Thursday, February 28, 2013

“He say: May you and Hanks have long life together with many little Hanks!" I gasped. I'll drink to that," said Hanks with a grin and quickly downed his lao-lao.”

Carpe Diem - Autumn Cornwell
368 pages
Genre: YA, Travel, Realistic Fiction

Summary: Vassar Spore is an ambitious girl who has her entire life planned out to the most minute detail. Not only does she plan on attending the school from which she received her name, but she is also determined to win a Pulitzer Prize, among other things. All of her planning, however, couldn’t prepare her for her grandmother’s invitation to tour Asia. Even though this trip does not fit into her plans, Vassar ends up being forced to go anyway, as she discovers that her grandmother is blackmailing her parents. Will Vassar ever discover the secret?

Review: The fabulous cover is what initially drew me to this book, the synopsis piqued my interest even further, and I was really excited to read this. Traveling adventures, a smart protagonist, a zany grandmother: what could be better, right? Unfortunately, while I loved the premise of this book, the execution fell a bit flat for me.

My biggest problem centered around plausibility. While some things were quite believable, others had me shaking my head in bafflement. For example, I know that Grandma Gerd wanted Vassar to experience new things, but at her age, would she really let her travel by herself in an unknown country? I won’t go into detail about other events in the story because that would be spoilerific, but to have so many crazy things happen in one trip just doesn’t seem probable to me.

The big reveal at the end, the secret behind the blackmailing that occurred throughout the book, was one I predicted from the very beginning. I was really hoping it would be something completely out of left field, but alas, it was not.

I had a really hard time warming up to Vassar, which could be why I had such a ‘meh’ reaction to the book. Being goal-oriented and driven is something I completely understand, but something about her just didn’t seem all that realistic to me. She did do some growing over the course of Carpe Diem, though, and I liked her much more by the book’s end.

Grandma Gerd, however, was really awesome. I loved how wacky she was, and I liked how she was able to coax Vassar into trying new things. Hanks was also pretty great, and I really enjoyed what Cornwell did with his character. He was a wonderful friend to Vassar from very early on, and I liked watching their friendship grow throughout the course of the book.

I also love that this book took place in Asia. I’m fascinated by Asia and would love to travel there someday, so it was really cool to view it through the eyes of someone who was experiencing everything it had to offer for the first time.

While this book wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, if you enjoy travel books and adventure, you may enjoy Carpe Diem.

Rating: 3/5

Read-alikes: Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares - Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“We have history, you and I. You just don’t know it yet.”

The Girl Who Chased the Moon - Sarah Addison Allen

269 pages

Genre: Contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery

Summary: Emily’s mother died in a tragic accident, and she’s sent back to her mother’s hometown in South Carolina to live with her grandfather. There’s one big problem: Emily’s mother never told her anything about the town in which she grew up, or the people that she knew there. This makes Emily’s life incredibly difficult, as many people treat her with derision on account of something her mother did in the past. Will Emily ever get the answers she seeks, and will she ever find a friend who will accept her for the person she is?

Review: Sarah Addison Allen is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her books are full of whimsy and magic, and her words flow effortlessly. The Girl Who Chased the Moon was exactly what I have come to expect from this author, and I was hooked from start to finish.

The setting itself was wholly believable, and it was easy for me to picture the events unfolding as the characters went about their daily lives. I am very familiar with small town life, and Allen does an incredible job of emulating it in this book. Emphasis on the strange goings-on within Mullaby, along with the fact that everyone knew what was going on in everybody’s lives, made this book shine with plausibility.

At the heart of the novel is the secret involving the Coffey family, and ultimately, the reason behind the scorn Emily endures from the Mullaby community. This storyline in and of itself was incredibly compelling, and I flipped through the pages eagerly to find out what would happen next. I was expecting something completely different when the big reveal finally occurred, but it was definitely an interesting twist.

One of my favorite characters was Julia. I really liked how she took Emily under her wing, especially since she was also an outcast growing up. This relationship was even more compelling when the relationship between Julia and Emily’s mother was exposed.

Emily herself was also a genuine character, and I liked that much of the story was examined from her perspective. Her ability to question things and not take no for an answer was really brave, and it seemed like that would be exactly what someone did in her situation.

Like Allen’s other books, magical realism is woven into the plot rather seamlessly. It starts at the very beginning and doesn’t let up until the very end, and the events that transpire along the way are absolutely capricious.

If you enjoy books with strong characters and magical realism, definitely read The Girl Who Chased the Moon.
Rating: 4/5

Other books by Sarah Addison Allen: Garden Spells, The Peach Keeper, The Sugar Queen

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

“In this moment I'm not defined by the other things, the things that happened to me, the things I didn't choose. This is the part of me that defines for all time, for always. The thing I choose completely.”

The Mockingbirds – Daisy Whitney

332 pages

Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Romance

Summary: Alex wakes up one morning, blurry eyed and confused, and finds herself in an unfamiliar room lying next to a boy she doesn’t know. She has no memory of what happened the night before, and as the memories start flooding back in the days that follow, she discovers, much to her horror, that she and this boy, Carter, had sex. While Alex is not quite sure how she got here, she is definitely sure that she did not want to have sex with Carter. Rumors begin to fly and Alex’s world is turned upside down. Will she ever get the justice she deserves?

Review:  I’ve read very mixed reviews of The Mockingbirds, so I went into this with a little trepidation, hoping for the best. Much to my relief, I thought this book was extremely well done, and I actually devoured the entire thing in one sitting.

