Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Cover image for The fourteenth goldfish12-year-old Ellie lives with her mom who is a drama teacher.  Her dad is divorced from her mom, and is an actor.  Ellie, however doesn't have any interest in the stage.  One day her mother brings home a sulky teenage boy.  He seems familiar to Ellie, and she discovers he is her grandfather who is a scientist who has discovered a "fountain of youth" serum and tested it on himself.  He had been arrested trying to "break in" to his own lab and Ellie's mother had to take legal custody of him.  The rest of the book recounts Ellie's growing friendship with her grandfather, her discovery of her inner scientist, and their attempts, with the help of a new friend at school, to break into the grandfather's old lab and get the key ingredients to the youth serum.  Her grandfather hopes he can publish his findings and win the Nobel prize but as Ellie learns more about life and her family through interacting with her grandfather, she begins to wonder if the world is ready for perpetual youth. Ms Holm adds a lot of humor into her story.  The relationship of the grandfather with his daughter/now guardian is funny but also thought provoking.  The goldfish metaphor is a little heavy handed (you will have to read the book to know what I mean), but sometimes kids need things to be a little more obvious. Of course, this whole topic has been explored before.  I don't know if any book can compete with Tuck Everlasting on the topic of eternal youth. But you have to be pretty mature and philosophical to enjoy Tuck Everlasting, whereas this book, because of its more lighthearted treatment, is probably accessible to a wider range of audience. (195 p)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rain Reign by Ann Martin

Cover image for Rain reignRose is a 5th grade girl who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. She has an aid at school and an uncle that are very kind and patient with her fixation on rule keeping and homonyms, but her father gets frustrated that Rose is not "normal."  At home, her main comfort is her dog, Rain, which her father found in a storm and gave to his daughter.  When Hurricane Susan hits Rose's town, Rain comes up missing. Desperate to find her beloved dog, Rose begins an extensive and systematic search that leads to more questions, and answers, for the brave and sympathetic little girl.  This book is getting starred reviews everywhere and is probably a major contender for this year's Newbery award. I can see why critics like it.  It is the first good portrayal of a child with autism/aspergers from the child's point of view.  Rose is a very sympathetic character and all through the book the reader is hoping something nice will happen to her.  It rarely does.  I actually found the book difficult to read.  Her father is so harsh with her that it made me physically cringe.  I also found the hominyms fairly hard to get through.  I know that is the point.  Her father found them difficult to deal with as well and that was a source of much of their conflict, but also they slowed down the pace of the narrative.  If the book hadn't gotten such good reviews I probably would have given up on it 100 pages in. It would take a really specific kind of kid to enjoy this book. For most it will be the kind of book the teacher assigns them to read, and the kid hates. Parents should know that the book contains some harsh profanity.  I hope it won't win the Newbery, but I am afraid it will.(226 p)

George Washington Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas

Cover image for Farmer George plants a nationMost biographies of George Washington spend a lot of time talking about his role as a military general, or as the first president of the United States.  This picture book biography mentions those things, but focuses on George Washington as a successful farmer. Washington inherited Mt Vernon when his half-brother died in 1752.  Under his careful and intelligent management, the productivity of the farm increased significantly.  Washington experimented with crop rotation, and developed several innovations like an indoor threshing house. Thomas includes a discussion of Washington's relationship with his slaves and finishes off the book with a timeline and resources sections.  Although not as engaging as George Washington, Spymaster, it gives another valuable perspective on a complex historical character. (40 p)

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Cover image for The Great Trouble : a mystery of London, the blue death, and a boy called Eel
Eel is a homeless orphan in London, 1854 who works odd jobs to support himself and his little brother.  All the while he must avoid his evil stepfather who wants to turn him and his little brother into beggars and burglars. When cholera strikes in his neighborhood he is enlisted by the famous doctor, John Snow, in a desperate effort to find the cause of the epidemic.  This historical fiction is based on an actual outbreak of cholera that lead to the discovery of how the disease is transmitted.  This book was an OK historical fiction, but came across a little didactic. Dr. Snow spends a good deal of time teaching Eel--and through him, the reader--the method of scientific research. That said, Eel is a likeable character, as are several of the other characters in the book. A lengthy note at the end of the book explains which characters and events are fictional, and which are based on actual people involved in the historical event.  I couldn't help looking up John Snow on my family history to see if there was any relation, but no.(249 p)

Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes

Cover image for Words with wingsGabby has always been a daydreamer, but since she moved to a new school after her parent's divorce, her daydreaming has gotten to be a bigger problem.  A single "word with wings" can send her off into a world of her imagination and make her forget what she is supposed to be doing.  In an attempt to please her parents and teacher, she tries to suppresses her daydreams for a while, but that just makes her sad. Finally her teacher encourages her to write what she is thinking and both her parents and teacher discover that her daydreaming has made her a wonderful writer.  This is a short novel written in free verse. Even though the text isn't long, Ms Grimes does a good job suggesting dimensional characters and complicated relationships.  She is good with word craft, and it is not a surprise that this book the Coretta Scott King honor award last year. This is a good choice for either a child that has to read a poetry book over a certain length, or for a reluctant reader who has to read a realistic fiction novel. (84p)

Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

Cover image for Liesl & PoLiesl is a girl, locked in the attic because her father has died and her stepmother wants to control her inheritance.  Will is a young alchemist’s apprentice who likes to watch Liesl draw through her attic window.  Po is a ghost who also likes Liesl’s drawings and decides to pay her visits.  When William accidentally switches Liesl’s father’s funerary box with one that contains a great magical power it sets off a series of events that brings Victorian England to the brink of disaster, but just might bring Liesl, Will and Po their greatest heart’s desire.  This is a cute, non-scary ghost story.   It reads like a fairy tale.  The characters are not really very dimensional, especially the villains, who are comical caricatures, but there is a brisk pace of action and suspense, and a very nice happy ending.  It is such a different kind of Ghost story from Lockwood and Company.  Po is not spooky at all and certainly not threatening.  He is actually endearing and seems to have a little crush on Liesl. This is a good book for a younger child who is a good reader and wants to read a ghost story but gets creeped-out easily. 370 p

