A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

ghost5.jpgTo all you eighth-graders who come into the library looking for “a book like Twilight,” look no further! I read this book over February vacation, and was completely and entirely transfixed. Basically, it’s a ghost story with big doses of suspense and romance. Although Helen has been dead for over 130 years, her spirit hovers on Earth, where the people she haunts can neither see nor hear her. It’s a lonely but comfortable existence until, one day, somebody sees her. It’s a boy (of course), his name is James, and he begs Helen to leave her current human companion and haunt him instead. I don’t want to give too much away here — I read this book knowing absolutely nothing about it, and the experience was delicious. And how is it like Twilight? you might ask. Well, it’s a great combination of the real and the supernatural, the contemporary and the ancient, and the poetic and the mundane.  It’s positively eerie and will make you wonder if there are any “light spirits” lurking around in your house.

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Ms. Ryan is reading five books right now…

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Whew! It’s one of those seasons where there are WAY too many great books to read and WAY too little time. So I’m reading these five right now: Masterpiece because it’s supposed to be an awesome mystery (by the author of Shakespeare’s Secret); Candyfloss because at least fifteen girls (who all love realistic fiction) have recommended it to me; Dragon’s Keep because it’s on CD, so I can listen to this fantasy in my car; Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker because I need some non-fiction in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s coming birthday; and Broken Soup because it’s supposed to be the best, most tear-jerking teen novel ever (at least for right now). I’ll let you know how they all turn out…

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

feathers.jpgIt’s winter. It’s dreary. Frannie’s life is pretty ordinary. She walks to school with her brother Sean, avoids Trevor, the classroom bully, and stares out the window whenever things get too dull in Math class. Then Jesus Boy comes. He’s the new kid, practically the only white kid in school. Everyone says he looks like Jesus, and Frannie’s friend Samantha thinks he might even be Jesus. But why would Jesus show up at their school? And why does Jesus Boy – with his translucent skin and pale hair – keep saying he isn’t white? And why does he use sign language to speak to Frannie? Does he somehow know her brother is deaf? Suddenly, Frannie’s life seems more full of questions than answers. Nothings seems solid anymore. Is this what growing up means? Over the course of one quiet winter, Frannie confronts the uncertainty, fear, and – most importantly – hope that accompany the end of childhood and the mysterious journey into the future.

Drums Girls & Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonneblick

drums.jpgIf you’re one of those readers who likes “sad” books, then this novel is for you! For years, 14-year old Steven has been irritated with his handsome, angelic, perfect little brother. Where Steven is awkward and ordinary, Jeffrey is sweet and adorable. Just ask any random stranger on the street. Just ask Steven’s own parents!

But there’s no such thing as a charmed life, not even for a beautiful 5-year old boy, and one day, Jeffrey gets sick, really sick. Now, Steven has to deal with his brother’s physical breakdown, his parents emotional breakdowns, and his own dark fears about the future. It’s a good thing he has drum lessons to distract him from all the heaviness at home, right? There’s nothing like music, Steven notices, to comfort a suffering soul. Well, that, and girls. Speaking of which, Renee Albert, whom Steven has liked since Kindergarten, is suddenly acting, all interested in him. Why? Could Steven’s exhausted brain just be imagining something too good to be true? Or does he really have a shot? Grade eight may have started out like any other year, but Steven is in for a series of life-changing experiences that will require all his new-found strength and grace to handle.

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

otherside.jpgAt first this might seem like yet another story with a creepy, overbearing government  controlling the minds and lives of its citizens (think The Giver, The Declaration, The White Mountains, The Matrix), but The Other Side of the Island is full of original language, plot twists, and an impressive, believable cast of characters. In the eighteenth year of Enclosure, way after the flood, a girl named Honor moves with her parents to the Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. There, she learns about Earth Mother and her glorious plan to regulate the weather and maintain peace among her people. Earth Mother is even building an enclosure over the land so that no more storms can decimate the population as they did during the great flood.

But as always in this sort of novel, there’s a group of secret resistance fighters who don’t want Earth Mother to control them; they don’t trust her and they don’t believe she really has their best interests at heart. Among these fighters are Honor’s parents who, to her horror, refuse to follow the strict rules of this society and even have a second child when only one per family is permitted. To compensate, Honor tries to be the perfect student and citizen, earning all A’s in school and obeying every command her teachers make. Unfortunately, Honor’s efforts to fit in aren’t enough to save her parents. One day when she comes home from school, the house is empty. Her parents are gone. And people who disappear on Island 365 don’t ever come back.

