Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Not to Read

Oftentimes, I read books that I think are quite good, but inappropriate for children. Such is the case with Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. The premise of this novel is that Cadel Piggott, the genius son of evil(but imprisoned) mastermind, Phineas Darkkon, is raised and trained by villains at the Axis Institute of Evil to be the next world leader. The story follows Cadel's development from age 8 through 14. He grows to question the world view he has been given when he makes a friend through the Internet. Eventually, he turns his vast mental power to destroying the criminals that have been using him all along.

What's wrong with the book? When Cadel starts Partner Post, an on-line dating service, with largely fictitious mates that are played by himself, he needs research on various topics to convince his clients. Jinks writes, "And he'd never had sex of course, though he was starting to think about it a good deal, simply because of Partner Post. There was a lot of sex talk on his secure sites--and he was reluctant to ask Thaddeus for help on this subject. Fortunately, the Piggotts kept a large stock of dirty magazines in their dressing room. And a few of the twelfth-grade boys talked about sex endlessly, obsessively." Later in the book, Cadel is disguised as a girl and is attacked in a bathroom by a male teacher, who backs off as soon as he realizes that Cadel is not a girl.

What's right with the book? Jinks' exploration of the rationale behind evil actions and Cadel's journey to morality is expertly done. I'd recommend this book to my friends, but not my kids.

Other books I cannot recommend are Eldest, Birdwing, the Golden Compass series and anything by Meg Cabot. I've written detailed posts about Eldest and Birdwing, check the archives. The Golden Compass series is written by an atheist as his response to the Chronicles of Narnia. Check out http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2007/08/even-mtv-unders.html, the weblog of Ignatius Press authors for more info on this, and the movie due out this fall. With regard to Meg Cabot and the books that spawned the Princess Diaries movies, my daughter checked out the second in the series from our local library, thinking it would be like the movie but better. Well, I had to read it first of course, and in the first chapter, Mia finds out that her mother is pregnant with her algebra teacher's baby, and she wants her mother to have an abortion. Needless to say, our public library has since moved this book to the adult fiction shelves.

I do try to focus on the bright spots of current literature, and will post about more good books soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Alfred Kropp and the Seal of Solomon

Rick Yancey's lovable Alfred Kropp returns in another escapade against evil-doers. Ancient forces of darkness have been released from imprisonment by power-hungry and dim-witted Mike Arnold (who incidentally is a Cubs fan and a total doofus, connection?). Now, Alfred is needed to rein in thousands of demons. He is not alone however, as Op-Nine, former priest and demonologist is there to assist him.

Like J.K. Rowling, Yancey presumes his audience matures with his characters. Alfred Kropp and the Seal of Solomon is darker and more intense than the Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Fighting demons is bound to be violent. The amazing thing here is that Yancey incorporates a character with a strong faith, and makes him a bad-ass. Think Indiana Jones with a rosary. Op-Nine feels unworthy of the priesthood for reasons unknown to the reader, but his reliance on prayer as means to fight the devil is a sure indicator that he has not lost his faith.


The personal development of Alfred is almost as fascinating as the plot. Alfred continues to struggle with his own beliefs, still grieving for his mother and blaming God for it. Op-Nine however is teaching him to see beyond his own point of view. Yancey scores another hit with the middle school and up crowd, and I look forward to reading Alfred's next adventure.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Summer Reads

It's 93 degrees here today, and I just finished Yankee Girl, by Mary Ann Rodman, at our local pool. Coincidentally, this book is set in the deep South, during the sweltering summer of 1964. Based on the author's own youth, Alice Ann Moxley and her family are moving to Mississippi from Chicago for her father's FBI career. Her father is assigned to investigate and protect civil rights leaders during the turbulent time of school integration. Alice finds that making friends in the South is more difficult than any of the other places she has lived. She slowly discovers the "Southern" code of addressing adults, ("Maam," "Sir,") of addressing other kids, (not "guys, " but "y'all,") football obsession and race relations.

Alice finds a friend two doors down, Jeb, and his older sister, Pammie. Together, Jeb and Pammie try to protect Alice from the powerful cheerleader clique and Alice's own innocence. Jeb explains to Alice, "I know you don't know no better, so I'll tell you. First off, you don't introduce yourself to nigras." Once school begins, however, Jeb has given her strict instructions not to talk to him at school.