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memory Maze by Gordon Korman

Cover image for Memory mazeIn this sequel to The Hypnotists, Jax has relocated with his family in Connecticut.  They have taken on new names, and his parents are attempting, none too successfully, to take on new careers in an attempt to avoid the evil Dr. Mako.  Jax is having a hard time fitting in at school because he has to act strangely to keep from hypnotizing people.  He wears dark glasses all the time and never looks anyone in the eyes.  Despite his best efforts his hypnotic power still influences people and he ends up winning the school chess competition.  This leads him to competitions on the district and state level, and brings him to the attention of an elderly tycoon who figures out Jax's real identity.  The tycoon hires Jax to put him into a deep hypnotic state in an effort to slow the advance of the old man's fatal disease and promises to pay him handsomely.  As Jax starts creating daily extended hypnotic connections with the man, Jax starts to experience his memories. There is more in the man's head than Jax had bargained for and soon Jax is struggling to maintain his own sanity. This book further explores the personalities of each of the main characters and adds a psychological element to the plot.  There are more interesting moral questions and lots of exciting action.  The book ends with a new twist, and now I am eager for book three (which isn't out yet, rats!).(234 p)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lockwood and Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Cover image for The whispering skullAnthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins are back on the job trying to neutralize the source for the ghost of the necromancer, Edmund Bickerstaff. When a powerful relic is stolen from the body, Lockwood and Company go head to head with their rivals from the Fitts agency to see who can recover it first. The relic and those who stole it turn out to be far more dangerous than they could have imagined.  I liked the first in the series, The Screaming Staircase.  It has an original premise, and really good suspense writing, but I thought the characters where not quite as interesting or dimensional as the ones in Stroud's "Bartimaeus" series.  In this second book Stroud explores the characters more deeply and their relationships become more complicated. I don't know if I liked it better than the first book, but I liked it as well and will be interested in reading the next in the series as soon as it comes out.  One thing that a co-worker and I discussed was that it is obvious the author is a man because if it were a woman she would have already done more with the hint of romance that is starting to occur between Lockwood and Lucy.  It will be interesting to see what he does with it, if anything, in the next book. (435 p)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Cover image for The hypnotistsJackson Opus has unusual eyes. They change color when his emotions change, which allows Jackson to sometimes hypnotize people. Jackson is recruited by a foundation of hypnotists and begins intensive training to learn to control his power. The foundation claims to have the betterment of mankind as its goal, but Jackson begins to wonder about their real motives when the director asks him to do something unethical. It is only when he begins to express his hesitations that he realizes how much he is under the director's power. Suddenly Jackson is in a race to save himself, his family and the fate of the whole country. Korman has an amazingly long list of children books.  I wasn't that thrilled with some of his earlier series, but I have enjoyed some of his more recent ones.  I really liked Ungifted and I liked this one. This one has a different feel from Ungifted.  That one was funny and goofy, but his one was much more serious. It brings up some interesting ethical questions, and has some good action sequences. I have already put the second one in the series on hold. (232 p)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cold Light: Creatures, Discoveries, and Inventions that Glow by Anita Sitarski

Cover image for Cold Light: Creatures, Discoveries, and Inventions That GlowHere is another nonfiction.  This one is about a variety of things that glow with cold light.  It starts out with bio-luminescence and talks about luminous fish, algae and insects.  Then Sitarski moves on to chemo-luminescence and talks about how it was developed and some of its applications.  Finally it talks about phosphorescence and the development of LED's and their potential usage in society.  Since the book was originally written in 2007 some of the "potential" usages of LED's are now standard, like using LED's as head and tail lights on cars.  This was a very interesting book, and more engaging to me than the Stubby book below.  Sitarski's explanations of scientific processes is clear and accessible and she puts a lot of personality into her prose. Since I listened to this on recording I can't comment on the illustrations, but the cover looks cool.  This is definitely not a book for every kid, but a great choice for a young science nerd.  I could also see this book leading to some interesting science fair projects.(48 p)

Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum

Cover image for Stubby the war dog : the true story of world war I 's bravest dogStubby was a mixed bread dog who started hanging around the new recruits who were drilling at Yale before being sent over to Europe at the beginning of WWI. A young soldier named Conroy became attached to Stubby, and when it was time to ship out, smuggled him onto the ship.  Stubby became the mascot of his master's unit in France, and used his canine skills to help the soldiers. He could tell which soldiers were still alive after a battle.  He helped keep down rats in the trenches.  One time he even helped capture a German soldier who was sneaking around near the camp. After the war, Conroy actively promoted the dog, showing him in parades, and a VFW events until his death.  At his death he arranged to have the dog stuffed, and later donated the taxidermy dog and his memorabilia to the Smithsonian. This is a interesting short nonfiction. I think adults will see it from a different angle than children.  For children it is just the story of a brave and beloved dog, but adults have to wonder what was Conroy's motivation and psychological state.  Ms Bausum is careful to separate fact for legend, and always refers to her primary sources.  She ends the book with a short note about how she found out about and researched Stubby's story.  The book is illustrated with photos from a scrap book Stubby's master kept for him during the war and after he became famous.(72 p)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Cover image for The scandalous sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceOne Sunday afternoon at St. Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies the head mistress and her slimy brother suddenly drop dead.  The seven students of the Victorian girl's boarding school must make a quick decision.  Do they report the deaths to the authorities and face the inevitability of the school being shut down, or do they hide the murders and enjoy, for the first time, some measure of freedom and control of their future? Lead by Smooth Alice, the seven girls begin an elaborate charade to fool all the nosy neighbors, police, doctors and suitors and keep their bid for independence alive. This is a fun, but quirky Victorian novel. The story is a bit extreme and the reader must suspend belief a little to go along with things.  For example, one of the girls dresses up like the departed head mistress, and even the doctor can't see through the disguise.  It is like Clark Kent using glasses so people won't recognize him as superman: Not really believable, but necessary to make the story work.  I must also add an caveat. The girl, disgraceful Mary Jane, says some pretty suggestive things.  It doesn't quite go over the line, turning this into a YA book, but it gets close.  That said, I enjoyed the book. The plot was well crafted, and there were some funny scenes. The seven girls, who you think are just stereotypes in the beginning because of their monikers, turn out to be dimensional and interesting characters. There are certain older grade school girls who would love this one. (351 p.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Cover image for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadeWhen Diary of a Wimpy Kid became such a great success, authors and publishers rushed to find other books that were similar.  This is one of those titles.  Timmy is a kid who thinks he is destined to become a famous detective and hires himself out to solve mini mysteries among his peers.  The problem is that he cannot figure out even the most obvious puzzle, and the contrast between his over confident bravado and his total ineptitude is the foundation for most of the book's humor. The rest of the humor comes from his interactions with two girls in his life.  One is his rival, a "girl who must not be named" who actually is intelligent, and a younger neighbor girl who has an all consuming crush on him.  Timmy is at a loss as to what to do with either of them.  I can see how the kids who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid might enjoy this one, but it was just too over the top for me.  It lacked the realistic subtle undertones of the Wimpy Kid. I never saw any of my own middle school experience in the exploits of this character or his friends.(294 p)

