Friday, February 25, 2011

Little Lady Agency books 2 and 3

Sadly, my dad is in the final battle of his fight against pancreatic cancer, so I don't have time to give a ton of details about these two books. However, I did want to mention them since I reviewed the first book. I thought the second book, set in New York, was good but not as good as the first book.
The third book was great. I loved how Melissa finally found herself and could be comfortable in her own skin. From the beginning of the series, I had hope Melissa's romantic life would have a certain outcome. I didn't think it would end up happening, but it did. Melissa found herself and the love of her life.
I enjoyed this series and will check out other books by Hester Browne.

Izzy's Pop Star Plan by Alex Marestaing

In this devotional novel, Izzy Baxter is following her dream of becoming a singer by auditioning for International Pop Star Challenge, which is much like American Idol. Traveling around the world, singing and dealing with fame proves to be more difficult for Izzy than she expected, especially when society pressures her to compromise her standards.

Set up in blog form, each page includes a blog entry by Izzy, a nightly prayer, questions for the reader to ponder and to answer, and then comments from Izzy’s friends and family. The style of the book, a novel with spiritual questions to spark thought and prayer for preteens is fun and isn’t preachy. (Most teens are weary of lecturing or “preaching” books.) The topics of peer pressure and disobeying parents are relevant and handled through scripture. The comment section also helps provide the voice of reason when Izzy drifts off course.

Izzy is a typical teen, and readers will be able to relate to her and to her struggles. She finds herself disobeying her father to spend more time with a fellow contestant, a handsome young man she has feelings for. Then she struggles with finding herself and staying true to her humble Christian foundation. By the end of the book, Izzy finds out who she is in Christ and how to share Him with others.

I recommend this book for preteens who are beginning their walk with Christ. The book has excellent thoughts for living a daily Christian walk. It may be a little light for older teens who are ready to delve into deeper theological topics.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dinothesaurus by Douglas Florian (LS 5663 Review)

Florian, Douglas. 2009. Dinothesaurus. New York: Atheneum Books.

Dinothesaurus is a collection of twenty informative yet entertaining poems about dinosaurs that is sure to thrill dinosaur lovers of all ages. Each poem is short, no longer than fifteen lines and includes the elements that children enjoy in poetry: humor and rhyming words. Children will enjoy lines like “Deinonychus would leap on its prey. Deinonychus could ruin your whole day” (Florian 24). In addition to being enjoyable to read, the poems are also informative, sharing facts about each dinosaur like the poem Barosaurus that teaches “I’m higher than five elephants. I’m longer than most whales. My giant neck is balanced by my forty-three-foot tail” (23). Dinosaur names are a bit tricky, so the pronunciation and meaning of the dinosaur’s name is added to the poems. The rhyming words also help give clues to younger students about how to pronounce the difficult scientific words.

The pictures are amazing and varied. Some are drawings, some are bright, some are colorful, and some are abstract. Children will enjoy looking at the pictures for extra information about the dinosaur on the page.

Because the poems are short, this is a wonderful book to read aloud to students during story time. The first poem, “The Age of Dinosaurs” is the best poem for introduction because it gives the background information on dinosaurs.

     “The dinosaurs

     First lived outdoors

     During the time Triassic.

     While most died out,

     Some came about

     Later in the Jurassic.

     Then they evolved,

     As earth revolved,

     In times known as Cretaceous.

     But now indoors

     Great dinosaurs

    Fill museum halls, spacious” (1).

Dinothesaurus is a must-have for any elementary library and an excellent read aloud with younger children.

A Jar of Tiny Stars (LS 5663 Review)

Cullinan, Bernice E. 1996. A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-Winning Poets. Pennsylvania: Wordsong.

This book highlights the NCTE’s winning poets’ work. The poets included are as follows: David McCord, Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, Myra Livingston, Eve Merriam, John Ciardi, Lilian Moore, Arnold Adoff, Valerie Worth, and Barbara Esbensen. The NCTE evaluates a body of work by a poet, and 3,500 children weighed-in on the top five poems by the poet, which are the poems shared in the book. The poems selected are light-hearted and reflect the innocence of childhood. Although ten different poets are featured, the poems gel through the common thread of children and their lives. While the poems create sensory images and a follow a natural rhythm, the pictures make the poems appear more outdated than they are. The black and white sketches do not reflect the childhood fancy presented in the poem. Their dreariness dulls the impact of the poem. Updating the book with colorful, bright pictures would attract more young students to the book.

In contrast, the book provides a collection of well-written, thoughtful poems by different authors for teachers and librarians from which to pull for classroom lessons or poetry breaks. “I Woke up this Morning” by Karla Kuskin is great extension when reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The poem lists all of the things the narrator did wrong throughout the day, and it ends with the following stanza:

     “Well, I said

     That tomorrow

     At quarter past seven

     They can

     Come in and get me.

