Monday, September 30, 2013

Busy, busy, busy!!

Sorry it's been a while.  Lots of school work!  But that means lots of reading.  Since you probably don't want to hear about Newton's Three Laws of Motion...  I'll just mention a few of the books I have read over the past couple of weeks.

 I just finished "The Kite Fighters"  by Linda Sue Park.  It's about 15th century Korea and two young brothers from a very traditional family that discover they have a knack for building and flying kites.  Their kite flying abilities draw the attention of the young King, who befriends them and commands them to build him a kite.  The older brother, Kee-sup Lee, creates a beautiful dragon kite for him.  And the young brother, Young-sup Lee, flies the kite in the annual kite flying (and fighting) contest.  This was written in 2000.  Highly recommended - boys in particular should enjoy it.  4th - 8th.  But be prepared to fly kites when you are done!

Also, "Birds on a Wire: a Renga 'Round Town" by 
J. Patrick Lewis and Paul B. Jancezko
What’s a Renga?  It is poetry, similar to Haiku (in fact, Haiku sprang from Renga) and it’s over 800 years old! It is collaborative poetry where one poet writes the first stanza, which is three lines long and then the next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet.  Renga literally means “linked poem”.  Each verse links in some way with the one preceding it but not necessarily with the others which means it can take the story in a completely new direction.  Rengas can be hundreds of stanzas long.  Fortunately, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jacezko managed to keep their Renga under thirty stanzas.  They also altered things a bit - they each wrote five lines and then broke them into three-line and two-line stanzas.  Their Renga centers around one day in the life of a small town.
 birds on a wire
in failing light
turn home to oak and elm
park trees become noisemakers
until the flock of screeches stills
I think this would be a wonderful book for both middle school and high school.  English teachers, art teachers, or librarians could let their students work together to create Renga based on their own art or photographs.  

I also have read a dozen picture books - but I will post those tomorrow.  Happy reading!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The House of the Scorpion

Nancy Farmer's "The House of the Scorpion"

This week's assignment -- Fantasy.  Initially I chose Shannon Hale but several other classmates chose her so I went with Nancy Farmer who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction, and even dystopian SciFi, which all fall under this genre.   
This is her official website -  

She is a very interesting person!  If you have ever read anything by her, I highly recommend taking a peek.  I’m really glad that I read through her biography because it helped explain a bit of her writing.  On her website she states, “One of my main themes is self-reliance, the ability to compete against odds and to beat them. A lot of kids' books have somebody who learns to come to terms with some dreadful situation, and it's all about them continuing to suffer at the end of the book. I don't want to write 'victim' books. I want a triumph, a hero or a heroine, and that's what I write about.”

She also talked about growing up in Yuma AZ (her childhood was a bit bizarre!) and playing hooky from school.  She would sometimes sneak into the gardens of a mansion called The Sanguinetti House. It had green grass, peacocks, parrots, flowers and fountains.  This was the basis for El Patrón’s mansion in “The House of the Scorpion”. She even revisited it as an adult to check the accuracy of her description and found it was exactly as she remembered except smaller.  

Also, this is a Q&A from Publishers Weekly about “The Lord of Opium” - it’s only a month old so it contains up to date info.

So the book I chose to read is “The House of the Scorpion”.  This is a book I read several years ago shortly after it was first published but I wanted to re-read it before digging into the sequel “The Lord of Opium”. “Scorpion” is a work of dystopian science fiction.  It was awarded the National Book Award, and named a Newbery Honor Book and a Printz Honor Book. It is set in North America in the not-too-distant future.  In an attempt to solve the escalating problems of violence and illegal immigration, the United States and Mexico (now called Aztlán) have created a country that lies on the border of the two countries.  It is called Opium and it is run by drug lords (who were the ones who originally came up with the idea).  They use the land to grow huge fields of poppies which they turn into opium which is then sold in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Supposedly everywhere but the US and Aztlán.  Their work force is made up of “eejits”.  These are people who have been caught in some kind of crime or who are trying to move from one country to another.  When they are captured, they are enslaved by planting a chip in their head.  The chip prevents them from thinking for themselves.  They respond only to direct commands and will starve to death if not ordered to eat or drink.  It’s a bleak existence.  

Cloning has become rather commonplace - another method of producing the “eejits” that work the opium fields.  The protagonist of our story is Matt Alacrán, a clone of one of the more powerful drug lords in Opium - Matteo Alacrán, referred to in the book as El Patrón.  Clones are not considered to be real people; the belief is that they have no soul and feelings about them range from abhorrence to treating them like pets.  The only reason Matt is not an “eejit” is because he is a replacement for El Patrón, who is almost 150 years old.  Matt is ostracized by almost the entire human world but is feared because of his status in the household. He has three friends - Lucia, a cook in El Patrón’s house (also known as The Big House) who has taken care of him since he was born; Tam Lin, one of El Patrón’s bodyguards who has been specifically assigned to look out for Matt; and Maria, the daughter of a powerful senator named Mendoza.  María and her sister Emilia spend holidays at the Big House and she and Matt become friends at first and then eventually fall in love.  The book is formatted into sections pertaining to Matt’s life.  These are entitled Youth: 0-6; Middle Age: 7-11; Old Age: 12-14; Age 14 and then La Vida Nueva.  I cannot really say much more without spoiling the read for others.

