The Alan Review
Current Editors
Steven Bickmore sbick@lsu.edu
Jacqueline Bach jbach@lsu.edu
Melanie Hundley melanie.hundley@vanderbilt.edu
Volume 27, Number 1
Fall 1999


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Clip and File Young Adult Books in Review

Lawrence Baines, Editor


Journey to an 800 Number
E. L. Konigsburg
Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999, 138 pages. $4.99
ISBN: 0-689-82679-6
Family Issues/Father-son
Reviewed by Joan Nist -- Professor Emerita, Auburn

Seventh-grader "Bo" Maximilian Stubbs goes to his itinerant camel-keeper father in the West while his mother honeymoons with a rich new older husband. Along the way from one convention to the next, Bo learns to respect his eccentric parent and meets Sabrina, a girl wise beyond her fifth-grade years. She teaches him the difference between pretending-"Everyone want to pretend sometime"-and pretense, which was leading to snobbery.

Other interesting characters: Ahmed the camel, Trina Rose the Vegas star, and Sabrina's mother, an anonymous "800" answerer, who freeloads at conventions for vacations. This story by Konigsburg, two-time Newbery Medallist, was first published in 1982. The moral comes on strong. Woody, the dad, is almost too good to be true, but cheeky Sabrina steals the show and will please younger readers.


My Heart is on the Ground
Ann Rinaldi
Scholastic, 1999, 197 pages. $10.95
ISBN: 0-590-14922-9
Historical Fiction, Journals
Reviewed by Bonnie O. Ericson -- College of Education California State at Northridge

Ann Rinaldi delivers another compelling historical novel with My Heart is on the Ground, a book written in diary form and focusing on the fictional life of Nannie Little Rose, a young Sioux girl who leaves the reservation to live at the non-fictional Carlyle Indian School in Pennsylvania in the late 1880s. An historical note, photographs, and maps at the end of the book bring the realities of this Indian boarding school to life and will help readers picture the gradual "lifting" of Nannie's heart as she makes difficult adjustments to the cultural clashes between home and school. Especially appealing to students in grades five through eight, My Heart is on the Ground would make an excellent choice for group or independent reading while a class was studying the Westward Expansion in U.S history. This book is part of Scholastic's Dear America series of fourteen different works written in diary form by authors such as Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, and Patricia McKissack.


Wizard's Hall
Jane Yolen
Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1999, 133 pages, $6.00
ISBN:0-15-202085-3
Fantasy, ages 10 and up
Reviewed by Edmund J. Farrell -- University of Texas at Austin

Like The Little Engine that Could, and did, Henry Thornmallow, hero of Wizard's Hall, is one who tries, and tries and tries. But unlike the indefatigable steam engine, Henry is unable to make it on his own.

Sent by his mother to Wizard Hall to learn the arts of wizardry under the tutelage of thirteen Magisters, wizards all, Henry is a slow study. Though he means well (an oft-repeated clause), Henry is a muddler, seemingly incapable of mastering the arts of magic. Nevertheless, because he is a determined trier, one unwilling to wave a white flag when villainy threatens, he rallies both classmates and Magisters to do battle with The Quilted Beast and its Master. The latter, an evil Magister who had been exiled from the Hall and who now threatens to destroy it and its inhabitants, owes his comeuppance to Henry's doggedness. The consequence is that Henry, rather than making his mark as an enchanter, wins his place in the Hall as an official enhancer. As Magister Dr. Morning Glory rightly notes, "...every community needs its enhancers."


Joan of Arc
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Harcourt Brace, 1999, 122 pages. $23.00
ISBN: 0-15-201736-4
Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Elizabeth Stephens -- Southwest Texas State

Joan of Arc is often remembered as a legend or as a benevolent heroine who, like Robin Hood or El Zorro, is more fiction than fact. As the author of Joan of Arc, Michael Morpurgo states in his "Author's Note," this story strives "to find the real Joan." Joan's 15th century life story is embedded in a modern day story of Eloise, an adolescent girl in France who greatly admires her and has studied the heroine's life. After Eloise's family moves from Montpellier to Orleans, the site of Joan's most critical battle, Eloise experiences a mystical conversation with a voice emanating from a bright light. The voice tells Eloise the true story of Joan, the 17-year-old pious peasant girl who lives in France in the early 1400s when the country was forcibly occupied by the British. Morpurgo achieves his goal of bringing to his readers as realistic and accurate a portrayal of Joan of Arc as possible. The book features historical facts as well as attention to the mythical qualities of the life of Joan of Arc.


