Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 The Book Itch


I have seen Vaunda's novel-length book, No Crystal Stair, which is also about her great-uncle's store. While that book has received many honors, it is too long for younger readers, so I was very pleased to hear that she had written a picture book on the same topic. The Book Itch introduces Lewis Michaux's bookstore through the viewpoint of his son, Lewis Jr. As the narrator, Louie talks about his father's early efforts selling books from a pushcart. He tells of the bankers who refused to loan his father money for a store because "Black people don't read," and telling him that he should sell fried chicken instead. Lewis worked and saved and opened the store anyway - and proved those bankers wrong. His store became a center for discussion and learning and attracted celebrities such as Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X. Although he had little formal education himself, Michaux believed in the power of words and books to improve lives and empower individuals. 

This book captures the energy and excitement of the cultural center that was Michaux's bookstore. The childs-eye view of the Heavyweight Champion of the World, or Louie's relief that his father was not hurt when Malcolm X was assassinated make the story more accessible and meaningful to young readers. It is an excellent addition to any library and will make a great read-aloud for lessons on Civil Rights or to accompany units on African American History.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more information about the author, visit her page on the publisher's website.  

Summer Reading 2015 The Wild Ones


Imagine a world where animals have their own society, complete with protection rackets, bakeries, and historians. Kit's parents are archaeologists researching the history of raccoons, and they happen to be raccoons. But it seems that some knowledge is considered dangerous. The "Flealess" or the pets who live with People are trying to find a way to force the wild animals out of the city, even the rundown area known as Ankle Snap Alley. Tradition says that Azban the First Raccoon made a deal with Brutus the Duke of Dogs guaranteeing the wild animals the right to stay in Ankle Snap Alley and that the agreement is recorded on the Bone of Contention. When Flealess sources find out that Kit's parents may have found a clue to the Bone's whereabouts, they will do anything to stop the Bone from being found and the agreement honored. Suddenly Kit goes from being a carefree youngster in the wild to carrying out a mission in the city to find his Uncle Rik and get his help in recovering the Bone.

The characterizations of the various animals are entertaining and play into their motivation for their actions. There are the church mice trying to bring everyone together in peace. The retired fighting rooster (with his gorgeous feathers) who runs a barber shop. The sneaky raccoons running a shell game for gullible types. The finches who shout out the news and the hens who sit and gossip. It's all very lively and makes the intolerance of the house pets seem very shallow and narrow-minded.

For fans who enjoy Guardians of Ga'Hoole, The Warriors, or The Tale of Despereaux, this is another animal tale that packs a punch of intrigue, danger, and action. There are characters to cheer for and others you wish would get what they deserve. Kit and his allies fight the good fight on behalf of their community with courage and tenacity.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Here are links to the book trailer, and the author's website.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Stickiest, Fluffiest, Crunchiest: Super Superlatives


Jane Brocket's Clever Concepts books combine crystal clear photographs and easy to understand language to introduce various ideas to young readers (numbers, shapes, patterns, etc.). In this installment, she uses luscious photos of foods with vibrant colors to show what superlatives are. Are pineapples the prickliest? Is frosting the fluffiest? As an added way to draw in the reader, Brocket poses questions. "Wibbly, wobbly foods make us laugh," she states. Then she asks, "What is the wobbliest food you like to eat?" The vocabulary used in the text is filled words that are fun to say - wibbly, wobbly, squidgy, gloopy. Some of the items pictured may never have been encountered by readers and could lead to curiosity about trying new fruits or other foods.

This could be used as a read-aloud in a classroom setting to introduce the concept of superlatives, or as an example of the various situations in which such descriptions might be used. For teachers and librarians working with elementary school students, this whole set would be very helpful to have on hand. Fair warning, though - this particular book will make you very hungry!

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more information on the series, visit the Clever Concepts page on the publisher's website.

Summer Reading 2015 Maggi and Milo


Maggi and Milo are a great pair. Maggi is an "excellent adventurer, a pretty-good songwriter, a bit of a scientist, and Milo's very best friend. Milo is a dog." So begins the wonderful story of an adventure sparked by a gift package from a grandmother who obviously pays attention. The package contains new blue boots and a book about frogs, everything needed to go frog hunting. So the next morning, our companions are off to the pond.

