Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

That’s when I knew what I should do. I knew if I made this my project, I’d really have to take it seriously. I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t cheat. This would be for a grade and for the science fair, so I’d have to do it for real. Once I committed to it– once I wrote my idea on a piece of paper this afternoon and turned it in alongside everyone else’s research topics–I’d have no choice but to take it all the way.
Mr. Fizer said he wants big ideas. He wants us to be creative and to really push ourselves. He wants us to throw ourselves into our projects, mind and body and soul.
Well, you can’t get more committed than this.
“I’m going to do it,” I told Amanda. “I’m going to become prehistoric.” (11)

Junior Catherine Locke (known as Fat Cat to some of her classmates) is turning herself into a test subject for her science fair project. She’s determined that she will report on the results of living as a cave woman would have, which means no technology, no candy, no processed food, and no transportation (except for emergencies of course). Her friend Amanda thinks she’s crazy, especially considering all the honors and AP classes Cat is already taking. It doesn’t help matters that Amanda enlists her to help save the local vegetarian restaurant where Amanda does Poetry Night every month. After recovering from the initial caffine withdrawls, things go well for Cat until her quickly slimming body garners some unwanted attention, especially from ex-friend Matt. Will Cat be able to win the science fair and beat Matt once and for all, paying him back for the horrible thing he did a few years ago? You'll just have to read Fat Cat by Robin Brande to find out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tales of the Cryptids by Kelly Milner Halls, Rick Spears, and Roxyanne Young

Cryptozoology is one big word that is easily decoded. "Crypto" comes from a Greek word meaning "hidden or covered," and "zoology" is the study of animal life. So, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, cryptozoology is the study of and searching for legendary animals--called cryptids-- to find out if there's any possibility that these mysterious animals people say they've seen really exist. [...] And every once in a while, a determined cryptozoologist makes a discovery that knocks the doubtful experts on their ears: proof that one of the legends really does exist. (4)

Kelley Milner Halls, Rick Spears, and Roxyanne Young set out to showcase the science behind the legends and lore of creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. While you might be familiar with these, have you ever heard of the Coelacanth, which was supposed to be extinct a million years ago, or the Giant Squid found near Japan that can grow more than 40 feet long? Is the Loch Ness Monster's cousin hanging out in Lake Champlain in New York? Tales of the Cryptids breaks down the fact from the fiction, and relates new finds from this century about the possibility of these creatures actually existing.


Secret Subway by Martin Sandler

He was ready to begin. But in order to do so he would have to do something that no one in the world had ever done. Not only would he have to build a subway that would so impress city and state officials, the public, and the press that they would forgive his deception, but he would have to do it without anyone finding out about it until it was completed. The nation's first subway was about to be built in secret! (49)

In the late 1860s, New York was known as having "the biggest, the fastest, the most, the tallest, the greatest!" But New York was also the busiest and most crowded, with thousands of people, horses, and vehicles on the streets every day. Alfred Ely Beach, a young inventor, was intent on fixing the city he loved and called home. He had an idea of moving people underground, which many took to mean in the dank, dark, and dreary. Those who saw the potential in the project were corrupt by greed and above ground taxi services. That is when Beach decided to tunnel under the busy city streets in secret. Secret Subway by Martin W. Sandler tells the fascinating tale of one man's mission and the people who fought against it.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oggie Cooder: Party Animal by Sarah Weeks

“You’re joking, right?” said Hannah. “You didn’t really invite Oggie Cooder to your party, did you?”
Donnica reached into her pocket and pulled out her pink lip gloss.
“I invited him,” she said, pausing for a minute to slowly run the shiny gloss over her lips. “But trust me, he’s not going to come.” (26)

Oggie Cooder can’t believe his good luck when Donnica Perfecto finally invites him to her pool party. Donnica can’t believe her bad luck when she’s forced to invite Oggie Cooder to her pool party by her mother. It’s especially unfortunate when Donnica finds out that her local smash hit band is being replaced by the juggling Bumbles the Bear. Donnica has an idea to keep Oggie and Bumbles away from the party, though she might live to regret it when she finds out what Oggie is trying to get for her birthday gift. Anyone who liked Oggie Cooder before will love Oggie Cooder Party Animal in this newest novel by Sarah Weeks.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

“Their original group was thirteen. [...]
It was 1969 when they took their shot at being astronauts. Back then, women weren’t allowed to rent a car or take out a loan from the bank without a man’s signature; they could not play on a professional sports team at all. They couldn’t report the news on television or run in a city marathon or serve as police officers. They weren’t allowed to fly jets, either. And these are just some of the bigger examples.
None of that kept these women from trying to be astronauts. They were too determined. Every single one of them shared a common dream from the time they were little girls: they were all born to fly.” (2-5)