Plague Year
Stephanie S. Tolan
Beech Tree Books, 1999. 198 pp. $6.95
ISBN: 0-688-08801-5
Social Issues/Prejudice
Reviewed by Charles R. Duke -- Appalachian State University

What happens when a sixteen-year-old student turns out to be the son of a serial killer? If you are the son, you try to hide your identity and move to a new town and a new school. But hiding does not work well for Bran, who is different in his own right. Although Bran has two friends-Molly and David- on his side, he is no match for the prejudicial hysteria that sweeps the town and school, leaving him isolated and running for his life. Tolan shows, convincingly, how quickly people can form hasty and ill-founded opinions of others based on very limited evidence and destroy their lives as a result. The ending of this novel is far too pat, avoiding having to deal with the really wrenching choices we all have to make when faced with the effects of prejudice. The novel, however, ought to make students understand how it feels when dealing with the effects of prejudice. The novel, however, ought to make junior and senior high readers think about how they might behave in similar situations; the book would be an excellent choice for use in classes where prejudice is addressed from a variety of viewpoints.


Holes
Louis Sachar
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. 233 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-374-33265-7
Family/Friendship
Reviewed by Katherine Barr -- Florida State University

Found guilty of stealing a pair of sneakers that were to be auctioned off to raise money for the homeless, Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility in an old lakebed that is now desert. He realizes that although the warden claims that digging builds character, the boys in the facility are actually looking for something in these holes. The key to this mystery is hidden in the relationship between Stanley's family and that of the Zeroni family, a tale that goes back four generations to Latvia when Stanley's great-great-grandfather broke a promise to Madame Zeroni. Hector Zeroni and Stanley meet at the camp, find themselves pitted against the warden and the other boys, and help each other survive in the desert thereby breaking Madame Zerone's curse on the Yelnats family.

Although the outcome might be guessed, Sachar creates a suspenseful tale that keeps the reader cheering for Stanley and Hector as the boys overcome each obstacle in their path, including a crazed warden searching for treasure and the poisonous, yellow-spotted lizards living in holes in the desert.

Holes won the 1999 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children's Literature in the fiction category.


Odder Than Ever
Bruce Coville
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 146 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-15-201747-X
Contemporary Issues
Reviewed by Merrill J. Davies -- Armuchee High School, Armuchee, Georgia

Although Coville says his primary intent in all these short stories was to entertain, and that if any of them are perceived to "have a point," it probably occurred by accident, they do deal with several current issues faced by young people. Such issues as homosexuality ("Am I Blue?") and family tragedy ("The MetamorphosisÉ" and "The Japanese Mirror") are very real in these stories despite the supernatural events. Some stories like "I, Earthling" and "The Stinky Princess" encourage the reader to view common subjects from a new perspective.

For the most part, Coville is probably able to get the young reader to "suspend disbelief," even when characters are living in a giant's tooth or disappearing under their beds. However, for the mature mind, reality seems to keep intruding to raise questions. Coville's stories will be interesting for middle school students who like stories about the supernatural, especially those students who are unable to handle the more sophisticated fantasy fiction.


Spiders in the Hairdo: Modern Urban Legends
Collected and retold by David Holt and Bill Mooney
August House Publishers, Inc., 1999, 111 pages. $7.95
ISBN: 0-87483-525-9
Paperback Fiction/Legends
Reviewed by Judith A. Hayn - Assistant Professor, Auburn University

Where are our modern equivalents of myths, tall tales, and folklore? They live in the words of two professional story-tellers who use the scripts of their Grammy-nominated audiotape to publish these tales told as truths and/or rumors from our urbanized lives. The disgusting account of a Mexican pet smuggled back home as a dog discovered to be a sewer rat, the bizarre saga of the lady in the title proudly preserving her sculpture along with a slew of black widow spiders, and the familiar story of the couple parked in a Lover's Lane who flee their tryst only to find the hook from a maniac's arm remaining attached to the car provide the fodder for our modern gossip grapevine. Whether spread through the Internet, told as office gossip, or related as "true" stories, the staccato delivery of these easy read alouds will delight, disgust, and deceive both listener and teller. A must for the classroom shelf!


