Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book publishers curb library access to ebooks

From an article in today's Hamilton Sepecator..

Libraries are getting “caught in the middle” as publishers and others in the book world try to figure out how to make money off ebooks in the new age of publishing, says Hamilton Public Library’s chief librarian.

Last week Penguin announced it won’t allow libraries access to its new ebooks titles. This comes on the heels of a decision by HarperCollins Publishers in March to restrict libraries to circulating an ebook title only 26 times, after which they must buy another copy.

“It’s just one hiccup in the road,” said Ken Roberts, adding that he’s confident that public libraries will have an important place in the future.

Right now the selection of books and authors available digitally is inconsistent, especially considering some bestselling authors have refused ebook publication, he said.

U.S. publishers, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, do not sell ebooks to libraries.

But regardless, the demand for digital books is growing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

2012 Blue Spruce™ Nominees: the final 3 books

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth!
Marie-Louise Gay

Roslyn Rutabaga is an exuberant, feisty young rabbit with a vivid imagination. One day Roslyn wakes up with a plan. She will dig the biggest hole on earth.

Not a tiny mouse hole.
Not a medium-sized rabbit hole.
The Biggest Hole on Earth!

With her father's quiet encouragement, Roslyn sets out on her big adventure. Obstacles abound -- a grumpy worm, a grouchy mole and a bone-hogging dog get in her way. Will she find a pirate's treasure or a dinosaur bone? Will she meet a penguin? Anything could happen!

Marie-Louise Gay has written and illustrated this humorous and endearing tale as an ode to the imagination and determination of children, who create their own worlds out of the little things in life.
A very cute story and it is great to see a Dad in a story actively encouraging a child and joining in the fun! I also enjoyed the obstacles Roslyn runs into and the use of the backyard environment and inhabitants to help explore her immediate world. Lots of fun!

Small Saul
Ashley Spires

From the creator of Binky the Space Cat, a hilarious story about an unconventional little pirate.

Ahoy there! Will this sweet little pirate find his place aboard The Rusty Squid or will he be forced to walk the plank?

When Small Saul joins the crew of The Rusty Squid, it doesn't take long for the other pirates to notice something is very different about this tiny fellow. He was born to sing sea shanties, bake pineapple upside down cakes and redecorate, not to hold a sword and plunder. Being rough and tough just isn't in his nature.

Small Saul learned at Pirate College that pirates only care about three things: their ship, being tough and lots and lots of treasure. Can Small Saul show these ruffians that despite his gentle spirit, he's worth his weight in gold? With treasure chests of laughs, Small Saul's high-seas adventure is a light-hearted celebration of individuality, perseverance and being true to one's self.
This book gives a great message that everyone has value and a place in the world. Students will learn that it is OK to be different and that it's all about being the best you, you can be!

Stanley's Little Sister
Linda Bailey, Bill Slavin

Stanley's home life goes awry when he suddenly finds himself with a new, feline "sister." Making friends with this perplexing creature is not easy. Stanley's big, friendly sniff is met with an abrupt THWACK! from the cat's paw. "ROWP!" yelps Stanley. No fair!

Even less fair is the way his people blame him for causing trouble when all he's trying to do is make friends! Is it Stanley's fault the cat doesn't understand dog talk? Given time and a bit of mutual understanding, can peace and purring reign in Stanley's house?

Young readers familiar with the "dog's eye view" of Stanley and his world will rejoice at the addition of Fluffy the cat.
As a pet 'owner' since the age of 3, I recognised the relationship between Stanley and Fluffy. Their antics could easily be witness in my home. Daily.
This would also be a great story for anyone trying to navigate the changes when someone new comes into their life - new baby in the family, step-siblings or even someone joining their circle of friends.

**Images and book descriptions taken from the OLA site.

2012 Blue Spruce™ Nominees: the next 3 books

Making the Moose Out of Life
Nicholas Oldland

From the creator of Big Bear Hug comes the comic-adventure story of a mild-mannered moose who learns how to take life by the antlers. This moose may live in the wild, but he doesn't act it — he watches from the sidelines as his friends have fun. Every now and then, he wonders if he's missing out on anything.

When the moose finally takes a chance and goes on a solo sailing trip, a raging storm carries him far from everything he knows. Will he curl up in a ball and cry, or make the most of it?

