Monday, August 10, 2009

Crossing the Wire

Crossing the wire--the wire being the border between Mexico and the United States. Always a risky thing to attempt, but after September 11, 2001, it is even more dangerous. Why do so many Mexicans try it—risk deportation, jail, and even death to reach el Norte? For the two fifteen-year-olds in this story, it was for entirely different reasons. Friends for a very long time, Rico and Victor both make the decision to go to el Norte, the United States. Rico--whose family has a nice home and although not rich, are not poor either--sees the United States as a place where people have beautiful homes with swimming pools and fancy cars. That is the life he wants and he leaves with the $1500 needed to pay the coyotes (smugglers) to help him across the border, leaving Victor behind. But Victor, the sole support of his family since his father's death, must find work that will pay enough that he can send money back to Mexico for his mother and siblings. He doesn't have the necessary $1500, so he is going to try to find a way on his own. Desperate to make it across, they both encounter danger from thieves, gangsters, drug runners, and rattlesnakes, not to mention the most formidable enemy of all--the desert.
As Americans, we frown upon those who cross the border illegally to find jobs in our country. Will Hobbs writes this story from Victor’s point of view to help us understand the desperate circumstances that leave many Mexicans no choice but to cross the wire for their family’s survival.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

How it was supposed to be..…I was supposed to play the piano. That is was Zoe Elias wanted to do. She wanted to play classical music on the piano at Carnegie Hall wearing a ball gown and tiara. It would be sophisticated and worldly. She would wear white gloves that came to her elbows and she would delicately pull them off one finger at a time as the audience waited with anticipation for her to begin.

How it is…..I play the organ. Zoe Elias's father has agoraphobia (a fear of crowds) and when he went to buy the piano he got nervous and bought an organ instead…a wood grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze bag organ. So instead of playing beautiful, sophisticated classical music, Zoe is playing TV theme songs from the 80's. She begins taking lessons from Ms Person (that’s Per-saaahn) who is full of tidbits of wisdom as well as delightful exclamations such as Mozart’s postman, Chopin’s toaster, and Beethoven’s barbershop, and soon Zoe is scheduled to compete in the Perform-a-Rama!

Nothing goes the way Zoe plans. She is dumped by her best friend at school but befriended by Wheeler, considered a troublemaker by his teachers. Wheeler begins spending every afternoon after school in Zoe's kitchen with her father baking cookies and pastries. And Zoe is playing a wheeze bag of an organ instead of the piano of her dreams. And even though none of it is as Zoe dreamed, it turns out to be "a crooked kind of perfect" and she wouldn't trade it for the world.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Naked Mole-rat Letters

Frankie Wallop is normally a straight-A student, but her life begins to reel out of control when she discovers her father, a widower, has met someone while at a conference in Washington, D.C. Frankie begins to correspond with the lady through emails, trying to discourage her interest in her father by telling some outrageous lies. The lies get bigger and more out of hand as Frankie tells more and more lies to cover up the ones she has already told. As Sir Walter Scott says, "O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." It all begins to affect her grades, friendships, and family's lives until Frankie must face the consequences of her storytelling. Through her emails with her father's new friend--the rat lady (a zoo-keeper in charge of the naked mole-rats) Frankie begins to grow and the real reason she is so unhappy is slowly revealed. Written mostly in diary entries and emails, this Rebecca Caudill 2010 nominee by Mary Amato has humor and even a few vocabulary lessons along with the life lessons Frankie learns.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Elephant Run

It was 1941 and every night the Germans were bombing London. It became routine for 14-year-old Nick Freestone to wake up to the air raid sirens and go to the subway tunnels until the all clear siren was sounded. Routine, that is, until a bomb destroyed his apartment. Then his mother decided it was time for him to go live with his father on his teak plantation in the jungles of Burma (present day Myanmar) where it was safe. Of course, there were the poisonous snakes, leeches, tigers, leopards, swarms of biting insects, wild elephants and more dangerous animals and diseases. It turns out they were the least of Nick's problems because the Japanese were invading all of Southeast Asia. Within his first few days in Burma, an enraged elephant cracked his ribs, the Japanese took over the plantation, his father was made a prisoner in a labor camp, and Nick was forced to become a house servant to the Japanese Colonel who had set up camp in their plantation home. With the help of his new friend, Mya, and her great-grandfather, a very old and highly respected monk and mahout (elephant handler), Nick makes plans to escape to Australia. However, Nick does not intend to leave Burma without his father or Mya's brother, Indaw. His determination, a Freestone family trait, will put everyone is danger before it is over. The danger and suspense in this 2010 Rebecca Caudill nominee starts at the very beginning of this book and continues until the very end.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dragon Slippers

