Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bad Hair Day by Sarah Mlynowski

Cover image for Bad hair dayThis week I disassembled, painted, and reassembled the two puppet stages at work. It took more than 3 hours and while I was working on that project I listened to another book in the Whatever After series. In this one Abby is bummed because she got ninth place in the class spelling bee. To cheer her up Jonah suggests they travel through the mirror and they end up in the story of Rapunzel.  In the process of meeting Rapunzel they accidentally ruin her beautiful hair. Rapunzel is devastated because she had placed her self esteem on her hair. Abby and Jonah help her realize that there is more to her than just how her hair looks.  Of course, their experience helps Abby feel better about herself as well.

The books in this series are fluffy and fun with a little bit of a moral to them.  They are a good choice for reluctant readers and those who like light fairy tale retellings. They are also good background noise for a middle-age librarian working on a tedious project. (165 p.)

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Curse of the Boggin by D.J. MacHale

Cover image for Curse of the BogginSomehow this week I got hold of two books about magical libraries.  This first one is about Marcus, who was orphaned at a young age, and is being raised by step-parents.  One day he starts having random supernatural experiences.  As he tries to figure out what is going on he finds out that his birth parents left him a large brass key that opens the door to a magical library.  In the library are histories of supernatural experiences, some of which are still being written.  He finds out that his parent's story is one of these and, with the help of friends, tries to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion by battling with the powerful and wicked Boggin.

This is a pretty intense and creepy fantasy.  Of course, we wouldn't have expected anything else from the author of the Pendragon series. Marcus and his friends are interesting enough as characters, but the strength of the book is in its fast paced, running-away-in-terror, action scenes.  Give this to the reader who likes Lockwood and Co and the Gordon Korman action fantasies.  (242p.)

Ghosts by Reina Telgemeier

Cover image for GhostsCat and her family move to northern California because Cat's sister, Maya, needs a more humid climate because of Cystic Fibrosis.  In their new town there is a strong tradition of interactions with ghosts, culminating with the Day of the Dead celebration in November.  Cat is not at all interested in becoming more acquainted with the dear departed, but Maya is fascinated with them, and that is what frightens Cat most. 

This is a graphic novel that is also on a lot of Newbery lists.  It is not without controversy, though.  The story draws heavily on Hispanic traditions, but Telgemeier is not Hispanic. So can a writer write about a culture they are not part of?  Of course they can.  Should they get an award for it?  Maybe or maybe not.  I must admit the cultural appropriation did bother me a bit. The book made it seem like all Hispanics talk with ghosts.  I can also see why the book got good reviews.  It is well done, and it deals with an important issue of making peace with death. (239 p.)

I have been reassigned to order the graphic novel section of my library, so I will be reading a more graphic novels going forward.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm

Beans Curry lives in depression era Key West Florida.  He is always looking for a way to earn a buck.  He tries collecting cans from the dump, or selling tree sap for gum.  When things get worse financially at home, he resorts to less ethical means, but eventually learns that running with the Wrong crowd has its consequences.

This is another book that is on many of the Newbery lists and it is primarily because Beans is such an intriguing figure. He starts out pretty a-moral, doing whatever it takes to make things work, but through the story he figures out that there really is a difference between right and wrong.  He is also amazing charming, with the kind of personality that makes other kids want to be his friend, and grownups trust him (even when he isn't very worthy of their trust).  Didn't we all know a kid like that when we were young?  This might not be my first choice for Newbery, but if it won, I wouldn't be too sad. (195 p.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Lawrence Yep

Cover image for A dragon's guide to the care and feeding of humansWhen her aunt Amelia passes away, Winnie and mother move into their ancestral home. What Winnie knows and her mother doesn't is that with the estate comes a dragon named Miss Drake.  Miss Drake considered aunt Amelia to be her beloved pet and called her, Fluffy, and was very sad at her passing.  The kindly, but stern dragon is not sure she is ready to take on another pet, especially such a young one, but she soon comes to admire Winnie's intelligence and pluck.

This was a darling book, much lighter and more playful than other books I have read by Yep.  The relationship between the dragon and Winnie is delightful and the magical world that Yep creates is charming.  This is a great choice as a read aloud for a family with younger children (maybe 4-8), or for a child who is young but has a high reading level.  (152p.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale, or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Cover image for The inquisitor's tale, or, The three magical children and their holy dogIn the tradition of the Canterbury Tales, the first half of this story is told by different people who are sitting in an inn recounting their experiences with the titular characters.  The story is set in Medieval France and the main characters are Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visionary seizures, William, a mixed racial young monk who is very large and preternaturally strong, and Jacob, who is a Jewish boy with the gift of healing.  As the three make their way in the world, fate leads them to meet and go on a quest that will eventually lead them to glory or death.

This book is all over the potential Newbery lists and got starred reviews just about everywhere.  It is irreverent and funny, but also deep and enchanting.  It is interesting to read a book that deals with Christian mythology and folktales instead of Greek or Norse.  I liked it a lot, but I am not sure how I feel about the ending.  I thought it was a bit of a Deo-ex-machina, and I didn't at all see it coming. It will be very interesting to see if it gets any awards next month. (363 p.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One Half From the East by Nadia Hashmi

Cover image for One half from the eastWhen Obayda's father is injured in a bombing in Kabul, her family decides to move to a small village so they can be closer to extended family who can take care of them while her father recovers.  When they move, it is decided that Obayda will become a bacha posh, a girl dressed as a boy, to bring good luck to the family and eventually to be able to get a job to help with family finances. It is a huge adjustment for Obayda to become Obayd, and at first she doesn't do a very convincing job. Then she meet another bacha posh, and she teaches Obayda how to enjoy the freedom of being a boy.  She is just beginning to enjoy her new role, when something happens to bring it all to an abrupt end. 