Except to say - this is an excellent book!  It deals with serious topics of self-worth, what gives life value, medical ethics, and politicians abusing their power. If you have a high school student who enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy or Lois Lowry’s Giver series, I would recommend this.  It is dark and it paints a bleak picture of the future but it's still a fascinating book.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel, which picks up just a few months after Scorpion ends.  Alacrán, by the way, is Spanish for scorpion.

Friday, September 13, 2013

“Read like a wolf eats.”

I had to do a Reaslistic Fiction assignment for my YA class -- 
I chose to write about Gary Paulsen! 

 “Read like a wolf eats.”

Gary Paulsen is one of my favorite authors.  
 The following is a quote about him from the website below,
 “It is Paulsen's overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children's book community.”
This is his website at Random House, one of his publishers  This site includes a biography of Paulsen and talks about some of his books.  It looks like the last time it was updated was in 2004 so not all of the information is current.
If you hop over to the information is more up to date.  It has his upcoming book  “Family Ties” listed, along with his two most recently published titles, “Vote” and “Road Trip”.  He wrote “Road Trip” with his son, Jim. is a YouTube video where Gary talks about why he writes, and encourages kids to, “Read like a wolf eats.”  

Gary Paulsen is probably best known for his book “Hatchet” which deals with a thirteen year old boy named Brian.  The son of divorced parents, Brian is traveling in a Cessna 406 bush plane to visit his father in the oil fields in northern Canada for the summer.  While flying over the wilderness, the pilot suffers a heart attack and dies. Brian tries to land the plane, but ends up crash-landing into a lake in the forest.  The story is how Brian manages to survive in the Canadian wilderness for an entire summer. The title comes from the hatchet his mother gave him as he was leaving to see his father.  Paulsen continued the story of Brian with four more novels.  Highly recommended for ages 12 and up.  Younger kids read it but I think they get more out of it if they wait until they are 12.  Katniss must have read this one - that’s how she managed to survive in “The Hunger Games”. 

However, my favorite Gary Paulsen book is “Harris and Me”.  It is the story of a young boy who is carted off to different relatives each summer by his alcoholic parents. The summer he is 11, he goes to live with his cousins on a farm in Minnesota, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  His 9 year old cousin is named Harris.  The boy (never named in the book but it’s based on Gary’s life growing up) and Harris have some amazing adventures over the summer.  It is laugh out loud funny.  It was written in 1993 but takes place in the 1940s or early 1950s.  Again, I would highly recommend it for ages twelve and older - especially boys.  

Gary has written over 175 books and is a very diverse writer - the Brian stories are definitely realistic fiction.  Some of his realistic fiction is humorous; some very serious and autobiographical works, science fiction and historical fiction.  I would also recommend “Road Trip” - one of his most recent books which he wrote with his son - for middle school/early high school  It’s short and would appeal to boys and anyone that loves dogs.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

So it has been WAY too long since I have posted.  No excuses.  I am going to be reading a lot of books this semester for my Young Adult class and I need to evaluate them so that's a good excuse to start blogging again! 

But first a bit of a recap.  Last May, I took a Multicultural Library Services class.  As our final assignment we had to create a reading list for a culture that we had not discussed in class.  I chose Afghanistan.  So I am going to list a few of those sources here.

The first was a DVD -
Families of Afghanistan  part of the Families of the World Series
An excellent introduction to life in cultures different from their own, this film focuses on two young girls in Afghanistan. Zamora is thirteen and lives in the country while twelve-year-old Madina lives in the city of Kabul. The video gives students the opportunity to compare their own lives with those of children their own age that face the realities of a country at war ever day. There is also a teacher's guide which includes a script, a glossary, activity guide, maps, and recipes. A resource guaranteed to provoke interesting discussions whether viewed at home or in school.

Next - a young adult novel, Thunder Over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay about two teenaged girls in Afghanistan - Yasmine and Tamanna.  Yasmine has lived in England for as long as she can remember but her parents are from Afghanistan and decide they should return to help rebuild their country.  While walking to meet her father for lunch, Yasmine and her mother are attacked by the Taliban and her mother is badly beaten.  Rather than going back to England, her father decides to move them to a remote village where his ancestral home is still located.  Once there, Yasmine befriends a girl from the village, Tamanna.  Their friendship develops quickly and soon they feel like sisters.  They have another encounter with the Taliban at the newly opened school and the father decides that it is indeed time to take his family home.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.  Plus - Tamanna is scheduled to marry a much older man and would not be eligible to return to Britain with them.  As a result, Tamanna and Yasmine end up trekking through the Afghani wilderness in an attempt to reach Pakistan. It's a bit contrived but it does provide a unique insight into the life of girls and women in Afghanistan today.  

The last book I read is an adult memoir by Qais (rhymes with rice) Akbar Omar. 
The title is A Fort of Nine Towers: an Afghan Childhood.  

A wonderful book - it is amazing what Qais and his family endured (and are still enduring) in Afghanistan.  In the books that I read, competitiveness comes up often - but there is good competing and then there is bad competing. And as is so often the case, there is evil. Many of the people that Qais encounters are evil people. There is loss and horror but there is also laughter and hope. The Fort of Nine Towers refers to a place of refuge where his family lived for many years. They originally had to abandon their Kabul home because it was in a war zone and they went to the home of a friend of their father - the Fort of Nine Towers (although there was only one tower still standing). They did a bit of nomadic travel throughout Afghanistan but eventually returned to their refuge. Not always an easy read - but highly recommended.  

So - if you would like a bit of insight into Afghanistan -- try these books.  I would not read just one; you need to read several to start to get an idea of what is going on there.  It will possibly also give you some insight into the situation in Syria.