The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain by Tom Angleberger

Cover image for Poop fountain!When Dave, Lyle and Marilla discover that they all have nothing to do on Christmas day they decide to find an adventure.  After much research and debate, they decide to go and see the soon to be torn down  "poop fountain" at the town's waste processing plant.  As they set out on their quest they get more adventure than they bargained for during an afternoon none of them will ever forget. Angleberger is a master at portraying junior high personalities and relationships.  The situations the kids get into are believable and very funny. I kept thinking, "I can totally see a bunch of 12-year-olds doing this."  This book was actually written before the Origami Yoda series (but recently republished with new formatting), and it was interesting to see some of the themes and techniques that would later make the OY a smash hit. This is a good choice for reluctant reader boys and girls. (134 p)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger

Cover image for The surprise attack of Jabba the Puppett : an Origami Yoda book
Ok, here is the Origami Yoda book I skipped earlier.  It shows how the kids at the school form the Rebel Alliance, and all get assigned their origami Star Wars characters.  I think that kids reading the series could really enjoy this one and get into heated discussions about which star wars origami character they would choose.  I also like the fact that with their origami characters, each kid is able to find the strength to make good choices.  Mr. Angleberger has instructions on how to fold all the puppets on his website. (208 p)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Cover image for Half a chanceLucy has moved to a new town on a lake in New Hampshire.  She and her mom will be living there alone for a few months while her dad, a famous photographer, is doing a photo shoot in another state. Lucy is also a photographer and when she hears about a photo contest her dad is judging, she decides to secretly enter.  After her dad leaves, she quickly becomes friends with the boy next door, Nate, who is visiting his grandmother for the summer.  Together they get involved in helping Nate's grandmother keep track of the loons for a bird preservation group. She tells Nate about the contest and he decides to help her find things to photograph. As Lucy and Nate search for good pictures, and keep track of the loons, Lucy takes a great picture that Nate finds offensive.  Lucy has to decide if winning the photography contest is worth risking her friendship with Nate. This is kind of a melancholy book, but I got really caught up in it.  It explores very complex relationships and difficult ethical questions.  The author spends a lot of space talking about different photo compositions and techniques, which slows down the action a little, but might be interesting to someone who is into photography. This isn't a book for a reluctant reader, but is a good choice for child who is a little more mature and tired of fluffier stuff. (218p)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue: An Origami Yoda Book

Cover image for Princess Labelmaker to the rescue : an Origami Yoda bookThe kids at McQuarrie Middle School are back, suffering through the incredibly boring and inane FunTime test prep program. To fight the evil FunTime empire, they have formed a "Rebel Alliance."  Kids that used to be opponents are now united, each with their own origami puppet based on a Star Wars character. Will their combined force be enough to triumph over the powerful Principal Rabbski, or is she, as Yoda suggests, secretly sympathetic of the rebel cause?  This is the 5th installment in the hilarious Origami Yoda series. As in the others in the series the book is formatted as a "case file" written by the kids, and illustrated with doodles and cartoons by the students.  I think I may have skipped one of the series, but I wasn't too lost and understood the plot just fine. Angleberger does a good job of developing both the characters and the plot over the larger multi-book story arch.  These are such good books for the kids who are stuck on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but are ready to make one more step toward less illustrated books. 184 p.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Cover image for Sky jumpersHope lives in a post apocalyptic town in the American Midwest.  Green bombs have destroyed the cities, and most of the people and technology, but have left no lingering radiation.  They have also left a gas called "the Bomb's Breath" that is poisonous and more dense than regular air.  All the adults are afraid to go near the pockets of Bomb's Breath but the kids have figured out that if they hold their breath, they can jump through it and fall so slowly it is like flying. This understanding of the Bomb's Breath comes in handy when bandits invade the city and try to steal their most valuable commodity, antibiotics. 

