Friday, 28 August 2009

Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

Do you remember how it felt to be a young child? Do you remember your first day in Grade One?

When asked about good books that we should get for the SRR, one of the other teachers suggested the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.

Now, Beverly Cleary was a popular writer of children's books when I was a boy. Of course that means her stuff is pretty old, so I was skeptical. I wasn't sure if anybody would read them.

Okay, confession time. When I was younger, I was a bit of a reluctant reader. I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. I didn't read many books for fun.

As a child, I loved Dr Seuss books. I remember visiting a friend's house and leafing through her entire collection and I remember being hypnotized by them all. After that, I got into books about kids who had horses and went on adventures. Later, in high school, I read a number of books that qualified as "literature" and I was pretty keen on all the ideas that the books gave me.

However, I rarely read stories just for the pure fun. Looking back now, I think it is because I was never really introduced to all the great books that were out there so I didn't know what to read. And, as I've said before, I think the writers of books for young people are much better these days than they were when I was a kid.

Anyway, I DO remember one book that I read and enjoyed as a boy and it was "Henry and the Paper Route" by Beverly Cleary. I can't even remember why I enjoyed it. I just remember thinking that Beverly Cleary was awesome and that she was going to be my "favourite author" - not that anybody knew, or cared to ask.

Yesterday I thought I'd give Ramona the Brave a few pages and see what it was like. Well, I read it from cover to cover and then went on to read a second book. Ramona the Brave is pretty fascinating. I was so impressed by Cleary's ability to get into the heads and hearts of young children. Her story captures how it felt to be in first grade. All the feelings and thoughts and anxieties of childhood came rushing back to me yesterday. It was so amazing to remember what that was like.

The main character, Ramona, is interesting because she tries so hard to be good, but things happen and she just keeps getting into trouble. I like her older sister too. She gives her little sister a hard time and doesn't enjoy being around her that much, but just when Ramona is at the end of her rope, her big sister will say something that turns everything around and makes it okay again. I thought that was so cool and heartwarming. The mother, also, surprises Ramona with her kindness. She feels like her mother prefers her older sister and there are times when she gets shocked by her mother's reactions to things that are developing.

I can't wait to read "Ramona and Her Father". In the two books I've read, the father seems like a really nice guy (kinda cool) and everybody says Ramona is "her father's daughter" like she and her father have a magical connection or something. I'm eager to read more about their relationship and to see more of how the father and daughter interact.

Cleary was born in 1916 and just died a few years ago (in 2004). That means she lived through WWII and was writing during the 1950's and 60's in America a time that the modern notion of the "traditional family in America" comes from. Dads went to work and Moms stayed at home and baked apple pies. You get the idea. Anyway, Cleary's narrative captures that innocent time. Interestingly though, Ramona's mother starts working in Ramona the Brave and her father is out of work and has gone back to university in Ramona Forever. I guess Cleary's work was heralding a change in American society at the time.

Anyway, Cleary is a master storyteller. I love the way she uses language and I'm amazed at how well she captured the thoughts and feelings of her main character. I really enjoyed the trip she took me on - back to those first days of school when I was just a little blonde-haired, freckle-faced boy walking three blocks from my home to elementary school. Cleary's work is sweet, funny, and heart-warming. I'm going to order a few more and I hope some of you will read and enjoy them as much as I did.

BTW, two years ago HarperCollins published a new set of Cleary's books. They've modernized the cover art and even made a nice collection box for the set. I'm so glad to see publishers breathing new life into great books like these. Good job HarperCollins!

4/5 stars - well worth reading if you'd like to relive your childhood!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

On Writing by Stephen King

Have you ever thought of doing some writing of your own? If so, this book is for you!

I have a lot of students in my classes who are actively writing stories in their free time. In fact, I've been telling people for years that this is the perfect place for a young writer to break out.

Part of the reason I say that is because we have so little access to distractions here that a young writer should be able to find the time to sit down and focus on their work. The other thing is that there is so much food for writers here.

I've just finished reading Stephen King's On Writing from cover to cover. It is fun to read and would certainly catch the interest of anybody who has ever thought of becoming a writer.

