Week 8: Magic Treehouse #16 Hour of the Olympics

Book summary: Jack and Annie are off on another adventure through time! As Master Librarians, Morgan leFay has charged our young friends with the task of retrieving valuable stories from ancient times. This time they’re off to Ancient Greece, when and where the Olympic Games first started. But Annie is outraged that there are no women or girls around – they’re not allowed to be in plays, or even watch the games! As usual Jack wants to follow the rules, but Annie is determined – and almost gets them killed!

My impressions: It’s really unfortunate this series wasn’t around when I was a kid, because I probably would have devoured every book the minute it came out. Time travel, history, magic – what more could a girl want? This installment takes us to the very first meeting of the Olympic games – the ancient games – in Greece. An exciting time, sure – if you’re lucky enough to be a boy! Annie, of course, wants to make her own luck by dressing as a boy, so she can see the games. I’m curious how often that may have happened in ancient times? I definitely think this is a great installment in a great series.

Citation: Osborne, M.P. (1998). Magic tree house #16 hour of the olympics. New York, NY: Random House.

Professional review:

“This collection by Mary Pope Osborne contains unabridged readings of Vacation Under the Volcano, Day of the Dragon King, Viking Ship at Sunrise, and Hour of the Olympics (all Random, 1998). Jack and Annie have been appointed Master Librarians by Morgan leFay and must gather books from ancient libraries so that they may be preserved in Camelot…Along the way, much is learned about the history of bookmaking, the importance of libraries throughout the past, and the similarities and differences between daily life in today’s society and that of early world cultures. Teachers, librarians, and parents are partial to Osborne’s emphasis on the power of reading and research to guide Jack and Annie safely through their adventures. Kids love the precarious situations they encounter and their predictably safe resolution…”

Mandell, P., & Burkey, M. (August 2002). Magic Tree House Collection #4 [Review of]. School Library Journal48(8), 76.

Library uses: This particular book definitely stuck with me because it’s an Olympic year. I think a fun activity to do with this, would be to have an Olympic race or games at the library – but of course, the girls could participate, too!

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Week 6: One Crazy Summer

Book summary: In the tumultuous summer of 1968, Delphine and her two younger sisters travel from Brooklyn to Oakland to visit their absentee mother, Cecile. Charged (as always) withe the care of the other girls, Delphine is determined that they should act like proper young ladies so they can impress their mother. But once there, Delphine begins to understand why Big Ma says Cecile is crazy – she doesn’t even use the name Cecile anymore! She’s the poet, Nzila. The girls are shocked to be told to walk down the street to pick up Chinese take-out for lunch, and even more stunned to be sent off to the community center for breakfast – and to stay out as long as they can. The day camp there is run by the Black Panthers, and slowly Delphine comes to reconcile the stories her dad and Big Ma have told them about the group, and the reality of the helpful Sister Mukumbu, the cool Sister Pat, and the mysterious boy Hirohito. The tension comes to a head when Nzila is arrested, and Delphine decides maybe making a little noise can be a good thing. But is four weeks enough for the girls to get what they need from Cecile?

My impressions: I don’t know if American History class still tends to cut off after WWII like it did when I was a student, but I never remember learning much about the Civil Rights Movement or the Black Panthers – we never got that far. Regardless, I think all students should read this book. It’s certainly more informative than Gone With The Wind, and probably more useful than The Crucible, both of which we were made to read for history class.

At first I had a hard time getting into the story of this book. I appreciated Delphine’s sensibility, and Vonetta’s thirst for attention, and Fern’s bossiness. But the early chapters feel like just that – telling you who is in the story. However, by the time the girls start going to the Panther day camp I was hooked and didn’t put it down again. Williams-Garcia does great job of delivering Delphine’s angst, without belaboring the point. I can only imagine what it was like to live at a time when half your society, half your family, was telling you to “go along and get along”, and the other half was outraged over basically being told: you’re free, now shut up. How much more confusing when you’re 11, and you’re the only mother your little sisters have ever known, you’re in a foreign city with no safety net. In the end I was cheering for how much the girls had grown over the summer, and wanted to cry that they had to go through so much.