The moose's unlikely hero-journey is a lighthearted, contemporary fable that celebrates living life to the fullest.
A good enjoyable, humorous story. Great for story telling time and lends itself to all kinds of follow up activities and discussions with students.

Noni Says No by Heather Hartt-Sussman, Geneviève Côté

Noni can do many things: she can give her baby brother his bottle, she can help her mother in the kitchen, and she can even walk over to her friend Susie’s house. But Noni just can’t say “no.” When she was very small, it was easy saying “no” to everybody, but now that she has a best friend, she wants to please. Noni can’t say “no” to her friend, even when it means she has to hand over a precious toy, or when it means agreeing to a hideous haircut, or even giving up her bed at a sleepover. But when Noni finally finds her voice, the consequences are not what she – or the reader – expects.

Heather Hartt-Sussman’s story, complemented by the playful illustrations of Geneviève Côté, is a comforting exploration of friendship and of the importance of trusting one’s own judgment. Many children (as well as many adults) will root for Noni as she learns that you can stand up for yourself and still be a good friend.
A great message about children's right-to-pass. While some colleagues I spoke to thought that this book may encourage students to be contrary in the classroom (Did we read the same book?) I think that they missed the point of the story. Maybe some of their pages stuck together. This book will be fabulous for any young student who needs to find their own voice. Being empowered to say 'no' can help students when faced with peer pressure, bullying and those instances when they really just don't want to join in.

One Hockey Night by David Ward, Brian Deines

For Owen, winter is all about hockey. It’s December, and his family has just moved to the east coast. He’s shovelled snow. He’s practised shots in the driveway. But he hasn’t skated on ice. Now it’s Christmas Eve, and it’s time for a secret to be revealed!

A hockey story – and a holiday story – with a heartwarming Canadian setting.

2012 Blue Spruce™ Nominees: the first 4 books

A Flock of Shoes by Sarah Tsiang, Qin Leng

Abby loves her pink and brown sandals with the lime green trim, and she wears them wherever she goes. But as summer draws to a close, Abby’s mom announces that it’s time for the sandals to go. Abby is determined to keep them on — until one day, while swinging at the park, her sandals flip off and fly away. All winter long, Abby wonders what her sandals are up to. Postcards of sandy white beaches and glorious sunsets reassure her that they are having a wonderful time in far away places.

Come February, Abby realizes that she has also grown to love her cozy, comfy boots. As the warm weather comes, she watches sadly as they march off, but a swish in the sky announces the return of her pink and brown sandals — all ready for another summer of fun. Full of whimsy, this circular tale is enhanced by rich, evocative language and delicate pastel illustrations that are sure to delight any young child.
This book shows excellent use of imagination in a very original story. The motions Abby experiences can be used by students to make connections in many ways. Perhaps they are leaving summer camp friends, visiting distant family, moving or even playing their last game on a sports team - anything where the event is seasonal or temporary and the leaving causes sadness but eventually the new setting/people become just as valuable.

Giraffe and Bird by Rebecca Bender

It’s true that getting along can be difficult, but Giraffe and Bird don’t even try. When Bird makes a face, Giraffe sticks out his tongue; when Bird tweets in his ear, Giraffe invades Bird’s personal space. And so it goes. Bird can’t put up with Giraffe’s bad breath; Giraffe can’t abide it when Bird eats too much fiber and then…Well, you know. If you ask them, Giraffe and Bird will tell you: they can’t stand each other. One day Giraffe loses his patience and Bird is fed up. “Scram!” says Giraffe. “Get lost!” says Bird. And so they do.

You would think they’d be happy now, but you might be wrong. Without each other, how will Bird and Giraffe weather the coming storm?

A hilarious debut by author and artist Rebecca Bender, Giraffe and Bird combines a clever text introducing synonyms with bright, expressive art to tell the funny and slightly tender story of two enemies who eventually realize they are much better off together.
This is my favorite book from this years selections! I thought it was fantastic! The illustrations really enhance the story and made me love the characters. However, I not not at all sure that students will "get" the humour in this book or will understand the frenemies nature of their relationship. I hope they do because I really enjoyed it.

