Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant

“This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love. ” (page 1, Walt Disney’s Cinderella )

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite authors, and one I frequently rely on for great mentor texts. When I saw that she had retold Walt Disney’s Cinderella with illustration by Mary Blair, I knew I had to read it. The book does not disappoint.

This is the traditional, Disney version of Cinderella. However, Rylant has put her trademarks of beautiful language and deft storytelling on this edition. The story is gorgeous. Though you already know what happens, you can’t help but to keep turning the pages. And I noted so many spots that I can’t want to point out to my students. It is just a gorgeous book!

Mary Blair’s illustrations are also awe-inspiring. Blair was one of Walt Disney’s most brilliant conceptual designers, defining the look of classic Disney films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. She spent 34 years working as an artist for Disney. Her illustrations are immediately call to mind the classic Disney films that she helped create. Each page is full of large brush strokes, gorgeous backgrounds, and complementary colors. There were many pages that I wish I could have as a print to hang in my home! (If you click on the link, you can search inside the book on Amazon. It’s not the same as viewing them in person, but you get a good feel for the mood the illustrations set).

This is a purchase I am very glad I made. In fact, I can imagine sharing this beautiful book with my own children someday. It’s just that wonderful and classic!

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a news junkie. And I love following major cases. I am also a Law and Order addict. So when I received an advance copy of Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl, I was thrilled.

Alice has lived with Ray since she was ten. The neighbors assume he is her father, and look upon him as a hard-working father struggling to make ends meet.

Assume.

A funny word.

Because Ray is the farthest thing from a father.

Kidnapped when she was 10, Alice is now 15. Her life is a nightmare and she wants nothing more than for Ray to kill her, ending the abuse and violence she has been tortured with daily. She knows it’s coming soon, because she is getting too old for him- he likes little girls, not teenagers. But before she can die, Ray forces her to find the new “Alice”, a replacement.

This book is haunting, nightmare-inducing, and horrific. It’s not a story that readers will identify with, but you won’t be able to put it down. Alice’s situation is beyond description. You will want to stop reading, but you won’t be able to. I read the book in one sitting, unable to stop even though I wanted nothing more than for it to be over.

I don’t think a review can do this book justice. Living Dead Girl is a fantastic YA book (for older teens), and has significant crossover appeal in the adult market. Scott has captured Alice’s voice in an unforgettable manner. She is equal parts 10 year old and jaded adult. She is a good person and a horrific person. She is deeply flawed, but only because of what Ray has done to her. As a character, she is completely fascinating. Scott has produced an unforgettable novel that will be a hit with teens and adults alike.

Princeton Children’s Book Festival/Blogger Meet-up

Save the Date! The Princeton (NJ) library will be holding its annual Children’s Book Festival on September 13.  Check out the list of confirmed list of authors that will be in attendance!  Some of my favorites are Dan Gutman, Wendy Mass, Rebecca Stead, and Sarah Beth Durst.  I will definitely be in attendance- will you?

Still curious?  Here’s a bit more information from the website:

The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is an annual event each September at the Princeton Public Library and the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza.

Our community is one that loves their library and loves books. The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is a celebration of this pairing. This well attended event continues to grow yearly and promises something for everyone. Here you may meet your favorite author or illustrator, listen to them discuss their work, have a book autographed or just have the opportunity to talk to them about their inspiration.

From picture book authors and illustrators to children’s fiction writers, live entertainment for children and their families and many activities throughout the afternoon, The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is an event that should not be missed.

The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 12-5:00 PM.
The Festival will be held at the Princeton Public Library and the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Plaza located at 65 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542.
For additional information about the Festival please contact Allison Santos.

Liz B. over at A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy suggested a NJ/PA bloggers meet up.  I’m in- are you??  Stay tuned for more details!

Violet on the Runway by Melissa Walker

Violet Greenfield wants nothing more than to be able to fade into the background of high school. Unfortunately, her height makes that almost impossible. To compensate for her long legs and ever-growing body, she tries to dress inconspicuously and avoids drawing any attention to herself. Even her job, at the small hometown movie theater is designed to keep her hidden- anyone in their right mind (even Violet) goes to the megaplex across town to see a movie.

In Violet on the Runway , Violet’s life is forever changed the day she meets the woman in Chanel glasses at the movie theater. In the midst of complaining about her movie-going experience, the woman is stunned by Violet and hands over a card for Tryst modeling, asking if Violet is “signed anywhere”. Violet accepts the card, but laughs it off. However, over the next few days the card burns a hole in her pocket. Is this woman, Angela, right? Could she possibly be model material? She eventually decides to take the plunge, which takes her and her mother to New York for go-sees, appointments with designers. When four designers choose Violet to walk their Fashion Week runways, she is suddenly thrust into a whole new world.