I thought this was an interesting take on a post WWIII world.  The war had taken place just 40 years earlier, so the older people in town remembered having technology and a highly populated world, but the kids had only heard stories.  I had to raise my eyebrows a bit when the story asserted that the green bombs had altered the characteristics of metal world wide, so that it had lost its strength and they had to make everything out of wood or stone.  Not sure how that worked.  Still, the story wasn't really about surviving after the bomb, it was about a little girl who uses her courage and strength to save her family and town.  It was a fun read and an interesting setting and I look forward to reading the second in the series (which I just realized came out in September but I haven't ordered for the library yet.  Oops.  I will get it ordered today.)  275 p.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Cover image for The true blue scouts of Sugar Man SwampChap Brayburn lives on the edge of the Bayou Tourterelle,with his mother in a little pie shop.  Bingo and J'miah, two faithful scout racoons, live in the old DeSoto deep in the tangle of the swamp. Sony Boy Boucoup and Jaeger Stitch want to turn the Bayou into a large alligator wrestling theme park.  The wild hogs, Buzzie and Clydine, want to tear the Sugar Man swamp apart and trample all the wild sugarcane.  When the swamp and Bayou are threatened both Chap and the racoon scouts go into action.  It seems like an impossible task to save their beloved home, but Chap and the racoons are willing to do whatever it takes even if that means waking up the old Sugar Man himself.

This book is a delight.  It is the most entertaining book I have read in a long time.  The narrative sounds like an old southern yarn told sitting on the front stoop, but the plot is deceptively complicated. The stories of the racoons and Chap run parallel.  The Raccoons don't know about Chap and the plan to develop the swamp.  Chap doesn't know about the Racoons and the terrible hogs, but the two sets of heroes end up inadvertently working together and helping each other. Appelt has created such a well crafted story, endearing and courageous protagonists, and deliciously evil and humorous villains.  This is a great family read aloud and would appeal to a wide range of ages.(326 p)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

Cover image for The golden hourRowan and Nina are still reeling from the death of their mother when they are sent to live with their "great-aunts" in Maine.  There they meet a set of twins Xanthe and Xavier, and with them they stumble across a strange resort where people can make a reservation to travel to another time and place.  Nina sneaks away to another time without telling Rowan, and, frightened for her safety, Rowan, and the other two follow after her into Paris in the time of the storming of the Bastille.

This is a thinly veiled ploy to teach children about the French Revolution. While in France, Rowan meets Marie Antoinette, King Louis, Robespierre, and other Revolutionary superstars.  That said, it was quite well done.  While in France, Xavier mingles with the commoners, while Rowan masquerades as a nobleman so the reader gets to see both sides of the revolution with a fairly unbiased eye. The story is not only about history. While Rowan is searching Paris for Nina, he is working out his own grief issues about his mother.  This was better than I expected and I would be willing to read the others in the series. (259 p)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Cover image for Fly awayI have a new goal to read more recently released books and here is my most recent one.  Lucy and her family are on their way to North Dakota to help their Aunt.  A flooding river is threatening her farm and they want to help with sandbags and moral support. While they are at their aunt's house, Lucy's little brother Teddy creeps into her room after dark and sings a little song to her.  It is something he does every night and hearing his little sweet voice gives her comfort as the storm rages.  She sings a song to him, and even though she can't carry a tune, and would never sing in front of anyone else, Teddy likes her song. The next day, as the flood waters near the house, Teddy turns up missing.  Frantic, Lucy must decide whether to use her embarrassing singing voice to try to find him.

Ms Maclachlan won the Newbery medal for Sarah Plain and Tall which I loved.  She is really good at portraying sweet and strong sibling relationships like the one between Lucy and Teddy. This is a short story;  I read the 110 pages in an hour. I am not quite sure who the intended audience is. It could be put in the intermediate section because of its length and the ages of the characters, but I don't think that age would be very interested in it.  It is more like a short story for middle grade age range. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

Cover image for One crazy summerDelphine and her two sisters, Vonetta and Fern, hardly know their mother since she left the family soon after Fern was born.  Their father decides that it is time for the girls to spend some time with her, so they fly from Brooklyn to California.  Their mother, Cecile, is not at all interested in seeing the girls, let alone acting like a parent.  She sends them to the Chinese take out for dinner, and to the Black Panther run community center for a free breakfast. At the community center the girls learn about Black Panther leaders and ideals.  As they come to understand what the Black Panthers are trying to do they build a tenuous relationship with their mother who is a civil rights activist and poet.

This book won a boat load of awards when it was published in 2011. I heard the author speak at the ALSC Institute in Oakland last week.  It was fun to read the book, while in Oakland where the story takes place, and right after hearing the author speak.  It is a well written book and the characters are authentic and interesting.  The girls are plucky but not perfect, and the relationship with the mother is complicated. I am glad that Ms Garcia resists the temptation to write a fairytale-like reconciliation between the girls and their mother at the end. They get to know each other a little better, but that is all.  It was an interesting glimpse into a very foreign (to me) time and culture. (218 p)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Staples

Cover image for Shiva's fireThe day Parvati is born, her father is killed in a cyclone.  The only thing Parvati has of his is statue of a dancing Shiva.  Parvati is drawn to the statue, and as Parvati grows up, she wants to become a dancer. She soon discovers that when she dances miraculous things happen.  She he tries to hide her powers until one day she is invited by a guru to become a religious devotee of the Shiva and learn the traditional forms of dance. Her amazing skill at the dance, and the supernatural things that occur while she dances gains her the mistrust of her peers, but the admiration of the guru.  In the end her dancing skill takes her to the palace to dance for the raja and experience the greatest challenge of her life.

I enjoy books that invite me to experience another culture from the point of view of a native.  That is what this book did.  Even with the supernatural elements, it felt authentic and after I was done reading it I felt like I understood more about India and the worship of Shiva.  Parvati is a likeable character, and the short mini-romance at the end was fun.  It wasn't as good of writing as Gloria Whelan's Homeless Bird but it reminded me a little of it.  They would be a good pair for a book group or school reading circle to read together and then discuss similarities and differences. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swindle by Gordon Korman

Cover image for SwindleHave you ever met a kid that was a natural schemer-- someone who is always coming up with some crazy plan to accomplish this or that grand idea.  That is the kind of kid Griffin is in this story by Gordon Korman.  The book starts with Griffin and his best friend, Ben, sleeping in an old house that is scheduled to be demolished the next day.  Griffin had hoped other kids would join them in an attempt to protest the plans for the piece of land the house was on.  Instead, Griffin finds a old baseball card in an derelict desk drawer that had been left in the house.  He takes the card to a collector, who gives him $100 for it.  The collector, S. Wendell Palomino, then turns around and schedules to auction the card with the starting price of tens of thousands of dollars.  Griffin feels like he has been swindled, so he recruits some friends to try to steel the card back from Palomino.

