Monday, August 31, 2009

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

Collins, S.  (2008).  The Hunger Games.  New York:  Scholastic Press.


Katniss lives in the fenced-in District 12 with her mother and sister, taking care of them and escaping the district to hunt for wild animals to sell their meat on the black market just to survive.  Sixteen-year-old Katniss describes her home zone as a place “where you can starve to death in safety” (p. 6).  Because of a past rebellion, all of the districts are punished with the Hunger Games:  all children between the ages of 12 and 18 in each district are placed in a lottery.  The boy and girl selected from each district must compete for survival against the other children chosen.  The winning district is rewarded with extra food for a year.  When Katniss’s little sister is chosen for what will almost certainly be her death at the hands of another child, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Immediately after, Katniss, along with a boy named Peeta who Katniss has a fondness for, are swept off to the Capitol to vie for the affections of their fellow citizens before entering into a battle to the death.

Since there can be only one survivor, Katniss must struggle with deciding whether her fellow tributes are actually friends, enemies or merely plotting to ensure their own survival, while citizens around the country bet on who will die and when.

This dystopian young adult novel is set in the country Panem, in North America.   While some technology familiar to the readers remains,  the country is over all very different, depending on how well off the various districts are.

This story considers issues of power, class and the human condition.  It’s very engaging and tense.  So much so, I just may have to add Suzanne Collins to the short list of authors I would marry without question.

The sequel comes out toooooomorrooooooooow!  I’ll be posting my review of Catching Fire at 12:01 tonight.  My one hint for the time being is that the sequel lives up to the first.

Activities to Do with the Book:

To go a pop culture oriented route, a teacher could recommend various reality shows (with Survivor, American Idol, Miss America Pageant all at the top of the list) for students to compare to the book.  Among the things they could contrast are what are the assumptions about the societies driving the various competitions.

Other narratives that can draw comparison include Miss Congeniality, The Truman ShowLost, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, Feed by M.T. Anderson, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Students could explore the different assumptions present about the nature of children in both books).  And the list could go on.

While discussing this book in terms of power and class, a teacher could easily transition into discussing various dangerous games conducted by various cultures historically.

Favorite Quotes:

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did.  This is the day of the reaping” (p. 1).

“The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it.  You become eligible for the reaping the day you turn twelve.  That year, your name is entered once.  At thirteen, twice.  And so on and so on until you reach the age of eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times.  That’s true for every citizen in all twelve districts in the entire country of Panem.
But here’s the catch.  Say you are poor and starving as we were.  You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae.  Each tessera is worth a meager year’s supply of grain and oil for one person.  You may do this for each of your family members as well” (p. 13).

“Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol.  Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated.  The Treay of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games” (p. 18).

“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch—this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy.  How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion.  Whatever words they use, the real message is clear.  “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do.  If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you” (pp. 18-19).

“And then I see her, the blood drained from her face, hands clenched in fists at her sides, walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, passing me, and I see the back of her blouse has become untucked and hangs out over her skirt.  It’s this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.
“Prim!”  The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again.  “Prim!”  I don’t need to shove through the crowd.  The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stge.  I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps.  With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp.  “I volunteer as tribute!”  (pp. 21-22).

“Come on, everybody!  Let’s give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!” trills Effie Trinket.
To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps.  Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring.  Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving.  So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage.  Silence” (pp. 23-24).
“Think of yourself among friends,” says Effie.
“they’re betting on how long I’ll live!  I burst out.  They’re not my friends!”
“Well, try and pretend!” snaps Effie.  Then she composes herself and beams at me.  “See like this.  I’m smiling at you even though you’re aggravating me” (p. 115).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Thirty-Five

I am particularly exhausted today. I spent two nights this week being an extra in a movie. My motivation for doing this was mainly boredom and the fact that I can now wander around and inform people that "Yeah, I was an extra in a movie once...."

The most interesting parts were the other extras I got to meet. So many of the people there were networking. And it wasn't just for acting. A man was doing magic tricks. A woman was doing portraits of the other extras. (She actually managed to get the attention of a few members of the crew who thought she might be able to help with story-boarding on other projects). Observing these people pass out their cards, describing the various projects they've worked on, their previous roles, etc. proved to be a nice break from playing poker with skittles and "would you rather..." with my friend.

I, on the other hand, did not attempt to network. I have trouble with the whole idea. Something about trying to sell yourself...actually feels like selling yourself. Or being overly prideful (which in my case always results in me fulling on my face--usually literally). As a quiet person, I prefer to direct the topic of conversation to others instead of myself. And as a person who expresses myself better on paper, I prefer writing letters or emails instead of actual speaking in front of a group or over the phone.

My biggest steps in social networking have been this blog and my twitter account. And this blog has become less about my sad attempt at selling myself and more about recording all the children's books I've been reading. I remember the details and themes of a text so much better when I blog about it. Plus, instead of doing pathetic google searches for books "I read that one that one dude...about that one thing...." I can now look through my archives and find my exact thoughts on a book and the tensions it deals with.

And as for Twitter, well, I don't feel I'm really making connections. Instead, I feel like I'm eavesdropping on all the conversations the popular kids are having, while trying to act cool, but silently wishing one of them would invite me over. So high school. And good fodder for writing about teenage angst.

So, what's the point of this post? What am I trying to say? Well...

Did I ever write to you about the time I was an extra in a movie?

REVIEW: Blueberries for Sal

McCloskey, R.  (1976).  Blueberries for Sal.  New York:  Viking Press.


In this classic, little Sal and her mom go to pick blueberries on the aptly named Blueberry Hill with the intention of canning them.  Sal complicates this plan by eating every blueberry that comes near her.  On the other side of the hill, another mother and child are out looking for berries, a anthropomorphized bear and her cub.  Both cub and child wind up separated from their mothers while eating the berries, they wind up following each other's mother.