The narration is funny and some of the comments will have even adult readers laughing out loud. For instance, when Maggi's brother rolls his eyes at her and the story says, "Apparently this is how twelve-year-olds communicate." Anyone who knows a tween or teen will have to agree.

The illustrations by Priscilla Burris match the tone of the story and the personalities of characters so well, that I can't imagine any other artist doing a better job. Maggi's vivaciousness and Milo's good humor shine through on every page.

This is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for read-alouds and bedtimes. I read it all week to groups from kindergarten through third grade and they all loved it. Don't worry that boys won't like a female protagonist - the inclusion of Milo and lots of frogs makes up for it.

The author, Julie Brenning, sent plush versions of Maggi and Milo along with their book to visit our school and we were very gald to have them. I hope the other schools they visit this year enjoy them as much as we did. To keep up with their travels, follow Maggi's and Milo's travel blog and to see more information about the creators of this adorable duo, visit

Summer Reading 2015 The Blood Guard (The Blood Guard #1)

Okay, I'll admit that I jumped right into the middle of this series and read the second book first, so there were not as many surprises in the first book as there should have been. But it was still an exciting read and I was very curious about how all the character I had seen in The Glass Gauntlet had actually met up and become friends and allies in the first book. Now I know the story of Ronan's house burning down, where he knew Greta from, how they met Sammy, etc. And those are good things to know. I also found out more about how Jack became an Overseer and who Jenks is (someone he mentions in the second book). 

It's always an odd feeling when you've read ahead and then go back to the beginning of a series, because you see things and realize their significance that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise. You also get that sense of foreshadowing when a character says something or does something and you think to yourself, "Aha! That's why x, y, z happens in the next book." Now that I'm all caught up, I will be finding things out along with the characters and won't have that advantage in book 3 (which I hope is coming very soon).

For those who don't know - The Blood Guard is an ancient group that are sworn to protect special individuals called Pures from an evil group named the Bend Sinister. Of course the bad guys swear they are not villains, and that they are only trying to make the world a better place - by killing off these pure souls. Does anyone really believe them? Ronan's family has a history of serving in the Blood Guard. His friend Greta's father is also a guard. Their companions Jack and Ogabe are Overseers, special protectors that work with the Guard. And Sammy is another kid caught up in all this craziness.

If you enjoy action and adventure, quests to save the world, and stories were some of the good guys just happen to be kids, then you should read the Blood Guard books. They are full of fight scenes, humor, and suspense with a little bit of magic thrown in.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more information, visit the author's website. (It is currently undergoing some updates, but he promises it will be finished soon.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems


Boy, heReallyIs anAwesomeNatural talent.

I can't think of a book by Brian P. Cleary that I haven't liked, and this one is no exception. When I first saw the title and then learned that it was a book of poetry, I thought, "Only Brian would tackle poems about pasta." But that isn't what the book focuses on. It is full of acrostics and he even makes a poem from the word acrostic to explain what that means. I enjoy using acrostics when I teach poetry because they can so easily be about any subject and don't have to rhyme; those are two things that also make them a favorite of my students. 

In this collection there are poems on subjects as diverse as colors, food, pets, and teachers. Two topics sure to be crowd pleasers with the elementary school set are pirates and dinosaurs. The illustrations add to the charm and humor. The scene of the teacher flying into the classroom in a superhero outfit is awesome. I also enjoyed the combination of two of my favorite topics - libraries and pizza. (I'm not going to spoil it by telling you how they are combined.) 

Whether you are a teacher looking for examples of poetic forms to share with your class, a poetry lover, or simply a fan of Brian's work - this book is another winner.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Here are links to the author's website and the illustrator's page on the publisher's website.

