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.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Shooting Star by Frederick McKissack Jr.

As far as write-ups go, that was the bomb. He imagined Jayson straining not to do the happy dance. Praise from the seniors, love, or something like it, from McPherson, now this -- Jayson's swagger would only grow. Jomo imagined Jayson's mom not being able to contain her excitement. She was probably calling everybody she knew and would tell people in public who her boy was. [...]
And yet he couldn't stop himself from going back over the phrase "the big knock on him." It always came down to his size. [...] Jayson got "Playing on Any Given Sunday." He got dissed. Couple of inches and thirty pounds. That's all he needed. He'd have instant swagger. (54)

Jomo and Jayson are best friends, playing for the same varsity football team as sophomores. But at the end of the season, while Jayson is getting calls from recruiters from various colleges, Jomo is told that he has two options; get serious or get out. Jomo starts a new training regimen, but it only does so much to increase his stamina, ability, and size. Getting tired of hearing "if only you were bigger," Jomo is tempted to start taking the steroids that everyone else seems to be reeping the benefits from. His choices however lead to some major problems, and not just for his future football career. Fredrick McKissack Jr. drafts a well written sports story in Shooting Star, called a "fascinating look from the viewpoint of the student athlete" by Walter Dean Myers.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

The students rustled with unease. Wasn’t their teacher supposed to say: “Welcome to the sixth grade, and I’m very, very glad you’re here, but as the top grade at Young Oaks, you have a responsibility to the rest of the school to set a good example”? Were they supposed to completely ignore her belly ring? Could they ask about her tattoo? And why would a teacher put tape on the floor?
Bo wanted to ask all of these questions and more. But Miss Loupe had asked her question first, and now she belted it out one more time: “WHERE AM I?” (4)

In Sara Lewis Holmes' book Operation Yes, Miss Loupe is loopy. Or at least, that’s what Bo and the rest of his classmates think when they begin sixth grade at the elementary school on the Air Force base in North Carolina. That’s because not only does she have a tattoo and a belly ring, but she also taped off a large box in the middle of the room, and then placed a ratty old couch in the middle of it. But Bo has more on his mind then what Miss Loupe is doing in the classroom, and in fact it’s actually the one thing he likes about his life. His dad might be moving the family again this time out of the country, and his cousin Geri moves in with them when her mom gets sent off to Iraq as an Army nurse. Sure Miss Loupe is weird, but when something happens that forces them to have a substitute, Bo, Geri, and the rest of room 208 learn just what really matters; how to say yes.