Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Share a Story - Shape a Future

I'm very happy to be participating in the literacy blog tour Share a Story - Shape a Future, which will be held during the week of March 9. I'll be posting on Day Four - A Visit to the Library. Visit the event's blog to find out more about other days and who will be posting!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful
Justina Chen Headley
February 2009; Little, Brown; 978-0-316-02505-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Terra strives for perfection in everything. She works out two hours a day, including five hundred stomach crunches. She's going to graduate from high school in three years. And she's got a part-time job on top of school and extracurricular activities. But in the eyes of her father--and herself--all this effort doesn't matter. Because with her port-wine stain covering half her face, Terra clearly can't be perfect. Will Terra be able to chart her own course to True Beauty and Terra Firma--or will she let her father keep her in Terra Nullis?

Three Things to Know About North of Beautiful

#1: Words hurt more than anything else.

When Terra says her dad yells at her, her friend Karin doesn't understand. "You mean he just yells at you?" For Karin, yelling isn't very damaging. But Terra knows that words can hurt as much as a slap or a punch. It's a slow, insidious pain, one that slowly grinds you down. In addition, the belittlement from her father has affected her whole family: her brothers have escaped and her mom fulfills her father's every need or whim. Terra thinks that she should escape, too: go to Williams College and become an executive. Yet slowly, she comes to realize that this path isn't for her: that the best way to escape her father is to stand up to him, to realize that he's no different from the ancient cartographers who wrote "here be dragons" on unexplored regions. He might try to keep her in a cage with his words and derision, but Terra can break free.

#2: An extended metaphor leads to exploration.

Terra's father is a disgraced cartographer, and his profession has created Terra's boundaries. Justina Chen Headley uses maps to define the way that Terra sees her own life and how she manages to go off the map, into the land of dragons. This metaphor infuses the novel, allowing us to effortlessly see Terra's development through the story. Even more impressive, aspects of maps also are used to explore other characters and their actions. Yet maps aren't the only way you discover where you are, as Terra discovers. Thanks to Jacob, a boy she meets after she hits his car, she learns about GPS and geocaching. This new technology gives Terra further power as she journeys towards self-knowledge.

#3: Questions of what is beauty.

Terra's port-wine stain has lead her to hide it--and herself. Despite uncomfortable and painful laser surgeries, her birthmark cannot be healed or lightened, and so she plasters makeup over it. Yet when she meets Jacob, she starts to realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Jacob is Chinese, abandoned when he was three due to his cleft lip. Now repaired, Terra at first can't help but notice his scar. Gradually, though, she stops seeing it--just like he stops seeing her birthmark. And when they visit the orphanage that Jacob lived in, Terra meets a small Chinese girl who has a port-wine stain, too. This little girl helps crystalize for Terra that beauty comes in a hundred million different variations, and that her port-wine stain is just one of her features: not her only one, not the one that defines her.

In North of Beautiful, Justina Chen Headley gives us an in-depth look at one girl as she moves towards becoming a woman. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Ann Brashares will find a new favorite author after reading this lyrical, compelling novel.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: What Would Emma Do?

What Would Emma Do?
Eileen Cook
2009; Simon Pulse; 978-1-4169-7432-1 (softcover)

Summary: If Jesus was a girl in the early twenty-first century, how would he feel about kissing your best friend's boyfriend? That's the question that Emma is struggling with, and it has her talking to God a lot. Because the boyfriend in question is also her long-standing friend, too. There's also Emma's desire to get out of Wheaton, Indiana and go to Northwestern, something that can only happen if she gets a track scholarship. Add in a strange illness that's affecting the popular girls--a illness that Emma could reveal isn't an illness at all--and you've got a lot to ask God for. Will God come through, or will Emma find another way?

In a fun, fast read that provides a modern-day commentary on the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, What Would Emma Do? provides us with a glimpse of evangelical life in a small town. Even though small-town living is so lauded in politics and culture, this novel reveals that such a life isn't for everyone. It's certainly not for Emma, who's becoming a questioning, doubting young adult. Yet how does she juggle her dislike for this life with her friends and her mother, who are perfectly happy in Wheaton? It's a tough line to walk, and Emma has a few stumbles. Yet by the end of the novel, she's able to answer the question poised by the book's title. Recommend this title to the teens who aren't about to take what they've been told at face value.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: Flygirl

Sherri L. Smith
January 2009; Penguin Young Readers; 978-0-399-24709-5 (hardcover)

Summary: Ida Mae was born to fly. Ever since the first time she went up in her daddy's plane, she knew that she wanted the sky. But for a colored woman in 1940s Louisiana, there's not many opportunities, even before the war starts. And then, one day, Ida hears about the Women Airforce Service Pilots: a training program to teach women to fly and free up male pilots for combat. Could this be her chance to live her dream--or will it be the greatest danger she's ever faced?

