Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones


Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn't Know. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.


This book tells the story of Sophie a fourteen year old girl in verse. It is very easy to read and can be read quickly. It begins when she broke up with Lou and is beginning to date Dylan. She has supportive friends, Rachel and Grace to talk to, but she feels her mother really does not listen. Her mother seems to be dealing with her own depression and her struggling marriage. The book touches on the creepy world of cyberspace and religious bigotry. Sophie is also trying to deal with fighting with her mom, and her parents constant fighting. She makes friends with a dorky boy in art class. They both love art and a friendship begins. She struggles with letting her friends know that she is in love with the boy Murphy, who everyone has made fun of in school. He turns out to be Mr. Right.

Critical Analysis:

This story would appeal to young girls. This is poetry written in first person using verse. It reminded me that I was peeking into Sophie's journal. It focuses on the experiences of adolescence. The story touches on your emotions of humor, love, and fear. Every verse is short and easy to read. School Library Journal says it best when they say it is "a fast-paced, page turning romp that gives authentic voice to female youth even when it is painfully truthful." You feel that Sophie is speaking honestly from her heart. Sones uses short lines to create a staccato rhythm. She chooses her words carefully to create an image in your head. For example she is soaking in the tub after ice skating and says she is "watching the steam curl into question marks". This story is "a satisfying, moving novel that will be a winner for both eager and reluctant readers"

There are no illustrations in the book until the last twenty eight pages where there is a black and white drawing of Sophie's favorite painting from the museum. Le Bal `a Bougival (a woman dancing with an unmasked man) is drawn like a flip book at the end. You do not realize that you are reading poetry. I had to smile because this book took me on a journey back to my adolescent years.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

This book is easy to read and a very quick read. This is definitely a strength. It is easy on the eyes and there is not a lot of print on each page. The print will also form shapes to keep the reading interesting. It is a quick read for good readers and easiest for struggling readers. The only weakness is this book lacks a male point of view.

Awards and Reviews:

"Winning" by Entertainment Weekly

"A great choice for reluctant and avid readers alike" by Booklist, starred review

"A fast-paced, page turning romp that gives authentic voice to female youth even when it is painfully truthful." by School Library Journal

"A satisfying, moving novel that will be a winner for both eager and reluctant readers" by Booklist starred review

"Gripping, enjoyable, and memorable" by School Library Journal, starred review.

"A verse experience that will leave readers sighing with recognition and satisfaction" by Kirkus Reviews

"Brilliant" by Kliatt

"The highs and lows of Sophie's life reflect much of the excitement and anguish that mark adolescence." by Children's Literature


Soaring Eagle Book Award 2004

International Reading Association Young Adult's Choice 2003

2001 Booklist Editor's Choice

American Library Association 2002 Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

American Library Association 2002 Best Book for Young Adults

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lincoln through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life by Martin W. Sandler


Sandler, Martin W. Lincoln through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Shaped an Extraordinary Life. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.


Martin uniquely begins each page of text with a quote from Lincoln. The page next to it is a picture about the text. There are also smaller images on the page with captions at the bottom of the page of text. The two pages are like a chapter about Lincoln's life and times. They are arranged chronologically. The majority of pictures were taken by Matthew Brady. It was said that Brady's photograph won Lincoln the presidency. The book is part biography and part history of the Civil War. It includes over 100 photographs, drawings, paintings and cartoons. The photos depict Lincoln's career, battlefields, his family and important men in history like Stephen A. Douglas, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and John Wilkes Booth.

Critical Analysis:

The reading level is appropriate for fifth graders or above. Each small chapter give the reader insight into Lincoln and the Civil War. It is filled with interesting facts. It is said that one little girl wrote to Lincoln and told him his face was too thin and he needed to grow whiskers. He was never seen photographed without a beard again.  The text and photos are organized chronologically with quotes at the top of the page and captions at the bottom of the page explaining where the photographs were taken. There is an index at the end of the book too.