Kiss Me! (I'm a Prince!)
Heather McLeod, Brooke Kerrigan

“If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a prince!” says the frog. But Ella thinks that a talking frog is much more interesting than living like a princess in a castle. And during his stay with Ella and her family, Prince Frog discovers a world of fun beyond the castle gates.
This book has a cute idea with a good message about following your own ideals and not needing to conform to the traditional endings. I found it to be a little drawn out but note that students may not notice the pacing as much as I did. I really liked the portrayal of Ella as sporty, intelligent and aware of herself. She came across as any girl in the illustrations and was not limited to a traditional princess nor a traditional tomboy. She was Ella. I also liked that the book showed that Ella thought through her decision about kissing the frog prince - what the consequences would be for her and for him.

The Little Hummingbird
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

This inspiring children’s book—a revised edition of the award-winning Flight of the Hummingbird—is based on a South American indigenous story about a courageous hummingbird who defies fear and expectations in her attempt to save the forest from fire. The illustrated story is supplemented by a natural and cultural history of hummingbirds, as well as an inspiring message from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The evocative artwork by internationally renowned Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas complements the optimistic tale that encourages everyone to take responsibility for their home and the planet.
I can see several uses of this title beyond story time. It is a great book for use by eco-clubs and for Earth Day activities. Explaining elections and how every vote counts to primary students could be helped by this story. The illustrations could also be inspirational for creating art work during native studies by students. This book illustrated the message of every person making a difference, no matter how small.

**Images and book descriptions taken from the OLA site.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Balls Allowed!

On Wednesay Nov. 15, ctvtotonto.ca reported this story:

Citing safety concerns, an east-end Toronto school is banning students from playing with soccer balls, footballs, volleyballs or tennis balls in the schoolyard.
A letter issued on Monday, stated that students at Earl Beatty Jr. and Sr. Public School are not allowed to bring or play with any kind of hard ball.
"Any balls brought will be confiscated and may be retrieved by parents from the office," the statement said. "The only kind of ball allowed will be nerf balls or sponge balls."
Communications co-ordinator for the Toronto District School Board Zoya McGroarty said that the decision was made when concerns were brought forth by parents on the safety of the balls.
"The principal made a decision with the safety of students, staff and visitors in mind," she told CTV Toronto on Tuesday.
The letter had also mentioned that the school had some serious incidents where students, staff or parents were hit, or nearly hit, by a hard ball on school property.
McGroarty said that the ban is a temporary measure while the school monitors the situation

First it was snowball that were banned, then no walking on the wet grass for fear of slips.

Next we will need to bubblewrap our kids and attach proximity alarms before sending them to school. One day I will come into work to find that all the books have been taped shut because of the papercut danger. How am I still alive? My generations parents were so neglectful, they even let us bring strangling cords and glass projectiles to school (formerly called skipping ropes and marbles). Horror of horrors! We also didn't have cell phones in case they need to reach us. Imagine that! Parents called the school office.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's a Pittance of Time. Take Two Minutes, would you mind?

A Pittance of Time by Terry Kelly

They fought and some died for their homeland.
They fought and some died, now it's our land.
Look at his little child; there's no fear in her eyes.
Could he not show respect for other dads who have died?

Take two minutes, would you mind?
It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls who went over.
In peace may they rest, may we never
Forget why they died.
It's a pittance of time.

God forgive me for wanting to strike him.
Give me strength so as not to be like him.
My heart pounds in my breast, fingers pressed to my lips,
My throat wants to fall out, my tongue barely resists.

But two minutes I will bide.
It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls who went over.
In peace may they rest.
May we never forget why they died.
It's a pittance of time.
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/t/terry_kelly/a_pittance_of_time.html ]
Read the letters and poems of the heroes at home.
They have casualties, battles, and fears of their own.
There's a price to be paid if you go, if you stay.
Freedom's fought for and won in numerous ways.

Take two minutes, would you mind?
It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls all over.
May we never forget, our young become vets.
At the end of the line,
It's a pittance of time.

It takes courage to fight in your own war.
It takes courage to fight someone else's war.
Our peacekeepers tell of their own living hell.
They bring hope to foreign lands that hate mongers can't kill.

Take two minutes, would you mind?
It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls who go over.
In peacetime our best still don battle dress
And lay their lives on the line.
It's a pittance of time

In peace may they rest,
Lest we forget why they died,
Take a pittance of time.

Mo Williems asks: "Why Books?

(From an article adapted on hbook.com from the 2011 Zena Sutherland Lecture by Mo Williems-May 6, 2011, at the Chicago Public Library.)

In the past it was enough to say that if you get a book into a kid’s hands, you’re creating a “lifelong reader.” But why does that matter? Do we really want “lifelong readers”? Shouldn’t they at least get to take occasional bathroom breaks? Why is this extraneous question here in the middle of these other ones? And, what does reading do that makes it so special?

