Monday, March 31, 2014

The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour Week 3

The blog tour rolls into week 3 and we havebeen asked to name 10 scenes from books that we would like to experience. Here are what came to mind:

1- The council meeting in Rivendell when the Fellowship of the Ring is formed (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien);
2- The Sorting Ceremony in the Great Hall at Hogwarts when Harry, Ron, and Hermione are placed in Gryffindor (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling); 
3 - The Hatching Grounds in Benden Weyr as Lessa impresses Ramoth (Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey), or when Jaxom impresses Ruth (The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey);
4 - The tour of Wonka's Factory when the winners of the Golden Tickets first see the river of chocolate (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl);
5 - When Percy is claimed by his father at Camp Half-Blood (The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan);
6 - The Emerald City as Dorothy and her companions enter it (The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum);
7 - Sailing on the Dawn Treader with Caspian and Reepicheep (Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis);
8 - The Wild Rumpus with Max and all the wild things (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak);
9 - When Mo and Meggie return to Elinor's house with Teresa and the fairies are building nests in the garden and Elinor and Darius are repairing the library (Inkheart by Corenlia Funke);
10 - When Master Robinton tells Menolly she will be coming to the Harper Hall (Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey).


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 The Ring and the Crown


This story is a bit like "Downton Abbey" meets "The White Queen." It is set at the beginning of the twentieth century in an alternate history in which Merlin's magic has enabled the British Empire to conquer all enemies. The American Revolution failed and North America is still a colonial asset. Merlin also defeated Joan of Arc so France is under British rule within the Franco-British Empire. A treaty has recently ended the Franco-Prussian War and Leopold VII, Prussia's Kronprinz is to marry Princess Marie-Victoria of House Aquitaine. 

If readers aren't snared by all the plots and conspiracies within the palace, then the romantic intrigues are just as complicated. There are star-crossed lovers from different social classes, colonial debutantes who are in town to find an English nobleman to marry, royals and nobles carrying on affairs and illicit activities, and magic.

 Another enticement is the number of characters that the reader can cheer on or wish calamities upon: aging Queen Eleanor II, Princess Marie-Victoria, the Merlin, his daughter Aelwyn, Kronprinz Leopold VII, his younger brother Prince Wolf, Isabelle of Orleans, and all the society notables. 

Who will follow the roles expected of them? Who will rebel and try for happiness outside society's expectations? Will the maneuvering for power and love throw the Continent into war? Where did the Prussians find the Pandora device they used to stop the Queen's Army? Curiosity about all of the possibilities will pull readers in and keep them turning the pages. There is a trailer provided by the publisher. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published April 1, 2014. (For Teens and Young Adults)

Spring Reading 2014 Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

This type of narrative nonfiction is perfect for capturing the attention of young readers. The vivid color photos add more interest to a story that is fascinating all on its own. Plastic, Ahoy! tells about a scientific expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the researchers who were on the voyage. Each of the featured researchers focused on a different question,such as how the plastic floating in the ocean affects phytoplankton. General questions guided their initial study, but as they worked they refined or even changed the questions they were asking. Descriptions of the boat's size and layout, the equipment used, and maps of the area that was explored are provided as part of the story.

Young ocean lovers and environmentally conscious readers will be drawn in to the myriad ways that plastic impacts the area that was studied. The details of the journey cover the scientific method, food chains, photosynthesis, and many other concepts that relate to science lessons in all grade levels. The social aspect of man's impact on the environment is readily evident, but the book also includes practical ideas for cutting down on plastic usage or raising awareness. There is a list of books and websites for further reading and a useful glossary and index are provided. This would make a good addition to any school library.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published April 1, 2014.
Until then, you can check out the websites for the books creators - Annie Crawley and Patricia Newman. Or, you might want to watch the trailer for a glimpse into the world of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour Week 2

Some of the characters in the story are able to read things out of books, a bit like what Mo can do in Inkheart. If I could take things out of books, here are my top 10:
1 - My own dragon from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, because I love flying ;
2 - My own fire lizard from Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong, because I love music;
3 - A lightsaber from one of the Star Wars novels like Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster, because they are just so cool;
4 - A car - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from Ian Fleming's book, so I wouldn't get stuck in traffic jams;
5 - A wand from Ollivander's shop in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, so I could practice spells; 
6 - My own robot from Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, because it could walk my dogs for me while I am at school all day;
7 - A bottle of the healing elixir that Aslan gives Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis - no more doctor's visits;
8 - A carpet bag from Mary Poppins by  P.L. Travers, so I wouldn't ever need to pack more than one bag for vacation ;
9 - An origami unicorn from Philip K. Dick's book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, because I have never been able to make one that turned out looking right;
10 - And finally, I would need a place to store all this stuff, so I would like the castle from Dianna Wynne Jones's Howls' Moving Castle.
If you could read things out, which objects would you choose from which books? Post a comment, I'd love to see some other ideas.  ;-)


