Daniel Crawford has always been a bit of a loner, not fitting in at his high school, but now that he is at a summer program for gifted students on a college campus, he hopes to make friends at last. Things are looking up when he meets Abbi and Jordan.
Since the regular dorms are undergoing renovations, the summer students are staying in Brookline, a former psychiatric hospital with a dark and secret past. Dan and his new friends explore the twisting tunnels and dusty rooms underneath Brookline, and in so doing, stir up ghosts that do not want to rest in peace.
Asylum (Harper 2013) by Madeleine Roux is the kind of book that gives me nightmares, but I know I will have students who will enjoy it. If you like the kinds of movies where you want to scream at the main characters for entering into the deserted house or dark woods where the killer is lurking, you will enjoy the fear these pages dredge up. It’s not too gory, but the mind games and bizarre occurrences are chilling.
I picked up Trash (David Flicking Books 2010) by Andy Milligan and read it along side my students. During each class I would share a summary of the bit I had read during that time. Soon students in each class were clamoring to know what became of the three dumpsite boys and the treasure they found in the dump. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), one of my students begged to take the book to read for herself before I could finish writing my response.
Raphael lives, works, eats, and sleeps in the steaming dump outside a major city in a developing country. (The country is unnamed in the story, but in the author’s note, Mulligan shares that it was inspired by his time in the Philippines.) One day he finds a bag that will change his life forever. It contains a map and a key, and the police are desperate to find it and get it back. Raphael and his friends try to stay a step ahead of the police (who are not the good guys in this story) to unravel a secret that can change their lives forever. But first they must survive.
Raphael, Gardo, and Jun-Jun (known as Rat) take turns telling their story (along with the priest and teacher at the mission school by the dump). Each one has a different perspective, but they remain loyal to each other. Raphael shows great courage in his encounter with the corrupt police, but he is innocent in many ways. Gardo is like a protective older brother who can also be sneaky and cunning. Jun-Jun is full of surprises and secrets himself. Their adventures are action-packed and engrossing as they put clues together.
But it is the setting that had the most impact on me. I have read and seen stories about children who live like Raphael, making their meager living from sorting through heaps of trash, but I was horrified to learn how much of the trash consists of human waste. I have seen stories of corruption and police brutality in the news, but seeing it through Raphael’s eyes brought it to life in a much more immediate way. I won’t soon forget their story.
I just finished two more books in the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham. If you missed the first book in the series, let me introduce you to Theodore Boone, a kid who is already well on his way to being a lawyer. He even takes on cases to defend in Animal Court (where no law degree or bar exam is required). In fact, the Animal Court scenes are some of my favorites in these books.
In Theodore Boone: Abduction (Dutton Juvenile 2011), Theo’s best friend April disappears one night, and Theo is probably the last person who talked with her. While the town searches the streets, an escaped convict (and distant cousin of April) is the number one suspect. While the police pursue false leads, Theo and his Uncle Ike try to track down April themselves. Will they find her before it’s too late?
The tables are turned in Theodore Boone: The Accused (Dutton Juvenile 2012). Some one is after Theo. He finds his bike tires repeatedly slashed. Then the police find stolen computer tablets in his locker. The final straw is a picture sent out over the Internet of Theo leaving the police station after being questioned. Theo knows he is innocent, but even he can see that all the evidence is pointing right at him. Can he figure out who robbed the computer store and framed him for the crime? If not, he may get to experience the courtroom from a different side.
Readers looking for a smart kid detective who knows the law will enjoy these mysteries.
I love the Al Capone series by Gennifer Choldenko, and this third installment of Al Capone Does My Homework (Scholastic 2013) is my favorite so far.
Moose Flanagan is back, and now he has even more things to worry about. Natalie is home on break from her school for an entire week, and she still won’t look people in the eyes. His dad is now the associate warden. That’s just like having a target on his back as far as the cons go since they have a point system for taking down guards. How can Moose protect his father from the cons? Piper is acting stranger than usual. Where is she getting all the money she’s throwing around? What else could go wrong? How about a fire that breaks out in the Flanagan’s apartment. Everyone wants to blame Natalie. Can Moose and his friends figure out the real culprit before it’s too late?
Just like in the first two books, Choldenko weaves in facts about life on Alcatraz with a captivating story. I enjoyed reading the Author’s Note at the end that explains where she found inspiration for this story as well as sorts out the fact from fiction. Yes, indeed, prisoners did use cockroach messengers to deliver cigarettes from cell to cell. And once again, Al Capone himself comes through to help Moose if Moose can just figure out the clue in time.
I am always amazed by the variety of voices and genres that Avi writes in. City of Orphans gives yet a new voice in Avi’s historical fiction works. The streets of New York City are a rough place to be as a kid in 1893. Even though many things have changed since then, I couldn’t help but think of city streets today as I read.