In this Rebecca Caudill 2010 nominee, orphans Creel and her brother must go to live with a poor aunt and uncle who cannot afford two more mouths to feed. Creel’s aunt decides the best solution is to sacrifice Creel to a dragon living in a cave above Carlieff. She hopes a young knight will come to rescue her and take Creel and her family to live with him in his castle. However, the dragon Creel encounters is old and tired and does not wish to fight, so he strikes a bargain with Creel. In return for saving him from a battle with the knight, Creel may choose any pair of shoes from his hoard and then she may leave to go to seek her fortune in the king’s city. She is very talented at sewing and embroidery and hopes to find work in the city and eventually open her own shop. When Creel settles on a beautiful blue pair of slippers that fit like a glove, the dragon is aghast but keeps his promise and Creel sets off for the king’s city. Along the way, a band of young thieves accosts Creel and yet another dragon rescues her. Creel stays with Shardis, the dragon, while she prepares some samples of her work to present to future employers, and they become very good friends. When she finally leaves to begin her new life, she is unprepared for the big city and is nearly taken off to jail when she is rescued by none other than Prince Luka, who becomes her friend.

Creel slowly begins to realize the power of the blue slippers, but it may be too late to save her kingdom, friends, and family when the evil Princess Amalia steals them. How can Creel undo the damage that she has brought to everyone, including the dragons of the kingdom? A fairy tale full of dragons, princes, and adventure, Dragon Slippers is a good read!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


In this sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker, Matt Cruse and Kate De Vries take off in another high flying adventure – this time the goal is space!

Matt is working a summer job piloting an aerotug in Paris where France is building the Celestial Tower – a tower designed to reach all the way to outer space. And Kate is preparing to present her talk on the aerozoans,
the electrifying squid/jellyfish they encountered in Skybreaker. But they are excited when both are invited to be part of Canada's space program. First Matt must undergo rigorous training to qualify for the mission, but Kate is guaranteed a spot on board as an expert in high-altitude life-forms.

Only 3 astralnauts are to be chosen, and in the end Matt is not among the top 3. His disappointment is overwhelming until one of the chosen 3 breaks his leg before the launch and Matt is next in line to replace him.

The spaceship, Starclimber, is attached to Earth by an astral cable, a thin cable made of a metal found in only in meteorites. And when the cable fails, the crew of the Starclimber must find a way to pilot the ship back to earth without engines or rockets of any sort or be lost in outer space. Mechanical problems, sabotage, and encounters with strange alien life-forms test their courage and ingenuity.

This is the third book featuring Matt and Kate (the first being Airborn), and like the others, is an exciting read full of peril and strange new creatures.
To read more about this series and see pictures, visit the author's site

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John

One day eleven-year-old Martine is living in cold England where a snowstorm is predicted and the next day she is in hot South Africa where the heat is extreme. Martine cannot believe how quickly her life has changed. Orphaned by a fire that killed her parents in England, she must now go to live with her only relative—a grandmother she did not even know she had and who doesn’t seem to want her. Martine’s loneliness and sorrow are intensified when no one shows to pick her up at the airport and take her to the game preserve that her grandmother owns and operates. Eventually, Tendai, her grandmother’s employee comes and stops on the way home to visit his Aunt Grace, a Zulu healer with the second sight. Grace pronounces that the child (Martine) has the ‘gift’. African legend tells that a child who rides the white giraffe will have power over all the animals. Is this Martine’s destiny? The white giraffe is just a legend—or is it? How can it be that her mother and father never talked of her grandmother and her home in Africa? Why doesn’t grandmother want her? In spite of the way her grandmother feels and the difficulty she has making friends at her new school, why does she feel immediately at home in South Africa, as if that is where she was always supposed to be? Then one night when the white giraffe appears, it seems Grace’s prediction about Martine‘s destiny is about to become reality. Read this Rebecca Caudill 2010 nominee to find out the answer to these questions.