Thursday, December 11, 2008

Favorite Holiday Stoires

One of my favorite activities around the holiday is reading good holiday books.  Corny as it may sound it is actually a really neat way to get into the holiday spirit.  If you are looking for the perfect holiday book to read, here are a couple of favorites that I like, for the young and old.  
1.  Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri.   This is an excellent read aloud for your littlest reading buddy.  The soft pictures,  the "songs" of the Animals in the barn that soothe the Babe Jesus and the donkey who is afraid his song will not be good make a wonderful feel good story.  The children will love the donkey and his song.  For Donkey finds out that  his song, loud as it is, is a joyful noise unto Jesus.  Very touching!  It's a can't miss story.

2.  The Polar Express by Chris Vans Allsburg.  This story has all the elements that we have come to love bout Christmas.  A train, a small boy and the magic of believing.  Timeless.

3. There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve by Pam Munoz Ryan .  A gentle reminder that the white Christmas that everyone dreams about was not what Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus saw on Christmas Eve.  The pictures are luminous, soft and inviting.  A nice way to remind children of the true meaning of Christmas.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.    The people of Who-ville are sweet, happy and just darn friendly.  Who would want to ruin their Christmas?  Only someone who has a heart two sizes to small!  Well, you know the story, and it still remains to be on the top of the list for Christmas

5.  A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz  It just isn't Christmas without Charlie Brown.  It doesn't matter if you watch the DVD or read the book.  This tale of Christmas always warms the heart.... Thanks Mr. Schulz!

6. A Creature was Stirring by Clement Clarke Moore.   This is a wonderful twist on the classic poem "Twas the Night before Christmas".  A little boy who is eagerly awaiting  Santa's arrival responds to each of the stanza of the famous poem.  It is a hoot and the pictures are wonderful. Moore does an excellent job of capturing the innocence of  a child's excitement at Christmas.

7. Dear Santa : The letters of James B. Dobbins. by Bill  Harley.  Need a good laugh?   Every child writes letters to Santa, but this little boy writes to Santa all December long.  Reminding Santa that he's been good,  nice to his sister, and explains why he has done some naughty things.   A nice change from the "normal" Christmas stories. 

8. A Wish to Be A Christmas Tree by Colleen Moroe   Everyone wants to be special.  Even trees in the forest who long to be  picked to be a Christmas tree.  One tree in particular, is too tall and is passed over many times.  With the help from the forest animals,  the tree gets his wish and is the most beautiful Christmas tree in the forest.  

9.  The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.   The story begins with the new widow and her son coming to visit Jonathan to ask if he could make a new creche.  He agrees to do the job and eventually the lovely widow and her son make their way into his heart.  Very touching.  

10. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco .   Based on the author's own family history.  This tale is about the Stowell, a family of nine during the Depression era in Michigan.  Frankie is the youngest of the family and he has learned quite about from his family about sharing what he has with he less fortunate.  Every Christmas, his father travels to Lansing  to get fresh 
Christmas oranges for each child.  When Frankie loses his orange,  the family gives back to him  the wonderful gift of sharing. It is sentimental, sad but worth the read. 

There are so many good books out there, and believe me, I know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.   So happy holiday reading! 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My picks for Books to give for Christmas

The holiday season is upon us!  Yeah, let the shopping begin!  While you are out and about this Holiday season looking for that perfect gift, I have a condensed version of what to get for the reader in your life.   The books here are for teens, but adults may like them too.  So, here are the top  five picks for Christmas. 

The Boy who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  This book caused me to think really hard on what it means to stay silent or to take a stand.  It is about a 17 year old boy who is tried for Treason in Nazi Germany.  Helmuth Hubner's crime was listening to outlawed BBC radio and passing out leaflets that told the Germans the truth about the war.  In his heart of hearts, he wanted to make a difference.  He wanted to  see Germans set free by the truth.  In the end he pays the ultimate price for his crime.   

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  A wonderful story that made me laugh, cry and reminded me why I love Shakespeare so much! It is a coming of age novel set in the late 1960's in Long Island, NY.   Holling Hoodhood gets to sit with his teacher, Ms. Baker every Wednesday afternoon and read Shakespeare.  Not his idea of  the perfect way to spend an afternoon.   However, over time, he learns a lot of Shakespeare,  life and what it means to find his own voice.  Schmidt is a master at storytelling.  This is definite must read book.  

Schooled by Greg Korman  If there ever is proof that the 60's commune life style was only for the "far out" crowd,  this book is it!  Cap is a lovable character who finds himself in another world when he is sent into the real world after his Grandmother, Rain has taken a fall.  The comedy of how peace loving Cap changes the students at his middle school is sure to make the reader want to cheer for him too!  All the things that happen in this book are highly improbable but Korman is a master at making the improbable not only possible but believable.   This book is a total fun read.  

