Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs

Cover image for Spaced outWhen the commander of Moon Base Alpha disappears, Dash and Kira have a new mystery on their hands. Dash's alien friend, Zan can sense that Nina is still alive, but no one can find her on the base, and there are just not that many places she could be anyway.  The only answer is that she must have gone out on the moon's surface, and it is up to Dash, Kira and the others to find out where and why before it is too late.

I really liked the first in the series and I liked this one, too.  Gibbs is good at creating an interesting mystery, and realizing the unusually setting, without neglecting the characters.  This is definitely a series and am going to stick with.  Let's see, when does the next one come out? (336 p.)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Cover image for El deafoThis is another graphic novel, but of a very different quality to Tiny Titans. This is a memoir of the author's experience with becoming mostly deaf at the age of four and learning to cope with others' reactions to her hearing aids. Many of the stories she tells are about her attempts to find real friends. She talks about one friend who was overly manipulating, but Cece stuck with her for a long time because she wasn't bothered by the hearing aids. She talks about another friend who takes her on as a kind of trophy charity case, "This is my little deaf friend." A third friendship is going well until there is an accident and Cece hurts her eye. The friend feels so badly that, on top of her hearing loss, she might have become blind as well, that she doesn't dare play with her any more. In each case Cece imagines what she would do if she were the superhero, El Deafo, and it helps her get through her struggles. The illustrations are in full color, and do a great job of communicating in a simple way the main character's complex emotions about all that was going on. I really enjoyed this book, and, as a hearing aid wearer myself, (though I obtained my aids at a much older age) I could relate with some of her experiences. This was a Newbery Honor book last year, and the award was well deserved. (233 p)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tiny Titans: Adventures in Awesomeness by Art Baltzar Franco

This is an inexpensive comic book like you might find on the rack in a grocery story.  The main characters are chibi versions of famous superheroes. The book was a collection or two or three page stories, that, though they had recurring themes, didn't really have an overarching plot. A few of the cartoons were funny and all where at least entertaining. There are a few activity pages in the book, like a word search and a coloring page.  I read this book because of a training challenge at work where we were supposed to chose a book from a genre we didn't read very often, in an effort to expand our Reader Reference skills. (144 p)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Moon Base Alpha: Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

Cover image for Space caseDash Gibson is one of the first kids to live on Earth's new colony on the moon and one of the first to tell everyone that it is not as glamorous as the recruiters promised. Sure, he's famous and everyone on Earth knows his name, but the food is lousy, there isn't much to do, and the toilets are like torture chambers. When one of the scientists on the base dies, Dash is sure that it is murder. With the help of a recent arrival at the base, Kira, he sets out to prove his theory.  They find more potential suspects than they thought and as they get closer to figuring out who the killer is, the killer gets closer to them.

I have wanted to read this one for a while. I wasn't disappointed.  Dash is an endearing and believable tween as he explains how lame it is to live on the moon with no chance to go outside, no privacy, and everyone wanting the kids to look like they are having a great time for the cameras. Gibbs carefully thought out his setting, and all the details about life on the moon are fun and interesting.  He also carefully constructed a complex mystery plot.  I think lots of kids will like this one, and I am eager to read book two, which is already out. (337p)

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Cover image for The wild robotIn a future world a robot in a shipping crate gets washed overboard and lands on a deserted island.  The robot, whose name is Roz, is equipped with artificial intelligence.  At first Roz is not well suited to the natural environment and rough terrain of the island, but by careful observation and trial and error, it eventually adapts to life in the wild, and even learns the language of the wild animals.  As Roz "makes friends" with the animals, and comes to be the foster parent of an orphaned goose, it becomes more like a living creature, and less like a robot.

Here is a book that has received lots of starred reviews already, and I can see why.  It started out as a delightful read, with a mood kind of like Charlotte's Web.  As I read I thought, "you know, this is charming enough it could become a real classic."  But, as the story neared its end, there was one chapter where there was some violence that disturbed me. Maybe there are a lot of readers who wouldn't be bothered by the violence, but I thought it was too intense considering the mood of the rest of the book. The violent chapter made me revise the age to which I would recommend the book. Instead of being a book a family with children of all ages could read together, it became a book I would only recommend to kids that were 8 and up.  I think I will still recommend it to kids, but it made me sad that it didn't turn out to be the potential classic I thought it was in the beginning. (279 p.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

Cover image for Mr. Lemoncello's Library OlympicsKyle Keeley and his friends from Alexandriaville are back and this time they are up against the biggest library nerds in the whole nation. Mr Lemoncello has created a nationwide Library Olympics, with new puzzles and challenges. Can the hometown team beat the 32 best middle school age library lovers from all over the country, including the amazingly smart and nasty Marjory Muldauer? There is more at stake here than the go-to-college-free card Mr. Lemoncello has promised to the winning team and Kyle must figure out who is trying to depose Mr. Lemoncello and ruin the Alexandriaville library before it is too late.

