Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Squashed" by Joan Bauer

From the cover: Ellie Morgan's life would be almost perfect if she could just get her potentially prizewinning pumpkin, Max, to put on about two hundred more pounds, and if she could lose twenty herself. Then Max would be the shoo-in champion of the Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In. Minus twenty pounds, Ellie would have the courage to approach Wes, the new boy in town. But unpredictable weather is threatening Max, pumpkin thieves are running rampant, and Sweet Corn Coquette contestants are eyeing Wes. Is Ellie tough enough to go for it all?

This was a book that I picked up at the library book sale a few years ago just because it sounded slightly interesting and was only 50 cents. I'm so glad I got it, because I LOVE this book. It's sweet, funny, and will make you want to start growing giant pumpkins! The conversations between Ellie and her grandmother about growing things are particularly poignant, as is the sometimes tense relationship Ellie has with her father.

Ellie has a unique, and sometimes slightly eccentric, voice as she narrates her own story. Here's a great line from the book: "The Iowa sun crashed down like God was recharging the earth and flowed into my pumpkin who was stretching to reach his full agricultural potential." What a fabulous sentence! This is a tender book that you must read. I laugh and cry, then laugh and cry some more every time I read it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Children's Books

I haven't posted here in a long, long time, but the other day I was reading about an awareness campaign that First Book has been doing called, "What Book Got You Hooked?" (You can read the answers of a number of celebrities and authors here*.) The whole thing got me thinking about the books I read as a child, and how I became addicted to reading, so I thought I'd share some of those early books and why I love them.

Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic
When I was in elementary school these were two of the books that were always on hold in the library. I devoured them whenever I could get my hands on them, and my friends and I would laugh and laugh at the poems. These poems made poetry accessible to me, in fact they were my first real introduction to poetry. But they also filled me with a sense of wonder, and made the most mundane of things (like a peanut butter-and jelly-sandwich or the garbage) suddenly seem magical. I read the poems now and I love the sadness, the sweetness, the humor, and the limitless possibilities that fill the poems.

Here's one of my favorites:
Hug o' War
I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.

The Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene
I guess I would have to say that if there was any book or series of books that hooked me completely on reading, it would have to be Nancy Drew. I followed the adventures of Nancy Drew obsessively. I mean, we're talking hard-core obsession here. I think I must have read every Nancy Drew book in both my school and public libraries! I thought I had found heaven when I found my aunt's collection of original Nancy Drew books from when she was a kid! These were the books that made me (for the first time ever) stay up late reading with a flashlight under the covers! (Not a habit my parents appreciated.) I look back at them now, and I kind of wonder what I saw in them, but back then I thought Nancy was so cool with her light blue Mustang convertible, and that her dad (with his touch of gray at the temples) was so sophisticated.

I hated Ned Nickerson, though. I mean, he was a nice enough boyfriend at first, but he just never got Nancy and her need to solve mysteries. He was often quite patronizing (I picked up on that before I even knew what the word meant!) and was always telling her to give up solving mysteries. No, I think Nancy should have dumped Ned (OK, well, she did once, but then they got back together by the end of the next book) and she should have ended up with Frank Hardy. I loved the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys cross-overs, and the hint of romance between Frank and Nancy. He was so much cooler than Ned Nickerson, and he got the thrill of solving mysteries.

The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper
If Nancy Drew got me started reading, then The Dark is Rising series got me to think about what I was reading. I guess this is why I wonder now what I saw in Nancy--they were fun books, but there wasn't much depth. I will be forever grateful to my 4th grade teachers for introducing me to this series by reading aloud to us the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, and then I will be forever grateful to whatever librarian it was at my public library who purchased the whole series. These are books that I still read today, and still find new things to love about them. The series focuses on questions of good and evil, but not just black and white evil. Through the characters this series asks the questions, "How far should we be willing to go for a good cause?" and "Who gets to decide what price should be paid to defeat evil?"

Plus, these books are just plain old fun! I love the adventures the kids go on, and the elements of magic and celtic folklore that abound throughout the series. I love too that Will Stanton, the main character, has such a big loving family, and meets lots of other wonderful people along the way--even if they don't have a direct impact on his quests. He's a powerful boy on a mission to save the world from all the powers of darkness, but in the end he is just a boy, and he needs these people in his life to connect him to the world he is trying to save. I love, love, love these books!!

There are so many other books that have influenced me and made me a fiction addict, but I'll save them for another time--that's what this blog is for, after all! I'm just glad that my parents, teachers, and librarians all supported me in my reading habits, and provided me with opportunities to discover whole new worlds--and to discover myself--through reading.

*ETA This link no longer exists, which is really sad, because it was some good reading. Hopefully they do something like this again; I'll keep my eyes open for it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

This Time of Darkness by H.M. Hoover

From the cover: "All Amy's eleven years have been spent in the City. Everyone knows that its gridwork of halls and corridors stretches endlessly. There is no point in going Outside, where the air is too polluted to breathe. Besides, there is nothing left Outside any more, nothing at all. Amy's learning center has taught her that. And even though she is bored by the monotony of the learning center, she knows better than to attract the watcher's attention by showing she can read.
But Axel isn't so careful. He ignores his terminal at the learning center as he ignores everything else. Rocking and singing softly to himself, blocking out reality, Axel has been labeled a psycho. And Amy is not the only one to notice--the watcher sees everything and forgets nothing.
When Axel confesses to Amy that he's from Outside, she believes him at once. Together they plot a daring escape. But to do so they must risk their lives, not just once, but again and again, as they flee through the tunnels of the City, across the rubble-strewn badlands of Outside, and into a hostile and uncertain future. "

One afternoon, a co-worker and I were discussing young adult books we liked, and making recommendations to each other. Since we were about to go on Christmas break, we went down to the YA section (I work at a library by the way) and we checked out some of the books we had recommended to each other. This book was one that she recommended to me.

I've read a lot of Young Adult fiction--a lot--and while there's some great, great writing out there, I am always a little surprised when I find a book that is written for young adults, (at their reading level, etc) but that captures complex themes and emotions beyond what the average teenager is thinking about, making it an enjoyable book for anyone to read. This is just such a book.

While this book is a quick read, there are truly heart-pounding moments, and Hoover perfectly captures the hopelessness and despair of this City. It's a startling look at the way societies are structured, a pitch-perfect adventure, and a testament to the power of human friendship and companionship.