Alice on the Outside
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1999, 176 pages. $15.00
ISBN: 0-68980359-1
Fiction/young girl coming of age
Reviewed by Sherry WalravenÑTeacher, Gordon County, GA

Alice is a typical young teen with the typical young teen problems that face almost every fourteen-year-old today. Alice and her friends worry over what is "in" and what is "out," boys, dances, and sex.

Alice is growing up and facing changes every day that she often wonders how she will handle. She agonizes over not having a mother, her birthday, her friends' behavior, and her date for the dance canceling at the last minute. Through it all, Alice exhibits behaviors that shows she is learning to make decisions and handle certain situations in a grown-up manner.

In regards to middle school, I would not recommend this book for sixth graders. They are not yet mature enough for the content of this book. Seventh and eighth graders would be better able to handle it and would benefit from seeing the way Alice handles herself in certain situations. Girls of this age would enjoy this book, but in the rural school where I teach, I can see where this book might be a bit controversial with the talk of lesbians and sex.


Sword of the Samurai
Eric A. Kimmel
Harcourt Brace, 1999. 114 pages. $15.00
ISBN: 0-15-201985-5
Multicultural-Japanese
Reviewed by Nancy E. Zuwiyya - English Teacher, Binghamton City Binghamton New York

These 11 samurai tales are the result of Kimmel's recent trip to Japan and subsequent research on the samurai. Each short tale opens a window on the history of the samurai and their long highly esteemed tradition in the history of medieval Japan. Each tale begins with a brief introduction. The stories reveal interesting facts, as well as present a perplexing dilemma. With their clear moral tags, the samurai tales teach lessons, yet offer room for contemplating other points of view. Many issues faced by the samurai are relevant today, such as violence in society, the role of women, and the clan versus the marginalized individual. The stories are short enough to be easily read in a few minutes, and rich enough to provoke good discussion. Kimmel's tales will go well with other samurai tales such as the recent books of Lensey Namioka.


Strawberry Hill
A. Lafaye
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999. 272 pages. $16.95
ISBN: 0-689-82441-6
Family Issues/Contemporary History
Reviewed by Lisa K. Winkler -- Maplewood, New Jersey

Raleia Pendle longs to live during a time where families had picnics in parks together or played parlor games. Since time travel isn't an option, she reads history books, visits antique shops and museums, and wears 1950's dresses. She'd have much preferred traveling from Wisconsin to Maine in an old-fashioned train than in her parents' 1960's station wagon. Yet, once the family of four arrives in Tidal, Maine, Raleia is optimistic that the summer might not be as boring as she expected. Local children tell her about Ian Rutherford, a reclusive old man living in a mansion overlooking the town. They say he hasn't left his home since a tidal wave hit the seaside town seventy years ago. Intrigued, Raleia befriends Rutherford and unfolds the mystery he's kept hidden for so long.

With many references to icons of the 1960s, Strawberry Hill may confuse young readersYor send them to their parents for questions. Who was Frank Zappa? What's the Sound of Silence? Who is Norman Bates? etc. Raleia is an admirable and strong character who enjoys being different. The novel will appeal to students who like stories about history and family life.


What Have You Lost?
Naomi Shihab Nye (ed.)
Greenwillow, 1999, 205 pages. $19.00
ISBN: 0-688-16184-7
Poetry
Reviewed by Mike Angelotti -- University of Oklahoma

As she has in This Same Sky and other collections, Naomi Shihab Nye has emphasized human diversity of life histories and ethnicity's in this anthology - a wonderful assemblage of personal stories (including translations) written in uncomplicated language and poetic form appropriate for adults and young people from middle school on up. One of my favorites is Robert Phillips's "My Valhalla," in which the poet wants a museum that he called "The Valhalla of Lost Things" where he would find such items as "The Venus De Milo's arms" and "All five-hundred-thousand volumes of the Alexandrian Library." And what a writing prompt its theme suggests! "What have you lost? Write it down." Added bonuses are the editor's introduction that includes her own teaching experience with that prompt, each poet's comment on something "lost and found," and photographs by Michael Nye. My guess is that most teachers will find this book a personal joy to read and a useful teaching resource.