I love books that allow me to take a peek into a totally different culture.  This story is so interesting to me, and Obayda is a very sympathetic character.  There is an underlying and very obvious political message about how girls are oppressed in some middle eastern cultures, but Hashmi lets it arise naturally through the story, so it doesn't feel heavy handed.  This is a great choice for people who like the books of Gloria Whelan, like Homeless Bird. (256 p.)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

Cover image for Juana & LucasJuana lives in Columbia and her best friend is her dog Lucas.  She loves her mother, she loves her school friend, and she likes her teacher.  She is a pretty good student, until they start learning English at school.  English is just too crazy, and the "th" sound tickles her tongue.  She wonders why she even needs to learn English.

Here is an intermediate book that has received starred reviews and deservedly so. It is even on some of the potential Newbery lists.  The writing is fun and full of energy.  There are a lot of Spanish words inserted into the text, but their meanings are clear from context. The illustrations on every page have a lot of kid appeal. I think non-native English speakers will love it, but native English speakers will, too, and it will help them understand a little the challenge of learning our wacky language.  I don't think this one will win the Newbery, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wins the Geisel  (the award for the best early reader) or at least a Belpre (for best book showing the Latin American experience) (88 p.)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Cover image for The girl who drank the moon Luna's life starts out in sorrow. As the last child born before the "Day of Sacrifice" she is destined to be given over to the terrible Witch who lives in the forest as an offering to ensure the well-being of the whole village for another year. Instead of being destroyed, however, Luna is "enmagicked" by the kindly witch and raised as her granddaughter. Meanwhile Luna's bereaved mother and a discontented council member strive to bring an end to the annual sacrifice and to the evil force behind it.

Here is a book that is on every Mock Newbery list I have seen this year, and rightly so. The writing and carefully woven plot stand out among other books I have read recently. All that said, I didn't love, love, love, the book. I didn't really feel that I got to know the main character, Luna, very much. She seems more like a literary devise than a real person. The book as a whole is very artsy, but I think that some committees like the artsy, literary, books. I will probably recommend this book to the veteran fantasy readers as something different and emotionally sophisticated. (388 p.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tales from a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter by Rachel Russell

Cover image for Tales from a not-so-perfect pet sitterNikki believes all her problems are over when mean girl Mackenzie transfers to another school.  Then Nikki finds a box with a mother dog and eight puppies left on the steps of the dog shelter she and her friend (and crush interest), Brandon, helped to establish.  The problem is that the shelter is at capacity, so they need someplace to keep the dog family until they get openings at the shelter.  Nikki and three friends agree to take the dogs for 24 hours each but when Nikki asks her parents' permission they refuse. Rather than let down her boy friend, she decides to hide the dogs in her room over night. After all, how much trouble can eight little cute puppies be?

There used to be (and maybe she is still around) a lady in this area who was considered the guru of children's literature named Nancy Livingston.  She would say things like, "If you have never read Harry Potter you are illiterate" or "If you haven't read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you are illiterate."  She is kind of right if you are involved in Children's literature in any way.  I was feeling illiterate because I had never read any of the Dork Diaries. This series is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" for girls, and every time a new one comes out it is on the PW top 20 list for weeks. This is #10 in the series and was OK.  I can see why it is popular with the reluctant reader crowd. The story is light and entertaining with some fairly funny moments.  There is also a wish fulfillment element to it.  Even though awkward and embarrassing things happen, everything works out better than expected in the end.  It is pretty much popcorn and peanuts in print. (291 p.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Captain Awesome Meets Super Dude by Stan Kirby

Cover image for Captain Awesome meets Super Dude!Here is my intermediate book for the week. Eugene (aka, Captain Awesome) is super excited to learn that his idol, Super Dude, will be visiting the local comics shop.  As the big day draws near Eugene notices an increase of activity among the local super-villain population. Is it possible they are planning a group attack on Super Dude? Captain Awesome and the other members of the Sunnyview Superhero Squad are determined to warn Super Dude before it is too late.

This is the latest (#17) in a fun series about a kid with a really active pretend life. The humor is in the double meanings. Young readers will enjoy being "in on the joke" as Captain Awesome foils the evil Mr. Drools (a slobbery overly-affectionate dog), Queen Stinkypants, (Eugene's diaper wearing little sister) and other neighborhood "villains."  I love the fact that when they little boy puts on his superhero suit his parents play along and start calling him "Captain Awesome." Even though the book has almost 150 pages, it is on a fairly low reading level, with large print and lots of fun black and white illustrations. This is a great transition intermediate for the superhero loving crowd. 148 p.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith

Cover image for School ship TobermoryBen and Fee McTavish are brother/sister twin children of marine biologists.  When it is time for them to go to boarding school, they are sent to a school that is on a sailing ship.  They quickly make friends, and enemies, and learn the difference between port and bow.  On their first semester voyage some students are invited to be extras in a movie about pirates, but is the the piracy all on film, or is there something more sinister going on?

This is delightfully innocent book.  The kids actually make correct and responsible choices when deciding whether to tell the Captain what is going on or sneak onto the movie ship and investigate for themselves. Hooray! Here is a book with the charm of the Penderwicks that will appeal to both boys and girls. It is a good choice for fairly young readers who are reading at an advanced level or for a family read aloud where there is a variety of ages of listeners. (218 p)

p.s. I was surprised to find out it is written by the author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency.  It makes me want to try one of that series. (Ha ha, probably most adult women readers would have said that sentence the other way around.)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The hammer of ThorThis is the second in the Magnus Chase series. Magnus is settled in at Valhalla when a new resident arrives.  It is another child of Loki, named Alex.  Alex is gender fluid so on some days she is female, and other days he's male.  Alex and Magnus, along with the Valkyrie, Samira, and Magnus' elf and dwarf friends, are sent by Thor to find and return his hammer which has been stolen by the Giants.  As they continue they begin to wonder if there whole quest has been secretly directed by Loki.

