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Mrs. B's Favorites
...books that Mrs. Ball has read and enjoyed

Summer Reads 2014

A Strong Right Arm
The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
by Michelle Y. Green
**Official Greenwich Reads Together Selection**
"Excuse me, sir, but what are you going to tell the boys?" He laughed out loud. "We don't have to tell them one blessed thing, Mamie," he said, calling me by my name for the first time. "How 'bout we let that strong right arm of yours do all the talking?" 
 
I loved this! It's short, easy to read, and Mamie "Peanut" Johnson's voice shines. One of only three women who ever played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues in the 1950's, she is a delightful character. Her story begins in South Carolina, where she grew up on her grandmother's farm, playing baseball with all of the boys using rocks wrapped in tape because no one had a real ball. When her grandmother passed away, Mamie's mother moved her to Long Branch, NJ to live with her aunt and uncle. There, she discovered that girls were only allowed to play softball, and she didn't like it. After she showed her pitching skills to the officer coach of the local Police Athletic League, she joined the all-white team of boys and proceeded to pitch them to consecutive championship seasons. Mamie kept playing, even though she was rejected without a tryout for the All-American Girls Baseball League because they refused to accept black players. Eventually, scouts from the all-male Negro Leagues discovered her, and she tried out for the Indianapolis Clowns team. In an era of racism and prejudice, Mamie faced many difficulties and unfair situations. Her gender often made things worse, but her indomitable spirit and amazing talent made her dreams a reality. Pair this with Mo'Ne Davis pitching in this summer's Little League World series, and it's a grand slam all around! Easy enough for 4th grade readers, but a wonderful story for all of middle school as well.

War in the Middle East: A Reporter's Story
Black September and the Yom Kippur War
 
by Wilborn Hampton
But even the most bitter of wars end, and people who were once enemies can, in time, become friends.  Only in the Middle East does it seem as though there is no end in sight.

Wilborn Hampton was a United Press International journalist in 1970, and was sent to Amman, Jordan to cover a story of terrorists who had  hijacked five commercial airplanes, capturing three and landing them at a remote airstip in Jordan.  The hijackings sparked the Black September civil war, during which Hampton was trapped with many other reporters in Jordan.  His experiences, taken from his memories and from his diaries during the time, give a realistic experience of war from the perspective of someone affected directly, yet not fighting.  Eventually, he and many others were evacuated on a Red Cross flight to Beirut, where he stayed to cover the end of the war.  Things festered for many, many months, until October 6, 1973 - Yom Kippur. On the traditional Day of Atonement for those of the Jewish faith,  Syrian planes and tanks attacked Israel's northern border, and Egyptian forces dropped bombs along the Sinai side of the Suez Canal.  The battles through the short war were intense, and the politics and maneuvering behind the scenes were just as intense.  Some of the most interesting chunks of text deal with the realities of wartime censorship for a journalist,  the propaganda of the time, and the ability to get coded messages with correct information through.  Even though these events took place more than 40 years ago, the history and reality of the stories rings true today - when we are again experiencing major conflicts in the Middle East.  Peace will require great work, understanding, compromise and acceptance... and once again, tragically,  those things seem awfully far out of reach.  7th grade and up.

 The Reluctant Assassin
by Eoin Colfer
Chevie wondered if she should call someone, and if she did call someone, what would she tell them?  The FBI has a secret set of time machines that we use to hide witnesses in the past.  Or, A death-dealing magician has come from the nineteenth century to kill an urchin.  Or, The world's greatest scientist has been turned into a dead monkey by a wormhole.  It sounded pretty insane, whatever way you presented it.

Teenage FBI almost-agent and orphan Chevron Savano has been assigned to London after her part in a disastrous public embarrassment to the Bureau in Los Angeles.  Her new job?  Babysitting a decades-old,  10-foot-tall metal pod in a basement with instructions to keep whoever comes out of it alive.  Nine months of nothing happening... and then suddenly she has to deal with a teenage boy who crawls out of it babbling about someone named Garrick coming after him, her supervising agent's murder, escaping from Garrick multiple times in harrowing and occasionally disgusting places as well as going back in time, discovering the inventor's secret love interest, all the while trying to keep Riley from giving them away with his utter lack of 21st century knowledge in the present and her lack of 19th century awareness when they time-travel.  A rip-roaring and sometimes murderously bloody action adventure mystery mashup -- this series is going to be a LOT of fun!  6th grade and up.

