Thursday, December 26, 2013

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers
by Tanya Lee Stone
160 pages
Late Elementary-Middle School

Decades before the civil rights movement, the army was just a segregated as the the general population.  If you were black and joined the army, you usually ended doing dishes, building roads, or other support roles.  No units were mixed white and black, very few officers were black, and everything from housing to mess halls were separated.

When World War II hits and blacks start enlisting, they realize that prejudice is still very strong.  Although they joined to fight racism across the ocean, they must face it at home first.  As they struggle to prove themselves, the 555th company learns not only parachuting skills, but also how to stand up to prejudice they see all around them.  Standing up for themselves is just as important as standing against the enemy.

This was the story of the 555th company, later battalion, that helped integrate blacks into the rest of the army.  Numerous pictures and personal experiences dot this narrative.  I love how often they are found with smiles on their faces even if the times were rough.  They stood for what they knew what right, even though it wasn't easy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the narrative, but after I got the hang of it, the book was really engrossing.  Sometimes it was hard to keep names straight- lots of names in this!- but I think it was worth having all the personal experiences related in their words and personal situations.  I liked learning about another aspect of the war that I haven't known much about in the past.  While it didn't necessarily teach me about the war in general, it was very enlightening on what it was like to be of African-American decent during that time.

I will definitely recommend this!  Nothing grisly or bloody in the book (they don't see much was action) which makes it appropriate for the late elementary age, but would take the right kid to be excited about it.  If they want a historical perspective on the situation from a minority's point of view- perfect!  Really liked it, would have gotten full marks except I'm not a huge history fan in general. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design
by Chip Kidd
160 pages
Middle-High School

Each book cover, every sign, and even books are designed for maximum effect.  How do they do that?  The answer is graphic design.  Everything from exit signs to gum wrappers are carefully designed to say exactly what the maker wants it to say. 

This book contains design secrets whittled down to the most basic principles, then built up into more complex ideas.   Written by an experienced graphic designer, he gives multiple examples of great work, his own and others, so that the reader can see effective use of the principles as he is teaching them.

So, this was a fascinating book!  Where was this two years ago when I was designing a website for school- I needed this!  I learned a lot about design, typography, and more.  It was super interesting, and really fun to read.  Lots of colors, and I loved the examples with the concepts.  At the end of the book, there are 10 projects that someone can participate in, and he's even built a website for people to share what they have made or designed!  Go here to see it:

Overall, really cool book.  I liked it a lot, but can see some kids not getting it.  Middle school to high school kids that are interested in the topic would devour it, but other might see it as uninteresting.  I enjoyed it a ton and learned a lot!  Very cool!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
368 pages
Middle School/High School

Verity is in a horrible situation.  She's in Nazi-occupied France as a English spy and has been captured.  Now she faces the worst possible scenario: reveal all her secrets or die.  Slowly, day by day, she writes her story on whatever scraps of paper they give her.  As each day passes, she is more and more sure that each note will be her last.

Verity decides to start at the beginning, telling how she joined the war, revealing aircraft types, locations and codes for the wireless along the way. Each little note tells more secrets, more of her story, and gives more information to her captures.  But will it be enough?  Will they still send her away, never to be heard from again?  Or will her loyal friends be able to help her escape?

First of all, prepare for your heart to be broken.  Again and again and again.  When I read this, I was at first stunned, had to go back and make sure I read it right, and then proceeded to deny that it really happened.  It happens.  Get over it, keep going.

Despite the harshness (it is war, after all), I really did love this book.  I loved the friendships: watching them develop, sacrifices made, and everything else.  Such an amazing book on friendship and what it really means to people.  Great book just for that aspect.

Add to that the historical setting: France in WWII.  Great way to learn about a different aspect of the war, how it affected not just the typical people, but lots of other points-of-view.  This book gives a great foundation for the war- how people felt leading up to it, how common people got involved, and more.

Overall, this was simply amazing.  Action and adventure, but a lot of emotional connections, too.  The narration style from Verity is awesome- such sass coming through, it made me laugh a lot of the time.  The switch to Maddie threw me for a moment, but once I read a little and got into her style, it was fine. Because of what happens toward the end plus the grisliness of the situation (war captive being tortured for information), I would hand to more mature readers.  Awesome book, just be ready to be overwhelmed by the emotion of it toward the end!!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Belle Epoque

Belle Epoque
by Elizabeth Ross
336 pages
High School+

When Maude Pichon leaves her small town to come to Paris, she expects a more glamorous life, one full of love, freedom, and new possibilities.  What she finds is reality: life is hard and rent is expensive.  Sick of doing laundry, Maude responds to an add in the paper.  Instead of the menial work that she was expecting, she instead becomes a repoussior, an ugly girl set next to a normal girl to make her look more beautiful.