The first half of the book is autobiographical. King tells us interesting stories about what happened to him as he was growing up. This allows us to understand him as a writer and how he became who he is today. I love that he gets to the point. He isn't overly self-indulgent even when he writes about his own life.

The second half of the book gives us practical information on how to improve our writing. He really stresses the importance of doing two things if you want to be a writer: read a lot and write a lot. Sound advice really. He also gives us some insider information on the life of a writer when he reveals the fact that he aims for ten pages a day and that he usually writes in the morning. He speaks of shutting the door and not letting anybody see the work until it has gone through a couple of drafts. He even suggests that you let your work sit for a long time before you go back and edit it.

His advice gives us a rare opportunity to see into the life of a writer. His tone is encouraging and at the same time it is direct, almost in-your-face. I like that. King is honest and open. He encourages that in writers.

I highly recommend this book for all my student writers. I suggest, at the very least, that you read the chapters titled "Toolbox" and "On Writing".

I like this book so much that I'm going to buy a copy of it myself. I'm going to read it again, only this time I will have a pencil in my hand and a notepad nearby.

5/5 Stars

Friday, 21 August 2009

Wake by Lisa McMann

First of all, I'd like to say the premise of this book is very interesting.

Imagine what it would be like if, whenever you were near people who fell asleep, you entered their dreams. That's what happens to Janie. She'll be walking along and then suddenly her body gets paralyzed and she goes blind and the next thing she knows she is inside some weird world - the world of a nearby dreamer.

Most of the time it isn't something she enjoys. Nightmares are the worst of course. Anyway, I loved the idea and I have to say that McMann delivers. She explores the idea fully while creating a very engaging and mysterious story filled with teen angst.

I read this book over two nights. Even though I'm very busy and have other things to do, I just couldn't put this one down.

By the way, I've got the hardcover version and it is so perfect. It has 210 beautiful pages and a really interesting looking cover which looks like it is glowing in the dark. Well done Simon Pulse publishers on printing a delightful book. There's just something about holding a book that is the right size with pristine, white paper stock and just the right font and print.

Anyway, I have to tell you more. This book is unique as far as I know. The writer is doing something very special here. McMann writes in third person (he/she). That's not super strange, but so many YA books are first person (I) so it is a bit different. It is also written in present tense. I don't know why, but it often sounds strange to me. The story moves along and kind of unnerves you. It seems strangely unreal. To add to the weirdness of it all, McMann writes in very short, choppy sentences. There are more three-word sentences in this book than you will find in a book of poetry. It is strange. Like poetry sometimes.

I's like when you see one of those hand-held camera movies for the first time, you think, "What's this?" And at first you aren't sure if you like it. It doesn't feel right. You may wonder whether you like it or not. However, the hand-held camera creates an unusual feeling of realism that brings you into the story and changes your reaction to the movie. McMann's writing does something like that. It makes you feel strange - mirroring the feeling that the character gets from her experience of being in other people's dreams. By the end of the book, the style draws you in and hypnotizes you. It has a strange disjointed rhythm to it.

I highly recommend this book. At 210 pages, it is an amazing, quick read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. BTW, this book has become so popular that it has been worked into a trilogy now. Fade (book 2) is out and the last book Gone is due out in February.

Additional Comments Added 22/08/09
I'm not going to tread too far on a slippery slope here. I like this book and I am featuring it on my blog because I believe other readers should know about it. I will, however, reiterate that the intention of my blog is to promote great books that I think will be interesting for the young people in the country where I presently live. Suffice it to say, I'll be keeping this book in my own collection to read and enjoy again someday.

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince?

Barnes and Noble:

Wicked stepmother? Check.
Evil stepsisters? Check.
Miserable life? Check.

Lucy Norton's life has all the makings of a Cinderella story. Her dad's always away on business, leaving Lucy with her cruel stepmother and bratty stepsisters. She's burdened with chores, and has a hard time fitting in at her new school. So when she sees Connor Pearson, the star player on the varsity basketball team, Lucy hopes her destiny has finally changed. With everything else going on in her life, doesn't she at least deserve to get the handsome prince?