So it seems that Riordan has not only jumped on the GLTB bandwagon, he is become its conductor. If you can get by that, then this book is just like all the Riordan books--lots of fast action and lots of snappy patter.  As always Riordan makes interesting relationships between the kids and the immortals. I enjoyed the book and will probably read the last one in the series when it comes out.  (468 p)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa De Los Santos

Cover image for Saving Lucas BiggsMargaret's father has been sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. As he is taken from the court room, he makes Margaret repeat the "forswearing" a promise all the people in her family make to not time travel, although they have the power to do so. After conferring with her best friend Charlie, and his grandfather, Joshua, Margaret decides to go back in time, even though by doing so she is risking everything she cares about in the present.  She travels to 1938 to try to change the early life of the vindictive and corrupt judge who convicted her father.  

This is perhaps my favorite book I have read this year. It had a very complicated and sophisticated plot, and fully realized characters. As the different characters grapple with the ethics of time travel, De Los Santos packs in a ton of wisdom but only in one small place did it start to feel a little preachy. On top of all that, the writing is really good. The book kind of felt like Tuck Everlasting and perhaps like Tuck Everlasting, it will mostly appeal to adults. (279 p.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Moo by Sharon Creech

Cover image for MooReena's father loses his job in the city, so the family decides to move to Maine to make a fresh start. Reena's parents volunteer her and her little brother, Luke, to help an older Italian lady, Mrs. Falala, take care of her livestock, including an contrary cow named Zora.  At first the two are clueless about how to take care of the cow, but Mrs. Falala and some neighborhood kids help them and Reena  gradually becomes very attached to the cow and to Mrs. Falala.

This is a book written in free verse like Creech's Love that Dog, and Hate that Cat.  There was a lot that I liked about the book.  I liked that when the parents tell the kids to help Mrs. Falala, they grumble, but actually try hard to do something they don't want to do just to be obedient.  How often are there books about kids who are obedient to their parents and good things come of it?  The relationships in the book are very sweet, and because it is written in verse, it isn't very long.  If a grandparent had to babysit grandkids for a weekend and wanted a read aloud, they could get through the whole book in a few sittings.  I am not sure how much I will be recommending the book, however.  It is slower paced than a lot of what kids are reading these days. I will probably be giving it to parents who enjoyed reading things like The Penderwicks or The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate to their families.  (278 p.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Cover image for How to train your dragonI was excited to hear that Cressida Cowell was coming to speak at our library.  I was also embarrassed that I hadn't actually read any of her How to Train Your Dragon books.  So I quickly repented and read two this week, #1, and #5.  I must say they were a delight. The first book, though it has the same title as the movie, does not have the same plot line.  In the book the Viking community already uses dragons as companions, but they control them by brute force.  Hiccup is unique because he can talk to dragons, and instead of bullying them, he uses persuasion and psychology to win their cooperation.  In the book Toothless is much smaller than in the movie.  He is small enough to sit under Hiccup's hat. Also there is nothing about overcoming a handicap.  Still the movie is very much inspired by the personalities of the main characters in the book. Hiccup's inferiority complex, and sarcastic intelligence in the movie is right from the book.  The Viking bravado and funny brutishness is all from Cowell. I can see how the movie people could read the book and say to themselves, these characters could really work on the big screen.
Cover image for How to twist a dragon's tale : the heroic misadventures of Hiccup the Viking
I enjoyed #1 very much, but I almost enjoyed #5, How to Twist a Dragon's Tale, better.  In this one a new hero comes to Berk and so does a new threat.  An island volcano covered with Exterminator Dragon eggs is about to erupt.  When it does the eggs will hatch and the dragons will descend on Berk like a giant swarm of locust.  Hiccup, the has-been hero, and Hiccup's mismatched group of friends have to find a way to keep the whole Viking world from being overrun.  Even though the story is mostly silly fun, there was a little bit of depth in it.  The has-been hero is Hiccup's mother's old boyfriend, and Hiccup gets to see his mother for the first time as a real person instead of just a mother-figure.   There is a little scene at the end between Hiccup and his Mother that was rather sweet.

Anyway, I will be recommending this series a lot from now on to kids and to families who want a good read aloud.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Goldie by Ellen Miles

Cover image for GoldieHere is my intermediate book of the week.  Charles and Lizzie want a pet dog in the worst way.  They ask their mom every day, but each time she answers that she doesn't feel like they are ready for a puppy yet.  One day Charles' father brings a puppy home from work, a refugee from a house fire.  Lizzie's mother agrees they can keep the dog as a foster pet until they find a good permanent home for her. 

This is the first in a series "Puppy Place" for young dog lovers.  The writing is above average and the author works in a lot of good information about puppy care.  Although the book seems totally predictable, I must admit I didn't know if the kids were going to be able to keep the dog or not in the end, so kudos to Miles for adding a little bit of suspense.  Parents beware, if your child reads this book and doesn't have a dog already, they are going to want one by the end.  76 p.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Cover image for The bicycle spyMarcel loves bicycle riding and dreams of one day competing in the Tour de France. Unfortunately the Tour has been canceled the last 3 years because of WWII.  Marcel keeps his riding dreams alive by using his bike to make deliveries for his parents who own a bakery shop. One day he discovers that his deliveries are more important than he could have imagined.  He tries to keep the truth about his parent's "deliveries" a secret, even from his new friend, Delphine.  Little does he know that his parent's secret work, and his bike riding skill, may some day save Delphine's family's lives.

