A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

March 15, 2011

In 1985 Salva was an 11-year-old boy attending school in southern Sudan.  When war comes to his village he is forced to flee without his family.  In 2008 Nya is an 11-year-old girl who spends the entire day walking back and forth from the nearest pond, several miles away in order to obtain water for her family.

Salva’s journey leads him to refuge camps in Ethiopia and Sudan, where he lives for several years until he is able to go to the United States.  As a grown man, he decides that he must do something to help the people of Sudan, resulting in a better life for Nya and her family.

This is a wonderfully told story of the hardships faced by the people of Sudan over the past 25 years.  While full of sorrow and difficulty, it ultimately demonstrates the hope brought about by the determination of one young man.

Park’s story is fiction, but is based on the true experiences of Salva Dut, who was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan.  I highly recommend this book for all readers, young and old.


The Talent Show by Dan Gutman

March 1, 2011

Cape Bluff, Kansas, is in the heart of Tornado Alley, so when the tornado tore through town, everyone knew what to do.  But when the tornado destroyed businesses and homes, people were just about ready to give up.  But then, Jon Anderson, new principal at Cape Bluff Elementary School came up with the idea of having a Talent Show to raise money for the town.

Reluctant at first, the townspeople eventually became excited at this idea.  Most excited were the children of the town who were eager to show off their talents, including Richard Ackoon, a third grade aspiring rap star, Don Potash, future comedian, and ballet student Julia Maguire.  The story follows the students as they prepare to perform in the show, as well as some of the adults involved in the program.  Another character, not seen until later, is Justin Chanda, a famous rock star who grew up in Cape Bluff.

This was a fun story in the “Hey Gang, let’s put on a show” tradition.  As a native of Tornado Alley I appreciated the problems faced by the community. I think that kids will really enjoy this, especially fans of Gutman and Andrew Clements.  My only problems with this story are that the kids seem a bit older than they should be, especially the 3rd grade rapper.  Also, there seem to be an awful lot of students for a town of only 1,098, and the town seems to have a larger than average proportion of exceptionally talented children.  But, these are the complaints of a grown woman, and I really don’t think kids will catch on to this.  They’ll be too busy coming up with ideas of a talent show of their own.

Finally by Wendy Mass

February 15, 2011

Rory Swenson is the oldest child of the most overprotective parents in the world.  They don’t allow her to do anything that her friends are allowed to do.  Whenever she asks if she can do something the answer is always, “When you’re 12.”  Well, look out Mom and Dad – Rory’s turning 12.  Mom and Dad may have thought that Rory will have forgotten all those “when you’re 12” things, but in fact, every time they told her she had to wait, she wrote them on a slip of paper.  On the eve of her 12th birthday she makes a chart of all the things she can now do – like get her ears pierced, stay home alone and get a cell phone.

Now that she’s 12 her parents reluctantly let her do those things she’s wanted to do for years.  But, as Rory learns, growing older is not without difficulty, as some of those things she’s finally able to do don’t turn out quite as she imagined.

Rory ‘s life seems to be one disaster after another, but with the help of her parents and great friends, she just might survive being 12.

This is a funny, fast-paced story about the perils of growing up.  At nearly 300 pages, it seems long, but it moves quickly.  I laughed out loud at some of Rory’s predicaments, and loved the characters.  I especially appreciated that while her close friends were allowed more privileges, they still were loyal and good friends to Rory.  I’m rather tired of the whole mean girl thing, and this was really a sweet, gentle story.



Hunger Games Program

February 9, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I did a Hunger Games Program at our library.  Attendance was small, but enthusiastic, and we had adults and teens, some of whom came in costume.  I dressed as Effie Trinket,  my colleague Cindel came as Katness’s mom, and Susan, another Children’s Librarian came as Greasy Sae.

The evening began with different activities.  “Tributes” could practice their archery skills with a foam archery set.  The target was a map of Panem I found here: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-hunger-games-trilogy/images/13703262/title/hunger-games-map-panem-fan.  At another station Cindel’s husband taught the tributes how to tie knots, and at another station they could practice their cookie-decorating skills.  I also had a poster with photos of plants, and they had to decide if the plants were “Edible or Poisonous?”.  Another poster featured photos of actors who could be possibilities for the upcoming film.