Alice's school is one of the first five Jackson schools that is integrated. Valerie Taylor, daughter of the famous Rev. Claymore Taylor, is in Alice's class. Alice tries to befriend Valerie and is rejected by her as well. Valerie says, "Just 'cause I go to school with white kids don't mean I hafta talk to them. I never wanted to go to this sorry old school anyway." Alice discovers that she and Valerie are very much alike. They both worry about their fathers' safety, and they are both outcasts at school. After being somewhat accepted by the cheerleaders, Alice realizes that she will have to deny Valerie's equality to keep her new friends.

Without giving away the ending, Yankee Girl is a fascinating novel about a revolutionary period of our history. There are several mentions of violence, murders, and bombings, but no graphic descriptions, mostly reprinted headlines. Alice learns about Emmett Till and has dreams about him. Therefore, this Caudill Award nominee is recommended for older children, mature pre-teens and up. Rodman does an excellent job of making good examples of the heroes of the time, such as Alice's parents.

Recently, I read another great summertime book, Honus & Me, by Dan Gutman, also a Caudill Award Nominee. Honus & Me is the story of baseball misfit, Joe Stoshack (Stosh) and the Honus Wagner baseball card that he "finds" while cleaning out his elderly neighbor's attic. Now I had never heard of Honus Wagner, but when I asked my husband if he was a real character, (silly me) I found out that not only was he real, but one of baseball's greatest players. Stosh tries to get the antique card validated, and is nearly robbed. He finds out that another Honus Wagner card sold to Wayne Gretsky for half a million dollars in 1991 (true story). The reason the card is so rare is that Honus refused to have his image used to sell tobacco products, after several cards had already been circulated (also true). Stosh also discovers that he has the power to bring time travel to 1909 and to bring Honus into present time, merely by holding the card. He learns much about baseball, history, and being the underdog during his journeys.

This was a fun read, recommended for all proficient readers. The only slight problem I have with the book is that like so many novels for children, Stosh's parents are divorced. His mother and father disagree about whether or not Stosh owns the card, or if he should return it to his neighbor. It all comes out right in the end though.

Honus & Me is the first of three books starring Stosh and his amazing ability. Gutman's other titles are Babe & Me and Jackie & Me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Not to Read

Oftentimes, I read books that I think are quite good, but inappropriate for children. Such is the case with Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. The premise of this novel is that Cadel Piggott, the genius son of evil(but imprisoned) mastermind, Phineas Darkkon, is raised and trained by villains at the Axis Institute of Evil to be the next world leader. The story follows Cadel's development from age 8 through 14. He grows to question the world view he has been given when he makes a friend through the Internet. Eventually, he turns his vast mental power to destroying the criminals that have been using him all along.

What's wrong with the book? When Cadel starts Partner Post, an on-line dating service, with largely fictitious mates that are played by himself, he needs research on various topics to convince his clients. Jinks writes, "And he'd never had sex of course, though he was starting to think about it a good deal, simply because of Partner Post. There was a lot of sex talk on his secure sites--and he was reluctant to ask Thaddeus for help on this subject. Fortunately, the Piggotts kept a large stock of dirty magazines in their dressing room. And a few of the twelfth-grade boys talked about sex endlessly, obsessively." Later in the book, Cadel is disguised as a girl and is attacked in a bathroom by a male teacher, who backs off as soon as he realizes that Cadel is not a girl.

What's right with the book? Jinks' exploration of the rationale behind evil actions and Cadel's journey to morality is expertly done. I'd recommend this book to my friends, but not my kids.

Other books I cannot recommend are Eldest, Birdwing, the Golden Compass series and anything by Meg Cabot. I've written detailed posts about Eldest and Birdwing, check the archives. The Golden Compass series is written by an atheist as his response to the Chronicles of Narnia. Check out http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2007/08/even-mtv-unders.html, the weblog of Ignatius Press authors for more info on this, and the movie due out this fall. With regard to Meg Cabot and the books that spawned the Princess Diaries movies, my daughter checked out the second in the series from our local library, thinking it would be like the movie but better. Well, I had to read it first of course, and in the first chapter, Mia finds out that her mother is pregnant with her algebra teacher's baby, and she wants her mother to have an abortion. Needless to say, our public library has since moved this book to the adult fiction shelves.

