Monday, February 23, 2009


EVERY SOUL A STAR by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown)
The setting of this book is the Moon Shadow campground in the days before a total solar eclipse. A constellation of three main characters is formed, and told from their points of view: home-schooled Ally who doesn’t want to move from her home out in the country, the urbane Queen–Bee Bree, who dreads moving into the very home in the boonies that Ally doesn’t want to leave, and Jack, a sensitive, slightly overweight boy who comes to the campground in hopes of raising his science grade and avoiding summer school. Mass achieved the admirable feat of writing realistic fiction that kids who like the splashiness of Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl will enjoy just as much as kids who savor quiet books like Lynne Rae Perkin's Criss Cross. Plus, the cross-curricular potential of this book for middle-schoolers is otherworldly; you’d better have books about the solar system readily available for the contagion of interest that starts in these bindings, and you’ll find yourself counting the days until the next solar eclipse (July 22nd, FYI). Mass is smart without being heavy, employing recognizable characters that are genuinely cool to hang with, and very prolific for prolonged tweenage book-loving pleasure! Look for 11 BIRTHDAYS, “Groundhog day for tweenagers,” in which the day in which a friend said something hurtful gets repeated over and over again; JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE, in which a box left by a 13-year-old boy’s father contains the meaning of life (how would you like a gift like that? Can't you just imagine the pre-writing activity, teachers?), and A MANGO-SHAPED SPACE, about a girl with the rare condition of synesthesia, which allows her to see colors in numbers, letters and sounds. Always great premises and accessible execution, Mass stands to be the Judy Blume of a new generation. For reals. (11 and up)

Also of interest:
More realistic fiction for "tweenagers" (more or less), boasting both strong character development and solid writing styles.

TRACKING DADDY DOWN by MaryBeth Kesley (Greenwillow) When her daddy robs a bank (accidentally?) Billie Wisher is hot on the trail, trying to find him before the Feds do. Trying to keep a family together is what Billie hopes will be gained by surrender, but meanwhile she is having a hard time surrendering herself to the reality of her stepfamily. Set against the backdrop of a small down where everyone knows everyone else's business, the writing and voice is markedly poignant and funny at turns, with a good ear and eye for the truth of the world a la eleven-year-old, and a memorable, likable main character that, although not having criminal intent, still manages to steal the reader's heart. Keep track of this author; her debut shines. (10 and up)

ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL AND OTHER SCARY THINGS by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade) Rules for making friends: "1. Say hello. 2. Just say hello. 3. trade baseball cards. 4. Trade more baseball cards. 5. Just trade baseball cards." Funny, funny, funny is the first-person account of a neurotic little boy who still has some fight in him despite being afraid of elevators/tunnels/bridges/airplanes/thunder/substitute teachers/kimchi/wasabi/the dark/heights/scary mobies/scary dreams/shots/school. Personal Disaster Kit in hand, armed with valuable advice only a big brother can give and an alter-ego as Firecracker Man, will he ever find the wherewithall to speak up in class, or his quirky classmate Flea, who learned kickboxing at her "Aggression for Girls" class and has her eye on the shy guy. This book has a tone that will tickle, but also an honesty when it comes to things that are hard for boys, such as making close friends and feeling successful at school. Illustrator Pham reconfirms her genius on every page through her infinitely expressive and jubilant line drawings. There is something affirming about having Alvin out there; children will root for him and his family as they try to fortify themselves to contend with their own "allergies." Boy oh boy, this is what guys who have already read all of the hilarious HORRIBLE HARRY series but didn't want to be caught reading CLEMENTINE have been waiting for. (8 and up)

SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD by Nancy Viau (Amulet) Samantha is a smarty, a budding geologist who is slated to enjoy a rock-lover's dream vacation at the Grand Canyon, if she can control her temper long enough to keep the privilege. Big if! Here is a heroine with the spunk and mouth of an older (and more grammatically correct) Junie B. Jones, and a storyline with a subtle texture; Samantha's love of rocks connects her to her deceased father, while frustrations with her older sister, her quirky mom and her own self-improvement loom very much in-the-now. The plot is peppered with real science facts that never overwhelm the story and will likely inspire interest. In the end, the change is in the seismically altered layers of Samantha; tween readers hitting a rough patch can scientifically predict such hopeful changes in themselves as well. (10 and up)

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Anonymous said...

What a wonderful collection of books! I haven't read Every Soul a Star yet, but we just got it into my library. I'm definitely adding it to my list!

Karen Evans said...

I have a question for you regarding read aloud. I've found some great websites of people reading aloud on the internet and was wondering if you knew of any others. The ones I really like are:

Let me know if you know of any other great ones!

Anonymous said...

I love books that inspire the desire to know more. My seven-year-old son asks me off the wall questions all the time and I just love it. Can't answer them half the time, but I still love it. Let me give you a few:
1) How many calories are in water? (they were doing nutritional education at school for this one) Luckily it was easy to answer.
2) What happens if someone jumps off the moon? Had a good laugh over that one before I explained the answer.
3)How does gravity work? If you can answer this one let me know.
4) What happens when they move a planet? Huh?! Took me awhile to figure out that he thought Pluto had been kicked out of the solar system because it was no longer a planet.

I could go on, but those are the most recent ones. He just gets this far off look and I know its coming. But it's fun because it makes me think too and I can engage him and we inspire each other! So much better than TV!

DW Golden
Soar with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies


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