Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Kat McGee Saves America


This is the third adventure for Kat McGee. The first two adventures involved the holidays of Halloween and Christmas, but now she is caught up in preparations for July 4th. In the town of Totsville where Kat lives, there are 3 days of celebrations with the big parade and fireworks display on Independence Day. Kat dreams of being the student ambassador that helps to lead the volunteers running all the activities, but she is late getting to the meeting and the vote takes place without her. Disappointed, she decides that voting is overrated and that she will not participate in any of the holiday events. Her grandmother is worried that Kat and her siblings are unaware of the true reasons behind the holiday and so she takes the whole group on a field trip to Philadelphia.

The real adventure begins while they are all at the museum looking at the American History displays. Suddenly, Kat is behind the scenes and all the mannequins from the displays are actually alive (like "Night at the Museum"). The famous figures are in a panic because Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence have disappeared. Kat must find the missing author and his document before it is too late and the destiny of the United States is changed forever. While she is on her mission to find Thomas Jefferson, Kat meets other important men of the time - John Adams and his son, Benjamin Franklin, and even Paul Revere. Slowly, she learns the concepts and ideals of the founding fathers and comes to appreciate them. You'll have to read and find out if her belief in independence, democracy, and equality enables her in her quest.

This chapter book is about the length of a Magic Tree House story and, similar to that series, it also involves a young person of our time meeting famous historical characters. Readers of the Tree House books or Ron Roy's Capital Mysteries will probably enjoy Kat and her efforts to save various holidays. Even those who are not history buffs can enjoy the mystery and excitement.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be released in stores on June 1, 2014.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Honey Bee's Adventures at Wilderness Pond

Honey Bee flies around the pond and meets a variety of creatures who live in that habitat - most of whom try to eat her. Frogs, spiders, dragon flies, lizards, bees, and hornets are mentioned in the text, but we also see ants, fish, and plants in the illustrations. Although Honey Bee is rude to King Frog, he warns her about the dragon fly and rescues her from the spider's web. In the end she gives him some honey as a thank-you.

This could be used along with other materials in a unit on ponds and pond life for early grade levels. It could also be used in guidance and character development lessons. On the back cover it says, "This delightful picture book in rhyme promotes the virtues of kindness, forgiveness, and responsibility." I prefer the nonfiction style of Gail Gibbons or the flamboyant artwork and much more terse rhymes of Denise Fleming, but the colorful illustrations and rhyming text of this title will appeal to young readers. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Publication is scheduled for June 28, 2014.

Summer Reading 2014 Killer of Enemies


I heard this book described as "post-apocalyptic Apache steam-punk" and I had to read it. The main character is as tough as Katniss (Hunger Games) or Cassie (The Fifth Wave) and is grounded in the traditions of her Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo ancestors. Her name is Lozen, and she can track, hunt, and fight with all the skill of her historical namesake. She lives in a world that no longer has electricity, cars, planes, computers, radios... nothing electromagnetic. The older survivors remember space flight and maglev transportation, nanobots for medical treatments, bionic enhancements and augmentations, but that is all over now. Fortunately, Lozen's family was not wealthy enough to have any of the enhancements so they were not killed or maimed by the failure of those gadgets as many of the rich and powerful were.

Our protagonist has been trained in the traditional ways of her ancestors to live off the land and find harmony with nature. She also has been taught modern combat techniques, since her father and uncle were both in the special forces before they came home to their family. Because of her talents, she is forced into the role of monster-slayer by an enclave of some powerful survivors. They hold her family hostage to insure her cooperation and send her out to kill the gemods (genetically modified) beasts that have escaped from the zoos and homes of the wealthy, now that electrified fences and other electronic security is nonfunctional. Lozen does as she is ordered, but she is also planning for the escape of her family and caching weapons, food, and water out in the desert away from the compound known as Haven.

I enjoyed the story immensely. The strong female, her use of traditional stories to help her find ways to defeat her foes, the respect for nature that allowed her family to survive in the first place, the gripping action and tense confrontations with her "bosses," all add up to a great reading experience. I highly recommend it to any readers who like action, adventure, dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings, female characters that can kick butt and maintain their attitude, or stories that show how Native American stories and traditions find a place in whatever the setting or time period happens to be. For those who want to know more about those traditions Lozen honors, the author has included a bibliography of titles about the Apache (Tinneh) nation.  This is a Yong Adult novel.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 The Last Wild

If you enjoy a good story about a hero fighting to save the environment or repairing the world from the devastating effects of man's mistakes,you should give The Last Wild a try. Kester lives in a world where the seas have risen and all of humanity is crowded onto one last island. As if things weren't bad enough, a virus wipes out all animal life and even food crops have had to be destroyed. Luckily, the Factorium has created a formula that can feed what's left of the population. Kester's mother died, his father is an absent-minded scientist, and Kes has been taken away to a school called Spectrum Hall for special cases and been there for 6 years. His problem? He can't speak - he hasn't spoken to anyone since his mother's death. 