Two Things to Know About Flygirl

#1: The homefront wasn't just about knitting and Victory Gardens.

Flygirl exposes readers to another facet of life in America during World War II. Many women were urged to take jobs in factories, allowing men to enlist. Yet while the WASP had that goal, it was viewed differently. Perhaps it was because female factory workers would obviously want to go back to their homes once the war was over. But if women were pilots, highly skilled and eager to travel, would they go back to being wives and mothers? Most people seemed to think no. Add in that women would therefore be "stealing" jobs from men, and it's little wonder there was a fair amount of resistance to the WASP. But the service this group performed can't be underestimated. While the United States was at war, every citizen needed to do their part. The WASP did theirs and more.

#2: Is color more than skin-deep?

The Army, like most if not all of American society, was segregated. The WASP was not open to African-American women, thus leading Ida to the dangerous decision to pass for white. Issues of light and dark, smooth or frizzy, "gonna" vs. "going to" dominate the novel. Ida is of course always worried that her secret will be revealed. But there's also all the different ways her choice impacts her life, and the lives of other people. From the fight that ends her friendship with her oldest friend to being warned by an older African-American man, Ida is never allowed to forget that she is passing for white. As she slowly navigates this new world, Ida comes to realize that her color does not definer her--but it is a part of her.

Flygirl is an excellent novel, juggling questions about race and gender during a time when America was facing its greatest challenge. Having been familiar with the story of the WASP for years, I thoroughly enjoyed Ida's story. For another novel about a woman questioning her place during World War II, try Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. There are also several book about the WASP, for readers interested in learning more.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thoughts: Scholastic Book Clubs

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has fond memories of the Scholastic Book Club. My parents, who were saintly enough to support my book habit, would give me a set amount of money, and I would pour over that circular, printed on flimsy, thinner-than-newsprint paper, to figure out how to get the most books for the money.

It seems that things have changed with the Scholastic Book Club. As reported in the New York Times, a watchdog group says that Scholastic is misusing the book club to sell non-book products.

Certainly we can appreciate the points raised by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: children and teens seem to be subjected to an endless barrage of commercials and tie-in products nowadays. Yet I can't help seeing Scholastic's side of the issue, in that reluctant readers might need the hook of stickers or a game to bring them to a book. Plus, there's been plenty of discussion about how video games also encourage literacy and learning.

Perhaps Scholastic could choose products to include in the book club flier that are a bit less commercial, but if the end result means that a child or a teen learns and develop a new skill, I have a hard time finding the negative.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Contest Winner

Congrats to MJ for winning the ARC and discussion questions for Absolutely Maybe. I was so pleased by the response, especially by seeing some new faces on the blog, so thank you for participating!

You're reading quite a lot of great books, too! Between Brunze's recommendation for 13 Reasons Why, and the fact that the teen book group at my library raved about it, I'm definitely moving that book closer to the top of my To Be Read pile. There were also comments about the Hungry Cities books by Phillip Reeve and the 2009 Printz Medal-winning Jellicoe Road. Other award winners getting mentions are Graceling, Nation, and The Graveyard Book. Read the comments on the contest post to see these and other recommendations.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Contest: Win an ARC!

At ALA Midwinter, I got two ARCs of Lisa Yee's upcoming book Absolutely Maybe, so it's time to share the wealth!

I'll draw a random name from the comments on this post to win the ARC, as well as the discussion guide prepared by Scholastic. Please comment by Monday, February 9, at 12:00pm EST to be eligible for this contest.

And in order to get to know my readers better, please comment with your name, email and the book you're talking to people about. Doesn't have to be new or noteworthy: just the book that you're currently enjoying.

Blurb: Meet Maybelline "Maybe" Chestnut. She may be named for her mother's favorite brand of mascara, but she has a mind--and a hair color--all her own.

Meet her mother, Chessy--that is, Chessamay Chestnut Abajian Wing Marshall Wing Sinclair Alvarez and soon-to-be Himmler. The one man she didn't marry? Maybe's father.

Meet Ted and Hollywood, a.k.a. Maybe's best friends. When Chessy chooses her latest scuzzball fiance over her daughter, the trio sets out to find Maybe's dad in California.

When they meet Los Angeles: city of swimming pools, movie stars, and a whole lot of surprises, including an aging screen goddess, a famous photgrapher, three makeovers, a Rolls-Royce, and a taco truck. Hollywood makes a film; Ted makes his fortune. But the biggest surprise may be Maybe hersel, as a charm-school dropout becomes a drop-dead charmer in Lisa Yee's terrific new novel.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Thoughts: Cover Double-Takes

There's times that I just do a double-take when I look at a book cover, because the photo is similar to another book . . . or the same picture, as I've talked about before. This one, though, is definitely an odder double-take, because is it just me, or is it the same boy on the covers of these books?

Edited to Add: In the comments below, another book with the same photo was identified.