Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book 49 - The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers - Harlem, New York

Zander Scott and his friends LaShonda, Bobbi, and Kambui are students at . Da Vinci Academy for the Gifted and Talented, one of the best schools in Harlem. They are in a tricky situation,  their grades are slipping, and Mr. Culpepper, the assistant principal, is ready to be rid of them. When the school starts a unit on the Civil War, and Mr. Culpepper splits students into Union and Confederate sympathizers, Zander and his crew are given a charge—to negotiate a peace between both sides before the war actually breaks out.

That’s when Zander and his friends come up with the idea to launch an alternative school newspaper called The Cruiser. The students realize that they have incredible ability to influence their peers through the newspaper. They also discover that their opponents can also publish their views and opinions. In trying to avoid an actual conflict, a war of words breaks out which stretches these talented young people to the limit.

Acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers delivers the first in a four-book series. The unlikely heroes are the talented and gifted students, The Cruisers. He uses this book to encourage his readers to consider what democracy and free speech is all about. Below is a link to Scholastic's study guide on this book. I imagine this would be popular with students from the USA who actually do study these historic events in some detail. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book 48 - Trash by Andy Mulligan - South East Asia, somewhere

Raphael is a trash sifter. That is all he has known all of his life. He lives on the rubbish piles of the large city (unnamed country) and goes through the trash sorting it for plastic, wire and other bits you can sell. Like every other person on the rubbish dump he dreams of making a big find which will change his life and then one day - he does.

The only trouble is lots of other people are looking for the things Raphael found - including the police. Instinctively Raphael knows to keep his find a secret even though some amazing rewards are being offered for it. His friends Gardo and Rat help him. They suddenly find themselves in the middle of a dangerous murder and embezzlement situation. It takes all their cunning and courage to find a way to bring justice to the people who most deserve it.

This book has had mixed reviews. Some think it is too  violent and inappropriately candid about the poverty of the boys and the corruption of the police and those in authority. The method of narration is interesting and demands attention from the reader. Mulligan has many of the characters involved telling their part of the story so the narrator changes throughout the book. I enjoyed this and found the pace even more compelling as a result. I will be recommending this book to my students and I will see if those who enjoyed the Hunger Games will also enjoy this tale of determined survival and triumph over the odds. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Make the invisible visible

Just recently I have been very busy at school working on some 'extras'. Love Reading week was an extra, presentations to the grade 11 Extended Essay students, making book trailers with one grade 4 class and working with colleagues to write a digital literacy curriculum document. These extra things AND the usual things I do are invisible to the people I work with. I look busy, my desk is an explosion of projects and books and computers, but do they know and understand what I do and how it makes a difference?

Gary Hartzell wrote a challenging article for School Library Journal in 1997 entitled "The invisible school librarian" He states it is possible to be visible and..  The way to fight back is to make the role and contributions of school librarians visible to those people who have the power to make a difference.
This is realistic, but it's in your hands. You have to write and present, you have to work to change the culture of library service, and you have to direct your organizations to look outward as well as inward. It would be both ironic and tragic if school library information centers fail the schools and the students they serve because administrators didn't have any information about them.

So I am stating here that I will rise to the challenge. It is not easy and it will take time but here goes....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book 47 - Shadow by Michael Morpurgo - England and Afghanistan

This is Michael Morpurgo at his best. I really enjoyed this simple story of the dog called Shadow and the kindness shown to him by a lonely, frightened Afghan boy, Aman. The book is told by three people - Aman, Matt who is best friends with Aman and Matt's Grandpa - a former journalist. Matt is very distressed when his best friend Aman is taken to a detention center for people who are about to be deported. He and his mother are being sent back to Afghanistan and possible death because their asylum application was not granted. Matt is not allowed to visit his friend. He persuades his Grandpa into visiting Aman and despite his misgivings Grandpa agrees. During the awkward visit Grandpa shows Aman a photo of his family, including Matt and his dog and Aman reacts so dramatically to the photo. He explains that while they were living in Afghanistan a dog of the same breed adopted him and became like his Shadow. Aman tells Grandpa the tragic story of his life in Afghanistan and how Shadow helped to save his life. The entire situation prompts Grandpa into action...

A great read aloud for grades 5 - 6 and wonderful read for upper primary and middle school.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book 46 - Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke - Vietnam

All third culture kids would relate to Andy as he and his father travel back to Hanoi. Andy's father left Vietnam twenty years before and this is his first trip 'home'. Andy finds Vietnam to be a shock - nothing is as he imagines it would be and everyone behaves in such a strange way - including his father. He meets all his relatives and has his name changed to the Vietnamese Anh. Their restaurant is actually a small but vibrant cafe on a very busy street. Andy sees how hard his relatives work and finds that they expect him to join in the work. His cousins are a surprise to him as well, especially Minh. Her mother lives in Saigon and it is her one goal in life to go and join her there. At twelve years of age Minh is already one of the best cooks at the cafe when she is not at school. However, on a siteseeing trip one day Andy spies Minh out selling postcards to tourists when she should have been in school. She tells him her secret - she is raising money for her fare to Saigon. Andy understands her desire to be reunited with her mother and keeps her secret from the rest of the family. Then one afternoon while Minh and Andy are out in the city Andy gets an idea how to make his Vietnamese family lots of tourist dollars by advertising their cafe. His attempts to help in a western way cause a lot of confusion.

This is a wonderful story of the shock of finally meeting the relatives you had only ever heard about. A clash of cultures and a finding of your own identity. Andy is a very honest character who see his family as greedy and rude at first. He has trouble accepting his father's reluctance to tell them all the truth about their life in Australia and just how humble it really is. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book 45 - Nothing by Janne Teller - Taering, Denmark

I read this book almost in one sitting. It is hard to put down once you have started. The book blurb announced this was "The Lord of the Flies" for the 21st century and that is stunningly accurate. 

"Nothing matters," announces 12 year old Pierre Anthony and with that he leaves his classroom, climbs a tree in the school yard and refuses to come down. His classmates see this as an enormous challenge to their well being and futures so they decide to persuade him to come down. After pelting him with stones doesn't work they decide to address the notion of what it is that "matters". If they can show Pierre Anthony that something does matter then he has to change his mind and come down out of the tree.

They start to bring things to an old unused saw mill to collect the things that matter. Then they realise that people are holding back. One by one they challenge each other to bring the things that matter most into the saw mill. A pair of new sandals, a bicycle, a hamster and slowly as the pile grows the challenges become more and more extreme. The pile certainly takes on meaning to them but will it ever be enough for Pierre Anthony?

This book is very disturbing. It explores extremes of peer pressure and secrecy. It asks what is meaning and what is nothing? This book has won awards AND been banned in some countries. How can a book about children's search for meaning provoke such extremes? The content is very gritty. I wonder who I can recommend this to?

New York Public Library review says this is one of the darkest books for Young People ever and I do not disagree.