But suddenly he is speaking - to animals. To be more specific, he talks in his mind to "varmints" like cockroaches and pigeons and they hear and respond. They also decide to break him out of his school and take him to meet the last wild, a gathering of animals out in the zone between the cities. He must decide if he believes in the great dream of the animals that he will somehow save them. If he accepts this responsibility, then he must return to his home and get his father to create a cure for the virus. Is a mute boy really the savior of nature? How can he get past all the cullers (hunters of any animals still around), the outsiders (humans who refused to move out of the quarantine zone and into the cities), and find a way back into the city? If he hasn't seen his father since he was taken to Spectrum Hall, how can he count on his dad to help? As he travels, Kes meets a girl named Polly, 100 pigeons, a wolf pup, a great stag, a cat named Sidney, a harvest mouse who knows thousands of dances (my favorite is the Stationary Dance of Solid Sleep), and a rather nasty little man called Captain Skuldiss. There is plenty of bravery, humor, kindness, and danger to keep readers involved as Kester works his way towards his destiny.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published on March 18, 2014.

You may visit the author's website for more information, or watch the trailer provided by the author.

Summer Reading 2014 Divided

I've heard the Dualed series for Young Adults described as a cross between Divergent and Hunger Games. I can see why that comparison is made. Citizens of Kersh live inside a walled safe zone and the Surround outside its walls is full of danger and chaos (Divergent). The circumstances that led to the need for a safe zone have also left humans sterile, so that their children are produced in labs (Aeon Flux, anyone?). Each person also has an ALT, an alternate of themselves with the same DNA that belongs to a different family. To insure that only the fittest and toughest are using up the city's resources, the ALTs are activated and one must kill the other and the survivor becomes a Complete citizen with the right to a complete life (Hunger Games). Until they are activated, the ALTs are Idles waiting and training for that day to come.

West Grayer, the female protagonist, has reached Complete status and is working as an assistant weapons instructor. She has her boyfriend, Chord, and her younger friend Dess, who is more like a little brother. She has school and her appointments with her therapist to try and work through the lingering nightmares from when she was Active and hunting/being hunted by her ALT. So it seems like everything should be smoothing out and leading to happily ever after. Then an Operator from the ruling Board approaches her with an offer that is hard to refuse - do a task for the Board and her own future children will never have to face an ALT, they will be Completes without all the danger. While she struggles with what to do, she has to think of her own safety, that of her friends, and even what's best for Kersh itself.

The action is gripping, the moral dilemma is thought-provoking, and I've become very interested in the characters. I need to go back and read the first book so that I can learn about the people and events that are mentioned in this second installment. I'm not divided on that at all.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be released in stores on May 27, 2014.

Monday, May 19, 2014

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied Blog Tour

Author Jess Keating was kind enough to answer the interview questions that my second grade students thought of when I asked for their help with an interview. 

Q & A from Suzanne Costner's Class!

1. Why did you choose the title/how did you think of the title?

The title came to me! I was outside hiking (I love to hike to get ideas moving), and the phrase "how to outrun a crocodile when your shoes are untied" just popped into my head! I jotted it down in my notebook right then and knew I had come across something special to me. This leads to question #2!

2. What was the inspiration for the story?

Once I had that phrase in my head, the idea of Ana followed very quickly. I instantly pictured a young girl dangling from a tree, with a crocodile snapping at her feet. But instead of being afraid, it was just a normal day for her. She was more annoyed than anything! From there, the idea grew into what it is now. I knew I wanted to write a story about a brave, funny girl who felt like she was constantly struggling to be her true self. I think that's something we can all relate to, and at its heart, my book is about embracing the things about yourself that you think are weird. That's what makes you you!

3. Why did you decide to write this book? (Rather than a different story or perhaps a nonfiction book about animals.)

What a great question! Ana's story just seemed too funny and real to pass up. The two things that I'm most passionate about are animals and writing, and I've always enjoyed having both in my life. When I graduated university, I actually started writing nonfiction books first. I enjoyed teaching kids about animals, just like Ana. Then I started to get this squirmy-wriggly feeling inside my head. I had always loved reading fiction, and have a special place in my heart for funny middle grade books. It was then I knew that I wanted to try writing a middle grade book of my own. Of course, that didn't stop me from filling it with animals and science!