I was so happy to read this new WWII historical fiction for grade-school-age readers. Marcel is a believable 10 year old boy who does things that a boy that age could conceivably do to save his friend. Best of all, McDonough does a good job of keeping the description of the fate of Jews during the war at an age appropriate level. I feel like I will be recommending this book a lot to kids who need to read a historical fiction. This is a great choice for children who liked Number the Stars, or The Snow Treasure.197 p.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Going Wild by Lisa McMann

Cover image for Going wildCharlie (short for Charlotte) is not pleased to be moving from Chicago to Arizona, especially in the middle of the school year.  She soon, however, makes friends with Maria, who, like her, plays soccer, and Maria's computer geek friend, Mac.  Things are going along great until strange things start happening during soccer practice.  Charlie has bursts of speed and strength that seem super-human.  She figures out that the new abilities are connected to a sports bracelet she mysteriously received in the mail on the day she left Chicago.  As she explores her new powers she has no idea how much danger the bracelet will bring to her and her new friends.

This is the first in a new series by the author of the successful The Unwanteds series. It is a pretty standard "discovering you have special powers" book like a host of others that have come out over the last decade. The characters are likeable enough, and there is plenty of fast paced action.  The book ends without much resolution, so don't even start if you are not committed to read the whole series. 375 p.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Star on Stormy Mountain by Gill Lewis

Cover image for Star on Stormy MountainStar is a student at the Puppy Academy.  Her mother is a champion sheep dog, and everyone expects Star to be one, too.  Unfortunately, Star doesn't seem to have what it takes to herd sheep.  She is too fast and reckless, but she keeps on trying.  On the day of the mountain sheep herding class, a storm comes up.  The other puppies race back to the lodge, but Star realizes there are lambs and humans still lost in the storm.  Will her fast feet and reckless courage help her help them?

This is my intermediate of the week. It is a cute story written on a good level for an emerging novel reader. Cartoon illustrations scattered throughout add to the book's kid appeal.  There are other books in the Puppy Academy series, and it seems like they are all about puppies discovering their true vocation.  It is an old theme, aptly presented here for a new generation. (115 p.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Cover image for Roller girlAstrid has been best friends with Nicole since first grade, but that starts to change when the girls watch a roller derby match together.  Astrid instantly wants to become a roller girl, but Nicole finds the experience distasteful.  Astrid signs up for a summer roller camp, and is surprised and hurt with Nicole opts to go to dance camp with bossy Rachel instead.  Things don't immediately get better once roller camp starts. Roller skating on the team is much more difficult than Astrid had anticipated, and she comes home each day bruised and exhausted.  Does Astrid have what it takes to become an awesome roller derby star like her idol Rainbow Bite?

This graphic novel was a Newbery Honor winner this year. It is also the Mother/Daughter book club book for this month.  I think is is a pretty good choice for both.  It deals with issues that most kids face as they transition into puberty; changing relationships with friends, changing relationships with parents, and a quest to establish one's own identity.  The plot element of the roller derby, something most children will have never heard of, adds a fresh and interesting vehicle to explore these issues. It will be interesting to discuss this with the mothers and daughters this week.  (239 p.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Cover image for Maybe a foxSylvie is one year older than her sister Jules. Their mother died a number of years before but they live pretty happily with their father on a big piece of wooded land in Vermont. One day there is a accident and Sylvie is killed.  As Jules and her father cope with another crushing loss in their family, a baby fox is born in the woods near their house.  The fox is connected with Sylvie and Jules somehow, and ends up having an important role to play in Jule's life.

Kathi Appelt is an amazing writer.  She portrays Jules' grief in aching terms and the way that Jules tries to deal with her grief is very believable for a character her age. Like Ghost,(see below), this is getting a lot of critical attention, but I actually liked Ghost better.  I felt like Appelt stuck in a couple too many social issues.  Not only is Jules dealing with the death of her sister, and the earlier death of her mother, but her best friend's brother is dealing with grief because of his friend who died while they were both serving in Afghanistan.  This brother of the friend also has a spirit animal, which is a giant mountain cat that is thought to be extinct.  If they had left out the friend's brother, the giant cat, and Afghanistan I think I would have liked the whole story better.  Still the writing is pretty amazing, so for that reason I can see why it has received some good reviews. (272 p.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ghost by Jason Reynold

Cover image for GhostCastle Crenshaw (he goes by Ghost) lives in a rough neighborhood.  His dad is serving time and his mom barely makes enough to put food on the table.  Ghost can't stay out of trouble at school, but when he gets a chance to be on an elite track team he is motivated to keep in step both on the field and in class.  For the first time he feels like he is a part of something, but when his past and his poor decisions catch up with him, he is at risk of losing it all.

This book has received a lot of starred reviews.  I liked it.  It was an above average social issues novel.  Some social issues novels try to stuff as many different issues as they can into one story.  This story sticks to one, poverty, and handles it in a very sympathetic and believable way.  As I read the book I thought, yeah, this could totally happen, and things like this probably do all the time.  If this ends up winning some awards, I won't be surprised or disappointed. (181 p)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Guys Read True Stories by Jon Scieszka (ed)

Cover image for Guys read. True storiesJon Scieszka is the king of getting to get boys to read.  He has a great Guys Read website, and he has compiled a number of collections of stories especially chosen for boys.  This "True Stories" collection is the first one that I have read.  I must admit, I just picked it up because I had finished my other book, and some books I have on hold hadn't come in yet.  I was going to read a few stories while I was waiting, kind of as a filler book.  Once I got started, though, I found I was really enjoying it.  All the contributors were names I recognized as prominent children's nonfiction writers. There is a wide variety of stories, some, I was surprised to see, written by women.  Some were adventure stories; about being marooned from a ship wreck, getting attacked by a bear in the Rockies, or running Canadian rapids in a canoe.  One was a science story about studying tarantulas in South America another was about growing up in Vietnam with three older brothers.  Some were funny, some suspenseful and some a little gruesome.  All of them were very entertaining.  I think I am going to be recommending these stories and the other Guys Reads books a lot more, especially to reluctant readers.(242 p.)