Is modeling all that it’s cracked up to be? Can Violet survive being a runway model, the next “It” girl, and a high school senior? Can her life back home and her relationships with friends and family stay intact? Most importantly, can Violet survive, intact?

I really enjoyed this book! It was a great look at the world of modeling and glamour, but with a likable heroine. Violet is genuine and real, you feel like you know her. She struggles and makes mistakes, but you don’t blame her. She just wants to be something more than P-L-A-I-N. And really, isn’t that what we all want in middle school and high school?

I plan to recommend this to students who enjoy THE CLIQUE novels and Meg Cabot’s AIRHEAD. And I am thrilled that it is perfectly acceptable for 6th graders. I often have a hard time finding acceptable readalikes for these books, and Violet on the Runway fits the bill. Even better? It’s a series (be sure to check out Violet by Design and Violet In Private )! I already sent a recommendation to a few of my former students who I know will enjoy Walker’s books.

This month, Melissa Walker’s Violet books are the pick of the month at readergirlz. And there’s more! I was excited to see an opportunity to win a signed copy of the book on Hope’s Bookshelf. And the author, Melissa Walker, is having a release month party on her blog where she is giving away a book she has read and loved every day. The grand prize is going to be signed copies of the Violet trio.

Breaking Dawn Thoughts (Spoilers included!)


I am not going to do a full-on review of Breaking Dawn because they will be all over the place soon enough. Plus, the Twilight series is like candy to me, fluffy fun. I love the series, but I don’t think it warrants a literary review. I don’t want to ruin my happy thoughts. ;)

I am interested in your thoughts, though! So please comment and let me know what you thought.

The Good:

  • The wedding- I am glad it happened, and I loved how everyone was involved. I especially loved that Jacob came back.
  • Esme’s island. How perfect!
  • The werewolves. I thought the pack was absolute perfection, and the division of the pack was even better.
  • The second part of the book being in Jacob’s voice. I will be honest and admit I did not like it when Meyer’s went to Jacob’s voice in previous books. But in this one? I loved it. Jacob was a welcome break from Bella’s drama. And I loved getting to see Jacob mature and grow a little more. I would definitely read a book about Jacob in the future.
  • Jacob imprinting in Nessie. This is going to be in the good and bad column, I love when books tie up loose ends and leave everyone happy. Having Jacob imprint on Nessie really made everyone one big, happy family. But at the same time…..
  • The Volturi came back! And were creepy! And bizarre!
  • I thought that naming the baby Renesme was actually pretty realistic. What I mean is, so many young mothers today use these crazy names! Even if they think they are doing good, naming the baby after other people important to them, the names still sound crazy. And while Bella could be mature in some ways, she is also very immature. I thought the crazy name fit her personality. Plus, how true is it that everyone else always picks the nickname for a kid, and the mother never likes it!
  • The happy ending appeased me. Realistic? Hell no. Fulfilling and pure fantasy? You got it! I mean, we are talking about vampires here, people. Realism was never really the issue for Twilight.
  • I loved that we met more of the nomads, the South America vampires, and the Irish.
  • We got to see more of Carlisle, which was great. He is one of my favorite characters and spends way too much time in the background.

And the Bad:

  • The book felt rushed, despite being almost 800 pages long.
  • The conflict with the Volturi was extremely rushed. It was also anti-climactic.
  • Bella whined even more than usual, and was kind of a witch to Edward when she got pregnant.
  • Nessie, Nessie, Nessie. She just seemed to be a Mary Sue character. She never really developed beyod what we learned about her the first time Bella held her.
  • Bella got everything she wanted in a neat little bow. Edward, a baby, her whole family involved in her life, a new girlfriend to take care of Charlie, Jake in her life, she gets to stay in Forks, etc.
  • There was a major gross factor in this book, with Nessie tearing out of her mother’s stomach. It almost felt like Meyer was writing for the movie version of Breaking Dawn, knowing people would want ACTION!ACTION!ACTION! The Twilight movie preview doesn’t make me want to see the movie because it seems to dwell on the horror/vampire aspect of the story, which the book never did. But this time it seemed like the book was being written to fit that version of the events.
  • The wolves aren’t werewolves? Just shapeshifters? And this information is thrown out there randomly, in the last 50 pages, with not more explanation?
  • The sex. I’m sorry, but this was not a book I expected to revolve around sex for 600 pages. And while there are no graphic sex scenes, it was alluded to enough to make me uncomfortable reading it. Had I expected it going in it would have been different, but I didn’t. The headboard, torn pillows, etc were a bit much for me.
  • The fact that Bella was willing to stay human longer just for sex. I don’t believe Twilight should be looked at as a “message book” (it’s fluffy candy, like I said), that irritated me. It wasn’t even necessary because they didn’t end up at Dartmouth. The book would have been better served if that aspect had been left out. It was disconcerting to see Bella begging Edward to ravish her, even promising to stay human for him. It was just plain uncomfortable.
  • The lack of Edward in the book also annoyed me. He is my favorite character (I can’t wait for MIDNIGHT SUN) and it seemed like he was placed on the backburner for most of the book. That seems like an odd choice, as most of the teen audience for the books loves Edward.
  • The running in the trees. Was that placed in there purely because of the impending movie?? When the movie preview came out the fandom was shocked to see Edward running along the tops of the trees. That was never mentioned in the books, and suddenly it’s the only way they move in the last installment. Hmmm…