 Sure Signs of Crazy
by Karen Harrington
There are two weeks of school left. As soon as the final bell rings, I'll have two giant problems.  Problem 1: I'll have a boring summer and be forced to stay at my grandparents' boring house.  Problem 2: I'll have to go to seventh grade in three months and be forced to do that horrible Family Tree Project that Lisa's sister had to do this year.  Everyone at school will know about my mother. 

Sarah Nelson is hoping that, for the first time, her college professor father will find some way for her to stay home for the summer, and that he will decide to pick up and move away from Garland, Texas before she has to do the family tree project.  That has been their strategy every time that people find out about her mother -- usually through news stories that bring up the events that Sarah can't remember but have have defined her life.  Her mother tried to drown Sarah and her twin brother Simon when they were only two.  Their mother was declared insane and put in a mental hospital in Wichita, from which she sends two greeting cards each year to her daughter.  Sarah is a tough, delightfully funny and inventive character who loves words, asking questions, her "best friend" Plant (yes, a houseplant), and her  kind but alcoholic father most of all.  This is the summer she will find role models and friends.  When her father agrees to allow their home-from-college neighbor Charlotte to supervise Sarah for the summer, things do start to look up, especially since Charlotte knows about romance and boyfriends.  The summer writing assignment was to write "real" letters to someone -- and Sarah chooses Atticus Finch, because she thinks he was a very good father and role model in To Kill a Mockingbird. Because her father has such difficulty talking about their family's past, and her grandparents aren't much better, Sarah's letters to Atticus are full of all the questions she would love to ask her own family - including her mother - as she watches herself for "sure signs of crazy."  6th grade and up.

 Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived 
Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific
by Mary Cronk Farrell,  foreward by First Lieutenant Diane Carlson Evans

 During World War II, many women enlisted in the Army and Navy as nurses.  Armed forces policies dictated that women could only be stationed in support roles, and never near combat areas.   That all changed the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941.  The following day, the Japanese navy bagan bombing the Allied bases in the Philippine Islands.  There were 101 Army and Navy nurses at the hospitals on the Bataan Peninsula and nearby Corregidor Island. While some were evacuated as the official policy dictated, 67 nurses stayed to care for the sick and  injured, because there were not enough male medical staff to handle the hundreds and hundreds of soldiers who needed them.  The nurses who stayed treated all of the patients in makeshift jungle hospitals and in the giant reinforced underground tunnels on Corregidor, until they were captured and became prisoners of war.  They suffered from malnutrition, starvation, and a host of tropical diseases, yet they cared for each other and continued to serve as nurses for anyone in need.  They were finally liberated from the prison camps in 1945.  All of the nurses came home alive, yet none were recognized for their service or combat status until 1983 -- because they were women.  The personal accounts and photographs bring their courage and determination to life.  Farrell's detailed research leads to a powerful and emotional story that will keep you thinking about these brave women for a long time.  8th grade and up.

 West of the Moon
by Margi Preus
It makes me dizzy to consider it, but I feel suddenly how all things are woven together, all things seen and unseen, all things alive and that once were, for generations back and generations to come, woven of a kind of golden thread that links me to Greta, and both of us to this man, to everyone and everything forever right now... 

Astri and her little sister Greta live with their aunt, uncle and cousins on a struggling Norwegian farm.  The girls' father left for America after their mother's death, and they haven't heard from him.  Astri's aunt sells her to a hunchbacked, nasty goat farmer, who treats Astri about as well as he treats his goats.  Armed with her courage and as many stories, legends and fairytales as she can remember, Astri steals what she believes to be troll treasure and a magic book from the goat farmer, then escapes and heads off to rescue Greta and find their father in America.  Add in a mysterious weaver, a magic hairbrush (or maybe not), kindly souls who assist them and others who inspire some rather dodgy behavior in the girls, and you have a rollicking adventure as they head east of the sun and west of the moon!  Based on a passage from Margi Preus' great-great-grandmother's diary from her own voyage to America from Norway, this is a delightfully original mix of fantasy and reality.  6th grade and up.

 Going Vintage
 
by Lindsey Leavitt

"If Jeremy didn't have a computer or the internet, he wouldn't have met BubbleYum.  If I didn't have this cell phone, people couldn't text me threats.  Technology is the reason my life is falling apart... If I go back to when people actually talked in person, to when things were real, then maybe it will be real.  That's what I need.  Some good old-fashioned reality...  And I'm going vintage until I accomplish every task on Grandma's list."

