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January 13, 2010 > Footnotes: Quirky, brave and shy but brilliant

Footnotes: Quirky, brave and shy but brilliant

It's fun to read books that have characters that don't follow the norm, who work against 'type.' With that in mind, this month's book selections include the quirky, the brave, the shy but brilliant and some characters that are just plain fun!


For 3rd through 6th grades (really!), a non-fiction book about a law-enforcement hero. Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U. S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie.

Bass Reeves started out as a slave, who had to go on the run after a problem with his owner. He ran all the way out to the Wild West, where he wound up as a U.S. Deputy Marshal on the lookout for \ bad guys (the first African-American to hold this position).

He would bring in over 3,000 criminals in the span of his excellent career, using disguises, ingenuity, and an uncanny ability to convince folks that he wasn't the long arm of the law. Even though the wanted posters said "Wanted: Dead or Alive" Bass did his level best not to shoot his prey. Here are some of the stories of his best captures, and what it took to be law-abiding in a territory full of independents, explorers, Indians, bandits, outlaws and some lowdown dastardly dogs. (CarolRhoda hardback, $17.95)


For 4th through 6th: Flawed Dogs, by Berkeley Breathed. When the brave purebred dachshund hero of this story first meets Heidy, he decides that she needs him as much as he needs her. He picks her as his human partner. They go together to live at Heidy's uncle's house and at first everything goes beautifully. She names her dog Sam the Lion and they are side by side every day. But there is another dog in the house, Cassius, a poodle who wants Sam OUT of his domain. Cassius manages to cast doubt on the honorable Sam, and pins evidence of a terrible deed on him. Sam soon ends up cast out, terribly wounded, and Heidy convinced he must be dead.

Sam is NOT dead. Instead he plots revenge against Cassius. Through all sorts of despicable places Sam bravely perseveres and is soon leading a group of mutts to a raid on the prestigious Westminster Dog Show, where Cassius is confidently competing to be Best in Show. No one will predict what will happen when these two enemies confront each other in the show ring!

Note: I should warn that there is some uncomfortable passages in here, with references to animal shelters (although this animal shelter has dogs who are surprisingly happy to be where they are) and medical labs which do experiments on dogs (briefly described; Sam does manage to escape, thank goodness!). Parents, you might want to be ready to answer questions about these kinds of places. (Philomel hardback, $16.99)


For Junior High and High School: The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks.

Let's get this out of way right at the start; yes, this is a vampire book. But I can guarantee that this is unlike any vampire book you've ever read. First off, Nina who has been a 15 yr-old vampire for over 30 years, says that vampire life is boring! She won't drink blood from humans (please!), so is reduced to drinking the blood from humanely frozen guinea pigs. Honest! She goes to meetings every Tuesday night that are sponsored by a priest, Father Ramon, where she and other vampires discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to live honorably as a, well, um, blood-sucking person.

Then one of the group, an older stronger vampire named Casimir, turns up dead. He was killed using silver, which tells the group that someone knows what they are, and is actively hunting them. The group decides that they must find the hunters first, which isn't as easy as it sounds. There's packing all those guinea pigs for one, then finding a vehicle that has an area big and dark enough for them to sleep during the day. And then there's the fact that they aren't sure where they are going.

This was a great read, fun, serious, strange and adventurous, all at once! Enjoy!
(Harcourt hardback, $17.00)


For Young Adults: Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga.

Donnie is a self-admitted genius, a computer geek and comic-book fan. All of these things combine to make him incredibly shy and socially awkward. He's bullied at his high school, and has only one friend who only seems to talk to him when none of their peers are around. At home, he's dealing with his stepfather and his very pregnant mother and a father who doesn't seem interested in him any more.

Donnie, however, has a big secret. He's been writing a graphic novel named Schemata. Schemata is not a comic book, but a serious graphic novel, with a complex plot, and Donnie has told no one about it, not his friend, not his mom... no one. He's been honing the characters and images for a long time with a plan to show pages to his hero, a graphic novelist who is going to be at an upcoming convention. He dreams of getting recognized as a prodigy, getting his idol to sponsor him into publication.

Enter a complete stranger, someone who has seen him getting bullied in a stupid game of Dodge Ball in gym. She barges into his life, changing everything. And when he mentions his great secret, she demands to see his Schemata. Kyra, a girl dressed completely in Goth black clothes, loves the book! She pushes Fanboy, as she calls Donnie, out of his safe areas, pushes and pulls until he feels almost undone. Then, at the climax of the book, things explode completely out of control.
(Graphia paperback, $8.99)


And finally, I wanted to be sure and mention a series of vampire books written from a guy's point of view, the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer, for Junior High and High School.

The first book in the series is Eighth Grade Bites. Vladimir has always known that he is a vampire, sort of. His mom was human so odd problems come up. He wishes he could ask his parents, but they were killed three years ago; his Aunt Nelly is raising him now. She's really nice, but she doesn't know the answers Vlad is trying to find.

When his English teacher disappears mysteriously Vlad isn't concerned, but the substitute is treating Vlad very strangely. Then he gets assigned a report... about what it would be like to be a vampire. The more he interacts with this new teacher, the more he becomes convinced that this guy knows too much. As he will soon discover, Vlad's life is in danger, all because of something his father did. His quest to uncover the truth will endanger Vlad's world, and his very life! (Speak paperback, $8.99)

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