Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Looking Glass Wars

The Looking Glass Wars
by Frank Beddor

A retelling of the Alice in Wonderland stories (does L. Carroll get any royalty checks?) in a more fantasy-battle tone... Alice in the Matrix, with Keanu Reeves as the Mad Hatter. Despite the lead character being a princess, boys will enjoy this book -- plenty of action and weapons to recreate on the playground.

Quick read, a good page-turner, and leads into re-reading the original Alice books next (which I haven't done in a looooong time); one thing I'm going to try with my boys and our library visits this year is to "connect the dots" with their reading choices. This book leads to Alice in Wonderland, a Lewis Carroll bio, or another book with Queens and Kings, or maybe "How to shuffle cards like a Vegas dealer" -- well, I might not allow that last one in case I get busted for teaching gambling, but I want them to keep track of what they read and see how the books/authors are connected in a "six degrees of..." way.

We'll see if it works...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil...

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler

by E.L. Konigsburg

Newbery Medal 1968*

Good story, gets my recommendation as one to read... a lot in here to discuss with a class/reader: kids running away from home (where would you eat, sleep, bathe?), museum treasures, art history, parents and family, generational relationships...

" should want to learn one new thing every day."

"No...some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside you until it touches everything."

*beat out Scott O'Dell's The Black Pearl and Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Westing Game

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)

Newbery Medal 1979

It must have been a down year for children's literature, 'cause if this was the top book I would hate to read anything else... too many characters, some very similar, some nonsensical, some stereotyped; abrupt changes in setting and dialogue, so the reader doesn't know who is it what room talking to whoever (whom and whomever?); and no character(s) to really invest in and care about, they were either cardboard fill-ins or spoiled and rude.

This book did spark a little curiosity, a couple of questions after "I still have how many pages til the end?" -- what else was published that year? when was the game Clue invented?

5 minutes later update: Apparently, some people really liked this book enough to create a website, or some people were so baffled by this book they had to create a website to sort it all out...

Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett

As a huge fan of Pratchett's Discworld books, I wanted to introduce him to the Boys; he has several YA titles, including The Wee Free Men and some about magic rats. This one is good, funny and clever, and part of a series (The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy), so don't expect everything ironed out in the end. It's also a caution to authors that use current event/pop culture references in their work: Michael Jackson?!?!?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mary Poppins

...had a big time crush on the mysterious and magical Nanny, comes from Son #1 watching the movie DAILY when he was wee... thanks to my affection for the young Miss Andrews and for the clown girl from Big Comfy Couch, he and I probably watched waaaay too much tv... but it's all part of the father/son bonding process, right?

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Ah, but this Mary, this Original Nannsta, is old school and quite different from Disney's version: she's sassy and rude, looks down her not-so-adorable nose, and is very fond of admiring herself and how cool she is... this Poppins doesn't take any crap, and no silly, syrupy songs either...

A curious point -- I have a 1981 copyright "revised edition" and there actually is a chapter titled Bad Tuesday (revised version). What's that all about? The chapter is mainly Michael's bad day where he goes around kicking and abusing the house staff... maybe he felt up the cook or smoked a doobie (or whatever they were called in the 1930's) behind the tool shed... anyone know why it was edited/altered/rewritten?

Drums, Girls...

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

by Jordan Sonnenblick

Both #1 and #2 Boys loved this book, probably because they both have a little brother, there are drum sticks constantly being drummed (struck? drum struck?), and because the hero is a dork, just like my pride and joys...

Told from the view and voice of the eighth grade protagonist, the story is easy to follow and the characters easy to believe in and root for... plenty of humor, admiration and confusion regarding the opposite sex, clueless parents ("rents"). Good book for empathy, seeing both sides of situations (even the parent's), and discussing health issues such as cancer.

A lot of music in the story, so I made a playlist of artists and styles mentioned such as Brubeck, Gilespie, and be-bop for the Boys, which could also be played in the classroom... which led me to wonder what other books have a "soundtrack" that could be created?

Any ideas?

coupla days later...

I read back through the book and found Duke Ellington (Satin Doll), Dizzy Gilespie (Manteca, Cubana Be-Cubana Bop), Dave Brubeck (Take Five) and the Barney Miller tv show theme, then added some Louis Prima and Buddy Rich... gotta teach these boys, life ain't all Bon Jovi or Nirvana...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I normally refuse to buy books with the movie poster cover or big shiny stickers that say "Don't Miss the Blockbuster..." but I read this because it looked like a cool movie... who can argue with giant armored polar bears? The book and its author also seem to be in the top 3 things to chat about over on LibraryThing as well, and who doesn't love a good religious zealot/banned books debate?