This text has the potential to feel strange to students who are raised outside of the context of picking fresh berries and canning.  Despite this, a teacher could help make it relatable by emphasizing the idea of eating a favorite fruit.  This book could also be accused as being dated in terms of its gender roles (no fathers are present as care givers and Sal's mother is shown wearing a skirt despite the fact she is trekking up a hill).

For teachers on the hunt for a longer picturebook read aloud, this book is on the text-heavy side and is longer than the average picturebook by 20 pages.

McCloskey's illustrations are done realistically in black and white and earned the book a Caldecott Honor .


A teacher could use this story to set up a lesson on addition and subtraction, as Sal picks and eats the berries.

A teacher could use this to kick off a lesson on bears, their habitats, foods, behavior patterns, need for hibernation.

And of course, after sharing this book, an adult could take the student berry picking or be taught how to can berries or make jam.

A teacher could also pair Blueberries for Sal with Are You My Mother? and discuss what a child should do if they become lost.

Quotes of Note:

"One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries."

"She picked three more berries and ate them.  Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail-Kurplunk!  And the rest she ate.  Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!"

"On the other side of Blueberry Hill, Little Bear came with his mother to eat blueberries."

"Little Bear and Little Sal's mother and Little Sal and Little Bear's mother were all mixed up with each other among the blueberries on Blueberry Hill."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Henkes, K.  (2009).  Birds.  China:  Greenwillow Books.


In the morning, a child (at the end she is revealed to be a girl...but through the majority of the text, almost any child should be able to place him or herself in the text) looks through the window at the birds beyond.  From there, she provides information on everything she knows about birds.


This would be an excellent book to share with students before having them bird watch out their own window (or on a trip to a park or nature preserve).  Other options include incorporating this into a lesson on the various breeds of birds.

For younger readers, a teacher can read the book aloud and draw the child's attention to the colors of the birds, encouraging the child to name the colors.  Children more proficient at writing could also write an "everything I know about birds" paragraph after finishing the book.  Other potential topics include the cloud shapes and types, weather and seasons (although the book does assume the weather patterns of the Northern Hemisphere).

Quotes of Note:

"In the morning, I hear birds singing through the open window."

"Sometimes they [birds] are so black that you can't see their eyes or their feathers, just their shapes."

"Sometimes, in winter, a bird in a tree looks like one red leaf left over."

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Stalker Edward of My Very Own! Thanks so much, but NO!

Get your credit cards out! You won't want to miss your chance to buy this wonderful piece of Twilight merchandise.

Just in case you feel your life is lacking that oh so wonderful feeling that you're being stalked.

You can now stick this 6 foot high monstrosity on your bedroom wall...

...for a mere $60 and then never sleep again.

I especially like the lame "Be Safe." It really helps to make me feel secure and loved as I sleep instead stalked and disturbed--(*Spoiler*) like some old vampire virgin might want to slowly separate me from my family and take away my freedoms before killing me with his freakish spawn. All because he couldn't stop himself from loving me.

Let us hope supplies aren't that high to begin with.

REVIEW: Busy Busy City Street

Meister, C.  (2000).  Busy Busy City Street.  New York:  Viking.


Busy Busy City Street shares the sounds and images typically found on a busy street, from the honks of the traffic to sirens of fire trucks.

This picturebook also includes some more unusual forms of transportation on the street, from a space car, to a gondola and elephant.  A parent or teacher could pause on that particular page and ask the child to pick out which forms of transportation would be available in another parts of the world or at another time in history (or the future, in one case).  Since traffic lights and crosswalks are also pictured, a teacher could discuss pedestrian safety.


And this is another book that can be used to introduce students to the idea of riding the bus to and from school.

This book would be good to help prepare a child from the suburbs or country for his or her first trip into the city and all of the noise and activity that can be found there.

Since the illustrations use a lot of colors and fun shapes, students may want to draw in response to reading this book.

Quotes of Note:

"Honk Beep Honk Beep."

"Siren sounds, fire call.  Taxi jam, traffic stall."

"Green light, horses go.  Clippety-clop, steady, whoa!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

REVIEW: Jellicoe Road

Machetta, M.  (2008).  Jellicoe Road.  New York:  Harper Teen.


Finally got around to reading this year's Printz winner!

Originally published in 2006, in Machetta's homeland, Australia, this story, set in the Australian bush, crosses time to share the events on Jellicoe Road and their repercussions for students at the Jellicoe School, the cadets who camp near by for six weeks and the townies.  

The majority of the narrative follows Taylor, a seventeen-year-old girl who has just been chosen to lead her school's underground community in a battle over territory lines with the cadets and the townies.  Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when Taylor was twelve, Hannah, the woman who has been her guardian since then, has left.  Adding to her turmoil, a boy, Jonah Griggs, who Taylor ran away with in a quest to find her mother several years ago and who betrayed their location to the school and Brigadier is back as the leader of the cadets.

The narratives of the past, arguably sections of a book one of the characters is working on, provide insights into Taylor's situation and her relationship with some of the adults in the area.

A complicated text full of contrasts and parallels, Jellicoe Road seems very confusing for the first 20 or 30 pages.  After that, interest in the story and Taylor's wit, toughness and struggles as a leader captured my interest.  But then around page 80 or 90, I began to see how the different narratives from the past and present began to weave together and I began to make connections.  That's when I became totally engrossed and didn't want to put the book down.  So, readers be warned, get through the confusing beginning and it will be worth it.

Now, I don't want to rush things.  I'll have to read Saving Francesca and Looking for Alibrandi, but I think I may have to add Melina Marchetta to the list of authors I'd like to marry.


This is a good sample text to share with students to show examples of parallels, contrasts and foils.

Doing some research on Australia would probably help to flesh out some of the details of the text:  their education system, the appearance of the bush, the uniforms cadets wear, etc.  A teacher could also use this book to trigger a refresher on metric measurements.

Jellicoe Road could also be used to encourage students to make and organize notes on the characters to help students to make connections.