Mallory's boyfriend cheated on her with an online gaming girlfriend, and there are plenty of people taking sides, posting and texting all sorts of things.  Mallory decides to ditch the technology for some peace while helping her father go through her grandmother's eclectic house, after Grandma has moved to a retirement community.  When Mallory discovers an old notebook with a list of personal resolutions from when Grandma was 16, she decides that list from 1962 will be her guide.  Lots of snarky commentary from her sister Ginnie, plenty of back to school drama around Jeremy and his cousin Oliver, and a jawdropping secret from Grandma's past make this a great book about relationships, dealing with mistakes, kindness and lots of forgiveness.  Great for 7th grade and up!

 Seeing Red
by Kathryn Erskine 
I didn't know if it made me feel better or worse that the rest of the country was in an uproar like my life seemed to be ever since Daddy died.  On one hand it meant that I was like everyone else in the country.  On the other hand, if grownups couldn't even make sense of everything that was happening, how the heck was I supposed to? 

In Rocky Gap, Virginia in the early 1970's, Red Porter's life has just fallen apart.  His father had a heart attack and died suddenly, leaving Red and his mother with the family  business: a combination gas station/convenience store and auto repair shop to run.  Red's mother is overwhelmed and is considering selling their home and the business, and taking Red to Ohio to live with her relatives.  Red cannot imagine living without all the places that hold his beloved memories of his father - especially the repair shop where he has learned to do so many things.  While Red tries to prevent his mother from following through with selling out and leaving, he also begins to realize that there are a lot of other unjust and unfair things going on in his town.  His longtime friendship with Thomas is desperately tested when Red makes a very bad choice.  His mother is told repeatedly that she shouldn't go to work simply because she is female - and Red sees her very angry reactions to those conversations.  With a school assignment, Red discovers that the town - and his own family - have been part of long-ago injustices, and he must decide what kind of person he is, and whether he is willing to stand up and do the right thing.  A very powerful story about life in the South at that controversial time, focused on family and friendships and truth.  6th grade and up.

 Giant George: Life With the World's Biggest Dog
by Dave Nasser, with Lynne Barrett-Lee 

Wonderful, fun nonfiction for the dog-lovers! This is the story of George, the runt of his litter who grew up to be not just the tallest dog in the world, but the tallest recorded dog EVER. George is a Great Dane, owned by Dave and Christie Nasser of Arizona. This is their story as well. After they were married and Dave talked Christie into moving from California to Arizona, they decided to get a puppy. After researching good calm family breeds, they settled on a Great Dane puppy, and located a reputable breeder, who agreed to ship them their new puppy. George arrived in a crate at the airport, bewildered and shaking from the travel ordeal of being in the darkened hold of the airplane all alone. He was little, but he had enormous feet, as many large breed dogs do when they are young. Christie held him in her lap all the way home, and everyone fell in love with little George. George didn't stay little long, though. Even the experienced vet was astonished at his growth rate --eventually getting to five feet tall, seven feet long, and 245 pounds.  That is a LOT of dog!  Eventually friends started to joke about George going for a Guinness Book record, which led to his eventual title, Facebook page, website, appearances on the Oprah Winfrey show and other national shows! George's family experienced some serious sadness along the way, when Christie lost two babies before they were born, but after baby Annabel was born healthy and happy, life took a much happier (and more chaotic) turn. 7th grade and up, recommended as great chapter nonfiction.

 The World Series: Baseball's Biggest Stage
by Matt Doeden
When it comes to history and tradition, nothing can match the World Series.  Since it started in 1903, it has provided baseball fans with measures of drama, scandal, inspiration, triumph, and heartbreak. 

  This is one for the serious baseball fans among us!  After a fast-moving history of the World Series, the chapters are organized into greatest games, best performers, memorable moments, and what the future of the game will hold.  As an accomplished sportswriter, Doeden knows how to describe the games and plays and keep the excitement up.  There are lots of mentions of statistics, but they don't overwhelm the individual stories of the players and the games.  I especially liked how he compared legendary players to more modern players, like putting Babe Ruth next to Pablo Sandoval in the best performers section.  I also liked his explanation of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and its consequences for the players and the game.  Full of archival photos and incredible game photos, this was one delight for the sports fan!  Excellent design and interesting organization of the information.  6th grade and up. 

  Hero
by Alethea Kontis 
"Me?" asked Saturday.  "But I don't have any magic.  You must have me confused with another sibling.  It's a common occurrence..."  "You were not born with magic, but you can channel it, contain it, control it.  You must use that power to defeat the lorelei... If you don't kill her, she will destroy the world," said Cwyn.  "And if she does kill the lorelei, the dragon will wake and the mountain will fall," argued Betwixt.  "Save a few, or save the world." Cwyn kissed Saturday's hands and released them.  "The choice is yours." 

