Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The strength of this book lies in Christopher’s first-person voice. The reader is able to see the world through the eyes of one with Autism. I understood Christopher’s strange actions better because he explained his reasoning. But the point of view was also a weakness for me. The repetition became tiresome. I already know he doesn’t like yellow or brown. I don’t need to be reminded of it over and over.

Christopher’s story is not the only one being told. The Curious Incident examines what it is like living with and caring for someone with Autism. I found myself more interested in Christopher’s parents as the story continued. Professionals are trained and choose to work with special needs populations. Parents are not usually trained nor do they choose the child they get. Christopher’s parents are flawed, make mistakes, and I really felt for them. They want what is best for their son but are people with needs, too.

I’ve known autistic kids and while I saw some similarities to Christopher there were significant differences. The term autism covers a wide spectrum with vastly different manifestations. No one voice can even remotely represent it. If you’re looking to educate yourself on this disorder you’ll need to go beyond reading this book because truly, it does not represent the spectrum.
Summary: "Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the colours yellow and brown. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years. Mark Haddon make this an excellent book for children and adults alike." "

I enjoyed the charts and diagrams which Christopher uses to explain things. Some readers find them distracting. I think they added to the story and helped me follow along. The humor is dark. It is funny but is tempered by Christopher’s serious situation. Overall, the book didn’t do much for me. However, I think it is an important text. It discusses a serious disorder that is increasing in our population and manages to make the reader laugh while making him aware.

Publisher: Vintage, 2004     Pages: 226
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

This book was awesome! Gun fights, chases, escapes! Indians, cowboys and slaves. Hardship, justice and honor. It’s the Wild West folks and this is the true story of a slave who became a U.S. deputy Marshal. His name is Reeves. Bass Reeves. And he is Bad News for Outlaws!

This is nonfiction done right. I loved the art work (looks like oil paintings) and the story was fascinating. Both totally captured the spirit of the old West. Many of the text blocks look like they are printed on yellowed paper. The font looks Western, too, big and bold. R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations capture the emotion of each moment being described. Bass’ gaze is piercing. There’s no messing with that man. 

This is well researched book and it shows. There are many amazing anecdotes pieced together from historical records. There are extra resources in the back including a glossary of Western terms used in the book, a timeline, a further reading list and much more.

I was completely captivated with Bass’ story. Although it’s aimed at 2nd-5th grade readers, if you know anyone who enjoys all things Western I urge you to put this book in their hands. This title counts towards the POC Reading Challenge! Well, this was a hard review to write. I just wanted to use the word "awesome" over and over! 

Publisher: Carolrhoda, 2009     Pages: 40     Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Full Title: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CSN Stores Giveaway!

Want to win $35 to spend at CSN Stores? CSN Stores has over 200 online stores where you can find anything you need whether it be lights, fitness equipment, or even cute cookware! 

Sign up by reading and filling out the form below!

I receive nothing from CSN Stores for hosting this promotional. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Exposure by Mal Peet

When I picked up Exposure at the library I internally groaned and several fears cropped up before I got past the book jacket blurb. First of all, it has sports in it and I don’t “do” sports. And not just any sport but soccer (yeah, I'm American =) of which I know nothing about. Then I made the connection to Shakespeare’s Othello and worried about having not read the play. Then there was a celeb chick on the cover in a strappy dress and dangly earrings. 

Exposure was nothing I expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At every chapter I expected the themes to shallow or the prose to deteriorate. The prose was excellent throughout. The themes were dealt with realistically despite the unusual and extravagant lifestyles of the characters. Celebrity is an unusual phenomenon, especially when popular individuals do not seek fame or do nothing particularly excellent to warrant huge fan bases. The novel explores the phenomenon of fame and how people come into it and how they deal with it. Dezi and Otello seemed like real people coping as best they could in situations they never expected to be in.
Summary:"This is the third "Paul Faustino" novel by multi-award-winning Mal Peet. A massive soccer star has it all, but someone is plotting his downfall...Revered as a national hero...married to the desirable Desmerelda...cherished by the star, Otello, has it all. But a sensational club transfer sparks a media frenzy, and when he is wrongly implicated in a scandal, the footballer's life turns into a tragic spiral of destruction. South America's top sports journalist, Paul Faustino, witnesses the power of the media in making and breaking people's lives." "

Teenagers, much like Bianca (a teenage street rat), become enamored with celebrities. They look up to these fashionable trend setters with expensive toys who appear to have the world at their fingertips. With reality T.V. we do get a glimpse at some celebrities’ lives. But we know that they know we are watching and that they are being paid to perform a role that may or may not be who they are. Exposure shows a negative reality that accompanies fame which is often masked or overlooked in the media. By changing perspectives in the novel, seeing celebrities through the eyes of several characters from different walks of life, Peet shows the three dimensional lives of the rich and famous and the many people affected by their fame.

