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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury

In celebration of the upcoming 60th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Simon & Schuster hosted a contest to design a new cover for this iconic classic.This is the new cover art for the novel, annouced just a few days ago.  Not only is it AWESOME, the winner of the contest is from my home town, Little Rock, AR.

Congrats, Matthew Owen!

Lately, I have been thinking about books about books. So, what does Fahrenheit 451 have to do with books? It is the temperature at which a book burns. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, firemen start fires. They burn books and the houses that contain them...Read More.


The Double Game

The Double Game
by Dan Fesperman

I've been looking for books for my more advanced readers in the eighth grade.  They don't have an appetite for the dystopian literature their peers are so crazy about.  They do love books set in Europe with at least a little intrigue.  In reviewing book summaries, The Double Game stood out as a possible choice.  It is categorized as an espionage-thriller.  I was drawn to it because books take center stage in the plot.

The novel digs into the possibility of double agents during the Cold War. Journalist Bill Cage, while interviewing an ex-CIA agent turned author of spy thrillers, discovers that he was once enticed by the world of the double agent.  The story gets out of the the young Cage's control, and he finds that he must leave the paper.

Jump forward twenty years and we find Cage lonely and unsatisfied with his life.  We learn that he is the son of an employee of the CIA and lived all over the world during his childhood.  We also learn that he and his father love the world of the spy novel.  Through a series of surprising events, that include the delivery of actual pages of his beloved novels, Cage is lured into a hunt that will reveal whether the information he tripped onto during that long ago interview is indeed true.

Though written for adults, this is a novel that any accomplished high school reader will love.  It concentrates on plot, character, and setting, leaving romance and unnecessary drama to other novels.  It is also a great introduction to politics during the Cold War, an era I knew surprisingly little about.  I will be looking for more historical fiction from this time period, and if it contains a thrill or two, all the better.



Moon over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool

I have embarked on a new writing project.  Though it is a little formless now, I do know that it will be set during The Depression or a time like The Depression.  So, I've been excavating my memories, trying to mine anything I already know about the time period.  What I have found to date are the big stories:  bread lines, CCCP, and Dust Bowl.  Until I watched the new Ken Burns documentary, I didn't have any personal information about the time period.  My grandparents were teenagers at the time, but their stories just seemed to romanticize it as "a simpler time."

And then, I remembered Clare Vanderpool's novel Moon over Manifest.  It tells the story of Abilene Tucker, a twelve year old girl who is sent to live with friends so that her father can take a railroad job in 1936.  (I have come to find out that parents would do anything to secure employment during the '30s, and sending children away to live with family and friends was common.  You can also read about this in Turtle in Paradise  by Jennifer L. Holm.)  Until now, Abilene has lived life on the move and is only acquainted with the town of Manifest by way of her father's stories.  She imagines it to be a wonderland of sorts.

As she jumps off of the train in this small Kansas town, she reads the welcome sign:  Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.  What she finds when she arrives to her caretakers home doesn't match up to her expectations.  After meeting one character after another, she settles into a group of friends.  With them, she finds a stack of letters written during World War I.  In an attempt to track down the object of the letters, the girls set out on a spy hunt.  Mysterious warnings repetitively emerge, but the girls are undaunted and continue their search to the end.

Vanderpool effectively weaves historical fact into this very personal story of innocence and redemption.  It is a wonderful read for anyone capable, starting in about 4th grade.  If you can convince your reader to wait until they are twelve, they might understand the true meaning of the story better.

P.S. This novel won the 2011 Newbery Medal.


Live Writing

Live Writing
by Ralph Fletcher

Finding nonfiction that is accessible, useful and interesting for middle readers can be a challenge. The nonfiction publishers seem to focus entirely on books for early readers about animals, jobs and vehicles or books for adults. I guess they assume that middle readers get enough nonfiction in text books. Unfortunately, text books are dry and dull! Kids would rather put a pencil in their eyes than read a text book...Read More


When Marian Sang

When Marian Sang
by Pam Munoz Ryan
pictures by Brian Selznick

Just so you know,  I am crazy about being an American.  I do love to travel, but am always anxious to be home in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."  Though we have many, many flaws, I believe my country is a work in progress, just like me.