Breaking Rank
Kristen D. Randle
Publisher: Morrow Junior Books, 1999, 201 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-688-16243-6
Social Issues/School Gangs
Reviewed by Edna Earl Edwards -- Professor Emerita of Education, State University of West Georgia

This timely novel gives insights into the thinking/functioning of an outcast school group and of those outside the group, sometimes in their own accepted cliques. Although the Clan is a non-violent high school group that wears black, does not speak in school nor does the school work (in special education classes where placed), and trains its members to function in society through art, mechanics, or business, the group is distrusted and feared because its members are different.

The focus of the novel is on Baby, a Clan member who dares take one of the school tests and is placed in an honors class, and Casey, a bright girl whom the principal selects to be his mentor. This break in ranks provides for all.

Randle's page-turner explores the relationships and interactions of students within and outside of groups in a high school. Parents, the principal, and teachers also receive attention.


Turtle Island: Tales of the Algonquian Nations
retold by Jane Louis Curry, Illustrated by James Watts
Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 1999, 160 pages. $17.00
ISBN: 0-689-82233-2
Myths/Multicultural/Native American
Reviewed by Hal Foster -- College of Education at University of Akron

Here are 27 short Native American legends or myths - many of them dealing with the creation of the world, animals, and humans. These myths are easy to read and often parallel nicely the religious stories many students know very well, like the Old Testament creation story.

This hardbound book is very attractive with clever black and white illustrations throughout the text. Turtle Island makes a nice selection for a myth unit in a middle school. On its own, some students may find the remoteness of the stories and the lack of characters to be a problem. However, any student interested in myth or Native American lore should like this book. It is easy to read and is a friendly escape from everyday teenage problems.


The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development
Bobby and Sherry Norfolk
August House, 1999. 176 pages. $14.95 pbk., $24.95 hc
ISBN: 0-87483-542-9 (hc), ISBN 0-87483-555-0 (pbk.)
Story-Telling
Reviewed by Joanne Peters, Teacher -- Librarian, Kelvin High School Winnipeg, Manitoba CANADA

Traditional stories and folktales invariably have a moral - a lesson in life, ethics, or values - conveyed through the medium of the told story. With the current interest in character education or values education, teachers need material that is effective and engaging. The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development is both, without being "moralistic." The twelve stories presented are fun to read and to hear, and can be used with students ranging from preschoolers to rap-loving high school students. Additionally, the Norfolks bring experience in stand-up comedy, elementary school education and librarianship, and professional storytelling to create a book that offers lesson suggestions, extension activities, and additional sources of folktales. Although the philosophic rationale for using story-telling as a means to character education is important and well-presented, it is in the practical suggestions for "Making It [ i.e. story-telling] Work" that the book is especially helpful.

Recommended for teachers at all grade levels.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J. K. Rowling
Scholastic Press, 1998. 352 pages. $17.95
ISBN: 0-439-06486-4
Fantasy/Student Rivalry
Reviewed by Jeffrey S. Kaplan - University of Central Florida

The setting is the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizards; and our hero, twelve-year-old Harry Potter, finds himself in extreme danger. As a returning second year student, he thinks he knows everything about magic, until a neurotic house-elf named Dobby warns him of impending danger. When the school=s Chamber of Secrets is opened again, other students begin turning to stone. And somehow Harry stands accused. Could Harry be the long-feared heir of Slytherin?

Harry and his budding wizard friends take an action-packed romp through magical time and space as they battle such nefarious creatures as Moaning Myrtle, a spirit who haunts the girls' bathroom; the outrageously pompous professor, Gileroy Lockheart; and the mysterious Tom Riddle whose diary contains terrifying truths. Middle school kids who delight in humorous fantasies will take great pleasure in this second novel from a British author who writes in the vein of P. L. Travers and Ronald Dahl.