The information is accurate and there is evidence in photographs. The sources of all of the quotations are included at the end of the book. Also included at the end of the book are a list of sources, and books and web sites for further reading. There is also a list of places to visit in the country that are reminders of Lincoln.

The photographs are the critical part of this book. They are laid out alongside the text on the next page. The photos are generally clear and the content from the visuals is easily understood with he captions. The photographs from war are graphic to show the evil of war. Booklist talked about the photos being "the wow factor". The "wow factor" to me was how many children fought in the Civil War. Photos of ten year old children were heartbreaking!

I as the reader learned so much about Lincoln the man, president and husband. I also learned so much about that time in history through a "slim book that speaks volumes"- Booklist.

Strengths and Weaknesses:
The photographs and the writing in this book were its strengths. I found no weaknesses.

Awards & Reviews:

"Part history of early photography, part Lincoln biography, and part documentation of the period, this slim book speaks volumes in both words and pictures."  School Library Journal

“the very first generation of human beings ever to be photographed.”  Booklist

"Divided into short sections, the book chronicles key moments in Lincoln's life through text and quotations, with supporting full-bleed photography on the facing pages." VOYA- Amy Fiske

"Lincoln welcomed having his picture taken and ruffled his hair so it would look like the common man he identified with." Children's Literature- Jennie DeGenaro

"Although it’s the pictures that provide the “wow factor,” Sandler’s perceptive words have their own elegance. Well sourced and offering numerous ways to learn more , this will be an excellent tool for history classes; and browsers, too, will be caught up in Lincoln’s story.”  Booklist- starred review

Nonfiction Honor List (VOYA)

Notable Social Studies Trade books for Young People

Orbis Pictus Recommended Book

Jefferson Cup Honor Book

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James M. Deem


Deem, James M. Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.


A husband and wife climbing the mountains in Italy discovered a man that lived 5,300 years ago. He was preserved in the alpine glacier. He was the oldest human mummy preserved in ice ever found. All around the world glaciers are melting at alarming rates and hikers are discovering hidden bodies of people who died during climbing accidents, hunters from hundreds of years ago, women climbers, and children sacrificed to the Gods many years ago. Scientists are worrying why glaciers have melted rapidly in recent years and if we can slow down or prevent this process in the future.

Critical Analysis:

This non-fiction book begins with a drawing of the Alps and the reader learns about a discovery by a husband and wife. The discovery is the Otzi, the oldest man every found. He is 5,300 years old. There are actual photographs with red circles depicting where the body was found. There are pictures of the body, tools and artifacts found with the body. The pictures are in color and black and white. There are 65 photographs and many of them are rare photographs. The photos of the mummies will fascinate the reader.

There is technical language, but the chapters are readable for children. The writing is of high quality. Each chapter takes you to different glaciers in the world where discoveries were found. There are pictures of what the glaciers used to look like many years ago and what they look like today. the visuals definitely aid in understanding what you are reading. The material is well organized with a table of contents, a list of glaciers around the world, suggested websites, bibliography and index.

The information is accurate. There is a chapter of children found in the Andes. These children were sacrifices to the gods.Young readers will be mesmerized by the mummies found in sitting positions. There is also a chapter on the mystery of George Mallory and if he reached the summit of Everest before he died. There are personal ways to help the environment included at the end. Deem reminds the reader that these glaciers are a source of water supply and what will happen if the glaciers disappear in the next 15-50 years.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

School Library Journal states that this is a "great resource" and that is true. I did not find any weaknesses unless you do not like gruesome pictures.

