Caroline Davis

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Awesome Female Protagonists

In Books, Movies on May 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm

My final project for this class was to create a mini-collection of 15 titles and present them online.  Feel free to go check it out at Awesome Female Protagonists!


Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

In Books on May 3, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Summary: Three Oxford scholars – John, Charles and Jack – are strangers to each other until an unusual murder brings them together, and sets them on a voyage into the Archipelago of Dreams, a world comprised of all the lands of fantasy and legend.  John is entrusted with the task of Caretaker Principa of a mysterious book called the Imaginarium Geographica, the only collection of maps that encompasses the Archipelago.  The three scholars and their companions find themselves opposing the evil Winter King, who literally sucks the soul out of lands and their inhabitants, encompassing them in shadow (resulting in their disappearance from the Imaginarium).  Can they prevent more worlds from being destroyed?  More importantly, can they keep the precious Imaginarium out of evil hands?

Highlights: This fun fantasy adventure will be especially enjoyed by avid readers who will recognize the literary allusions in the Archipelago of Dreams – from Avalon to Prydain to Atlantis.  There are references to Greek mythology, Arthurian legend, and even Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  Rather than finding it derivative of these sources, I found Here, There Be Dragons to be an original concept even as it nods to these inspirations.  There is much darkness and light in this book – there is real violence and death, but there are also many genuinely funny moments (it is rare to find a book that makes me laugh out loud – one of these moments explains how the Loch Ness monster legend originated).  The identities of the main characters, which I will not give away, are revealed on the last page and manage to give even more depth to the story.  I enjoyed this book and am not surprised that they are already planning a movie!


Official Here, There Be Dragons Website

Interview with James A. Owen (Powell’s)

Interview with James A. Owen (

Other Reviews:

@ Semicolon

@ things mean a lot

@ challenging the bookworm

@ Wands and Worlds

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

In Books on May 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Summary: Aleksander Ferdinand (who likes to be called Alek) is the prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – but when his parents are killed, his claim to the throne is threatened and he is forced to flee with a small band of faithful companions and a walking war-machine.  Deryn Sharp, raised in Scotland, just wants the chance to become a soldier, but as a girl she is ineligible to join the Air Service.  Can she fool everyone into believing that she is a boy named Dylan, so that she can have the chance to fly?  In this alternative history based on the start of World War I, the two sides are divided not only by existing alliances, but by the technology each side depends on.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans are Clankers, relying on their advanced machinery for protection and defense.  The British are Darwinists, able to manipulate the life threads of creatures to produce living weapons and transportation – such as the Leviathan, an airship based on a whale that sustains a complete ecosystem.

Highlights: Scott Westerfeld, author of the popular young adult series The Uglies, takes on the alternate history genre in this steampunk novel for middle readers.  The two main characters are appealing, and even though we feel like we’ve heard their stories before (Alek’s plight reminds me of Prince Caspian, and there are scores of novels with young girls impersonating boys), we are drawn in and want to experience their adventure.  One of my favorite details were the subtle nods to the time period – for instance, one of the characters has a pet Tasmanian tiger, a species that went extinct in the 1930s.  The novel does a great job at contrasting the Clanker and Darwinist worldviews, and the open ending allows for sequels to continue the story of these two viewpoints (Westerfeld has announced that Leviathan is the first installment of a projected trilogy).  I know I’m excited to find out what happens next!


Scott Westerfeld’s Blog

Book Trailer (Youtube)

Interview with Scott Westerfeld (Tor)

Other Reviews:

@ The Book Smugglers

@ the james review

@ Wondrous Reads

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

In Books on April 19, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Summary: Andrew “Ender” Wiggins is only six years old when he is recruited for Battle School, a training ground in space for genius children to become military leaders in time for the next attack of the aliens they call “buggers.”  Ender is quickly singled out because of his potential, which alienates him from his peers.  When he is given the chance to lead his own team in the simulated battle room, his novice soldiers quickly defeat veteran players, using Ender’s innovative tactics and strategies.  Ender is promoted to Command School where he runs simulations of battles, unaware of the consequences of his actions.