Quotes of Note:

"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
I counted.
It happened on the Jellicoe Road.  The prettiest road I'd ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-la" (p. 1).

"Someone asked us later, "Didn't you wonder why no one came across you sooner?"
Did I wonder?
When you see your parents zipped up in black body bags on the Jellicoe Road like they're some kind of garbage, don't you know?
Wonder dies" (p. 2).

"I don't know where I fit in.  One day when I was eleven, my mother drove me out here and while I was in the toilets at the 7-Eleven on the Jellicoe Road, she drove off and left me there.  It becomes one of those defining moments in your life, when your mother does that.  It's not as if I don't forgive her, because I do.  It's like these horror films where the hero gets attacked by the zombie and he has to convince the heroine to shoot him, because in ten seconds' time he won't be who he was anymore.  He;ll have the same face but no soul" (p. 20).

"The territory wars have been part of the Jellicoe School's life ever since I can remember.  I don't know who started them.  The Townies say is was the Cadets from the city who have been coming out here for the last twenty or so years.  They set up camp right alongside the Jellicoe School for six weeks each September as part of their outdoor education program.  We say the Townies started the wars because they think Jellicoe belongs to them, and the Cadets blame us because they say we don't know how to share land" (p. 35).

"I need to act quickly before there's a coup and as I glance around the table I realise, once again, that my only potential ally is a drop-kick moron with tomato sauce all over his face" (pp. 45-46).

"Is a person worth more because they have someone to grieve for them? (p. 60).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

REVIEW: The Knight Who Took All Day

Mayhew, J.  (2005).  The Knight Who Took All Day.  New York:  The Chicken House.


A knight wishes to impress the princess.  When he hears that there's a dragon nearby the castle, he takes puts on his armor, sending his paige all over the castle to bring him the best cape, and other accessories to help improve his appearance.

Little does he know, there's a princess taking his cast off bits of armor, also preparing to face the dragon. 

With this picturebook, visual literacy is just as important as the words, since the princess preparation is not actually addressed in the text for most of the story.  

This is also a good book to use as a read aloud to a small group of children, since it incorporates some good vocabulary words and actually emphasizes some of the larger words with different fonts.  I also like that, although it is a story of a knight, there is no violence.

I have to admit though, I was not too impressed by the illustrations.  While they incorporate many colors and some humor, I wasn't a big fan of the crayon-like outlining of the buildings and dragon.  Of course, this could inspire children to draw in response to the book.


While this is a fun book to share, a teacher could also use this as a teaching moment to share all of the components of a Knight's suit of armor.  

For a math lesson, a teacher could emphasize the number 101, which is emphasized throughout the story, to show different ways to add and subtract to reach 101 as a result.  Another option would be to time children to see how long it takes to count to 101...or go up or down 101 steps...see how many M&M each student must eat for the entire class to consume 101 of the treats, etc.

Of course, there are also the morals of "the early bird catches the worm" and of the idea that appearances don't matter so much when your soon to be face to face with a dragon, no matter who is watching.

Quotes of Note:

"There once was a knight who thought he was brave and fearless and handsome.  He longed to show everyone how daring he could be.  He especially wished to impress the princess, who sat in her tower combing her long golden hair."

"Then one day, without warning, a Dragon appeared on the horizon.  And he was a pretty big one, too, with smoke pouring from his terrible mouth. 
The knight was delighted, and ordered the squire to ready his armor."

"Not that armor, you fool!" he bellowed.  "I need my shining armor, with the curly flourishes!  And fetch me a helmet with a visor!"
The squire ran down the hundred and one steps and found the knight's shining armor and helmet.  With a visor."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

REVIEW: Repossessed

Jenkins, A.M. (2007). Repossessed. New York: Harper Teen.


In a wickedly fun bit of perspective taking, Repossessed shares the story of Kiriel, one of the worker demons in Hell who decides to take a vacation from work and spend time in the body of a teenage boy named Shaun. While trying to remain undetected, Kiriel is out to have some fun and take in as much of the human experience as possible.

Think Meet Joe Black, but with a demon.

Kiriel had watched Shaun and the people he interacted with extensively before taking the teen's body right before Shaun would have accidentally stepped out in front of an oncoming cement mixer. Nonetheless, as Kiriel adjusts to being in Shaun's body, many of the people in Shaun's life can't help but notice small changes in Shaun, and not necessarily for the worse. As Kiriel enjoys his vacation he can't help but fear and hope for his Creator attention for having broken the rules.

This book is in part about appreciating the small things. Kiriel spends a lot of time tasting foods, touching objects, learning to walk, appreciating air and water etc. all those things most people take for granted on a daily basis. Other themes include looking beyond appearances, rejection, acceptance, love and causing change.

I have to say, I didn't really like the way this book ended. I won't say more, since I would prefer to avoid spoilers, but if anyone has read this book and would like to discuss the ending (or other aspects!) make a comment or email me with your thoughts. I hearts discussion.


In similar fashion to the movie Dogma, Repossessed has the potential to offend, but at the same time, it manages to humorously touch on some important religious as well as universal concerns and would be an excellent discussion starter. Central questions include whether Kiriel is a redeemable character, issues of free will and determinism, issues of connecting to others and having your voice heard.

This book could be paired with Paradise Lost, The Inferno and sections from the Bible.

Quotes of Note:

"First thing I did was, I stole a body. I could have made my own, but I wasn't in an artistic frame of mind.
I was just fed up, you know; fed up with being a cog in a vast machine, with doing my pointless, demeaning job. It's not like I was the only one who could do it--anybody could do it. Tormenting the damned---it practically does itself, no lie. And it's depressing; I can't tell you how depressing it is" (p. 1).