Citation: Williams-Garcia, R. (2010). One crazy summer. New York, NY: Amistad.

Professional review:

“Eleven-year-old Delphine has only a few fragmented memories of her mother, Cecile, a poet who wrote verses on walls and cereal boxes, played smoky jazz records, and abandoned the family in Brooklyn after giving birth to her third daughter. In the summer of 1968, Delphine’s father decides that seeing Cecile is “something whose time had come,” and Delphine boards a plane with her sisters to Cecile’s home in Oakland. What they find there is far from their California dreams of Disneyland and movie stars. “No one told y’all to come out here,” Cecile says. “No one wants you out here making a mess, stopping my work.” Like the rest of her life, Cecile’s work is a mystery conducted behind the doors of the kitchen that she forbids her daughters to enter. For meals, Cecile sends the girls to a Chinese restaurant or to the local, Black Panther–run community center, where Cecile is known as Sister Inzilla and where the girls begin to attend youth programs. Regimented, responsible, strong-willed Delphine narrates in an unforgettable voice, but each of the sisters emerges as a distinct, memorable character, whose hard-won, tenuous connections with their mother build to an aching, triumphant conclusion. Set during a pivotal moment in African American history, this vibrant novel shows the subtle ways that political movements affect personal lives; but just as memorable is the finely drawn, universal story of children reclaiming a reluctant parent’s love…”

Engberg, G. (February 1, 2010). [Review of the book One Crazy Summer]. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com.

Library uses: While the texts about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks are so important, I would really put this book front and center for Black History Month. If I had a tween reading group, I would use it as a narrative introduction to the Civil Rights Movement, and include talks about protests, sit-ins, and marches. I think it would be interesting to have the kids make their own “protest” signs, to see what they consider injustice in their own lives, and to have a serious discussion about the difference between “rules” and “injustice”.

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Week 3: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn

Book summary: Nancy Willard weaves lovely poetry with the art of Alice and Martin Provensen. The poems, like those of William Blake, are full of whimsical and fantastical elements, and the pictures round out the image painted by words. The journey starts with a dragon that cooks dinner and angels that make beds; our “innocent and experienced travelers” can take a ride in the celestial limousine, cuddle up on a bear’s paw, and chat with a cow eating clouds on buttered toast. The poet himself even makes an appearance, telling the tale of the tailor to the tiger.

My impressions: This book is just lovely and full of whimsy. I have a little experience with Blake’s poetry, and I’ve always liked it; this book is a good homage to his style. I like that the poems vary so much in rhythm and style; you never feel like you’re just reciting song lyrics or falling into a formulaic pattern. I especially love the drawings, which manage to illustrate the poems without taking away too much from the imagination. I think older elementary students can have fun imagining the fantastical creatures and contraptions, even without the pictures.

Citation: Willard, N. (1981). A visit to William Blake’s inn. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Professional review:

“Gr 3 Up – Nancy Willard has written a magical and original collection of metrical verses emanating from “William Blake’s Inn,” habited by Blake’s creatures. Dragons brew and bake, angels wash and shake feather beds, a rabbit shows the rooms, and guests are such as the man in the marmalade hat, the King of Cats and the poetical child-narrator who, for breakfast, is served “Brisket of Basilisk Treat.” Although the poems tell their own story of bedding down and waking up in the magical inn, knowledgeable adults may take pleasure recognizing the elliptical references to Blake’s own poems (” ‘Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,’/said the sunflowers, shining with dew”) or Blake’s rhythms (“William, William, writing late/ by the chill and sooty grate,/ what immortal story can/ make your tiger roar again?”). The poems are rich verbally, seldom labored and happily loony at times. The spell is momentarily broken by the Father William tone of ” ‘I’m terribly cold,’ said the rabbit./ ‘My paws are becoming quite blue.’ ” But overall, Willard’s conception and execution are inspired. She is that rarest jewel among children’s verse writers – a poet never cloying, never cute. The book is doubly to be treasured for the splendid illustrations. Poems and pictures, integrated in spirit, flow into each other across double-page spreads. Sunflowers, a celestial limousine, cats, tigers, rbbits, birds ina gazebo – here, truly, is God’s plenty…”