To be honest, books as we know them are looking pretty vulnerable right now. They can’t talk back to you. If you shake them, they don’t do things. You can’t turn them on. They don’t make sounds. They don’t have word jumbles or other not-terribly-fun games. What do they do? With all the new technological possibilities, why not file Books between Betamax and Eight-Track Tapes?

I’ve thought about this very seriously of late and I’m not out of the rabbit hole yet, so first let me just go through my own personal journey with the nitty-gritty of making books to see if there is value to be found there.

In the past eight years or so, I’ve written and illustrated numerous books, yet I really never know what I’m doing when I create a book. That is why I love it. It’s an adventure with no guarantee that it will work out in the end. I am alone in a sea of ideas, hoping to catch a current that will lead to an undiscovered land. Well, I’m not completely alone. I have the structure of my past work, and I am guided through the storms by this simple mantra: always think of your audience; never think for your audience.

This is done by putting as little as possible into the final work so as to leave room for my audience to enhance the story. As a simple test, if I re-read one of my manuscripts and I understand exactly what is happening, then the manuscript has too many words. And if I look at the images without the words and I can fully understand the story, there are too many drawings. It is only right when both words and image need each other to make any sense. They need to be as close to incomprehensible, separately, as possible.

Yes, I make incomprehensible books for illiterates.

Incomprehensible also because I never know what the book I’ve made “means.” That’s my audience’s job. You, the reader, create meaning out of the story; I just set the table. The fundamental truth of this was driven home when I read two early reviews for my first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The first one said, “I love this book because it teaches perseverance. It teaches kids never to give up. To fight on.” The second review said, “I love this book because it teaches kids to value the word ‘no,’ to know when to stop.”

Here’s the thing: both reviews were right. Their authors each brought their own selves to the story and in their minds created meanings that had never occurred to me. They became the co-authors of the book, implanting the meaning that was purposefully omitted, or perhaps obscured. Because, truth be told, I don’t have any answers. I’m not interested in them.

Why would I want to write about things I know? I already know them. I prefer to write about things I don’t know, about things that perplex me, create a sense of wonder in me, or are simply weird. So I write about things like: What is a friend? How do you keep a friend? How does what you do by accident change your environment and how do you come to grips with that? Wouldn’t it be cool to drive a bus? You know, the sort of fundamental, deep emotional questions that we all have. (All rules have exceptions and my second book, Time to Pee! is one. Personally, I’ve been urinating with great success for years, so I did know what I was writing about that time. But I wasn’t sure why my kid was reluctant to do it in a particular room.)

Writing is, like any athletics, a learned skill refined only by consistent and strenuous workouts over time. I learned how to write from years and years of writing and performing sketch comedy, making short animated films, and writing cartoon strips, all of which stemmed from a deep abiding love of sketch comedy. Bill Cosby’s albums, the Monty Python television series, Peanuts comic strips—they are all perfect sketches. Clean, pure, but structured with a deep understanding of the world and how it works.

I learned how to write for children, however, with great reluctance. As fate would have it, in my strivings to be a sketch comedy writer I found myself being hired to write sketch comedy for a show that targeted children, called Sesame Street. At first I didn’t care that I was working on a kiddie show; I was writing sketch! Just like my pals on MTV or in the hipster clubs. If I squinted just right, the “kids” part of my work disappeared.

Then, over a season or two, something unexpected happened. I realized that writing for Sesame Street wasn’t easier, or even equally as difficult, as the sketch material I’d been doing previously. It was harder. I couldn’t use cultural modifiers: the entire world of pop culture references, that lazy backbone of sketch, was lost to me. Arc de Triomphe, Super Bowl, Cadillac. Those are just silly sounds to kids; they have no emotional meaning. Not because kids are stupid, but because they’re new. They just got here. All they have is jealousy, anger, love, joy, fear. Writing for a kid means you can’t exploit genres and fads and fashions. The only weapon left in your arsenal is truth.

It was revelatory and life changing (and frankly liberating: I didn’t have to keep up on pop culture, freeing up lots of time for adventures). My path was set; now I wanted—no, I was compelled—to write for people who were just starting out in life.

This began a period of great introspection. I thought long and hard about my childhood and slowly realized a fundamental truth that is the complete opposite of what everyone tells you about childhood: namely, it sucks to be a kid.