Highlights: Ender’s Game is one of my favorite science fiction reads.  Even though the protagonist is so young, I think that tweens will enjoy this entertaining and thought provoking book.  Even though he is isolated from his family for long periods as he goes through his training, readers can identify with his homesickness for his beloved sister, Valentine, and his anger towards his bullying (and sadistic) older brother, Peter.  The book has plenty of action, especially in the battle room arena, and there are some highly likeable characters (along with some cruel ones).  The story raises many issues, including the ethics of involving children in the adult’s war, especially when the full extent of their involvement is kept from them.  Ender also faces a difficult realization at the end of the novel.  Thinking about his situation may provide tweens a chance to think about the consequences of their actions and give some thought to the related ethical questions.


Orson Scott Card’s Official Website

Interview With Orson Scott Card (Fiction Factor)

Other Reviews:


@ As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

@ ScriptShadow

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

In Books on April 5, 2010 at 8:49 am

Summary: According to Maori legend, Kahutia Te Rangi was an ancestor who could speak to whales, and when he arrived in New Zealand riding on the back of a whale he blessed the land with abundance and prosperity.  In a modern day Maori tribe, a daughter is born to the chief and given the name Kahu, after their ancestor.  Her great-grandfather, Koro Apirana, is deeply disappointed that she wasn’t a boy, which would have made her eligible to inherit her father’s title.  As she grows up, Kahu adores her great-grandfather but he continues to keep her distant and call her useless – until a pod of whales arrives at their beach to reveal Kahu’s destiny.

Highlights: This beautiful book wove together three storylines – the legend of Kahutia Te Rangi, the birth and childhood of young Kahu, and the journey of the whales (this last had the most gorgeous language and imagery).  Although the main character is only eight-years-old for the majority of the book, I think it will appeal to middle readers and older (the narrator for the Kahu storyline is actually her 24-year-old uncle).  Sensitive readers may be upset by the tragic death of several beached whales, and it also tackles issues like racism and sexism.  I really loved this coming-of-age novel, and I think tweens might enjoy comparing it to the movie version (which made some changes).


Interview with Witi Ihimaera (Pacific Islanders in Communication)

Whale Rider Film Trailer (YouTube)

Other Reviews:

@ Book Nut

@ Libri Touches

@ curled up with a good book

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

In Books on March 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Summary: Matthew “Moose” Flanagan is reluctant to move away from Santa Monica with his family – especially to Alcatraz, the prison island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, where his father has just been hired as a guard and electrician.  But his sister, Natalie, is different and needs to go to a special school, and his father needs the work in order to afford it.  Moose and the other kids who live on Alcatraz are treated with respect at school, because just living in proximity to some of the most famous gangsters, like Al Capone, gives them some infamy.  And the warden’s daughter, Piper, keeps coming up with schemes to make the most of it.

Highlights: If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live on Alcatraz – but not as an inmate – Moose Flanagan’s story about his life there in 1935 is a great introduction to the history of the island.  Choldenko’s novel is well-researched and contains many accurate details, which are explained in the footnote-friendly “Author’s Note” at the end.  The novel is also a great depiction of living with a family member with special needs – Moose’s sister Natalie is based on the author’s experience growing up with a severely autistic sibling – as Moose and his parents live with all the hopes and frustrations it involves.  And Piper is a great character, a cute troublemaker that Moose both deeply dislikes…and likes.  A Newbery Honor selection.


Gennifer Choldenko’s Official Website

Interview with Gennifer Choldenko (Mother Daughter Book Club)

Interview with Gennifer Choldenko (Peters Bookselling Services)

Other Reviews:

@ The Novel World

@ One Librarian’s Book Reviews

@ BookMoot

@ Young Adult Literature Review

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

In Books on March 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Summary: Kit Tyler knew that her life would change when she left the sunny island of Barbados to live with her aunt and uncle in chilly Connecticut, but she had no idea how different it would be! No matter how hard she tries to fit in, she always ends up doing the wrong thing and getting in trouble. When she befriends Hannah Tupper who lives down by Blackbird Pond, she realizes that the sweet and harmless old woman could definitely not be a witch, as some of the locals believe. But when a fever strikes most of the children in town, Hannah gets blamed for the outbreak, and Kit is also accused of being a witch!

Highlights: Life in a Puritan village in the 1680s comes to life in Speare’s novel, as outsider Kit Tyler tries to understand and follow the local customs. In addition to the lengthy church services that she attends with her family, and the superstitious accusations of witchcraft, Kit is also a witness to the political turmoil of the time, as colonial Americans begin to feel unsatisfied with their British sovereign. Kit was raised as a Royalist, loyal to the King, but her Uncle Matthew believes that they have worked hard for their rights and is outraged when they are threatened. Historically accurate details – such as children learning to read using hornbooks – add depth and atmosphere to the story, which is why it has remained a popular title for the last 50 years!  Winner of the Newbery Medal.


