Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Top Ten books on a desert island!

This is in response to the weekly feature/meme, Top Ten Tuesday, created by The Broke and the Bookish, another blog I write for. Check out that post!

Here are my top ten books I would definitely want if I were to be stuck on a desert island.

1. The Bible: This is a must-have. Not only is it my faith, but I haven't read through it completely and this would be the perfect chance, right? Plus, it's super long.

2. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle): I know this was in my childhood favorites, but it still stands as a favorite today. I only vaguely remember reading it for the first time, and I have no idea how many times I've read it, but I know it's been more than once.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): A perennial favorite, I can just pick this one up, open it to a random page and start reading.

4. Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech): Another one I've read and reread. It's long due for another reread, and I think I'll pick it up after my summer course ends (not much time for recreational reading unfortunately).

5. A Voice in the Wind (Katherine Lasky): Yet another childhood favorite I've read, this one probably at least five or six times. I still love it each time I read it.

6. Some kind of cookbook that will tell me how to prepare the delicious native food to whatever island I'm on. I'm sure one exists, I'm just too lazy to do a search. Plus I have NO idea how to cook in the great outdoors, and I need some sort of instruction.

7. The Complete Works of Shakespeare: I have read some, but not all. This is as good a time as any to complete my Shakespearean education, no?

8. East of Eden: I figure I should bring at least one book I've never read before. This one is pretty thick and I've heard rave reviews, including from Lori of The Coffee Girl.

9. Anne of Green Gables: I haven't read this in years, but it's long and I never tired of reading about Anne's adventures. I remember reading the children's abridged edition with pictures and not wanting it to end, so I picked up the unabridged edition. Good choice.

10. My old and tattered copy of Jane Eyre: It has to be this copy, as it's been with me for at least 10 years and has gone through at least three readings.

Well, there you have it! Since most of these are young adult books, or books that I read as a young adult, I find it completely appropriate to include it in a young adult book blog. What would you choose?

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Freedom Walkers" by Russell Freedman

Title: Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Author: Russell Freedman
Publisher: Holiday House, 2006
Where and why: I got this book out of my local library. It was assigned reading for my children's literature class.

This is the story of the brave freedom fighters in Montgomery, Alabama that spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America. It starts even before Rosa Parks played her pivotal role by refusing to give up her seat to a white man. After a brief introduction giving readers context of what it meant to be black during the 1950s, Freedman then begins with a lesser-known figure in history, Jo Ann Robinson, a professor at the all-black university Alabama State who, after being kicked off a bus for sitting too far toward the front, dedicated much of her time and life to changing the bus laws in the South.

Throughout the book, Freedman continues to put the spotlight on forgotten and overlooked players that led to such a monumental shift in American history, along with well-recognized and essential names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Freedman leaves nothing out in this history--everything is detailed, and he does not shy away from including the horrific murders that occurred before and after the boycott.

Written for middle-grade students, Freedman writes in such a way that is understandable for younger readers, yet is not degrading. He never talks down to his audience and assumes they know enough to understand what he's writing about. Here's a sample:
Rosa Parks had not expected to resist on that December evening. And she did not want to put her family at risk. But she was no longer willing to accept the indignities of bus segregation, a system that dehumanized all black people. 'I decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama' [she said].
Short paragraphs, often broken up by black-and-white photographs that help tell the story, make it easier for younger readers to stay focused, yet it's not so simple that it would bore them. Quotes and the aforementioned photographs are woven into the text, both of which enhance the telling and give a sense of realness to it that would have been lost otherwise; as a result, the reader is transported back in time.
All in all, this is an inspiring chapter in American history that Freedman tells eloquently, simply, and brilliantly.

My review on The Broke and the Bookish: "Red Kayak" by Priscilla Cummings

Red KayakTitle: Red Kayak
Author: Priscilla Cummings
Publisher: Puffin, 2004
Where and why: I got it from my local library. It was a summer reading book and sounded interesting, plus it seemed like it would be a good pick for boys. I need to read more "boy" books.

One cold and stormy April day, 13-year-old Brady is called to help on a rescue mission—his neighbors, Mrs. DiAngelo and her 3-year-old son Ben, go missing after going out on their new red kayak. After some searching, the rescue team manages to find Mrs. DiAngelo, but Brady is the one who finally finds Ben, not breathing and so cold his lips are blue. He manages to keep him alive until he makes it to the paramedics, but it looks grim.

At first hailed as a hero, things quickly turn around for Brady when the child dies. Wracked with guilt for not being able to save him, and for not yelling out to the DiAngelos the morning of the accident when he and his two best friends saw the kayak in the water, he is at first unable to grieve properly and move on, but eventually finds a little peace when he begins to help Mrs. DiAngelo with yard work and odd jobs. However, a terrible discovery leads Brady to make one difficult and life-altering decision.

At its heart, this crime drama is about grief, guilt, and, more subtly, forgiveness and acceptance. Brady really struggles with the decisions he must make, as he knows they'll not only affect him, but everyone close to him. It's obvious what the "right thing" to do is, but it's so layered and complex that even I had a tough time deciding what I thought he should do. For younger readers, this will really challenge them to think about how they would act in the same sort of situation.

The pacing started off really well, with the first chapter consisting of Brady looking back on the events to unfold in the novel and wondering a series of "what ifs" that would have led to a different outcome. He doesn't reveal anything, and only as the story progresses do we see what his musings are all about. Though there are parts in the middle that kind of drag, which can be especially frustrating for reluctant readers, there are twists placed strategically throughout the book that keep the interest there.