Neumeyer, P. (December 1981). A Visit to William Blake’s Inn [Review of]. School Library Journal28(4), 69.

Library uses: I would highlight this book in April, National Poetry Month. Upper elementary students could participate in a contest to write and illustrate their own poems.

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Week 10: Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging

Book summary: Georgia Nicolson, English teenager, chronicles a year in her life as she deals with her mad cat Angus, crushes on boys and learning to snog, betrayals by her best friend, and the almost criminal antics of a pair of bullyish girls at school. Written in a diary format, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging shares all of the ups and downs with the audience: the little sister who smells “hamsterish”, the uptight schoolmarms who insist on proper attire and grooming, the “sex god” who flirts with her but is dating another, the trials of making make up look natural, trying to get rid of a monobrow, and the prospect of moving to New Zealand.

My impressions: I laughed the entire time I was reading this book! I’m pretty sure if I had written a journal when I was 14, it would have sounded almost exactly like this (but without the British slang). It’s a sad but expected fact that adolescents, especially girls, tend to think the world revolves around them, and that their problems are tantamount to international crises! But hopefully you make it through, relatively unscathed, and with your sense of humor intact. Having a “friend” like Georgia certainly helps. I especially love how she assumes her parents don’t get anything – I know I certainly thought my parents didn’t at that age – and so she teaches herself about makeup, and grooming her eyebrows (still just about the funniest thing in the book), and boys, and how to (eventually) stand up to the trouble makers at school. I was also pleased that she kindly includes a glossary, so that we “American-type chums” can understand what she’s talking about (even though she’s not sure herself, sometimes). I highly recommend this for girls in high school, especially reluctant readers. Georgia’s humor and the quick pace may encourage them that reading can be fun! I also recommend that parents, especially mothers, of adolescent girls take a peek – they may have forgotten what life was like back then, and Georgia can certainly remind them! Of course your daughters may not be too keen on the idea – I think part of being a teen is feeling misunderstood – but maybe you’ll feel a little less like ripping your own hair out.

Citation: Rennison, L. (1999). Angus, thongs and full-frontal snogging. New York, NY: Harper Collins Pulishers.

Professional review:

“Gr 7-9 –This is the hilarious Bridget Jones-like diary of 14-year-old Georgia, who has a rather wild cat named Angus, a three-year-old sister who pees in her bed, and a best friend who is in love with the vegetable seller’s son. Georgia discusses kissing (snogging) lessons, which she needs because she has just met the “Sex God” of her dreams; what to wear to parties and school; and how to spy on your crush’s girlfriend (this is where thongs come into play). In typical teen manner, Georgia lives in her own world; she thinks she is ugly, is convinced that her parents are weird, positively abhors schoolwork, and has a deep desire to be beautiful and older. Yet she still has time to enjoy the mad antics of her cat and indulge her odd but sweet sister. It will take a sophisticated reader to enjoy the wit and wisdom of this charming British import, but those who relish humor will be satisfied. Fresh, lively, and engaging…”

Reynolds, A. J. (July 2000). Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. [Review of]. School Library Journal46(7), 109.

Library uses: There are several fun activities that young adults may enjoy – creating a diary or blog, writing up a glossary for their own slang, or even having a British-inspired “fancy dress” party. I would even volunteer to dress as an olive!

