My Favorite Books of 2007

This year has been a banner one in terms of books I have read. I have always been a voracious reader- my aunt was a 7th grade teacher who started giving me her favorite books when I was in 2nd/3rd grade. I still remember the day she handed me “Speak” (Laurie Halse Anderson) in 6th grade and the effect it had on me. I never really left MG and YA literature behind. As Little Willow stated so perfectly, I still hear the bell. :) I did read less in college, thanks to my abundance of reading of English canon in my English major. Since beginning this blog and joining the kidlitosphere, I feel like I have been reading amazing books. I have read books that I never would have heard of it not for the recommendations from my fellow bloggers. Thanks to them, the quality of books I am reading (and consequently bringing into my classroom) has risen exponentially. When I sat down to write up my “Best of 2007″ list, I was struck by just how many great books I have read. Choosing only a few to highlight was nearly impossible! However, I somehow managed to do it….

My Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2007

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree: Wow. What a stunning debut novel from Lauren Tarshis. I fell in love with Emma and Colleen, and Tarshis’ accurate portrayal of middle school archetypes. This was one of my read-alouds this year, and both classes really enjoyed it. This is my favorite book of the year.

Cracker: Cynthia Kadohata’s novel about war dogs and young men in the Vietnam War left me in tears. A beautiful book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: As a huge Harry Potter fan, it was inevitable that this book would be on any list I made for 2007. I fantastic ending to one of the best fantasy series of all time.

The Wednesday Wars: A wonderful historical fiction novel, with a great male protagonist. A definite Newbery contender!

Into the Wild: Sarah Beth Durst’s novel was one of the first blog-recommended books I read this year. A funny, fractured fairy tale of a book that had me laughing out loud in many parts. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel!

Best YA Books of 2007

*note- I read a lot of YA in 2007, but most of it was published pre-2007*

The Book Thief: Life-changing. This novel should be on every high school’s required reading list.

Elsewhere: Gabrielle Zevin’s novel was thought-provoking and fun- what a great combination!

A Great and Terrible Beauty: Libba Bray’s first novel about Gemma Doyle sat on my pile of books for months until I recently read it from cover to cover. Did I mention that I read it in about a day? An amazing book, and I am flying through the second book, “Rebel Angels” as we speak. I love Bray’s writing style, her characterization, and the paranormal historical fiction that she so beautifully combines.

Looking for Alaska: John Green’s Printz Award-winning novel was one of the best books I have ever read. One of the few books I have put down halfway through because I couldn’t bear to find out what happened to the characters. Sadly, I didn’t review this, as I read it before I started TheReadingZone. But WOW.

Well, well well! What an eclectic list! Let me tell you, this was no easy task. And as I type, I am looking over at my very, very large pile of books to be read. Thanks to kidlitosphere recommendations, I know there are a number of potential award-winners in that bunch. I need to get reading!

The Luxe

Pretty girls in pretty dresses,870E1FD4-C2DB-40AB-A12E-E478CC963DB0.jpg
partying until dawn.

Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles
and dangerous intentions.

White lies, dark secrets,
and scandalous hookups.

This is Manhattan, 1899….

When I saw the buzz about The Luxe hitting the blogosphere a few months ago, I immediately added it to my list of “must-reads”. Novels about the gilded age, or set in Victorian settings, have been some of my recent favorites. I also loved the Gossip Girl series and the TV show is appointment tv for me. The Luxe seemed like a perfect combination of these two. After getting a few giftcards for Christmas, Anna Godbersen’s book was #1 on my list.

First of all, how gorgeous is this cover? Despite the fact that one couldn’t even move in a dress like that, I want it! Where can I get a dress like that? If that dress evokes similar feelings in you, I am sure you will enjoy this debut novel from Anna Godbersen.

The Luxe is the story of rich, spoiled teenagers living in Manhattan. The twist? It’s 1899. The main characters are Elizabeth Holland- prim, proper, beautiful, and the eldest of the Holland clan (and hiding a secret romance with a boy below her class); Diana Holland- fun, silly, romantic, and everything her older sister is not; Penelope Hayes- rich, snotty, and full of new money…a mean girl for the ages; and Lina- the Holland girls’ maid servant with ambitions of her own. The chapters alternate from one girl to the next, with each chapter beginning with a primary document. For those familiar with the Gossip Girl series, instead of beginning chapters with emails and text messages, Godberson begins each chapter with a ball invitation, society gossip column, or correspondence. From blind items in the gossip pages to scandalous notes sent from one character to another, the primary documents are essential to the book’s plot.