Melissa Kantor's enchanting novel proves that sometimes the happy ending isn't quite the one you'd expect. Lucy's about to discover the truth about finding her real Prince Charming. and finding herself.

It's a modern day Cinderella story, right? Sounds like another interesting novel (well, for the girls I mean - I'll stick to the action stuff myself).

Once again, Peta has saved the day and sent this one from bookdepository in the UK. As one of the winners of the 2006 Teens' Top Ten list it is safe to say that this is a book worth reading. I'm sure that it is going to be loved by many, many of the girls at our school. Thanks again Peta!

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

Imagine if you suddenly lost your memory. What would that be like? Imagine going off to school. You wouldn't know who your friends were. You wouldn't know who you were.

This book sounds amazing.

Thanks to Peta who sent this to us from bookdepository after Sakina in 5C requested it.

Have a look at the book description and see what you think. With so many great new books in the SRR now, I'm not sure which one to read first.

BTW, I'm curious how Sakina heard of this incredible book. It sounds too good to resist.

Once again, thanks Peta!

Amazon Review:
When Naomi tries to piece back the fragments of the last three and a half years of her life, she discovers a lot. She has a boyfriend but can't remember him, her mother and father are divorced, and she has forgotten that she is supposed to hate her mother. She also has a group of friends which simply doesn't seem that attractive any more and, despite having meticulously kept a diary, she only mentioned what she ate every day in it! But it's not all bad, because when a girl loses three and a half years she gets a chance to reinvent herself. After all, who is to say that everything has to be the same?

The Dark Knight Returns

Our incredible book angel Peta in the UK has sent three new books for us to enjoy. Her generosity really is astounding! Thank you Peta.

The first book she sent us is one of the most famous graphic novels in the world. If you like graphic novels, this is a MUST for your collection.

I've wanted to get this one for years. It's not that I'm a big graphic novel / comic fan or anything, but the reputation that this one has can not be ignored.

The book is called "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" and it is a collector's book for sure. If you have a dark side, I think you'll enjoy this.

In order to make sure it is well cared for and so that many students can have a look at it, I think we will need to display it as a reference book (red dot - can't borrow). Look for it in the reading room next week! Enjoy, and once again, thanks to Peta for donating this amazing new book to our collection! I can't wait to read it myself.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Conversations With J.K. Rowling by Lindsey Fraser

It is hard not to pick this book up. If you've read the Harry Potter series and enjoyed it (of course you did), then you'll probably want to know something about the amazing woman who wrote the series.

This book is great for a quick read. It is only 96 pages and you will rifle through them in no time. The font is quite large so the writer has cheated a little. As well, about 30 to 40 pages are filler stuff that you won't want to bother with - like summaries of the books (um, like you would read this book if you hadn't already read the series?). However, the first half of the book is broken into questions and answers and that is the best stuff and well worth reading.

I enjoy reading every word that Rowling has to say. She is an inspiration. This book is a fun, quick read and I think you will enjoy it. You should pick it up at the beginning of a reading room period and you will be able to get at the best parts before the period is over.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. By the way, don't you just love the cover? The artist did such a good job of the picture. It's cute, isn't it? And it is so appropriate to have her sitting down at the coffee shop with a pen and paper - just the way she wrote a lot of her books!

3/5 stars

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Truth About Forever

Dessen is a smash hit. In 2005 she took 2nd place in the Teens' Top Ten list with this book. It seems like it is a very popular choice. Sakina in 5C seemed to think so. She had been waiting for this one for a long time! Review
With her sixth novel, award-winning author Sarah Dessen offers up another generous helping of finely crafted storytelling about real teens dealing with real life. In The Truth About Forever, when asked how she is coping with her father's death, invariably 17-year-old Macy Queen's answer is "fine", when nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, she is drowning in grief while maintaining a flawless fa├žade of good grades and unblemished behaviour. Though she feels lost when her boyfriend heads to "Brain Camp" for the summer, she finds herself a job with the quirky Wish Catering crew, and meets "sa-woon"-worthy Wes, whose chaotic lifestyle is in direct opposition to her own. As the two share their stories over the summer, Macy realises she can no longer keep her feelings on ice. Though it feels like her future ended with her dad's death, Macy learns that forever is all about beginnings.

