Monday, December 20, 2010

Retro Book of the Week: The Boxcar Children

The Boxcar Children
By Gertrude Chandler Warner

Oh, the Boxcar Children. I read these when I was in elementary school, not even realizing that these books are waaaaaaay retro. 1941, to be exact. Warner originally dubbed these "the Alden Family Mysteries," but they have since been packaged as "The Boxcar Children." Though the other books in the series are mysteries, the first book is not really a mystery at all. It tells the story of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, four orphaned children who live in an abandonded boxcar in the woods. They believe their legal guardian, their grandfather, is a cruel man and they wish to fend for themselves in the woods rather than live with him. There really is no mystery in this first book, but it does develop the characters and set the stage for the rest of the series.

Of over 140 books, only the first nineteen in the series were written by Gertrude Chandler Warner, who died in 1979. All of the stories feature the four children as amature dectives, solving crimes whereever they go. I was surprised to learn that the original nineteen books are all set in the 1940's and 50's, with the children growing older over several years in time. However, the later books are set in the present day, with the children becoming frozen in time where they never get older (sort of like The Babysitter's Club, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys). If you're feeling nostalgic, check one out today @ your library!

[Retro Book of the Week celebrates the oldies-but-goodies in our media center. Books with faded covers can still have modern appeal! Sometimes I just want to celebrate the books that have influenced YA literature and my literary past, and sometimes I want to give new life to timeless classics. These features will be heavy on books from the 80's and 90's.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What I'm Reading Now: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by JK Rowling

I've read it before, but I'm reading it again. While this book and the whole series are always worth a reread on their own merit, I am rereading this one in particular for a different reason. I really want to go see the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I movie, but I am one of of those people who has to have the book fresh in my mind when I go to see the movie. I want to be able to make a comparison between what I read and what I'm watching. I know I'm not the only who has to do that. Is anyone else out there a "read the book before you see the movie" kind of person? If you need to reread Harry Potter, Twilight, or any other print-to-screen title, you can check 'em out today @your library!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry's 1993 Newberry Award winning book has become a modern classic for reading with young adults. It is a dystopian novel about a futuristic society run by sameness. Everyone dresses the same, has the same birthday, lives in family units that are the same, etc. At first this dystopia appears to be a utopia -- the Pleasantville-like society is pain-free, crime-free, and everyone has everything they need. However, this type of utopia comes with a price. Would you give up music, love, and emotions to be safe and orderly?

I read this book in the sixth grade, and I clearly remember thinking that our society was eerily similar to the community in the book. We go to school, we go to college, we get a job, we pay our taxes. We do what we are supposed to do. I thought this story was a cautionary tale about becoming drones in world and failing to recognize the beauty in the world, the good things in life.

I read this book in ninth grade and I remember fixating on the government in the story. This society is the result of socialism to the extreme. Socialism sounds great in theory, but is that how people are really supposed to live? How can one be an individual in such a society, and is that even necessary? I wanted to know how the government managed to take so much control over these people, and what had gone so bad in the world to make that necessary.

Now, as an adult, I am looking at this book in a different way. A fellow teacher just read the book and was inspired by it. She brought it back and felt that students need to read it. It's a book about standing up for what you know is right. The book makes readers wonder if they are a Jonas, challenging the status quo and looking for truth, or if they are more like the other members of the community. I had always seen the book as more political, but the conversations we've had about the novel recently have helped me see that the themes in the novel are applicable in so many situations.

If you've never read The Giver, I highly recommend the book as a must-read. If you have read it before, no matter how many times, I also recommend that you pick it up and read it again. What does it say to you at this point in your life? We've got a whole class set in stock, so check it out today @ your library.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Retro Book of the Week: A Light in the Attic

A Light in the Attic
by Shel Silverstein

Though technically a children's book more than a YA title, this 1981 collection of poems remains popular with teens. Of course, it's not just A Light in the Attic that they're after...they also love the poem collections in Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up. Kids love these books because they are silly poems written just for a young audience. Silverstein plays with words and makes us laugh, while focusing on topics that kids understand. There are poems about wanting a pony, dinosaurs, homework, messy rooms, annoying siblings, and funny creatures. For our students at the middle school level, this is literature that they feel comfortable with. Even if the poems are "technically" for an elementary school audience, anyone can find enjoyment in the stories and drawings found on each page.

Our media center copy of A Light in the Attic is so tattered and torn that I'm not sure it has much life left in it. But, alas, do not fear! I have ordered library-bound copies of both A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends with our most recent book order. In fact, we've ordered lots of modern, teen-friendly poetry books for our poetry section. So come check out A Light in the Attic @your library! 