"I wanted to keep it simple, start small. Slip into a life that was already taking place. Something with all the synapses in working condition. A body that was carefree, insulated from earthly considerations like hunger; a protected place to try out physical existence. A body without responsibilities--no job or family to care for; someone who had time to experience the things I wanted to experience. But not too protected. Someone who wasn't watched every second. Someone who had a little time on his hands, but also a safe place to go to every night.
I knew I wanted all this, so I decided to take a middle-class suburban American teenager" (p. 2).

"I don't like the term "demon." It carries quite a bit of negativity with it. It implies a pointy tail and cloven hooves. I prefer the term "fallen angel." That is, indeed, what we are. The difference between us and the angels who didn't fall from grace is that the Unfallen were, are, and always will be faithful, stalwart, and obedient. That is their nature, just as it is their nature to rejoice in worship and contemplation of the vastness of the Creator's perfection. We, the Fallen, wondered, questioned, confronted, eventually demanded, and in general pushed the edges of the envelope till the envelope burst" (p. 9).

"And I thought it would be fun to read questions and let the answers form themselves into actual words inside Shaun's head. And to write, on a piece of paper, with a pencil--to experience for myself the delicacy of finger movements required to make marks that communicated one's thoughts to anyone who saw them. Sounded like fun to me!" (p. 31).

Monday, August 24, 2009

REVIEW: Cheech the School Bus Driver

Marin, C.  (2007).  Cheech the School Bus Driver. New York:  HarperCollins Publishers.


Cheech the school bus driver guides several students who are preparing for a battle of the bands.  While the students are initially intimidated by the other bands who use costumes, dances and loud noise to win over the audience.  With Cheech's encouragement, the students decide to play and dress as a traditional mariachi band.

This picturebook includes fun and colorful illustrations to support the text and celebrates the Chicano experience.

My one critique of this story is the fact that the adult character, Cheech, is at the center of the story instead of the kids.


This would be an excellent book to discuss ideas of maintaing culture in the face of pressure to assimilate, chicano culture and mariachi music.  Cheech the School Bus Driver could also be used to present young musicians with the idea of a battle of the bands if there were ever a school or community competition.

Or going a different direction, this book could be used to show how kind and supportive a bus driver can be to nervous new riders.

Quotes of Note:

"My name is Cheech, and I'll be your school bus driver today.  I am a really, really, really, REALLY good bus driver.  I always get to school on time, and I never, ever ever, EVER get lost."

"The kids on my bus usually carry backpacks and schoolbooks.  But one Monday, the kids got on the bus with musical instruments instead."

"We're just starting a mariachi band, to play in the Battle of the Bands!  And we named ourselves the Cheecharrones!"

"Mariachi can beat rock and roll any day!"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Thirty-Four

Checking in again.

Are we absolutely certain that an entire week has gone by? Cause time appears to be speeding up. And I don't appreciate it.

Many agents and editors frown on sending out simultaneous submissions (submitting one of your manuscripts to many of them all at once). And since I've already sent out an excerpt of my most recent story, I've had to focus this week on sending out a few short stories instead. This has led me to the conclusion that there need to be more science fiction magazines. I think the best way for that to happen would be to have more people fall in love with science fiction. You hear that, people? Get on that.

That is all.


Westerfeld, S.  (2005).  Peeps.  New York:  Razorbill.


Nineteen-year-old Cal has had to hunt down all of his ex-girlfriends.  Literally.  Hunt and capture.  Turns out he is one of the rare carriers of the vampire parasite.  It's in his saliva, so any girl he has kissed has become a vampire or peep.  Since the carriers also gain some strength and feed from the infection, he's one of the few humans able to face the peeps and survive.  

Cal must also find the source of his parasite strain.  This will lead him to the girl who originally infected him, her strange apartment building, and a new attractive woman named Lace who Cal must keep safe from the peeps and from himself.

In similar fashion to what Charlaine Harris did within her first few Sookie Stackhouse novels (but later abandoned for a more classic approach), Westerfeld has re-imagined vampirism as a infectious parasite that passes through a carrier's kiss (talk about a kissing disease!).  Westerfeld does an excellent job of presenting vampirism almost as a metaphorical sexually transmitted disease:  one that changes Cal's life permanently, one that makes contacting exes very awkward, one that influences all future relationships.  With breaks in the narrative, Peeps is very informative about the ways various real parasite work in humans and other animals, with some icky details.

With lots of action and a conspiracy or two,

is a fun twisty look at vampires that shares awesome new insight into the creatures.  Plus, there's a sequel:  The Last Days, which follows different characters in New York City.

Admittedly, not the best book to hand to a paranoid germaphobe.  But they may still find joy in some of the shivers (plus Westerfeld includes cautionary tips on how to avoid parasites in the afterword).

As a side note, What do you think of the alternate cover?  I kind of like it, but then I have a low tolerance for seeing angsty teens on the covers of all YA novels.

Activities to Do with the Book:

There are many a research project that could be tied with this book:  History of vampires and vampire myths, the history of various diseases and parasites and how they spread, comparative essays to other vampire books and reimaginings.  They could also look at species of ancient animals that were thought long extinct but have actually relocated or evolved.

Quotes of Note:

"After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah.
It turned out she'd been hiding in New Jersey, which broke my heart.  I mean, Hoboken?  Sarah was always head-over-heels in love with Manhattan.  For her, New York was like another Elvis, the King remade of bricks, steel, and granite.  The rest of the world was a vast extension of her parents' basement, the last place she wanted to wind up.
No wonder she'd had to leave when the disease took hold of her mind.  Peeps always run from the things they used to love" (p. 1).

"The disease has spent the last thousand years evolving to conceal itself, but it gets tougher and tougher for man-eaters to stay hidden.  Human beings are prey with cell phones, after all" (p. 7).

"Welcome to the wonderful world of parasites.
This is where I live" (p. 17).

"First of all, you won't see me using the V-word much.  In the Night Watch, we prefer the term parasite-positives or peeps for short.
The main thing to remember is that there's no magic involved.  No flying.  Humans don't have hollow bones or wings--the disease doesn't change that" (p. 19).