Thanks to Peta for sending this one to us! It is bound to be a popular book with the girls.

Friday, 14 August 2009

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Werewolves vs. Vampires in New York City. Cool.

Did you enjoy Twilight? Did you enjoy Hunger Games? You'll love this one too! I've just finished it and it will be in the reading room once you have finished your qualifying exams.

Amazon UK review:

Fifteen-year-old geek hipster Clary thought she was just a normal kid, but normal kids don't see invisible people, and normal kids' mothers don't suddenly disappear, seemingly captured by horrific monsters. But like many fantasy heroines, Clary isn't normal, and she's got all the secret parentage, dramatic revelations and amazing magic powers to prove it. Clary is a Shadowhunter, brought up as a mundane but born to fight demons. She and her mundane friend Simon fall in with a trio of Shadowhunter teens, and are soon embroiled in a quest to understand Clary's past - and incidentally save the world. Rich descriptions occasionally devolve into purple prose, but the story's sensual flavor comes from the wealth of detail: demons with facial piercings, diners serving locusts and honey, pretty gay warlocks and cameo appearances from other urban fantasies' characters. Complicated romantic triangles keep the excitement high even when the dramatic revelations tend toward the ridiculous. Lush and fun.

I really enjoyed this book. I like the world that Clare develops and I like the characters. The pace is perfect. She takes time to make her characters interesting, but she also moves the plot along so the story keeps you interested. If you took half of Meyer's brain (Twilight) and connected it to half of Collins' brain (Hunger Games), you'd get Cassandra Clare. She struck an excellent balance between story and plot.

Seriously, if you like the whole vampire/monsters-living-in-the-real-world type of book you will enjoy this. Right from the first chapter, Clare grabs you and doesn't let go.

The book is complete in itself, but you also get the feeling that Clare was really gearing up for the series and setting herself up well I'd say. It's only going to get better as we get to know the characters and what they can do.

I can't wait to find out what happens in the next book. Wait a minute, I've already bought it! Yay!!!

Flaws? I'm not sure. I had the ending figured out pretty early on, but I'm not sure if Clare intended it that way or not. Still, there are two more to go so surprises may be in store!

I highly recommend this one.

5/5 Stars

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Rebel Angels Has Arrived

Several girls enjoyed Bray's "A Great and Terrible Beauty" and were excited about reading the second book. Well, you need wait no longer!

Thanks to our book angel Peta, the second book is here and ready to be enjoyed. I think Arni (5D) and Dinnah (5B) are first in line.
This series looks really exciting and I can't wait to read it once I'm done the other ten books on my reading list. The third book in the series, "The Sweet Far Thing" should arrive any day now from bookdepository.
Thanks again Peta! The girls will surely enjoy this one.
In this thrilling sequel, Gemma continues to pursue her destiny to bind the magic of the Realms and restore it to the Order. Gemma and her friends from Spence use magical power to transport themselves on visits from their corseted world of Victorian London (at the height of the Christmas season), to the visionary country of the Realms, with its strange beauty and menace. There they search for the lost Temple, the key to Gemma's mission, and comfort Pippa, their friend who has been left behind in the Realms. After these visits they bring back magical power for a short time to use in their own world. Meanwhile, Gemma is torn between her attraction to the exotic Kartik, the messenger from the opposing forces of the Rakshana, and the handsome but clueless Simon, a young man of good family who is courting her. This is the second book in Libba Bray's engrossing trilogy, set in a time of strict morality and barely repressed sensuality, about a girl who saw another way.

Two of the Jonas Brothers Have Landed in Brunei

Today was an amazing day for the SRR. I got a shipment of a mountain of new books. On top of that pile I found two books shipped from bookdepository by none other than our own book angel Peta!

Thanks Peta, we have quite a few Jonas Brothers fans in our school and I'm sure your books are going to be a big hit.

Too bad the girls will be so busy studying for their exams to read these in the next couple of weeks, right girls? :-)