Thursday, August 9, 2007

Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks

Part mystery and part coming-of-age novel, Martyn Pig is a compelling story about a high school student in England. Faced with the possibility of living with a dreadful aunt, fifteen-year-old Martyn Pig decides not to tell authorities when his alcoholic father dies accidentally, instead asking a friend for her help in disposing of the body.

Come on--this kid's name is Martyn already know the teasing he has received all his life. The macabre details are as compelling as the edgy realism, and Martyn’s first-person narrative is dark and desperate. Suspense builds one day at a time while the corpse rots and Martyn lives with his loneliness, depression, and guilt. Did he murder Dad? No, “none of us has any control over what we do.” Is the cover-up working? Not in the way he planned. This first novel is filled with surprise and reversal that make for a breathless read.

Leane Ellis

Friday, June 29, 2007

Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester Brown

I have become terribly disturbed by the accounts of what can happen to the Earth as climate changes produced by global warming disrupt the environment. I believe the majority of scientists who assert that we humans are the cause of the problem and I'm frustrated by the lack of urgency displayed by our governments and the general population. If we continue "business as usual," is it already too late to prevent disaster? Reading Plan B 2.0 gave me some hope that things can be done. What now can an ordinary citizen do to get the world to act on this?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Discussion About Leading a Discussion

It can be intimidating for a non-teacher to lead one of these summer reading book discussion groups. Many of us don't regularly interact with high school-age students. Not only won't we know any of the students in our group, we won't know anything about them and their interests until we are in the room with them. We will have less than an hour with them, and then the discussion will be over. (In short, we will have no clue until the need for clues is over.) This will be my fourth year as a summer reading book discussion leader. One of my discussions (the first one) bombed, one of them went well, one was a stunning success, and I have high hopes for the 2007 group. (I would list my very first tip as Sign up for the Harry Potter discussion group, but I have already taken that advice myself.)

I am going to list a few tips I've found helpful. I hope other people will add their tips to the list.

1) Consider leading the group with another person. If you are reluctant to volunteer for this activity, ask Mary Saunders if you can sit in on someone else's group to see how things go. Even if you feel comfortable enough to lead a group by yourself, it's helpful to have a another voice and another point of view to ease the moments when you've asked all your prepared questions and wonder what you're going to do next.

2) (This probably goes without saying, but...) Read the book. If you read it years ago, re-read it. I find it helpful to take chapter by chapter notes so I can refer back to something I have a question or comment about. I also like to keep notes on the characters' names and ages and their relationships to each other, especially if it's a book with a lot of characters with names I find difficult to remember.

3) Get reviews and background information from the internet. If the book is one in a series, print out precis of the books that came before. Professional reviews are good, but I also print out reader reviews from sites like I pay special attention to negative reviews because they can be used to jumpstart a discussion (See #7 )

4) Take a few minutes to set things up at the beginning of the session. If you want the students to sit in a circle (I prefer that they do), ask them to rearrange the chairs.

5) Don't concern yourself with administrative/authority issues. If the students were supposed to write a set of questions about the book and you see that several of them are busily finishing their questions in the back of the room, let it go, let it go, let it go.... However, it is helpful to collect the questions from the students who have done them because they provide a good safety net if you run through all the questions you've prepared.

6) Have a list of open-ended questions. What did you like most about this book? What did you like least? What would you have done if you were the protagonist? Do you think the actions were realistic? Would you recommend this book? To other students? To your parents? Would you recommend keeping it on the reading list? Are you happy you chose this book instead of one of the others on the list? If there was something you didn't like about this book, in what way would you change it? Would you like to read a sequel?

7) Use the reviews you have printed out to say things you might not want to present as your own opinion. Here's an example: In the book I led a discussion on last year, the bodies of two teenagers are occupied by the souls of two adults, and those two adults have sex. I was aware that a group of teenagers wasn't apt to discuss a sexual issue with an adult they don't know. It was helpful to step back personally and say, "One reviewer faulted the book for what he saw as sexual exploitation of teenagers by adults... What do you think of that criticism?"

8) Don't worry if some lines of discussion go nowhere. The question about sexual exploitation elicited only limited response from the group, I think, in part, because they didn't want to discuss sex and, in part, because it was a new idea. Ideas that don't catch fire in a discussion may well germinate later.

9) Trust the students. I have been blown away by some of the things students have seen in the books that I didn't see.

TO BE CONTINUED..... Please contribute tips and comments.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

With the seventh book in her series, J.K. Rowling completes the story of orphaned wizard Harry Potter. Twelve million people are anxiously awaiting the answer to one burning question: She wouldn't kill off Harry, would she? But there are other questions to be answered: What will we do when we no longer have Potter Anticipation in our lives? Do we want J.K. Rowling to write sequels? Will the character of Harry Potter spin off into stories written by other people, as Sherlock Holmes has? Will Rowling's books endure as classic children's fiction after the hype has died? And, finally, what is it about this series that made so many of us, across so wide an age span, care so much about a group of fictional characters?

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Like Shakespeare's plays, The Duchess of Malfi has love, revenge, and tragedy. If you want to try it out without purchasing the book, the full text of the play is online at

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

In your opinion, which beverage: beer, wine, alcoholic spirits, coffee, tea, or Coca Cola was the most important in world history, and why?
Tom Standage, the author, has a Web site on which he answers some frequently asked questions FAQ about the book (and about his opinion of bottled water). I bet he never drank Gloucester water!

Insatiable: The Compelling Story of Four Teens, Food, and its Power by Eve Eliot

Samantha, Hannah, Jessica, and Phoebe all have problems with food and eating. The stories are written as fiction, but the girls' situations are all too real? Why is it that the main characters are all girls? Don't guys have problems with eating disorders, too?
I found a link online to an interview of the author, Eve Eliot, that might add some background to a discussion of the book.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rich Dad, Poor Dad for Teens: The Secrets about Money That You Don't Learn in School! by Robert T. Kiyosaki & Sharon L. Lechter

The original Rich Dad, Poor Dad... book is longer and goes into more detail. The version on our summer reading list, "for teens" is shorter and more to the point. Is your Dad (or Mom) rich? Do your parents give you good financial advice? Do you listen to them?
The author, Robert T. Kiyosaki, has his own Web site. Of course, he thinks his ideas are great. Check this article in Slate for another point of view.

Last Breath: The Limits of Adventure by Peter Stark

Interested in extreme sports? This book describes in graphic detail many of the ways you can DIE and what happens in your body as you freeze to death or suffocate under an avalanche or fall off that cliff.... Each short chapter tells the story of a different fictional adventurer as he or she reaches for the limits. I am an armchair sportsman, but I can think of situations where the information in this book would be quite useful. Can you?