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Week 8: Somebody

Book summary: Sherica Suloff doesn’t even know that’s her name. It’s changed, you see, so many times over the past decade that she’s not sure which one is the real one. Every time her father packs his bags, she and her brother change names, hair color, schools…

All of that starts to change as Sherica starts to question why her father’s answers about her mother’s supposed betrayal change each time he tells it. When their latest move lands them in a house within walking distance of the town library, Sherica finally gets the courage  to seek out some answers. With the help of a nice young man with family secrets of his own, Sherica finally discovers the somebody she is meant to be.

My impressions: I’m not sure what about this book kept me so interested, but I really didn’t put it down for the hour and a half it took me to read it. I had pretty much figured out the plot the first time Sherica described her father defending himself by saying he wasn’t a criminal – it wasn’t like he had killed anybody; my suspicions were confirmed by the time I read the various stories he told Sherica about her mom. Still, I think I kept waiting for some kind of major drama, and the book just happened to be short enough that I didn’t get bored enough to stop reading before it was over.

Citation: Springer, N. (2009). Somebody. New York, NY: Holiday House.

Professional review:

“Hard-boiled noir from the perspective of an overweight 15-year-old girl? Well, only in stretches, but Springer packs her prose with just enough attitude to overpower the thin plot. Sherica is our protagonist’s name—but, for a while, even that is in doubt. Along with her older brother, she has been constantly shuttled across the country by her father, and each new home brings a new hairstyle and a new fake name. These names she considers “fattening,” because she seems to grow bigger with each one. But this town is different: she meets Mason, a boy who works at the library, and he helps her discover that the tale her father has been telling about her mom all these years may not be true. Taking back her life will first require Sherica to reclaim her identity and sense of self-worth, and this gives the story a layer of optimism and meaning missing in many mysteries. “I am somebody,” she repeats over and over, and readers will appreciate how the statement comes to have multiple meanings…”

Kraus, D. (2009). Somebody. [Review of]Booklist105(17), 41.

Library uses: Since I live in Houston, I would use this book to introduce Tweens and YA groups to our Clayton Library for Genealogical Research – it’s one of the most extensive libraries of its kind in the U.S.A.

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Week 5: The Grimm Legacy

Book summary: Elizabeth Rew seems to be living the Cinderella life: she’s invisible to her father, her stepmother treats her like a second-class citizen, her stepsisters want to share only what is hers, and she’s an outsider at her school. And yet, Elizabeth Rew is still kind. That kindness lands her a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a rather unique collection with equally unique users. There are beautiful hair combs and historical hats and hand woven rugs. There are decorative spoons and delicate headdresses and antique globes. But Elizabeth’s life quickly gets interesting when she is asked to return a pair of boots to the Grimm Collection. One of the “special” collections, the Grimm items seem to be modeled after items from fairy tales, until Elizabeth discovers they ARE the items from fairy tales. And someone is willing to do anything to get their hands on them.

My impressions: This book has filled some of the empty space left with the end of the Harry Potter series. I needed my magic back! I would love to work in a place like the New York Circulating Material Repository. I have always felt that perhaps tellers of folk tales, such as the Grimms, might be privy to information the rest of us aren’t. It’s just too tantalizing to think of magic (or vampires, or werewolves, or fairies, or aliens, or…) existing in a world behind or alongside our own. I also like Elizabeth – she’s kind and spunky, despite feeling like an outsider in her home. Even though she’s smitten with Marc, she’s still nice to Anjali when some girls might freeze her out. And I always have a soft spot for the teachers – the Professor McGonagalls and Mr. Brunners and Mr. Mauskopfs – who guide the heroes and heroines through their magical journeys, giving support but rarely answers.