Final Thoughts:

I didn’t make any accurate predictions about the outcome of BREAKING DAWN (other than the Volturi returning in some form). I loved that I had no idea what was coming, even if I did figure out the ending halfway through the book. All in all, I enjoyed the book. It was a happy ending, everything was tied up, and everyone was given their happily (for)ever after. And hey, when I was at various stores this weekend I saw no less than 10 women and teen girls purchasing the book. This was at Target, Walmart, and other various non-bookstores. That always makes this Language Arts teacher smile!

Breaking Dawn

No spoilers!  But I am done.  I am satisfied.  Detailed review to come in the next few days.

The Rise of YA

Say what you will about the decline of pleasure reading among kids, but YA is alive and kicking. How do I know this? How about the fact that “Hundreds of teens camped overnight outside the San Diego Convention Center for a chance to see early footage of the film and get a glimpse at the cast of heartthrobs set to bring the teen-vampire tale to life.”.

What are they talking about? Apparently, Twilight has taken over Comic-Con this year. That’s right, teens who have read and loved a series are such huge fans that they are taking over one of the biggest conventions of the year. Insane! And I absolutely love it. :)

Even better? The article about Twilight fans at Comic-Con is on the front page of Yahoo. Hopefully, this will introduce more adults (and teens) to current YA books. Even if Meyers is not the world’s greatest writer, even if the Twilight saga is not exactly “literary”, even if the books are silly romances- they are getting teens to read! And they are getting adults into the YA section of the library or bookstore. Now we just need to keep both the teens and adults in there and reading!

Breaking Dawn Quote of the Day

Those of you like me, who are anxiously awaiting the the release of BREAKING DAWN, should be sure to check out Stephenie Meyer’s website. She is posting a quote from the book each day leading up to the release. She also did this with ECLIPSE and it’s a ton of fun to try and predict how the quotes are related to the book.

Quote of the Day

My favorite?

Renee: “Alice wouldn’t let us do anything else. Every time we tried, she all but ripped our throats out.”

This means Renee knows!  At least, I think it means that she knows Bella and Edward are a bit different…..

So what do you think?  What is your favorite quote?

Unbelievable!

Thanks to A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy for this link.

For those of who who did not click on the link (or only skimmed the article), Newsweek is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables.  I am a self-professed Anne aficionado.  I grew up reading everything from L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on.  Anne was one of my favorite heroines of classic literature, along with L.M. Montgomery’s Emily.  I read the books in each series over and over and over again.  One of my most prized possessions is a first-run copy of the Emily books that belonged to my grandmother.   I still read Anne and Emily’s stories when I want to relax and escape into a comfortable world away from my own.

No one recommended L.M. Montgomery’s books to me.  I found the Anne series on a bookshelf in one of my teacher’s classroom libraries in elementary school.  As I finished the first novel I searched for the second.  Then the third.  And the fourth.  I did the same with the Emily books.  I connected with both girls and their love of life, books, writing, imagination, family, and nature.  They were never extraordinarily popular with my generation, but occasionally I would find a kindred spirit among my peers.  In my own classroom, I recommend L.M. Montgomery’s books to a few of my students who I know will also connect with Anne and Emily.

The article does bring up a few good points.  Why isn’t Anne treated like other classic literature, i.e. the stories of Twain?  It’s most certainly an easier read than much of canon literature, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it on a suggested summer reading list.  Anne is fun, adventurous, and silly!  L.M. Montgomery succeeded in writing a timeless tale of growing up and growing older. The article also points out Anne’s similarities to women and well-known characters today- Carrie Bradshaw and Hilary Clinton, for example.  Another reason teens and adults today would enjoy reading her stories.  But she isn’t hugely popular.

However, one paragraph in the article made me absolutely furious.