There are so many aspects of this book – the racial issues, the class divides, the consuming quest for success, balancing family relationships and literary comparisons – that make Exposure one I want teens to read. Luckily, I won’t feel like I’m pushing an “issue” book. Exposure is a mix of mystery, pop culture and foreign culture which was interesting to me. Being fun to read is the icing on the cake. There is great substance to the story but I still had fun reading it. Actually, I think Exposure is an excellent adult read, too. I'm looking forward to reading more by Peet!

This title counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!
Publisher: Candlewick, 2009     Pages: 448
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

From gently falling flakes and flurries, to swirling gusts and mounting drifts, snow-falls always look beautiful. One of the first crafts I remember doing in school is creating cut-out snowflakes. Sometimes a flake will stick to a window and you can see it’s sort of pokey looking. But then it blows away, or worse, melts.

This beautifully illustrated children’s book chronicles the work of Willie Bentley, the man who showed us the snowflake. Bentley loved snow so much he dedicated his free time to studying it. He perfected the photographic technique needed to capture snowflakes on film so that the whole world could see how beautiful they are. He knew that seeing a single flake under a microscope wasn’t good enough. He wanted their crystal-like beauty to last and be enjoyed by all.

Illustrator Mary Azarian’s woodcuts set a perfect tone for Martin’s text. Together, they remind me a time gone by. A time my grandparents knew. A time that can still be found in the quiet of a gentle snow-fall. I enjoyed how the text was displayed with more biographical or technical details in sidebars and the general story-line at the bottom. As a reluctant reader in my youth, I really liked books like this (thinking Magic School Bus) where the text was broken up. I could choose what to read and keep moving on if I thought it was “too much text.” I enjoyed going back later and discovering more parts to the story.

As winter comes to a close and the last of the snow is melting remember Snowflake Bentley’s passionate efforts. I know snow can seem a bother. But if you didn’t this year, remember next winter to take a moment to enjoy the beauty that is a snowflake. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1998     Pages: 32
Rating: 4.5 Stars     Source: Christmas gift! Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Imagine this is you: Eleven years old. Alone. In charge of two younger sisters. A girl. African American. 1968. Flying for the first time on an airplane. Meeting your mother years after she’s abandoned you – who still ignores you while you stay in her house.

This is Delphine’s life. Her father is crazy for shipping her and her sisters across the country to spend their summer in Oakland with her crazy mother. Delphine and her sisters attend a summer school run by the Blank Panthers. Things get crazy as Delphine finds herself drawn into a world she fears could lead to trouble.

Delphine narrates One Crazy Summer in an immensely introspective voice. It surprised me. I loved her, and I loved her sisters Vonetta and Fern. I loved how they stuck together and how Delphine looked out for them. I even loved their fights (that poor doll). But so much introspection makes me suggest this book is for advanced young readers or tweens. One Crazy Summer reminds me of a book adults want kids to read but kids find difficult to get through. There are a lot of historical figures and the writing utilizes dialect which slows the pace for me as a reader. I imagine some kids may have a similar experience. I think it will take the right kid to appreciate the narrative since there isn’t a whole lot of action. The action did pick up a bit in the last third and I felt rewarded for having made it through the slower parts. I enjoyed the conclusion and am glad I read the book.

This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge.

Publisher: Amistad, 2010     Pages: 218
Rating: 3.5 stars     Source: IC Public Library

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: The Little Prince Graphic Novel adaped by Joann Sfar

The classic tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry gets a face-lift in this graphic novel adaptation. The water colors found in the original have been replaced by Sfar's more whimsical style. The little prince's big eyes give him a slightly alien look, something akin to those found in manga. The text is very close to the original with only minor changes keeping the spirit of the original story intact. I found myself partial to the original text and art-work but the graphic novel was still fun to read. The new format may appeal to wider audience as well. It's interesting to note that Sfar's work was approved by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's family. Though at first not my style of art, I find the more I look at these pages the more I like them.
Summary:"After being stranded in a desert after a crash, a pilot comes in contact with a captivating little prince who recounts his journey from planet to planet and his search for what is most important in life. For more than sixty-five years Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince has captured the hearts and minds of its readers."

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010 (first published in the U.S.)     
Translator: Sarah Ardizzone     Pages: 110     Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Purchased

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Attention Jane Austen fans: this is a book for you! Even if you haven’t read any Austen novels you can still enjoy this story. But if you have any experience with Austen’s novels you will see elements of then throughout Polly Shulman’s Enthusiasm. I had fun identifying plot elements from Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (the three Austen novels I’ve read). But there are allusions to all of them. The characters, Ashleigh and Julie, reference Austen’s heroines and try, sometimes successfully and other times not successfully, to imitate them.