     I’m Staying In Bed.”

The poem mirrors the way Alexander felt in the book, and the two can be compared. Students can then write a poem about their own bad day.

Although the book is a convenient resource for teachers and librarians, giving them access to great poems in one collection, the lack of color and the plain pictures keep this book from being a book many children would read on their own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dizzy in Your Eyes by Pat Mora (LS 5663 Review)

Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in your Eyes Poems about Love. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Thoughts of love and relationships occupy the majority of a teenager’s time, and in this collection of poems about love, Mora describes the feelings of love teens have for family, friends, sports, and a boyfriend or girlfriend. Although most of the poems are written in free verse, some poems are sonnets, haikus, acrostics, and even a clerihew. While the poems are written for entertainment purposes, on the page opposite the poem, there is a brief explanation of the poem’s style for an interested reader.

While many see the teen years as life’s last chance to be carefree before embracing adulthood, teens deal with tough issues that Mora adequately expresses. In “Questions”, the narrator is afraid of his friend’s cutting. In “Pressure”, a girl is feeling the pressure to have sex with her boyfriend but is unsure of what to do. In “Kissing”, the teen girl learns the weight of having to carry herself now that her dad can’t carry her problems for her. Each poem conveys a different feeling and evokes a different personal response from the reader.

The poem “Doubt” sums up the fears all teens have, especially about love.

“What if guys think I can’t kiss because I can think?

What if I ask her out and she laughs?

Why are all the guys I know so short?

Why do girls like those handsome fakes

with fast cars and fat wallets?

Can I eat less and less until I’m transparent and shine?

Why do their eyes squint when we speak Russian?

Do boys really imagine all of us without clothes?

What if no one wants to touch me because I’m too fat?

Why do they start whispering about me when I walk by?

When I dance, why do my feet get stuck, as if music

is a foreign language?

Does anyone care about the real me?

Does my breath smell like a fish tank?

Why don’t they like him just because he’s Muslim?

What if the way I kiss is dull, like oatmeal?

Why do adults say, ‘What do you know about love?’

Why is my dog the only one who really understands me?

How does it feel to be married?

Why do my parents kiss in public?

If I sing better than she does, why don’t I get up there and sing?

Why do teachers all think I’m dumb as a garbage can?

What will it be like living far away in a dorm with strangers?

What if, when I leave,

I crumple

by myself?” (Mora 11)

Told through simple questions, Mora asks the questions all teens have wondered, from the superficial to the thoughtful to the insecure. Although the words lack the metaphors and rhythmic patters of some poetry, the honesty of the poem reflects teens’ fears.

The final poem “My Song” ends with every teen’s dream as they leave high school to move on to college.

“It’s still morning,

the spring of my life.

I’m starting my journey,

family and friends at my side,

my song inside,

and love as my guide.” (Mora 165).

Valentine’s Day, or the days leading up to it, is a great time to read and to write about love with teenagers. That’s what is on their minds anyway. “With Feeling” is an excellent poem to start off with. The narrator is annoyed with the piano teacher and the English teacher who urge him to play and to write with feeling. His response is, “Feeling? I am feeling. Don’t they see it shimmering on my skin, plain for all to see? I burn with feeling.” This poem can be a springboard for students to write about their own feelings.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blast from the Past by Meg Cabot

In the sixth book of the Allie Finkle series, Allie is excited about an upcoming field trip with her class even though her class is matched up with the class from her old school. Even worse, Allie is partnered up with her ex-best friend, who betrayed her on the 3rd grade field trip a year ago. Can the two groups work together and overcome their differences?

When I first read the inside cover of the book, I wondered how a whole book could have been about a field trip, but I shouldn’t have underestimated Meg Cabot. This book was my favorite Allie Finkle book yet. Allie learns to stand up for people who are being bullied and how she has to work together with those she doesn’t like. As always, the book is full of Meg Cabot’s unique voice, making the characters come alive.

My favorite part was Allie discovering that George Washington kept a rule book just like she does with important life rules. :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

Summary: Melissa Romney-Jones has many talents: she can help someone dress accordingly, plan a great party, and organize just about anything. Despite her qualifications, she is released from her job. Unsure of what to do next, Melissa decides to take the skills she learned at finishing school help hapless men.

Donning a blonde wig and snug clothing, Melissa becomes “Honey,” a confident go-getter who helps give direction to clueless men. She helps them find clothes, buy gifts, break up with girlfriends, and occasionally acts as a date to a company party. When Jonathan, an American new to the area, hires “Honey” to help him ward off matchmakers as he heals from a broken marriage, Melissa finds herself falling for Jonathan. Does he care for her or just the persona of “Honey”?