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.  The Brother Grimms first told this story many years ago.  Ms. Hale retells it and brings new life to the story.  Dashti and Lady Saren are forced to live in a tower for seven  years because Lady Saren refuses to marry a man she not only hates but is afraid to be near.  Dashti is the strong handmaid who is saves them from the doom and finds true love in the process. 

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Things are never as they seem.  Tyler who has just served community service time for a graffiti prank is implicated in a drunken crime which he did not commit.  No one believes him, and it is up to him to make the right choices that will determine his future.  Readers will root for Tyler and be happy that the good guy wins.  

This is just a few of my suggestions.   Well, I've got to go off shopping too!  See you around next time! 


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Justin Somper Vampirates

Okay, so it took me a while to get back to the blog, sorry.  I've been on vacation and all that jazz.  I am hoping, keep our fingers crossed, to be on the blog every other day.  So keep watch for new updates. 

The Vampirates series is good.  I wish I could have gotten more excited but the second of the series Tide of Terror was not as good as  the first.   I was really hoping for something more, not quite sure what, but it seemed to be lacking the excitement of the first book.  Perhaps, because the characters spent so much time at the Vampire Academy that I felt that the story was not moving as quickly as the first.  The character that intrigues me the most is the captain of the Vampariate ship.  He seems to know a lot more about the orphans and perhaps has a connection to their dad?  Um, makes me wonder and curious.   Am I giving up on the series?  Nope.  I am taking a break for a moment and reading other books. Which I will be discussing in other blogs.     Long story short,  I am still interested in what Conner and Grace are up to, just that I am taking a breather before jumping into the series again.  If  there are any favorites out there of vampire stories, drop me a line! 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vampire and things that go bump in the night!

The recent craze with vampire and Young Adult lit has gotten me thinking.  What would Bram Stoker be thinking right now?  Perhaps, he would be puzzled at how the rap of the vampire aka Dracula has changed.   Seriously,  we are now to believe that Vampires are not bad.  They are actually misunderstood creatures who really don't want to go after people's blood, have a political system all their own and they are really, really drop dead gorgeous.   Pardon the pun.   What ever happened to the scary monsters?  What ever happened to the creepy mad scientists?  The good old days are gone! 
I read the Twilight series and thought yuck. I know that Stephenie Meyer is writing another book from Edward's  point of view.  Trust me --- I really don't care to know.  Bella is whining.  Jake is a dude with serious love issues, and Edward is a wimpy vampire.  Don't need to know much more.  It seems to me that I did not want to read another stupid vampire book again.  I decided to pick up "Sucks to be me" by Kimberly Pauley.  ALA was promoting it so I thought, I'd give it a shot.  It was pretty good.  It kind of made me think that if Meyer and Meg Cabot ever got together to do a book -- this book would be it.  Well, it must be the season but here I am picking up another series and I have to admit --- I LOVE IT.   The series is called Vampirates by Justin Somper.  It has everything  Action, adventure and a little bit of romance all mixed in.  I mean come on,  how can you not like a book that has vampires and pirates mixed together.  It is fun, and it really takes you away on a journey that is fun. 
I am about to read the second book of he series, so I will keep you posted as to what happens and if this series holds true to the first book.  While I am on the topic --- what is your favorite vampire book?  

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What makes a good character?

