Archive for the ‘Morag’s Picks’ Category

Schooled is the compelling story of a home-schooled hippie kid who has been raised in a 1960s eco-commune. As the story begins, the commune has dwindled down to two people, 13-year-old Cap and his 72-year-old grandmother. Rain, the grandmother, breaks a leg falling from a tree while picking plums. With no telephone to call an ambulance (and no driver’s license), Cap has to drive her to the hospital himself.

Meanwhile, poor Cap gets fostered out to a social worker. Mrs. Donnolly, the social worker, volunteers to take Cap in while Grandmother Rain is in hospital. The social worker herself has grown up in this hippie compound, known as Garland Farm, and remembers it only too well: “It all came roaring back in a tsunami of Day-Glo, Ponchos and organic lentils.”

Cap instantly has her sympathy and becomes her reluctant house guest. The story of Cap and how he deals with fitting in at middle school is told from the perspective of several people:  Mrs. Donnolly, her beautiful daughter Sophie, the class nerd, and the so-called popular kid. Cap has a hard time adjusting to middle school culture, and complains to his Grandmother that:

“People dress funny, they talk too fast;
And all they’re interested in is things!
Cell phones and Ipods, Game Boys and Starbucks.
What’s a Starbuck?”

Cap has obviously received a different type of education from the other middle schoolers, and this is both funny and sad. He can drive a tractor, is well read, has been doing Tai Chi since he was five, and has never watched TV. He is picked on by the popular kids.  In the end his charismatic personality overcomes many hurdles thrown his way, and the story finishes with a surprising twist.

Gordon Korman, author of more than fifty books for young adult and middle-grade students, has written this story with a simple plot line, so it’s a fast-paced read. Korman is always a good author to recommend for middle-grade boys. This story is also a good pick for a reluctant reader. It presents the tough life of the middle school years at a public school. It is similar in many ways to Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl–also a story about a homeschooler attending public school.  Schooled has been chosen as a Battle of the Books 2011 pick for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade at Williamsburg Regional Library.

Check the WRL catalog for Schooled.


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This week we have a variety of writers from across library staff. First up is Morag from the Youth Services Division.

The Mailbox was recommended to me by one of our seventh grade volunteers last summer. She mentioned to me that she had really liked the story and how it was about a Vietnam veteran. I’m always intrigued when I get  recommendations from our younger users at the library — so naturally I read it. I, too, loved the fast-paced, quite complex read about twelve year old Gable Price and his uncle Vernon, and the small town Drayford they lived in, west of Virginia’s Blue Ridge, north of Roanoke County.

Twelve year old Gabe has been shunted from foster home to foster home and has finally settled somewhat contentedly with his long lost Uncle Vernon. Uncle Vernon can be as “crusty as a crab-cake,” with his leg amputated below the knee after an injury on his final tour of duty in Vietnam. Tragically, on the first day of sixth grade Gabe returns home to find his uncle dead on the kitchen floor. Gabe’s story begins to unfold and we meet such warm, unforgettable characters as Webber, Gabe’s good school friend; Webber’s mother, Mrs. Pickering – the best pie-maker in town; Smitty, Gabe’s mysterious letter-writer friend and best embalmer in all of Virginia; Mr. Boehm, the wonderfully sympathetic sixth grade English teacher; and Guppy the dog that Smitty leaves to comfort Gabe as he copes with his uncle’s death.  The story is sprinkled with sayings from Uncle Vernon’s life as a soldier in Vietnam. Gabe continues to live alone for weeks coping, and remembering his uncle and his ladleful of advice, such as “scum-lickin, pus-suckin, buckets of trouble ken happen whether you’re good or bad. But why git spit by skunk muck? Stay low and steer clear of screw-ups, Gabe.”

It’s hard to believe that this is Shafer’s first novel. It is a great read for grades five and up, and although based in Western Virginia can also be considered a novel about Vietnam veterans. At  present, The Youth Services Staff is considering this debut novel for WRL’s 2010 Battle of the Books Competition list.

Check the WRL catalog for The Mailbox

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indexaspx1One of the Newbery Honor Winners of 2009, The Underneath tells a rare story that will appeal to readers old and young alike. If you enjoy dog stories such as Because of Winn-Dixie and Shiloh you will enjoy The Underneath. The language is poetic and if you like to read of swamps and bayous and chocolate water, and Piney woods that are “wet and steamy,” with a few shape-changers thrown in, then The Underneath will appeal!