I do try to focus on the bright spots of current literature, and will post about more good books soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Alfred Kropp and the Seal of Solomon

Rick Yancey's lovable Alfred Kropp returns in another escapade against evil-doers. Ancient forces of darkness have been released from imprisonment by power-hungry and dim-witted Mike Arnold (who incidentally is a Cubs fan and a total doofus, connection?). Now, Alfred is needed to rein in thousands of demons. He is not alone however, as Op-Nine, former priest and demonologist is there to assist him.

Like J.K. Rowling, Yancey presumes his audience matures with his characters. Alfred Kropp and the Seal of Solomon is darker and more intense than the Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Fighting demons is bound to be violent. The amazing thing here is that Yancey incorporates a character with a strong faith, and makes him a bad-ass. Think Indiana Jones with a rosary. Op-Nine feels unworthy of the priesthood for reasons unknown to the reader, but his reliance on prayer as means to fight the devil is a sure indicator that he has not lost his faith.


The personal development of Alfred is almost as fascinating as the plot. Alfred continues to struggle with his own beliefs, still grieving for his mother and blaming God for it. Op-Nine however is teaching him to see beyond his own point of view. Yancey scores another hit with the middle school and up crowd, and I look forward to reading Alfred's next adventure.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Summer Reads

It's 93 degrees here today, and I just finished Yankee Girl, by Mary Ann Rodman, at our local pool. Coincidentally, this book is set in the deep South, during the sweltering summer of 1964. Based on the author's own youth, Alice Ann Moxley and her family are moving to Mississippi from Chicago for her father's FBI career. Her father is assigned to investigate and protect civil rights leaders during the turbulent time of school integration. Alice finds that making friends in the South is more difficult than any of the other places she has lived. She slowly discovers the "Southern" code of addressing adults, ("Maam," "Sir,") of addressing other kids, (not "guys, " but "y'all,") football obsession and race relations.

Alice finds a friend two doors down, Jeb, and his older sister, Pammie. Together, Jeb and Pammie try to protect Alice from the powerful cheerleader clique and Alice's own innocence. Jeb explains to Alice, "I know you don't know no better, so I'll tell you. First off, you don't introduce yourself to nigras." Once school begins, however, Jeb has given her strict instructions not to talk to him at school.

Alice's school is one of the first five Jackson schools that is integrated. Valerie Taylor, daughter of the famous Rev. Claymore Taylor, is in Alice's class. Alice tries to befriend Valerie and is rejected by her as well. Valerie says, "Just 'cause I go to school with white kids don't mean I hafta talk to them. I never wanted to go to this sorry old school anyway." Alice discovers that she and Valerie are very much alike. They both worry about their fathers' safety, and they are both outcasts at school. After being somewhat accepted by the cheerleaders, Alice realizes that she will have to deny Valerie's equality to keep her new friends.

Without giving away the ending, Yankee Girl is a fascinating novel about a revolutionary period of our history. There are several mentions of violence, murders, and bombings, but no graphic descriptions, mostly reprinted headlines. Alice learns about Emmett Till and has dreams about him. Therefore, this Caudill Award nominee is recommended for older children, mature pre-teens and up. Rodman does an excellent job of making good examples of the heroes of the time, such as Alice's parents.

Recently, I read another great summertime book, Honus & Me, by Dan Gutman, also a Caudill Award Nominee. Honus & Me is the story of baseball misfit, Joe Stoshack (Stosh) and the Honus Wagner baseball card that he "finds" while cleaning out his elderly neighbor's attic. Now I had never heard of Honus Wagner, but when I asked my husband if he was a real character, (silly me) I found out that not only was he real, but one of baseball's greatest players. Stosh tries to get the antique card validated, and is nearly robbed. He finds out that another Honus Wagner card sold to Wayne Gretsky for half a million dollars in 1991 (true story). The reason the card is so rare is that Honus refused to have his image used to sell tobacco products, after several cards had already been circulated (also true). Stosh also discovers that he has the power to bring time travel to 1909 and to bring Honus into present time, merely by holding the card. He learns much about baseball, history, and being the underdog during his journeys.

This was a fun read, recommended for all proficient readers. The only slight problem I have with the book is that like so many novels for children, Stosh's parents are divorced. His mother and father disagree about whether or not Stosh owns the card, or if he should return it to his neighbor. It all comes out right in the end though.

Honus & Me is the first of three books starring Stosh and his amazing ability. Gutman's other titles are Babe & Me and Jackie & Me.