Green Thumb
Rob Thomas
Simon & Schuster, 1999, 186 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-689-81780-0
Adventure/Environmental
Reviewed by Patti Cleary B -- Language Arts Teacher Woodridge Middle School, Peninsula, Ohio

Grady Jacobs is a thirteen-year-old computer nerd/botanist wannabe. He takes a trip of a lifetime when invited to spend the summer working for a world famous scientist in the Amazon rainforest. Dr. Carter, Grady discovers, is more of a mad scientist who is actually poisoning the rainforest rather than saving it. Grady also accidentally learns how to control the plant life in the forest by sound waves and is able to make the trees and vines bend to his every command. By the end of the novel the nerd has become the hero. Green Thumb is action-packed and would appeal to middle school readers, but the plot is fairly unbelievable. It could be a book to include as incidental reading for an interdisciplinary unit on the rainforest because it does a good job of describing the flora and fauna of the Amazon area.


Every Girl's Life Guide Dr. Miriam Stoppard
Publisher: DK Publishing, Inc., 1999. 128 pages. $7.95 (PB) ISBN: 0-7894-3758-9
Healthcare/Growing Up
Reviewed by Lisa A. Spiegel -- University of South Dakota

Every Girl's Life Guide is a guide for girls growing up, and the various changes this entails. The author's tone is reminiscent of an older sister giving advice. Chapter headings include puberty, wellness (featuring eating disorders), beauty/fashion, social life, sex (featuring virginity, lesbianism, birth control, pregnancy, abortion/adoption, and sexually-transmitted diseases), home life, family crises, and school/careers. Addresses and resources in the appendices provide additional information over covered topics.

The author uses a nonjudgmental tone that presents both sides and numerous viewpoints to controversial issues, especially sexual situations. There is good coverage on the decision to lose one's virginity, practicing abstinence and safe sex, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual values.

However, this is a small book, and most topics are covered in one or two short pages, some less. There is a lot of information presented, but little depth for any topic. Curiously, some seemingly vital pieces of information are missing. For example, there is a photograph of a nude female, but little coverage of female anatomy. Finally, one-half page covers "cervical smears," as they relate to cancer, but no mention of regular gynecological exams and their purpose.

Young girls will read this book overall. It is easy to understand, up-to-date regarding language, photos and teen situations, and it is not didactic, biased or incorrect regarding its text. However, this guide presents the bare minimum of information in an almost-condensed form, so many girls may need to acquire additional information on some of these topics for better understanding.


Shades of Gray
Carolyn Reeder
Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999. 152 pages. $4.99
ISBN: 0-380712332-6
Historical/Civil War/Family Issues
Reviewed by Tom Stewart -- Butler County Middle School, Morgantown, Kentucky

"How could Will Page, son of a fallen Confederate Patriot, respect a man who'd refuse to fight?" This question touches on one of the multiple themes addressed in the book Shades of Gray. When Will loses his entire immediate family in one way or another during the Civil War, he longs to stay in Winchester. It was his mother's wish for Will to live with her sister's family in the Virginia Piedmont, though, so Will reluctantly goes. Will's first predicament is that his uncle was a conscientious objector during the war, refusing to fight for either side. Throughout this beautiful book, which should be of high interest to students with different reading levels, we see Will grow mentally and physically. Naturally, Shades of Gray is a sort of coming-of-age novel that is tailor-made for a literature-based social studies curriculum, but is also one of the books of that type that stands steadily on its own. Some of the themes that will provoke lively conversation in the classroom are forgiveness, independence, grief, pride, character, and humanizing the face of war. It could also emphasize to students that there are always two sides to every story.