Reviews and Awards:

"There are books about melting glaciers and books about frozen bodies, but this attractive offering combines the topics in a way that will intrigue readers . . . Heavily illustrated with historical memorabilia as well as photos of bodies, scenery, artifacts, and rather simplistic maps, this offers a lot to look at and learn about."--Booklist

"With its extensive bibliography, suggested Web sites, and a listing of glaciers to visit, Bodies is a fantastic resource. Deem superbly weaves diverse geographical settings, time periods, and climate issues into a readable work that reveals the increasing interdisciplinary dimensions of the sciences."--School Library Journal, starred review

"Glaciers—and the preserved past they offer up—give us an intriguing peek into various cultures, yielding information on everything from human sacrifice to occult superstition to sporting endeavors. As the book concludes, a striking irony becomes evident: glaciers continue to melt at an alarming rate, warranting caution and concern for the global environment, yet even as they dwindle they offer up more clues to our human past. The book design, with its variety of photographs, captions, and sidebars, seals the appeal."--Horn Book

"Gripping stories are accompanied by highly informative expedition photographs of human remains discovered in glaciers around the world, such as in the Alps of Europe and the Andes of Peru. The preserved bodies give us a glimpse into our human prehistory as well as the climate and inhabitants of Earth's past." Science Teacher March 2009

2009 Robert F. Sibert Informational Award Honor Book
2011 Prairie Pasque Award
2008 Best Children's Book
Notable Book for Children 2009
2009 Outstanding Science Trade Book for students K-12

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson


Nelson, Kadir. We Are The Ship The Story of Negro League Baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.


This is the story of Negro League Baseball. It is a story of their owners and athletes who loved baseball (America's favorite pastime). It shows the reader how difficult it was to play the game due to our history of racial segregation. The athletes persevered and would not let racial segregation stop them from playing the game they loved! Kadir Nelson's oil painting are amazing how they are woven into chapters that are the nine innings of baseball. The book ends with Jackie Robinson being admitted into the major leagues and that was the downfall of the Negro League.

Critical Analysis:

This book was written on a sixth grade reading level. The story of the Negro League is told by an anonymous narrator who could have been any Negro baseball player. Every inning opens with a quote from a Negro player. The title of the book comes from the quote of Rube Foster, founder of the Negro National League "We are the Ship; all else the sea."

The book is organized into the nine innings of baseball. Nelson does a wonderful job of weaving the Great Depression and WWII in the story and explaining how they contributed to the story. WWII was also segregated and black men played baseball or had cooking or cleaning jobs instead of fighting. This story is about a subject of interest to many young readers. Even if you are not the world's biggest baseball fan the reader will be intrigued how the author wrote the story with zest. I found the actual accounts from the early 20th century interesting. It is told from the point of view of a baseball player who loves the game and had to endure discrimination, name calling, death threats to play the game they loved.

The innings are short and build on each other. They are appropriate for a young reader to want to know more about that time in history, or more about their baseball heroes.The illustrations are my favorite part of the book. I agree with Booklist that the players appear "like the giants they are." The open out of the first colored World Series is impressive. The details and the vivid colors in the oil paintings help bring the book to life!

Strengths and Weaknesses:
I did not find any weaknesses in this non-fiction story. One of the strengths is definitely the illustrations. They aid in the understanding of the text.

Awards and Reviews:

2009 Coretta Scott King Award

2009-2010 Texas Bluebonnet Award

New York Times stated "Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2008"

School Library Journal states "The history of the Leagues echoes the social and political struggles of black America during the first half of the 20th century."

Booklist states " If the story is the pitch, though, it’s the artwork that blasts the book into the stands."

Booklist "With enormous blue skies and jam-packed grandstands backing them, these players look like the giants they are."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers


Meyers, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Hachette Book Group USA, 2005.


When her mother remarries, Isabella Swan chooses to move in with her father in a small town of Forks, Washington. It is her junior year in high school and she meets Edward Cullen. It does not take her long to fall passionately in love with him. Edward falls in love with Bella too. This is not your ordinary love story because Edward is a 90 year old vampire. His family is different because they do not drink human blood, but live off of animals in the wild. While playing baseball with the Cullens during a thunderstorm another group of vampires are moving through the town of Forks. James finds Bella's blood irresistible. James lures Bella to Phoenix, Arizona and tries to kill her. She is injured, but Edward fights to save her and kills James. This leaves James' girlfriend or partner with a vow to kill Bella for revenge.