It took me a few chapters to really get into this book. However, once I did I was swept into the world of balls, carriage rides, and Sunday visiting hours. While not overly heavy with historical facts, there is enough history thrown in to appease most readers. Mentions of Gramercy Park, Admiral Dewey, and the corruption that ran rampant in NYC politics at the time serve as a subtle backdrop for the scandalous lives of the main characters. I do wish the setting played a bigger part in the story. At times, it felt like the setting was merely background and the story could have been taking place anywhere, at anytime. Godbersen has an opportunity to really make NYC an important character, if you will, and I hope she takes advantage of that.

I did especially enjoy the almost circular ending. I finished the book very late last night, and immediately reread the first chapter. All of a sudden, so much more made sense. The first chapter serves as a great lead to pull you into the book, as you question exactly what is happening. It also serves as a great ending, so make sure you do reread it after finishing the book! My opinions on the characters also changed as the book went on. Godbersen slowly made each character seem more human as the plot unfolded, and characters that I hated as first began to seem more human.

This is a very fun book. The next book, in what is sure to be a 3-4 volume series, is due out in June, according to Amazon. I will definitely read the sequel, just to see what happens to these characters! Plus, I can’t wait to see what the next cover looks like- this book definitely wins the Cover of the Year award for YA!

Last Minute Shopping

I was silly enough to venture to the mall yesterday to pick up a last-minute gift that my mother needed. Needless to say, I have sworn off the mall until after Christmas now! However, I know there are still people out there who have some more gifts to buy. If you are still looking for a gift for a teacher, bookworm, teen, or just that person who has EVERYTHING, may I suggest a gift certificate from Amazon.com? I know I have put this on my list anytime I have been asked what I want for Christmas. Everytime I look at my 15-page Amazon wishlist, I know I can never afford all those books on my own, so I look for gift certificates every chance I get. So for those of you who still have some shopping to do, get a gift certificate!

While at the mall yesterday, I managed to walk around the bookstore with Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels and Anna Godberson’s The Luxe for about 20 minutes. I really, really wanted to buy both of them but shouldn’t be spending the money right now. After wandering the entire store and stopping to read the first few pages of The Luxe (which I loved!), I managed to convince myself to leave them at the bookstore until after Christmas. Hopefully, I can spend some gift card money then and not my own! Eh, who am I kidding? I will definitely buy them, regardless. I just promised not to buy any gifts for myself until after the holidays. :)

Speaking of Libba Bray, I bought A Great and Terrible Beauty months ago. I read the first 100 pages or so, and just couldn’t get into it. I put it aside to read something else and never looked back. Last week I decided to give it another try after seeing blog after blog mentioning the forthcoming release of the third book in the series, The Sweet Far Thing. I picked it up on Monday and….well, I loved it! I couldn’t put the book down this time and need to read the rest of the series as soon as humanly possible. I also shared this story with my class, to show them that sometimes a book just isn’t right for us. However, when we abandon a book it doesn’t mean it won’t be right for us at a later time. It was a great lesson for my class and me!

Poetry Friday

Solstice Revisited- J. Barrie Shephard

They used to claim the sun stood still
for a day, this time of year, then turned around
and headed back to greener, warmer climes.
But now, knowing–alas–so much more,
we realize that nothing stands still, ever.
And that those who try are doomed, nevertheless,
just like the rest of us, to whirling on
and on until we join again this spinning dust
the stars are made from, in its voyage round
the swirling curves of spiraled space and time.

I held my second Poetry Friday in my class this week. We had poems ranging from Shel Silverstein to Robert Frost. The kids begged to have our “Poetry Museum”, where the walk around the room reading each other’s poems. It’s wonderful watching these 6th graders wander the room, taking in all kinds of poetry and new poets. We then share our favorite poems and discuss everyone’s choices for that month. It’s a wonderful day!

Class of 2k8

Check out the new Class of 2k8 Blog! I started hanging out at the Class of 2k7 back around April and what a fun group! Now that those authors have “graduated”, it’s time for the new class to take over. The Class of…. idea is a great way to keep track of new releases in the children’s book world. So head on over!

The Next Harry Potter?

Those of you who have been wallowing in children’s lit purgatory since the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the last Harry Potter book, can now rest easy. On Tuesday morning, Scholastic is expected to officially announce the publishing of their newest series, which they hope will become the next Harry Potter. “The 39 Clues” will be a multi-author series spanning 10 books. There will also be web, video game, trading cards, and other merchandising tie-ins. The series is aimed at the same middle grade age group that embraced Harry Potter a decade ago. The mysteries will tell the story of the Cahill’s, a centuries-old family who are also the world’s most powerful family. Famous historical figures, including Ben Franklin and Mozart, will be labeled as members of the Cahill family tree, with the plots centering on two young protagonists, Amy (14) and Dan (11). Amy and Dan will race against other branches of their family tree to be the first to find 39 clues that will lead to ultimate power. The first book will be penned Rick Riordan, author of the best-selling Percy Jackson series (which I love). Riordan has also outlined the story arc for the remaining 9 novels, which will be penned by authors such as Gordon Korman, Jude Watson, and Peter Lerangis.