It appears these books (this is #1 of a trilogy) are not only an imaginative fantasy adventure for kids but an attack on the concept of God and a call to destroy all organized religion. Oooh-kay. I have not read any of the details, but it appears Mr. Pullman is outspoken and controversial and has raised the ire of a few special interest groups.

That being said, this is a cool book, with giant armored polar bears! There is magic, witches, gypsies, creepily suspicious adults, castles, zeppelins, and heroic children, all thrown at the reader at a frenetic pace. It does get a little talky attempting to explain details, and the ending was not enough of an end for me, but as part of an ubiquitous series, the cliffhanger aspect should be expected.

It's a thick book, lots to get through, but it would still work well for a reader wanting to take his/her time. Ages 10 - 14. More advanced readers could certainly find a lot to discuss from the religious tones, but for the most part kids are going to read this as Fantasy and will really dig the daemons, as well as identifying with Lyra.

I guess I should start focusing on themes and stuff like that... friendship? honor and trust? bravery? any suggestions...?

postscript 12.03 --Here is a well written and seemingly unbiased article on Pullman and the controversy surrounding his writing and views...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Brother Sam...

My Brother Sam Is Dead by J.L. Collier & C. Collier (1974)

Newbery Honor 1974

A bit on the violent side, with heads lopped off and all, but a quality read; timely for both when it was written, after the Viet Nam war, and now. The reality of war's impact on those left at home, and those left when people begin to die. Battle is not glorified, and both sides are shown as brought down and lessened by war, no matter their ideologies.

I also thought it was interesting how many times it was mentioned that Tim, not even old enough to drive, drinks beer and wine, even gets himself a little drunk to stave off the cold... a product of the time the story was being written (early 1970's -- were the authors laid back hippie types?) possibly. I know kids drank beer, fermented cider, whatever, but it seems a comtemporary author would downplay that aspect in regards to alcohol abuse reaching younger kids these days?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Newbery Medal 1994

Yes, I am man enough to admit tears did flow. I am man enough to confess to my emotional weakness, but only due to the blessed anonymity of the internet -- I doubt I will crash into any of you at Vons tomorrow and need to hide behind the banana and mango display when you announce to all "Hey, you're the guy bawling your eyes out when reading a children's book!"

Seriously, I have to rank this as a great book; the ending was not my favorite style of conclusion (the lady or the tiger?) but overall I was very impressed. I cared about the characters, the writing was clear not heavy, even during the serious parts. It does get serious, and disturbing, so 6th grade and up...

{note from an astute LTer : " I think it was the most appropriate way for The Giver to wrap up, especially because it's a YA novel--in other words, geared toward younger readers who are still learning to think and question information. A concrete ending with a single interpretation would have adversely affected their options to do so.In fact, I like the ambiguous ending so much that I have no plans to read the companion books, because of their potential to limit some of the many (often incompatible) conclusions I've drawn about The Giver's world." -- "Trismegistus" } 1/26/08

Friday, October 26, 2007


No, not a family photo album, although a picture of my boys on the cover might have sold some copies this time of year...


by Scott Westerfeld

I liked this one a lot... moved quick, believable dialogue, action and suspense... didn't realize it was a series so I have to read another book to find out what happens, but the story stands alone well. 10 - 13, girls especially, but "e" for everyone.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I am the Messenger

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I almost didn't finish this one, or get very far into it -- after a funny, catchy opening it was turning into the story of a slacker and his life of beer and sex... but then it turned into a great story: a little melodrama, some violence, a potty-mouth mom, and positive messages... the ending was a little weak, but maybe just from an adult's POV. 9th grade (?).

Bone by Jeff Smith

a graphic novel, or comic book if you prefer.... heard a lot about these, but picked up one in the center of the story arc. Looks cool though, will find the others....

Friday, October 5, 2007

the Outsiders

Happy 40th! Remember, it's just a number, you're only as old as you feel... unless you look thrashed and well-used, then you need to start working on some things or look into surgery....
Anyway, picked this up off the Banned Book display -- guess it's been 30 years since reading it, 20 since the movie (?) ...will it be relevant/interesting to kids these days? OG or too tame?
Not bad, can see why it's been popular for decades: good looking protagonists, rebellion, fighting, with some tender sibling familial love... and I'm sure a big part of its appeal is that not only was it written by a 16 year old, it reads like it was written by a 16 year old. Kids can appreciate it because it expressess their confusion and emotion in the way they would write it, as they probably do write it.

Monday, October 1, 2007


not as much time to read lately, between football practice and math & science on the CSET...

Sounder by William H. Armstrong

Newbery Medal 1970

...but read Sounder for the first time, and both loved it and was... troubled? No, not troubled, but it worked its way inside me, even as I was reading, and it made me want so much more -- what does it mean? what is it telling me? what should I, or do I, feel? what happened next, or before? what else has this author written...? It was just one of those books that I could instantly appreciate as quality writing, as art, and as important. I didn't want it to end, yet also I did, so that I could go back and read it again.