That “Anne” has survived so long—and, with 50 million copies sold, so strong—is a small miracle considering the state of young-adult literature. It’s rare to find a best seller with a strong heroine anymore, in large part because, although girls will read books about boys, boys won’t go near a girl’s book, no matter how cool she is. Even in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, the strong, grounded Bella is willing to chuck it all for the love of her vampire boyfriend. “The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she’s often the sidekick,” says Trinna Frever, an “Anne of Green Gables” scholar. “It is a reflection of a culture that’s placing less value on intelligence, and also treating intelligence as a stigmatized quality.” As smart as Anne is, you aren’t likely to find her in a classroom, either. She has survived largely through mothers who pass the book on to their daughters.

WHAT?!?

First of all, what is with the recent YA bashing going on in the media?  I was unaware that there are no strong girl heroines in literature these days.  And by these days, I mean since 1908, when Anne was first published.  Really?  REALLY?!  There have been no strong female heroines since then?  I had no idea!  Honestly, someone better run out and tell Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ally Carter, Cornelia Funke, Marcus Zusak, Avi, Karen Cushman, Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voight, Jeanne Birdsall, Kate DiCamillo, Meg Cabot, Trenton Lee Stewart, Ann Brashares, Lauren Myracle, E.Lockhart, Libba Bray, Esther Friesner, Jerry Spinelli, Ann Rinaldi, et. al. that they are writing weak female characters!

Seriously?  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY??  Why is it that journalists are suddenly lamenting the lack of “fill in the blank” in modern YA literature?  It is more than obvious that these reporters and bloggers are not doing their research.  One only has to google strong female characters to get list upon list of recent books.  Hell, just to find books published in the last 50 years!  It seems to me that a terrible blight of “woe are we, nothing is like it used to be, what happened to the good old days of real kids books?” is running rampant through our society.  Please, I beg of you, talk to a bookseller or a librarian or a teacher before you publish these ignorant rants.  Even better, talk to a teen!  They can tell you what is out there now and more importantly what they want to read.

Like I said, Anne is a classic.  it doesn’t need to be taught in elementary, middle, or high school.  Sometimes that just takes all the fun out of it!  :)  And don’t worry, some of us did discover her on our own, without someone recommending her to us.  And while we may recommend her to more kindred spirits, plenty of teens and kids will continue to find her on their own.  Anne should be read by those kindred spirits, not forced on everyone and anyone who is of a certain age.  Everyone needs to find their own kindred spirit in YA- whether it be Anne, Emily, Frankie Landau-Banks, Liesel, the Penderwicks, Dicey, Tibby, Gemma, or someone else.  Let’s let the kids find their own heroines!

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a modern-day thriller, akin to 1984 . To be honest, I enjoyed Little Brother a great deal more than 1984 ! The story is action-packed, with thrills around every corner. It’s also extremely frightening, set in not-so-far-off future. You spend much of the novel debating whether the setting is now, 5 years from now, or a hundred years from now. It is so very realistic, with references to the life and times of most world citizens today, but you want more than anything for the story to be from the far-off future. Otherwise, it is too frightening. Doctorow has written a rousing call to arms for a new generation, warning them that giving up their freedom can sometimes be more frightening than the alternative.

nullMarcus is a geek and a typical teenage kid. He loves computers, programming, and hacking. Nothing major, just fun stuff. What he really loves is his online/real world computer game. He and his friends have formed a team and are competing in a worldwide scavenger hunt for the grand prize. Unfortunately, a lot of the clues are released during school. And his high school tracks students, butnot just by their computerized schedule. Oh no- there are “gait cameras” that scan your gait and try to match it to known students. Makes skipping class a little harder than normal. Not to mention the software on their school-issued laptops which tracks every keystroke, website visited, and program opened. Luckily, Marcus has figured out a way around most of the technology employed by the school.

When he and his friends cut class one day, they end up on the streets of San Francisco during the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by the United States- the Bay Bridge explosion. Picked up in the aftermath, Marcus is treated as a hostile enemy combatant and interrogated in a secret prison off the coast, all because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he is finally released, practically under threat of death, he realizes that San Francisco has been turned into a police state, under the control of the Department of Homeland Security. When Marcus decides to fight back and save his city, he uses his technology skills to help his peers work around the new laws and regulations put into place by the new Patriot Act.

This is not an easy book to summarize. So much happens, and so much of it is very difficult to read. It clearly based on current events and Doctorow has written a call-to-arms for a new generation of teens (and adults). What are we willing to sacrifice for our safety? Do terrorists succeed when they fill our daily lives with terror? Is the safety of all more important than the privacy and rights of one? These are tough questions, and the book will leave you thinking long after you put it down.

The book also has fantastic crossover appeal. I see it being a big hit with adults and teens alike. I wouldn’t recommend it any lower than 8th grade, honestly, due to some true-to-life teen sex scenes. However, I think high schoolers will devour this book. It will also make for some great discussions!

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