Midnighters: The Secret Hour

cover image for Midnighters: The Secret HourWesterfeld, Scott. (2004) Midnighters: The Secret Hour. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Jessica Day has just moved Bixby, a small town in the great state of Oklahoma. She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting, but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain that had been pouring a moment ago suspended in the air as if time had stopped.  Jessica quickly learns that most everything else spends the secret hour frozen in place; the only people or creatures that are ever awake during it are herself and a handful of her classmates at Bixby High. Well, and the Darklings, who exist only during the secret hour and seem especially determined to hunt down Jessica.  Luckily Jessica and her new friends, Dess, Rex, Melissa, and Jonathon have some very unusual but sometimes useful superpowers.

Critical Evaluation:

Westerfeld’s plot concepts are are always crack for the imagination, and his execution here isn’t half bad either.  There’s nothing about this story that doesn’t sound odd when laid out and summarized, but on the page it’s exciting and magical rather than absurd.  Neither is everything perfect either, the teens superpowers come with a high price and their friendships are complicated and full of baggage.  It’s fairly complicated for a young adult novelabout superheros, but it never lets this get in the way of having fun.

Reader’s Annotation:

She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting from Bixby, OK but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain suspended in the air as if time had stopped.

Author Information:




One of the great things about Scott Westerfeld’s site is that he doesn’t just encourage fans to engage with him, he encourages them to interact with each other and with his books; not only does his site include a forum but his blog will regularly feature fan art and creations.


Action Series

Booktalking Ideas:

I love recomending this book to library patrons and will usually talk up either the Secret Hour, the Darklings, or the superpowers.  For a booktalk I would try to touch on all three.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-17

Possible Controversy:

There might be some people who have religious objections to the premise – especially the presence of the Darklings.  Other than that it’s unlikely to be challenged.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Once I read the premise – after noticing the book’s cover – I was totally drawn in.



cover image for FeedAnderson, M.T. (2002) Feed. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press

Plot Summary:

Titus is hooked up 24/7 to FeedNet via an implant he received at birth, which gives him a direct line from his brain to all the internet has to offer.  While spending spring break on the moon, Titus and his friends run into Violet.  Violet isn’t like other girls; for one, her feed is new, she hasn’t had it since infancy.  For another, she isn’t so sure that life is unlivable without it.  In fact, she thinks that for her, life might just be unlivable with it.

Critical Evaluation:

Feed depicts a world in which decisions are made to maximize short term pleasure at the expense of education and culture, and in which class differences and are widened to an alarming and tragic degree. The Feed itself is created and controlled by a conglomerate of corporations, providing even more critique of consumerism and economic inequality.It’s an unusual book and, typical of Anderson’s work, it’s style is not one that will appeal to all teens.  It is, however, thought provoking, fascinating, and stands up well 10 years and several billion new websites later.

Reader’s Annotation:

Titus and his friends went to the moon to have fun, but the only part of that trip that did not suck was meeting Violet.

Author Information:




Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

The hook for this will definitely be the idea of the internet jack to your brain.  The trick will be to not make it sound to much like a lecture, or else it will turn kids off.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-17

Potential Controversy:

Most adults would approve of the idea that media dumb down kids (which isn’t necessarily what Anderson is saying, but is what many people will get from it) as well as give respect the praise and awards it has received, but some will not like the accusations aimed at capitalism or the destructed behavior exhibited by the teens in the book.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked Octavian Nothing and I like science fiction, so I figured this would be the perfect combination.  Sadly, not so much, although it was good.

Double Helix

cover image for Double HelixWerlin, Nancy. (2004) Double Helix. New Yor, NY: Penguin Group.

Plot Summary:

Working with the exalted Dr. Wyatt of Wyatt Transgenics is supposed to be about solving the mysteries of science, but for Eli it’s also a way to try to uncover the secrets of his past.  His father may be dead set against Eli taking the job (although he won’t say why) but Eli knows that Dr. Wyatt is the only person both willing and able to explain the mysterious papers her found in his father’s desk.  With his mother dying from Huntington’s disease and his father growing ever more distant, Eli start to rely on Dr. Wyatt even more.  But can Quincy Wyatt be trusted?

Critical Evaluation:

Fascinating and fast paced, Double Helix is definite page turner.  It’s very consciously a young adult novel; not only does Eli struggle with his identity and maturing responsibilities and relationships, but the mystery itself echoes these themes. Which makes it all the more disappointing that Werlin could not stick the landing.  After close to several hundred pages about characters that are surprisingly raw and real, and a setting that is possible if not entirely probable, Werlin turns her realistically arrogant villain into a cartoon for no obvious reason other than to end with a lecture on the dangers of gene therapy. It’s a let down for readers who have been waiting to see how everything turns out and insulting to teens intelligence, as if they could not understand a more nuanced and ambiguous ending.

Reader’s Annotation:

Working with the exalted Dr. Wyatt of Wyatt Transgenics is supposed to be about solving the mysteries of science, but for Eli it’s also a way to try to uncover the secrets of his past.

Author Information:





Booktalking Ideas:

It has an interesting premise and characters, so I would likely stick with that.  I don’t know that I would ever booktalk this title though, because I don’t think I believe in it enough to sell it.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

While the book tackles a controversial subject (and does so, in the end, in a heavy handed matter) it is not a particular lycontroversial topic in terms of adults getting nervous that teens may know or talk about it.  The sex discussed in the book is more likely to result in controversy.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I am a bit of a nerd so the idea of a science mystery appealed to me, especially when the book in question also won an Edgar Award.



One of the traditions at my high school was for the school newspaper to devote much of the final issue of the last year to “wills” from the seniors to students in other classes.  My sophomore year, the advisor of the newspaper got into trouble because the newspaper editors – all seniors, all good students going onto expensive colleges – had co-opted that tradition in order to publicly print lists along the lines of “girls I’d like to…” you get the idea.

