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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle BlowsAuthor: Fran SlaytonĀ”
Reading Level: 5th to 8th

Pages: 160
Publisher: Philomel, Penguin Young Readers
Edition: Hardcover, 2009 (from galley)

Judging by the somewhat muted and sleepy cover, I thought I was going to read a "pensive, quiet" coming-of-age, historical fiction. It turned out that the story is NOT all that quiet: every episode falls on an All Hallow's Eve from early-40s to late-40s. You get the thrill of the secret Society's weird, slightly off and scary way to honor a recently deceased member; you get the Halloween prank gone awry; you get the blood-pumping, almost heart-stopping football game actions; and you get the death and danger working on the steam-engined trains. But then, you also get so much HEART between the main character and his father. It is an entirely "male" book, glaringly so -- you hardly see a female character and they hardly have even a speaking turn. It's all... very, macho, but oddly also very tender. And so much humor and humorous wisdom. I am not ashamed to say that I cried hard at the end of the tale... mourning the passing of a man and of an era so lovingly and convincingly portrayed by the author.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009


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Friday, July 10, 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Al Capone Shines My ShoesAuthor: Gennifer Choldenko
Reading Level: 4th to 7th Grade

Publisher: Dial
Edition: Hardcover, 2009 (galley)

I am completely delighted by this book. I really enjoyed the first one and this one holds up, well and strong, and I think it works even better. Maybe because I thought, "What can she come up with that can top the first book?" before starting to read this one.. and Choldenko absolutely pulled it off. There is humor and tension all throughout the book, not to mention some hard-to-sort-out moral dilemmas. Over the years, my students have loved the first book -- from really strong readers to really reluctant ones - and both girls and boys do, too. I can see this one achieves the same effects: not a book that gets everyone super-excited, but one that gets talked up by young peers and gets passed around without making too big a wave. Its "beloved-ness" will last quite a while, I believe.

I also really appreciate the author's notes. This will make for a good historical-fiction writing assignment starter book. (I can see a whole class reading the book, discussing the facts and fiction aspects of the story, and doing some sort of historical research and writing a short story. <-- with my librarian's hat on, of course.)

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