The New York Times Stirs Literacy Debate

There are so many points to ponder in The New York Times article, "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" my head is swimming. If you're at all interested in literacy's future, you really need to jump over and read it. The comments are also interesting and might be worth your while. YALSA says it's part of a series so I'll be looking forward the continued discussion.

The Dangerous Days Of Daniel X by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge - Book Review

Daniel would like to tell you about his life. He’s fifteen and an orphan. When he was three, he heard his parents being murdered while he hid in the basement. The murderer, The Prayer, came looking for Daniel too, but it’s kind of hard to find a kid who can change matter, including his own matter.

Yes, Daniel’s a superhero and alien hunter. He might even be an alien himself. He’s managed to survive since his parent’s death and has taken up the family mission of hunting alien outlaws bent on destroying Earth.

The Dangerous Days Of Daniel X has some positive characteristics especially suited for reluctant readers. The first person narration is engaging; it feels as if Daniel is letting the reader in on a secret. Daniel is likable and sincere, someone I’d like to know in real life. It is easy to identify with him and trust his voice. The short chapters are excellent for reluctant readers. I don’t know if this is Patterson/Ledwidge's typical style or a conscious effort for the target audience, but it’s a good choice. Fast pace adventure lends itself well to readers with little patience.

However, there are quite a few problems in the telling of the tale. The story lacks something tangible in it’s plotting. There are hinted clues that never quite come to fruition, though I hope these will work out through the series. Additionally, the plethora of pop culture references will date this book quickly. While funny in 2008, it probably won’t be in 2012. The authors have also committed teen-reader suicide by sermonizing. I once read that a reader should never hear the writer. I knew Patterson/Ledwidge was there and I wanted them to let Daniel tell me the tale.

All in all, I think readers will enjoy the tale of Daniel X, alien hunter. Hopefully the authors will end the sermons on drugs and which books to read in Daniel X volume 2.

Reader recommendations: ages 11- adult, adventure loving Sc-Fi readers, comic book readers looking for a novel and a special recommendation for reluctant readers.

Savvy by Ingrid Law - Book Review

Savvy is one of those stories I wish that I had read when I was thirteen. The kind that would have stayed with me. The kind that would have been remembered for thirty-one years. The kind I would have shared with my daughter. It’s a charming coming-of-age tale with a unique slant, a great plot and wonderfully real characters.

Mississippi, Mibs for short, is turning thirteen. It’s a special birthday. No, not because she’ll officially be a teen, but because she will get her savvy. All the folks in Mibs family get their savvy on their thirteenth birthday. Grandpa found he could move mountains and Grandma caught radio waves in mason jars. Her brothers create storms and electricity. What will Mississippi’s thirteenth birthday bring?

Unfortunately for Mibs, family tragedy will interfere with her special birthday. This will lead Mibs and her friends on an adventure filled with growth, understanding and friendship. None in her band of runaways will end the journey in the same place from whence they came and they'll touch a few lives along the way.

As a debut author, Ingrid Law did two things completely right with Savvy. She didn’t over-sweeten and she told the standard coming-of-age tale in a unique manner. Mibs is a real character with a personality to match the savvy she inherits. In fact, all the characters are well developed and personable (even the prissy preacher’s wife). The plot moves swift and bumpy, just like the bus that transports us.

Savvy is an excellent tale with special recommendations for girls in the 10 - 13 age bracket, readers who enjoy magical tales, or those interested in coming-of-age tales. Perfect for classrooms and libraries serving grades 4th -7th.

-------------------- Resources --------------------

Genre: Fantasy. Age: 9-12. Pages: 352.

Themes: Uniqueness, Determination, Cooperation.
Note to teachers & parents: a Google search for the book’s title will first result in some inappropriate materials so you might want to use the terms “Savvy Ingrid Law”

Publisher: Dial. Date: May 2008.
ISBN-10: 0803733062 / ISBN-13: 978-0803733060

Buy Savvy Here

Wow! Things sure move fast. It seems Savvy has been optioned by Walden Media on a fast track to movie super-stardom (source: Variety). With sequels an easy thing for this tale, I see Ingrid Law, a single mother living in a trailer, as moving on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky.

