Wednesday

Cybils 2010: Middle Grade Fiction Panel

There's some old saying that goes something like...."If you want something done, give it to the busiest person." Last year, as I sat contemplating an empty nest, toyed with moving to a new city, dreamed of cool career moves I could make (notice the verbs: sat, toyed, dreamed), I applied to be a Cybils judge. Nary a word (cricket noise for effect).

Kyle's Island by Sally Derby - book review

Kyle’s family is going through big changes. His grandmother has recently died and his father has left the family, but Kyle can still look forward to spending the summer fishing at his family’s summer cottage. Then, his mother explains that she’s going to have to sell the cottage. Kyle spends the summer letting go of his anger, coming-of-age and learning that things and people change.

Kyle's Island is filled with descriptive language and would make a decent read for teaching descriptive writing or examining mood or tone in writing style. It's an atmospheric story where the setting plays a large part. 

However, the pace of Kyle's Island  will be difficult for many young readers. It is mostly a character study of Kyle's coming-of-age. While Kyle is written in an authentically frustrated and tween-aged voice, the lack of any real plot development will additionally limit its readership. However, there's a nice boy, fishing, and growing up story in there for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories.

Monday

The Secret To Lying by Todd Mitchell - book review

The Secret to Lying has an interesting premise about a young man with poor self esteem (usually reserved for the girls of YA Lit.) and his attempts at reinventing himself when he gets into a boarding school for intellectually gifted math and science students. Unfortunately, his attempts at reinventing himself become dangerous as his self-esteem sinks lower when his allegorical dreams begin to bleed into reality.

There are some great lessons about learning to be who you are and the teen voices are authentic. This said, The Secret to Lying at times seemed disjointed and predictable. The attempts at genre bending through the protagonist’s dreams ended up polluting the message, causing more of a distraction than the enhancement, I believe, they were intended to create.

However, I am probably selling The Secret to Lying short as there's certainly a market for the topic of reinventing oneself. The writer is strong enough and the idea is sound. I can’t help but wonder if a young adult might like The Secret to Lying much better than this middle-aged woman. But, I read a lot of young adult stuff and this one left me a bit unaffected.

Saturday

Serendipity Saturday!

I haven't done a Serendipity post in AGES, so today is the day!

There's a fantastic list of Caldecott Medal Winners over on Squidoo titled: The Best Children's Picture Books Are the Caldecott Medal Winners   (found via Elizabeth O. Dulemba

Monday

Guys Read: Funny Business - Now that's funny; I don't care who you are

I have long been a follower of the Guys Read website, a literacy initiative to light a literacy fire by matching boys to the right books and by providing positive male reader examples. It was started by guy author extraordinaire: Mr. Jon Scieszka. Author of .............. well, I was going to list a few favorites, but there's just too many to name!

I've been excited to get my hands on a copy of the new book Guys Read: Funny Business. Alas, I can't say that I've seen it, but if the book trailer is any indication, we're in for a treat!




Here's how Amazon describes the book: "Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend's face, from the following esteemed writers:
Mac Barnett
Eoin Colfer
Christopher Paul Curtis
Kate DiCamillo
Jon Scieszka
Paul Feig
Jack Gantos
Jeff Kinney
David Lubar
Adam Rex
David Yoo"

It is dismaying to see that there are no Florida chapters of Guys Read! I may have to add that to my plans ........

For more info. on Mr. Scieszka, begin at his website and make sure to stop by Guys Read.
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© 2007-2010 Cheryl Vanatti for www.ReadingRumpus.com
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Sunday

Last Night I Sang To The Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz - book review

Last Night I Sang to the Monster opens with eighteen-year-old Zach Gonzalez in a mental health facility uncertain as to how he landed there. Alcohol and trauma have left him there and we heal along with him as he comes to realize the monsters in his path. Though Zach is reluctant to examine the facts that left him broken, ultimately, the story is one of healing and love. Zach will face the monster.

Zach is a wonderful addition to YA male protagonists. He’s not worried about the football team, or the hot girl or how nerdy he is. Zach has real problems, ones he has chosen to forget. At first he shut them out with alcohol, now he’s agonizingly being forced to face his past. The characters that wander through Zach’s recovery are as captivating as Zach. From them he finds beauty and strength in order to move forward and begin his adult life.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster's writing is hypnotic, filled with emotional depth and intensity. Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz has a beautiful style. I’m guessing he’s studied and written some poetry. It must be said that the short sentence burst might be off-putting to some. However, this effort goes along with my belief that this is a book best read in small bursts itself, with time for discussion and reflection. The plot is motivated by our desire to figure out how Zach landed in his situation (which isn’t revealed until the very end and is more heart-wrenching than we’ve even predicted). But perhaps the book’s greatest strength is its lack of didactics. The matter-of fact way that Sáenz portrays teen life makes this book superbly accessible to teens.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster is a story of monsters, both real and imaginary and a young man who tried to fight them, at first with alcohol and then later, through a recovery program. Last Night I Sang to the Monster is not an easy read because it hits the big themes of God and love, but it is a worthwhile addition to young adult literature.

FYI: All the glowing praise aside, I feel that I must warn: Last Night I Sang to the Monster is filled with “F” bombs. The argument can be made that it adds to the realism of Zach’s character, but it’s there, just so you know.