Serving as the backdrop to the story are the swamps of the River Sabine that divide Texas and Louisiana. The story tells of Ranger, the bloodhound chained for years to the underneath of his owner Gar Face’s house and of his extraordinary friendship with a Calico Cat and her two kittens Sabine and Puck. Other stories are skillfully interwoven; there is the story of Mother Moccasin, the creature clothed in serpent-shape, waiting to break free from her one thousand years of imprisonment, and the story of other shape changers – Hawkman and Nightsone, and their shimmering daughter the hummingbird.

Finally, it is the story of Gar Face, the sad and lonely alligator hunter and his miserable, cruel life. Gar Face pursues Alligator King, the one hundred foot gator living in the creeks of the River Savine…waiting, waiting…

The Underneath reads like realistic fiction mostly, except where it is interwoven with shape changers. It will make a good read-aloud for Fourth Grade and up, and can be recommended to both children and adults who like reading about animals.

Picture books written by Kathi Appelt for younger children that reflect her poetic approach to swamp life include Bayou Lullaby and Where, Where Is Swamp Bear?.

Check the WRL catalog for The Underneath

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Little bitty

Writing children’s books,” says Jim Aylesworth “is my way of being the teacher beyond the walls of my classroom for children that I may never know.” He demonstrates this in his picture book Little Bitty Mousie, published in 2007. He tells the story of a realistic looking mouse in a polka-dotted purple dress creeping into a house at night to taste and smell — in alphabetical order!

She ate the “H” from “Happy
On a chocolate birthday cake
Her fur got full of Icing
And it wasn’t by mistake.

Aylesworth has great talent for rhythm and sound – ideal for children learning new language skills. The kindergartensthat I read this book to loved reciting back to me:

Tip-tippy tippy
went her little mousie toes.
Sniff-sniff sniffy sniffy
Went her little mousie nose.

The language is similar in style to Aylesworth’s other great alphabet book called Old Black Fly which also uses ordinary household items throughout the story – alphabetized. This is shown here again in Little Bitty Mousie.

She tried to get some Jelly
tried with all her mousie might
She also tried the Ketchup
But the lids were on too tight.

When little bitty mousie reaches the end of the alphabet she is in for a shock.There, she discovers the household cat making the sound of “Z’ing-Soft, soft breathing, like a snore.”

Sweet Little Bitty Mousie
Just as scared as scared can be,
Went run run run run running!
That was all she cared to see!

Michael Hague’s illustrations enhance these rhymes with vivid colors and striking three-D effects. And children will love the mouse’s-eye view of towering cakes, monstrous vacuums and lap-sized hot cross buns.

Check the WRL catalog for Little Bitty Mousie

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If you are looking for a light, very funny Chick Lit read, you may want to give Liz Rettig a try with her debut novel, My Desperate Love Diary. I couldn’t put it down! It is written in the first person in diary format, and tells of the ups and downs of sixteen year old Kelly Ann’s life in Glasgow, Scotland. The novel, gave me lots of laughs with it’s painfully honest, day-to-day account of Kelly-Ann’s teenage life. It reminded me of the very witty Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend and also Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. My Desperate Love Diary, however, has a very distinctive Glasgow flavor with hilarious, gritty humor and lots of earthy characters.

Ms Connor, the feisty English teacher, especially moody since her husband left her for a blond has taken to teaching about mad feminist literature and gives Kelly Ann’s class a thousand-word essay on “Are Men Really Necessary Now That the Future is Female?’ Discuss.” Ms Connor goes on to tell her class that Robert Burns, the famous Scottish Bard, in her opinion was a dissolute, drunken womanizer whose poetry is completely overrated and had her class study The Female Eunuch, instead!

Mr. Dunn, a new teacher for religious studies begins teaching at the school. He arrives in black leather biker’s gear, with studs pierced in every part of his body – announcing that he was only teaching religion to keep him off the unemployment. Mr. Dunn’s classroom is next to Ms. Connors’ which result in consequences.

Kelly-Ann’s mother is going through a mid-life crisis at the thought of turning forty and being thrown into being a grandmother when Kelly Ann ‘s sister Angela becomes pregnant to her nerdy boyfriend. The mother starts to go clubbing. “It can’t be right when your mother dresses even more tackily than you do” bemoans Kelly Ann. Her mother then decides to have a holiday in Spain but stays on with a Spanish waiter she meets there. The local newspaper gets wind of this story, comparing it to the Shirley Valentine movie and splashes it on the front pages for everyone to see, much to Kelly Ann’s mortification.