"We're called carriers because we have the disease without all the symptoms.  Although there is this one extra symptom that we do have:  The disease makes us horny.  All the time.
The parasite doesn't want us carriers to go to waste after all.  We can still spread the disease to other humans.  Like that of the maniacs, our saliva carries the parasite's spores.  But we don't bite, we kiss, the longer and harder the better" (pp. 22-23).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saying goodbye to Andrew Peterson and the Wingfeather Saga (for now)

On this last day of looking at Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga, I thought I'd take the time to get on my feminist soapbox.

While this series seems intent on sharing "great values" as the creater of Veggie Tales described it. I had trouble with the way gender was constructed (most particularly in On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness).

Nia, the Igiby mother, and Leeli, the youngest child, are the two main featured female characters. Overall, they are described in terms of beaty, nurturing, victimization or in Leeli's case, her bad leg, which marks, restricts and makes her dependent on others more often than her brothers.

The only situations when Nia and Leelie aren't acting in passive ways are when cooking, cleaning, bribing or feelings of compassion are involved. When Nia finally becomes assertive in deciding where her family is going to go, she declares her authority as a mother and not as *SMALL SPOILER for the first book* the queen of a besieged country.

This got old. And by old, I mean I was ready to stop reading when Leelie was put in the position of being victim for the second time during the first book when she was kidnapped by a Fang into the forest as bait and made to wait for men to ride to her rescue (Nia similarly isn't considered as being a potential rescuer). But alas, I was only reading the first book to have a better understanding of the second book, which I hadn't even started yet. So I read on.

The second book initially seemed as though it would follow along in much the same way and I almost lost hope. That is, until the Igibys are captured by Stranders, or thieves. One in their number, Maraly, is pretty tough. The girl can fight. She becomes friends with Tink, but is still described with terms about her "meanness" and tendency to fight "dirty" (p. 118). If there'd been a few more positive implications, I'd have been happier.

Now, I'll admit, I grew up reading and loving literature that incorporated female warriors and women in roles traditionally reserved for men. I like it when the ladies kick ass. Always have, always will. So, I am bias. I'd love to read others' opinions on the way gender was presented in this series.

To find out more about Andrew Peterson and his books, you can check out his website, here or his blog, here. Also, be sure to find out what other bloggers have to say about North! Or Be Eaten:

Friday, August 21, 2009

REVIEW: North! Or Be Eaten

Peterson, A. (2009). North! or Be Eaten. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press.


Weeks have passed since the end of the events of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. The Igiby children are drilled each day to be prepared for danger. With the approach of autumn, the family prepares to leave the safety of their hiding spot to travel north in the hopes of finding distant relatives and allies who will help them to avoid the evil despot, Gnag the Nameless. With a warning from a friend they had thought dead and a marching band of Fangs, the Igibys must flee sooner than expected and encounter danger after danger during their escape to the North.

While I have to admit, I wouldn't call myself a fan of this series, I did like that North! or Be Eaten began with a much faster pace as the Igibys encountered danger after threat after beastie after danger after avoiding capture after DANGER after actually being captured after more danger and threats during their flight North. The Igiby family makes many new friends along their journey and encounter many new enemies as the children struggle to understand their new roles and future jobs. Tink struggles the most, unsure if he can handle the responsibility that comes with being the second born.

A religious subtext was more noticeable in this book than in the last one, with an ancient book being translated that reveals a way to reclaim a city with a possible link to the Maker and a past of holiness. A teacher could use this aspect of the text to discuss allegory or the history of Israel.

One drawback to the series overall (and something Peterson has no control over what so ever), is the amount of text on each page.

Crud. The picture doesn't really seem to capture the amount of text the way I'd hoped it would. Fail. But believe me when I say, I first opened my copy of the book and went "Whoa!" Some could accuse me of being too used to the big font of other children's books. But I would argue this book has more text per a page than many of my rambling literary theory books from the library. Truth!

I could see a middle grade student being VERY intimidated by this.

To help ease a child in, a teacher or parent could begin the book as a read aloud or remind the child that the chapters are relatively short and there is the occasional illustration. But at the end of the day, I'd rather read a 500 page book and feel like I'm making more progress by flipping pages than sitting on one page for 10 minutes. (I know that'd mean more paper and would make the book more expensive and I would like to say sorry to the trees of the world and that, in my defense, I have invested in a Kindle)

Activities to Do with the Book:

Students could focus in on the way Peterson attempts to build a complete world and culture (focusing in on the information included in the footnotes). A teacher could guide them into a conversation about how so many sayings, activities, celebrations are hinged on insider knowledge of a culture.

Quotes of Note:

"Toothy Cow!" bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree. The old pirate's eyes blazed, and he stood at the base of the tree like a ship's captain at the mast. "Toothy cow! Quick! Into the tree house!"
Not far away, an arrow whizzed through some hanging moss and thudded into a plank of wood decorated with a charcoal drawing of a snarling Fang. The arrow protruded from the Fang's mouth, the shaft still vibrating from the impact. Tink lowered his bow, squinted to see if he had hit the target, and completely ignored his grandfather.
"Tooooothy--oy! That's a fine shot, lad--Cow!" (p. 1).

"Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang still terrorized the land of Skree, and the shadow they cast covered more of Aerwiar with every passing day. It was only a matter of time before that shadow fell again on the Igibys" (p. 4).

"What were you doing back there? All day we've been in danger, but you keep standing around! Is this a game to you?" (p. 51).

"I'll know better once I've had more time to translate. But if there is a chamber, if there is some secret there that can protect Anniera..." Oskar looked over his spectacles at Janner. "That could be the reason your father risked his life to get you this book" (p. 132).

To find out more about Andrew Peterson and his books, you can check out his website, here or his blog, here. Also, be sure to find out what other bloggers have to say about North! Or Be Eaten:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Introducing Andrew Peterson and the Wingreather Saga

For the next three days, tour bloggers (myself among them) will be focusing on Andrew Peterson's latest installment in his Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten.