This was a interesting book.  The kids are clever and persistent, and there are some fun and exciting sequences but it was a little unsettling to me that none of the kids on the final heist team seemed to have very strong qualms about robbing someone's house.  The author is sure to make it so that the heist doesn't pay off like the kids had hoped, but it still pays off in the end, and the kids get into no real trouble for committing a "breaking and entering" robbery that caused real property damage. This could be a good book for a parent and child to read together, and then discuss the ethical issues.  (252 p)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Cover image for A true princessLilia's foster mother is expecting a baby, and Lilia overhears her plan to apprentice Lilia out to a cruel neighbor to make room for the little one.  Lilia decides to escape and is surprised with when her foster brother and sister, Kai and Karina, decide to join her in running away.  The three of them decide to travel together toward the palace of the king to try to find work, but to get there they have to pass through the Bitra Forest, the realm of the Elf King.  They are, of course, captured by the Elf King and the king's daughter claims Kai as her eternal playmate.  To free Kai from the princess, the two girls must find an enchanted broach and give it to the elf princess in exchange for their friend.  The girls come to the palace, and discover that the Queen is searching for a true princess for her son to marry. As the girls work as maids in the castle, and the time limit for finding the broach is running out, they wonder if the whereabouts of the jewel is connected to the strange sleeping chamber where the prospective princesses are taken. This story is an interesting blend of several northern European folk/fairy tales.  Zahler does a good job of combining the stories to make a new seamless tale. The main characters are interesting and likeable, if not terribly deep, and the resolution, if a little too tidy, is at least satisfying. This is a great story for a 3rd or 4th, or even a confident 2nd grade reader girl who likes fairy tales, and is not too worried about plausibility.  (180 p)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper

Cover image for Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake CadetsJeremy Bender is in deep trouble.  He has ruined the engine on his father's vintage speed boat, and he needs some cash fast to get the parts to rebuild it before his father finds out. Jeremy learns that the girls' Cupcake Cadet group is having a model boat racing contest, and he figures he is sure to win the $500 prize money.  There is only one problem.  To enter he has to be a cupcake cadet, and have already earned three achievement badges.  Jeremy convinces his best friend to join him in a scheme to dress up and pretend to be girls so they can join the cadets and win the money.  But being a cadet is not as easy as Jeremy thought.  It turns out that the Cupcake Cadets are no cream puffs.

This is one of the most sexist children's books I have ever read.  The message is clear.  Girls are smart and capable, while boys are stupid dolts.  The book would have never been published if it were a couple of girls dressing as boys and trying to join the BSA.  It would cause an uproar if girls were portrayed as stupid and the boys were all accomplished and smart.  But since the genders are reversed, it is considered a funny book.

And it is a funny book.  I must admit I found myself laughing out loud more than once.  The two friends play off each other really well, and there is good character development in Jeremy and his female rival, Margaret.  Still, I am not sure who I would give the book to.  I can't see giving it to a boy, because the portrayal of masculinity is so uncomplimentary.  I can't see giving it to girls because the main characters are boys.  A canundrum. (235 p.)

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley

Cover image for The cup and the crownThis is the second in the series that began with The Silver Bowl.  Molly is sent on a quest to find a magical Loving Cup for the King.  Of course, she takes her friends from the earlier story with her.  They find a secret utopian city that had been the home of Molly's grandfather where Molly begins to learn more about the magic her grandfather used to make the Silver Bowl and the Loving Cups. The problem is, the people of the city do not wish Molly and her friends to ever leave because they do not want the whereabouts of the city to become known.  Molly and Tobias recruit the help of some sympathetic citizens to plan their escape.

This is one of the books where the main character's magical abilities grow to solve the problems in the plot.  The main character is in trouble, and suddenly, kazaam! she has the magical ability she needs to get out of the trouble.  As a result, by the end of the book Molly has some awesome and wide ranging magical powers.  That is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes me wonder how powerful she will be by the end of the next book.  She might be practically god-like. Over all, I liked the book and the growing relationship between Molly and Tobias fun.  I will probably read the last one when I get a chance. (344 p)

A View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Cover image for The view from Saturday
Of course, this is an old one. I have read it before but I read it again to my family this month and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is about four children.  Three of them are loosely linked because they have grandparents that all live in the same retirement community. The other is a boy from India who has just moved into the community.  The four are in the same class at school and they have a new teacher who is paraplegic.  They decide to see what they can do to help their teacher feel comfortable returning to class after her terrible accident.  I love books about smart kids who are nice to each other.  The story switches from one viewpoint to another as we follow the kids and their teacher through different situations in their life.  It is a well crafted and really good storytelling and would be a good choice for a parent/child book club or school reading circle. (163 p)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Cover image for Ivy and Bean
One area of my library I am less familiar with is the Intermediate Readers.  These are books that are junior novels, of between 60-120 pages or so. Recently I decided to read a couple so I can do a better job with reader's reference for the intermediate crowd.  Ivy and Bean is a popular intermediate series.  Bean is a confident, outgoing seven year old who has pretty much figured out how to get what she wants in the world.  What she doesn't want is to go and play with the new girl in the neighborhood named Ivy.  Ivy seems boring, always wearing a dress and reading a book.  She hardly talks at school. Then one day as Bean is playing a practical joke on her older sister, Bean and Ivy are thrown together.  As they try to escape the wrath of parents and neighbors, they form a fast bond and are soon each other's best friend.