Did you ever read Sounder -- what is it all about?

Ever had a book have this effect on you?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Compleat Cast of Characters in Literature

says right on the cover: "EVERY CHARACTER EVER"

very cool book; lists over 8000 characters and what books they appeared in. almost reads like a school yearbook, just flip through some pages and see who you recognize -- oh yeah, I remember him.... It would be nice to find one like this that focuses on children's literature, with maybe a little more on each character's info. I'll keep looking.

Friday, August 24, 2007

math books

who knew people would want to write books about math?

G is for Googol Schwartz
alphabetical math terms/concepts; good illustrations, bad jokes, ideas for students to relate to concepts, various grade levels

Tiger Math Nagda and Bickel
graphs; picture graphs for comparisons, pie chart (part of a whole). easy to follow, clear graphs to give students ideas to create their own

Math Curse Scieszka, ill. Smith
funny, jokes; good for intro to math/fractions/word problems, then review during or after unit to solve the problems; could use each page for fun parts of assignments to each math concept.

A Three Hat Day Geringer, ill. Lobel
read to younger as counting book/beginning reader; intro to “3rd” “4th”

Math Appeal Tang, ill. Briggs
how demoralizing and depressing -- I’ll cop to being confused by algebra, but elementary counting riddles???? yikes…. oh, thank goodness the answers/explanations are in the back! Clever, cute illustrations, concept is pattern recognition and counting skills.

Roman Numerals Adler
Roman numerals… hence the title.

Fraction Action Liddy
real life examples and good visuals (mostly food) of fractions and sets

How Much is a Million? Schwartz, ill. Kellogg
explanation/comprehension of mill-,bill-,trillion, and how the examples were calculated (1 gallon water per 1” goldfish) -- good for encouraging questioning of “facts”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

the Number Devil

The Number Devil A Mathematical Adventure
by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Ok, kind of a strange text book. A kid actually looks forward to going to bed at night and dreaming of... math!!! Normal children dream of Nintendo, superheroes, Hanna Montana, but this one does math problems in his sleep.

It's actually a cool book; I did not understand all the concepts and explanations, but I don't have to understand it to teach it, do I? There are lesson/game ideas to make math "fun" and it's a different way to introduce and explain decilmal, factorials, and dividing by zero... some kids could probably get a lot out of it just from the engaging story, and learn something almost accidentally.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Roll of Thunder

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Mildred D Taylor (1976)

Newbery Medal 1977

Quality. Very engaging, lots of directions to go with discussions on race and interpersonal relationships, plus room for predictions -- what happens next?

Trollbridge Yolen and Stemple (2006)

fun, entertaining, but too many characters to keep track of.. is she the hero, is he? And where did the fox go for half the book?

Dangerous Book for Boys

very cool book, bought several for friends and nephews before my son's birthday finally rolled around and I could give one I could borrow back to read... turned right to page 109, "Girls" -- I sense the influence of the author's wife, since the rules include "it is important to listen" and "avoid being vulgar" -- what are we teaching our children?!?!?!?
...but you can download cool merit badges (to gluestick to the bookcover?) at

Harry Potter

I'm glad it was not only better than I thought it would be, it was very, very good. It made me glad I read it, and glad that my children read it as well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

C.S. Lewis

Like fresh baked cookies, you cannot have just one -- you must read The Magician's Nephew to be there at the birth of Narnia and the start of the adventures; then after LW&W read Prince Caspian right away and probably Dawn Treader before jumping to The Last Battle. Then, of course, you might as well read all the rest.

If you could have only one, this edition would be the one to have: 1950 1st edition, $22,000 and it's on your bookshelf!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007


Katherine Paterson (1991)

historical fiction, Lowell Massachusetts factory girls; hard work, independence, support and care for family… labor issues, value of reading/education, society/class differences… farm/work life for children in 1800’s


The Amazing Bone William Steig (1976) Caldecot Honor

ok, it's a fairy tale; but why a bone?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Zen Shorts

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

Stillwater the giant panda teaches important life lessons in a David Carradine/Yoda zen-like manner... beautiful pictures, stories within the story to discuss with your kids and focus on how to respond and resolve issues in a selfless, peaceful way... very cool, 2 opposable thumbs up!

Little House...

Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)

children that mind their parents! American West, building from scratch, dangers in wilderness… and yes, Ma is a racist. But is it redeemed in the end? Or too offensive?

here's one view:

Maniac Magee/Holes

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1990)

Newbery Medal 1991

liked the beginning more than the end, good to use for legends, urban myths, hyperbole… and in discussions of colorblind-ness/race relations… characters too stereotypical?

Holes by Louis Sachar

Newbery Medal 1999

very good…