Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cybil Books Read and Reviewed over Thanksgiving Break

One thing I want to make clear up front. I received review copies from the publishers as a Cybils middle grade book panelist. This in no way, shape, or form had any influence on my reviews. As always the opinions expressed in the reviews below are mine alone. Just because I read and reviewed a book did not mean I always liked it. What you have below are my own honest opinions and do not belong in any way to anyone affiliated with the Cybils Awards, Publishers or authors. I take full responsibility for them.

Alibi Junior High – Greg Logsted
Publisher: Aladdin
Pages: 244
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

For fans of the Alex Rider series I recommend this book. Cody Saron is comfortable teaming up with his CIA father, traveling the world and helping track down bad guys. His father has prepared him for just about any situation. He speaks five languages; he knows how to get out of dangerous situations. He is used to facing death. When Cody and his father barely escape an explosion in France Cody finds him being shipped to his aunt’s house. Unfortunately as prepared as he is to deal with the dangerous lifestyle he has always lived, his is just as unprepared to live the life of a normal junior high teen. He has run INS with his teachers, his principal and other students.
This was a very fun book to read. I have no doubt that I won’t be able to keep it on my shelves at school. I am hoping this will become a series. I would definitely purchase them for my shelves.

Dear Pen Pal – Heather Vogel Frederick
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 406
Source: Review Copy from publisher

This is the third book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club Series. I had not read the other three. I will tell you up front that it was a “cute” book but not one I really enjoyed. The four main characters Megan, Jess, Cassidy and Emma are starting eighth grade. Just like my eighth graders there were new changes for them to face. Not all of them were pleasant or easy to handle. Amidst all of the situations the girls decide to become pen-pals with another book club in Wyoming. This is where I knew I would lose my students. I teach struggling readers. I fight to get them to read 10 – 30 minutes each day and for a large number of them they choose books that deal with issues they face, gangs, teen pregnancy, etc. They idea flowing throughout this book was that as long as you had a group of good friends and a good book then everything would work out. I will put it on my shelves but I can think off hand of only three students that would maybe enjoy this book. They are already readers with some skill problem areas.

Dani Noir – Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Aladdin
Pages: 266
Source: Review copy from publisher

I have several students who would identify with some of Dani’s problems. The one problem that seemed to set the tone for this book was the fact that Dani’s parents are divorced, she lives with mom and is forced to spend some time with her father and his soon to be wife. She lives in a small town that is for all purposes, uninteresting. The most exciting thing for her is watching old movies in the old movie theater. She loves the old black and white films that feature her heroine Rita Hayworth. Dani lives these lives as she watches the film. It is no wonder then that she take s on their persona. I pictured a black and white character that was a bit crass in the way she handled her real life friends who were in color. This is the mood I picked up from the book. Reading this book was like trying to blend two time periods as Dani set out to solve her own town’s mystery. I think students will be able to identify with her in several ways in the book. I even have the first student in mind to recommend this book to because she and her mother sit and watch movies on the nostalgia channel and she loves them.

The Year of the Bomb – Ronald Kidd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 202
Source: Review copy from publisher

Talk with kids today about the “red-scare”, Russian spies, black-listing of actors and actresses and see what kind of reaction you get. We had a conversation regarding the red scare a few weeks ago and my students looked at me with blank faces. They had never heard of such a thing. The characters in this book have grown up with the “red-scare, bomb shelters and horror movies. They believe these things are all made up until….
This is one of those books you need to read. I really like it. Maybe it is because I grew up during the red scare and horror movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. I remember where I was the first time I saw it. I don’t think I would go to the extremes the kids in this book went. They had quite the adventure. I am hoping my enthusiasm for this book will carry over to some of my students and that they will like it as much as I did.

Confetti Girl – Diana Lopez
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Pages: 194
Source: Review copy from publisher

The first thing I noticed as did several of my students was the cover. I have a seventh grade student who wears socks similar to the ones on the cover. She keeps the pant legs rolled up so everyone can view her unusual socks each day. Lina could be one of my students. I have a young girl whose father is fluent in English and expects so much from her. She struggles with the English and gets frustrated. It is as if her father just doesn’t get it. Lina sees her father as hiding in the books he reads as an escape from the pain and grief of losing his wife. This is a crucial time in Lina’s life. A time when life changes, friendships change and a girl needs to know how to deal with these changes. I can think of at least five girls I will recommend this book to. It is very important to me to put books in their hands with characters they can identify with.

Wild Things – Clay Carmichael
Publisher: Front Street
Pages: 240
Source: Review copy from publisher

Zoe, eleven and self-sufficient is sent to live with her Uncle Henry after her mother dies. Her mother had not really been much of a mother. Zoe had to fend for herself most of her growing up life. For this reason Zoe is slow to put her trust in people including her uncle. She is so afraid that people will fail her again. Throughout the book Zoe meets many people along the way that she calls friends and eventually realizes they are like family. This includes the wild boy who lives in the woods. She discovers there are many levels of trust. This book is definitely character driven. I would read more by this author.

