fairies means the fair ones and they hail mainly from England and Ireland. Presently you can find a lot of fairies in children’s literature because they are a great source of fun and are very imaginative. Authors can place fairies in different worlds with numerous amounts of magical powers and powerful lessons that can be learned from fairies. One author brought fairies into New York City and had them peddling fairy drugs. However, that was not always so. Fairies in the past were feared as dangerous and powerful beings who could often be very cruel.

Morgan LeFay was known to be a cruel and malicious fairy. She was the half sister of King Arthur and she was said to have sought after him for most of his life. She lay in wait for him and stole Excalibur and changed herself into a rock so he couldn’t find her. She tried many times to kill her own half brother. In the end, it was said that she took Arthur away to Avalon after their son Mordred mortally wounded him in battle.

It was said that fairies would also carry off babies and leave their own sick babies in their place. The sick fairy child is called a changeling. The strange thing is that the changeling did not look like a human child so the parents knew right away that something was wrong.It is thought that the fairies lived in our world and were hidden under rocks or in streams nearby. They had tricks too such as when they danced in a circle if a human joined in they would never be able to break the circle and they could never stop dancing.

Different fairies have different powers. Some like Morgan Le Fay have what is called foresight, which means they can see into the future. Some can grant wishes and worst of all some send out curses for any reason they feel suits them. There have been stories in Ireland about fairies that appear and ask for food. If they are denied then they will curse the person for life. Fairies are also interconnected with the names little people, elves, gnomes, leprechauns, and witches.

Fairies have been around for many hundreds of years in some form or another. The idea of fairies was made popular in Europe in the Dark Ages and was used to describe fairy women lovers that appeared in the night, similar beings have existed in both folklore and written literature for thousands of years. This is the time that Sir Thomas Malory wrote his Le Morte De Arthur in which he featured Morgan LeFay as the fairy witch that enticed King Arthur and his knight. Today in England, Ireland, and Scotland they stand true to their fairy ties and keep the fairy legends in mind as they are never sure who might be lurking nearby in a cave or a bog.

Gods & Goddesses

Today is a dark and stormy day! I am reminded that the Greek gods and goddesses are a source of infinite wisdom. With that in mind I would like to recommend the book Greece, Rome, Monsters by John Harris. In this great book, twenty mythical monsters are featured along with a supporting cast of gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines. The book begins with a warning telling you that you are about to embark into the land of creepy creatures. There is the Basilisk, if you see him run for your life! Keep away from the Cyclops, he’s a very big and very mean guy. You’ll not want to look at Medusa because there’s that poor option of turning to stone. The book does offer a few nice creatures such as, Pegasus the beautiful white horse with wings, and the fiery Phoenix who is reborn out of the ashes over and over again. Calef Brown’s artwork is fun and playful with shades of sour-apple green, turquoise blue and terracotta orange.

Of course, this brings on a surge of memories of The Lightening Thief featuring the notorious and wonderous Percy Jackson. Our hero, as A.D.D. as he is , is always finding a ways to get nasty creatures to chase after him. Percy soon finds out that his life as he knew it is not really the truth. He has been cloistered away from the world of gods and goddesses in which he really should be involved with since he is related to one of the most famous gods of all. As Percy learning how to deal with his new half godliness, he decides to go on a quest to find out who has stolen Zues' lightening rod. The book is excellent and full of great surprises. You'll want to read this one just to catch up on your Greek Mythology!

Pumpkin Queen Girl

I know that October has passed and we have long moved on from Halloween, however I recently I had the extreme pleasure of reading this sweet book. I think it is a definite keeper and could be quite special for any pumpkin lover. I love the fall and I wish I could have pumpkins all year round.To honor her Mother who passed away when she was six, eleven year old Mildred is determined to win the Circleville, Ohio, Pumpkin Show in Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy. Unfortunately, something awful always happens to her pumpkins and they turn to mush. Mildred´s obsession with pumpkins alarms her Aunt Arlene so she tries to get Mildred interested in clothes instead of pumpkins. Will Mildred´s dream of growing a prize-winning pumpkin ever come true? This book is a sweet coming-of-age story that also introduces readers to pumpkin growing competitions. As Mildred finds out, it requires much more than luck to produce a thousand pound champion! If you are interested in this topic, take a look at the website featured in the book

Hope this makes you hungry!

My other hope is to start evaluating magical characters in children's literature. This evaluation is going to be called "Magical dudes and chicks in children's literature" and will focus on any character that has magical abilities. This will also include telekinetic and spiritual powers as well. We shall see how this goes! Here is a review I just wrote for work and I hope it makes you hungry and want to read this book as well!

In "The Perfect Hamburger and other Delicious Stories" by Alexander McCall Smith, you get three hilariously cooked up tales all in one book. First, in The Perfect Hamburger, Joe's favorite hamburger joint is going to go out of business unless he can figure out the ingredients for the perfect hamburger. Will he get it right before it's too late? Second, in "The Spaghetti Tangle", John and Nicky would love to eat spaghetti all day long, but instead they get vegetarian dishes. To get a decent meal they enter a recipe contest. When they win a visit to Mr. Pipelli’s spaghetti factory they are thrilled! You'll never guess what happens when they come face to face with the spaghetti spinner! And third, in "The Doughnut Ring", Jim tries to help Mr. Pride by coming up with a fundraiser to sell doughnuts. He decides to send out tons of emails asking for donations. This seems to work, but it soon gets out of control and Jim finds himself practically covered in doughnuts! Will he be able to sell all of his yummy treats, or will he be stuck with the sticky goods forever?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

This is the place!

This is the place, this is where it all happens! I am so excited to be writing on my blog again. It has been a long time and I have so much to tell. I have gone on a journey that has exceeded all possibilities. Tomorrow I start a new job that has been a dream of mine for quite a while. I am going to be working in a middle school library. I will be surrounded by young adult books which is so fantastic.

I am hoping for lots of luck on my new adventure, but I'm pretty sure I won't need it!