Our hero, Maks Geless, sells papers for the The World, but he he hounded by Bruno and the rest of the Plug Ugly Gang. While running from Bruno and the gang, Maks is rescued by Willa, a street kid with an uptown accent. He brings her home where they learn that Maks’s older sister has been arrested and sent to the city jail known as the Tombs. She’s accused of stealing an expensive watch from a patron of the Waldorf Hotel where she works. Maks has four days to prove her innocence with no one to help but an eccentric lawyer, Bartleby Donck, who guides them in the art of detection. Meanwhile, Willa tags along and searches for answers of her own.
Believe it or not, all these different characters and storylines are connected by threads they cannot see, and neither does the reader until close to the end. The narrator brings the city streets to life–filled with crowds and dirt and danger. For the most part I enjoyed the voice of the narrator, who gives the story the feel of an old detective show (the really old shows like Dragnet), but sometimes the strong voice interrupted the flow of the story when giving too much commentary on the action.
After taking a red-eye flight home from Phoenix, I had just about twenty-four hours to unpack, do laundry, and repack for the annual vacation with my husband’s family. Who needs sleep? Saturday morning we loaded up the car and headed to the Wisconsin Dells. We had a great time hiking at Devil’s Lake State Park, touring Circus World, playing at a water park, seeing the sights on a Duck Tour, playing miniature golf, and eating lots of good food. (My absolutely favorite part was watching my nephews perform a magic show for the family every evening. These guys have a future in show business.)
No trip in my life is complete without books. Since I didn’t have to deal with the carry on restrictions from the airlines, I could stuff my bag full of good reads. My husband was horrified at the number of books I took (and bought), but I read six of out seven of the books I packed and three of the six books I bought in Wisconsin. Here are the highlights of my vacation reading.
Dill is desperately trying to hang onto life as she knows it. Her mom is gone, and her dad seems to grow more distant every day. Now her dog Dead End won’t stay home, and there are reports of a pack of wild dogs attacking livestock. Dill refuses to believe that Dead End could be involved. Even the help of her best friend Cub and the support of her grandfather may not be enough for Dill to face the truth. Yes, this is one dog story that will make you cry. At least I needed to keep the tissues handy while reading.
We all know that the boat sinks, but did you know the Titanic carried a terrible secret to her watery grave? Theodor Weiss, a German scientist, is fleeing the German military who wants to use the zombie-causing virus he discovered as a weapon. Despite his best efforts, the virus escapes and infects both passengers and crew. In this scenario, it’s a good thing the boat sank before it reached shore. I’m not a huge zombie fan, but those readers who adore the brain-eating monsters will eat up this story. I did like the portrayal of Captain Smith as a sword-fighting expert and true hero. How could he keep the ship from hitting an iceberg when he was down below slashing off the heads of zombies?
I am so glad to have another good mystery to add to my bookshelves. I’m not the only one who thinks this is a good book since it won a Newbery Honor this year. Miss Moses LoBeau is the perfect combination of endearing (to those who love this lucky girl), infuriating (to the detective trying to solve a murder), curious (to those who have something to hide), and exuberant (to everyone). Throw in a whole cast of quirky characters, a cold-blooded murder, and a brewing hurricane and you have the makings of a great read.
Not only did I read a Newbery Honor book, I also read the book that won the latest Newbery. After hearing all my Nerdy Book Club friends rave about Ivan, now I get it. This is a mind-blowing book. Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a cage at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Even though his domain is small, his heart is larger than any cage. He listens to the stories of Stella the elephant and shelters Bob the stray dog. When Ruby, a baby elephant, joins the motley group, Ivan is determined to find a way to save them all.
One of my students last year bought this book at the book fair and read it before school ended. He assured me that it was one of the best reads ever. He was right. It’s another dog story full of heart. JD is looking for a second chance when he comes home after spending the summer away. No one believes his story about visiting an aunt. When he walks in the door, he does not expect to be surprised by a giant Rottweiler with neurotic problems of his own that JD names Johnny Rotten (yes, after that guy in the Sex Pistols). Will JD and Johnny get a second chance, or will one snap of Johnny’s teeth bring it all to an end?
Six years. Ten concentration camps. Unimaginable horror and loss. Yanek Gruener survives the impossible as a Jewish boy growing up in Poland after the Nazi invasion. Somehow–through a combination of luck, wits, and determination–Yanek survives when everyone around him is dying. This gripping account is based on the true story of Ruth and Jack Gruener. I could not forget that as I read. The courage and inspiration I found in Gruener’s story will stay with me for a long time.