From Totally Wired:

Teens have also used blogs and Web sites to post lists or rankings of other students.

Yeah, so what else is new?  In other non-news people are still nostalgic for the past, despite the past having poorer health carer and more discrimination.

I’m not trying to say that cyberbullying is not a specific problem that presents unique obstacles, just that a certain amount of the issue – as Goldstein alludes to when she talks about people finally studying bullying – is that we are finally starting to care. Sometimes.

That kids do this isn’t new, it’s just that the scale is finally forcing us to pay attention to it, when we didn’t before. That same advisor is still teaching.* He also gets good reviews at ratemyteacher.com, because, like a lot of bullies, he’s very personable. I don’t think he’d still be teaching if the story had made the news because it was posted online. But the fact that the outside world didn’t hear about it didn’t make it any less damaging to the students that were at the school at the time, it just made it infinitely less embarrassing for the school district.

I also think it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the bullying that kids do is often copying the bullying that adults do – even if the frequency is higher. If we want to teach boys and girls that, for example, they should not be passing around private photos without the permission of the person in the photo, then we need to stop acting like adults who find themselves in this situation deserve what they get. Making it about the worthiness of the victim instead of the action of the bully makes it easy and likely that the victim will be blamed and the bullying will continue.

*no, I don’t know that he knew about it beforehand, but I was around at the time – I was a member of the junior class writing staff – and I saw how he handled the aftermath. With lots of smirks and smiles.

Media 2.0

I tried reading Amusing Ourselves to Death a couple of times.  I still have a copy sitting on one of my shelves, waiting to be finished.  I can’t ever get through it; about every couple pages or so I want to start yelling at the author that his problem is not with visual mediums versus language – but with mediums that are read-only versus ones that are read/write/execute.

One of my greatest hopes for this totally wired generation, and all the ones that come after it, is that they learn to see all media as read/write/execute and none of it as read-only.

When kids first learn to read and write, they go in cycles.*  They will work on practicing reading for a while, then writing, and then they back to reading…and on it goes.  Each time they practice their reading, their writing improves too, and vice versa.  Better writers make better readers and better readers make better writers.  True literacy requires know how to write as well as read, no matter the medium.

Tweens are at that age where they have the cognitive skills to start testing out “writing” in more complicated mediums, like movies, video games, and websites.  As I’ve mentioned before, not many of the tweens that come to my library have the access to this kind of equipment.  Even if their family does have a computer with the proper programs at home, letting the 11 year old make vids is hardly a top priority for such valuable real estate.  I desperately want to start some programs that give more tweens this opportunity to “write” in their native media.**

*sorry, I do not have a proper citation for this.  My source is my mother, who has spent the last couple decades teaching kids to read, preschool through second grade.

**also, I’m curious as to how much computer access my kids really have at home.  I’m thinking a survey may be in order.

Totally Wired: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

[Regarding the actual question, with regard to technology – while my tween years were much more like the author’s teen years than modern tween’s experiences, my current day to day life is much closer to modern tween’s than my own tween or teen years.  Except with fewer video games and texting.  Lots of chatting online and blogging, though.  Also, we had a computer in our house from when elementary school on, it just didn’t connect to the internet until I left for college.]

I don’t have kids, but I do have a niece and nephew.  My nephew is only five, but my niece is in first grade and is turning seven in January.  While she is clearly a year or two away from being even a young tween, she has been reading since she was in preschool and is already composing and sending emails to her grandmother – using her own email address.

I bring her up now because of a conversation my sister and I had a few months ago regarding the Mom’s Club that my sister volunteers for and has been a member of since my niece was born.  Part of her job is helping Mom’s Club presidents within her chapter, and part of that involves explaining to them the website guidelines – the rules they have to follow if they want to have a link on the main website.  At least some of the rules involved privacy – not naming the children of the mothers in the club, for example – and she’s always shocked by the number of seemingly tech savvy clubs that don’t feel this is a rule worth following.

Goodstein talks about kids not understanding the public nature of the internet, and what that means.  I think she’s right, and I think that an important part of our job is to help teach kids safe practices, but I don’t it’s just the kids that don’t get the public nature of the internet.  Like the stereotype of teens talking loudly on cellphones, I think a certain amount of the panic is projection.  After all, it’s generally adults that I see talking loudly on cellphones.  The teens and tweens are either texting quietly or talking loudly to the person standing next to them; they’ve picked up on the etiquitte that one texts in public places rather than talking, yet most adults have not.*  Likewise, much of the fear of what will happen to tween and teens who are public online comes from adults’ mistakes of forwarding email to the wrong person – or showing up in an politically embarrassing picture online.

What I find even odder than the Mom’s Clubs who ignore common sense privacy suggestions is that many of those same parents would consider giving a six year old her own email address to be a disaster waiting to happen.  However, like with everything else, learning to navigate the inernet responsibly takes practice.  Much better for her to spend some of her time now sending private emails to a trusted person now, and then in another few years start learning about message boards and other places to post information publicly on the internet, and how that is different – rather than trying to get a handle on everything all at once at age 12, 14 or 16.


Unfortunately, one of the problems of the internet is that, right now, everyone is pretty new at it – even if you’ve been wired** your whole life.  As Goodstein points out (it’s one of the main purposes of her book) this makes it hard for parents to know how to guide their children.

*and don’t say “well, adults have figured that any talking on the phone is rude in certain situations!” cuz if enough adults had figured this out, I wouldn’t have to tell so many of them that the public library is not an appropriate place to have a cell phone conversation that can just as easily take place outside.
**or wireless :p