Sunday, November 4, 2012

More Caudills-Touch Blue and The Year Money Grew on Trees

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord is set on a remote fishing village/island off the coast of Maine. Tess Brooks, 11 year old avid sailor and lobster catcher, thinks the idea to foster children to keep their public school open could be a great idea. She hopes to get a new friend in the deal when sullen, quiet Aaron Spinney arrives. Tess tries very hard to get musician Aaron to adapt to island life but Aaron is miserable and misses his city life even if it was full of uncertainty and stress. Tess decides to connect Aaron with his mom inviting her to the island to hear him play in the local festival. This involves breaking numerous fostering rules and deceiving her family. The island life, the world at sea and local characters all ring true in this realistic funny/serious story. Cynthia Lord wrote Rules, also reviewed in this blog.
The Year Money Grew on Trees, by Aaron Hawkins is set in 1982 New Mexico. Here's your chance to experience real entrepreneurship (running your business) with a group of regular kids, lead by 8th grader Jackson Jones. Jackson needs to work over the summer and through a series of odd events decides to accept wacky Mrs. Nelson's proposition to run her dilapidated apple orchard. Her promise is that if he can make it profitable over a certain dollar figure, he can have it, TO KEEP! Well he can't do it alone of course and he gets a whole crew together to help consisting of friends and family. He manages to keep them inspired and hard working without ever telling them about the actual deal he has with Mrs. Nelson. From summer all the way until the next fall, Jackson does the research, locates local expertise, keeps his parents from finding out too much and inspires his crew. You might think how interesting could this be, really? And the cover is pretty bad, too! It's actually an engaging, page turning story of stick-to-itiveness, resolve and ultimately doing the right thing. And you'll learn what goes into making those apples you like to eat!

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper - Caudills 2013

Sharon Draper's amazing point of view novel about 5th grader Melody is one of my favorite Caudill nominees.  Melody has been trapped in her body by severe cerebral palsy all her life making it impossible for her to move or communicate. Although her family believes she is so much more that her physical self would have you believe, everyone else thinks she is severely mentally disabled.  In fact, Melody is actually mentally gifted having taught herself to read in several languages just by watching television. She knows about science, social studies and the world around her. It isn't until a teacher at her school gets her a speech synthesizing computer that suddenly Melody's world opens up.  But not everyone is ready for spunky, big personality Melody who does not want anyone's pity or fake friendship.  One of the great aspects of this story is that it has a realistic ending: not all the issues get neatly tied up. Melody's life will continue to have challenges and pitfalls. Any reader who gets to know her will have their eyes and heart opened about disabled classmates as well as the importance of each person finding their voice.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2 more Caudills-Ninth Ward and Out of My Mind

Ninth Ward by Jewell Rhodes focuses on Lanesha and her elderly caregiver Mama Ya-Ya who live in the impoverished 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. Both of them are feared a bit by the local residents because each has a special ability outside the normal: Mama Ya-Ya can predict the future and Lanesha can see ghosts, including her mother who died when she was born. You might think this is going to be a modern ghost story but you would only be partially correct. This is really a story about personal strength and character. Mama Ya-Ya has predicted Hurricane Katrina and a dark aftermath.  The story timeline follows Lanesha's life leading up to and directly after the devastating storm hits New Orleans. She will have to call on all her inner strength to save herself, her friend and her beloved Mama Ya-Ya. Lots of hurricane action coupled with the comings and goings of local ghosts make this a unique mix of realism and fantasy. This book won the Coretta Scott King award in 2011.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a unique experience story very much like Anything But Typical. This time instead of getting inside the mind of an autistic young person, the reader experiences life from the point of view of a young girl trapped in a body severely limited by cerebral palsy. 11 year old Melody has a photographic memory and is mentally gifted but no one knows this about her. Confined to a wheel chair and incapable of speech, Melody has been trying to get her voice heard all her life. Although her parents believe she is much more than they have been told by experts, it is not until a computer comes into her life that things begin to truly change. With this computer, Melody can finally communicate. If you have ever felt like you were not being heard, come experience Melody's world.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Underwater fantasy with a western feel - Caudill 2013

Dark Life by Kat Falls is a fast paced mix of old West frontier life and futuristic life under the ocean. 15 year old Ty is the first human born and raised sub-sea. His family is part of group of "settlers" establishing a ranching community in Benthic Territory.  Life above the ocean is difficult. Land is scarce due to the rising ocean levels. Most people live jammed in crowded cities with few resources. Gemma, also 15, is a "topsider"; a ward of the state called the Commonwealth.  She has runaway to sub-sea to find her missing older brother who holds the key to her independence. Gemma and Ty soon run into each other. Their unlikely pairing sets them on a journey involving dangerous undersea gangs, corrupt government officials, and hard working undersea ranchers.  The author succeeds in creating a believable underwater world of homesteads, transportation devices and creatures. Part 2, available soon in the LTC, is called High Tide.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