The Book of Kings by Cynthia Voigt

Cover image for Mister Max : the book of kingsThis is the third and final (?) book in the Mister Max series.  Max now knows that his parents have been forced to play the part of King and Queen in the far off South American country of Andesia.  Max fears that they are in danger and works to find a way that he and his grandmother can travel to Andesia and rescue them.  He finally gets himself a place in a diplomatic expedition to the Andesian king, but when they arrive they find that the political climate in the small country is very complicated and perilous.  It takes all of Max's "solutioneering" power to find a way to save his parents without losing his head. 

This is kind of an odd series. The setting is almost realistic, but not real.  Max's success at pretending to be an adult is almost believable, but not quite.  Especially in this book, there is not a lot of action.  Most of what goes on is going on in Max's head, and in the minds of the other characters as they try to figure out a way through their challenges. Even with all these oddities, I found that I really enjoyed this book and the whole series.  The idea that Max could pass himself off in a host of different adult personas is rather appealing. Voigt fully develops all the characters, and their interactions flow from their complex personalities.  I didn't know if the main Andesian leader was a good guy or a bad guy until the very end, and even then it was a little ambiguous.  I think I will end up giving this book to older readers who have read a lot and are looking for something a little more sophisticated than the average kid's novel. (338 p)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

Cover image for RuffleclawRuffleclaw is an earth monster who has a strange interest in humans.  One day he decides to explore a human home and meets a little boy, named Tommy.  Tommy decides he kind of likes Ruffleclaw, even though the monster is rude and destructive.  Eventually he convinces his parents to let him keep Ruffleclaw as a pet. 

I chose this as my intermediate of the week because of the author.  Funke has written a lot of good fantasy books that I have enjoyed but I ended up not liking this book very much. The idea is ok.  A little boy becomes attached to a monster who, though uncouth, has some endearing characteristics.  The problem with this story is that the monster has no endearing characteristics.  It really is just rude and destructive.  So I ask myself, would a child like this?  Maybe.  Maybe the idea that a little creature could be totally naughty and still be loved could be really appealing to some child.  Still, I am not going to go out and buy an extra copy of the book for the collection or anything.(102 p.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Where are You Going, Baby Lincoln by Kate DiCamillo

Cover image for Where are you going, baby Lincoln?Baby Lincoln is not really a baby.  She is an old woman who has spent her life living in the shadow of her bossy older sister, Eugenia.  One night Baby Lincoln has a dream that she takes a trip on a train and when she wakes up she decides to make the dream come true.  Although she rarely does things on her own, she bravely packs a bag, goes to the train station and buys a ticket.  Once on the train she meets three people who help her see herself in a new way, but as the trip comes to a close, Baby Lincoln wonders how--and if--she will ever get home.

This is my intermediate book of the week and the third installment of the Tales from Deckawoo Drive.  Like the second, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Racoon, this one is about an adult on a journey of discovery.  It almost feels like this is a children's story that is really written for adults. Many adults will sympathize with Baby Lincoln's quiet struggle to define herself separately from her sister.  It could also be a good story to read to a child who is under the influence of a over-domineering friend.  Either way, the message is clear, but not overbearing and the story is sweet in a subdued kind of way.  (88p)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Red by Liesl Shurtliff

Cover image for Red : the true story of Red Riding HoodThis is the third in a series of fractured fairy tales by Liesl Shurtliff.  In this one Red is the granddaughter of the kindly "Witch of the Woods." Red was born with magical potential, but she can never seem to get her spells right.  When Red's grandmother becomes ill, Red is determined to do whatever it takes to find a cure.  She sets off on a quest and soon meets Goldie, a talkative and annoyingly helpful girl, and Wolf, with whom Red seems to have a special bond.  As the trio investigate one way after another to keep Red's grandmother from dying, Red begins to wonder if there is anything she can or should do to prevent the natural course of her grandmother's life. Like the others in the series, Rump and Jack, this book can stand alone, but Shurtliff's fans will recognize some familiar places and characters from the earlier books.  As in her other books, Shurtliff rifts from one fairy tale theme to another always giving each a healthy and sometimes humorous twist.  Red is a likeable character and even Goldie grows on you with time. Shurtliff leaves the door wide open for another sequel. (243 p.)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Cover image for The best manArcher is having a complicated 5th grade year.  His best friend is a girl (which is always complicated once you are 10) and her recently divorced mother is his new school teacher. She is nice, but hasn't taught before and is struggling a little. In comes Mr. McLeod.  He is an Army Reservist, totally cool and handsome, and their new student teacher.  He makes the second half of 5th grade the best ever.  As sixth grade rolls around, things get even more confusing when Archer's best friend starts wearing makeup, he suddenly has five classes a day and a locker to worry about, and his student teacher starts dating his favorite uncle. When Mr. McLeod's and Uncle Paul's budding romance is on the rocks, Archer wants to step in and help his uncle see the Mr. McLeod is a "keeper." 