Here's the book trailer for good measure:
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Teaching's Made Easier with Age Labels.... Why Are British Authors Against It?

I’m throwing my humble hat into the labeling books for age appropriateness discussion ring. Lately, there’s been all this jabber about delegating age labels on children's stories and novels. The ruckus started across the pond when a few English blokes said, “Hey, can you help us find appropriate books for our kiddies?” As a licensed media specialist and teacher who was once censored from teaching a particular -more famous than famous British- novel, I am vehemently against censorship. However, I’ve a few opinions that lead me to side with the age appropriate labelers, especially when you consider my background working with struggling readers.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Book Review

The Graveyard Book is bittersweet and melancholy. Not words one would associate with a horror novel. But, make no mistake, The Graveyard Book is a horror tale. It begins with a triple homicide committed by the aptly named Jack, who wields a bloody, ripping knife. Jack, upon finishing off a father, mother and daughter, chases the surviving toddler into a graveyard. There, the toddler will live and thrive, thanks to the kindly spirits and various monsters, beasts and demons that inhabit the graveyard. They will name the toddler Nobody, Bod for short, and he will walk a unique path from boyhood to manhood. He will learn important skills that only dead men tell and the graveyard will protect him from Jack who still hungers for his blood.

The Graveyard Book is a coming-of-age tale that invites obvious comparisons to Kipling's Jungle Book tales. But it's also unique in the way Gaiman manages to convey horror with enchantment, terror with melancholy. Instead of fearing the dead, we love them (and the undead aren't too shabby either). My only exception with the novel is a slight plodding middle, which could be the result of my own desire to see Bod to adulthood, and which would probably be less pronounced if I were using this as a read-aloud.

I'm in awe of Gaiman's craft and continually try to grasp his brilliance. There’s an inside joke running through all his fiction. He’s the cool kid and you want in on the secret. When I consider my favorite authors, I see a pattern of two things: they create memorable characters and put them in situations outside of reality. They don’t write pure science fiction or fantasy, though Gaiman lingers close to this; they write at the very edge of reality. Their worlds seem like a place I’ve been or want to be. Their characters are people I want to know, that I already love.

You will grow to love Bod and his graveyard family and hope that a sequel is walking about in Mr. Gaiman's head.

Highly recommended for lovers of unique stories, coming-of-age tales, fantasy, humor mixed with horror.

Publisher: Harper Collins. Date: September 2008. Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0060530928 / ISBN-13: 978-0060530921
Read from an advanced copy.

Genre: Fantasy. Age: All - Read aloud for young or as an independent read for all ages

Themes: Love, Non-traditional Families, Coming of Age, Friendship, Decisions,

Buy The Graveyard Book Here

Visit The Book Website: HERE

Mouse Circus is his children's book website.

The Book Trailer:

Neil Gaiman explains how he came up with the idea for The Graveyard Book:


Neil Gaiman's resume is way too long to be included here. Should I tell you that he writes prose or poetry, that his stories have been successful on film, that he was once a journalist, that he wrote some of the most beloved comics of all time, what about his song lyrics or dramas? How do I write a bio for a man whose Twitter account states that he, "will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down." You can read more on his website, sign up to follow him on author tracker, spend an hour perusing his wiki entry, read a bit about his personal life on his blog or laugh with him as he tweets away.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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Great Reading Sites For Kids

One of my personal favorites is Scholastic Kids. It's filled with games, book guides, author information, contests and a forum to discuss books with other kids. There are tabs at the top for parents and teachers filled with great stuff too!

Another great site I happened upon targets those reluctant reader boys. It's written by author extraordinaire, Jon Scieszka. Head over to Guys Read for book recommendations and club news geared toward the fellas.

A site geared toward the teen reader, and with a slightly female slant, is Teen Reads. There are contests, reading guides, author interviews, book clubs and tons of stuff all about young adult literature. A really excellent site!

