Category Archives: YA books

Kidnapped

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of my favorite adventure stories, so I had high hopes for liking his book, Kidnapped, equally as much when I chose it as one of my Classics Club reads. We have a lovely copy of the book, with those wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, that’s been sitting on our shelf for years, so I read it eagerly but I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Treasure Island.

But in all fairness, it was a different kind of story from the pirates adventure of Treasure Island. This book is a work of historical fiction with characters that were actual people involved in an important part of Scottish history, so even without the pirates there was a lot of intrigue. I thought the beginning  and the ending of the book were quite good and definitely kept me interested.  The story slowed down a bit too much in the middle for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about the history that inspired this story. The idea that this story could possibly drag a little in the middle seems strange considering the rip-roaring description on the title page.

 

I may have to give it another chance at some time because I really like the other books I have read by Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, so perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it. That happens to me sometimes and, when I reread the book later, I love it. Does that ever happen to you?

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Currently Reading: March

 

img_2512On a trip to the library today I picked up two books that I think are very important right now. The one I started first is March, by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.  It is the first volume of a three part autobiography in graphic novel form. I’m already caught in the first volume and look forward to reading all three.

The second book I checked out and will read next is 1984, by George Orwell. When I first read it in high school it seemed so impossible (thank goodness!) and the year so far away. Not in today’s America, though. How sad to say that it seems chillingly timely right now!

Click here to read a NY Times article about 1984.

1984

 

Greensleeves

Greensleeves

Nancy Pearl is one of my reading heroes so when she recommends a book, I listen!  Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries  is her project, alongside Amazon Books, to reprint books for kids and teens, books that were out of print but that in her opinion should not have been out of print!  This series for teens is a recent offshoot of her adult series, Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries, “devoted to reprinting some of the best (and now out of print) novels originally published between 1960-2000.” I love her idea of rediscovering old treasures! I have enjoyed each of her suggestions, and look forward to reading more books from her rediscovery series.

One of the books included in her Rediscoveries series is a book called Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, an author I love.  A few years ago I read her book, The Moorchild, and wrote a review of it here. So when I found another book by her on Nancy Pearl’s list, I knew it would be worth reading and I was not disappointed!

Greensleeves is a story about a young woman searching for her own identity in a confusing world. It is a timeless coming-of-age story, although written in 1968. Shannon Lightley, the daughter of a famous actress and a famous journalist, divorced and both remarried, splits her time between  two very different households. She is a “different person” in each household, overwhelmed by the strong personalities of both her parents, and simply doesn’t feel that she “belongs” anywhere. So rather than spend the summer with either parent, she turns to a close family friend, “Uncle Frosty” who has always been very supportive of her. Listening to her woes and confusions, “Uncle Frosty” gave her some wise advice:

“The chief thing is to get busy enough with something else to quit thinking about yourself for a while.”

He offers to help her get an apartment for the summer so that she can do some “undercover” work for his law firm. An elderly woman had just died and left a rather unusual will. In her will, she left all her money to her neighbors instead of to her daughter, who is now contesting the will. Shannon will move into the old woman’s apartment and see if she can find out whether or not the neighbors coerced her into changing her will.

So Shannon moves in, finds a waitressing job in the neighborhood, and assumes another “persona” for her sleuthing. Her summer is spent getting to know all about the old lady and her neighbors… and herself.

A fascinating read, this was a book I couldn’t put down, and I highly recommend it.

“That’s the beauty of a novel like Greensleeves: it might have been written almost half a century ago, but its heroine, and the choices she faces, are totally modern.”
~Nancy Pearl

Bubo, the Great Horned Owl

Photo from the San Diego Zoo website. Click on the photo to visit their wonderful site!

Photo from the San Diego Zoo website. Click on the photo to visit their wonderful site!

My family is fascinated with birds of all kinds, but especially with owls!  We have learned so much by watching the web cams of nesting birds this summer.  In March, we followed an owl family in Northern California (click here to read my post), but then we found the Texas Barn Owls cam on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site, and we’ve watched them all summer long. Fascinating!

Barn Owl

Barn Owl on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web cam. Click on the photo to visit the site!

One of my favorite publishing groups, Open Road Media, has recently published a wonderful series of e-books by the award-winning naturalist/author, Jean Craighead George, who wrote Julie of the Wolves, and whom I admire a lot. This series of books for young people (of all ages!) is called “American Woodland Tales,” and each book focuses on a different animal from the woodlands. Of course, I chose to start the series by reading Bubo, the Great Horned Owl, because I actually saw a Great Horned Owl once, and it was a thrilling experience! This little book is beautifully written and so interesting. I look forward to reading all the others in the series!

Bubo, the Great Horned Owl

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

Endurance

Photo by Frank Hurley

January 1915. One hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton‘s beautiful ship, Endurance, became completely locked in the ice of Antarctica. The story of this extraordinary expedition and the survival of the entire crew, despite being stranded for two years in one of the harshest environments in the world, is a fascinating story. All the men survived that experience because of the phenomenal leadership skills of Ernest Shackleton.

When I taught 6th grade many years ago, my teammates and I put together a January unit of study on the Shackleton story. We used Jennifer Armstrong’s book, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, as the basis of the unit, and the 6th graders became as fascinated by the story as we (the teachers) were!, It was a unit in which we focused on some very important life lessons–lessons and discussions about leadership, compassion, hope, and endurance.

