Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth


Think about it...What do the animals do in the zoo at night? Unless you are a zookeeper, or your scout troop is having a sleepover in the zoo, or it is Halloween "Boo at the Zoo" time, no humans are around and the animals have the place to themselves. What do you do when you have the house to yourself? You relax and have fun. That's just what the animals do, too.

They enjoy theater and this evening the Midnight Revue has a performance of Macbeth, er... I mean that Scottish play. Lion is the star and has wonderful acting skills (he yells). His sidekick is, understandably, a hyena and Macduff is a stork. In this version of the play, Macbeth actually eats all the people he needs to get rid of, with lots of ketchup. Lady Macbeth is a leopard (cheetah? jaguar?) anyway, she has lots of spots. The audience is made up of the rest of the zoo animals and the vendors are hawking everything from earthworms and ice cold bananas to ripe carrion. Predictably no one wants to sit next to the skunk. And during the tense scene where the king is eaten, an elephant comes in late and is trying to find his seat, so he blocks everyone's view of the stage.

There is so much humor in the performance of this "tragedy." Besides the vendors, the ketchup, and the skunk, there are the three witches whose predictions cause all the trouble. They are played by very small mammals wearing capes and fake pointy noses to make them look more witchy. One of them has not mastered the art of the evil laugh and keeps getting corrected by the others. "Ho! Ho! Ho!" "No, that's a Santa Claus laugh." "Hee! Hee! Hee!" "No! That's a little-girl-being-tickled laugh!" "Mwa-ha-ha!" "No, that's an evil scientist laugh. Keep trying." You can't help laughing yourself as each attempt is made and shot down. There are also shades of "The Princess Bride" when the small monkey asks his mother, "Oh yuck. Is this a kissing story?" The, er, uhm, Scottish play has never been this much fun.

Written for younger readers, there is no off-color language, no one is actually shown being chewed up, the only stains are from ketchup, and at the end (in a classic Red Riding Hood twist), Macduff finds that Macbeth actually swallowed everyone whole. This is the start of a series and I can't wait to see what they do next with Romeo and Juliet.

Although it is written for the lower grades, I think middle and high school classes could easily use it to compare and contrast with the original version of the play and even use it as a writing prompt to create their own kid-friendly versions of other plays.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be released in stores on September 30, 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline; Enola Holmes Mysteries #5


Yet another adventure for the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Enola. In this literary outing Enola's landlady asks for her help after receiving a threatening letter. Enola undertakes to find out who sent the threat, but Mrs. Tupper is kidnapped and the house ransacked before she can make much headway. Before all is said and done, Enola has met with Florence Nightingale, narrowly missed being caught by her sleuthing brother, and uncovered a scandal dating back to the Crimean War that threatens the reputation of the newest member in the House of Lords. Not a bad week's work for a fourteen-year-old runaway.

If you haven't tried out the Enola Holmes mysteries yet, they are wonderful fun. I am impressed with how she manages to convince everyone around her that she is an independent young woman on her own, rather than a girl hiding from her older brothers so they can't pack her off to boarding school. And she obviously inherited the family intelligence and her brother's nose for mysteries, because she is always getting caught up in looking for a missing heir or helping her landlady with this threat, etc.

These remind me of Laurie King's stories of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Enola's stories have a similar feel to them of a smart young woman dealing with men in an age when women were decorative and not actually useful in that social class. But these books are not as lengthy or intense as the Russell adventures and would perhaps be a good introduction to that sort of mystery for a bit younger reader.

Summer Reading 2014 Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

What an imaginative mash-up of genres. Who else would have thought of mixing Pinocchio with vampires? But then again, who better than a wooden boy to fight monsters that can be killed by wood? This story takes up where the classic story ends, with Geppetto and Pinocchio safely back out of the fish's belly and home again. The happy ending doesn't last though, vampires kill Geppetto and Pinocchio begins a campaign to kill them all off. He has the help of the Azure Fairy, Geppetto's friend Cherry, and a ghostly cricket, but the townspeople won't believe him that there are monsters on the prowl. His adventures have him traveling the countryside while tracking the vampires and he meets up with some old acquaintances along the way. The story is by turns serious, funny, and sad. The four rabbits who are the harbingers of doom show up at very depressing moments, but they are so silly looking that it is an almost uncomfortable juxtaposition of images in those scenes.

