Friday, February 21, 2014

On Board the Titanic by Shelly Tanaka

Cover image for On board the Titanic : what it was like when the great liner sankI picked up this book because my co-worker was doing an after school program on the Titanic this week.  This is the story of the sinking of the Titanic as seen through the eyes of two young men.  One, 17-year-old Jack Thayer, was a passenger, while the other, 22-year-old Harold Bride, was a crew member. I was amazed at how many facts the author was able to work into this short fictionalized narrative.  Tanaka fits so many facts into the story that it is a little devoid of intense emotion.  She doesn't really explore how the passengers might have felt beyond saying that they were frightened, or panicked, etc.  It is a very mild mannered account of an epic disaster.  At the end of the book Tanaka includes additional facts and figures about the ship and what happen when and after it sank.  It is a good short introduction to a historical event for kids who might be too upset by a more dramatized account of the story. (48 p.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Cover image for Will in scarletWhy does the Robin Hood story fascinate us so much? It has been retold more times than anyone can count, and each retelling has its own spin.  This version is told from the point of view of the two youngest members of the Merry Men, Will Scarlet and Much.  The son of a wealthy lord, Will is driven into Sherwood forest when evil Guy of Gisborne seizes his family's castle while the father is away fighting alongside Richard the Lionheart.  Much the Miller's Son is really the Miller's Daughter who began dressing as a boy to make her way in the world after her father's death.  When Will first joins the Merry Men, Robin is a filthy drunk, but as the story develops, Will's idealism and Much's enthusiasm motivate Robin to find his way back to sobriety and reestablish his role as the leader of the beneficent bandits.  Other of the familiar Robin Hood character have a new, expanded back stories in this novel. The Sheriff of Nottingham is Will's old family friend until he bends to the wishes of Sir Guy.  Sir Guy, himself, is a half crazed megalomaniac whose unbridled hunger for power alienates even Prince John in the end. It is an interesting and fresh retelling of an old story that has enough swash-buckling action to keep young readers engaged, and philosophical depth to keep them thinking. Don't let the simplistic cover fool you.  This book is not for younger children, and has a fair bit of violence.  I would recommend it for 5th or 6th grade and up.(260 p)

Shoot-Out by Mike Lupica

Cover image for Shoot-out : a Comeback Kids novelJake is on the best soccer team in the region until his family moves to Belmont.  Then he finds himself on the worst team in the region.  He likes his teammates and his coach, but it is hard to face a season with little hope of any wins.  Then there is Kevin.  Jake can see that the kid has talent, but he is lost in his own world of grief since his mother died.  Jake wants to help Kevin, but his attempts to be friendly and supportive only seem to push Kevin further away.

Mike Lupica is a sports writer for a national magazine and has had a regular talk show on ESPN.  He does a great job of describing the excitement of even a little league game.  But more than that, he focuses on the bigger issues of being a team player and a team leader.  I am not a sports fan and I am not sure I ever read a sports book before.  I read this one because I wanted a sports book for my Mother/Son book club.  It was recommended by one of the librarians at work, and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.  I think both the boys and moms will like it and it will provide lots of discussion topics. (165 p)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos

Cover image for The planet thievesMason Stark is bored on his first mission as a cadet on a space command ship.  He is so bored that he keeps playing practical jokes on his sister, a bridge officer, and other crew members.  That comes to an abrupt end when their star ship is attached by an alien force.  Pretty soon, the cadets are the only humans on the ship, and Mason is their captain.  Regaining control of their ship is only the first of their challenges.

This book read like an episode of Star Trek Next Generation.  Krokos uses all the Star Trek terminology; tractor beams, warp engines, photon torpedoes.  It would be easy to imagine Will Crusher as Mason Stark.  The action is fast paced, and the challenges the cadets face are progressively larger and more urgent.  The whole action of the book takes place within one or two day period of time, but in the end Mason not only needs to save his ship, and his planet, but also all of the worlds in his star system. Because of the intensity of action, there is not a whole lot of time for character development.  Still, Mason does grow up during his brief stint as savior of the universe.  The story and characters were just barely compelling enough that I would be willing to read the sequel.  (253 p)

The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Start by Gordon McAlpine

Cover image for The tell-tale startEdgar and Allan are the great-great-great-grandnephews of the famous Gothic poet, Edgar Allan Poe.  They inherited from their famous ancestor a taste for the macabre, and a talent for mischief.  Their success in performing stunningly brilliant pranks is heightened by their ability to read each others mind.  It is this ability that makes them the target of an evil mastermind, Professor Marvel, who wants to do diabolical experiments on them. Marvel lures them to his Wizard of Oz theme park by kidnapping their cat, but it will take more than a bunch of flying monkeys to stop the Poe twins.

The main characters in this story remind  me of Harold and George from the Captain Underpants series.  They are funny and smart, without being mean spirited.  The best description I can give for the writing is intelligent silliness.  This is a great transition book for Captain Underpants fans who are ready to move on to a regular novel.(178 p)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Cover image for Wolf brotherTorak is a neolithic age boy who has always lived in the forest with his father. One day, Torak's father is attacked by a giant demon bear.  With his dying breath, Torak's father makes his son swear to go to a mystical mountain and try to destroy the bear.  As Torak starts on he quest, he meets a young wolf cub.  Wolf and Torak become inseparable allies as they battle nature and other tribesmen who want to thwart Torak's quest.

This is another book that I read years ago to my family. I read it again this week because we will be doing it for our mother/son book club this month.  As I read through it again I remembered why I like it. Ms Paver makes a world where everything is infused with life and personality.  In this book the forest, the ice river and the mountain are just as much active characters as Torak and Renn.  I especially like the chapters that show Wolf's doggy view of events.  The plot is a little formulaic.  There is a prophecy and the characters have to gather specific magical items to complete their task.  But the imaginative and descriptive writing makes up for the lack or originality in plot shape. (295 p.)