"The American was good natured, generous, hospitable and sociable, and he reversed the whole of language to make the term 'stranger' one of welcome."--Henry Steele Commager
71. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson (417 pages) Whenever I am reading Bill Bryson, I am compelled to talk about it incessantly. So, I'm sure it was a long few weeks for my friends and family. Bryson doesn't disappoint in this follow-up to the brilliant, amazing (and one my favorite books ever) The Mother Tongue. Made in America basically tells the history of the United States, using its unique take on the English language as the medium by which to tell a fascinating historical, sociological, psychological, and cultural story, from America's beginnings with the blending of English and native languages that created a poetry of nomenclature, to the immigrant contribution to vocabulary, to the inventive spirit of business and machines that influence linguistics. Americans use English differently, different clichés, different vocabulary, different prose and style, and have contributed greatly to language. Bryson tells a fascinating story, and a brilliant linguistic one. I loved this book. So full of fascinating goodies. Thanks again for another great read, Bill! Grade: A
72. Spooky New England by S.E. Schlosser (197 pages) A collection of local folk lore, tall tales, scary stories, and ghost tales that has nothing on the magnificent, comprehensive, and brilliantly told collections by Joe Citro. Many of the stories I recognized from Citro's collections, where they were told with more mystery, mood, and better detail. I was checking out this book mainly for middle school students, but, though the reading level is low, it is too clumsy to hold their attention and the stories lack the scary mood and mystery that would interest them. Possibly a good book for high-level fifth or sixth grade students, but for few others. A decent local-version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, without the awesome sketches. Grade: C-
"And smiles to go before I weep."
"You're smart enough to know you don't have all the answers, that's all." "I'm god-awful at not being sure." …"You're a kid trying to figure out the world you were born into, that's all."
73. Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli (258 pages) Will loves astronomy, has a crush on his friend Mi-Su, is annoyed by his slacker best friend BT, hates his obnoxious little sister, and loves chess as much as skateboarding. When Will learns that protons can die, his world is completely upset. Nothing is forever. The very things that he thought he could always count on suddenly are up in the air. His future, which he once had mapped out for the next fifty years, suddenly is a complete mystery. And Will doesn't like it. Not to mention, he can't seem to define his relationship with Mi-Su. When something further shatters Will's world, will he finally just be able to carpe diem, to live in the now, to love the people around him? Though this novel isn't as strong as some of Spinelli's others, once again, he proves himself the unparalleled master of adolescent (and human) character/psychology and the literary young adult novel. Will is a character that anyone could identify with (particularly many high-strung teenagers, and, yes, they exist, though they rarely show up in literature): one afraid of the unknown, one too sure of one's own world, and one that sadly neglects many of the joys of life. His story is told with beautiful attention to theme (time, death, life, love), symbols (clocks, toys, chess), character, drama, and all interplayed with fascinating science. A beautiful, wonderfully written, engaging book. Grade: A+
74. The River by Gary Paulsen (132 pages) reread for teaching
75. Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen (164 pages) Samuel lives on the frontier of the American colonies with his parents, but he much more prefers running and hunting in the woods than being even in the slightest form of civilization. One day, while hunting, British and Hessian soldiers attack his family and town, killing almost everyone and taking his parents hostage. Samuel tracks after them, witnessing the horrors of the Revolutionary War as other towns and people fall victim to the British. Paulsen, as always, is an engaging, exciting read (particularly for the difficult young male adolescent audience). His blend of history, survival, the horrors of war, the wilderness and civilization, and character makes this novel unique and powerful. As always, though, I do wish that there was more (more length and a bit more substance). The novel (and historical notes) create a new take on history, one that comes alive for students. Grade: A-