My thoughts: I picked this book out simply because on the cover, Sophie Kinsella, a writer I enjoy, had a comment on the front. (I know, not always the best way to pick a book.) At first, I was leery of the plot. I did not want to read a book about a female escort or prostitute. This book is NOT that. It’s about a woman becoming confident in her own skin after years of being put in a box by her family and offering support and encouragement to men in need. The characters are well developed, and I love the character of Nelson has the roommate and faithful sidekick. There is no sex in the book and little cursing. The book is an enjoyable read and entertaining throughout, especially considering it is Hester Browne’s first book. I enjoyed the book enough to go get the rest of the series.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fasting by Scot McKnight

Fasting, written by Scot McKnight, analyzes Christians’ view of the body and the role of fasting in a person’s spiritual walk. According to McKnight, when the body, soul, spirit, and heart come together in unity, fasting is a natural response to a relationship with God. Throughout the book, McKnight shares a formula for fasting: A—a grievous, sacred moment; B—fasting; C—results. Many Christians believe that if they will fast, God will answer them in a certain way. McKnight argues that fasting for a result becomes a “manipulative device instead of a genuine, Christian discipline” (page xxi). Instead, it is the other way around. When a person goes through a sacred moment, the only response is fasting. These sacred moments can be a physical need, a realization of sin, or just the desire to grow closer to God.

Throughout the book, McKnight backs up his ideas with scripture, logic, and words from other Biblical scholars. I found the book to be thought-provoking. Most of the book was devoted to spiritual ramifications of fasting, but it was valuable that physical consequences and warnings were examined as well. While fasting is an important part of a Christian’s walk, it should not be done to an extreme that may cause death. The overall theme that fasting is a natural response, demonstrating a person’s hunger for more of Jesus is a powerful message for Christians who are often hungrier for the things of the world than the savior of the world.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins (LS 5663 Review)

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. City I Love. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780810983274.

     Young readers will catch the travel bug after reading this light collection of short poems about cities. Although the poems do not rhyme, the words create an image to match the topic as in the poem “Kite” where the kite “flitters, twirls, tumbles, twitters”. The words do not rhyme but instead give a visual of the kite floating in the air. Another technique the author uses to create imagery in the poems is how the poem is set up. In the poem “Snow City”, the word down is written in falling text to symbolize the falling flake.

     Each poem about the city could apply to any city in the world, but what makes each poem unique is its illustration by Marcellus Hall. The pictures are drawn in an almost cartoonish way with vivid but not bring colors. The pictures take the words to different places around the world: San Francisco, Japan, France, London, Mexico, and New York City. Adding the different countries to the words takes the reader out of their own city and takes them around the world. What unifies the poems is the hound that is visiting each place with his backpack. Students will enjoy looking for him on each page.

     Beginning as early as kindergarten, students are taught the difference between cities, towns, suburbs, and rural areas. This book supplements this curriculum, especially the first poem “Sing a Song of Cities” which asks the reader to sing to the city to hear what the city will sing back. “They’ll sing in subway roars and rumbles, People-laughs, machine-loud grumbles”. Students can discuss what sounds they hear in the city and then compare it to what they may hear in a rural country area. This enhances the state standards of knowing the difference between the country and the city by adding what the different sounds and smells they may find in the city and country.

Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith (LS 5663 Review)

Smith, Hope Anita. 2008. Keeping the Night Watch. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 9780805072020.

      Thirteen year old C.J. became the man of the house when his father walked out on the family. Now that his father is back, C.J. struggles to find not only his place in the family but also forgiveness for his father, who is doing everything in his power to make amends.

      Told in free verse poetry, this book tells the journey from fall to spring, from hate to forgiveness, and from separation to unity. The simple words are rich with figurative language. C.J. compares the family conversations to baking, his father's eyes to a white flag of surrender, and the family's security to fine bone-china. Although each poem could stand alone, woven together, they tell the story of a healing family. Offsetting the serious nature of forgiving a father who abandoned him, C.J. also describes his crush on Maya and his nervousness when he’s around her. The addition of these poems creates a balanced look at a teenage boy.

     The pictures, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, add fill in the blanks left by the simple words. The most compelling picture is the one for the poem entitled “Showdown at the O.K Corral”, which pictures C.J. and his father face to face, C.J.’s face angry and his father’s face determined. Another picture that speaks volumes accompanies the poem “Light at the end of the Tunnel”, which has a dark tunnel with C.J.’s father at the end in white, symbolizing C.J.’s secret hope that at the end, his father will be there as “our sun rising” (Smith 69).

      To introduce this book, “If You can’t Stand the Heat”, which epitomizes C.J.’s anger is a good place to start.

I am mad.

I am the worst kind of mad.

I don’t yell.

I don’t slam doors.

I don’t throw things.

I’m a pot with a lid on,

I keep all my mad inside.