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour Week 1


Everyone knows that librarians are incredibly cool - Bat Girl and Evie (from "The Mummy" movies) are perfect examples. Author Jen Swann Downey has created an entire organization of librarians who are committed to saving books and writers that are in danger throughout history.  For information about the author of this incredible adventure, check out her website. Or watch the trailer and get a taste of the famous characters from history that play a part in the story. Personally I would like to meet Hypatia, a famous mathematician who lived in Egypt around A.D. 400. I just love famous women from history, so I know I would enjoy hanging out in Petrarch's Library.

I don't want to throw a lot of spoilers out there when the book is coming in just a few weeks, but here's a brief excerpt from the book:

Books and Swords

   Twelve--year--old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un--chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural relations. Furthermore, she’d never been orphaned, kidnapped, left for dead in the wilderness, or bitten by anything more bloodthirsty than her little sister.
   Don’t even begin to entertain consoling thoughts of long flaxen curls or shiny tresses black as ravens’ wings. Dorrie’s plain brown hair could only be considered marvelous in its ability to twist itself into hopeless tangles. She was neither particularly tall or small, thick or thin, pale or dark. She had parents who loved her, friends enough, and never wanted for a meal. So why, you may wonder, tell a story about a girl like this at all?
   Because Dorrie counted a sword among her most precious belongings. Yes, it was only a fake one that couldn’t be relied upon to cut all the way through a stick of butter, but Dorrie truly and deeply desired to use it. Not just to fend off another staged pirate attack at Mr. Louis P. Kornberger’s Passaic Academy of Swordplay and Stage Combat (which met Tuesdays behind the library after Mr. Kornberger finished work there) but, when the right circumstances arose, to vanquish some measure of evil from the world.
   Dorrie regarded every opportunity to prepare for that moment as a crucial one, and the Passaic Public Library’s annual Pen and Sword Festival—always bursting with costumed scribblers and swashbucklers—afforded, in her strongly-held opinion, one of the best. On its appointed day, she pounded down the wide battered staircase of her home long before the rising sun finished gilding the rusty dryer that sat, for lost reasons, on top of it. She did so in the one tall purple boot she could find, dragging her duffel bag behind her.
   At the bottom, in the vast chamber that had once served as a ballroom, Dorrie caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that hung over a bureau by the back door, and hiked up her wide leather belt. She had buckled it over a hideous, electric-blue-and-black-striped suit jacket with ripped-out sleeves that Dorrie’s father swore he had worn proudly out in public in a bygone era. Underneath it, a shirt with great puffy sleeves and dangling cuffs screamed “pirate” loudly and well. After taking a moment to tug on the hem of the moth-eaten velvet skirt that was meant to hang to her knees but had got caught in the waistband of her underwear, she glowered into the mirror, her sword aloft. Despite the missing boot, the overall effect pleased her.
   “Yo ho, Calico Jack,” called her father. “Put this back in Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting room, will you?” Dorrie looked away from the mirror to see her father, holding a tiny carved owl. He wore a ruffled, candy-striped apron that read, “You Breaka My Eggs, I Breaka Your Fast”. With his free hand he was stirring a pot of glopping oatmeal in the part of the old ballroom the Barnes called “The Kitchen”. Other parts of the once grand chamber served as “The Living Room”, “The Office”, “The Rehearsal Hall” for Dorrie’s fourteen-year-old drum-pounding brother, Marcus, and “The Playroom” for Miranda, Dorrie’s four-year-old sister.
   Dorrie made her way to her father across one of the dozen rugs bought cheap from thrift stores currently living out their end days beneath the daily burden of ill-conceived art projects, the occasional mislaid plate of scrambled eggs, and books. Heaps and hills and hoards of books. Books left open on the back of the sway-backed sofa and under the piano, on the top of the toaster and hanging from the towel rack.
   “Miranda borrowed it,” he said, dropping the carved owl into Dorrie’s outstretched hand. Dorrie gave her father “a look.” Her sister had a deeply ingrained habit of “borrowing” things. Dorrie set off for Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting room, which lay on the other side of the deteriorating mansion.
Great--Aunt Alice had invited Dorrie’s family to live with her two years ago when her sprawling home had become too much to care for by herself. 