Thundershine: Tales of Metakids
David Skinner; Illustrator: Kevin Skinner
Simon & Schuster, 1999. 115 pages. $15
ISBN: 0-689-80556-X
Fantasy
Reviewed by Alan M. McLeod -- Professor of English Education Virginia Commonwealth University

David Skinner explores extrasensory perception through four stories about Metakids- individuals with a supernatural power. In "As True As She Wants It," Jenny rearranges her home, neighborhood, and the world by drawing maps; Mae, in "Walk This Way," does not bop (teleport) herself quickly to any place she wishes as do others-- she has another power. Dexter spray paints thoughts in "Poof Poof Ya Does Me a Favor," while Nina gives powers to her siblings and friends in "Meta Human." Each story explores not only a supernatural power, but raises questions about its use- or the refusal to use it. The book should appeal to middle school readers interested in science fiction and the supernatural. Each of the first three stories may be easily read in a short time as none is more than 20 pages. Provocative.


The Hermit Thrush Sings
Susan Butler
DK Publishing, 1999. 282 pages. $17.95
ISBN: 0-7894-2489-4
Science Fiction
Reviewed by Joyce A. Litton -- Ohio University Libraries (Ret.) Athens, Ohio

In The Hermit Thrush Sings, Leora is an orphaned misfit with a webbed hand. She lives with her stepmother in the former state of Maine in a future anti-utopian society that came into being after a radioactive meteorite hit the earth. The Rulers forbid people to leave their assigned village, tell them that creatures called birmbas (half-ape, half-bear) will kill them, and contend that new vegetation is toxic. Oppressed and alienated, Leora undertakes a quest to locate her lost sister by befriending a baby birmba. Led by her magical webbed hand, Leora discovers that her sibling is planning to lead a revolution to restore democracy.

Without being pedantic, the author reveals the flaws of authoritarianism and prejudice. The characters in the book are well drawn. Leora is a likable heroine; the guards and rulers are villains one loves to hate. Well written and fast paced, The Hermit Thrush Sings is science fiction at its best.


A Guide to Space: A Photographic Journey through the Universe
Author: Bond, Peter
Publisher: DK Publishing, Inc., 1999. Cost: $19.95
ISBN: 0-7894-3946-8 Category:
Non-fiction/Science Exploration
Reviewed by Julie Hughey - undergraduate in Education at Berry College

Planets, star birth, and alien life forms are discussed in Peter Bond's latest book, A Guide to Space. Using everyday language and amazing pictures, Bond guides readers through the solar system, explaining the properties of each planet, the experiences of astronauts, and even the purposes of space stations and satellites.

With its colorful shots of comets and star deaths, A Guide to Space teaches students about outer space while capturing their attention through examples about Superman and Ferris Wheels. Through his lively commentary, Bond promises to bring both students and teachers alike much information about what lies beyond our own planet. His objective look at life on other planets and his large amount of space data, such as the diameter of planets, stars nearest to earth and landmarks in space exploration, only add to the excitement of learning about outer space. A great book for any student, especially those interested in outer space.


The Journal of Sean Sullivan: A Transcontinental Railroad Worker
William Durbin
Scholastic, 1999. 192 pages. PB $10.95
ISBN: 0-439-04994-6
Reviewed by Edgar H. Thompson -- Emory & Henry College

This is the most recent volume in Scholastic's "My Name is America" series, which features journals of fictional characters consistent with the kinds of lives young people might have led during the historical period covered by each book. This particular journal features the thoughts and observations of Sean Sullivan over a two-year period, starting in 1867, while he worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. Sean works with his father, a foreman, and starts out as a thin boy of 15 and grows into a man by age 17. Readers are given a personal view of what life was like for the workers during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed on May 19, 1869. The difficulties both of the work and the living conditions are described, as well as the camaraderie and rapport- or lack thereof- that existed among the workers. The effects of the railroad owners' greed and corruption on the workers and on the quality of construction are also revealed.

I love this series. It provides interesting historical pictures and illustrations along with an historical note at the end of the fictional text that illustrates how the book matches the recorded history of the era. I also like the epilogue that shares what happened to the central characters, as if they were real people, over the course of their lives. When I finish each of these books, I feel that I have a more accurate sense of what happened during the time depicted, and I'm sure 8-14 year-old readers are likely to have the same feeling.