3 More Caudill nominees

Newbery winner Lynne Rae Perkins (Criss Cross 2006) delivers laughs and thrills in this four way adventure story that all starts when teenager Ry makes the mistake of getting off a train in the middle of nowhere and getting left behind.  Ry, his grandfather, Ry's two dogs and his parents are all in different places when one thing after another goes wrong keeping them completely out of reach of each other. It's mostly Ry's story but all the threads keep moving as the story progresses. Rich visual language, Ry's humorous internal monologues, unusual and fully realized secondary characters will zip you along. Don't miss some wonderful graphic details both small and large. And also the Extras chapter at the end that tells about the dogs adventure told from their point of view. If you're a dog person you'll totally get it! All in all a great YA selection for boys or girls, As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai based this modern historical fiction on her husband's experiences as a young boy fleeing war torn Afghanistan in 1979.  Fadi, in middle school in Fremont, California is thousands of miles away from all he has ever known. His family, once successful people before the Taliban take over of Russian occupied Afghanistan, are trying to cope. Fadi is beyond guilt ridden because he blames himself for the fact that his little sister got separated from the family during their escape and got left behind. Fadi discovers a love of photography which not only gains him some new friends but maybe a way to find his missing sister. Here's a chance to better understand some difficult topics such as terrorism and 911 and the effect on people experiencing it from the other side of the United States.  Pair this outstanding story with Inside Out and Back Again or Trash (both Caudill nominees) for a deep new cultures experience.

Jennifer Holm takes you back in time to a place many of you have visited: The Florida Keys. But this is the Keys of 1935 and the US is fully in the Depression. Many people are struggling to make ends meet. Eleven year old Turtle is sent by her single mom to live with relatives in Key West. Spunky and resilient Turtle is determined to make the best of her situation even if does include a load of boy cousins, some strange neighbors, different kinds of foods and even treasure. The story is told by Turtle. Her voice rings true. You will feel how she feels and experience this wondrous place along with her. A Newbery Honor winner in 2010, this historical fiction adventure was inspired by the author's great grandmother. Do not miss reading the author's note at the end full of wonderful period photographs of places and people from the book.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Here's a Caudill nominee for the girls

Evyn Linney tells the story of about 6 months in her 8th grade life that change everything for her. It all starts out with a bang when her widowed dad informs her and her high school brother that he is getting married and that they are all moving from Maine to Boston.  And in case that wasn't enough the new wife is a divorced mother of six children. So new family, new school, new city - it's all too much for sharp witted Evyn.  Evyn tries to "bounce" with all this by talking to her deceased mom for comfort but even that old source of comfort doesn't cover this many changes on her landscape. Evyn's authentic view and voice will carry you along at a fast clip to find out where she will finally land in this excellent realistic fiction novel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

3 More Caudill nominees

 One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is set in Oakland, California during the summer of 1968. Three sisters are sent by their dad and grandmother to meet their mother, a woman who 11 year old Delphine, the eldest, just barely remembers. Any hopes for a syrupy reunion are quickly dashed by the cold reception they receive from Cecile, poet and activist. Delphine puts her little sisters first and takes charge as best she can. Their month will include daily breakfast and day camp at the local Black Panther community center, an exciting excursion to San Francisco and trying to decipher the strange behavior of this distant woman who is their mother. Multi award winner, this book is full of great characters set during a tumultuous time in our history.  A top pick for any reader.

Trash by Andy Mulligan is the story of three very poor friends struggling to survive in a third world country. They are trash pickers by trade, a life clinging to a thread of hope that you might find something valuable thrown away by the luckier members of the society. Well, one day Raphael and Gardo do and their whole world changes.  Told in alternating first person chapters, different people touched by this discovery tell their part in this mystery-adventure involving thievery, deceit, love of family, true friendship and millions of dollars. Be sure to read all the way to the end including the author's note on "Book-Codes."
13 year old Jason Blake tells you his story in Anything But Typical by Nora Baskin. Jason is a gifted writer, a keen observer of human behavior and severely autistic.  You may have read about autism; you may know someone who is autistic; you may have discussed autism in class.  Let Jason tell you what it's really like. Through his narrative you will experience his daily challenges with things we take for granted. You will begin to understand his frustrations, his limitations with time, space and perception.  If you read carefully, you will begin to see and understand the world through his eyes. Be prepared to better understand autism but also fitting in. A powerful story for any reader.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Part II - Insurgent (Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth

Readers who chewed through Divergent will not be disappointed by this sequel. Tris and Four's (Tobias) story picks up where the last one ended with the aftermath of the deadly simulation attack still set in dystopian Chicago.  Plenty of action both physical and emotional develops with all the characters as members of the five factions trade secrets, intelligence, power structure and lives to meet their own goals. Twist, turns and blurred lines of loyalty and trust make it hard to predict what will happen next. Insurgent is a very well written, intelligent thriller filled with fierce but believable young people caught up in the collapse of their society. Which "Faction" do you see yourself defending? Or are you part of the "Factionless"?!
NB: Part III is due out in Fall 2013 and is as yet unnamed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

2 Caudill Nominees for 2012-13

This Caudill nominee is based on the real life experiences of the author. Ten year old Ha, moves from 1975 Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war to Alabama. Her family is "adopted" through a war relief program and starts life anew in a basement apartment in a small town. Being the "new kid" takes on all new meaning when you have to learn a whole new language, eat new foods and adapt to new customs. Ha was always a spunky, head strong smart kid in old country. She misses feeling that way. The story is told in the very popular here at Sears prose poetry style making this a fast paced but lyrical reading experience. The flow of the words will help the reader understand Ha's point of view during this particular time in her life but in our country as well. A great Caudill choice for anyone.
Don't let the cute cover fool you! Donna Gephart doesn't pull any punches in this humorous but serious story about middle school, family and friendship.  David, would be video comedian, is really nervous about starting middle school. His only hope is starting with his best friend Elliot, his only pal from their feeder elementary. Elliot however has other plans such as befriending the worst bully on campus by feeding him embarrassing information about David that is used against him.  Back at home life is complicated by David's mom having moved to another state and marrying someone new. David's dad and sister are trying their best to cope so David keeps trying to manage school on his own leading to one disaster after another. Things begin to turn around when David is paired for a science project with Sophie, a classmate, who appreciates his Youtube comedy videos and spreads the word. Modern realistic fiction needs to be believable to work as a good read and this novel hits all the right marks. Another great genderless Caudill choice.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wonder by RJ Polacio

Wonder is a wonder in so many ways. You will not soon forget getting to know Auggie Pullman. Auggie's been home schooled his entire life. Now his parents want him to attend Beecher Prep because they feel it's important for his future.  Auggie is smart, funny, and kind. But Auggie carries a very heavy burden with him wherever he goes: he has a very rare genetic disorder that affects every part of his face and by any standards makes his appearance horribly disfigured.  So how does a boy starting middle school cope? That's the story but it's also so much more. Told in sections, the book (reminiscent of Because of Mr. Terupt)is the story and back story of several main characters including Auggie's high school age sister, his first two friends ( a girl and a boy)and his sister's boyfriend.  All the standard middle school issues are here like family, friendship, bullying, school life etc but they are handled in a fresh way with Auggie and everyone around him, adults included doing some growing up. You will zip through this well-paced story but you'll keep thinking about it long after you have closed the cover.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jordan Sonnenblick's latest AND he's coming to school in March!!

Jordan Sonnenblick hits all the right notes yet again in this modern story of friendship, baseball, photography and family. Freshman year of high school will not be going as planned for Peter Friedman. The dream of being a star pitcher is gone. His friend AJ won't believe it while his mom and dad don't believe anything is wrong with Peter's grandfather, a gifted professional photographer showing signs of Alzheimers.  Photography is Peter's second passion and as the school year begins, turns into a major focus with the help of a bright and talented girl classmate in his photography class. As the year unfolds, Peter is forced to deal with his changing self-image the closer baseball season gets and his rapidly changing Grampa. If you enjoyed any of Sonnenblick's other titles then you will not want to miss Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, another modern day gem!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz - What if you couldn't read?

What would it be like to not be able to read while attending regular 7th grade as the "new" kid? That's Travis' reality when he and his grandfather move suddenly from their country house to a small home in town. Travis is quiet, smart, empathetic and mad. A small act of kindness on his first day brings Velveeta into his orbit.  She is loud, dramatic, out spoken and mad too. How these two unlikely young people become friends and help each other through some tough secrets makes for a compelling read. Set mostly at school several well drawn secondary characters such as Travis' grandfather, Mr. McQueen the English teacher and Bradley, a fellow student often the target of bullies all add depth and detail to this story of trust and opportunity. Don't let the quiet cover turn you away. Bluefish by Pat Schmatz is a small gem.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Newbery Winner really delivers!