I enjoyed this novel so I’m having a hard to telling what it was that was so great. You see, this book might be called a feel-good novel. It doesn’t push the envelope and is a sweet story with a happy ending. But I liked it! Yes, it was a tad predictable (at least for me). But that did not keep me from enjoying the story at all.

Julie and Ashleigh’s relationship was my favorite part. They seemed like a couple average girls. They are having their first serious crushes and dealing with boys for the first time. They’re not sure how exactly to act. What do you do when a boy obviously likes you but you don’t like him? You don’t want to be mean. How do you show a boy that you do like him? Without feeling like an idiot? The girls are
Summary: Julie’s best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast. Julie never knows what new obsession will catch Ashleigh’s fancy, but she does know she’s likely to be drawn into the madness. Ashleigh’s latest craze is Julie’s own passion, Pride and Prejudice. But Ashleigh can’t just appreciate it as a great read; she insists on emulating the novel’s heroines, in speech, dress, and the most important element of all—finding True Love. And so Julie finds herself with Ashleigh, dressed in vintage frocks, sneaking into a dance at the local all-boys prep school, where they discover some likely candidates. The problem with Ashleigh’s craze this time, however, is that there is only one Mr. Darcy. So when the girls get a part in the boys’ school musical, what follows is naturally equal parts comedy and romance, as a series of misinterpreted—and missed—signals, dating mishaps, and awkward incidents make Julie wonder if she has the heart for True Love.
at a tender and vulnerable age. They know it and try to be good to each other. Not all girls are “mean girls” who harbour jealousies and constantly criticize. Julie and Ashleigh are regular teens with regular issues - school, boys, parents. And I liked them for it. 

Publisher: Speak, 2006     Pages: 208
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Amazon Storefront

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Musings of a Grad Student: Courses and Assignments

The U of Iowa Pentacrest. Click image for source.
The fourth week of spring classes is coming to a close and I have yet to post on school (for you newbies, I'm getting an M.A. in Library and Information Science).

Going into the program I had little context and very little exposure to the literature of the field. It was information overload all semester long. Now that I've got a bit of background knowledge I feel more prepared for classes and confident that I'm in the right field.

Here's the skinny on what a second semester LIS student is doing.

Class Schedule:
Monday: Database Systems - learning a little PHP and SQL. Two weeks ago I knew nothing about the creation of databases. This week I am creating my own modest database.

Wednesday: Research Methods - learning about qualitative and quantitative methods and reading theory on the subject. We will be doing our own research at some point about...something. In a few weeks.

Thursday: Resources for Young Adults - reading articles and books about young adults, their emotional/developmental needs, while reading an array of YA books. Yeah, this class is fun! There will be several reviews of books I'm reading for this class.

Work: I'm working a few hours at a library reference desk, too.

Assignments with due dates closing in on me:
-Class facilitation about (how did I get so lucky?) book reviewing and what it means for librarians. This requires reading outside of assigned texts and collaborating with teammates.
-Creating a database - it's scary because making computers do what I want is always tricky.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown by Louise S. Robbins

History, what we know of the past, is often told by the victors. Having transcribed countless interviews, faithfully scoured dusty files and coils of microfilm, Louise S. Robbins forms a more complete account of Ruth Brown’s career as a librarian. The text is a scholarly endeavor to bring about a more accurate picture of a “perfect town” that wasn’t so perfect after all. It’s a true story about racism and about standing up for what you believe. About censorship and the public library’s role towards it at a critical time in American history.

An abbreviated summary: “In 1950 Ruth W. Brown, librarian at the Bartlesville Public Library, was dismissed from her job after thirty years of exemplary service, ostensibly because she had circulated subversive materials. In truth, however, Brown was fired because she was active in a group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality.”

If you are interested in the civil rights movement, information and library science, libraries generally, censorship or American history I definitely recommend this book to you. It is told like an elongated form of investigative journalism and tends to be fact heavy. What I most enjoyed about Ruth Brown’s personality was how, despite her appearance, she was anything but a stereotypical librarian (especially for her day).

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001     Pages: 256
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: purchased

Sunday, February 6, 2011

People of Color Reading Challenge 2011 Sign Up

My first challenge! Wooo! Ok, calming down.

What is it: "The persons of color reading challenge has been put in place to highlight and celebrate authors and characters of color." Authors and characters of color. I'm going to read that as a book about a person of color counts, too, even if it was written by a white person.

I'm signing up for Level 4: 10-15 books. Since I read several Children's/YA books I think I can handle it. Here's a potential reading list.