Peterson has a background as a singer/songwriter (and has several CDs available). His first published book is a middle grade story called The Ballad of Matthew's Begats, which is a ballad to help bridge the old Testament with the New, accommodating his background as a singer and songwriter. After that, he began the Wingfeather Saga, which has a Biblical/folklorish, classic fantasy feel since it begins with the origin of the Aerwiar world.

Since North! or be Eaten is the second book in the Wingfeather Saga, I couldn't possibly let you go these three days of Wingfeather trilogy discussion without a review of the first book, now could I? No, I couldn't.

Peterson, A. (2008). On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness introduces readers to twelve-year-old Janner and his younger brother and sister, Tink and Leeli. The three siblings leave their mother and grandfather (Janner's father died years before and until the day the book opens with, Janner didn't even know his father's name) to go into the town to attend the Dragon Day festival. Problems arises as group of Fangs, the Lizard soldiers who serve the evil king encounter Leeli and her dog, Nugget.

While Peterson has a lot of fun with language--I particularly like the name of the Gnag the Nameless. But I felt like this fun didn't go far enough. Take the title "the dark sea of darkness" as an example: campy fun.

I wanted to like this book. I really did, but small things prevented me from really getting into it. The narrative often jumped from point of view to point of view among the Igiby children or their mother or grandfather within the span of a few paragraphs. I had trouble keeping some of the characters straight, especially since the Igiby children's mother was called by her first name, Nia (instead of say, Mommy-dear). I felt like the idea of the missing Jewels of Anneira or the mysterious map Tink and Janner find needed to be presented earlier.

I read this book using the Kindle edition. I feel this book is probably more impressive on paper. I found the Kindle illustrations (particularly the maps) to be difficult to decipher.

Activities to do with the Book:

In response to the book, students could write journal entries in the voice of one of the supporting characters. They could create maps of their own neighborhood, town or of imagined places.

They could make predictions about what will happen in the rest of the series or about what happened previously to Peet the Sock Man.

Quotes of Note:

"The old stories tell that when the first person woke up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, "Well, here we are." The man's name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, whom he would learn to get along with very well. In the many ages that followed, that first sentence was taught to children and their children's children and their children's parents' cousins and so on until, quite by accident, all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwair."

"What could possibly happen in just a few seconds?"

"Each stranger in Glipwood that day was a reminder to Janner that he had never, never left the town. They lit up his imagination and filled him with an ache to see the world."

"If anyone reads this without permission, he will be most certainly and brutally slain. Or at the very least I'll chop off a finger or two. Or three."

"I'm just saying there's a lot more to this little down than we thought. Our mother has a hidden stash of jewels that we didn't know about. Mister Reteep gets an Annieran journal in a crate from Dang. He has a hidden map. And some mysterious person with perfect aim saved our lives yesterday."

To find out more about Andrew Peterson and his books, you can check out his website, here or his blog, here. Also, be sure to find out what other bloggers have to say about North! Or Be Eaten:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

REVIEW: The Stories Julian Tells

Cameron, A.  (1981).  The Stories Julian Tells.  New York:  Dell Yearling.


One of the many early chapter book series out there available to young'uns, this is one of the few that realistically features an African American boy (although there has been a recent trend to include more African American female characters in early chapter book series).  But Cameron was ahead of the curve with her Julian, Huey and Gloria series.  The series also features the boys' father in a caregiving role, often challenging gender stereotypes by doing activities like cooking and gardening.

The Stories Julian Tells also stands out from other early chapter books in the sense of imagination and writing (there are quite a few similes, poetic language and wordplay).  However, one of the moments of word play did make me a little uncomfortable.  After Julian and Huey eat the majority of the fresh pudding their father made for their mother, their father threatens to punish them, stating "There is going to be some beating here now!  There is going to be some whipping!" (p. 12).  As students read on, they discover the father actually means beating and whipping in the sense of cooking as the boys help to make a new batch of pudding.  But nonetheless, I would probably pause in a read aloud to assure students or address the issues of physical punishment if I felt it was necessary with that particular group of kids.

In this first installment of the series, Julian and his little brother Huey learn to make pudding, and help their father garden fresh vegetables.  Julian also loses one of his first baby teeth (and learns of some of the ways a tooth can be removed) and makes his first female friend.  Julian, while not perfect, lacks the tough attitude that parents often fault Junie B. Jones as having.  And while every now and then a key action or description is not included into the narrative, and while the book does assume a suburban background with both parents present (but then, show me an early chapter book that doesn't do at least one of these), I was surprised that I enjoyed this book more than many of the other chapter books intended for this age group.

Activities to Do with the Book:

Since the (somewhat long) chapters are episodic, this series lends itself to being read aloud to kindergardeners or first graders.  

After sharing various chapters from the book, a teacher or parent could lead students in making pudding from scratch and in contributing to a family or community garden.  A teacher could also use the discussion of catalogues to discuss how adults order from catalogues or how many ways of shopping are now available online.  This could even turn into a nutrition lesson as a teacher discusses what type of foods students could buy at a grocery store, etc.

With older students, parts of this book could be flagged as examples of metaphorical language.

Quotes of Note:

"I'm goign to make something special for your mother," my father said.
My mother was out shopping.  My father was in the kitchen, looking at the pots and the pans and the jars of this and that" (p. 1).

"My father is a big man with wild black hair.  When he laughs, the sun laughs in the windowpanes.  When he thinks, you can almost see his thoughts sitting on all the tables and chairs.  When he is angry, me and my little brother, Huey, shiver to the bottom of our shoes" (p. 2).

"It's such a big pudding," Huey said.  It can't hurt to have a little more."
"Since you took more, I'll have more," I said.
"That was a bigger lick than I took!" Huey said.  "I'm going to have more again" (p. 7).