Critical Analysis:

The setting of Forks is realistic and the perfect setting for a vampire. It is gloomy or rainy most of the time. This is not a town where the sun is shining. The woods make the story realistic. The story is told through Bella's eyes in first person. The theme of the book is love. Bella and Edward have a strong love for each other. Amazon Books states that this story is "deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite."

Edward is described as charming, beautiful, well mannered and very protective. He is almost over protective and feels like a stalker at times. His skin is cold and like a marble statue. He glistens in the sunlight. The protagonist, Bella, does not recognize at first that he is not human. Bella, the protagonist, is an average girl. She does not believe she is beautiful. She is clumsy and stubborn. Her character undergoes changes throughout the series. She is a well developed, dynamic character. She could represent any teenage girl.

James and his gang of vampires represent evil in the story. Bella encounters life and death situations with James. She is seriously injured by him. The Cullen family conquer evil by killing James, but the conclusion leaves a new quest for Victoria to avenge James' death. The theme appears to be the choice of free will. Bella is given the choice to walk away from Edward when she finds out he is a vampire and Edward has the choice to not become involved with Bella. Edward also uses choice to not hunt humans. Even with free choice Bella and Edward are drawn together.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

This novel has something for everyone. There is suspense, humor, romance and tragedy. I did not find any weaknesses. Stephanie Meyers writes so that you keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. I did not find any weaknesses in this novel.

Awards and Reviews:

A New York Times bestseller
A New York Times"Editor's Choice"
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Publishers Weekly"Kids' Book Adults Would Love"
An Amazon "Best Book of the Decade * So Far"
An ALA "Top Ten Books for Young Adults"

"Propelled by suspense and romance in equal parts [this story] will keep readers madly flipping the pages of Meyer's tantalizing debut."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The novel's danger-factor skyrockets as the excitement of secret love and hushed affection morphs into a terrifying race to stay alive. Realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it."-School Library Journal (starred review)

 "In the tradition of Anne Rice. . . this dark romance is gripping." -Booklist (starred review)

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix


Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Among the Hidden.New York: First Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers eBook edition, 2001.


Luke Garner is the 12 year old protagonist in this novel. The story takes place in time where it is illegal to have more than 2 children in a family because of a shortage of food. Luke is the third child in his family and has been living in hiding since he was born? The government decides to take down the woods near Luke's home and he must live in the attic of his house and is not even able to eat with his family. He used to play outside, but he is never able to do this again. He is totally isolated from everyone. One day he looks out a vent in the attic and sees a child's face in a nearby home. He knows the parents and two children have already left the house. Luke musters up the nerve to sneak to the house and find out who the third child is. He discovers Jen Talbot, another hidden child. Jen is planning a rally against the government to oppose the population law. Luke does not have the courage to go with her and then finds out Jen has been killed at the rally. Jen's father gets Luke a fake I.D to go off and live his new life.

Critical Analysis:

The setting of this novel is integral to the plot of the story. Luke's family is living during a time where it is illegal to have more than two children due to overpopulation. This is an interesting topic since just recently the seventh billion person was just born in our world. Since we are finding cures for diseases and people are living longer will over population become a real problem? Can we really face a rule like this one in the future?

Luke's character does not represent every adolescent. He lives a strange life. He technically does not exist and does not have a life. His mother visits him in the attic for a break. She calls it her "Luke break". His brothers Matthew and Mark visit him too, but not very often. They are busy with their own lives. His character changes during the book. He is a very scared child in the beginning, but takes huge risks to visit the other "shadow child". "Suddenly he hated his house. It wasn't a sanctuary. It was a prison." He visits Jen, but does not have the courage to go with her to the rally. He does get the courage to accept a fake I.D and begin a real life for himself.