   Besides the ballroom and a few bedrooms, the rest of the mansion was her territory. Just as shabby, she kept it spare and clean and orderly. Great--Aunt Alice claimed the Barnes side of the house gave her fits of dizziness.
   After Dorrie set the owl back on its shelf in Great--Aunt Alice’s empty sitting room, the thick hush tempted her to tuck her sword beneath an arm and open a little stone box that stood beside the owl. Inside lay an old pocket watch and a silver bracelet set with a cloudy black stone.
   The doorbell rang, and Great--Aunt Alice’s voice in the marble--floored hallway made Dorrie’s hand jerk so that the box’s lid fell closed with a small clack.
   Hurriedly, Dorrie pushed the box back onto the shelf. Then, in a silly horror at the thought of Great--Aunt Alice—-who often seemed as remote and unfathomable as a distant planet—-catching her snooping, she wrenched open the lid of a cavernous wicker trunk that stood against the wall and scrambled inside, sword and all. She pulled the heavy lid down on top of her. It bounced on her fingers, trapping them, just as Great--Aunt Alice hobbled into the room. Dorrie sucked in her breath, the pain making her eyes water. She heard the sitting--room door close.
   “Well, did he see you go in?” asked Great--Aunt Alice.
   “Oh, he doesn’t have the imagination to suspect,” said a young woman breathlessly.
   Dorrie pressed her eyes to the gap made by her swiftly swelling fingers. Amanda, Dorrie’s favorite librarian at the Passaic Public Library after Mr. Kornberger, stood now, inexplicably, just inside Great--Aunt Alice’s sitting--room door. Everything about Amanda Ness was long. Her skirts, her hundred braids which hung down below her shoulders, and her nose—-which had been given the usual infant inch and had taken a mile. If a long temper was the opposite of a short one, well, she had that too.
   “You should be more careful,” said Great--Aunt Alice, stopping at her writing desk. She smoothed a few white hairs back toward the tight bun at the back of her head. “Has anything changed?”
   “Not yet,” said Amanda, sitting down on the edge of a little pale--blue sofa.
   “No. Of course not,” said Great--Aunt Alice, easing herself down into a straight--backed chair. “It’s patently absurd that we’re even discussing the possibility.”
   Amanda looked vaguely hurt.
   “I don’t know what I’ve been thinking,” said Great--Aunt Alice. “Sneaking around in there like a thief these past weeks.”
   Amanda clasped her hands together. “You were thinking that the stories might be true!”
   Dorrie listened so hard that she could almost feel her ears trying to creep away from her head.
   Great--Aunt Alice picked lint from a sweater hung on the back of the chair. “Well, I’m a foolish old woman.” She caught Amanda staring at her. “Oh now, don’t look so disappointed.”
  “Give it more time!” pleaded Amanda. “He said he wasn’t sure how long it might take.”
   Great--Aunt Alice absently toyed with a little jar of pens on her desk. “I’m ashamed that I believed even for a moment in the possibility.”
   In her wonder at the thought that Great--Aunt Alice could believe in anything fantastical for even the briefest of moments, Dorrie barely felt the wicker strands of the trunk embedding themselves in her knees. After all, Great--Aunt Alice had frowned disapprovingly when Miranda asked her to clap her hands so that Tinkerbell wouldn’t die.
   Amanda leaned toward Great--Aunt Alice. “But it’s obvious that something special is supposed to happen there.” Dorrie held her breath so as not to miss a single word. The conversation positively bulged with mysterious possibilities.
   “It’s obvious my father wanted something special to happen,” Great--Aunt Alice corrected. “My believing that it will happen is as ridiculous as Dorothea believing that she’s going to corner modern evil with a sword.”
   At the mention of her name, Dorrie nearly lost her grip on the sword in question and had to scrabble to keep it from falling noisily to the floor of the trunk. There was a moment of silence during which Dorrie felt certain that Amanda and Great--Aunt Alice could hear the small cave-in taking place in the general vicinity of her heart, but her great-aunt only sniffed and began to talk about Mr. Scuggans, the new director of the Passaic Public Library, calling him insufferable.
   Dorrie began to breath again in shallow little huffs. Ridiculous! She turned the stinging word over in her mind. Dorrie had never stopped to think about whether her desire to wield a sword against the villains of the world was sensible or ridiculous. It just was. She squeezed the hilt of her sword, drawing strength from it until the crumbling hollow feeling in her chest faded a little.
   The conversation outside the basket had turned to the difficulty of cleaning the library’s gutters, and stuck there for what seemed like an excruciating eternity until, at last, Great--Aunt Alice showed Amanda out. Dorrie, her heart pounding, slipped from her wicker prison, and back through the double doors that led into her family’s side of the house.