Keep in mind that even though it is told in graphic novel format, this is not a story for young children. The monsters are scary, the psychological trauma Pinocchio undergoes is very troubling, and there are some instances of mature language that would not be age-appropriate. For those who enjoy genre mash-ups with horror mixed into other types of tales, then this could be to your taste.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published June 24, 2014.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous


As I think I've mentioned before, I'm really not a big reader of realistic fiction (I prefer duels, magical items, strange creatures, and space battles). But this was an interesting story of a group of kids who ride the school bus together each day and how their lives overlap and even influence each other. Each chapter has one of the characters as a main focus, so you learn about each of them as you read. There's Spencer the genius, Shelly the diva, Jay the sports star, Bender, Miranda, Matthew, Igor - each of them have their own story and their own dreams. The chapters go month by month through the school year. As you read you find out about Jay's grandfather Poppy and his increasing problems with dementia; Shelly's dreams of becoming a big star; Spencer's fears that he is not the genius everyone believes him to be. But while all that is going on, there are also the strange occurrences - the wheelchair stolen from Poppy's back porch, the bus stop that their route takes them to every morning where no one gets on the bus, the old school newspaper that talks about a tragedy involving the graduating class many of their parents were in. How can it all fit together and make someone famous?

If you enjoy realistic fiction, mysteries, and stories where kids are dealing with real-life problems, then you should take a ride on this bus and find out who ends up famous.

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

Summer Reading 2014 Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle

Gabriel is a boy who has wished for his father to return home for the past three years, ever since he mysteriously disappeared. Now he has turned 12 and strange things are happening. His aunt's childhood friend brings her daughter and moves in with Gabriel and Aunt Jaz because there has been a fire in the friend's home and they have to find a new place to live. The friend, Trudy, takes over the cooking and serves things for dinner that smell like old sweat socks. Not a pleasant development. But, he also finds out that he is an <i>amicus</i> to a raven, that he can form a telepathic bond with the raven Paladin who lives in the nest outside his house. Then his aunt explains that his father and uncle had the same ability and that could be part of the mystery surrounding his father's disappearance. Together with Trudy's daughter Pamela, his new neighbor Abby, and his classmate Somes, Gabriel must find the legendary city of Aviopolis,

This story has many elements to attract readers, a major quest, animal companions, good friends, a villain who's easy to dislike, and even a magical dancing desk (you don't see many of those). Folks who enjoys stories with boys searching for missing fathers like Charlie Bone, or clever riddles, should read Gabriel's story.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be released in stores October 28, 2104. You may visit the author's website for more background on Mr. Hagen.

Summer Reading 2014 Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula


Poor Princess Decomposia. Her father is unwell (or so he says), and she is taking care of everything for him. The problem? Her father is king of the Underworld and has a lot of responsibilities - so Dee is always meeting with visiting dignitaries, reading long letters and answering them, going over reports about various details of the kingdom, and catering to her father's every whim. When the royal chef leaves and Count Spatula (a vampire with a sweet-tooth), comes to interview for the job, Dee may have found a friend - if her father doesn't chase him off.

The black and white illustrations remind me of reading comics in the daily paper (not the fancy colored ones from the Sunday edition). Dee is easy to sympathize with and Count Spatula is very funny with his crazy recipes and his despair over the king's preference for "just add hot water" soup mix. The servants in the royal residence are a mix of zombies, skeletons, and other creatures drawn in such a funny way that they can't possibly scare anyone. This is the perfect book for young readers who want to have some of the characters they see older kids reading about, but don't want to have bad dreams later that night.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published February 24, 2015. Here is a brief biographical note about the author. Comics Alliance has a preview of a few pages from the book to give you a feel for the style, and has an article about the cover design.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Sleepless Knight


Adventures in Cartooning is a great idea - and we have some of the books in our school library. They introduce several characters and by building a story around those characters, the basics of cartooning are explained to the readers. This new book is actually a complete story in a blend of comic and picture book with the familiar characters of the knight and Edward, the horse. Edward and the knight are going camping, with Edward carrying such an enormous amount of supplies that he gets hung up on the portcullis and then pops loose. After repacking, the twosome find a camping spot and have fun toasting marshmallows. But when bedtime comes, there is a major problem - the knight's teddy bear is missing! With lots of funny situations, this story is sure to have readers laughing and then practicing their own cartooning skills.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley The title will be released in stores on April 14, 2015. While you're waiting, you can find out more about the whole series from the publisher's website, or check out the copies we have in the library.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown


Lunch Lady and her faithful sidekick Betty are working at summer camp and the Breakfast Bunch kids are coming as campers. The camp is having some changes because there is a new director and a new counselor. The kids hear about the swamp monster and wonder if there is an actual monster. It seems that there is one, because the new counselor is attacked, footprints lead to the waterfront, and the kids see the monster raiding the kitchen late at night. Not to worry, Lunch Lady has Betty's great new gadgets (the Underwater Mixer-Propulsion Backpack is my favorite), and she is on the job.