So here is another of the recent round of LGBT books for kids. This one is--no surprise considering the author*--really well written and readable.  Archer is never worried or freaked out that his favorite uncle and his favorite teacher are in love. None of the other kids even tease him about the fact. It is just a happy situation, and Archer is delighted to help it along. In a lot of ways this is  another kids-helping-adults-with-their-romance book, like Honey or The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, except in this book the romance is between two men. The question is, would this really happen?  Has gay marriage, in just a year since it became legal across the country, become a non-issue, even with middle school kids?  I am not sure we are really quite there yet as a society.  Maybe Peck is hoping books like this will help get us there. (232 p)

*Peck is a Newbery and Newbery Honor winner for The Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larsen

Cover image for Audacity Jones to the rescueAudacity lives in a home for wayward girls in the early 1900's.  She is a leader among the other girls, but enjoys occasionally sneaking away to read in her own private library hideaway. When a local businessmen, Commodore Crutchfield, says he is on an important mission to help the country she agrees to come along, both to do her patriotic duty and to have a bit of real adventure.  As she continues her journey she comes to realize that they are on their way to Washington DC, and she soon finds herself in the role of cook's assistant in the White House.  Soup is not the only thing the cook is brewing, and soon Audacity and some new friends find they are involved with something more dangerous than they had imagined. 

Audacity is a spunky character and I like the fact that she is always kind and polite.  She uses her natural courage and wit to solve the mystery, aided by her great store of knowledge from being avid and omnivorous reader. She is quite an endearing heroine and I will probably read her next adventure when it comes out.  Larsen takes quite a bit of artistic license with the historical facts surrounding the presidency of William Howard Taft, but includes a note at the end of the book that explains what elements are historical and which are fictional.  (209 p)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Screaming Statue by Lauren Oliver

Cover image for The screaming statueSam, Pippa, Max and Thomas, the four orphan freak-show performers are back and caught up in another murder mystery.  When a old friend is murdered, and a friendly paper boy is the top suspect, our four heroes know they must do all they can to find out the truth.  But the mystery is not their only problem.  A new member to the cast, a handsome teen named Howie, is causing a rift between the four friends, the museum is daily getting closer to utter bankruptcy, and the evil Rattigan is still on the loose.  The kids are challenged with the seemingly impossible task of saving the museum, solving the mystery, avoiding Rattigan, while preserving their own friendship.

This is the sequel to Curiosity House:The Shrunken Head. The interesting relationships and setting that made the first book a best seller, are still the strongest part of this story, but I thought this book had a little problem with pacing.  Not much happens.  The kids see things, walk around and think about things, but they don't really do that much.  Pippa develops her talent for mind reading a little, but none of the others have much character development.  It is a common problem for the middle book in a trilogy (though I don't know if the author plans this to be a trilogy or longer) The author struggles to advance the story without ultimately resolving anything.  It was also mildly disappointing that, despite the title, the statue doesn't ever actually scream.  Still, I like the characters enough I will probably read the next one when it comes out. (361p.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mango and Bambang: The Not a Pig by Polly Faber

Cover image for The not-a-pigHere is this week's intermediate.
Mango lives with her father who is always busy "balancing books."  She tries to stay busy, too, but is often lonely, until the day she meets Bambang.  Bambang is not a pig, but a tapir from a far away land. He is very nervous about living in the big city, but Mango is kind and gentle with him, and soon they are best friends. When Mango finally faces something that makes her nervous, Bambang knows he must step up and help his dear friend, the way she has helped him. This book is a treat, both literarily and visually. With simple language Faber creates a wonderful story of friendship and kindness. Vulliamy's cover even looks like a treat;  a box of candy or a popcorn bag. The interior illustrations are also charmingly done in the same two tone purple. Gentler than Junie B. Jones or Ivy and Bean, this is a great choice for a young child who is an advanced reader, or anyone who has a tender soul. (135 p.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

Cover image for The Poe EstateBecause of financial troubles, Sukie's family moves in with an elderly cousin who lives in a creepy old house. Sukie soon discovers that the house is haunted, but that is nothing new to Sukie. She has been haunted by her deceased sister since her death years earlier. The house ghosts tell of a lost treasure and soon Sukie and a new friend, Cole, are on a quest to discover the treasure and save her family from financial ruin.  But they can't do it alone.  They need the help of the New-York Circulating Material Repository and its mysterious archivist, Elizabeth Rew.

This is a companion book to The Grimm Legacy, and The Wells Bequest, but I didn't realize that when I read it.  I thought it was the first in the series, and it works just fine that way.  If I had read the first two books, I would have recognized Elizabeth Rew, who is the main character of Grimm Legacy as soon as she appeared in the story, but Shulman gives enough background that it was just fine to read this one first. The premise of all three books is interesting and original, but the book's real appeal comes from the strong and likeable characters. Sukie has a kind of "Harry Potter" feel as she gradually discovers her own powers and her place in her family history.(259 p.)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Minion by John David Anderson

Cover image for MinionMichael was raised in an orphanage, but was adopted at age 10 by a criminal mastermind.  His "father" is a technological genius who builds powerful gadgets for whomever can pay for them.  Michael is special as well.  He can do mind-bending and the book opens with him using his power to nonchalantly rob a bank. Although Michael and his father are certainly criminals, they have a good father/son relationship and live by their own set of ethics. One day a superhero shows up in their town, and Michael can't help but be impressed with how easily he dispatches the bad guys. His feelings about "The Comet" complicates his relationship with his father's customers, most of which are part of the local crime syndicate. Things get even more complicated when they find out about Michael's persuasive powers and try to use him to confront the Comet. This book is in the same world as Sidekicked but it is not really a sequel because it is about a different set of characters.  In a way it is a mirror image of the Sidekicked story because it is about a boy with a caring mentor who is on the wrong side of the law, while Sidekicked is about a boy with a superhero mentor who doesn't care about him at all. Both books are full of action and fun sprinkled with interesting ethical questions about right and wrong. (277p.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Cover image for When friendship followed me home