After this, we broke for food.  I served cheese (in honor of Prim), bread (from Peeta’s bakery) and berries (totally edible – guaranteed not to kill you).  We took a few minutes to talk about the books, but as a couple of the kids hadn’t read Mockingjay yet, we needed to be careful not to reveal spoilers.

We closed with a “reaping.”  We had a drawing and the winner received a silver backpack (a leftover Summer Reading prize) filled with such “survival” gear as camouflage duct tape, beef jerky, bottled water, granola bars and a flashlight.  The rest of the tributes were invited to select an item from the “cornucopia” which included similar items.

This was a lot of fun to plan and to do.  We all had a great time, and may do it again when the movie finally comes out.


"Greasy Sae" "Effie Trinket" and "Mrs. Everdeen"

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood

January 8, 2011

I’m a big fan of the Road Trip book.  This is any book, fiction or non-fiction where the characters embark on some sort of journey, usually by motor vehicle, but not always.  One novel that  falls in this genre is Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.  Though Phileas Fogg’s journey involved several modes of transportation, to me it still qualifies as a road trip.

Now YA author Gary Blackwood has written a sequel to this classic.  In Around the World in 100 Days he tells the story of Phileas and Aouda Fogg’s son Harry, a young man with a passion for steam-powered automobiles, and little interest in formal education.  When Harry boasts that the automobile he and  his best friend Johnny Shaugnessey have built is so reliable and powerful it could be driven around the world, some of his father’s colleagues at the Reform Club take him up on his claim and make a wager that he can’t drive around the world in 100 days.  Fogg, of course, takes the bet, and embarks on his journey.  Accompanied by Johnny, Charles Hardiman, the son of one of the bettors whose role is to make sure Fogg doesn’t cheat, and Elizabeth, a young journalist, Harry attempts to cross the globe in his car.  The car must travel on its own power, except for crossing bodies of water.  Throughout the journey the group faces breakdowns, danger, and possible sabotage.

When I first read a review of this book in School Library Journal I thought it sounded great, and wanted to read it for myself, but I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to any of the readers who come to my library.  I obtained a copy through inter-library loan to see for myself, and without a doubt this book will appeal to many young readers.  There’s adventure, danger, and interesting characters, with a bit of a mystery.  I’m definitely buying a copy for my library and plan on suggesting it to several young (and not-so-young) readers.

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

December 22, 2010

Derek Fallon is looking forward to his summer vacation, until he learns that he will have to read 3 books during the summer and be prepared to give a book report on the first day of school.  His dreams of goofing off with his friend Matt are further dashed when Matt’s family leaves for a long vacation, and his mom enrolls him in “learning camp.”  Learning Camp is bad enough, but becomes worse when his mortal enemy, Carly Rodriguez, the smartest girl in his class shows up as a fellow camper.

Along with the trauma of reading and learning, Derek is trying to solve a mystery.  While in his attic he finds a newspaper clipping about a girl on Martha’s Vineyard who drowned.  Derek cannot figure out why his parents have this clipping, and they’re reluctant to tell him, so he spends the summer trying to solve this mystery.

Written in the first person, this is an enjoyable book about a boy with a lot of energy and unrealized talent.  Derek loves to draw (the book is peppered with simple illustrations drawn by the author’s own 15-year old son), and this talent is encouraged by his parents and teacher.  It’s interesting to see Derek grow over the summer and realize that things (and people) are not always as they seem at first.  This book reminded me a bit of those of Andrew Clements, and the character of Derek bore a resemblance to the character of Joey Pigza, created by Jack Gantos.

This is a good book for those 4th – 6th grade boys who don’t really enjoy reading, but like a fun, quick story.

They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbel Bartoletti

December 7, 2010

Bartoletti is the author of one of the best non-fiction books for kids – Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow.  In her latest book she explains the origins and growth of the Ku Klux Klan.  Starting with the end of the Civil War, Bartoletti traces the social and political issues that led to the formation of this group.  She explains the frustrations felt by some Southerners after their defeat, and the political climate that exacerbated the situation.

Bartoletti presents the information fairly while still managing to demonstrate the group’s violence and inhumanity.  While I didn’t feel the book flowed as well as Hitler Youth, I still found it an informative and well-written book on a topic not usually found in books for younger readers.  I definitely recommend this book to others.