Now that I was able to get Ana's story out into the world, I was eager to start writing both fiction and nonfiction again. I just love them both so much. My first nonfiction book for kids is called PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, and it will be published in 2016!

4. How long did it take to write?/When did you start on it?

This book took me about 8 months to write, and then even longer to revise. I have notes saved from 2011!  How old were you in 2011? One important thing to remember about writing is that you get better with practice, so never feel bad if it takes you a long time to figure your story out.

5. Will there be another book about Ana?

Yes! Ana's next adventure will be out in January 2015! I'm very lucky to get to keep writing about my favorite animal lover.

6. Did you have a grade-level or age group in mind as your target audience?

When I'm first drafting a new book, I try not to think about the audience too much, because that can get in the way of finding the story. But once I have an idea of who I'm writing about, I do keep in mind who I'm writing for. Middle grade readers are my favorite readers, because they are constantly curious and love to laugh.

7. Did you consider doing the story differently - like making the parents work at an aquarium rather than a zoo?

Are you guys mind readers?! The title of the next book is called HOW TO OUTSWIM A SHARK WITHOUT A SNORKEL—and guess what—it takes place in a new aquarium exhibit! I won't spoil the details, but I can say that I wanted Ana's parents to be zoologists so they would have a full spectrum of animals in their life, including the scaly reptiles. Lots of people love cute, furry animals, but I wanted Ana to show off the brilliance of some not-so-furry creatures. Crocodiles and snakes can be cute, too!

8. Why did you decide to make the grandfather the famous one in the family instead of one of the parents?

You know, it's funny. Sometimes as a writer your own words can surprise you. Shep Foster was one of those surprises! I knew I wanted Ana to face the spotlight, but wasn't sure how to do it. Then *poof*, Shep appeared fully formed in my mind. His character was so larger than life, from his loud gestures to his bright Hawaiian shirts, I didn't question it. And now he's one of my favorite characters!

9. You explained the reason for Ana's name. If you do another book, will you explain why Daz is named after a monkey?

This is an excellent idea, and I will do my best to uncover the story behind Daz's name soon!

10. Ana has so many problems to deal with - her best friend moving to New Zealand, the Sneerers, being shy, etc. How did you decide which situations to include in the plot and are any of them based on a real-life experience?

It was tough to decide what to include, for sure. It's very important when you're writing to keep the pace moving, so I tried to find a balance between "oh no!" moments for Ana, and chances for her to catch up with life.

There are definitely moments in the book that are based on real life. For example, I visited New Zealand for a month and it was one of the greatest adventures I've ever had. I wanted Liv to have her own adventure, so I sent her there too! I've also spent lots of time working with animals, so many of those moments worked their way into the plot. I actually cut a scene where Ana was sprayed by a skunk (which also happened to me!)

11. In your research did you find out the best way to outrun a crocodile?

Tie up your shoes! ;-)

12. Do your hands ever get tired from all the writing and typing?

They do! I usually write at a standing desk, so I'm able to move around more while I type. Writing by hand usually makes my hands hurt more, but it's so worth it if your story is stuck. Something about having a pen and paper in front of you gets the words flowing. Try it!

Thank you so much for the great questions, guys! Happy reading!


About the book:
What would middle school be like if you lived in a zoo?

Ana didn't ask to be named after an anaconda. She didn't ask for zoologist parents who look like safari guides. And she definitely didn't ask for a twin brother whose life goal seems to be terrorizing her with his pet reptiles. Now, to make matters worse, her parents have decided to move the whole family INTO the zoo! All of which gives the Sneerers (the clan of carnivorous female predators in her class) more ammunition to make her life miserable-and squash any hope of class tennis stud, Zack, falling in love with her. Ana tries to channel her inner chameleon and fade into the background, but things are changing too quickly for her to keep up.

About Jess Keating:
As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her debut How To Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied is coming in Summer 2014 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, with a sequel to follow. Her nonfiction picture book, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, will be published by Knopf in 2016. 

She has a Masters degree in Animal Science and a growing collection of books that are threatening to take over her house. She lives in Ontario, Canada, where she loves hiking, watching nerdy documentaries, and writing books for adventurous and funny kids. 
Add to Goodreads:
Visit Jess online:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show

Such bravery! Such courage! Such feats of derring do! How can one small body hold so much intrepidity? He faces incredible dangers without flinching - broccoli, potty training, bathtime... Is there nothing he can't handle? Michael Buckley has created a hero as incredible as Evil Knievel, but in a preschooler's body. Dan Santat's illustrations show a tiny powerhouse of pure gumption who conquers one frightful obstacle after another, all with the audience of his admiring and amazed family.