Lockie Leonard, Scumbuster
Tim Winton
McElderry Books, 1999. 140 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-689-82247-2
Social Issues/Environmental
Reviewed by Bill Mollineaux B Sedgwick Middle School West Hartford, Connecticut

Nothing is going right for thirteen-year-old Lockie. He's relatively new to his small coastal Australian town, having lived there only a year. Unfortunately for him, the local police sergeant is his poetry-reading father; his popular girlfriend has dumped him; he's surprised at becoming friends with a strange, pimple-faced headbanger (one who likes heavy metal music) nicknamed Egg, whose father is a minister with marital problems and a job in jeopardy; and an eleven-year-old girl, for whom he falls, replaces him as the town's top surfer. Then, one day as Lockie and Egg are kayaking in the local harbor, a strong stench overwhelms them and they discover that two local factories are polluting the harbor. Determined to stop the pollution, they are forced to take on the mayor, labor unions, and workers who fear the loss of their jobs.

Winton has skillfully woven these ingredients-- plus a cast of unforgettable characters-- into a hilarious, thought provoking, slapstick story that will captivate middle school readers. While the chapters are short, the pace is not!


The Crystal Pool: Myths and Legends of the World
retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Bee Willey
Simon & Schuster, 1999. 138 pages. $20.00
ISBN: 0-689-82266-9
Multi-cultural/Myth
Reviewed by Jeanne M. McGlinn --University of North Carolina at Asheville

How was the world created? What is the relationship of the gods to humans? How did evil, death, and misfortune enter a world which was created perfect by an all-good, all-knowing creator? What is virtue? These are the questions that story-tellers in every culture, in every time have tried to answer. McCaughrean retells a diverse collection of stories in accessible modern language, some well known in western culture like the myth of Isis and Osiris or the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, others from diverse cultures with a complex and epic body of legend, such as creation myths of the Maori people of New Zealand or the epic exploits of heroes in the Ramayana of India. Version of a flood story comes from ancient Sumeria, China, and the Bainang people of New Britain.

Notes at the end of the text explain briefly the origin of each story, but the stories work their own magic on the imagination, giving readers a window into the heart and soul of the people who shared and preserved these stories over time.


Tomorrowland: Ten Stories About the Future
Michael Cart
Scholastic Press, 1999. 203 pages. $15.95
ISBN: 0-590-37678-0
Fantasy/Futuristic Vision
Reviewed by John H. Bushman -- University of Kansas

Well-known authors address such issues as love, hate, the environment, prisons, cults, epidemic disease, and the fate of the human race. Some of the stories are light in nature; others dark with despair. Writers of these short stories include Michael Cart, James Cross Giblin, Ron Koertge, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Rodman Philbrick, Jon Scieszka, Tor Seidler, Gloria Skurzynski, and Jacqueline Woodson. Cart gives his readers many excellent short stories that invite consideration of how the past is truly reflected in the future.


Father's Arcane Daughter
E. L. Konigsburg
Family Life Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999. 118 pages. $4.99
ISBN: 0-689-82680-X
Family Issues/Brother and Sister
Reviewed by Laura M. Zaidman -- Professor of English University of South Carolina

"Arcane" perfectly describes the hidden secrets and pleasures revealed as Konigsburg magically weaves past and present narrative threads. Originally published in 1976 by the two-time Newbery Medal-winning writer, this intriguing novel has clever plot twists that challenge the curiosity and delight the imagination. It certainly is not outdated for a new generation of readers. Adapted for television by the Hallmark Hall of Fame, the film version (titled Caroline?) won an Emmy for the best made-for-television movie. The plot revolves around a mysterious woman claiming a family fortune, yet she gives more than she takes as she resolves conflicts for Winston and Heidi, a brother and sister who have a love-hate relationship. The conclusion reveals the secret woman's identity, but just when readers know the truth about one "arcane daughter," they are delighted to find still another. Richly satisfying, this novel offers insights for both the mind and the heart.


