Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'm a guest star!

As you may or may not know, I've been doing a small side job proofreading for an e-publisher for almost two years. I just finished up my third book by a wonderful author, Jeff Salter, and he was kind enough to ask me to guest star on his blog, Four Foxes One Hound. I was honored and said yes. Click on the link to see the result.

Happy Thursday!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Schooled by Gordon Korman

So imagine that you've lived your whole life on a commune called Garland Farms. It's just you and your grandmother, although there used to be other people there, too. Suddenly one day, your grandmother falls out of a tree while picking plums (don't ask). She breaks her hip, and after being released from the police for driving without a license (don't ask), you learn that not only will she have to have surgery, she'll need to go to rehab for at least six weeks. Which means you have to go live somewhere else. Because you're only a kid, too young to live alone.

Thus begins Schooled, the tale of Capricorn "Cap"Anderson. Lucky for Cap, the social worker assigned to his case is none other than Flora Donnelly, aka Floramundi - a former resident of Garland Farms herself. She knows exactly what Cap will be facing as a former hippie herself. The "outside" world will be a very harsh place for a peace-loving, vegetarian hippie such as Cap, who has been quite sheltered all his life.

Rather than place Cap with a foster family, Flora takes him home herself. Her daughter, Sophie, is horrified. As a high school student more worried about dating than grades, Sophie sees Cap as everything that's wrong with her mother - too much of a bleeding heart.

The kids at Claverage Middle School see him as a time-traveler, or possibly someone that has beamed in from outer space. No one wants to talk to him or be his friend, until a plan by uber-popular jock Zach backfires. Suddenly, everyone wants to help Cap, wants to be his friend, and wants nothing to do with Zach. It's a harsh lesson for the guy who was going to make eighth grade his year. When Zach finally teams up with the class loser that he'd originally intended to pick on, their plan has some disastrous results.

This was my second book from the middle school Battle of the Books list, and I would say I liked it better than Wonder. It's funny how many similarities there were though: both are about boys who are thrust into a mainstream school for the first time, both have been home-schooled up to that point, both have been protected by well-meaning yet short-sighted parents, and both have a distinctly different appearance from their fellow students.

I thought Schooled was a bit more realistic in some aspects, less so in others. But overall, I would definitely recommend this book to kids, maybe even some adults.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My battle with the Battle of the Books lists

I had my annual performance review the other week, and my boss has set some pretty high goals for me for the coming year. I, of course, set myself some, too, the most daring one being to tackle the reading lists for the Battle of the Books for both fifth grade and middle school students.

If you've never heard of BOB, think of the old Brain Game. It's a bit like that, but with literature as your only category. When I first started talking to one of my young patrons about BOB, I asked which book she was responsible for. She gave me an odd look, and I said something like, "That's how it works, right? You read one of the titles, and you're the go-to person for questions on that book?" The answer I got floored me. "Oh no!" this young brainiac replied. "You have to read and know ALL the books."



There are somewhere around 25-30 books on the current list.


That's a lot of books. And while I do read a lot myself, it might take me a couple of months at least to get through that many. And then have to answer questions on any/all of them?


Anyway, I've decided that I'm going to read each and every book on both lists. I've already got one under my belt, Wonder by A.J. Palacio. A great book about August "Auggie" Pullman, a little boy who's been through a lot, thanks to losing the genetic lottery. August has had surgeries to repair his cleft palate, which was probably the most minor of his problems. His eyes are too low, as well as his ears - which look more like little pieces of cauliflower than ordinary human ears. His hearing isn't great, and he'll probably need hearing aids. He's small for his age, and has been home schooled his whole life; his parents thought it wouldn't be fair to him to send him to "regular" school with all his hospitalizations. As August puts it, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

Then August has a bombshell dropped on him: his parents have decided he's well enough to start attending Beecher Prep. He'll be a brand new fifth grader, just like all the other kids entering fifth grade. Except that August isn't like all the other kids, and not just in his looks.

There are some nice dynamics here, and I really like the anti-bullying message. It's done with a fairly light touch as well as some humor. I thought the relationships in August's family were well-done, showing that parents don't always agree with each other, that they're human beings with feelings too. Then there's his big sister, Olivia. I really thought Palacio did an awesome job writing from the perspective of a sibling who has always been willing to stand back in the shadows, knowing that her special-needs brother comes first. When Via (as the entire family calls her) enters high school, though, she sees her chance for a new start, one that puts her as most important. It's tough reading her conflict at times; it's clear she loves her baby brother, but it's just as clear that she's suffered because of him, too.

While I really did like the book, I will admit to finding myself a bit skeptical that kids would warm up to August as they did. Granted, it doesn't happen overnight, but still...would real kids in this sometimes very cruel real world do the things these characters did? I kinda doubt it. I want to hope that they would, though, and perhaps if those kids read this book, they will.

One down, many, many more titles to go.