Although Kel is younger than elementary school students, they will love his story and add him to the list of comic heroes like David (from David Shannon's books). Of course, the scenes showing Kel in his underpants or with his bare bottom in view for bathtime will appeal to all the kids of this age who find bathroom humor so amusing (Aliens Love UnderpantsCaptain Underpants, etc.). Students with younger siblings will appreciate what an ordeal it can be to convince them to try new foods or sleep with the lights off.

This is a wonderful example of synergy between the text and illustrations of a picture book that adds so many extra layers of meaning and enjoyment to the story.  Here is a video where a reviewer shows some of the hilarious illustrations.

I bought a copy for my nephew Addison while I was at the Knoxville Children's Festival of Reading yesterday. I was even able to have the author sign it for me.


Spring Reading 2014 The Kiss of Deception

What makes a really good fantasy? A feisty princess? A prince who doesn't want to be guarded, but would rather embrace danger? What about some intrigue and mystery? Oh, and don't forget friendship, magic, romance, danger, legends, incredible landscapes, wild beasts... I'm pretty sure you'll find all of that and more in The Kiss of Deception. Lia refuses to be handed over like a prize broodmare in an arranged marriage to the crown prince of another kingdom. She flees the home she has always known and hides in a remote village. The spurned prince takes off in pursuit, tracking her for days with his faithful guardian and mentor. But wait, a third kingdom has sent an assassin after her to prevent the marriage and alliance from ever taking place.

With characters full of distinctive personality - a princess who likes to throw knives and has a gift for languages, a prince who resents that the princess thought of running away before he did, an assassin with conflicted loyalties, and all their assorted friends and acquaintances - the story brings the kingdoms of Morrighan, Dalbreck, and Venda to life. The hints at a past cataclysm, the ruins of unknown structures, the tales of the Ancients, the songs and prophecies all leave the reader wondering if this is a future Earth or another world entirely. To find out, we'll have to read the rest of the series, because this first installment leaves us with a nail-biting cliffhanger.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It is written for YA audiences and will be released July 15, 2014.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Ninja Librarians Blog Tour Week 7

My favorite part of The Ninja Librarians book was when Dorrie finally got to have her duel with the evil Tiffany. Especially since Tiffany thought it was sooooo important and Dorrie kept telling her, "I don't have time for this" and deflecting her every move. That was an awesome moment for Dorrie. Nothing is more deflating to the ego of an evil nemesis than to be told they are not the most important thing in the world.

My favorite part of the entire tour was to plan my own rescue trip and research the historical figure I was planning to save. Honestly though, I would want to be included in every rescue they did - just because it would be amazing to meet all those free thinkers. Remember - once a ninja librarian, always a ninja librarian. I'm going to go practice my stealth skills while I wait for the next book to come out in 2015.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring Reading 2014 Earthman Jack vs. the Ghost Planet

Jack is your average 15-year-old boy living in a small town. He goes to school, likes a few of his teachers (and has one who seems to be his mortal enemy), spends most of his free time playing video games, and has a crush on the cutest girl in his class. Little does Jack know, everything is about to change. Aliens known as Deathlords have been traveling through the galaxy and destroying any signs of life they encounter - think of it as an evil Prime Directive. When Jack and his crush, Anna, are attacked by the aliens, Jack's destiny is altered. Now his video game skills may just help them stay alive, and his favorite science teacher's discussions of quantum physics are getting some applications IRL. Between school detention, Planetkiller UFOs, hyperspace travel, and an artifact buried at the core of the Earth, Jack will have to leave his slacker lifestyle behind if he wants to survive.

As I read I kept noticing dialogue and situations that reminded me of The Last Starfighter, Star Wars, and other sci-fi movies. According to the author, there are many of these Easter eggs hidden away in the story. Readers with a strong background in classic science-fiction films will come across many references that will be familiar. Jack is a fairly typical teenage male letting his hormones do his thinking much of the time, but he also pulls off some awesome moves.  He is a character that readers will enjoy cheering for even as they are shaking their heads over some of his decisions.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book was released April 11, 2014.

The author has created a list of Book Highlights for interested fans. An author bio has also been provided. Keep an eye out for Jack's second adventure coming out late in 2014, Earthman Jack vs. the Secret Army. There is also an interview with the author that you can watch.