Every year I have students who ask me to recommend ghost stories to read. After showing them the Mary Downing Hahn and Elaine Marie Alphin books in the library, I don’t have many other places to turn. I’m not sure why I haven’t read more ghost stories. They combine many of my favorite things in books: mystery (Why is the ghost haunting a particular place or person? Who caused the death? What would give the ghost peace?) and history (Ghosts tend to be from times past for some reason.). Now I have another author and two more books to recommend: Ruined and Dark Souls by New Zealand writer Paula Morris.
Ruined (Scholastic 2009)
Rebecca struggles to find a place to belong as she adjusts to life in New Orleans after being sent to live with a family friend while her dad is on a long business trip to China. The girls at the snooty prep school ignore her. Gorgeous Anton Grey flirts with her when he’s not ignoring her. Her aunt Claudia reads tarot cards for a living and warns Rebecca to avoid Anton as well as the queen bees at school–Helena and Marianne. The only person who is friendly to Rebecca is Lisette, who haunts the nearby Lafayette Cemetery. Everyone is keeping secrets that Rebecca is determined to uncover as she explores layers of the city’s past. Will Rebecca learn the truth and break the family curse before it is too late?
Dark Souls (Scholastic 2011)
Miranda travels to York, England, with her family, where they hope to put a tragic accident behind them and get on with their lives. How can Rebecca let go of the past when she sees ghosts around every corner? After all, York is one of the most haunted cities in the world. Meeting Nick provides a welcome distraction, even if he is intense and brooding. Then a gorgeous boy in the boarded up house next door seems desperate to communicate with her. Is he one of York’s famous ghosts? As Miranda explores the city’s past and present, she discovers a deadly plot that could put them all in danger.
In both of these books, I loved how the ghostly elements wove in the history of the New Orleans and York. Because they can see ghosts, Rebecca and Miranda are able to peel back the modern facade and see traces of the past that have long since been covered up. New Orleans ghosts are tied to places connected to their lives and deaths, even when progress paves a highway over their homes. In York, Roman ghosts still march along old roads that are now underground. I’m excited to learn that Rebecca’s story continues in another book, Unbroken, where different New Orleans ghosts ask for her help.
I’ve been hearing about this book, so I was excited when my student Avis M gave me a copy of I Hunt Killers for my classroom library. I devoured it in one weekend and handed it off to my co-teacher, who also devoured it quickly. Barry Lyga has created a thrilling page turner that will be a hit with fans of television shows like Criminal Minds. This book trailer shows you what it’s all about:
The best news? There’s a second book, Game, due out next spring.
It’s October and time for a ghost story. Banesville has ghosts stories running on the front page of the newspaper, but Hildy Biddle, high school journalist, is determined to reveal the truth behind the sinister messages left on the porch of the old Ludlow place. Can she and the rest of the staff of the Core uncover the truth behind the swirling rumors and growing fear spread by the local paper, The Bee?
Joan Bauer has filled Peeled (Scholastic 2008) with quirky characters who take on challenges with courage and humor. I love Hildy Biddle. Actually, I wish I could have been her when I was a high school journalist. She is not content with covering just the typical school events, she wants to be a force for truth and have the Core taken seriously. She has to balance her journalistic ambitions with sch0ol, her family’s orchard business, grief over her father’s death, and a possible romance with Zach, her partner in fighting evil. She is helped by her friends (and even ex-boyfriends) as well as the crusty Polton Baker. Minska, who lived through the Solidarity uprising in Poland, offers a safe haven and inspiration to the journalists who must go underground with their news.
There are sleazy bad guys, too. Pen Piedmont, owner and editor of The Bee, thrives on sensationalism. When Hildy and her friends threaten to unmask the ghost stories, he sues the school to shut down their paper. Guys in suits from out of town show up to buy up struggling apple orchards. When the orchard owners don’t want to sell for their low offering price, things start to turn ugly.
It is up to Hildy to uncover the truth before it is too late.
I think I have read my favorite John Feinstein book yet. Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics uncovers yet another sporting scandal. This time Stevie is on his own (well, Tamara and Bobby from the Washington Post and Herald are with him) to figure out what the sleaze bags are up to this time. This time, Susan Carol is the athlete, competing at the Olympics in the 100 and 200 butterfly.
Susan Carol swam out of nowhere to become the “It-girl” of the London Olympics. Her father has signed contracts with agents who promise millions–if Susan Carol can make the Olympic team and win a gold medal. Now her life is spinning out of control in a swarm of media and sponsors. Will she be able just to swim and hang out with Stevie? Will Stevie uncover the scandal before it’s too late?
I found myself out of breath reading all the way through this one. The swimming races were exciting and down to the wire. The agents and various others were complete sleazeballs. And as always, I enjoyed seeing behind the scenes of one of the biggest sporting events of all. It will probably be the closest I ever get to an Olympic game. I have a few more past mysteries to catch up on, and I am looking forward to Stevie and Susan Carol’s next adventure.