Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Shadow Children Sequence by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My 4th graders can't get enough of this book. They whine. They plead. They sulk if we don't read it.
Luke is a third child in a resource-scarce society that allows only two children per family, so he spends his days in hiding. Officially, he does not exist. He has met no-one except his mother, father, and two older brothers. When the woods that surround his house are cut down to make room for an upscale housing development, Luke is forced further in to isolation no longer allowed even to eat at the family table for fear of being seen through the window. However, the new houses bring an unexpected gift to Luke when he discovers another "shadow child" living nearby. Only this third child has no intention of remaining hidden, and Luke must decide if he is willing to step out from the shadows. This is the first book in a series of six.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Barkbelly by Cat Weatherill

I passed my new favorite book Barkbelly a few times before I actually checked it out of the library. I was intrigued by the title and drawn by Peter Brown's cover illustration, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to read a book about a wooden boy. Pinocchio was one of my least favorite fairy tales growing up. The third time I saw it I felt as if the book gods were trying to tell me something, so I gave up. Thank heavens! Cat Weatherill is a master of word craft. Her inventive imagry is breathtaking. Literally.
" The land fell away into an immense floodplain, ringed by mountains. A river shimmered through it like a dropped necklace." (79)
Weatherill's background is in performance storytelling and the book is surely meant to be read aloud. Her language flows like a river of rainbows from your tongue.
Barkbelly is a flawed hero with a wooden chest but a heart of gold. The world he moves in is alive, much like our own, with an array of good, evil and inbetween characters but with more interesting names like Candy Pie, Taffeta Tything, and Samovar Rubek.
Snowbone is the sequel.
I never actually completed this book. However, I would still have it in my library if only to be able to whip it out when I needed examples of really good writing.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

I just started reading this with my 6th grade class, a very discerning audience, and they are hooked. Well, I wasn't exactly taking risks when I chose this because, as you can see from the cover, other discerning audiences think it is good too.
This non-fiction reads like fiction and Murphy does all the things good fiction writers do. The opening chapter transports the reader to Philedelphia and we are surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of 18th Century urban America. This chapter ends with the image of Yellow Fever as a silent and deadly stalker roaming the streets of Philadelphia. Ooooh, sixth graders love that stuff!
Murphy deftly mixes social and political history without losing his narrative flair and, therefore, his audience. Murphy's advice for non-fiction writers is, "Whatever you do, write visually!" and realistic descriptions of open sewers and bowel movements certainly stick in the reader's mind. His genius in writing for younger readers is his ability to bring this major historical event down to a personal level where the choices of one person can be seen to affect the course of history itself.
If you wanted to pair and compare An American Plague with a fictional account of the event, the riveting Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is a great choice. It tells the story of a 14 year old girl whose family runs a coffee house in ill-fated Philadelphia. Anderson's book is well researched and uses many of the same characters and events as Murphy's.