This is quite a coup for Scholastic, as they will retain all rights to this series, unlike Harry Potter- JK Rowling retained the rights to Harry Potter, allowing her to search out and control her own movie and licensing deals. Scholastic is crossing their fingers that this series will be the next Harry Potter while also lining their pockets even more than Harry Potter did.

I am not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I do love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and Gordon Korman is also popular with my students (I am not familiar with the other two authors mentioned). On the other hand, and I am leaning more towards this one, I have never been a fan of multi-author series. I find that it is hard to keep story elements consistent when you have a different author penning each volume of the series. Or the books become too simplified, like The Babysitters Club. A series like this feels too manufactured for my tastes. I will say that I am a bit intrigued by the plot summary. It sounds like a middle grade version of “The Da Vinci Code”/National Treasure. But I can easily see it moving into the boring, preachy, historical fiction that my students can’t stand. I will probably read the first volume and make a decision from there. But I will be interested in seeing the final product when it is released in September.

Do I think this will be the next Harry Potter? No, I don’t. I don’t think you can predict that kind of success. Kids know what they love, and it can be almost impossible to predict what that is from day to day. Also, Harry Potter built up an incredible YA and adult fan base, who grew up with the books. With these books being published multiple times a year, Scholastic will lose that very important aspect of the fan base- fans won’t have time to grow with the series. Yet, there is something to be said for instant gratification, and most kids these days are used to that instant result when they ask for something. Plus, the online and gaming tie-ins will add a new twist to the marketing scheme, one that Harry Potter had to do without when the first few books were published.

What do you think? Is Scholastic trying too hard here? Will “The 39 Clues” be a success? More importantly, will you read the series?

Books I Want to Read

I find that I am constantly adding to my list of “must-read books”. It’s all the kidlitosphere’s fault, I tell you! Everyday I read new reviews of books that I suddenly have to read. On the one hand, I wonder how I ever found books before blogging. On the other hand, I now know why I am so poor. :) With the holidays coming up, I will continue to be poor, but I can still wish (and make wishlists)!

Here are the latest additions to my list of books I must, must, must read as soon as humanly possible. ;)

The Luxe: I admit it, I was a huge fan of the Gossip Girls series a few years ago. Now, I am utterly addicted to the TV show. Yes, it seems a little trashy, but we all need a break sometimes. The Luxe has been reviewed sporadically around the kidlitosphere (it is a YA title), and I am already in love with it! This is at the top of my list.

Letters from Rapunzel: I love reading stories that rework our favorite fairy tales. I also love authors who know that kids can read books about intense issues. Letters from Rapunzel takes two of my favorites and places them in one book. I need to get my hands on this one!

Sweethearts: Sara Zarr. Need I say more?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox: Mary Pearson is a fellow blogger, and I have been lurking on her blog lately. I love the blurb for this book and can’t wait to read it.

The Declaration I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble last week, and the cover immediately caught my eye. Then, I read the inside cover to discover that it is a science-fiction/dystopian novel (one of my favorites). I definitely need this book!

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Faeries of Dreamdark): Ok, ok! Every blog I read calls this one of the best books of the year. I need to read it so that I can make that judgement myself. :)

The Host: A Novel: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Love it. It is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I am very interested in seeing what Meyer’s first adult novel is like. I heard that ARCs are finally making their way out into the world…..

I should probably stop there. I have too many books on my wishlist. And it only grows bigger everyday!

Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam is a unique novel told in alternating viewpoints- Cracker, the german shepherd and her handler, Rick.

The story begins with Willie, a young boy who is forced to give up his dog when his father loses his job and the family must move to a small apartment. Willie is brave enough to give Cracker to the United CD602F6B-138B-4479-BE64-D57544294E3E.jpgStates military where she will be trained to sniff out booby traps in Vietnam. At Fort Benning, Cracker is paired up with Rick, a seventeen-year old private. Cracker is a stubborn dog and makes Rick earn her respect, but once he does they are an unstoppable team. Cracker loves her new job and Rick is convinced she will be “the best dog in Vietnam”. Together they train for survival in Vietnam. Once the two ship out, they are involved in a secret mission with special forces, a few routine missions, and a battle with the Vietcong that left me in tears.

This is a very powerful book, and very appropriate for the times we live in. The story is set during the Vietnam War, so there is definitely some violence. However, none of it is gratuitous and it is appropriate to the story being told. The alternating viewpoints were a great narrative device: anyone who has ever wondered what a dog is thinking will love the story told through Cracker’s eyes. The novel is also a great way for a new generation to learn about the Vietnam War and it’s effects.

