Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Fantasy lovers know Susan Cooper from the Dark is Rising series. Victory has some of those elements of fantasy, but only in Molly’s mind. Molly has recently come to America after her mother married an American. She doesn’t feel “at home” in Connecticut. On a visit to Mystic Seaport, CT, she purchases a book, The Biography of Lord Nelson. In that book she finds a scrap of cloth wrapped in an envelope with a note saying the scrap is part of the sail from HMS Victory – the ship on which Lord Nelson was killed. Suddenly she begins to have visions that bother her.

In the other chapters, the reader is introduced to Sam Robbins who lived in the early 1800s. Sam had just begun his apprenticeship to become a ropemaker when he was “pressed” into service for the Royal Navy.

This is almost like two novels in one. They are related, but you don’t see how closely until the end of the story.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas

Berlin, 1942

Bruno comes home from school to find that his family is moving from their home and away from his beloved Grandparents because his father has gotten a promotion from the Fury. They go to a place that is totally strange to him and his family – Bruno longs for a friend. He meets a friend, Shmuel, while he is being an explorer. As you read this novel, think about the moral message sent by this “fable.”

Check out the questions in the discussion guide.

Alabama Moon

Moon Blake knows how to survive in the woods with very little other than what nature provides – he can hunt, find edible plants, make a shelter, find medicine, and make his own clothes from animal hides.

Moon’s father dies from an infection, and Moon is now an orphan. His father always told him to go to Alaska where there are many other people like them who don’t like the government. Instead he is taken to a juvenile detention center by a dishonest cop. During Moon’s brief stay he makes friends by physically and emotionally overpowering a bully. He also enjoys food in quantities he has never enjoyed. Moon successfully escapes from the detention center and takes all of the boys with him. Only he and two others stay on the run. Moon teaches them how to survive in the wilderness and he learns from those he meets that surviving in the world most of us live in is not easy, but it is possible.

Read an excerpt of this book by Watt Key from the Borders website.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Copper Sun

This is a great book! The author, Sharon Draper, deals with a subject that is often chosen to be overlooked in a study of history. One of the main characters is Amari, a 15-year-old Ashanti girl who is looking forward to her marriage to Besa, who witnesses the cruelty of the slavers when they come to her village - murdering many and capturing all the others to ship them to America to be slaves.

She is forced onto a “boat of death” and makes the horrible journey known as the Middle Passage to the Carolinas. Some how she survives this trip and is sold to Percival Derby. She is a birthday gift for his 16-year-old son. At the same time, this man buys a white girl who is an indentured servant, Polly. Though Polly does not consider herself the same as a slave, she learns that she really is no different than the black slaves. She and Amari become friends and support each other during all the tribulations they face.

When their mistress, the second Mrs. Derby, gives birth to a black baby, Mr. Derby becomes exceedingly cruel and violent. Polly, Amari, and Tidbit manage to escape from the plantation. They make a long and difficult journey to Fort Mose, FL (a Spanish colony).

Many of the characters in the book are the stereotypical whites of the era of the southern plantation and slavery. However, refreshingly you will meet some of the whites who were not and helped the girls. The book has lots of action and is one you will want to read to see what will happen next.

For more information about Fort Mose, check out the following sites:

National Park Service
Africans in America from PBS

New Boy

I wonder if the author, Julian Houston, has written a novel that reflects some of his own experiences as a black boy from the South attending a private prep school in the North. In the novel, 15-year-old Rob Garrett is the first black student to attend Draper, a boarding school in Connecticut. What Rob wants most is to be a good student and he chooses not to participate in athletics so he can achieve that goal. The book is set during the late 1950s when the civil rights movement was beginning to build momentum.

Rob discovered that other students of ethnicities different than most were treated in ways that made them feel not accepted. Rob says that white people had an inability or unwillingness to see him for who he really was; however he discovered that they treated others in the same way and sometimes worse. This novel shows the reader that segregation and racial slurs were not limited to Blacks, it included Italians, Jews, Middle Easterners, and more. As you read the book, think about some of the racial slurs that you hear today – how much has changed since the 1950s and how much has stayed the same? When reading the novel, I thought about my own children when they ventured away from the rural Midwest setting where they were raised – one of my children was called the “boy from the corn” because he was from the country (he knew what was meant by the phrase “John Deere green”); another of my children was considered an ethnic minority because of coming from “the country;” and another has found that moving to the East Coast people have some preconceived notions about what one is like when you come from the Midwest.

This novel gives the reader an introduction and some insight into the Civil Rights movement that marked the 1960s. The author introduces the reader to several characters including Malcolm X. I think he presents a view of this time in American history that is different the one you will normally see. I believe the author is able to show the reader what segregation was/is like and also the courage that it took/takes for people to confront that segregation.

The Lighthouse Land

This novel is Adrian McKinty’s first written specifically for young people – it is the first in a planned trilogy.

If I were to give you my reaction to this novel, it would be that I thought of Madeline L’Engle as I was reading.

Thirteen-year-old Jamie O’Neill and his mother Anna find that they have inherited a lighthouse and the house that goes with it on an island and that Jamie will become the Laird of Muck when he turns eighteen. Life has not been easy for Jamie, his parents are recently divorced and he has lost an arm to cancer. For a reason known only to him, he has chosen to not speak. After arriving in Ireland, he and a boy from the village, Ramsay, become good friends. They communicate with a computer that was given to him by an elderly friend in Harlem as a going away present.

As they explore in the old lighthouse, they find a “Salmon” with a glowing jewel in its side. This tool transports them to another planet where they become involved in helping save one of the cultures. Apparently Jamie is not the first O’Neill to make this trip – the last one was made in 1607.

I found this book to be very readable and it seemed to combine the elements of fantasy and reality quite well.