I just let it stew.

I want Byron to be mad, too,

but he isn’t.

Says he doesn’t want to hold on to mad.

He takes the lid off his pot,

Lets mad go.

Says he wants his family back.

Says he’s glad Daddy’s home.

I’m mad at Daddy,

But it feels like I’m mad at Byron, too.

We’re two different kinds of pots,

Byron and me,

and when it comes to Daddy,

we can’t cook together. (Smith 16)

       Students can analyze the emotion, the simple sentence structure to convey anger, and the cooking metaphors and then compare it to the final poem “Dance with Me” where the family finally comes together when C.J. dances with his father. “We keep our eyes on Him. We dance on our tears” (Smith 73). After reading this poem, students could write in their Jammin’ Journals (journals written in response to music) after listening to the song “Dance with my Father” by Luther Vandross. The journal entries could compare C.J.’s feeling of forgiveness when he dances with his father and the song’s sorrow over his mother no longer being able to dance with his father.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Brimstone Journals by Ron Koertge (LS 5663 Review)

Kuertge, Ron. 2001. The Brimstone Journals. New York: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763613029

Branston High School, nicknamed Brimstone by its occupants, is a typical suburban high school in America. You have the jock, the nerd, the fat kid, the lesbian, and every other “label” high school students give each other. In The Brimstone Journals, Koertge gives readers a glimpse into the personal thoughts of each of these fifteen students by recording their thoughts and feelings in journal form.

What joins the students together, whether they know it or not, is Boyd, an angry young man with a list of “everybody who ever blew me off, flipped me off, or pissed me off” (Koertge 51). When he meets Mike, Boyd begins to plan a Columbine type event where he gets revenge against all those he thinks offended him. Other students are sucked into his plan either by joining in the attack or having their name added to the list. One student bravely thwarts Boyd’s plan, and the aftermath of the “event” showcases teenagers at their best: living in the moment. Although a few students have their lives changed like Sheila opening up to her mother about her struggle and Allison telling the counselor what her stepfather is doing to her, most students immediately go back to the frivolous cares of high school. Damon, the controlling boyfriend jock, immediately goes back to wondering when his girlfriend will come back to him. Rob still doesn’t understand why he was on the list. Even Lester, the hero of the book, contemplates his actions for a minute and then immediately thinks about going to prom with Meredith. Boyd exemplifies this even further as with one sentence he is choosing to help kill his peers and in the next, he’s thinking about a tattoo.

I was gonna drop out of school until
Mike got me to see how we need
People who can lead the foot soldiers.
Somebody the grunts can look up to.
So I’ll march up there and shake some total
phony’s hand.
Plus, Mike’s springing for a tattoo when I
get my diploma.
(Koertge 31)

Although Koertge gives a voice to the average high school students in this book, the book felt incomplete in some way. Because there were fifteen voices to hear in only 113 pages, some voices were not developed completely nor did their few entries do their stories justice. However, the many voices join together cohesively to tell the unified story of a high school on the edge of an attack by one of its students. Each unique voice tells a different side or perspective of the story that the reader would not have seen if the story had been written in standard prose. The pattern of the poems (some one sentence in length while others two pages) resonates the disjointed feelings of teenagers.

Each day, millions of teens around the country go to school with different problems and situations in which they feel isolated and alone. In this book, Koertge gives them a voice. Before reading the book, a history, psychology, or English teacher could have an introduction lesson using articles out of today's newspapers and magazines about students committing violent acts at school. The events in recent history make the book relevant to today's teen. Because the poems are short and the book a fast read, the teacher should read the whole book with the class in order to see the full ramifications of the character's action.  In addition to great discussions about life, fitting in, and isolation, the poems lend themselves to discussions about character traits, development, and change throughout a story. Comparing the change in Allison to the lack of concern by Rob clearly shows character development and the lack of it. Finally, students can then write about their own struggles and perhaps even get some help if they need it.

So Over my Head by Jenny B. Jones

In the third book of The Charmed Life series, Bella finds herself involved in another crime as she finds the body of a carnival worker. Although the police quickly make an arrest, Bella isn't sure that they have the right guy. Bella and her sidekick Ruthie go undercover to find out some answers. On top of the crime solving, Bella must deal with her own insecurities about her relationship with Luke, whose old girlfriend is back in town and after Luke, and her father's upcoming wedding to a much younger woman who is up to no good.
I enjoyed this book. It was a great end to the series with Bella finally moving past her lack of trust in people, especially the men in her life. Ruthie is one of my favorite minor characters in a long time, and I wish there was a book about what happens with her next. She adds comic relief to a book about heavy topics like trust and death.
Overall, this is a great series for teens. Jenny B. Jones is a great YA author who writes about Christian teens without being preachy or overbearing.