Certainly, in contrast to the life of a grownup, kids have it hard. Every piece of furniture is built to the wrong scale for you. You have to ask permission to urinate. And some adult might say no. Try this as a test: next time you’re at a dinner party, say, “May I go to the bathroom?” Then imagine your hostess saying, “No, I don’t think so. You’re staying right there. And finish those smelly vegetables. I know you want to retch. I don’t care. Eat them.”

And kids don’t have years of experience to fall back on. Every disappointment, every failure, is a world-stopping first. How do they survive? How did we all survive that? I’m not sure. But recently I’ve realized they have one shield in their lives that most of us adults have lost: they haven’t yet learned to be embarrassed.

And that’s what embarrassment is: a learned behavior.

So TV got me to want to write for unembarrassed kids. But television wasn’t done teaching me an essential key to writing.

At some point in my career I found myself being asked to create a TV show. Foolishly, I was told I could do anything I wanted; more foolishly, I did. I created a show called Sheep in the Big City. Has anybody heard of the show? Raise your hands. Okay. You six guys. Great. You made up sixty percent of my audience.

For the rest of you, the show was about a sheep. And a big city. The sheep, named Sheep, is being chased by General Specific and his henchman Private Public, members of a top-secret military organization named The Top-Secret Military Organization trying to capture this urban sheep to put it in a sheep-powered ray gun. Now why not use another sheep, you ask? Well, because they had already built the ray gun to his specifications. Mixed in with the episodes are lots of spoof commercials for products—the Oxymoron Brand of useless products.

And every episode ended with thirty seconds of a ranting Swede.

Almost as quickly as it hit the air this show was canceled. Can you believe it?

I couldn’t.

I’d worked so long and so hard, ensuring that every joke was as funny, or as weird, as possible. Still, very, very few people enjoyed it. I was flummoxed.

The real reason why the show was canceled came not from the network but from a ten-year-old on some message board who wrote, “I don’t like this show because the writer is trying too hard.” Trying too hard? That shocked me to my core.

I could not think of another industry where this would be a problem. “Oh, man. Y’know that plumber, Joe? What is up with that guy? He shows up early. He comes in, he plumbs the hell out of the house, doesn’t take a single cigarette break, I don’t see butt once. He’s working soooo hard…I don’t trust him.”

But in writing it’s different. The people watching Sheep in the Big City or reading my stories are not interested in me or the work I do. It shouldn’t look like work to them. It’s just a story. A magical thing that suddenly, effortlessly, appears and entertains and provokes. Certainly such a thing can’t be made. The lesson is, if you’re not invisible, you’re not doing your job. So, work harder until no one sees you.

I should have known that. I should have known better.

You know, I started out doing stand-up comedy when I was in high school. And the reason I did was because the comedy club was the only place I could go and be guaranteed that no one would laugh at me. But over time you develop those muscles. You write joke after joke after joke after joke, and, ever so slowly, you learn what doesn’t work. What you learn is not “what is funny” but “what is not funny.” So when you’re writing, you write to get rid of all the not-funny stuff until what’s left, hopefully, works. I want to have as few words as possible. I want the whole story to just be hanging by a thread. So my audience will become invested in it and save it.

It’s the same with my images. Everything I do is reductive. I make my drawings as simple as possible to the point of abstraction. Put as little in as possible. Because kids can “make” books, I consciously design my characters so that they can be easily copied by a five-year-old.

Every month, I get a box of fan mail—it’s just awesome. Kids send me their books. Their actual books. Don’t Let the Pigeon Operate the Catapult. Don’t Let the Pigeon Audit Your Neighbor. The Pigeon Gets a Cell Phone. All kinds of just amazing stuff, and that’s the highest possible compliment; that’s the ultimate goal.

It’s how I got started. I started out drawing Charlie Brown pictures. I loved it so much I wrote to Charles Schulz once when I was five and said, “Dear Mr. Schulz, may I have your job when you die?” Man, I loved Charlie Brown. I grew up in the early seventies, and every other pop cultural character was blissfully happy. Remember? The landscape was filled with gleeful rodents on lithium running across the screen. I felt bad that I wasn’t as happy as those mice. But there was always “Chuck.” A kid whose life was worse than mine. Awesome.

