Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Give Me Liberty!
The Story of the Declaration of Independence
By Russell Freedman
Most enjoyed by 4th graders and up

The 4th of July is just around the corner which means it's time to remember why we celebrate the day with fireworks, picnics, and baseball. In 'Give Me Liberty!', author Russell Freedman writes about the events and people behind the creation of our most treasured document, the Declaration of Independence. Freedman goes beyond the big names that are so familiar (Franklin, Jefferson, Revere) and talks about how the English policy of taxation without representation affected average colonists and what those colonists did to let their feelings be known. 'Liberty' is not about the the revolutionary war, although initial battles are discussed. Freedman's focus here is on the creation of the Declaration itself, what it meant for Americans then, and what price they were willing to pay for that freedom. Definitely the title to pick up to read to make you wave the red, white and blue harder and higher! This is another title in the "We the People: Created Equal' bookshelf so watch for more about the book when we get back to school in the fall.

Monday, June 16, 2008

By Gary D. Schmidt
Most enjoyed by 6th through 8th graders

This, I can say right now, is the best book I've read this summer. Yes, there's lots of summer left so I suppose some other book might come along to take it's place, but I doubt it. Early buzz on Trouble has it short-listed for an award, like a Newbery or Printz, but whether it wins an award or not, it's still a fantastic book. 7th and 8th grade book club members take note: Trouble is a title we will want to put at the top of our reading list this year.

Henry Smith's father has always said that if you build your house far away from trouble, trouble will never find you. For years, this has been true for the Smith family. They are one of the oldest families in Blythbury-by-the-Sea, their home, wealth and position in town having been secured by generations for Smith's before them. Oldest brother Franklin is a star athlete in the local high school, a senior destined to carry on the Smith family tradition. He has promised Henry that together they would climb Mt Katahdin in Maine. Henry longs to go to prove to Franklin that he has the guts to do it, to earn the respect he seeks from Franklin. Trouble seems to keep it's distance from the family until one night, when Franklin is out running, he is hit by a car, loses an arm and suffers severe brain damage. Trouble has arrived. The driver of the truck is Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant from the neighboring town of Merton and a fellow student at Franklin's high school. With Chay's arrest, tensions between the two towns come to a head. But for Henry, watching his brother lie motionless in a hospital bed, the trouble he longs for most is to climb Katahdin himself, to accomplish the goal he and his brother set, the goal his brother will no longer be able to meet. As he prepares for the climb, trouble continues to dog his heels, until Henry and his family finally make peace with it.
I don't want to say too much more about the plot because if I do, I'll give quite a bit of the story away. Trust me - read this book. Trouble will give you lots to think about.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

By Paul Fleischman
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Saturnalia by Paul Fleischman is one of the titles Zion received in the We the People: Created Equal bookshelf this spring. It's one we'll be reading this fall but it doesn't hurt to get a jump start on it now!

Saturnalia is an old festival that is at the heart the story. It was celebrated on the winter solstice (the longest day of winter) in recognition of the birth of the Roman god Saturn. The celebration included gift giving, feasting, and the chance to turn the world upside down, with masters becoming slaves and slaves becoming masters for the length of the celebration.
Our story takes place in Boston, in 1681, during the month of December. Mr. Baggot, the town's tithingman, is in charge of making sure that the townspeople under his watchful eye learn their Bible verses, stay awake during long church services, and have nothing to do with that pagan festival Saturnalia. Mr. Baggot has heard that Mr. Currie, the printer, and his household celebrate the festival but he hasn't been able to catch them at it. This year for sure, he will make every effort to do so, especially if it means he has a chance to see Mr. Currie's apprentice, William, caught in wrong doing. William is a young Indian boy, captured and taken as a slave during a raid on his tribe. He's found a home, and an education, with Mr. Currie who treats William like part of the family. This irritates Mr. Baggott who has his own personal reasons for hating William.

Mr. Speke is a wood carver who has been commissioned to carve a figurehead for a ship being built in the harbor. He roams the streets at night, unable to sleep for the sound of the screaming Indian girl that haunts his mind. Mr. Hogwood, the wigmaker, wants to court the widow Mrs. Phipp, not for love but for the wealth she has. Not very good at figuring out just what the lady wants, he relies on his servant Malcolm for dating advice. Malcolm, who has yet to meet a pretty face he doesn't like, is more than willing to give Mr. Hogwood advice, especially when he can use it to woo his own sweethearts.

All of the characters in Saturnalia are intertwined in ways both funny and sad. Behind them all though, is the idea of Saturnalia, that time when the characters of the world trade places. There are lots of masters and servants in Saturnalia, and despite the fact that they aren't supposed to celebrate the pagan holiday, the world has a way of turning itself upside down anyway for all of these characters! Look forward to hearing and learning more about Saturnalia this fall!

Monday, June 9, 2008

100 Cupboards
By N.D. Wilson
Most enjoyed by 5th graders through 8th graders

Henry, Kansas is a dry, dusty town that time seems to have forgotten. It is to be Henry's summer home when his travel-writing parents are kidnapped on a trip to Columbia. Aunt Dot, Uncle Frank, and their three girls welcome Henry to their farm, a place where Henry can roam free and learn to play baseball, something his over-protective parents won't let him do at home.