An academic definition of  a good book would normally go like this:  The characteristics of a good book are solid characters, believable plots and subplots that help the story move along.  I agree with this definition, but with a little twist.   The voice of the author has to ring true for the reader.  It  has to be authentic.  These are the stories that last a lifetime and beyond.    For this reason, I truly believe that only a few titles now will become classics for the next generation.  For example,  Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.  This is a classic for all ages because it can still reach out to the reader's today as having an authentic voice.  The reader can literally feel themselves going back in time to the French Revolution.  The same can be true of Frodo and his world.  Every person who has ever read Lord of the Rings, knows of Frodo's battle and his world.  They walk with him and at times feels the enormous weight of responsibility that plaques Frodo from the beginning to the end of the tale.  
The discussion to what will be a classic in the future can go on and on.  Everyone has a favorite.  Will Harry Potter live forever?  Probably,  but not because it was a literary stroke of genius on Rowling's part.  It is more likely that the kids who loved it today will become parents and recommend the books to their children as way of sharing something of their childhood. Harry Potter, does not have the qualities of a character that will last a lifetime and beyond.  Quite frankly, I think the movie versions of the saga has ruined the opportunity for the character to become the character of the ages.    Rowlings sold out to commercialism in a huge way and it effected, I believe the outcome of the story.  But that is a debate for another time, another place 
Are there any books or characters that would stand the test of time? Before answering that,  what makes a character stand out for a lifetime.  First,  the voice of the characters still echos even after the book has been closed.  Need an example?  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen when in chapter six the observation has been made that, "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment."  Elizabeth's voice is very clear as she shares her observations about her surroundings.  These are the rare moments that the reader nods their head in agreement.  It has a striking ring of truth and they share the same feelings with the character.   The voice is so clear, that even after the book has been put down, the reader still can hear it in their mind.  Their thoughtful voices are true for not only their generation, but for ours as well.  Second,  the character does not  have to be likable, but they must have the quality of having flesh and bones, meaning you can imagine meeting them down at the local pub,  or in the library or in school.   Another example of this can be found, in Penny From Heaven by Jennifer Holm.  This is a touching book about Penny growing up in 1953 and her delightful family.  The reader likes Penny, they are rooting for her and she reminds them of the girl next door.  They've met her before and they want to see her again.  On the opposite coin, there is Artemis Fowl, who is a genius but not quite likable because he manipulates people to get what he wants.  However, readers stick with him because they want to see what he is going to do next.   He may be selfish, self serving and perhaps a little, evil, but there is a little piece of the reader who thinks, I wish I could get away with half the things he does.   Last but not least,  the character has a cause worth reading about.  Whether it is the hypocrisy of social classes,  adjusting to a mother getting remarried or a plot to become the ring leader of a crime gang, it is worth giving up precious time to go along with the characters on their journey.  
Who would I pick as out of modern day literary heroes to live forever?  Timeless classics, as they have been called?  You will have to get the answer in my next blog.  In the mean time, think of  the characters you would put on your list.  See if they  match mine.  

Till next time... happy reading. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Reading Review of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature

I've gotten a jump on my reading list for this summer,  and my list is long.  However, I am determined that this is the summer, that I get to read everything I set out to do.  We shall see if I rise to the occasion.   I've decided that I wanted to check out some of the YA (Young Adult) titles that were nominated for literary awards.  Whenever a book or movie wins an award, I have to check it out for myself to see if I agree that the work merits an award or not.  
The first book that I have chosen to comment on is " Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature" by Robin Brande.  Ms. Brande first novel has just received the Michigan Library Association's "Thumbs Up!" Award.   The plot of the story is about Mena, a ninth grader,  who begins high school as the freshmen biggest class outcast. She has done something so hideous, that her friends in the  youth group hates her, her pastor hates her and even her parents hate her.  Everything changes when her biology teacher, Mrs. Shepard  pairs her up with lab partner Casey Connor and a lesson on evolution changes how Mena views her world.
      Ms. Brande's attempts to bring together science and religion is admirable, but does not make a convincing argument. Especially when she uses the Parable of the Five Talents to prove that Jesus believed in natural selection or survival of  the fittest.   The characters who are "Christian" , including  Mena's parents, who agree with the youth group's actions of bullying their daughter,  are made out to be single minded and hypocritical. However, on the flip side, anyone who does not agree with the Christian, are characters to be upheld and admired.  For example, Ms.Shephard rants on and on about her rights under the constitution to teach the curriculum because of separation of church and state,  she LOVES biology because it offer facts (as if religion does not) and Darwin's theory is flawless.  Near the end of the story, Brande sneaks in the fact that Ms. Shephard is indeed a woman who believes in God but will not say that to her students in class, because it would be crossing the precarious line drawn in the sand by the Supreme Court.  
Mena is a wonderful character, because the reader believe her feelings are authentic throughout the story. I almost forgot!  You are probably wondering what was the hideous act that Mena did to get everyone in her universe mad at her?  She wrote a note to a boy in her youth group telling him she was sorry that everyone was picking on him because he was "gay".  This note starts a chain reaction of lawsuits against the church, the parents of the children who ridiculed the boy, and Mena's parents because the boy almost succeeds at committing suicide. Although Ms Brande tries to keep the suspense up until halfway through the book, it is obvious to the reader that the letter was about a gay person.  Why else would the Christians be in an uproar?  Too bad the supporting cast is so flat!
At the end of the book the author does explain where she drew her inspiration from and it is obvious she found sources that agree with each other, thus producing a story that is very one sided.  Would I recommend this book?  Yes, but not enthusiastically.  Also, I would not take the story too seriously because of the lack of strong supporting characters around Mena.  

Till Next time .... happy reading!