Check back each week from now until April 15th (publication day) for more exciting glimpses into the word of the Lybrarians. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Maggie Malone and the Mostly Magical Boots

My family moved often when I was younger, so I became good at being "the new kid" at school. The worst time was when I had to start at a different school in the middle of the year. Everyone had already made friends and claimed their favorite seats in class and at lunch. I had a nervous stomach ache for the first few weeks until I made some friends and learned the way things worked at the new school.

Because of my experiences, I understand what Maggie Malone is going through as she has to leave the private school she has always attended and transfer to a public school after sixth grade has already begun. She has to leave her BFF Stella and attend "Stinkerton" (the local nickname for Pinkerton Middle School). Her very first day is one disaster after another - she's late for her first class, her lunch gets stepped on, she gets knocked out by a falling history book... It's not a promising start. When she finally makes it home, her aunt has sent her a birthday gift, a pair of boots. As the title shows, they are Mostly Magical Boots and Maggie has an incredible adventure when she tries them on. 

I don't want to spoil the surprise and tell you about her adventure, but it will have you smiling and laughing as you follow along. There are plenty of other stories that could be told about Maggie and the MMBs, so try this one and then keep an eye out for more books about Miss Malone and her footwear. 

I was provided with an advance copy by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Sherlock, Lupin, and Me: The Dark Lady

Told as Irene Adler's memories from her childhood, this is an account of how Irene, Sherlock, and Lupin met and became friends. Sherlock, Lupin, and Me: The Dark Lady takes place the summer that Irene is 12 years-old and is staying with her mother in the seaside town of Saint-Malo. The boys already have formed a friendship before Irene comes to town, but they quickly include her. The three of them discover a dead body washed up on the beach and decide to solve the mystery of his identity and cause of death. Each of the children finds out valuable information that they are able to compile into a solution. Along the way they deal with bullies, a criminal organization, a mysterious rooftop prowler, corrupt policemen, and their own parents.

This promises to be an enjoyable series. The young detectives each have different skills, backgrounds, and personalities to keep things interesting. Sherlock's brother, mother and sister (!?) are mentioned but not really described. Lupin's father is only slightly involved in the investigation. Of course, since Irene is telling the story, we hear more about her family than about the others. What we do learn about each of the friends just makes us more curious. Fans of mysteries/detective stories with young sleuths like the kids in Chasing Vermeer will enjoy these books.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 The Most Magnificent Thing

This book is an encouragement to tinkerers everywhere. The girl is good at making things and makes them all the time. But one day her idea will just not come out right. Even with the help of her faithful assistant, she cannot get the thing to look like or act like the idea in her head. It is not magnificent at all and she is not happy about it. The process she goes through would be great for introducing a lesson on perseverance, problem solving, or creativity. There is also an incredible amount of wonderful vocabulary in the story and might be used for a lesson on synonyms, adjectives, verbs, or writing in general. Readers will have fun trying to figure out what she is making - since no two attempts look the same, it is hard to guess. I love her assistant - what a helper! (You'll see what I mean.)

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. And we just added a copy to the library through our Junior Library Guild subscription.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Nightingale's Nest

This story was a hard one for me to finish. Andersen's fairy tale of the Nightingale is one I remember from my childhood - and it was never one of my favorites, because it made me sad. Nightingale' Nest did the same thing. There is so much sadness packed into Little John's life - the death of his little sister, his mother's depression and delusional state, his father's drinking, the constant worry about money and being seems like it never lets up. And there is this poor boy trying to deal with all of it, like telling his best friend that he has outgrown video games because he doesn't want to admit his father pawned his Nintendo to pay bills. Meeting the foster girl, Gayle, he is reminded of his little sister and wants to protect her, to have a second chance. But kids are often powerless to change the circumstances they find themselves in, especially when they are up against the most wealthy man in town. Mr. King's obsession with Gayle's voice is just one more thing for Little John to deal with. Despite the magical appeal of Gayle's singing, the rest of the characters and setting are very believable. You have to persevere to the end of the book to see how the tangle of needs and desires plays out, but you will probably find yourself satisfied with the ending. And you might just spend a bit more time appreciating the birdsong around you this spring.

Visit the author's website to find out more about her and her books.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book was published February 20, 2014.