Tanya Lee Stone’s phenomenal and engaging new book Almost Astronauts tells the story of the Mercury 13 women, who were trailblazers in the same manner as Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride and the WASPS. Jerri Cobb was the first, undergoing three phases of astronaut testing to prove that women were capble of withstanding space travel. Twelve more women followed, making thirteen total. Although Stone writes that the women were “never part of the Mercury space program,” they underwent the same tests as the male pilots, many times surpassing their results, and quite often had more experience flying then their male counterparts. When the news became public however, NASA, the navy, the government, and even other female pilots became vocal about the impossibility of these women ever becoming female astronauts, called by the media “Astronettes.” It’s disheartening that although many of these women went on to continue careers in aviation, not one of the original 13 made it into space. The story is placed in context of the time, bringing to light what the women had to endure in the face of insurmountable prejudices. The book includes an author’s note, appendix, further reading, webliography, bibliography including books, articles, documents, and videos, source notes, photography credits, and an index, making it a well researched, well cited, and award winning book.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

Maybe I dreamed the last two days and today is really my birthday? Trembling, I reach down to feel the backs of my ankles. Band-Aids on both. I sit down on my bed and begin to cry. This is no dream or deja vu. I never had psychic powers. I can finally accept that now.
Ten seconds later, my alarm beeps. I want to throw it across the room. I can't do this over again. I just can't. I crawl back into bed and throw the covers over my head. Why is every day my eleventh birthday? And why doesn't anyone else realize it? Why is this hapening to me, of all people? I'm not special in any way. Well, I can touch my nose with my tongue, but that's pretty much it. (72)

Amanda Ellerby and Leo Fitzpatrick have celebrated their birthdays together ever since they were born on the same day. But during their tenth birthday party, Leo and Amanda get into an argument and they refuse to speak to each other. When their eleventh birthday comes along, their feud is infamous amongst the school, causing kids to take sides as to whose birthday party their going to; Leo's with the hypnotist and professional football player, or Amanda's Hollywood themed costume party. When Amanda and Leo wake up the next morning, they realize they're reliving their birthday over and over again. At first, they are freaked out, and then they think it's cool to live life without any consequences. But just how many times can you take the same pop quiz in history before you started wishing for something different to happen? Can Amanda and Leo fix what's happening to them? Wendy Mass writes about friendship mixed with a little bit of magic in 11 Birthdays.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Riot by Walter Dean Myers

MAEVE: They were singing about going to Dublin and marching as gay as you please all the way down Mercer Street. And every time they came to the end of a line with a “Whack follol de rah” they would break out a window!
CLAIRE: That’s terrible. Why would anyone want to do that?
MAEVE: Well, it’s the Irish against the swells and the Coloreds. They’ve been pushing us around too long, they have. You can’t walk down the sidewalk without a swell pushing you off into the street or one of the Coloreds taking your jobs. I hear they have them by the hundreds in Jersey City just waiting to rush over to New York at the drop of a hat.
You won’t be able to find a scrap of work that they won’t do for half the money. That’s how the Coloreds are. They’ll work for nothing until they chase us out and we’ll be the beggars and street sweepers. It’s in the Bible! (25-26)

There are riots happening in New York City during the hot July of 1863. With the Civil War raging, President Lincoln instituted a draft, which the rich get out of participating in by paying $300. The Irish immigrants are upset about this because not only are they being forced to fight in a war, but they’re fighting to free slaves who will inevitablely move up north and take their jobs for less money. Tensions mount, and stuck in the middle is fifteen-year-old Claire, born to an Irish mother and a black father. She sympathizes with both sides, but her pale appearance saves her from the persecution that most blacks are facing. Until, that is, someone finds out about her mixed race background. Walter Dean Myers tells the tale of the Riot in a screenplay format, providing stage directions and descriptions about the violence that occurred.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Like I would be happy about going back to school. About stepping back into those haunted halls. Into the commons, where the world as I knew it had crashed to an end last May. Like I hadn’t been having nightmares about that place every single night and waking up sweaty, crying, totally relieved to be in my room again where things were safe.
The school couldn’t decide if I was hero or villain, and I guess I couldn’t blame them. I was having a hard time deciding that myself. Was I the bad guy who set into motion the plan to mow down half my school, or th hero who sacrificed herself to end the killing? Some days I felt like both. Some days I felt like neither. It was all so complicated. (6-7)

Valerie Leftman was a normal teenager until her boyfriend decided to bring a gun to school and shoot up the school. Originally implicated because of a “Hate List” that she and Nick created together of things and people they hated, she was cleared because of the words of classmates who said she didn’t shoot anyone. Hailed a hero by the school because she inadvertently saved the life of a classmate trying to stop Nick, her classmates see her as a contributing factor. As her social life and family life spirals out of control as a result of the shooting, she must deal with not only the feelings of her classmates, but also her own mixed up feelings about the shooting and the shooter. Hate List is a riveting read by first time author Jennifer Brown.