Cover image for Ivy and Bean and the Ghost That Had to GoIn the sequel, Ivy is convinced there is a ghost in the girl's bathroom at school.  Her vivid description of the phenomenon sparks the imagination of the other students, and soon no one is willing to use the facilities.  Can Ivy and Bean find a way to exorcise the unhappy ghost?

The fun thing about Ivy and Bean is that Barrows has a good feel for the way that 7-year-olds think.  The way the girls come up with plans and believe their imaginations is spot on for the target age group.  The thing I didn't like about Ivy and Bean is that they are not always very nice.  Bean, especially, is pretty devoid of moral scruples and does anything she thinks she has to regardless of whether it is right or wrong.  Bean can be pretty mean to her older sister, and thinks nothing of disobeying or manipulating her parents when it is to her advantage.  This is also age authentic, but it makes it so I didn't like Ivy and Bean as well as I like Clementine.  Clementine gets into a lot of trouble, but it is out of lack of judgement instead of willful disobedience.  The whole time she is at least trying to do what is right and kind.  Ivy and Bean don't even think about being kind.  Some children might enjoy reading about girls with a bit of naughtiness but I liked Clementine better. (112p. and 125p.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Cover image for The mark of the dragonflyThis is a new fantasy/SciFi adventure that has a steampunk feel.  Piper works as a scapper, gleaning valuable items from the space junk that falls to the ground during periodic junk storms.  She also has a talent for repairing mechanical items that other scrappers find.  One day she finds something totally unexpected in the scrap heap, a girl, Anna, who has no memory of where she came from, but who holds amazing technical information in her mind.  The girls soon discover that someone is after Anna, and the escape the scrap town on a train headed for the capital.  On the train Anna and Piper meet the crew, including the young and daring animorph, Gee, and experience thrilling adventures that reveal things about Piper's and Anna's history.  This was a fun and satisfying read with likeable characters and tantalizing plot twists. The pacing boggs down a little in the middle, but picks up nicely again in the end.  Johnson left many (a very many) plot elements dangling and I am eager to read the sequel.  (388 p)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

Cover image for Planet Middle School
This is a typical "dealing with the changes that comes with hitting puberty" book.  Joylin is a lady jock, and her favorite thing to to with her best friend, Jake, is to shoot hoops.  Then suddenly her attention keeps getting captured by a cute boy.  She makes her first attempts at makeup and wearing a skirt.  Her period starts and Jake gets a crush on her other best friend (who is a female). She gets through it all with only a few painfully awkward moments.  The interesting thing about this is the writing style.  The chapters are all very short and the language is minimalistic and snappy.  It was clearly written for a different group than the wordy fantasy novels.  I actually think it is a book that a reluctant reader lady jock would be willing to pick up and read.  I think Ms Grimes hit her target audience right on. 154 p.

Can you tell that I am trying to read a larger variety than usual?  It is because I am at the reference desk a lot now and I find I am only good a recommending some kinds of books.  So I am trying to improve my potential for service by trying new kinds of books.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Imagine a Dragon by Laurence Pringle

Cover image for Imagine a dragonThis is a short but interesting nonfiction picture book about how different cultures view dragons.  Western dragons are ferocious and destructive, while dragons imagined in the Asian areas are often wise and mysterious.  Pringle recounts some of the most famous dragon stories like St George and the Dragon.  The author makes conjectures about how the idea of dragons might have been started.  The book is illustrated with bright artwork of different dragons.  This is a good one to check out, and sit on the coffee table.  By the end of the week everyone in the house will have read it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Punished! by David Lubar

Cover image for PunishedThis is a silly little book that is a lot of fun to read.  Logan and his friend, Benedict, are in the library, and forgetting their library manners, Logan runs (literally) into an old reference librarian.  The old man gives Logan a curse that makes him say puns all the time.  The "pun-ishment" gets him into trouble at home and school, so the librarian gives him a way to break the curse by finding seven oxymorons, seven anagrams, and seven palindromes. When Logan, with the help of Benendict,  is finally successful the curse is lifted.  There isn't really any character development and the plot is pretty predictable, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the volume of puns Lubar comes up with. Whenever Logan says more than three words in a row, Lubar has to slip in pun. The other kinds of words Logan has to find are pretty clever, too. If nothing else, by the time the reader is done, they know the definition of oxymoron, anagram, and palindrome. (96 p) 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Cover image for The warrior heirJack is an average teenager until one day he forgets to take the medicine prescribed since he was a baby. Then suddenly he discovers he has unusual power and physical ability. He soon learns that he is a wizard and his medicine has suppressed his powers so other evil wizards could not detect him.  He is pressured into becoming a warrior and undergoes warrior training.  In the end he has to face another young warrior and together they change the wizarding world forever.

I chose this book because Ms Chima had visited our library to do a book launch, and I always felt bad that I had not read any of her books. It is a decent YA fantasy, with good character development and fast plot pacing.  The story was a little predictable, but most fantasy is.  It is appropriate for early teens, and the only thing that makes it not appropriate for younger readers is a few scenes of violence. I don't know if I will read the others in the series. Because this was the author's first series the publisher made sure she had a satisfying ending in case they decided not to publish the others in the trilogy. Only established authors get to have cliffhangers. (426 p)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bright Shadow by Avi

Here is another book by Avi.  In this fantasy, Morwenna is a servant in the castle of an evil king.  When Morwenna is given 5 wishes by a dying wizard, she flees the castle and goes into the country with her best friend Swen. By an unforeseen series of events, Swen comes to believe that he has the wishes and is the new wizard. Working from the background, Morwenna has to decide how best to use her wishes to help Swen rally the people to overthrow the evil king.  I didn't like this one as well as the City of Orphans.  There was not as much depth to the characters, and neither Swen or Morwenna was particularly endearing. Avi hammered a little bit too hard at the moral/ethical dilemma surrounding the wishes.  Veteran fantasy readers have strong opinions about what they would do with wishes, but a less experienced fantasy consumer might appreciate Avi's frank approach to the topic. (167 p)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

City of Orphans by Avi

Cover image for City of orphansMaks is a young immigrant boy living in New York at the end of the 19th century.  To help support his family, he sells newspapers every afternoon.  One day a group of thugs tries to steal his money from his papers, but he is saved by a homeless girl with a big stick. The two children become friends, and together they help stop the gang who is harassing the newsies, and solve a mystery concerning Maks' sister.