That comic strip was printed on cheap newsprint. It was meant to be thrown away, unlike a piece of art. But it was useful. It was useful to me. That corner of the newspaper that showed up every day gave me more consolation in my lonely childhood world than anyone or anything.

That’s what I want my books to be: utilitarian. You don’t drink coffee out of a mug because it’s a work of art. You drink out of a mug because it works, then you worry if it is pretty or not. In the same way, whatever ideas you’re going to pour into my book, I need to make sure it can hold them first. Because that’s all a book can do. It can hold just two ideas: the author’s and the audience’s.

But the book doesn’t work, it can’t work, unread.

So back to my question of “Why books?” What if books are better because they don’t do things, because they can’t do things? What if the thing that makes books great, that makes them essential, is that books need us? They’re simple. You invest in them and become part of them. You contribute. They can be read, but they can also be played. I’m not really interested in you guys reading my books a hundred times; read it twenty times and then make your own story. Go from consuming a story to creating your own. This is a magical thing to me.

I have a running machine in my house, and if I set that machine for twenty minutes of fast running and leave the room to get some tea and fried eggs, it doesn’t know the difference! Nor, I might add, does it care.

And I think that’s what most enhanced digital books are at this point. With all their bells and whistles and word jumbles and assorted narrative killers, after we turn them on, they don’t need us. Turn it on and leave the room, and the book will read itself.

But a real book is helpless. It needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work. What does Elephant Gerald sound like? Is the Pigeon a boy or a girl? Does Leonardo the Terrible Monster live in the city or in the country?

We have to do all of that, we have to do the work with our little minds and our flapping flights of fancy. So, suddenly, that book is not just a book; it’s our book. We’re the ones making it work. We’re the ones making it sing. Right there in our chairs as we gently flip the pages, we are, at our own pace, creating a living story just by reading.

And you don’t have to turn off a book during takeoff and landing.

So, maybe books work because they make us work. Maybe we need them for needing us, just like we need real friends, not the digital imitations on Facebook.

Thank you for bearing with me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

6. Fearless by Tim Lott

In the not-too-distant future, the world is safe from terrorists, the streets are clean, and girls labeled "juvies" or "mindcrips" have been hidden away behind the smartly painted exterior of the City Community Faith School. Their birth names are forgotten and replaced with a letter and number, but they give each other nicknames like Tattle or Stench or Little Fearless. As they slave away at chores, Little Fearless, who is actually the bravest girl in the school, tells the other girls stories, stories about the day their families will return for them. Little Fearless’s own hope and conviction spur her on a dangerous adventure — a bold and unthinkable plan that will either save the imprisoned girls or mean the end of Little Fearless herself, or both.

This is a heartbreaking story of fear and complacence by the adults and hopelessness and despair of the girls. There is a darkness throughout the novel that I did not expect from a Teen novel.
The dystopian world where identities are stripped and children are separated from family evokes strong empathy from the reader. Still, there is hope for most of the novel. Mostly is comes from Fearless as she refuses to give up and then to those few close to her at the school. As Fearless breaks rules in her quest to free the girls, those girls who know of her actions initially protect her. The girls are punished in an attempt to identify the culprit. Already denied their true names, their individuality is taken bit by bit. Their heads are shaved. They are dressed identically in gray. Soon it is difficult to tell one from another. An image of the nameless girls, reminiscent of holocaust photos, is painted. For some, survival means siding with the Controller and cruelly acting as his enforcers. For Fearless it means risking all to make their plight known and prove to the girls that people do care about them. The holocaust comparison can be taken further with allusions to entire communities afraid to act, extensive propaganda and hidden atrocities. While rather intense for my grade K-6 schools, I think this would be an excellent comparison discussion for high school students to some of the social and moral crimes of World War 2.

This is haunting tale that, in its conclusion, shocks the reader. Haunting is a good description as it stayed with me for quite a while.

Book # 6 of my 50 book challenge

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

IPads to Outpace Computers in Schools by 2016, Poll Says

I wonder if they will breakdown as often as the computers in our lab do?

"[Apple] has a really promising program where they come in and their recommending to middle schools—for $500 per child per year, they will furnish every child with an iPad, wifi the system, provide all the books on the system, all the upgrades, all the teacher training—and the results they're getting from these kids is phenomenal," says Georgia Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams.