Spring Reading 2014 Plant a Pocket of Prairie

The spare beauty of the woodblock and watercolor illustrations work well with the text. Each suggestion of what you might like to grow in your own pocket of prairie is accompanied by an image of the plant and the animal(s) that it might attract. Everything from grasshoppers and butterflies to Great Plains toads and chickadees are depicted - eating, drinking, zipping about, or guarding eggs in a nest. The explanation of why prairie ecosystems have become so rare includes a map showing how far they once stretched, back when herds of bison roamed the area. Each type of life (plants, insects, birds, etc.) is grouped together in the back of the book with the common name, scientific name, and a brief description of each plant or animal that is mentioned. There are also definitions of the terms "endangered", "threatened", and "of special concern."

This would be a great book for studying ecosystems and discussing how everything within the system is interrelated. The back matter helps with the academic vocabulary associated with this area of science and provides additional details not included in the main text. A class could imitate this approach and create books for other ecosystems as part of a thematic study.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published April 15, 2014.

Spring Reading 2014 Silevethiel

This fantasy adventure has many of the common elements found in such stories: the death of a beloved king and the danger to his daughter and only heir, the bond between warriors and spirit animals/animal companions, elves, sorcery, sword fights, quests for knowledge in ancient archives, etc. Irewen is a 20-year-old princess, isolated and untrained for her role. Upon her father's murder, she flees the palace and travels toward the nearby elven kingdom for safety. During her journey she encounters new friends and demonic foes, learns just enough about her heritage to make her curious, and is continually hounded by assassins. The ending leaves her with new strengths found, alliances made, and the rest of the series in which to finish up the war against evil.

Irewen reminds me of Arwen from The Lord of the Rings in several ways. Their names are similar, there are the elves, the race on horseback to escape enemies possessed by evil spirits, the use of mystical powers to fight the dark warriors, the visions they both have of possible futures, and even their fathers' names have the same sounds - Elrond and Donriel. Readers who enjoy epic fantasy like Tolkien will notice the similarities I have mentioned (and some I have not). They may also think that the Guardians like Bregen and Raina are reminiscent of Narnia's Aslan. Silevethiel is a fairly quick read and teen/YA fantasy readers will be looking forward to the next book. (There are a few instances of harsh language that are not appropriate for younger readers.) The author has put together some quotes from reviewers in the book's trailer.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book was published on December 24, 2013.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Across a War-Tossed Sea

Charles and Wesley Bishop have been evacuated from England during World War II. They are staying with the Ratcliff family in Virginia because their father had saved Mr. Ratcliff's life during WWI and he wants to repay him. The story covers the period from Labor Day 1943 to just after D-Day. It is historical fiction that manages to weave in many of the details from that time such as mandatory blackouts on the Atlantic coast (to prevent ships being spotted by U-boats), rationing of goods, recycling for the war effort, etc. But the story also has everyday life in it like studying for tests, dealing with bullies, helping with chores, and telling ghost stories around a campfire.

The different viewpoints in the story help the reader see what the war was like for Americans, British children who were sent to America, and a little of what German POWs experienced here in the States. Weaving all of that together in an interesting story and still including things like the segregation and inequality that African Americans and Native Americans were dealing with in those days is quite an achievement. This is a good book to include in a unit on WWII or to read if you enjoy historical fiction. The facts about the war are accurate without going into gory details and additional information is included in the back matter. The author has a trailer for the book that features vintage photographs from the war.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published on April 1, 2014.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Author Visit with Jessica Young on February 24, 2014

On February 24, 2014 we had author Jessica Young visit our school. I met Jessica and heard her read her book, My Blue Is Happy, at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville over fall break. (You can see my earlier post about that weekend.) Jessica did three presentations for us - one for kindergarten/first grade, one for second/third grade, and one for fourth/fifth grade. The sessions were timed perfectly for the attention spans of the different grade levels and kept the students interested and engaged throughout the program.

Jessica shared photos of favorite activities from her childhood and talked about how she still enjoys doing many of the same things. The last of the photos showed her scribbling on a piece of paper when she was a toddler, proving that she wanted to write things even back then. She also explained the importance of rough drafts and editing, as well as the amount of perseverance needed to handle rejection letters while waiting to be published.

Her discussion of writing tools such as alliteration and simile had volunteers eager to share their own ideas with her or comment on parts of the book that they had enjoyed. The questions and comments ranged from the students' own similes to curiosity about the colors that were not included in the final version of the story. The talk about the editing process and the way that picture pages are printed was very helpful. I especially liked the image she used of the story seeds that are inside each of your minds and how we need to nurture them and make them grow.

At the end of the session Jessica graciously autographed books for her fans and answered even more questions. She also had several students who suggested titles for the first books in her upcoming chapter book series. (They were pleased that she asked for their advice.)

You can visit Jessica's website for more information about her and her books.

Here are some photos of the visit.