Slightly repulsed by herself, the job and the other girls that work there, but out of other options, she throws herself into the work.  She becomes the companion of a nobleman daughter, going to everything to tea to fancy balls as a good friend's distant relative.  The unsuspecting girl is at first mean to her, but gradually thaws and they start actually talking.  After seeing her camera and study room, Maude is impressed by this girl, her dreams and capabilities.  Not wanting to deceive her new friend, Maude is being trapped in a lie of her own making...

So, this is one of the nominees for the YALSA Morris award.  For more info on that please go here:

First issue I have with this book: THE COVER!  This book is about ugly girls.  Not pretty girls: UGLY girls.  WHY did they choose this cover?  Get a new cover!

Next issue: why is this a romance?  While Maude is escaping her awful life in her small town, and comes to Paris because it is supposed to be full of possibilities.  I get that she is looking for a better life, she does run into boys, she does long for something more than what she has.  But to me, I think a lot more could have been done with the idea of the repoussior.  Intriguing idea, but this story just felt so flat and blah.  Even the elements that I (and most teens) would consider the "romantic" parts, were very minimal and under emphasized.  You don't need to hit me over the head with it, but a little more would have been nice.

One thing I did like was the use of the setting to make intriguing parallels.  This book takes place during the building of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, and Maude often sees it or makes reference to it.  That was one thing that was nicely woven into the story.

So, if you couldn't tell, I was not impressed with this book. While I read this book fairly quickly (took me less than 4 hours), I really wasn't that into it.  I kept feeling like more should happen, like there had to be more to the story, but that was it.  I will not really recommend this to anyone, unless they just want a bland, historical novel.  Maybe I've read too much adventure and fantasy books, but this did not leave a favorable impression at all.

Quick note: some french is helpful, but not necessary, while reading this.  Most of it is explained, or could be understood contextually, so not essential to understanding the book.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! 

Sorry about so little posts recently.  I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo during November, and basically every spare moment was spent trying to write.  While I didn't get my 50,000 words, I made a lot of progress on an idea, and that was worth it to me! 
In addition to that, I've been sick twice (still kind of sick), had a holiday or two to celebrate, a birthday or two to celebrate, and overall, life was busy!  I do have several posts coming up this week, plus I am participating in the YALSA Hub Morris and Nonfiction Reading challenge!  For more info on that, see here-
As I read them, I will be reviewing each on my blog.  You can participate too!  It's not to late to start!

Once again, Merry Christmas!  Have a great holiday season, whatever you celebrate, and hopefully you get some awesome books for Christmas this year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer
by Jasper Fforde
296 pages
Middle School+

As a foundling, Jennifer Strange had a rough childhood: competing with the 40 other girls for the only handkerchief to use as a pillow each night.  But despite that, or maybe because of that, she is super strong, stands up for herself, and is capable of managing a magic company while the actual manager is missing.  Kazam Magic is one of the only two magic companies in the kingdom, in a world where magic is on the decline.  And Jennifer has to get their wizards jobs, keep the wizards on task (since they are notoriously scatterbrained), and budget the books.  A lot of responsibility for a (almost) sixteen-year-old.

And then, from one of her most dependable wizards, comes one of the most startling prophecies of all: the last dragon in the world is going to die. And not only that, but Jennifer is somehow deeply involved.  How can she run Kazam, teach the new kid the ropes, take care of her magicians, and resolve this issue with the dragons???

So, this book was GREAT!  I loved it!  Loved it so much I went out and found the sequel and devoured that book as well.  I liked the second, but not quite as much as the first.  Both are full of tongue-in-cheek humor and an amazing contrast between the practical way and the whimsical wizarding way.  It provides a new perspective on a world that is slightly familiar, but full of discoveries at the same time.

Jennifer is a great balance of practical thinking in a strange world. She has to have this endless patience to deal with the whimsies of the wizards and at the same time stay on target enough to accomplish what the company has been paid to do.  Great character for a teen book.  Lots of fun seeing how she approaches and solves problems.

Overall, definitely a book that recommend.  I can see this appealing to both boys and girls, starting in middle school and into high school.  Also a great introduction to this author for younger readers, since most of his works are aimed more toward adults.  Interesting book, fun read, and best of all, dragons!  (Yes, multiple!  But you have to read it to find out...)