 Sequel to Enchanted, but reading the first one isn't necessary to enjoy this one on its own.  Saturday Woodcutter is the only one of her siblings without any magical powers -- she's strong, athletic, tall... and nothing like her lovely magical sisters.  When her cousin/brother Trix runs off after hearing news of his biological mother and Saturday accidentally unleashes an ocean in the backyard, things start to take an epic turn.  Saturday and her mother board her pirate sister's Thursday's ship to try to find Trix.  Add a giant kidnapping bird, a blind witch bent on finding a way to destroy the world, a mountain prison, a sleeping dragon, a cursed young man who has to pretend he's the witch's daughter to survive, and a snarky chimera named Betwixt.  A fractured fairy tale full of action, humor, magic, and just a little romance!  6th grade and up.

 Messenger of Fear 
by Michael Grant
*advanced reader copy from Book Expo 2014* 
 "What.  Of.  The.  Wrong?"    "I guess," I said, "they should pay something.  Be made to...  They should..." I could go no further.  The Messenger turned away from me to face the two... "This wrong demands punishment," he said.  "I offer you a game.  If you win, you will go free, unbothered by me or by my apprentice... If you lose, then you will face the thing you fear most."

What form does justice take?  Some people believe that human law is enough, other believe in religious vengeance or karma.  Michael Grant gives us the Messenger of Fear, and his new apprentice, Mara.  They move through time and space, calling upon the Game Master to cause the most horrific and heartwrenching choices and games imaginable as punishment and payment for crimes of wickedness, bullying, and teenage thoughtless cruelty.    If the players win the game, they go free -- though they are all changed from the experience of the game.  If they lose, they must face their greatest fear.  The idea of justice ought to involve some satisfaction, or feeling of triumph of good over evil, but as Mara discovers,   justice takes from those who deliver it just as it does from those who receive it.  Good and evil, choices and consequences... and there is no black and white, unless you're looking at how The Messenger is dressed.  Horror that will make you think -- for 8th grade and up.  Publication date 9/23/2014.

 Curiosity's Mission On Mars: Exploring the Red Planet
by Ron Miller 
The Mars Science Laboratory mission has one overarching objective: to determine if Mars is habitable.

 On August 5, 2012, the spacecraft carrying the Curiosity rover arrived in the atmosphere of Mars, and deployed for landing on the surface.  Curiosity is the most recent of the almost 40 attempts to reach Mars, including the Viking and Mariner spacecrafts, and the much smaller rovers Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity.  NASA and the other world space agencies are working  hard to get information about Mars, in order to plan for manned missions to the red planet.  NASA has set a date of 2030 for the first manned mission, which seems very far away, until you look at all of the problems they have to solve in order to send astronauts that far from Earth and successfully bring them home at the end of the mission.  How long will it take to get there?  What dangers will the astronauts face on the way there and on the return trip home?  How will they bring, grow, or create enough food and water to survive and be healthy?  How long will they stay on Mars, and how will they survive the conditions on the planet?  These are just a few of the questions that scientists are working on, and the information on climate, soil, geography, and history of the planet that Curiosity and the other missions have given us will be part of the solutions.  Interplanetary travel takes a lot of planning!  Excellent nonfiction with plenty of amazing images for anyone interested in space -- when the 8th grade went to DC, we had the chance to see an exhibit of Curiosity's photos from the surface of Mars, and they were fascinating. Strong 6th grade readers and up.

 Bombs Over Bikini: The World's First Nuclear Disaster
by Connie Goldsmith 
The atomic bomb was a completely new weapon at the time, and scientists wanted to learn more about the bomb's capacity...  U.S. President Harry Truman ordered military officials to select a place to carry out nuclear testing. Admiral Blandy... named the atomic bomb testing program Operation Crossroads.  "Sea power, air power, and perhaps humanity itself are at the crossroads."