My Life in Pink and Green
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 267
Source: Review copy from publisher

As a teacher in an IB school the first thing I thought was that every girl in the school should read this book. It demonstrated problem solving, working on a real world problem that was at first a local family problem. It demonstrated how our children can work toward solving future problems now. I loved the fact that Lucy was a great role model for the readers. I believe that a similar book for boys could be written that would go over just as well. My mind kept going back to the town of Greensburg that was wiped out by a tornado and how the efforts of a few teens inspired the town to rebuild green. What a fun way to get such an important message out to our young people while demonstrating problem solving techniques.

Black Angels - Linda Beatrice Brown
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Songs
Pages: 260
Source: Review copy from publisher

For those who love stories set in the Civil War period, this is the book for you. This story transcends race. Black Angels is the story of Luke, a runaway slave, Daylily a slave whose master set her free and Caswell the white son of a plantation. These three children find themselves thrust together. Luke finds Daylily wandering around and Caswell joins them after the rebels burn their plantation. The three set off for the north hoping to find what they are each looking for. However, they learn that things in the north are not a whole lot different than things in the south when it comes to the color of your skin. I have read a lot of emotionally charged books lately and this one that I want my students to read. I am hoping that I can use the emotions I felt while reading this book to interest my students into picking it up.

Newsgirl – Liza Ketchum
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 324
Source: Review copy from publisher

This is historical fiction at its best. Amelia Forrester is a twelve year old girl who has moved with her mother and a family friend from Boston to San Francisco. Her mother has plans to make men’s clothing. Amelia, trying to sell the Boston newspapers they had packed all their belongings in has found it is a man's world. Combat this issue she cuts her hair and dresses like a boy. Kids have an opportunity to learn a lot of period history including how women fought for equal rights. I believe the plot is exciting enough to keep my reluctant readers reading.

Sahwira an African Friendship – Carolyn Marsden
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 189
Source: Review copy from publisher

Racial tension is not limited to the United States. In this book, Blessing is a Shona boy and the son of the pastor of their church. He attends the mission school for black Africans. His best friend is Evan, the white son of a Methodist minister. Evan attends an all white school. The friendship between these two becomes difficult when a white farmer is supposedly killed by a black rebel group. The headmaster in Evan’s school is training the students to go against the blacks. Most of the students side with the whites. Evan wants to fit in but that would mean giving up his friendship with his friend Blessing. He has many hard decisions to make. These decisions would have a lasting impact. For my students who read the Bluford series that deals with inner-city problems, I believe they will like this book. Although they take place on opposite sides of the world the problems are still the same. They would recognize that fact that the choices w make today can have a long term effect on our future. I thought this was a great book.

When the Whistle Blows – Fran Cannon Slayton
Publisher: Philomel Books
Pages: 162
Source: Review copy from publisher

This book focused on the life of Jimmy Cannon and the things that happened to him on Halloween night for several years. This young man from West Virginia loves the railroad and wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps. His dad wants much more for his son. This book touches on change in a young boys life, change in a town and country. I believe the book will be loved by both the young and old alike. I think the boys in my class will like it and maybe even a few of my girls. Once again it touches on an area of history our kids know nothing about. I can’t wait to recommend it to my students.

Road to Tater Hill – Edith M. Hemingway
Publisher: Delacorte Press,
Pages: 210
Source: Review copy from publisher

The first thing this book reminded me of was the book “Getting Near to Baby” by Audrey Couloumbis. Maybe it is because I have an affinity to the hills and mountains of Tennessee and the Carolinas that I love a story like this. The fears of losing her mother to the depression that has engulfed her after the premature birth and death of her baby has left Annie afraid/ Her father is away in the Air Force and she is afraid to tell him of her fears. If she voices them they might come true. Helping her through her own grief is an outcast rumored to be a murderer. Annie is not sure who to trust but she puts her trust in this old woman. Once again another emotional read. I really enjoyed it. I felt it started a little slow and for that reason I am afraid my reluctant readers might give up too quickly. However, I look forward to sharing it with my students.

Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) – Trudi Trueit
Publisher: Aladdin
Pages: 118
Source: Review copy from publisher

I laughed and laughed at this book. I believe it is geared more for the elementary kids. Since I have reluctant readers, the tips, pictures and large print will appeal to some of them. Scab McNally is gross. This is the first thing that will hook my readers, the name and the fact that the character is gross. He wants a dog and tries to get his twin sister Isabelle to help take his parents into getting them one. She refuses. He decides to earn money to get his own dog and get even with his sister at the same time. He creates a vile smelling concoction he sells to his friend as a “sister-repellent”. This was a quick read and one I know I’ll be able to get the most reluctant student to read.