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

shootingmoon.JPGBefore Jamie Dexter’s brother goes off to fight in the Vietnam War, she begs him to write her letters from the frontlines. She wants to hear all about the explosions, the tactics, the weapons, and most of all, the glory of war. But when Jamie receives a package from TJ, it isn’t a letter at all. It’s a roll of undeveloped film. Luckily, there’s a developing room on the military base where Jamie and her family live (her father’s a high-ranking soldier himself). As Jamie processes her brother’s film, she comes to see that life in the Vietnam jungle isn’t as wonderful as she imagined; in fact, some of the images are too graphic to show her mother. This is strange. All their lives, Jamie and TJ have dreamed of hand-to-hand combat and doing their duty “the army way.” But TJ’s photos tell a different story: one of loss and fear and indignity and even boredom. If war isn’t as good as it seems, if the military life isn’t the best life, then what sort of person is Jamie supposed to be? Can she find another identity for herself besides that of the colonel’s daughter? And will TJ make it home safely? When his rolls of film suddenly stop arriving, Jamie realizes that her beloved brother might have made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

This is a short, powerful novel that’s fascinating from the first page. It’s not so much about war as about the people left behind – the parents waiting for news, the sister playing cards to pass time, the young men anticipating the day their turn for battle will arrive. I recommend it to anyone who likes photography or history, or anyone who needs to finish a book sheet fast.

Art and the Library!

inoneear.JPGThe library hosts many exhibits of student art work, from collage and pottery to mobiles and and Zen gardens! We’re also lucky enough to sometimes collaborate with the Art teachers on special student projects.

Most recently, the Art Department, the Library, and the Technology Integration Specialist planned an exhibit of sculptures representing cliches and idioms, such as “In One Ear and Out the Other” (above, by Aastha N.) and “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk.”

After completing their sculptures, students wrote and recorded statements about their artistic visions, processes, rewards, and challenges. The final exhibit in the Library included both the sculptures and the Artist Statements, in audio format. Visitors acquired headphones to “tour” the exhibit, just as they do at many museums and galleries around the world. This allowed visitors more partipation in the exhibit, as well as a greater understanding of the concepts and techniques behind the pieces, which really were labors of love, creativity, and intellect.

Click here for an online sample of this exhibit on the Art Department’s website.

Click here to read the 42 Questions students used to write their Artist Statements.

Click here for a presentation on answering the 42 questions and preparing an Artist Statement.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

lucretia.JPGCarrie and Lucas are best friends. They’re fourteen. They’re smart, creative, confident, and inquisitive. They don’t let anyone push them around. They’re interested in art, women’s rights, and international travel. So, they’re the perfect people to stumble upon the biggest art crime in the past hundred years. It all starts with a rude man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it all ends with a grey-haired nun in Amsterdam, Holland. What comes in between is probably my very favorite young adult mystery ever (or at least it’s up there with Gilda Joyce and Enola Holmes).

“Go away,” the man at the Rembrandt exhibit snarls at Kari, when she tries to take a look at what he’s painting. He covers his canvas and gives her a menacing look. What’s the big deal? she wonders. What’s this guy hiding? Is he just embarrassed that maybe he’s a really bad painter or something? But when, almost a year later, Kari and Lucas see the same man, at another museum, parked in front of another Rembrandt painting, in disguise, the girls suspect there’s something more going on with this guy than just low self-esteem. Together, Kari and Lucas conspire to uncover the identity of this mystery man and figure out what he’s up to. But when the investigation leads them into dangerous territory involving kidnapping, fraud, and maybe even murder, will the girls be able to manage it without getting killed – or grounded?

This novel makes it into my top five of 2008, easily. Before long, it will probably start showing up on recommended reading lists all over the place. Read it now, before somebody tells you the end and ruins it for you!

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So, there’s not much need to write about Twilight. I mean, you all know about Stephanie Meyer’s smash-hit series about Bella, the ordinary girl who moves to Washington State and falls in love with a brooding, handsome, centuries-old vampire named Edward Cullen. You all know about Twilight and New Moon and Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. You know about the romance. And the heartbreak. And the werewolves. And the page-turning suspense. And I’m sure you all know about the movie, which is coming out in theatres tomorrow. This is a photo of Edward from the movie. Some student put him up on my computer as a screen saver recently! Anyway, I know a lot of you are going to see it this weekend, so have fun! Maybe I’ll see you at the theatre.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

lifeasweknewit.JPGHoly cow. I finally finished this book. I’ve started it about ten times, recommended it to students, and put it on the summer reading list, but until yesterday, I hadn’t read the whole thing through. That’s because it’s always checked out. It’s super popular among kids and it’s received fantastic reviews from all the critics. I can see why. This book is suspenseful and dark and scary and emotional. In case you don’t know, the plot goes like this: an asteroid hits the moon, pushing it out of its orbit and closer to Earth; as a result, cities are leveled by tsunamis and earthquakes, the climate changes, and the air becomes sooty from thousands of volcanic eruptions. People are dying from starvation and disease. It’s extremely grim. In rural Pennsylvania, Miranda and her family grow increasingly isolated, rationing their food, and boiling snow for water. This winter threatens to be the coldest in history, and there’s no oil. Will anyone survive?

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes survival stories, but be prepared — this is one bleak story! Also, keep a lookout for the companion to this novel, The Dead and the Gone. It’s the same series of events from the perspective of a boy living in Manhattan.

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