Kelly Ann’s own story of unrequited love with the unintelligent, cheating, hot boy G at her school threads throughout the book. Liz Rettig’s experience as a teacher is reflected in her knowledge of high school culture, in Scotland. The diary goes on to reveal how they all survive and eventually sort their lives out, that is until the sequel – soon to be in the WRL catalog, too:

My Now or Never Diary.

YA novel, suitable for ages 14 and up.

check WRL catalog


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Having always been fascinated by Viking Mythology I naturally gravitated towards reading award-winning, Australian author, Jackie French. This historical novel was originally published in Australia as They Came in Viking Ships and then in U.K. as The Slave Girl.

Jackie French’s historical novel is based on real events in the Icelandic Sagas written about eight hundred years ago. The sagas tell the story of Erik the Red, founder of the Greenland Colony and his son Leif who sailed to Vinland. During her research, the author discovered Freydis, Erik the Red’s daughter, a leader of men. Rover makes a fascinating read about this period – it is the remarkable story of two, very strong, courageous female characters from completely different backgrounds.

Freydis is a Viking chief’s daughter and Hejak a Viking thrall kidnapped from her native island. Freydis, the imposing Viking warrior claims Hejak as her thrall. Freydis is determined to prove herself as her father Eric and brother Leif did before her, by discovering new lands. The author tells us that we will never know what Freydis was really like and she suspects she has been lost to history because the later male writers didn’t know what to make of her. French gives us a glimpse of a real Viking warrior-woman in her character, Freydis.

Hejak is able to prove herself over and over again, beginning with the treacherous voyage to Greenland after she was captured. She survives a storm and also bravely dives overboard to rescue her loyal wolfhound, Snarfarai. The dog also proves himself by being able to sniff out unseen icebergs and saves the whole party on the Viking longboat. Freydis names him Ice-Nose.

The relationship between the the thrall Hejak, and and the warrior Freydis gradually evolves from slave and mistress to daughter and mother as Freydis eventually adopts Hejak. (This was apparently quite a common thing to do during this period as it was a way to make important alliances and ensure loyalty) They voyage to Vinland together after Erik the Red dies.

The story climaxes with an amazing description of a battle with the Skraelings; the natives of Vinland. The Norsemen try to run away, yes, the Vikings try to run……! but Freydis their leader, who is eight months pregnant, shrieked a blood curdling battle cry and rips her dress so the bodice hung down and exposed her pregnant belly. “ She bent down and picked up a sword from a man crumpled at her feet, then slapped it three times against her naked breast. “If men will not fight, then women must!”and she charged a horde of Skraelings shrieking like a storm on a mountain. The Skraelings stopped.” The Norsemen finally came to her aid at this point! After the battle Freydis and Hekja were referred as berserkers – perhaps the greatest warriors but without the animal skins!

Definitely fast paced action, story goes from strength to strength with historically accurate details. Junior Fiction, recommended for Grades 5-8 and up. Jackie French is the author of Diary of a Wombat and Hitler’s Daughter.

Check the WRL catalog rover.gif

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Morag offers us a Christmas classic from the junior collection:

If you are looking for a wonderfully funny satirical story to share with your family or church over the holidays – this story is recommended for ages 8 and up: a beloved wacky, witty, fast moving classic since 1972. Six wild children, the Herdman children teach a church congregation the true meaning of the biblical Christmas story.

The narrator’s mother suddenly (and reluctantly) takes over the planning of the yearly Christmas Pageant from the church’s born organizer “who does everything at the church except preach.” However, she is severely challenged when all six Herdman children start coming to Sunday school and are the only volunteers for the main roles in the play – Mary, Joseph the three wise men and the Angel of God. These six children are known to be cigar-smoking arsonists, liars and thieves and none of them have ever been to church before and know nothing about the Christmas Story.

In a hilarious and thought-provoking way the Herdman family act out the pageant in their own way – The “Herdman” way, with some thoughtful direction from the narrator’s mother. When Imogene and Ralph Herdman enter the church, on the night of the pageant as Mary and Joseph “they stood there looking like refugees.” Imogene has the baby doll slung over her shoulder and thumps it twice on the back before putting it in the crib. “Jesus could have had colic.”

When Gladys Herdman, the angel of God appears she hollers “hey, unto you a child is born,” and the boy shepherds really tremble in fear as they are truly afraid of her. The three wise men appear bearing the Herdman’s ham from their yearly charity basket – they want to bring something useful, not frankincense or gold or myrrh.

At the end of the pageant the Herdmans and the whole church congregation learn about true meaning of Christmas and everyone agreed it was “The best Christmas pageant ever.” “One of the best Christmas books ever” – Publisher’s Weekly

Check availability of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in the WRL catalog

Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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