Interesting article. Read more here

Sunday, November 6, 2011

5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

As the daughter of a preacher, young Agnes Grey is excited to begin a position as a governess. She hopes to ease her family’s financial troubles after an disaster devastates their investments. Her enthusiasm and hopes for a great experience are dashed when she meets her new charges. They are rude, ill-mannered disobedient children whose mother expects Agnes to educate and reform without using discipline or denying her children’s every desire. Treated as a lowly servant, Agnes is miserable and when she finally disobeys her employers to protect an animal from torture, Agnes is dismissed. With her father’s health failing she accepts another position hoping for a better reception. Drama ensues with the new family, a romantic interest begins and Agnes must endure and maintain hope while observing the limits society places upon it’s women.

The first chapter made me curious: who was Agnes and what did she have to say. Then the circumstances she faced – loneliness, social isolation, separated from emotional support and courtesy and human understanding – made me wonder just why I was reading this at all.

By the end of the novel I better understood Anne Bronte’s purpose. Agnes Grey is a social commentary on the status of women in the mid-1800’s, told from a highly personal accounting.

The environment described is very foreign to me coming from today’s society…not the feelings, but the blatant actions and socially accepted abuse Agnes Grey suffers.

While reading the first several chapters, I was beginning to dislike Agnes very much as she held her tongue and accepted the abuse and advantage her employers and wards took of her. I understand that she could be fired for speaking up, but surely putting those ignorant aristocrats in their place, if only for a moment, would be worthy of the self-worth it would leave her with as she left. I was hoping for it almost as much as I was hoping to read about Agnes flipping them the bird or making raspberries as the Mistress of the house fluttered about.

About ¾ way through the novel I started to like her as she, at least within herself asserted herself with positive results. Agnes has a voice but as entrenched as she is in the Victorian female struggle, rarely uses it outside of her own thoughts. I could feel her rolling her eyes, in her mind of course, when her self-absorbed, spoiled charges opened their mouths.

As the story became less about the oppressive circumstances of a governess by self-satisfied, vulgar, small-minded snobs who delight in social pretension and more about the happiness that could be found, love, surrounded by people who know and show respect, joy for the work and building of something to call one’s own, I finally felt comfortable with the novel. Finally! Some hope! Life being lived not endured. In fact, I began reading with more eagerness to see Agnes come into her own happy life. Yes, I was rooting for those hints of a love story. Come on Agnes, we all know you like the pastor. Throw away convention and go TALK TO HIM!! You know you want to. Stop being so dang proper.

My favorite part of the novel is from a rather small plot line, but the sentiment perfectly explains what Agnes alludes to throughout the chapters. It is a speech given by Agnes’ mother, responding to her own father’s message. In it, he offers to forgive her marrying for love if she admits her mistake, regrets having her children (as their father was not wealthy), and condemns the marriage. He will try, though it may be impossible, to restore her to a “lady” and remember her daughters in his will. She tells him to go to hell, although in a much more elegant manner.

Once I became used to the style of 1850’s writing and checked my repulsion at the treatment of women and those of lower classes, I did enjoy the novel. As a statement about the social order of the day and the injustices it entailed the book succeeded in evoking a response. The strict morals Agnes holds herself to and tries, with best intentions, to evoke in others seemed overdone to me. At first. And while I do not agree with the extent of her self-sacrifice, it did remind me that I could do more for others. And don’t forget the cheering, often screaming-at-the-characters type of cheering, for Agnes to admit her love and for her man to get off his duff and GO GET HER!!

Book # 5 of my 50 book challenge

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book #4: Circle 9 by Anne Heltzel

When your whole life has vanished and only one person knows who you are . . . don’t you have to believe him?

Abby doesn’t remember what happened the night she woke up in soot-stained clothes, lying next to a burning building with an unfamiliar boy at her side. But her connection with Sam is immediate and intense. And she has no one else: no family, no home, not even a last name.

She and Sam start a new life, just the two of them, and Abby’s deliriously happy. Until memories from her past begin to haunt her—and suddenly everything she’s learned to love turns sinister. It’s only a matter of time before her reality cracks apart.

I liked the style of writing at the opening, being right there with Abby as she discovers her circumstance and struggles to learn why her life is the way it is. I had the same questions as her and was willing to believe her answers, to believe Sam. Soon, I started to distance myself from her thoughts and explanations as I suspect was intended. A few steps ahead of our fragile heroine, the reader begins to look with suspicion at the same life Abby looks at with the innocence of a trusting child. Is Sam lying? What is the real cause of him being sick? Is the world outside really so horrid? At times I felt as though I were twinned with Abby, seeing what she saw, feeling her emotions and unable to make her hear my questioning and warnings. I felt excitement every time she started to see beyond the veil and worry when she slipped back to her own world.

