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Monday, October 23, 2006


Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Reading Level: 5th and up

Pages: 259
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: Hardcover, 1997

When I say a novel is comprised of a series of character studies, I usually mean that in a negative way. I usually mean that there is no story or there is no emotional impact. However, when I say that there are impeccable character studies abound in Habibi, I mean that Nye is so skilled at "sculpting" her characters that they all come to life, each of them in 3D glory! Their relationships -- from a street vender who appears in two brief scenes, to Liyana and her family members and her new found friends -- are incredibly real and moving. Yes, there is not a strong story-arc and yet you don't feel like you'd put the book down -- you want it to go on for a long long time. You want to know what happens to the budding romance between Liyana (American/Arabic) and Omer (Jewish) in the city that divides them by ethnicities (Jerusalem). You want to know how Poppy's (Father) new found cause of making the country better and more peaceful develops. You want to watch Rafik (Liyana's cool nerd of a younger brother) grow up and see what kind of girlfriend he'll have.

A tender book about a violent time and place that is both important and more than well articulated. Nye's native skill as a poet adds sparkle and dimension to her story.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The End

Author: Lemony Snicket
Reading Level: 4th and up

Pages: 324
Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

I'm so glad that this series did not end with either a completely depressing scenario or a sappy silly one. It felt emotionally profound and satisfying. But... did the series really end? How about that extra chapter? How about The Beatrice Letters (which was published not long ago and which somehow "predicts" the next adventures AFTER The End has ended.)

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Fragile Things: Short Fiction and Wonders

Author: Neil Gaiman
Reading Level: HS/Adult

Pages: 355
Publisher: William Morrow
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This book is such a treasure -- from the cover design to the very interesting, informative introduction, to each of the 30+ stories and poems. It is odd to think of this book with such fondness and deep, comforting satisfaction when most of the stories are unsettling, dark, often with unrestrained gore and tragic situations. I wanted to write my reaction to each of the story... but simply didn't have time. Here are some of my favorite pieces. The short summary is just so I won't forget what the stories are about...

October in the Chair
(the little boy running away, meeting a little ghost boy...)
Forbidden Brides of the Facelss Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
(meta-fiction of a young writer, living in a world of fantasy and trying to write his own "realistic fiction")
Bitter Grounds
(a "zombie" like traveler, assuming another's identity...)
Other People
(very short and philosophical piece of demons in hell)
Harlequin Valentine
(tricking and being tricked -- do not lightly give away your heart -- pinning it on the door, with blood dripping..)
The Problem of Susan
(what happens to Susan after the Last Battle from the Narnia books...)
Instructions (poem)
(instructions to one who finds herself trapped inside a fairy tell)
My Life (poem)
(tall-tale goth and funny)
Feeders and Eaters
(a really creepy cannibal story)
(a possible story from the world of the movie Matrix)
The Day the Saucers Came (poem)
(humorous accumulative love letter)
(what happens when you have eaten all the rare and precious foodstuff - and not so-foodstuff - in the world)

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Lily Reads: Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants

Author: Sam Swope
Reading Level: 2nd - 5th

Pages: 99
Publisher: FSG
Edition: Hardcover, 2004

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Archer's Quest

Author: Linda Sue Park
Reading Level: 4th - 6th

Pages: 167
Publisher: Clarion
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This flimsily structures fantasy presents a slight introduction to legends from Korean and Chinese cultures. I wish the book is more moving, more imaginative, more convincing, richer in characters, with more inherent "importance" (for lack of a better expression)... but, then, maybe that is never the intent of the author. I'd like to get some feedback from the kids!

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lily Reads: Because of Winn-Dixie

Author: Kate DiCamillo
Reading Level: 2nd? - 5th

Pages: 192
Publisher: Candlewick
Edition: Paperback, 2004 (2000)

Lily says, "The book is cute. I like how much friendship they show to each other."

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Monday, October 02, 2006

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1)

Author: D.J. MacHale
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 374
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon & Schuster)
Edition: Paperback, 2002 (2002)

Bobby Pendragon describes events as Bazzario, his friend and uncle as Coolio, something sad is always going to "break his heart" and when facing death, he cannot help himself but uttering "Whoa!" I can't believe the kind of drivel that is kept in this published work. At least half of the description, statement, and revelation is redundant. MacHale is a master of stating, restating, and overstating the obvious. It's as if there is no trust in the reader's ability to make sense and emotional connection or interpretation of the events.

There are life-or-death situations throughout the story but if one thinks twice about it, it is apparent that a tighter, more powerful story can emerge from beneath the jumble and rambling of words. Show, Mr. MacHale, show, and don't tell!

I also couldn't suspend my disbelief to accept that Bobby could scratch with a crude pen-and-ink-set on FOUR sheets of parchment, almost 50-printed pages worth of "journal entry." Ok, he has to write "everything down" but if he only had a few hours (as it is the case) and a limited supply of parchment, it just does not make sense for him to record every single last word in the dialog or for him to make side mental comments on the situations. It simply does not follow logic -- and in works of the fantastic and the wonderous, logic is more important to keep the fabric of the tale together.

So, I am forced to finish this book because my students keep asking me to read it because it is "GREAT"! Now, I have to start questioning how and why this book is great.... I need help! But I'm just happy that I've finally finished the book (what a painful week it was!) and can now move on to the new Neil Gaiman short story collection, The Fragile Things

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