Citation: Shulman, P. (2010). The Grimm legacy. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Professional Review:

When Elizabeth takes a job as a page at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a lending library for objects instead of books, she’s let in on the repository’s secret. Housed in the basement is the Grimm Collection, an assortment of items such as seven-league boots and spinning wheels that are normally found in fairy tales—amazingly, the items (and the magic) are real. But sotneone’s been removing the materials and replacing them with nonmagica! replicas, and Elizabeth doesn’t know which of her fellow pages to trust; Marc, the handsome basketball star who’s been taking liberties with his borrowing privileges; Anjali, who has all the male pages at her feet; or sullen Aaron, who resents the others’ looks and good fortune. Tracking down the thief will take all four of them on a dangerous quest, where they will need their wits and the objects in the collection to succeed. Shulman combines down-to-earth teens concerned with fitting in with a wonderfully occult magical world—the repository itself, with its stained-glass windows, miles of stacks, and pneumatic tubes for routing call slips, permeates the story with its musty, mysterious presence. The pages must figure out how to work with objects that sometimes function in tricky ways (the magic mirror, for instance, tells the truth but in the most slanted and unflattering manner possible). But just as in a fairy tale, Elizabeth’s good choices and kind heart allow the story to spin out to a happy conclusion…”

Burkam, A. L. (May 15, 2010). The Grimm Legacy [Review of]. Horn Book Magazine, 86(4), 121-122.

Library use: I would use this book for a Tween/YA Book Club selection. Some topics for discussion could be: Which of the Grimm objects would you like to use? What would you be willing to trade to use a Grimm object? How would you handle being asked to keep a secret from your employer, by your coworkers? What other special collections would you have if you ran the library?

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Week 7: Aliens Are Coming! Then True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

Book summary: Before television, families gathered around the radio to listen to concerts, news, and stories. Mercury Theater, featuring Orson Welles, was one such “show” that was popular. This book tells the story of the most famous radio broadcast in history, one which launched Mercury Theater and Orson Welles into national fame (or notoriety). The War of the Worlds is a novel by H.G. Wells, and in 1938, Orson Welles decided to perform an adaptation of the work on his radio show. Although the show was introduced as a play, there was some panic as listeners imagined aliens actually invading. McCarthy tells the story through quotes from the actual broadcast, accompanied by drawings made after the style of the popular pulp magazines of the era.

My impressions: I think this book was fun; the pictures are engaging, and the story is funny. I’m certainly glad McCarthy gives the history lessons to go along with the book. I think the target audience, early elementary grades, are probably a generation whose great-grandparents would have been the ones to remember listening to the radio instead of watching television, and many may not have great-grandparents, so this is likely uncharted territory for them. I also think it’s a good lesson for them to learn in this culture of 24-hour news and social media, that not everything that sounds like news actually is.

Citation: McCarthy, M. (2006). Aliens are coming! The true account of the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Professional review:

” In an average American living room of 1938, folks gather around the radio for a night’s entertainment, when there’s a new bulletin: “Aliens are coming!” Orson Welles’ infamous Halloween trick, his October 30 broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds,0 is greatly excerpted and put together with quirky, imaginative artwork that reinforces the fantasy. McCarthy sets the scene in a preface, ostensibly delivered by a radio commentator, and clearly identifies the speakers in colored type before each quote. Using a 1930’s art style, and a palette comprising mostly muted grays and reds, McCarthy evokes an era gone by, at the same time creating a cozy nostalgia. Even somewhat older, media savvy kids, who may view the gullibility of the characters with a disdainful eye, will be disarmed by the depictions of panicked faces and slimy Martians, eyes on stalks, that appear amid eerie red light. An abrupt ending notwithstanding, this is packed with age-appropriate thrills and scares. A lengthy author’s note includes necessary background on both figures…”

Karp, J. (2006). Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast [Review of]. Booklist, 102(11), 52.

Library uses: I think a fun story time with older children (young elementary ages) would be to create a fake news story, to talk about hyperbole and sensationalism. Alternately, we could create aliens to display with the book around Halloween, especially next year for the 75th anniversary of the broadcast.

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