I went into this book blind, not having read any synopsis, review or even the book jacket. I am glad that I did as it enhanced the experience of what Abby was going through. I did not know what to expect nor what others may have thought. Knowing now that the description spoke of sexual abuse and drug use, I was glad to discover these plot lines along with Abby and Sam rather than having a checklist to follow.

I think what has stuck with me most after closing the cover, what niggles in the back of my mind, is Abby’s perception of who and what is safe in the world and how dangerous it can be to not see the other reality that surrounds her. The idea that what you see and what makes you feel safe is an illusion is a fitting one for this time of the year where every horror movie has a sliver of that idea in the plot. The ability of the mind to weave, twist and block what the senses show is wondrous and terrifying. The question is left: Is the world around you the same as the one you see?

I am at a bit of a crossroads when deciding if I liked this book or not. The fact that I have to make the decision suggests that I did not. I believe that it is a book that was well written and compelling and challenging enough to the reader to be a good book and a worthy read. But I am still not convinced that I actually liked it. I feel as though I am looking at a piece of art. I can appreciate it technically, and can understand the depth of it, the creativeness and the beauty in it. But I do not want it on my walls. I don’t really like it. I am glad to have seen it and would be slightly less for not having seen it, or in this case, read it. I read it, closed the cover and went on with my day. That all night and first thing the next morning and intermittently throughout the day I was still going over parts of the story tells me that Circle 9 had meaning to me as a reader, and in my book, that makes it a success.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book #3: Nikki Heat by Richard Castle

A New York real estate tycoon plunges to his death on a Manhattan sidewalk. A trophy wife with a past survives a narrow escape from a brazen attack. Mobsters and moguls with no shortage of reasons to kill trot out their alibis. And then, in the suffocating grip of a record heat wave, comes another shocking murder and a sharp turn in a tense journey into the dirty little secrets of the wealthy. Secrets that prove to be fatal. Secrets that lay hidden in the dark until one NYPD detective shines a light.

Mystery sensation Richard Castle, blockbuster author of the wildly best-selling Derrick Storm novels, introduces his newest character, NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat. Tough, sexy, professional, Nikki Heat carries a passion for justice as she leads one of New York City's top homicide squads. She's hit with an unexpected challenge when the commissioner assigns superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook to ride along with her to research an article on New York's Finest. PulitzerPrize-winning Rook is as much a handful as he is handsome. His wise-cracking and meddling aren't her only problems. As she works to unravel the secrets of the murdered real estate tycoon, she must also confront the spark between them. The one called heat.


First, I feel I must disclose that I am a huge fan of the TV show Castle. In fact, that is how I found this book. I also admit to a "SQWEEEE " moment when I picked up a book written by one of my favorite television characters, complete with a dedication and acknowledgments to the other characters on the show, and even to some of the actors and crew who work on the show. The author, Richard Castle, is actually being used as a pseudonym for these novels but still managed to have his own website, twitter account and biography on Goodreads.com. The marketing stream coming from the show is amazing! Stalkers delight! Naturally, the faces and mannerisms of the actors were clear and present in the novel as I read.

Now as I excise the fan-girl in me and look at Nikki Heat as a novel, some of my enthusiasm wanes. I was surprised that it actually took me a long while to get into this book. Perhaps I was spending too much time trying to marry the characters to TV or maybe it was taking longer than I thought it should to switch my brain from TV to book mode.

I would have expected this mystery novel to be somewhat more, well, mysterious. Had I not been a huge fan of the show I am not sure I would have stuck with it. The plot is thinnish, the writing just okay. The characters needed...more. Truthfully, I picked it up because of the show. I would have left it untouched on the book rack otherwise. I enjoyed the familiar characters and the verbal banter between Rook and Heat. The references to the TV show cannon was fun and let's face it...I was there for the Richard Castle character not the Jameson Rook book version. There was a nice bonus of seeing the attraction between our heroes actually go somewhere, a feat that seems to be instant death to TV versions. An easy read, it is a book for a night when there is nothing else to do and you want an easy and simple quick read. I did end up enjoying the book and while it is by no means a favorite, I will be reading the sequel Naked Heat.

A girl needs her Castle fix!