The novel contains dystopian elements and the loss of free will. I think this is one theme of the book. School Library Journal says “…the loss of free will is the fundamental theme of an exciting and compelling story of one young person defying authority and the odds to make a difference. Readers will be captivated by Luke’s predicament and his reactions to it.” The government is very strong and tells the people what they can grow for food and how many children they are allowed to have. Everyone is afraid to stand up to the government.

Strengths & Weaknesses:
This books is an easy read and a page turner. It gets exciting when Luke risks everything to find Jen. The tension builds when he must decide whether he should try and visit the child in the window. The tension was huge when the population police were in the house and Luke was in the closet hiding. I did not see any weaknesses to this story.

Reviews & Awards:

American Library Association's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adult Honors

International Reading Association Children's Book Award

American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults

American Library Association Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Reader's

Junior Library Guild Selection

American Bookseller"Pick of the List" Notation

School Library Journal states "the loss of free will is the fundamental theme of an exciting and compelling story of one young person defying authority and the odds to make a difference. Readers will be captivated by Luke's predicament and his reactions to it."

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008.


This science fiction story is set in the future in North America. Panem is the name of the country that maintains control of the twelve districts in this country. Years ago the twelve districts were at war with the capital. They lost and part of the surrender deal is every year they have a televised show of a survival game. The capital chooses a boy and a girl from each district to fight to the death on live television. One victor is celebrated and their district is honored. Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister's place whose name was drawn in the lottery. Katniss' male counterpart is Peeta Mellark. The capital controls the games by altering the weather and introducing mutated animals that also try to kill the competitors.

Critical Analysis:

Katniss Everdeen is a strong female protagonist in this science fiction novel. She doubts herself as a heroine. She is a good hunter, but realizes she does not compare to the other careers that have trained for these games. She worries that she is not strong, but her friend Gale reminds her "Okay, listen to me, you're stronger than they are. You are. They just want a good show, that's all they want. You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are." Katniss is able to transform herself and defeat problems along the way. The majority of her characteristics are good. Katniss has been the provider and nurturer for her sister Prim at home since her father died when she was 11 years old. He taught her the skill of using an arrow which helps her in the hunger games and may be her side of evil.

The setting of the novel is in North America in the future. The world is believable, except when the Capital controls the weather. That part is difficult to believe. The capital also creates muttations of animals to attack the competitors in the games. The suspense builds when the 24 young people are transported to the cornucopia. It is ironic to use a symbol of plenty when the goal is to kill everyone and so many districts are suffering from starvation. Katniss encounters a few life and death situations. Rue actually saves her from the hornets nest. Katniss becomes an ally with Rue and this saves her from Thresh killing her in the cornucopia. The end of the novel becomes a beginning for a new quest because Katniss has angered the Capital by attempting a dual suicide and leaving them with no victor for the 74th games. The reader knows all is not well for Katniss and Peeta.

There are a few themes in this novel. The first theme I think about is survival. Katniss has no wealth or social power and is forced to play the game. She has to survive. She has promised Prim she would survive. She uses her skill of the bow and arrow to hunt for food and kill Cato. The next theme is friendship and love. Katniss has a strong love of her sister Prim. She voluntarily takes her place in the games. She is willing to die for her sister. She also develops a friendship with Rue while playing the games. Peeta has a love for Katniss that she has never known about until the games begin. The third theme could be the fear of government control. Government, or Big Brother, always knows what you are doing. The capital has rules that everyone must follow. Katniss and Peeta do not like the power that the Capital has, but they do not know how to change it yet.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Suzanne Collins has brought her imaginary world to life. One of the strengths that School Library Journal states is "Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds." A weakness for me is the ending, because the story really does not end here. It continues in the next book of the series.

Awards & Reviews:

Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year 2008

New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2008

Cybil Winner in 2008

School Library Journals Best Books of 2008

Booklist Editor's Choice 2008

School Library Journal states " the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing. This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like 'Survivor' and 'American Gladiator'."

Stephen King finds a new YA novel as scarily addictive as his favorite arcade game. Sept 12, 2008