Liberty Porter First Daughter – Julia Devillers
Publisher: Aladdin
Pages: 166
Source: Review copy from publisher

First, I have to say that this is the first book I have read by this author. For the age I teach I believe they will find most of it immature. However, I can think of one or two students who are still immature enough to like it. Libby’s father has just become President and she sees this as an adventure that she must live up to. She is definitely not dull. At times I felt she was too over the top. Once you accept the fact that this was written more for the fourth grader than the sixth through eighth grader I teach it wasn’t such a bad book. I just don’t think my students will buy in to it.

Rescuing Seneca Crane – Susan Runholt
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 276
Source: Review copy from publisher

My students who say they love reading a mystery will love this book. Kari and her best friend Lucas are off on the adventure of a lifetime to Edinburgh, Scotland. Kari’s mother has the pleasure of interviewing the child piano prodigy Seneca Crane, for the magazine she works for. Kari and Lucas had gone to see Seneca when she play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They learn several things about Seneca. First her parents are domineering, second she is very lonely, and third, she can seem to fit their friendship into her very busy schedule. They become very good friends. When Seneca is suddenly kidnapped, Kari and Lucas start looking at the clues in hopes of rescuing their new friends. This was a first read of this author for me. I will definitely look into her other works.

Anna’s World – Wim Coleman
Publisher: Chiron Books
Pages: 277
Source: I purchased

Set in the 1840’s Anna’s home is destroyed along with her town and her father’s store by a flood. In addition to all of this she is recovering from typhoid fever. She has been sent to live with the Shakers while her father tries to rebuild their life. The reader of this book gets a good look at the life and belief system of the Shakers. Through them Anna learns that all the things a big city can offer aren’t always the best things. It is the story of change and choices. I can guarantee you some of my students have never heard of the Shakers. The historical look at this book is well worth the read.

The Beef Princess of Practical County – Michelle Houts
Publisher: Delacourt Press
Pages: 226
Source: Review copy from publisher

For anyone who ever grew up in a farming town this book may just be a trip down memory lane. Growing up on a farm I named all of our animals, even when I knew they were to be sold or butchered. I therefore identified with Libby Ryan. She grew up in the shadow of her brother and for me it was an older sister. There comes a time when parents have to let you learn by making some of your own mistakes. This is what Libby’s parents finally do. She learns to believe in herself and work hard for her dreams. In the end she influences an enemy for the good. I loved this book and hope that many of my students will as well. It is often hard to sell work set in this setting because many of my students can’t identify. I think the underlying messages will overshadow this problem.

Bystander by James Preller
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, 2009
Pages: 240
Source: I purchased

Sometimes making friends in town can be difficult. Especially when the most popular kid turns out to be a monster. Eric just wants to be part of the in crowd. Griffin seems to want him in his crowd. Things change. One day Eric is Griffin's friend and the next he is his target. I see see the problem of bullying in my school everyday. Sometimes it takes the form of a kid saying something mean to another. Sometimes it is a child saying something nasty about the other kids parents. All of it is a form of bullying. However, most kids don't realize that just standing around saying nothing, doing nothing, when they witness bullying is just as bad. This was an awesome book and one I look forward to placing on my shelves at school. I know the message is good for all of my students but it is even better for those that I have seen bullying others. I think I need to give a copy to our guidance officers as a resource.

Kip Campbell's Gift - Coleen murtagh Paratore
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 145
Source: Review Copy from publisher

Kip Cambell has a gift that comes in handy with the family business. What is the family business you ask? His father owns and runs a funeral home. They live above it. Kip uses his gift to help the deceased and their families. He helps them so they can get to "Good". He also helps them because he struck a deal with someone. What is the deal? You'll have to read the book to find out. Read and find out how Kip helps a kid he really doesn't like. This was a simple yet fun book that gives the reader of what it would be like to be the kid who lives above a funeral home.


  1. Hello! Just because you teach one certain class, shouldn't the CYBIL reviewers be more objective to books for different ages and reading styles and not just one specific class?

    For example, I think DEAR PEN PAL is a great read. Just because your class consists of struggling readers who wouldn't identify with it, other children would.

    My daughter's THIRD grade class is reading LIBERTY PORTER FIRST DAUGHTER and she loves it. I believe it is intended for second to fifth grades or thereabouts.

    Obviously your 6th to 8th graders would think a book written for younger children is immature. Dismissing the book in your review entirely misses the merits of the book and its humor.

    You should judge books on their intended age level, not specifically what you class of 6th to 8th graders would like.

    Thank you for your consideration.


  2. I appreciate your comment. I will put it on my shelves because I think all books have merit. I understand where you are coming from. I don't expect my students to like all of the books that I like or dislike all of the books that I dislike. I didn't mean to put a negative spin on it. I will always have books on my shelves I didn't care for that I hope someone else will.