Those who liked the first book in the series, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library will like this one as well.  There are more puzzles to solve and more fun references to lots of great works of children's literature.  The "Freedom of Information" message is a little heavy handed, especially at the end, but it is still a fun story to read, and like the first, it makes me want to do a Library Olympic program of my own. (278 p.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari

Cover image for The League of Unexceptional ChildrenJonathan and Shelley are so ordinary that people hardly notice them and never remember them.  This makes them valuable candidates for the secret spy organization, the League of Unexceptional Children.  It would be nice if they seemed ordinary, but really had cool super intelligence or skills, but no. They really are ordinary, so the repeatedly botch their assignments as they pursue their first case.  Will their ordinary-ness, outweigh their average intelligence, and help them do something truly extraordinary for the first time in their life?

There are so many spy and superhero stories out there right now where the kids have superpowers or exceptional skills and intelligence. It was fun to read one that instead celebrates the rest of us who really are about average. The characters where endearing and the author had a fun time playing with a lot of "over achiever" stereotypes. Unfortunately, just as the characters in the book are "ordinary" so is the writing style. Someone once told me that the current trend in writing is to not use descriptive words that tell how someone says something in dialog passages, e.g."I lost it," he wailed while he shook his head.* The extra descriptive words slow the dialog down and make it choppy.  This author did that a lot. It wasn't a huge thing, but it was distracting. Of course, this won't bother most young readers and I think a lot of kids will like this new series.(234 p.)

*Not an actual quote form the book, just an example I made up.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Frank Einstein and the Antimater Motor by Jon Scieszka

Cover image for Frank Einstein and the antimatter motorFrank is a 11-year-old scientific genius whose current project is to create a robot with artificial intelligence. With the help of his best friend, Watson, they put together pieces of junk from his grandfather's fix-it shop.  A lucky spark completes the creation, and Klink, and Klank, two AI robots, come into existence. Frank is eager to use Klink's intelligence to help him make more inventions, but Frank's rival, T. Edison is eyeing the robots as well.  Will the anti-mater motor that Frank creates with the help of Klink and Klank help him win the science fair, or will T. Edison steal his idea and the prize.

As you can tell, this is a pretty silly story, but what would we expect from Jon Scieszka?  There is a lot here for kids to like; puns, jokes, cartoon illustrations, and fun science facts.  This new highly illustrated series will appeal both to reluctant readers and science nerds. (179 p.)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

A couple of weeks ago I was looking through the kids recorded books, and I felt like I was totally saturated and needed a break from kiddie lit.  So I did what I often do in such circumstances.  I checked out a Georgette Heyer.  Actually the first Georgette Heyer I checked out was The Convenient Marriage, but I returned it after a few days. It was not as "squeaky clean" as many of her other books. I don't really want to read about young girls going to London and behaving wickedly.  I like stories about sweet, innocent, girls who go to London and meet the man of their dreams. That is what happens in Arabella. Actually, this book was so much like some of Heyer's other books, I kept wondering if I had read it before, but I couldn't find in on this blog. Did the predictable plot and stock characters keep me from enjoying it?  They did not.  I even found myself staying up late one night because I wanted to get to the good part.  When did I last stay up late to finish a children's book?  I can't remember. (312 p.)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

Cover image for From the notebooks of a middle school princess
Olivia is average girl going to an ordinary private school.  She lives with her aunt and uncle, but she corresponds with her widowed father regularly.  One day she is accosted by the "popular girl" who claims Olivia is a princess.  That is ridiculous, of course.  How could plain, ordinary, Olivia be the half-sister of one of the most famous princesses alive?

This is a cute new series for younger readers by the writer of the successful Princess Diaries.  Those who have actually read the Princess Diaries books knows that they definitely contain some teen level elements that didn't show up in the movie version.  This series doesn't contain contain any of that and is totally age appropriate for upper elementary readers. It was fun to revisit Genovia, and see Mia as the more mature, seasoned princess trying to help her younger stepsister through the same adjustments she had to face years earlier. The book has a few illustrations, some done by the author, which add interest.  I will look forward to future installments. (182 p) 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Terrible Two Get Worse by Mac Barnett

Cover image for The terrible two get worseIn this second book in the Terrible Two series, Niles and Miles, the practical joke team of their middle school,  have run up against their greatest challenge yet.  Principal Barkin has been "put on leave" and his father, former principal Barkin is acting principal.  The new principal understands that if no one reacts to a practical joke, it isn't effective so he puts on a campaign to ignore Mile's and Nile's best attempts.  As the days tick by, and all the Terrible Two's best pranks fall flat, Miles and Niles sink into despair.  What will it take to do a prank that will make Principal Barkin take notice?

I can see where lots of kids would think this book is funny.  The jokes the kids pull are clever, and the narration is funny,  but I am just not someone who enjoys or condones practical jokes.  There is really no way to do a practical joke without hurting or inconveniencing someone in some way, that that goes against my personality.  I guess I sympathized more with Principal Barkin in this story than I did with Miles and Niles, which probably means I am an old fuddy duddy.(214 p)