"If you have a girl for a friend, people find out and tease you.  That's why I didn't want a girl for a friend--not until this summer, when I met Gloria" (p. 58).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

REVIEW: The Big Elephant In the Room

Smith, L.  (2009).  The Big Elephant in the Room.  New York:  Hyperion.


With Smith's usual quirky sense of humor, a young donkey is told by his friend that they need to discuss the big elephant in the room.  The donkey then makes an *ahem* posterior *ahem* of himself by listing all of the things he did to embarrass or hurt his friend.

In The Big Elephant in the Room, Smith's artwork is up to his usual standard with subtle jokes incorporated into the details of some of the illustrations.  The fact that all of the children are represented by animals (as is often the case in Smith's illustrations) does call into question whether it will be metaphorical or literal elephants from the beginning.  Nonetheless, even if a reader knows where the story goes, watching the donkey pull his hoof deeper and deeper into his mouth is still amusing.


A teacher could begin by discussing the meaning of the phrase "the elephant in the room."  From there, a teacher could ask students to reflect on whether they ever remained silent about a big issue or problem when people they could talk about it with are present.

To go a lighter route, students can make guesses over what they think the big elephant in the room could be.

A fun read, a teacher could also briefly discuss the humor in misinterpretation and the difficulty of language and meaning, and the literal and metaphorical.  Chances are good, that teacher will just get some blank stares.  But that's always fun.

Quotes of Note:

"Can we talk about the big elephant in the room?"

"Yes!  I forced down that creamy, nutty, crunchy ice save your life!"

"Is THE BIG ELEPHANT your video game?  I was going to return that!  Eventually."

"Is THE GIB ELEPHANT that I told Haley you laughed so hard you peed your pants?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

REVIEW: Carlos is Gonna Get It

Emerson, K.  (2008).  Carlos is Gonna Get It.  New York:  Arthur A. Levine Books.


As the end of the school year approaches, Trina and the rest of the seventh graders prepare for the class overnight trip.  Trina's four closest friends, led by Thea, are convinced the strange boy, Carlos, who often disruptes class with outburst and fears alien attacks is going to ruin the overnight.  So Thea leads the others in a plan to get Carlos.  Trina, however, isn't convinced that Carlos's episodes on his "day afters" aren't just attempts to get some attention.  Maybe Carlos's problems are real.  But is that chance worth fighting all of her friends and being teased for her refusal to trick Carlos?

I struggled with reading this book from the beginning, mainly because as a teacher and adult my sympathy was immediately with Carlos.  Now this doesn't mean Trina isn't relatable, her guilt and hesitation over pulling a prank on Carlos makes her redeemable, but I was still frustrated by the fact that she didn't stand up for Carlos.  Emerson still makes her struggles understandable and believable.  Her voice makes this novel engaging.  She sounds pretty close to an authentic seventh grade girl (which means she says 'like' a lot).  Although in general, I feel like the main characters' interactions often felt too immature to be seventh graders.  But having said that, Emerson captures the tension of peer pressure and guilt well.  He creates a number of good images and similes relating the behavior of Trina and her friends to those of carnivorous beasts.

The fact that neither a middle class life style or whiteness are assumed by this text is another plus.  Although race is not at the center of the book, through subtle hints, savvy and knowledgeable readers can access Trina as black.

Worth noting for teachers would would want to use this book with younger students, there is a swear word and gesture or two thrown around as insults.

Activities to Do with the Book:

This is a good, but painful book to share to explore relationships among "normal" students and those who stand out as different.  It would lend itself to having students do reflective writing on the decisions and issues Trina faces in helping to plan a prank on Carlos.

Students could also do their own research projects on subjects like, carnivorous animals, aliens, special needs education, geological patterns in rocks, the geography and history of Boston, etc.

Quotes of Note:

"We decided to play a trick on Carlos.  'Cause Carlos, he had problems.  Los of 'em.  Sometimes he was just too annoying, and by the end of seventh grade, we just couldn't take it anymore.
Now Carlos had always been strange.  No matter where you were or what your were doing, you could always count on him to be having some kind of problem" (p. 1).

"Carlos, why do you have those days when you have, like extra problems?"
He looked up at me like he was thinking hard, then answered with a totally serious face:  "Well," he said in his tiny voice, "those are the days after I get the visits."
"What visits?" I asked.
He leaned close to me and put a hand to his mouth.  "The visists from them."
"Them who?"
"You know..." he looked out across the parking lot to make sure we were alone, then he said it:  "Aliens." (p. 10).

"Everyone was into it except me.  I was just walking along with a safe smile, listening.
Because there was one problem.  It wasn't that this plan was more risky and complicated than usual.  And it wasn't that Carlos didn't deserve it, because didn't he, for being so annoying all the time, and never controlling himself, and never getting in trouble for it?
The only problem with playing a trick on Carlos was that I didn't really want to, but I knew that I had to" (p. 32)

"But that was the problem with playing this trick on Carlos.  He wasn't normal.  And while most kids just figured he made his problems up to get attention, I wasn't so sure.  I had to be stuck wondering about Carlos's feelings.  I had to feel bad for him for having problems.  Because, like, if he was only doing this whole Day After thing to get attention, then why did he seem so miserable about it all the time?  And that made me feel like I shouldn't be annoyed by him, even when I was.  Stupid guilt-demon!" (p. 34).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Thirty-Three

My goodness, the weeks are passing quickly.  I'd really prefer that they didn't.  In fact, if time could stop so that the summer continues for a while, I'd be very appreciative.  Can someone get on that for me?  Thanks.

In terms of writing, things are going well.  I sent off the first few chapters of the book I began over two years ago (and that I've been rewriting for most of this Resolution Endeavor) to a few editors.  It was probably jumping the gun a little.  But I was starting to feel like every single children's editor or agent in the whole world has seen my other novels and rejected them.

I thought it was about time they had something new to reject.