Though I don't know much about Sylvan's Book Adventure site, it looks very promising. There are also sections for parents and teachers as well as quizzes, prizes and teams for kids to join.

I think they're all worth checking out :-)
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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Farworld: Water Keep - Book Review

There is a boy who is different from other boys. He has special powers. He can do strange things just by thinking about them. He is different, has never fit in; he’s an orphan, mistreated and unwanted. He has a strange mark on him. Sound familiar? It’s not what you think, but it is the start of a ripping good fantasy for young readers.

Farworld: Water Keep, the first in a series of what will become five books, begins with the story of Marcus, a wheelchair bound orphan bullied by his schoolmates, who can conveniently make himself unseen and who dreams of an imaginary land called Farworld. One day a man shows up to inform Marcus that he’s taking him to his long lost parents, an orphan’s dream. But something is unsettling to Marcus….

In the meantime, we switch to another world where an orphan girl, Kyja, is attempting to perform magic. It seems everyone in Kyja’s world can perform magic, but not Kyja. This has left her a shunned outcast too. Even though Master Therapass, a wizened wizard, believes she has magic inside of her, Kyja is downtrodden. Kyja’s first magical power will be saving Marcus from the man, Bonesplitter, and the adventure will begin…

Marcus and Kyja are not only special, they are the great hope for saving both Farworld and Earth from sinister forces bent on destroying them. Filled with suspense, action and all the best elements of a great fantasy, Farworld: Water Keep is a wonderful addition to our fantasy shelves.

Author J. Scott Savage does many, many things right with his tale. He invents a plethora of creatures to spark the imagination, including the Elementals which will make-up a large portion of the five story’s thematic focus as the children will have to get them to work together in order to save their worlds. The first group of Elementals we meet, the Fontasians, control water and are as otherworldly as one can imagine.

The tale opens with a surprise and continues at a quickened pace, divided into manageable chapters and sections for young readers. Critics might argue that the pace becomes overly fast, but when set within the realm of children’s literature, it’s important to remember that faster-paced, shorter-chapter novels assist young readers. And while the plot does evolve at a break-neck speed through mostly action, the exceptional foreshadowing further propels the plot. The tale also jumps smoothly and believably between worlds. Very rarely, if ever, do we get more than one world within a chapter. This provides for excellent breaking points.

Characterization is handled well. Marcus’s disability is thoughtful and matter-of-fact. Savage isn’t overly cautious with having his protagonist disabled, meeting the challenge head-on and credibly. I would like to see some further character investment, but think this will happen as the story progresses through the four remaining books, as the first novel in a fantasy series almost always spends large chunks of effort on character and setting introduction.

My only qualm is with the good old suspension of disbelief factor that plagues fantasy. I kept worrying about how the world jumping would affect the children. At times, it became too easy and convenient. Marcus’s half-there, half-here sickness was never fully resolved. I’m hoping this silly little doubt will be explained in further novels, as I’ll be reading them all.

Perhaps the thing this reviewer liked best about Savage’s style was his calling out of the Harry Potter comparisons. When Marcus meets Kyja and her world, he asks her if she can, “fly on brooms and send letters with owls like Harry Potter?” Her response? “A hairy what?” This puts the comparisons comically to rest.

Recommended for grade 4 and up, as a read a-loud for younger elementary students, for students with disabilities, and lovers of high fantasy.

Stayed tuned for an interview & giveaway with Mr. Savage (great name for a fantasy author by the way) coming sometime soon! In the meantime check out Mr. Savage's blog here.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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Great supplemental materials for Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, one of my favorite authors, has posted what could be some wonderful supplemental material for her Newbery winning book, Number The Stars. A character in the novel, Peter, was inspired by a real person. Lowry's posted excerpts from personal letters Peter wrote during his time imprisoned by the Nazis. [Here's the link to her site]

For anyone who has somehow managed to miss this absolutely amazing book:
From Publishers Weekly: "Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, this 1990 Newbery winner tells of a 10-year-old girl who undertakes a dangerous mission to save her best friend. Ages 10-14." It's this and SO much more. Every student should have exposure to this book.

Order: Number The Stars here
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti

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