Children's and Young Adult Titles:
Adult Titles:
I'll edit the list as I go and update it with links to reviews I've written. If you've reviewed any of these books feel free to leave a link in the comments below!

This challenge is complete! Read my wrap up post here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is what you might call a mash-up. A mash-up in literature takes one genre and inserts elements of another genre into it.  In this case, we have a classic mashed with elements of parody and horror/pop-culture zombie elements. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more of a spoof, a comedy aimed at poking fun at the original text, and not a scary tale.

Let’s compare the first lines of each book.
The original Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
The Grahame-Smith version: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” 

Clearly, the zombie book is making fun of the boy-crazy Bennet girls who, in the original text, spend the entire novel looking for a boyfriend/spouse. In the new novel, a girl of good repute will have renowned martial arts skills which she employs to kill zombies. The zombies appear in “slow” parts of the novel – during a coach ride or during a walk. They aren’t scary
Summary: "As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Can she vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is something you'll want to read and is a great book to read along with the original."
and the battle-scenes were not what I usually expect from a scary zombie or funny zombie book/movie. I think the idea behind this novel is a great one - take a classic and make it relevant to 21st century readers. But it was hard for me to finish and left me wishing I had reread the original.

For more information on mash-ups, particularly historical ficiton YA mash-ups check out this article by blogger/librarian  Melissa Rabey.

Publisher: Quirk Books, 2009     Pages: 320
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: IC Public Library   

Friday, February 4, 2011

Multiculturalism at the Hop

This week's Hop question asks "What are you reading now and why are you reading it?" This is an interesting question for me this week as I've chosen a book I might not normally read. I'm reading One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. I saw this book listed as the winner of the 2011 Coretta Scott King Award

I decided to give it a try because looking at my books read in 2010 I realized I had read few books with multicultural themes and especially few with African American characters. I read some Native American authored books and some Asian-American themed books. And I did read The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (realistic fiction/historical fiction type of book) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (fantasy/romance) which have women of color for protagonists. The Help had some great black female characters. It is easy for me to just go with the books that readily appeal to me because I easily identify with white characters. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But this year I want to continue to push beyond my known world with my reading.

One reason for this is that I'm tentatively thinking about Youth Services Librarianship. Of course, I want to be familiar with books that all children/teens might like. But I also want to be familiar with books which might particularly reach out to kids with backgrounds unlike my own. Not to mention I want to know more about my country's heritage concerning race and the array of different cultures that make America what it is. So, here I am consciously reading One Crazy Summer. I'll let you know how it goes when I finish!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Writing Reviews for Readers' Advisory by Brad Hooper

In Writing Reviews for Readers' Advisory Brad Hooper, the Adult Books Editor at Booklist, offers new and aspiring book reviewers pertinent advice for writing reviews that people want to read. He describes the difference between reviews and criticism and in which setting each is appropriate. In today’s busy book industry, knowing what new books have to offer is invaluable to librarians and booksellers. Pre and postpublication reviews are how book providers and book readers make many of  their selections.

Emphasis is placed on writing short (around 175 word), concise, prepublication reviews meant to advise book providers. No matter the length, Hooper gives several enlightening tips on what a good review should include. For instance, Hooper advises that a good review “judges a book only against others of its ilk” (48). In other words, don’t judge a book by Danielle Steel by comparing it to one by Edith Wharton. Each author is a leader in her own genre and deserves to be compared to herself, to her own works. Good advice, right? There’s more where that came from though at times I wished Hooper went a little deeper.

Writing reviews is tricky and challenging. How do you write a review for a book you didn’t like? What aspects of a book should you highlight? Keep in mind Hooper’s advice is meant for writers reviewing for a specific audience with specific needs and not book blogging. However, I’ll be attempting to apply Hooper’s advice as I continue learning how to review. The next step according to Hooper is to read books, read reviews and write!

Publisher: American Library Association, 2010     Pages: 96
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: ILL through UI Libraries

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon

The Pirate of Kindergarten is a compelling story about a fun-loving girl with double vision. Through Lynne Avril's illustrations the reader sees as Ginny sees – double – which gives the reader an idea of how difficult the world is for children with vision impairments and reading disabilities. Ginny, unaware that she is different, does her best to keep up with class activities. After a vision screening she is sent to the eye doctor and given a patch to wear. Ginny embraces the patch and incorporates it into her persona as an adventurous pirate.

The book’s focus is not on the disability, not on the patch, but on the person. We see through Ginny’s eyes how it is to be affected and are able to gain an appreciation for her position. The illustrations are bright and cheerful. They show us the fullness of Ginny’s emotions. For instance, when Ginny plunges her scissors into glue we see how overwhelming the situation is for her. A cute and enlightening book for preschool to early elementary readers.

Publisher: Atheneum Books, 2010     Pages: 40
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library