My problem with the book was with the language. It was written in the vernacular, which in itself wasn't too bad, but there were times when it just got distracting for me. I really didn't like Brady's voice much either; at one point he uses the phrase "gee whiz," which never wins points with me unless it's used ironically, and unnecessary exclamation points abound. It just didn't seem very real to me; Cummings didn't pull off the teen male perspective very well, and I had trouble believing any teen would speak the way Brady does. He also tends to throw in boating jargon, which really affected the pacing in the all-important rescue scene.

Despite my minor beef with the narration and lagging bits in the middle, Red Kayak still has a lot of merit as far as themes are concerned. As I mentioned before, doing what's right is huge here, but the more subtle issue of forgiveness shines through in the end. I have to admit, I teared up during the final scenes—very touching.

This would be a decent choice to give to boys, though older teens might get bored with it because of the age of the main character and tone—it just sounds like it was meant for a younger audience. I would think it would be good for ages 12 to 15, or around there. And of course, girls would enjoy this just as much—the only reason I am focusing on boys here is that it can be difficult to find things they'd be interested in!

My Top Ten childhood faves!

I figured this would be a great place to start. This "Top Ten Tuesday" meme was created by another blog for which I write, The Broke and the Bookish. I know it's a little late in the game for this, as it is no longer last Tuesday, but I did write this and publish it on my other blog, fill in the blank (which you may find entertaining; at least I hope it is). Anyway, to wrap up this intro, here are my top ten favorite books I read when I was younger:

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: This is probably my all-time, super-duper favorite book ever. It combines fantasy, adventure and concepts of ethics as Meg and Charles Wallace Murray, with their friend and accidental companion Calvin O'Keefe, search for their father through space and time. I can't recommend this book enough. I've read it at least three times.

2. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: I read this sometime in elementary school, though I can't remember exactly when. 13-year-old Salamanca goes on a cross-country road trip with her grandparents to find her mother. Through stories she tells her grandparents, we learn about her previous year in a new town, and bit by bit secrets are revealed to the reader. I loved the juxtaposition of the road trip with Sal's narration of her past. I'm way past due for a rereading of this one.

3. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell: When I was younger I would read every Scott O'Dell book I could get my hands on, and it all started with this one. It's a survival story, but at its very core it's a coming of age tale. Karana is left on her home island after her tribe leaves, and with (eventually) a dog as her only companion, she must deal with growing up alone and surviving with only a few tools and her brain to get her through.

4. Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner: Oh my, these books were like candy to me. They were probably the books that sparked my love of reading. I remember using the hall light to read by so I could keep reading past my bedtime. Probably why my eyesight is so bad. But anyway--I remember these mysteries as being extremely wholesome yet exciting. I really liked them.

5. Baby-Sitters' Club by Ann M. Martin: I can't tell you how excited I was when I found out these were going back into print. I was a bit disappointed to hear that they'd be "updated," but according to Ann M. Martin in an interview with Forbes, they weren't so much updated as made more vague, which works for me. All I have to say is that I did not learn about diabetes because of Nick Jonas--Stacey McGill taught me all I know. (For any of you wondering, I did watch the TV show... and still remember all of the lyrics.)

6. A Voice in the Wind by Kathryn Lasky: I must have read this book at least 7 times. Every summer I would take it out of the library and reread it; I loved the Southwestern setting and the ghost story, the Native American culture, everything about this book. The fact that the two sets of Starbuck twins could communicate telepathically was pretty awesome too.

7. It's Nothing to a Mountain by Sid Hite: Another book I've reread at least once. Set in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia in 1969, it's another sort of survival story, though it's more adventurous and spiritual than anything. Lisette and Riley, after being orphaned, go to live with their grandparents in the mountains, where Riley finds a surprise in a nearby cave--a boy named Thorpe.

8. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene: I didn't read all of these, but I remember thinking they were great. It definitely makes me nostalgic to think of the series--at one point I read one that had to do with archeology (digging for artifacts or something) and for a while I wanted to be an archeologist.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry: I read this in eighth grade, so I guess I wasn't little, but I still thinks this counts. For some reason I am drawn to dystopian literature, and this might have been the first dystopian novel I read. Actually, scratch that; it might have been Fahrenheit 451, which I also read in eighth grade, but I can't remember which was first. I "borrowed" these from school (meaning I took them without asking from the classroom--but I returned them!) because I wanted to find out how they ended, and for whatever reason we never read them again in class. Stupid class. We read The Pearlbut not this stuff? C'mon!

10. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I read this in sixth grade and thought it was just awesome. What a kickass heroine! Strong and independent, despite her setback of being cursed to do whatever she is told. She finds a way around everything! Great retelling of Cinderella.

BONUS: American Girl Magazine Okay okay, this isn't a book, but I was a loyal subscriber and reader for YEARS. I couldn't wait to get these in the mail--I even bought some of the books, like the Help! books and Pages and Pockets. I loved all the great ideas they had for finding fun things to do and party ideas and games. Thanks for helping making my childhood awesome, American Girl!

Welcome, readers and kids at heart! And kids, too.

Hi all! Welcome to my brand-spanking new blog, From Tahleen's Mixed-Up Files. The name may change later, I'm not quite sure about it yet. At any rate, the address WILL stay the same no matter what happens: http://tahleenreads.blogspot.com. I figured that was simple and obvious enough.

This blog will be solely devoted to reviewing young adult/teen books, as that is my personal preference of reading material. Also because I am working my way to becoming a children's/young adult/teen librarian at some point in the (hopefully) near future. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my personal opinions and critical analyses of various YA and teen literature.
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