REVIEW: The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Jeffers, O.  (2006).  The Incredible Book Eating Boy.  New York:  Philomel Books.


This book gives a new meaning to devouring a book.  Henry starts slow, tasting a word, then a sentence, a book and then many books.  As he eats book after book, sometimes several books at a time, he begins to have dreams of becoming the smartest person on Earth.  A dream he may have to set aside, when his stomach becomes upset from too many books.

With different fonts, illustration styles and even a bite taken out of the bottom corner, the appearance of each page and the book as a whole is half the fun of reading this book.

This is an excellent book with a fun twist to show the power and enjoyment of reading.


While this book could be used as a read aloud, since the details, images and book pages incorporated into the background of this book, it may be better as a one-on-one read so that a child can take time with the illustrations.

While I wouldn't recommend encouraging students to eat paper or book pages after reading this book, a teacher could still bring in candy that is rapped in edible paper, maybe even have students write a favorite word or wish on the paper before they eat them.  Just a thought.

Quotes of Note:

"Henry loved books.  But not like you and I love books, no.  Not quite...Henry loved to EAT books."

"He wasn't sure at first, and tried eating a single world, just to test.  Next, he tried a whole sentence and then the whole page."

"But here is the best bit:  The more he ate, the smarter he got."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Writing Opportunity!

For anyone interested, NCTE (National Council of the Teachers of English) is hosting a National Gallery of Writing.

Any and all are welcome to submit.  The more voices the better!

It's also worth noting, "text" is being broadly interpreted, so the opinions or experiences you may want to share can take on many forms.

Send them your story any time.  All this activity will culminate in a National Day on Writing on October, 20th.  

Think about it.

REVIEW: Among the Hidden

Haddix, M.P. (1998). Among the Hidden. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


Living under a strict government that only allows families to have two children, twelve-year-old Luke Garner must remain hidden from the eyes of outsiders since he is his parents' third son. While Luke would love to venture beyond his family's property, be seen in public and attend school, he has to settle for playing in the woods behind his family's house. That is until the government cuts down the woods to build mansions around the Garner farmhouse. Luke is no longer allowed to leave the house or even allowed on the main floor of the house for fear that his presence could be discovered.

Luke feels very alone, until he notices a child's face peek out of the window of one of his new neighbors' houses, when the two government sanctioned boys had already gone off to school for the day. Risking everything, Luke decides to investigate in the hopes of discovering that he is not the only shadow child.

While in theory, it'd be possible for this book to be slow and drawn-out, since the main character spends a good portion of the text in one room alone, Among the Hidden manages to be fast-paced with short chapters and growing tensions.

As I read, I did start to get a little irritated and the gender roles that were reinforced by the text. For example, one day Luke does venture forth from his attic room and attempts to help the family by baking bread. He then jokes with his teasing brother about poisoning the crumbly result. After his father tastes Luke's first baking attempt, he remarks "I'm not sure I'd want any son of mine getting too good at baking, anyhow. That's what a man gets married for." Yes, Luke. With a family like that, I'd make jokes about poisoning the food too. Luckily, characters introduced later in the text do challenge gender stereotypes, improving my poisoning mood.

While it's clear from the beginning that Among the Hidden is set in a world different from our own, the similarities and differences become more apparent as the story goes on (and students could track these as an assignment). With a distopian feel, it would be a good recommendation for students who enjoy Lois Lowry's The Giver or for students who aren't yet ready to take on Orwell's 1984 or Collins's The Hunger Games. Like The Giver, this book triggered a series: The Shadow Children. I may just have to check out the rest of them. Among the Impostors is the second book.

But now that I'm officially loving this series, I'm also kicking myself a little too. I met Margaret Peterson Haddix at the Ohioana Book Festival a few months ago. Not having read any of her books yet, I awkwardly approached her table, picked up one of her books available in paperback, had her sign it while avoiding eye contact and slinked off without actually speaking to her in a shy awkward way. I suppose next year I'll be able to gush at her and cling to her arm demanding to steal some of her story ideas. I'm sure that'll be less awkward.

I have a questions for all-ya-alls. Why didn't anyone tell me about this series sooner? We're you trying to keep it from me, hmmm? That's not nice.

However, word on the street is that as the series goes on, it goes downhill. So, I guess you were all trying to protect me, huh?

Activities to Do with the Book:

This book could be used in social studies classes to discuss equality, corruption, propaganda, power, population control, food production, protests, paranoia and the role of government in citizens' daily lives. Issues of class, taxation, truth and the way gender is constructed could also be addressed.

In chapter nineteen, there's a teaching moment that could be used to discuss research sources and trustworthiness for news and information (in my experience, such a talk always turns into discussing the dangers of citing wikipedia). But instead of just discussing books and online sources, a teacher could encourage students to take into account their own experiences with the subjects they have to research.

This is a good book to use to have children write reflective journals with as they read. Do they agree with the decisions Luke makes throughout the story. What would they do? etc.

Favorite Quotes:

"He saw the first tree shudder and fall, far off in the distance. Then he heard his mother call out the kitchen window: "Luke! Inside. Now."
He had never disobeyed the order to hide. Even as a toddler, barely able to walk in the backyard's tall grass, he had somehow understood the fear in his mother's voice. But on this day, the day they began taking the woods away, he hesitated."

"For a while, Luke watched Dad, Mother, Matthew, and Mark eating in silence, a complete family of four. Once, he cleared his throat, ready to protest again. You can't do this--it's not fair--Then he choked back the words, unspoken. They were trying to protect him. What could he do?"

"The Willikers were their nearest neighbors, with a house three miles down the road. Luke always pictured them with monster scales and fierce claws because of the number of times he'd been cautioned, "You don't want the Willikers to see you."

"He liked to forget he was Luke Garner, third child hidden in the attic."

"And then, out of the corner of his eye, Luke caught a glimpse of something behind one window of the Sports Family's house.
A face. A child's face. In a house where two boys already lived."


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