 After World War II ended in August 1945 with the dropping of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two superpowers emerged: the Soviet Union and the United States.  Both nations were working to develop atomic weapons, and this new Cold War led to the atomic testing program which would be located in the Marshall Islands, specifically Bikini Atoll.  Far from any large cities, with predictable winds and few islanders who would have to be moved, the remote location seemed ideal.  The first atomic bomb was detonated in the air above Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946.  The second was detonated underwater only a few weeks later on July 25, with far more devastating consequences.  The islanders of Bikini had been moved to Rongerik Atoll, about 125 miles from Bikini, but near Rongerak Atoll, where other islanders lived.  Between 1946 and 1958,  the US detonated 67 nuclear bombs in the area.  The 12th bomb, Bravo, was the worst.  Unlike all previous fission bombs, this one was a fusion bomb.  Far more powerful and deadly, it was placed on  Nam island at the edge of Bikini Atoll.  On March1, 1954, its detonation left a mile-wide crater in the ocean floor, vaporized part of Nam, and sent a 25-mile-high mushroom cloud of radioactive steam and dust into the atmosphere.  The islanders nearest had not been evacuated, and suffered radiation poisoning and longterm health problems for years.  Many of the soldiers and sailors ordered to be part of the program also became seriously ill, some suffering for years.  Was the scientific knowledge gained from all that testing worth the cost in lives, damaged health and damaged environment?  Solid research, lots of historic photos, and excellent design.  7th grade and up.

 Outcasts United
by Warren St. John
**Official Greenwich Reads Together Selection** 

"No one person can do everything...  But we can all do something."

 
Luma Mufleh, a Jordanian immigrant to the United States, was living in Atlanta when she discovered a Middle Eastern grocery store that carried many of her favorite foods in nearby Clarkston.  As she made more trips to Clarkston, she noticed many groups of children playing soccer in parking lots.  She was coaching soccer for the YMCA at the time, and had played for years herself.  It turned out that the kids playing soccer (barefoot, often with only a raggedy ball) were refugees who had been moved into Clarkston with their families from all over the world.  Soccer was what they had in common, but none of them could afford the fees to play for organized school or community teams.  Luma decided to start her own team, which came to be known as the Fugees.  The boys who joined the team needed everything, so Luma had to find ways to get them equipment, jerseys, and often food.  Coming from more than a dozen nations shredded by war, many of the boys had seen horrific violence and death, and most had lost family members to the wars.  They needed help with learning English, catching up from being years without formal schooling, and learning to get along in a team of many different cultures.  This is an inspiring story of one person who has chosen to make a difference for others by investing her time and her talents in the children of her community.  Perfect for the World Cup fans this summer!

 The Raft
by S.A. Bodeen
Shudders and squeaks and an anguished mechanical groan...  Max barrelled down the aisle toward me and with a loud grunt, ripped the exit window open...  The wind and rain burst in...  Putting up my hands to protect myself, I shouted, "My life vest!"  He just tightened his grip on me and screamed back, "Hold your breath and kick for the surface!  The raft will be there!"  And then he threw me out the window.


Robie has grown up on Midway Atoll, where her scientist parents have been working at a research station.  Her aunt lives in Hawaii, where the supply planes come from, so Robie's been able to take the supply flights back and forth for visits.  This time, though, she decides last minute to return home to Midway, and her name is mistakenly left off the flight manifest -- the record of who and what is on the plane.  When it crashes into the Pacific during a violent storm, no one knows she's on the plane.  With the injured co-pilot Max on the yellow inflatable raft, Robie must conquer her fears and use everything she knows about  the ocean and survival in hopes that someone will find them and rescue them.  I don't know if I could have done some of the things that Robie has to choose to do in order to survive, and I probably would have lost my mind when the sharks showed up!  Courage isn't about not being afraid -- it's about doing what you have to do even though you ARE afraid.  

 Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein
"Today I am pleased to announce the most marvelously stupendous game ever created: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library!  The entire library will be the game board.  Your children will be the game pieces.  The winner will be famous all over the world.  The first to use what they find in the library to find their way out of the library will be crowned the winner.  They can only use their wits, cunning and intelligence to decipher clues and solve riddles that will eventually lead them to the location of the library's super-secret alternate exit.  Participation, of course, will be purely voluntary.  Should anything go wrong, we have paramedics, firefighters, and a team of former Navy SEALs - each with the heart of a samurai - waiting to swoop in and rescue your children.  It'll be like The Hunger Games, but with lots of food and no bows and arrows."

Shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!  Mr. Lemoncello, world famous billionaire toy and gamemaker has returned to his Ohio hometown to open the world's most amazing public library, designed and built under the utmost secrecy and security.  Twelve 12-year-olds have won the chance to spend the night in the library, and play his best game ever, with all sorts of prizes at stake -- including a job in advertising for the Lemoncello company.  This is one of the most fun books I've read in quite some time -- full of humor, action, puzzles, clues, and characters you'll love (and love to detest!).  Highly recommended for everyone.



More reviews coming shortly!  Guarded by the intrepid house book kitties, Addie and Cassius,
h
ere's some of what's on my reading table:


 



Comments and/or suggestions for books I should read?  Come see me in the media center or email me at Karen_Ball@greenwich.k12.ct.us


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