I shed more than a few tears over this story. I was attached to Cracker within the first few pages, and I felt the fear and terror that Rick experienced during his tour in Vietnam. The topic of military dogs was unfamiliar to me and I enjoyed learning about our country’s use of the dogs’ intelligence and natural instincts to save many lives in Vietnam. I would recommend this novel to my 6th graders- specifically dog lovers and those who enjoy war books. I also see this in the running for the Scott O’Dell Award, and maybe even the Newbery.

Hot Gift Books for Middle Grade Students

About a month ago, I posted my first “Hot Books in My Classroom” list. For this months list, I will be making a list of books that are currently popular in my classroom, along with books that were popular earlier this year. These are books my 6th grade students love, and run the gamut of levels and genres.

For the Middle Grade Student Dreading Middle School:

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff: Told through a year of “stuff”- notes, 1C785909-3E2D-4FE4-A1BA-2C2F6FE28EB7.jpgassignments, lists, cards, receipts, postcards, articles, and comics, my students can’t put this book down. Over the past 2 weeks, I have seen my single copy in a different student’s hands each day. This novel appeals mostly to girls, who identify with Ginny’s desire to finally have a great year at school (and actually have a decent school picture, “for once!”). A great book for girls who are reluctant readers. This hardcover edition also makes a perfect present.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: I have not seen B2508F29-2851-468F-A870-2F4E2DA693C5.jpgany of my 3 copies of this book since October. Boys and girls alike are devouring this illustrated novel about Greg’s middle school adventures (and misadventures!). Perfect for reluctant readers of either gender, this is a must-have!

Shopaholics (and shopaholic wannabees!):

The Clique: Too young for Gossip Girl, but still love 73C2ECD8-B888-4F86-B5E1-7594EDB33604.jpgthe idea of wealth and unlimited shopping in a middle school age group? My girls are eating these books up. This is another series that is being passed around my classroom like candy. Series are a great way to hook a lot of kids into reading!

Wannabe Detectives:

The Face on the Milk Carton: I remember reading Caroline Cooney’s Janie series when I was in middle 537F76F7-FA83-4119-B296-DB297B0C9213.jpgschool. Scholastic began offering the books this year and my boys and girls alike are fascinated by Janie’s life. A good series for kids who are interested in mysteries and adventure. Janie’s story is exciting and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I have had more than one student who completed the first book in the series tell me that they have gone looking for their own baby pictures, “Just to make sure”!

Double Identity: If they love Haddix’s other books, “Double Identity” is a great mystery for middle grade readers. A quick read with a slight 4D786681-4A7E-4680-8D6E-ED7C98EC252D.jpgsci-fi overtone. 2 thumbs up from my class! Not unlike her The Shadow Children Boxed Set series, this novel is more realistic to many readers.

Fantastic Fantasy:

Tuck Everlasting: The DA49DC5F-F9FD-4071-AE0A-50F1CE0CBD39.jpggreatest children’s book ever written, my students have fallen in love with Babbitt’s beautiful story. Every child should have the opportunity to read this fantastic love, life, and family story.

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1): My boys have started reading “Eragon” and “Eldest” over the last E16448AB-62BE-497B-AB43-70245DE2A9EF.jpgfew weeks. They have been reading them from cover to cover and comparing notes. Paolini draws a rich and vivid fantasy world that immediately draws in the reader. A nice addition to any fantasy collection.

Realistic Fiction for Realistic Kids:

Rules (Newbery Honor Book): Cynthia Lord’s story of a pre-teen girl and her struggle to come to terms with her brother’s autism is a story that will bring a tear to the eyes of many readers. This novel has quietly 0003E06B-0F4A-4BD4-8EFF-E78D0C4CD719.jpgbeen making waves in my classroom, rarely gathering dust on the bookshelf. Many of the same students who enjoy this book also enjoy Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World.

This is by no means a complete list- hopefully, this list and my prior Hot Books list have given you some good ideas for your middle grade reader this holiday season!

Poetry Friday

I am hoping for a snow day soon! And we are scheduled to get a nor’easter this weekend, though it may just be rain. This poem is perfect for my current snow-thoughts.

Winter-Time
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,   
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;   
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,   
A blood-red orange, sets again.   
   
Before the stars have left the skies, 
At morning in the dark I rise;   
And shivering in my nakedness,   
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.   
   
Close by the jolly fire I sit   
To warm my frozen bones a bit; 
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore   
The colder countries round the door.   
   
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap   
Me in my comforter and cap;   
The cold wind burns my face, and blows 
Its frosty pepper up my nose.   
   
Black are my steps on silver sod;   
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;   
And tree and house, and hill and lake,   
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.
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