Teen Read Week and Author

Had a wonderful conclusion to Teen Read Week today, Skyping with Paul Volponi during student lunch hours. Amazing how many students turned out to be writing something themselves!


Teen Read Week

October 17-23 is Teen Read Week. this year's theme: Books with Beat. We'll be holding contests and giving away books, then chatting with a YA author to finish up on Friday!


Mockingjay Fever

Yes, the buzz has been building, as two lucky students checked out our first copies of Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, the third in the Hunger Games series. Other students have purchased their own copies, and all (including me) are racing to be the first to finish, and find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta!


Teens Behind Bars

I just finished two books in a row about teen boys under detention. In Paul Volponi's Rikers High, he has fictionalized an amalgam of several students' experiences on Rikers Island, as told to him. The callousness of guards, the brutality of fellow inmates, and the attitudes of teachers both good and bad, all are described by the young protagonist.

Todd Strasser's Boot Camp is about the experiences of boys and girls who are kidnapped from their parents' homes, to be interred at private "Boot Camps", once again based on the author's research into existing institutions. Guards and inmates are incredibly similar to those in the Volponi book, although these guards are not allowed to beat the "campers", so they encourage other teens to do it for them. The only rule is not to leave marks.


Summer days... and nights

It's summer... so it's time for another Susan Beth Pfeffer, This World We Live In. This one is a sequel to the first two books, Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone. Miranda is 17 now, and her world seems to be thawing from the winter of starvation that her family has endured in a small Pennsylvania town. Although the sun hasn't been able to break through the ash-filled clouds, some food is becoming available, and the electricity comes on sometimes. Matthew and John are itching to travel and have adventures, but their mother seems weaker from her self-enforced starvation. Warm days, more food, and returning strength means they'll have more contact with others who have survived the earthly results of a change in the moon's orbit, including Alex and Julie Morales.


It's International Steampunk Day

In honor of International Steampunk Day, here are some great YA novels for adventure-loving young steampunkers.

I recently finished The Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade. In Victorian London,


Not Ready for Armageddon

I just finished listening to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, a mashup of Harry Potter, the Da Vinci Code, and Revelations, with a wicked sense of humor. Imagine that a switchup of newborns in the hospital could lead to the Antichrist being raised as a normal British boy, while an American envoy's son gets saddled with the name "Warlock", and a third baby gets left out in the cold.

Meanwhile, a smooth agent of the devil, Crowley, and a self-satisfied angel, Aziraphale, are plotting to bring about the end of the world as we know it, aided by four horsemen on Harleys, and a Hellhound. Oh, there's more... there's the attractive young descendent of an ancient witch who wrote the entirely accurate Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a Witch Hunter Sargeant, his Jezebel of a neighbor, a meek young apprentice Witch Hunter... and many other eccentric characters. They're all heading for Lower Tadfield to witness the apocalypse, but trip over themselves and each other along the way. The humor is biting, but the hellhound isn't!


ICE is nice

The annual ICE Conference in Illinois is like a massive transfusion of high-test for educators. The keynote speakers, spotlight sessions, breakout presentations, vendor booths, and just plain networking opportunities are fuel for finishing out the school year, and inspiration for our summer curriculum work.


Ooooo, Mr. Darcy

To get in the mood for Valentine's Day, I've been reading again about everyone's favorite heartthrob, Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy.

First, I read Amanda Grange's Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. On their wedding day, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet each thinks she is "the happiest woman alive". But, as Lizzy's beloved Darcy reads his mail in the carriage after the festivities (hey, at least he wasn't texting an old girlfriend), he abruptly changes their honeymoon plans. Off they go, to Paris. It sounds like a newlywed's dream, but Lizzy wonders why her new husband never comes to her room at night. As a proper English gentlewoman, Liz has no idea how to change this state of affairs. Maybe he’s distracted by seeing all those lithe, gorgeously dressed Parisian friends again - and they are taking an interest in Darcy, while acting downright hostile to Lizzy.

Eventually they leave Paris, and head across France toward the alps and the castle of Darcy’s uncle, Count Polidori. And werewolves. And mysterious fortune-tellers. And more hostile relatives. And suspicious villagers. And more lonely nights in her solitary room. Darcy still doesn’t come to her, even when Lizzy works up the courage to visit his empty room. Maybe he’s afraid of that bat…
If you love innocent English maidens in love with brooding men who are tortured by secrets they cannot share, then this will be your cup of tea.

My second Valentine selection was Duty and Desire, the second in Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman trilogy. No zombies, no vampires, no steampunk. Just Darcy, trying to forget Elizabeth Bennet. The trilogy is organized as a parallel to Pride and Prejudice, from Mr. Darcy’s romantic point of view, and this book covers the time after he and Bingley have left Netherfield, but before he bumps into Elizabeth again at Rosling.

Darcy has decided that the only way to drive away his unpleasantly pleasant memories of Elizabeth, is to look for a more appropriate wife among his old Cambridge friends and acquaintances. So, it’s off to the old country estate of Lord Sayre, with his man’s man Fletcher wading through the below-stairs dirt on the group of gambling, drinking, flirting houseguests. I found the gentlemen's conversations on news and politics the most interesting part. They discuss their fears of General Lud's followers, and Lord Byron's shocking address to Parliament. Jane Austen never hinted at what was happening in the world outside the balls and shops of her country towns and London townhouses! This is otherwise a classic Gothic tale: mysterious figures in the dark, macabre surprises, fainting ladies (and lusty ones, too), saber duels… Is there a prospective bride in the house?


Another Favorite Frankie

OK, friends have been recommending The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, to me for a long time. Descriptions made it sound like another "spunky girl" YA novel, so I kept putting it off as I read Austen mashups, and William Gibson, and steampunk novels. Finally, I was forced to read it for a booktalk I gave to teachers last week.

Yes, Frankie is a spunky girl, a geeky high school freshman in search of a boyfriend. And yes, she suffers an amazing transformation over the summer and returns to her tony prep school in the Berkshires with a new set of "ladies" and a determination to show up her philandering ex-boyfriend by landing the most popular and privileged boyfriend at Alabaster boarding school. But Frankie wants to be listened to, not ogled. She's full of complicated thoughts that her family and boyfriend dismiss out of hand.

Worst of all, her boyfriend Matthew is king of the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, a secret society that Frankie's father had told her all about. Matthew and his co-king Alpha won't even admit to its existence, as they plan lame, unimaginative pranks. When Frankie poses as a male Bassett online, she uses her research paper for a class on "Cities, Art and Protest" (included, with bibliography) to plan & execute elaborate art-happening social-commentary campus pranks. Her research and thoughts on class awareness, wealth and privilege, and urban anarchy could lead readers to emulate her campaign at their own schools. Or, at least to get a decent salad bar in the cafeteria.