Can You Feel the Thunder?
Lynn E. McElfresh
Atheneum, 1999. 138 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 0-689-82324-X
Realistic Fiction
Reviewed by Angela M. Ferree -- Western Illinois University

Thirteen-year-old Mic Parsons tolerates- but just barely- the aggravations of his life: his parents' stipulation that he pass math before trying out for baseball, his locker unfortunately placed between Godzilla Girl and Julie Patterson who passes him love notes, and the increasingly ugly remarks of Freemont, his one-time best friend. Yet nothing embarrasses him more than Stephanie, his deaf-blind older sister, clumping around the house and touching everything and everyone. What had happened? As children they had been soul mates. Then, almost against his will, Mic is drawn to the new student Vern Chortly, a.k.a. "Nerd Boy," and his parents. It is through them that Mic rediscovers the closeness and affection he had lost within his own family.

With a sure feel for the turmoil of junior high, McElfresh brings these often-painful years to life. This novel, and particularly its realistic dialogue, will appeal to most early adolescent readers.


Hard Love
Ellen Wittlinger
Simon & Schuster, 1999. 227 pages. $16.95
ISBN: 0-689-82134-4
Coming of Age/Contemporary
Reviewed by Bonnie Ericson -- Professor, California State University at Northridge

After his parents' painful divorce, John is having a great deal of difficulty. None of his relationships can be called successful, not with his best friend Brian, with his mother and her fiancŽ, or with his dad. His only solace is in reading the self-published "zines" written by other teens and in creating his own, Bananafish. John becomes entranced with Marisol, another zine writer, who from the outset of their friendship announces her lesbian lifestyle. As their friendship develops, however, John can't seem to help falling in love with her, and she becomes his first love, a "hard love" in the words of lyricist Bob Franke.

Teens both male and female are likely to enjoy this book immensely. It's honest. It's funny. And, it gives a realistic portrayal of how surviving the last years of high school can be painful and hopeful at the same time. Teens will find much meaning in the "Hard Love" lyrics that are reprinted in full at the end of the book. There is also the potential for considering the "zine" format for a response to the book.


Zack
William Bell
Simon Schuster, 1999. 192 pages. $16.95
ISBN: 0-689-82248-0
Social Issues/Racism/Local History/Coming of Age
Reviewed by Peter E. Morgan -- University of West Georgia

When Zack's parents decide to leave Toronto for a small rural township with a name like "an incurable skin disease," Zack finds himself finishing his senior year at a school where he feels alone, alienated, and never quite able to live up to his parents' expectations. His lifeline comes from an eccentric history teacher known as "The Book," who, rather than see him fail her class, offers Zack the opportunity to write a research project on local history, an idea which Zack at first despises as much as the rural environment he has been forced to call home. As he traces the roots of some mysterious artifacts he has found in his family's yard, Zack embarks on a journey from Canada to Mississippi and from the present to the war of 1812 to discover where he- the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of slaves, with his white, Jewish, college professor father and black blues-singer mother- fits into his family, his community, and his country's history. With a story that will appeal to all ages, this book looks racism (by all groups) squarely in the eye; yet it also presents a vision of slow healing that is both realistic while gentle enough for sixth graders. It would make a wonderful pair with Christopher Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 (Delacorte Press, 1995).


The Year They Burned the Books
Nancy Garden
ISBN: 0-374-38667-6
Farrar Straus Grioux, 1999, 247 pages, $17.00
Freedom of Speech/Homophobia/Community Conflict
Reviewed by Peter Morgan -- State University of West Georgia

As the editorial staff of the Wilson High Telegraph takes on battles our children should never have to fight, battles that pit the fundamentalist group Families for Traditional Values against liberal and conservative voices for moderation in their quiet New England Community, these juniors and seniors struggle to understand each other and themselves as the novel builds to a horrific Halloween climax- a sort of Salem witch trials meets Nazi Germany-- that finally forces the town to deal with an issue too long ignored. Nancy Garden writes once again with a passion and conviction shared by her heroine, Jamie Crawford, Editor-in-Chief of the Telegraph, both of whom hold out for the belief that if people simply had access to the facts regarding sex education, contraception, homosexuality, AIDS, and so on, they would see only senselessness in the bigotry that tears apart communities, breaking hearts and taking lives among our youth. Of course, Garden knows- and Jamie Crawford comes to learn-- that it is not that simple, and hence this stunning follow-up to her award-winning Annie on My Mind (1982), which so many "educators" and other tried to censor. If you could not teach this book in your school, reading it yourself may inspire you to do something about that.


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