Today, I watched my beloved land take one more baby step toward fulfilling its promise, by inaugurating a new president.  The losers of the election sat quietly, without arms, and watched as the people's will was carried out.  It always stuns me.  It was serendipitous that this particular man would be sworn in on this anniversary of Dr. King's march on Washington, a mere 50 years ago.  In the arc of time, this seems somewhat impressive to me.

Though I must say, I missed the girls.  Too few, if you ask me, were made prominent today.  Because of this, I wanted to share this book with you.  This picture book is a beautiful way to explore the career of Marian Anderson, an internationally acclaimed opera singer who was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. in 1939.  With the help of another capable woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion instead sang to an integrated crowd of 75,000 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  She stood on the steps that would one day host Martin Luther King Jr., and in her own way, helped our country take a baby step.

Picture books are wonderful for all ages.  And, with the drawings of Brian Selznick of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame, this wonderful woman and her accomplishments come to life.  It is a must read, if you ask me!


CALS post: Divergent

by Veronica Roth

Divergent falls into the fiction genre called dystopian.  This genre is defined by books that are set in a time or place where the conditions of life are extremely bad, because of things like deprivation, oppression, or terror.   In my day there were two greats, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, though I think we just called them science fiction.  I must say that as a teenager I loved these books as much as I do today.  Reading 1984 was really strange for me as I read it in the year 1984 as a junior in high school.  Between George Orwell and Prince I was sure that my life would be a short or very strange one. Read More 

Lord Brocktree

Lord Brocktree
by Brian Jacques
contributed review by my son, Code Name:  Birdboy

I just read the book Lord Brocktree by Brian Jacques . It is about a warrior badger and his friends who try to take back their fort from a cat and a vermin. This book might sound childish but, it is very entertaining and converts real problems into an easy way to understand. This book is very humorous and action packed.

A young haremaid named Dotti is forced to leave her home because of family. On her travels she runs into Lord Brocktree, a badger warrior answering the call of the mountain. As they are moving they run into an otter-I wish I could remember his name.  Together, they try to save Lord Stonepaw from  Ungatt Tunn, the fiercesome warlord who commands thousands of soldiers.

Almost every character in Lord Brocktree is mentioned in other Redwall books, of which there a many.By the way, there is no order of the Tales of Redwall.


Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake
by Elizabeth Enright

Here we have another Newbery Book.  I went in search of Thimble Summer, by the same author, because I loved her book The Saturdays so much and it was her Newbery Medal Winner.  It was not on the shelf at my branch library, so I pick up her Newbery Honor Book, Gone Away Lake instead.

I have a slight memory of my son reading this book when he was in 1st or 2nd grade. After reading it, I can see why his wonderful Early Elementary teacher recommended it for him. My son loves nature and natural history, still.  This book makes note of every bird and plant that the long list of characters encounters as they play and work in the woods and fields.  In my readers notebook, yes I keep notes as I read books, I have a sample list of some of the birds:  scarlet taninger, mourning dove, owl, finch, crow and woodpecker.  As my son, currently in 6th grade, has ornithological veterinarian on his short list of occupation, it is no wonder this book was a success with him.  When he saw that I was reading it he said, "Isn't that the one where the kids find the old village near a swamp?"

Indeed it is!  11 year old Portia Blake and her six year old brother, Foster, take the train, alone, to spend the summer with their Aunt, Uncle and cousin, Julian for the summer.  Portia and Julian are constant companions and soon find there way to the "village" my son mentioned.  Julian is a collector of natural specimens and the long walks they take for discovery, often lead them to some unknown location.  As the children approach the run down houses, they hear a noise.  Though a bit frighten, they cautiously approach the house from which the sound rang.  Within moments a women, dressed as if she came from a long forgotten time, stepped out through the door.  With startled introductions, they learn that the mistress of the antique home is Minniehaha and that she and her brother,  Pin each live in one of the abandon homes.