Avi is a dependable writer.  He has written so many books, and they are all pretty good. He did a fair amount of historical research for this one.  He describes the conditions in immigrant New York in vivid detail, contrasting it with the opulence of the newly opened Waldorf hotel. He writes the story first person, and employs period appropriate slang and dialect.  That could be annoying to some, but it is a another part of the historical setting and worked OK for me. The mystery part of the story is not very complicated, but adds a good impetus to keep the plot moving forward.  Over all this is a pretty good choice for kids, boy or girls, who either like historical fiction or have to read a historical fiction book for an assignment. (350 p)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Cover image for The Boundless
William Everett's father works on the Canadian Transcontinental Rail Road and William happens to be in the right place at the right time so he is able to be the one to nail in the last spike.  Three years later William's father has risen to the position of head engineer on a new super train, the Boundless, and William gets to be on the maiden voyage.  William gets tangled up with a group of thieves that are trying to rob the train and finds himself at the very end of the 7 mile long, 6000 car train in the caboose car.  The rest of the book, he is making his way toward the the front of the train, trying to evade the cutthroat thieves that are trying to stop him and get the key to the treasure car that he happens to have in his pocket. Along the way William seeks help from a group of circus performers, including a lovely and talented young tight rope walker, and the mysterious circus owner Mr. Dorian.

Everything in this book is larger than life.  The train is longer, taller, and more amazing than any train in real life. The circus performers are more skilled and magical than any could be.  Creatures from Canadian folklore are real in this book, including the Sasquatch, the bog hag and others. Even the Canadian landscape, though based in real places and geological formations, is super sized and fantastical.  There is a theme running through the book of what is real, and what is not.  Several times the main character discovers that things he thought were folk tales are real, so that by the end he, and the reader, are not sure what to believe or not believe. The plot is tightly crafted, and the characters are interesting and complex.  It is action packed and unpredictable.  There was quite a bit of fighting but very little death, "on screen".  People get thrown off the train, and the reader doesn't know if they died or not, for example.  I was a little disappointed at the end, therefore, when someone gets their head pulled off by a Sasquatch.  I didn't think that was necessary. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to those who like action/adventure. (332 p)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Cover image for The year of Billy MillerA few days before Billy is about to start 2nd grade, he falls and receives a concussion.  He overhears his parents discussing their worries that there might be permanent brain damage, so Billy starts 2nd grade fearing that he won't be smart any more.  Luckily Billy has a wonderful teacher, and a kind and supportive family.  He makes it through the year with flying colors, and, along the way, his innate kindness and desire to be good helps those around him.

Kevin Henkes visited my library last Spring and I had the opportunity to get to know him a little when I was assigned to drive him to the airport.  My husband came along for the ride and both he and I were impressed with Mr Henkes' innate gentleness and goodness.  It was my husband that wanted to read this book for our family story reading, (I say family, but actually my kids are so busy they aren't able to join us very much.  It was mostly David and I reading together.)  We both loved the book.  Mr. Henkes nails how a 7 year old thinks.  We both laughed several times because what we read brought back memories of our or our children's childhood.  David also noted that the book could be a good example to both parents and teachers of how to help a child learn and grow while providing a supportive environment.  Two thumbs way up. (229 p)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Water Castle by Megan Blakemore

Cover image for The Water CastleEphraim's father has had a stroke and his family have picked up and moved to their ancestral home so the father can be near a special doctor.  The home is actually more like a castle, and was built with money earned from selling bottled healing waters.  Ephraim's great-grand-father had spent his life searching for the fountain of youth.  Ephraim becomes obsessed with the hope that he can find the miraculous water and heal his father.  He is aided in his search by two kids whose families have been mixed up with Ephraim's family for generations.  As they work together, they begin to heal the rifts between their families, and within their own lives.

The fun thing about the book is that the reader doesn't know whether the waters really do have healing powers or not.  The author switches from modern time to historical time throughout the book, gradually giving hints as to whether Ephraim and his friends are on a wild goose chase or not.  The weakness of the book is in the science.  Blakemore tries to suggest a scientific reason that the water might heal people, but anyone with any experience with chemistry will immediately see some serious problems with the explanation.  There is some interesting discussion about whether an elixer of life would be a good thing or not, but it is a little heavy handed.  Of course, the best treatment of that topic is in Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. Still, overall this was a fun book, and kids will probably not be bothered by the little weaknesses. (344p)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Since I am now assigned to order the children's fiction books at my library I am trying to read the more current publications.  This one has gotten good reviews this year from several different sources.  