For fans of the previous adventures, this is another great outing for our favorite cafeteria superhero. If you haven't read one yet, this summer camp episode is a great place to start. There is a trailer that introduces the character of the Lunch Lady. We have added a copy of this book to our library.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 I Am Rosa Parks


This is one of the titles in the series, Ordinary People Change the World. It is told in a graphic novel style with Rosa as the narrator. She talks about how her family taught her to respect herself and how she stood up for herself even as a child. She also explains how different life was back then with segregated schools, "white only" water fountains and elevators, separate seating on the buses, etc. And then she tells the story of that famous day on the bus when she was arrested for not giving up her seat and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for over a year. 

One of the pages I particularly like shows a museum display of the "Rosa Parks bus" and Rosa wearing a Congressional Gold Medal. There are also several photos of Rosa after the story. This is a retelling of important Civil Rights events that is easy for even young elementary school students to relate to and understand. I would like to have the rest of the series in our school's library.

Summer Reading 2014 The Glass Sentence


Have you ever traveled from one time zone to another? When I visit my mother I cross from the Eastern to the Central Time Zone, so I have to set my watch back an hour when I am at her house and then move it forward an hour when I get home. People who travel between the East and West coasts have a bigger change to deal with, and if they travel to another continent, then the changes are even more drastic.

Now - imagine a world where time itself has been fractured and people in one location may live in a completely different era from those that live elsewhere. That is the world in which Sophia and her uncle Shadrack live. Their city of Boston is in the 1800s, but north of Vermont there is a land of Prehistoric Snows and in other places there are pockets of the future. Sophia's parents are explorers of the Ages and have been gone for ten years. Shadrack has raised Sophia since she was 3-years old in his house full of maps that he studies and creates.

(A map drawn by the author.)

There is a legend that a map of the entire world, with all its jumbled Ages exists. The map is called the carta mayor and is said to have the power to reshape the world. Unfortunately, Shadrack's famous ability with maps draws attention from some very sinister forces and he is carried off while Sophia is out running errands. Sophia and Shadrack had been organizing a trip to search for her parents, but now she must find her uncle instead.

For adventure lovers and readers who enjoy complex world-building, this is the book for you. There are pirates, border raiders, sailing ships made from living trees, scar-faced Sandmen, wailing Lachrima, wildly different time periods existing side by side, and a dangerous quest to save a loved one and possibly the world. Much of the action seems like something from an Indiana Jones movie - being chased by henchmen across the roof of a train, outrunning a weirwind (like a tornado on steroids), being trapped in a dungeon, wearing disguises to avoid capture, and similar things happen frequently throughout the book.

I really enjoyed the story and the character of Sophia. Although she is only thirteen, she is very determined and courageous. I also found the idea of the Great Disruption with the resulting jumble of time periods very interesting and I can't wait to see what happens in the next book of the trilogy.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book was released in stores on June 12,  2014. The author is working on the sequel, The Golden Specific, now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Reading 2014 Controversy and Hope: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales


Our school library is fortunate enough to have the Picturing America collection that includes the iconic photo by Karales of the Selma to Montgomery March. When I learned that there was a book about his photos of the Civil Rights Movement, I was very interested. Having just finished it, I can say it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Not only does the book share some very powerful photos (and you may want to keep a box of tissues handy), but it also tells about the man behind the camera. The explanation of his decision to become a photographer and the choices that led him to be present at such pivotal moments in history is just as captivating as the images. Some of my favorite photos are the one where Dr. King is talking to Yolanda about why she cannot go to the amusement park (I had read about that event, but didn't know there was a photo) and the one from the March of John Lewis and Sister Mary Leoline hand in hand.

This is an excellent book to use with studies of the Civil Rights, but also for illustrating the power of media and photography to convey a message and preserve history. I want to add a copy to our school's library because of all the rich discussions it could spark.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published May 15, 2013.