Ben has grown up in the foster care system, never really having a home until he is adopted by Tess.  Tess gives him love and a home, and when a stray dog, Flip, enters the scene, and Flip leads Ben to a true friend, Halley, Ben’s life seems to be complete.  Things start to unravel when Tess passes away, and Halley’s cancer returns.  This is definitely a social issues book, but unlike some, it has as much heart as heartache.  The overall theme is one of hope and the importance of friendship, between child and dog, child and child, and child and adults. The Halley character is very endearing, but I am not sure any child is really that charming. Still it was fun to read about her and pretend a kid, with cancer or without, could be that wonderful. This is a good choice for kids who like Because of Winn Dixie and OK for Now.(247 p.)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Princess Posey and the Crazy Lazy Vacation by Stephanie Green

Cover image for Princess Posey and the crazy, lazy vacationHere is my intermediate book of the week.  Posey is in first grade and the book starts the last day of school before a week long school break. Her friends talk about the exciting things they will do over the break, like visit grandparents in a different state, or go to Disney Land. When Posey talks with her mother, she finds out that they aren't going anywhere. Instead Posey's mom has taken the week off work and they are going to have a "stay-cation" at home. At first Posey is disappointed, but she ends up having a very good time playing with her mom and even learning to ride a bike. The reason the series is called "Princess Posey" is because when Posey is faced with something that is difficult, she puts on her favorite pink tutu and becomes "Princess Posey." Princes Posey has the courage to try hard things that were too scary for regular Posey, like getting back on the bike after her first crash.  The text is simple enough that it would make a good transition book from easy readers, and a bridge book to Junie B.Jones or Clementine.(84 p)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat by Gary Paulsen

Cover image for Six kids and a stuffed catSome of Gary Paulsen's books are serious, even heart rending and others are just funny.  This story fits into the second category. Six eighth-grade boys are stuck in a bathroom after school because of a storm warning. The boys fit very different stereotypes, one shy, one an over achiever, one a rocker, etc. Close proximity makes the boys interact in ways they probably would have never happened under normal circumstances, with funny results. I did think the end was a a little contrived, especially when two boys who have been enemies are suddenly best friends. Still, Paulsen's portrayal of how 14 year old boys interact is mostly spot on. As I was reading the book I kept thinking, this would make a fun play.  Then, when I got to the end of the book, sure enough, it is reprinted as a one act play. Paulsen, rather cleverly, gives each of the characters a gender neutral name, so the play could be performed by either six girls or six boys. It would be interesting to see it done by girls.  That would make it a very different story, even if the words are exactly the same. All in all it was a fun quick read. 138 p.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Woof by Spencer Quinn

Cover image for Woof : a Bowser and Birdie novelBirdie lives with her grandmother in Louisiana. Her grandmother runs a bait and tackle shop near the bayou and does swamp tours on the side. Birdie's grandmother lets her adopt a pet dog for her 11th birthday and she names him Bowser. Together Bowser and Birdie try to figure out who stole the stuffed marlin that hung in her grandmother's shop. As they dig into the mystery they find out more about their town and Birdie's family history than they had bargained for. The story is told from Bowser's point of view, and he may be the most endearing dog character I have ever read in children's literature. He just loves Birdie more than anything, and though he often doesn't understand what is going on he is totally thrilled to be anywhere his little mistress is.  Birdie is a great character, too, sweet but with a lot of gumption and persistence. This book came out in 2015 and the sequel, Arf,  is already out.  I think I might just put it on hold right now. (293 p.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Royal Wedding Disaster by Meg Cabot

Cover image for Royal wedding disasterOlivia's half sister, Princess Mia of Genovia, is getting married, and Olivia is excited and anxious about the wedding. She is also a new student at the Genovian Royal Academy, where she runs amuck of her spiteful cousin, Louisa. Olivia knows that a true princess is gracious and patient with everyone, but a new school, a sister's wedding, and a first crush, (on a real prince, no less) would unsettle anyone. And then there are the iguanas. Can Olivia hold it together, or is she on course for a real royal disaster?

This is the second in the Middle School Princess series by Meg Cabot.  I liked the first one, and I liked this one too.  It is light and fluffy, with a little drama, a little romance, and bit of fun.  One of the interesting relationships is between Mia and her grandmother.  The grandmother is not like the Julie Andrews character in the Princess Diaries movie.  She is more concerned with maintaining the right appearances, than necessarily doing the right thing.  She is conniving and controlling, in an endearing way, and Olivia thinks she is the greatest.  There are other fun differences from the movie, like the fact that Mia is marrying Michael Moscovitz, Lilly's brother, instead of the royal guy she marries in the sequel movie.  Anyway, this is a fun series for princess lovers. (282 p.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Geronmo Stiton: Mousekings #1: Attack of the Dragons

Cover image for Attack of the dragonsAnyone who works with children's books knows that Geronimo Stilton is one of the hottest intermediate series out there. There are a lot of Stiton books, too.  There are the original Geronimo Stilton books, then the Thea Stilton books, the Fantasy, Spacemice, Cavemice, Creepella, and others.  There are more than 200 books in all published since 2000.  The extent of the series is probably only exceeded by the Daisy Meadow books.

The is the first book of the Mouseking series.  The setting for this series is like northern Europe, maybe German Barbarians or Vikings.  In the different series, the same main characters are made over to fit that setting.  In this one Geronimo (a mouse) is a brainy wimp among tough guys. When the best cook in the town gets sick, Geronimo and others set off on a quest to get some mint teach, which only grows in cave inhabited by dragons.