Elizabeth George Speare (Wikipedia)

Elizabeth George Speare (Random House)

Other Reviews:

@ Progressive Pioneer

@ Musings of a Bibliophile

@ Maw Books Blog

@ The Lit Connection

By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman

In Books on March 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Summary: The year is 1849, and when Aunt Arabella is in danger of having to sell her house, Jack Flagg and his faithful butler, Praiseworthy, jump on a ship leaving Boston for the gold country of California. After an eventful voyage that takes them around the tip of South America, the duo land in San Francisco and make their way to the Sierras, where they hope to strike it rich and save Aunt Arabella’s house. One thing they are sure to find is adventure!

Highlights: By the Great Horn Spoon is a fun read that captures the excitement of the Gold Rush. Jack and Praiseworthy meet a host of wild characters, from grizzled but honest miners, to a devious crook named Cut-Eye Higgins. They have a series of capers, and when they find themselves in trouble, Praiseworthy (who is always calm and unconcerned about their dilemmas) often has an ingenious solution for their problems. A humorous and exciting look at the Gold Rush, which younger “tweens” in particular will enjoy.


Sid Fleischman’s Official Website

Sid Fleischman Obituary (LA Times)

Other Reviews:

@ Here in the Bonny Glen

@ Inspired to Read

@ Back to Books

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

In Books on March 2, 2010 at 9:01 am

Summary: Matilda “Mattie” Cook lives in Philadelphia, where her widowed mother and grandfather run a successful coffeehouse. Mattie usually has a lot of chores to help keep the business running, but she doesn’t mind going down to the bustling marketplace, and she enjoys seeing her garden thrive. Everything changes when an epidemic of yellow fever charges through the city – the richest citizens flee to the countryside, those who remain are surrounded by the sick and dying, and robbers and thieves roam the mostly empty streets, looking for abandoned houses to ransack. Mattie catches the fever, but survives, waking to find her mother missing and her grandfather weakened by illness. The garden is dried up, and the marketplace is empty – will Mattie starve before the epidemic ends? Will she ever see her mother again?

Highlights: As with many of the best-researched historical novels, Anderson takes an actual historic event – the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 – and recreates the city with figures both real and imagined. Each chapter is headed by a quote from the real letters and writings of those who experienced the epidemic, which adds even more to the authenticity. By following Mattie’s story, readers can vicariously experience the devastation and aftermath of a disaster, and hopefully never have to experience something like it themselves.  An ALA Best Books for Young Adults.


Laurie Halse Anderson’s Official Website

Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson (Reading Rockets)

Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson (School Library Journal)

Other Reviews:

@ The Shady Glen

@ Shelf Love

@ Royal Reads

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

In Books on March 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Summary: Bud Caldwell (who always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy” because his mother insisted that no one ever call him by that nickname) is living in Flint, Michigan in 1936. He’s about to turn eleven, and his mother died when he was six, so for the last four years he’s been living in the Home and occasionally stays with foster families that mistreat him. Bud realizes that his mother left him all these clues to find his father – lots of flyers about a musician named Herman E. Calloway! Bud is determined to cross the state to Grand Rapids to find him, but when he meets Mr. Calloway, he seems too old and cranky to be his father. Can this really be where Bud belongs?

Highlights: This book is great because of Bud’s narration. He really gives us a ten-year-old’s perspective of the Great Depression as he would have seen it (for instance, he and a friend mistakenly ask if they’ve arrived in “Hooperville” when they get to a Hooverville shantytown outside of Flint). He doesn’t know anything about hopping trains, and he has some vague sense that there are more opportunities for him out west. Fortunately for Bud, he runs into a lot of great adults who help him get on the right track and find where he belongs. I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it for tweens!  Winner of the Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, an ALA Notable Children’s Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.


Christopher Paul Curtis’s Official Website

Interview with Christopher Paul Curtis (Powell’s)

Christopher Paul Curtis meets with Al’s Book Club for Kids (MSNBC)

Other Reviews:

@ twenty by jenny

@ loehwjac

@ Lindsay Foster’s Book Reviews

@ Word Lily