Jack Gantos (of Rotten Ralph and Joey Pigza fame) wins the 2012 Newbery with this laugh out loud semi-biographical account.  The story opens in June 1962 with 12 year old Jack Gantos getting grounded "for life" for accidentally firing his dad's WW II Japanese rifle that he did not know was loaded. Jack will only escape his home prison to help his elderly neighbor: feisty, smart Miss Volkers.  The elderly original inhabitants of Norvelt, PA are dying and Miss Volkers is not only the town coroner but also the obituary writer for the town newspaper. Miss Volker does not write the average obit. She needs Jack to do the typing and delivery including the driving of her car (did I mention he is only 12?). But strange things are happening in Norvelt. They include the funeral director, a Hell's Angels' curse, Jack's friend Bunny, Girl Scout cookies, Eleanor Roosevelt, an old guy on a tricycle and maybe murder! You will gain some real perspective on how history might be the past, present and future all at the same time. Get ready to enjoy this excellent author's well deserved win. If you like this one your LTC has most of his novels in the fiction section. Jon Scieszka and Dave Barry love this book - two authors who know humor and great writing when they read it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Crossed - #2 of Matched by Ally Condie

For all the Hunger Games fans out there, here is another excellent dystopian society series full of well realized characters and thought provoking action. If Matched set the stage for Cassia, Ky and Xander, Crossed is a strong, compelling second act.  Told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Cassia and Ky, the story traces their attempts to reconnect since leaving the Society. Readers anxious for answers will get some but not others. The Carving and the Outer Provinces are finally reached. New characters enter the story pulling the action in surprising and unexpected ways.  The Rising, or Rebellion, has new light shed on it forcing the reader to question how and why individuals make the decisions they make. Well written, fast action in some spots, lyrical and slower in others, the pace mirrors the young protagonists struggling with their mixed emotions about their world and their places in it. The final installment, Reached, is tentatively due out in November. Be sure to visit the author's website at for a peak at the excellent cover for Reached as well as some interesting insights about the colors and titles of the cover art. Yes a books' cover does make a difference!

Cahills vs Vespers Book 2 - A King's Ransom

Jude Watson returns to write installment #2 in the "39 Clues" second series. Dan and Amy are back fighting for the lives of Cahill family members being kept prisoners for ransom by the mysterious Vesper One. This adventure takes you to Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic as the siblings track down Nazi stolen treasure and more information about the Madrigals side of the Cahill family.  Aided by the Massachusetts based family command center, Gideon, technology and quick wits combined with gutsy moves (not to mention some sizable amounts of cash) permit our heroes to escape harm or capture.  Hidden clues and coded messages are particularly tough in this installment but you always have the Internet based resources at Book #3 The Dead of Night is on order and Book #4 is due out in August. Keep enjoying the ride with multiple copies in the LTC found on the last rack of the PB towers!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New fantasy series: The Crowfield Curse

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh is #1 in a new series. Part historical fiction part fantasy this first installment is atmospheric, dark, rich in detail and gripping. Set in 1387 England, 14 year old orphan William Paynel is trying to manage a life as a servant at Crowfield Abbey. At the very bottom of the pecking order, William is still grateful to have a roof over his head and meals, even meager ones. While taking care of the monks' pigs he encounters a strange creature caught in a trap. With little fear he saves the creature and from that point on his life takes some wild and frightening turns that  involve very old secrets, a very long feud and possibly a dead angel.
Readers will drawn into the amazing secret world of the forest, the hard life at the abbey in middle ages Britain and William himself, who is more than even he knows.

Lisa Yee's Junior High students

So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee is one part of a four part group of books that is not so much a series as individual stories about the same group of students at same middle school.
Emily has just moved to California with her mom after her parents' divorce.  In a series of letters to her dad, you will experience Emily's various wants and needs missing her dad, missing her friends, making new friends, not understanding her mom and trying to cope with junior high school.  Emily is funny, bright, creative, prone to drama and sometimes confident and sometimes not. The letters eventually turn in to diary entries as she does not hear from her dad very much and begins to better understand both her parents. Emily is well worth getting to know.
Other characters from the three other stories appear in each installment and will prompt most readers to want to continue to get to know each of them better: Sanford Wong, Millicent Min and Marley Sandelski. 
They are also people worth meeting through their own stories.