I think these books are written with ADHD kids in mind.  The text is typeset with key words in large and colorful font, so as you  read it, the highlighted words jump out at you, almost as if they are yelled at you.  If you were ADHD I think the creative typesetting would help you stay focused on the book.  There are funny black and white and colored cartoon drawing throughout that further make this a great choice for someone who struggles with reading.  (115p)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

Cover image for Inspector FlytrapInspector Flytrap is, you guessed it, a Venus flytrap.  He lives in a pot and has a goat assistant, Nina, who pushes him around on a skateboard.  He is always looking for "Big Deal" cases to solve, and he finds them. During the book Flytrap is able to solve several short mysteries, each taking one chapter of the book.  The only problem is that in solving the cases, Inspector Flytrap and Nina seem to make more enemies than satisfied customers. 

I was pretty excited to hear that Tom Angleberger and his wife, Cece Bell, had collaborated on an intermediate reader.  As I started to read it, my first impression was that this was just too silly for me. Come on, a talking venus flytrap and a goat that eats everything?   But I stuck with it, and was delighted how Angleberger pulled elements of each of the mysteries together into a fairly clever finale.  I think 2nd graders are going to love this.  The second in the series was just released.  (98 p.)

(Note to librarians.  When I was ordering it I couldn't tell if it was going to be a comic book or an illustrated book.  It is an illustrated book. Just fyi)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Light by Rebecca Stead

Cover image for First lightPeter's father is a glaciologist and his mother is a microbiologist.  When Peter hears that his father is going to take the whole family with him to study a glacier in Greenland, Peter is pretty excited.  Once there, he starts to wonder if there is more than science that has brought his parents to this exact spot. He also wonders about a new ability he has begun experiencing that allows him to see things very far away.  Meanwhile, in a village closer than Peter could have imagined, another young person, Thea, is learning new things about her family and her community. When forces bring the two tweens together, they find that they hold the future of Thea's whole world in their hands. 

Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Medal for her book When You Reach Me,which I liked. I like this one as well, and they have a very similar feel.  In both the main character lives in the real world but has to adjust to the fact that the fantastic actually exists. This one doesn't have the mystery and emotional tension that When You Reach Me has, but it is a fun, light, sci-fi read for middle graders.  (328 p)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tashi, by Anna Fienberg

Cover image for TashiTashi is Jack's imaginary friend who wears a pointed hat and curly shoes. Jack and Tashi sneak away from Jack's parents and share wonderful stories about magical adventures in exotic lands. The writing is simple but lovely, and the book is illustrated with whimsical black and white line drawing on every page. I think it took me about 15 minutes to read. It is an older book, written in 1995 by an Australian author but the most recent Tashi adventure was written in 2014.  (57 p)

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Last Bogler by Catherine Jinks

Cover image for The last boglerThis is the third and last in the series that started with How to Catch a Bogle. In this one Mr Bunce has a new apprentice, Ned Roach. The two of them are on a newly formed committee to rid the city of Bogles using scientific methods.  They meet with a representative from the Board of Sewers, an engineer, Birdie and Miss Eames, the folklorist.  Ned is not as good at singing as Birdie, and not as nimble as Jem, but he is analytical, and he keeps coming up with good ideas about how to approach the bogle problem on a large scale.  But will his ideas be clever enough to succeed in the final bogle show down?

I have enjoyed this series.  It is exciting and Jinks created a bunch of fun and interesting characters. I was, however, pretty disappointed with how this book ended.  All during the book they are coming up with grand plans of flushing the bogles out of the sewer system, or frightening them out with flash powder, but the final resolution was just silly.  It totally didn't fit with the way the story had been going through the rest of the series. I wonder why Jinks didn't let the characters just carry out their plans.  It would have been more fun and exciting.  The final little epilog was charming, and made me feel a little bit better about having spent so much time on the series. (319 p)

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic by Lauren Tarshis

Cover image for The sinking of the Titanic, 1912Here is another of the I Survived series.  In this one George is traveling with his sister and rich aunt returning from a trip broad.  George is a curious boy, and his curiosity sometimes gets him in trouble. He hears that one of the passengers is transporting a mummy in the ship's luggage compartment, so he sneaks from his cabin at night to try to see it.  While he is away the ship hits the iceberg. It takes a while for him and the rest of the passengers to realize the ship is sinking, and then he must struggle to find his family and a way off the ship.  As with the other I Survived book I read, it is easy to see why these are popular with otherwise reluctant readers.  They are short and exciting, and because of the title, there is never any worry that the main character will survive. Tarshis adds enough of sub-plot to make the story and characters interesting, and enough historical detail to make it feel a little authentic.  (96 p)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Saving Mr. Nibbles! by Patrick Carman

Cover image for Saving Mister NibblesMy intermediate chapter book for this week is the first in the Elliot's Park series.  Elliot is a squirrel who is good at solving problems.  He has a number of squirrel friends who each have their own personalities and talents. There are other animals that are friendly, and some that are not.  In this adventure Elliot and his friends see a strange squirrel given to a human boy for his birthday.  It only talks when they squeeze its ear, and it only knows how to say a few phrases.  Still, it is a squirrel and the other squirrels in the park feel that they must save it from being a prisoner in the human house.  Simple language, a short text and engaging illustrations make this a good transition book for kids that are moving from easy readers to chapter books. The story will appeal to kids as young as preschool and even the youngest readers/listeners will quickly figure out what the squirrels do not, that Mr. Nibbles is just a toy. (79 p.)