This is a tale of young discovery.  The children live in a time where adult supervision is not constant, like it is today, so their explorations are deep and rewarding.  They do find themselves in a bind from time to time, but with the help of the adults they enlist to help, they always find their way. Enright lived from 1909-1968 and her books reflect the time of her own childhood.  I have a romantic notion that we might one day get back to a time when our children can roam free and discover the world and themselves independently.  Until that day, I suggest we share novels like Enright's with them, so they will know what supplies they will need to take along on the journey when it come along.



by many authors, check out the cover

I am not sure if I have mentioned it before, but along with reading, writing and parenting, I make photographs.  For the past few years, I have dabbled in the world of Fine Art Photography by submitting images to competitions.  I have had enough success to be encouraged.  I still work with film and have a camera that looks just like this cover.  So, in the case of this book, I definitely judged the book by the cover.  (Between the list of authors and the cover art, I was a goner!)

This book proved to be an unexpected surprise.  It begins with the death of a beloved grandfather.  His grandchildren each receive gifts from him.  As the grandson of a famous photographer, Jason inherits a camera and a few prints of famous athletes signed by the subject.  The granddaughter, Maggie, is given a handmade box with 7 smaller boxes inside.  Each is beautifully lined and contains a shell.  With the box, Maggie gets a note that simply says, "Throw them all back."  The first chapter details George (aka Gee) Keane's death and funeral, and its impact on Maggie.

As the book continues, we are granted a bit of insight into the people of Gee's past and all of the places he has visited in his life as a photojournalist.  The best part of this book is that each of the chapters is a short story by a different author, quietly turning a page, allowing us to more deeply explore the overall theme of the book.  "What is said theme?" you might ask.  Well, grandpa Gee wants to remind us all to really look at the world around us and see the people in it.  Ultimately, he is telling us that in learning about the people we are sharing the planet with, we will come to know ourselves.

I take photographs to leave evidence that I have paid attention.  I borrowed this book from the library, but I am buying a copy for myself.  I would strongly recommend it to any teen you know who is beginning a journey of understanding themselves.


More Reviews

As you might guess, I am a frequent visitor to my local library.  I love it; books galore, there just for me to borrow.  A few months ago, I started writing suggestions and reviews for their website.  I write original content and try to post on Wednesdays.  Beginning today, I will put a link to the post so you can check it out, too.

Today, I was discussing the merits of books versus an e-reader with a friend and I kept finding myself defending the book.  There are many reasons I love a paper book, not the least of which being that I can loan one at will to anyone who will accept more


Doctor Dolittle

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle
by Hugh Lofting

Well, between a Christmas Break filled with family and a trip homeward wondering if we would have power upon our return, I would say the last few weeks have been filled with adventures.  I apologize for my lengthy absence, but “The Great Snow of 2012,” has left my family without power for 7 days.  The one advantage is that books require no electricity, so I have had plenty to do.

In 2013, it is my plan to make my way through some of the Newbery Winners and Honors books.  Some of them I read during my childhood; others I missed entirely.  The award was first given in 1922 to The Story of Mankind by (Liveright) Hendrik Willem van Loon.  The award is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

After considering the books that won the award in the 1920s, I decided to start with The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.  The novel won the award in 1923.  I am not sure if I read it as a child.  I do remember seeing the film with Rex Harrison as the doctor himself.  I loved the wondrous creatures in the movie, especially the pushme-pullyou and the great snail.

Making my way through the novel, that was revised and republished by Dell in 1988 to soften some language that could be considered insensitive, my imagination was immediately captured by the narrator Tommy Stubbins.  His love for the Doctor and the animals he cares for and communicates with makes him irresistible.  The doctor of the novel clashed with my mental image of Rex Harrison in the role.  He is small and round and indifferent to his surroundings, depending entirely on the animals in his life to keep him on track.  These dependable friends include Polynesia the parrot, Dab-Dab the duck, Jip the dog, and Chee-Chee the monkey.  They stand by him until the end when they convince him to give up his kingdom and spirit away in the coils of the Giant Snail, back to his home and life work in Puddle-by-the-Marsh, England.

This book should be read and shared with the animal loving and imaginative readers in your life.