Cover image for Ophelia and the marvelous boyOphelia's mother has recently died and Ophelia and her sister have gone with their father to a northern city.  Her father is an expert on swords and has been hired to set up a sword exhibit in a museum.  While wandering the museum, Ophelia finds a boy locked in a room who claims to be centuries old.  He says that he must be released and complete his mission or the evil Snow Queen will take over the world.  Being a scientifically minded girl, Ophelia does not believe his story, but she does feel that she should help release him from captivity. As she goes to search for the key for his room, she sees things, and encounters creatures that defy her sense of the real. In the end she must let go of logic, and follow her heart, and the promptings from her departed mother, to defeat the Snow Queen.  There are several reasons this book is getting so much attention.  All during her adventure Ophelia, and her father and sister, are dealing with the grief from her mother's death.  So there is a mixture or fantastic adventure, and realistic mourning.  The writing is very good, and the descriptions of all the interesting things she encounters in the museum makes an old  humanities major, like myself, drool. How I would love to wander through rooms and rooms of artifacts, unimpeded as she does. Character, plot and setting all come together to make this a great read. (228 p)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Brandon Mull is a very successful children's author who is from Utah.  He has done several of his book launches here at the library.  I tried to read The Candyshop War and couldn't get through it, so I hadn't even tried "Fablehaven" or "The Beyonders".  Then I read his volume of Spirit Animals, and it wasn't so bad. When I saw the recorded book of the first book of "The Beyonders" I decided to give it a try.  
Cover image for A world without heroes
The book starts out with two kids getting sucked into another world.  They meet up at a library and are sent on a quest to collect the syllables of a magic word that will destroy the evil emperor.  The syllables are guarded by people hiding in the most outrageous places and are protected by magical spells so the emperor will not get them.  As the two teens go in search of the word, they meet a variety of colorful characters, both friends and foes.  I won't say how the book ends, but I will warn that it was never meant to be a stand alone.

I have to admit that the book was a bit of a slog.  I almost quit after CD #6.  I actually had it out of the player and into the case, ready to return to the library.  My main problem is that I didn't care about the main characters enough, and I never thought they had enough personal motivation to do what they were doing.  Why should they believe what people were telling them?  Why should they jump into one amazingly dangerous situation after another just on the word of a stranger?  Also, with every syllable, they were told how impossible their next task was, but then they accomplished it with very little problem.  Oh well. I think that children are not bothered as much by these kind of complaints.  They just like the adventure and interesting fantastical world Mull has created.  (454 p)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin VanDraanen

Cover image for Swear to howdyWhen Russell Cooper moves into a new town, he isn't expecting to become friends with anyone like Joey.  Joey Banks knows how to have fun and is constantly pushing Rusty to the boarders of his comfort zone for the sake of a laugh.  Joey and Rusty have the time of their lives, playing in mud, catching frogs and playing practical jokes.  Then one day one of their jokes goes terribly wrong, and Russell has to decide what it means to be a true friend.

I got about halfway through this book and remembered that I had read it before.  That's Ok.  It is worth a re-read.  VanDraanan is a great writer, and this book got a lot of Newbery chatter when it came out almost a decade ago.  I love the portrayal of the families in this book. Russell's has both parents who are happily married to each other.  The parents actually use good parenting skills when Rusty does stuff that requires disciplining.  His family contrasts to Joey's family.  They are alike in may ways, but Joey's dad is harsh, sometimes abusive. Is Joey's dad's harshness the source of Joey's reckless behavior?  Good discussion question for a reading group.  This book has a lot of potentially good discussion points.  I might decide to do it for Mother/Son book club, except I am not in charge of the book club this year. :(  (144 p)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The House of HadesOk, so now we are up to book four of the "Heroes of Olympus" series.  In this episode Percy and Annabeth have fallen into Tartarus and are trying to make their way through the underworld to the doors of death.  Meanwhile, Jason, Piper, Leo, and the rest are on the Argo II trying to get the the door to the house of Hades, to let Percy and Annabeth out.  It is just more of what readers have come to expect from the "Heroes of Olympus;" action, adventure, and relationships.  But in this book, things are ramped up higher than they have been before.  The monsters are scarier and there are more of them.  The relationships are more complicated and intense.  We even discover that one of the demigods are homosexual. I think with this book the series truly passes from the realm of pre-teen to teen level. They are like the Harry Potter books.  The first ones really are appropriate for kids, but he last ones are definitely YA.  (597 p)

The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley

Cover image for The silver bowlI first became interested in Diane Stanley's writing through her nonfiction work.  I really liked her children's biographies of Leonardo daVinci and Michealangelo.  When she wrote Bella at Midnight I was eager to see how she did as a fiction writer.  I liked the retelling of the Cinderella very well and have been a fan of her fiction ever since.

Molly is a low born child from a big family.  Her mother is sickly, and her father is harsh, so as soon as she is able, her father sends her off to the castle to work as a scullery maid.  Before she leaves, her mother tells her that they both have a gift to foresee the future and that Molly should never tell anyone of her gift.  Molly is very unrefined, but at the castle she meets a stable boy, Tobias, who begins to teach her to work carefully and take pride in what she does.  Her manner improves, and the servant over the silver recognizes her ability and enlists her to polish silver. One day while polishing a large, ornate silver bowl she sees a terrible vision of the death of a member of the royal family. When the vision comes to pass, and then more visions come predicting the death of more royals, she goes into action, and with Tobias' help, tries to save them and the kingdom.

This was a fun read.  It isn't likely to win any awards, but it is a good basic fantasy with a strong and likable heroine. The characters in the story, Molly, Tobias, and even the Prince, grow, develop and become better people because of their adventures.  This book works as a stand alone, but there are actually two more adventures of Molly and Tobias. (307 p)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Cover image for ClementineI am working at the reference desk at the library several hours a day now, and this book is one that I noticed is very popular with the 2nd grader crowd.  I decided I better read it.  It is very like Junie B Jones, except Clementine doesn't say "stupid" so much.  In the beginning of the story Clementine finds her best friend crying in the bathroom.  Her friend has gotten glue in her long hair, and in an attempt to get it out, cut off a piece of hair in the front.  Clementine, always helpful, agrees to use the scissors to "even it up."  Of course the girl's parents are furious, and in simpathy, Clementine cuts her own hair to match.  Parents shake their heads as the girls go on to try to color their new dos with permanent marker.  The children do everything they do with the purest intentions, but with disastrous and very funny results. I can see why the book is so popular.  The humor is just at the right level for the target audience, but adults reading the books with or to the children can enjoy them, too.  Who cannot remember a time when they or their children have not attempted to cut their own hair? (136 p)