Life on the farm is quiet until Henry wakes one morning to find plaster on his forehead and two knobs sticking out of the wall above his bed. Watching the knobs turn, Henry can hear something thump behind the wall. Intrigued, Henry begins to chap away at the plaster, uncovering a small cupboard door. The knobs seem to be dials of some sort. Henry chips away more plaster, revealing a second cupboard door; behind it is not a view of the barn at the back of the house as Henry expects, but the inside of a small, yellow post office. Henry's cousin Henrietta is convinced there is another world behind the door. Together, she and Henry remove all of the plaster, uncovering 99 cupboard doors in all. What could possibly be behind them all? And why only 99? It's such an odd number that Henrietta is sure there must be another cupboard door somewhere in the house, but where? Could it be behind Grandpa's bedroom door, a door that hasn't been opened in two years since Grandpa's death? Would the old man Henry saw leaving the bathroom in the middle of the night know something? The old man who entered Grandpa's bedroom and hasn't been seen since? And what's behind the small, black cupboard door, the one that grabbed hold of Henrietta's arm and wouldn't let it go?

The action in 100 Cupboards unfolds very slowly and deliberately until about the middle of the book, when the pace picks up and you can't put it down. Henry is a nice kid, one you feel a little sorry for because he's been so sheltered and protected by his parents. But he comes out of his shell when he faces the challenge presented by the cupboards. If you're a lover of mystery or fantasy stories, add 100 Cupboards to your reading list. But be warned - the book has a great ending, one a bit creepy for bedtime reading, but it doesn't wrap up all of the loose ends neatly. 100 Cupboards is the first in a new series and after reading this one, I hope the next book is out in time for next summer's reading! You can find 100 Cupboards at the Crystal Lake and Algonquin public libraries.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

by Lesley M.M. Blume
Most enjoyed by girls in 4th grade through 8th grade

Their game of hide-and-seek ended badly. Sadie broke the rules and didn't come home. As evening darkened and Tennyson and Hattie waited for her on the porch, they began to realize that Sadie was never coming home. Their mother, unhappy with the life of responsibility that kept her from writing the stories and poems she loved, leaves the girls and their father. Tennyson and Hattie are sent to Aigredoux, the family mansion along the Mississippi River in Louisiana to be cared for by their Aunt Henrietta whom the girls have never met. Aigredoux is a grand house falling into decay in the woods surrounding it. Aunt Henrietta can't and won't see it, convinced that constant letters to the government seeking a return of the family fortune taken during the Civil War will provide the funding necessary to restore Aigredoux to it's former glory. Only Tennyson is able to see the sadness and gloom that surround the house, dating back to the years before and during the war. As the history of the house and family is revealed to her in dreams, Tennyson writes the story down and sends it off to her mother's favorite literary magazine in hopes that the stories will bring her mother home. As the published stories bring Tennyson fame, they also bring reality home in a painful way, leaving Tennyson with the realization that while Aigredoux's hold is strong, the time that saw it's decay can one day see it flourish again.

Set during the Depression, 'Tennyson' is full of sadness and hope. One minute the reader will feel sorry for Tennyson when her situation appears as bleak as the crumbling house, as history repeats itself in an eerie fashion. The next page reveals a glimmer of hope, created by Tennyson herself, making the dream of a new Aigredoux possible. But Tennyson's story doesn't have the neat, tidy ending she and the reader hope it will have, leaving the reader to think about Tennyson and Aigredoux long after closing the book.

Start 'Tennyson' on a hot, muggy summer evening as you sit outside in the dwindling daylight. You'll feel trasported right to Aigredoux along with Tennyson and Hattie, listening for the hushed sounds of the Mississippi river as you wait, like Tennyson, to hear the voices from the past.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Golden Legacy:
How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way
By Leonard S. Marcus
Most enjoyed by big kids of all ages

OK kids, go back outside to play, this post is for the big kids of the house, namely your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa. Here's a book that will take you on a trip down memory lane, but only if you're past the age of say, 30 years young. OK, maybe a little bit further past that age, but once you open this book, you'll see what I mean.

Raise your hand if you've lived your life without ever touching a Little Golden Book. I didn't think there'd be any hands raised out there. If you didn't read 'The Poky Little Puppy' as a tyke, then surely you were read 'Scuffy the Tugboat' or learned a prayer from 'Prayers for Children'. Little Golden Books are a staple of childhood and have been since they were first introduced to children in the 1940's. The brainchild of Whitman and Simon & Schuster publishing companies, Little Golden Books were intended to give families good reading value for a low price. Each book cost 25 cents when first introduced, affordable enough for families to purchase a number of them for their children. But the key to the books' success was that they were good stories illustrated by many of the day's best artists. Not many parents could pass up the idea of quality literature at affordable prices. The books sold immediately and over time, became a staple of family libraries all over the country.

'Golden Legacy' is the fascinating story behind the success of an American cultural icon. Each turn of the page of this over-sized book will bring back memories as you recount the stories you remember and love. It's a very readable history book, one you can enjoy at your leisure. Journey back to your childhood and relive some of your favorite Little Golden books. Perhaps you still have a few of these books tucked away in the attic? You can find 'Golden Legacy' at the Harvard Public Library.