The subject matter is heartrending, but it’s incredibly important that people write about it. Far too many teenagers and young adults experience date rape, and they ask the same questions of themselves that Alex asks throughout the book, wondering if they somehow brought it on themselves. Many date rapes don’t get reported for this and various other reasons, but it was wonderful that Alex had the courage to get help. As we find out in the author’s note, Daisy Whitney was actually a victim of rape, so it was incredibly interesting, yet extremely sad, to read a story written by someone who had firsthand experience with the subject matter.

Alex was a wholly believable character, and I could feel the impact of her conflicting emotions throughout the book. My heart broke for her when she figured out what happened, and all of the uncertainty surrounding said event seemed so authentic to the trauma a rape survivor would undergo.

 I loved how supportive her friends were, and while I hated the characters who sided with Carter, they, too, were authentic. Of course people would give her a hard time about her allegations, believing that they couldn’t possibly be true and trying their best to ruin her life, especially if they were friends with the accused.

Maia and Martin were probably my favorite characters in this book. Maia was so tenacious and would defend Alex at all costs, and Martin was so sweet and protective. It was nice that Alex had such wonderful people to lean on when things turned so dark in her world.

The concept of The Mockingbirds as a society was also really intriguing. I’ve always been fascinated by secret societies, but one that isn’t so secret (except from school administration) that dispenses justice was absolutely captivating. I loved finding out how they operated, and I especially loved all of the references to To Kill a Mockingbird. Well played, Ms. Whitney.

If you’re looking for a realistic read that deals with complex issues, The Mockingbirds is a can’t miss book!

Rating: 4/5

Other Book in this Series: The Rival (Book 2)

Read-alikes: Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson, Impulse – Ellen Hopkins

Monday, February 25, 2013

First and Second Grade Book Club: Frog and Toad are Friends

I think I might take this neglected, little blog in a new direction. 

I may have mentioned this before, but just in case I haven’t, I’m a children’s librarian. My friends and colleagues often ask me where I get my ideas or how I implement my programs, so I figured that this would be a good way to share them with anyone who is interested.


I just started a new job recently, and one of my first tasks was to re-instate First and Second Grade Book Club.  I’d never done a book club before, aside from one with my friends, so doing one for kids was going into previously uncharted territory, but I was super excited to take on the challenge.

Book: I ended up choosing Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel as our first book, because I figured most of the kids would probably have some familiarity with the characters, and if they didn’t, they’d enjoy their zany antics.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to gather enough copies for everyone in my book club, so I decided we’d read the book as a group the day of the program.

Program: Frog and Toad are Friends is broken into five distinct, short stories that explore the theme of friendship. To keep the kids engaged, I decided to read a short story, pose some discussion questions to the group, and create some sort of activity around each story. Much to my relief, this format worked really well, and the kids had smiles on their faces throughout.

After the first story, Spring, I asked the group some comprehension questions, and then we talked about what happens when frogs and toads hibernate. I also gave them some cool facts that I found while doing my research, like why frogs don’t freeze in the winter and how frogs’ eyes go down into their head while they’re eating to aide in swallowing (which got collective “ewws” and giggles from this group.)

The next story, aptly titled The Story, has Toad trying to cheer up Frog by telling him a story, only he couldn’t think of what he wanted to say and used all kinds of wacky means to try to remember. This story got a round of laughs from the kids. After asking them discussion questions, I had them compare and contrast the characters Frog and Toad, since we had got to know them a bit better by that point.  The kids did a great job with this, and the whole room agreed that, personality wise, they were most like Frog. If you had more time than I did, another great activity for this story would be writing a story about another adventure Frog and Toad could have.

The Lost Button was the next story, and as I read, I had the kids work in teams to find Toad’s lost button from a pile of buttons I placed on each table. One of the kids found the button right away, and as each clue was read off, she shouted “Yes!” and held her button in the air, and her enthusiasm made me smile.

The Swim was the next story, and our activity was to make an origami frog.  I found instructions here:  A few of the kids had trouble folding their frogs, but they didn’t seem flustered by it and had no problem asking for help.  If I had to do it over, I may have saved this project for kids that were just slightly older, but they did love their finished products, even though they did need just a little bit of help, so maybe I’d keep it the same.

The final story was The Letter, which was my personal favorite because it was so sweet.  Toad is bemoaning the fact that nobody ever sends him mail, Frog decides to write him a letter stating that he’s glad their friends, and the story ends with them both being happy. After our questions for this story, I asked the kids if they wanted to write their best friend a short letter on “frog stationary” (which was colored paper that they could put a foam frog sticker on), and the girls were all about it.  The boys, however, did not want to write a letter at first, but once they saw the girls doing it, they joined in, too.

Outcome: Ultimately, I’d deem this program a success. I asked the kids if they’d like to read our next story beforehand next time, and they said they actually liked reading it as a group, which really surprised me. 

The button finding activity, along with the cool frog facts, were definitely the kids’ favorite activities/things, but honestly, there wasn’t any resistance to anything I did, and they all left with smiles on their faces.

I might end up picking another book of short stories in the future because it was such an easy way to break up the sections and hold their attention.

These kids are super smart! I was completely impressed by their collective ability to remember facts from the story and provide thoughtful analysis in their answers, so I’ll definitely be stepping up my question game next time.
Have you ever done a First and Second Grade Book Club?  What did you do?