Sunday, January 14, 2007

Life As We Knew It

“And then it hit. Even though we knew it was going to, we were still shocked when the asteroid actually made contact with the moon… It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible.”

The premise of this novel is that an asteroid hits the moon, knocking off its normal orbit. The novel deals with the changes in life on Earth because of this cataclysm. There are volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and changes in climate. These then bring disruptions in what we have come to think of as everyday life.

The main character, Miranda, a high school student, keeps a diary that takes you through all the emotions and struggles she and her family face as food is no longer available and gasoline prices become higher and higher. Sickness becomes a very real problem because there are no doctors or hospitals, and food is in such short supply.

This author also wrote The Year Without Michael.

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen: a novel by Catherine Gilbert Murdock is set on a Wisconsin dairy farm. The protagonist is D.J. (Dorrie) Schwenck whose father and two older brothers were football stars in the small town of Red Bend. Dad really didn’t want to be a farmer, but life doesn’t always end up the way we plan. D.J. has had to take over much of the responsibilities of the farm since Dad was injured. Her younger brother, Curtis, doesn’t talk much, but he is a good baseball player and very big for his age. This family is not a lot unlike many farm families I knew as a teenager in Central Illinois – little to talk about, but very hard workers.

Jimmy Ott, the football coach from a nearby town and friend of Mr. Schwenk, has sent a quarterback to the farm to help them and learn about football and training from D.J. This may seem strange, but you will find that it works both for Brian, the QB, and for D.J. Both gain from the experience. D.J. learns to talk and Brian gets a great trainer for the summer.

D.J. loves sports and in the past has been a basketball player. Her time training Brian peaks her interest in football, so she decides to try out for the football team. There is a slight problem in that D.J. flunked English last year because she didn’t turn in the work. I like the ending of the book and would be interested in your opinions too.

Guardians of Ga'Hoole

This is a series by Kathryn Lasky. An unlikely band of heroes have come from different kingdoms to train with a community of owls at the Great Ga’Hoole Tree.

Read about these individual novels:
Kathryn Lasky or

London Calling

Yes, another wonderful historical fiction book, and this one has the added intrigue of some fantasy!

Martin Conway comes from a moderately dysfunctional family. He is forced to attend a Catholic preparatory school where he does not fit in and is bullied by some of the popular kids including Hank Lowery. Hank Lowery’s grandfather was revered as a war hero by the school, a fact that gives the young man some power at school. Martin doesn’t want to leave his basement room

Part of the story takes place in our time and part takes place during the London Blitz, 1940, in World War II. Martin’s grandfather worked for Joe Kennedy (father of President Kennedy) at the U.S. Embassy in London then and the elder Lowery was an American military officer also in London at the time. You can read about the Blitz at EyeWitness to history. And you can find out about time travel.

The most interesting “character” in the book is Jimmy who has contacted Martin’s grandfather, his Nana, and now Martin through a cathedral style Philco 20 deluxe radio (see a picture). (Maybe I find this so intriguing because I remember when we had radios similar to this one.) Jimmy is looking for someone to help him contact his father.

Suddenly I became aware of another person in the room. I sat upright, totally alert, straining to see in the dark. That's when it happened. A boy--small, thin, dressed in mud-brown clothes--leaned out from behind the radio and whispered, "Johnny, will you help me?"

Martin is able to travel back in time (in a dream) to the era of the blitz, before the United States entered World War II. He learns about things that happened and that knowledge may change history. He also begins a new relationship with his own father because of what he learns in his visit to the past.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Patricia McCormick has again tackled a subject that is difficult for many to discuss just as she did in the novels Cut and My Brother’s Keeper. In this novel, a 13-year-old Nepali girl, Lakshmi, is sold into slavery and prostitution by her step-father.

Lakshmi is a smart girl who excels in school and has been promised in marriage to a local boy. She works hard and hopes for a better life. McCormick has written this novel in an almost free-verse poetic style that makes it easy to read, yet very emotional as the reader is drawn into Lakshmi’s terrible experience.

While I think this is an excellent book that addresses an important global issue, I think that it requires a certain maturity on the part of the reader.

Crispin at the Edge of the World

If you have read Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi, you have met a young orphan boy who was marked for death because of an unknown crime. The first book was a wonderfully exciting adventure novel, and this second one has proved to be just as exciting. I think that I have enjoyed this second novel even more than I did the first one!

It is still 1377, the same year as the end of the first book, and Crispin and Bear leave Great Wexly behind as they embark on more adventures. They meet a member of the Brotherhood, a group Bear used to belong to, and he insists Bear is a traitor to their cause. (You can read more about John Ball.) As they are running, they are forced to seek refuge when Bear is injured. In the woods they meet Aude, a healer woman, and Toth, a young girl who is disfigured by a cleft palate and therefore shunned by many in the medieval world. Crispin is put off by the pagan beliefs of these two strangers, but soon sees that they are kind and only want to help. Aude is brutally murdered by some villages who had asked for her help as a midwife; so Bear, Crispin, and Toth become a family.

This family continues their adventures as they sail to a new land. The adventures continue as they are shipwrecked and meet up with more villans.

The Legend of Bass Reeves

Gary Paulsen has taken a relatively unknown character from the annals of wild west history and introduced his readers to a fantastic person. Reeves was born a slave and was raised by his Mammy on an isolated Texas ranch. After fleeing for his life, he spends much time hiding in Indian Territory (22 years with the Creek Indians) because he is an escaped slave. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Bass goes to Arkansas to become a rancher. Finally in the later years of his life, he is appointed a federal deputy marshal for the Indian Territory. Paulsen portrays this man as the honest, hardworking hero he was.

What a great introduction to a little known Western Hero.

Read more information about Bass Reeves:

Old West Legends

The Manhunter
Bass Reeves Obituary
Picture of Bass Reeves

Bread and Roses Too

Many of you are familiar with other novels by Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved. This new work takes you on a trip into the past in Lawrence, MA and the strike by the workers in 1912. The two main characters are Rosa, a serious, studious, immigrant whose widowed mother works in the mills to keep her family very meagerly and Jake, an American boy who is a petty thief and the son of a drunk who beats him regularly.

Rosa offers Jake a place to sleep in the family’s apartment one night, then meets him later again. The information about the strike is factual in this novel, the mill owners did send agents to Europe to bring in immigrant labor promising wealth and riches. The reality was that in order for a family to survive, every able person had to have a job. Rosa being able to go to school was truly a sacrifice for her family.

Jake finds the strike exciting, and in his mind he is somebody.

Some of the children are being sent to other places so that they can have food. Jake has a terrible secret and thinks he can escape it. Rosa thinks she is being sent to New York City and he wants to go to disappear in the city. Instead she and Jake end up going to Barre, VT. It is while they are here that both of the children change dramatically – probably Jake is more changed than Rosa.

What a wonderful way for you to learn about one of the labor movements (Industrial Workers of the World) in American history. For more information on the strike:
Bread and Roses Strike,
Lucy Parsons Project,

Camella Teoli Testimony about the Textile Strike of 1912.