[Retro Book of the Week celebrates the oldies-but-goodies in our media center. Books with faded covers can still have modern appeal! Sometimes I just want to celebrate the books that have influenced YA literature and my literary past, and sometimes I want to give new life to timeless classics. These features will be heavy on books from the 80's and 90's.]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Retro Book of the Week: Kristy's Great Idea

Kristy's Great Idea
by Ann M. Martin 

If you were a teen or tween in the 80's or 90's, you know all about the Baby-Sitter's Club. Love 'em or hate 'em, these girls will go down in series fiction history. Kristy's Great Idea is the first novel in the 213-novel series. In this book, Kristy comes up with the idea to run a babysitting club in her neighborhood to help parents reach many babysitters with one phone call. Kristy, a softball playing tomboy, is the president of the club. Her shy, sensitive, bookish best friend, Mary Anne, is the secretary. The artisitic, junk-food loving Claudia gets to be the vice president because the meetings are held in her room (she has her own phone line). And Stacey, the super-stylish new girl from New York, is elected treasurer because she is great at math.

This BSC novel is a classic because it sets the whole series in motion. Readers get to meet some of the classic BSC clients. There is also some awesome fashion (baggy lavender plaid overalls, anyone?). However, the BSC is not going away any time soon! The series is currently being reissued. The original yellow cover was replaced with a pink cover in the late 1990's, but starting this year the series has undergone a serious makeover. The updated covers are in stores now. The first five books have also been made into graphic novels by Raina Telegmeier, author of Smile. We have a whole shelf of BSC books here at MSMS. Take a walk down memory lane or check one out for the first time @ your library!

[Retro Book of the Week celebrates the oldies-but-goodies in our media center. Books with faded covers can still have modern appeal! Sometimes I just want to celebrate the books that have influenced YA literature and my literary past, and sometimes I want to give new life to timeless classics. These features will be heavy on books from the 80's and 90's.]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Real Life Quidditch?

We all know that Harry Potter has been a world-phenomenon for over ten years. The first generation of Potter fans are now in college, and I have heard about local universities that have Quidditch teams as a club sport. If you are like me, you have wondered how on earth Quidditch translates from the literary, fictional world to a muggle sports field. Without broomsticks, magical snitches, and flying bludgers how can one play the game? Leave it to crafty college students to figure it out. Over 200 universities have Quidditch teams, and the 4th Annual Quidditch World Cup was played this year at the University of Michigan. To see a great explaination of exactly how the game is played, watch the video below (note: I apologize, but there is a short ad at the beginning):

If you need a refresher on the rules of Quidditch, visit the Quidditch page on Wikipedia. And, as always, you can check out Harry Potter books @ your library!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain
by Ed Viesturs

This book is a rare thing for me -- I am rereading a book! I will start by saying I am not a mountaineer. I'm not even a hiker. But I am discovering that my new favorite genre in non-fiction is mountaineering books. This book is about K2, the second highest mountain in the world (the first highest is Mt. Everest). Climbing on very tall mountains is hard work, and very dangerous. The air is very thin, making it difficult to breathe. Avalanches, sudden storms, and falls are a constant threat. Mountaineering books are real-life adventure stories.

This particular book is written to tell the mountaineering history of this mountain, which is one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb. Viesturs tells about expeditions in 1938, 1939, 1953, 1954, 1986, 1992, and 2008 -- seven of the most interesting years in K2's history. There are stories of heroic acts, survival, tragedy, beautiful scenery, amazing accomplishments, and of catty drama among teammates as they spend months together in tiny little tents. I highly recommend this book to all armchair mountaineers like myself, those of us who like reading adventure stories from the safety of our own homes.

I also want to suggest a Battle of the Books book that is a good read-along title. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Journey to Save the World...One Child at a Time by Greg Mortenson is also a non-fiction book. The book starts with Mr. Mortenson wandering around Pakistan, where he got lost after an attempt at climbing K2. The people of the small villiage of Korphe take him in, and he realizes that they have no school for their children. Mr. Mortenson devotes his life (and all of his money!) to building schools for the children of Korphe and other villiages around Pakistan and Afganistan. I am about 1/2 way through this book, and I have to say I feel inspired by Mortenson's altruism and his big heart. This is a great read for our celebration of Mulicultural Month here in the media center! We have multiple copies of Three Cups of Tea ...check it out today @your library.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December's Featured Books: Cultures Around the World

For the month of December, we are featuring books about Cultures Around the World. These are books about either main characters living in another country or characters who are from another country but living in America. We've got books about Bollywood, Quinceneras, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, African adventures, and the Amazon River...and many more! Our sixth and seventh grade social studies curriculum focus on the many cultures of the world, so these books are a great extension of that curriculum. These books will be on display until after the holiday break, so check one out today @ your library!