So in the middle of January, I stopped everything I was doing and revisited that story in honor of my hero. I loved sharing that book and story with my students, and, if you haven’t read anything about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated ship, Endurance, I urge you to pick up one of the many books about this expedition and discover why this man is one of my heroes. There are quite a few books to choose from, but I’m very fond of the little, nicely written book I used to introduce him to young people. It is also available as an audio download through Audible.

Shackleton

Seedfolks

seedfolks

My first read of 2014 was Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman. It was a quick read, a short novel told from the viewpoint of 13 different residents of an inner city Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood. The vacant lot had been a nuisance for years, a place for garbage to be thrown out of windows, for drug deals and rats. It is a thoroughly awful place. But one day in very early spring, a young Vietnamese girl, in memory of her father, plants six bean seeds in the lot, next to the abandoned refrigerator, out of sight. Neighbors notice her activity and wonder. And from that curiosity emerges a glimmer of hope, and a community garden is born.

A lovely novella, this story has sparked the creation of many community gardens and much discussion about diversity and community-building. It was a lovely way to start the new year! A story full of hope and caring, this little book takes a positive look at what IS possible.

Our local Community Garden...

Our local Community Garden…

Couldn’t Put ‘Em Downers

As busy as I am at the end of a school year, I can’t not be reading!!  So, although the last month has been extremely intense with grades and our school district’s new electronic report card, I’ve also read two books that I simply couldn’t put down!

First one was the young adult book, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which I picked up out of curiosity when I discovered that an 8th grade teacher friend was using it for a teaching unit in her classroom. I knew nothing about it, (didn’t know it was going to be a movie, too!) but once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

From Scholastic:

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The second one was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. I’ve been curious about this book for a long time, and started it last week thinking it would be a good diversion from those overwhelming electronic report cards.  Understatement of the year!  Good diversion = total page turner!

From the Stieg Larsson website:

Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Henrik suspects that someone in his family, the powerful Vanger clan, murdered Harriet over forty years ago.

Starting his investigation, Mikael realizes that Harriet’s disappearance is not a single event, but rather linked to series of gruesome murders in the past. He now crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, an asocial punk and most importantly, a young woman driven by her vindictiveness.

My report cards are done; there’s only 1½ weeks of school left.  Summer is coming quickly now, and I can’t wait to start my summer reading, which will most likely be filled with sequels to some great “couldn’t put ’em downers!”

Habibi

“Maybe the hardest thing about moving overseas was being in a place where no one but your own family had any memory of you. It was like putting yourself back together with little pieces.”

It would be very difficult for any 14 year old to be uprooted by her family and moved overseas, but for Liyana Abboud, a very American teenager whose father is Palestinian, moving to Jerusalem from St Louis completely changed her world.

From the Publisher:

What does Jerusalem hold for Liyana? A grandmother, a Sitti, she has never met, for one. A history much bigger than she is. Visits to the West Bank village where her aunts and uncles live. Mischief. Old stone streets that wind through time and trouble. Opening doors, dark jail cells, a new feeling for peace, and Omer…the intriguing stranger whose kisses replace the one she lost when she moved across the ocean.

This is a lovely story of what it means to suddenly be immersed in another culture just at a time when you are beginning to define who you are and what you believe in.  It’s a powerful story of self-discovery, of family, and of what it means to be part of the bigger picture of history.

I have long enjoyed and appreciated Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful poetry. She has put a lot of that beautiful language into this little book, and told a story that is very close to her heart.  I love the way Liyana’s extended family reaches out to her and helps her through her culture shock and helps her understand her own heritage.  I particularly love the relationship she has with her Sitti (her grandmother).

Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye, is a quick but thoughtful read. I highly recommend this little book.

The Endless Steppe

The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, was one of those books that sat in my sixth grade classroom library for years before I read it. I gave my sixth grade library to a friend recently, a new teacher just starting out, but I set this book aside, and I am happy to report that I finally read it. I’m so glad I did!  It is a lovely little book, a memoir of Hautzig and her family during the Holocaust. She and her family survived because they were exiled to Siberia. Most of her other relatives that stayed in her beloved city of Vilna, Poland, did not survive.  But as you can imagine, life in Siberia was harsh and survival was difficult.

“We spent nearly six years in Siberia,” Mrs. Hautzig wrote in “Remember Who You Are: Stories About Being Jewish,” a 1990 collection of childhood reflections. “I went to school there, made friends, learned how to survive no matter what life brought.”

This book, and Esther Hautzig, left a powerful impression on me.  It’s a beautifully written story, and she was a beautiful, compassionate person. It is a story of the strength of love and family, of hope, and of the resilience of the human spirit.

The world lost Esther Hautzig last November. There were some lovely tributes paid her at that time. You can click on the links below to read two of them.

When You Reach Me

My first Kindle read:  the newly announced Newbery Award Winning book, When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead!  What a great book to start off my love affair with my new Kindle.  I couldn’t stop reading it, and was very excited that this very creative and engaging book won the Newbery medal.  It was well-deserved.

I didn’t know anything at all about this book before I read it, so it was terrific to simply experience it.  It’s very unusual and I found myself loving the way it was written.  It also incorporates a book that I know many of you love as much as I do:  Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  It’s part mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, magical realism, all rolled into one great story. It makes me wish I was teaching 6th grade again, so I could read it aloud to my students, who would love it.  But that would only be after I read them A Wrinkle in Time so they could fully appreciate the connections between the two books.

Now I completely understand why people were so happy last week when the Newbery Award was announced.

From the publisher:

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.