Summer Reading 2015 The Glass Gauntlet (The Blood Guard # 2)


A fast-paced, quick read with plenty of action and some very close calls, The Glass Gauntlet will get a grip on you (LOL) from the beginning. Ronan, Sammy, and Greta are three young people who have joined forces with the Blood Guard to protect the world from the villains of the Bend Sinister. The problem? Well, there are several, starting with the fact that Ronan's father is a leader within the Bend Sinister. Prior to this volume of the tale, Ronan's dad had actually ordered an underling to kill him. His mother, one of the Blood Guard, says that he probably only did it in a panic and didn't really mean it. But how do you get over something like that? Then there's the small fact that the baddies are trying to bring about some major end-of-the-world event AND they are trying to steal the souls from Pures, people with (you guessed it), pure spirits. It doesn't make for a lot of warm and fuzzy moments between father and son. Throw in an immortal companion who seems to have a perpetual teenage outlook on life, a strange contest called The Glass Gauntlet, killer Dobermans, bad guys who have awesome mental powers and things get intense.

This series has the feel of several recent best sellers - Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles, The Name of this Book is Secret, etc. We have the close band of young friends, they are in training with talented adults with some amazing skills, the bad guys also try to recruit teens and kids, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Yet with all the similarities, the story doesn't feel like a generic copy. And there is plenty of humor to balance the dangers. For instance, Ronan's first name is actually Evelyn, but he is a boy. Their immortal friend Jack Dawkins does things like wear shirts that say "YOLO," but with the final O crossed out. (I told you he was a perpetual teenager.)

If you enjoy stories with a cast of faithful friends who are trying to save the world and bad guys who are very easy to dislike, plus lots of action and laughs, then try The Glass Gauntlet.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more information about the books and their author, check out his website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 They're There on Their Vacation


Brian P. Cleary has done it again. This time he has demonstrated the proper use of the homophones: they're, their, and there. The Tuckabee family is planning their vacation and they're deciding to go here and there to see all the weirdest sites. They're sure to have a vacation to remember as their family travels there and back again. 

The quirky illustrations by Jim Paillot add to the zaniness as the Tuckabees visit the Cheezie Popz factory, an indoor campground with air conditioning and microwaved s'mores, and a narwhal petting zoo. And the additional explanations about the proper usage of the feature words are very helpful to readers of all ages. (They're there, in the back of the book, in all their glory.)

Kids will laugh at the odd places the family visits and teachers will be delighted at so many examples of how to use these "sound-alike" words properly. This is sure to liven up a lesson and generate some laughs, which doesn't always happen with grammar practice.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. To see what else the author has included in his books, visit his website.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Peak


"I had never seen a dead person, let alone a frozen dead person...After five more corpses I stopped looking." Imagine being on top of Mt. Everest, just days before your fifteenth birthday. You could set a world record as the youngest person to ever reach the summit, but hard doesn't even begin to describe the climb. And then you begin to see the bodies of climbers before you who have died on the mountain and you realize they never made it home and it's a possibility that you might not make it. Would you continue with the expedition, or turn around and head back down the mountain to Kathmandu?

For Peak Marcello, that is a tough decision to make. He has his family in New York (mother, stepfather, little sisters), and they all want him to come home. But his father is the famous climber, Joshua Wood, and the leader of the party. Should he trust that his father is right and he can make it safely up to the summit and back? Is his father really doing this for publicity, rather than for Peak? 

The story that Peak writes about his experience is supposed to be a way to complete his year at school, but it shows us all the truths he realizes about himself and what he values, and what he learns about his father and what his mother calls the selfishness that climbers at his level have to cultivate. It not only makes the reader wonder if that is truly a characteristic that is necessary for success in mountain climbers, but for others in less life-or-death environments.

It is an engaging story from the start (dangling off the side of a skyscraper), to the end. Peak's writing assignment lets us see inside his thoughts and emotions, even when the air is too thin for him to be able to speak. There are descriptions of the beauty of Everest and the damage done to it by decades of climbers setting up their camps as they try for the summit. And for those unfamiliar with the history of Tibet and China, some of the situations and stories told by the porters may be shocking.

I recommend Roland Smith's books to many of my students who are looking for adventure and survival stories, so I am excited about the upcoming sequel, The Edge, which will be released on October 6, 2015.

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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Moletown


I loved Lindbergh, so I was very excited to see a new title from Kuhlmann. The artwork is very similar in style, and the subject matter seems similar at first glance - small creatures doing things like humans do - but it is still very much its own story. In an almost wordless book, Kuhlmann manages to convey the history of how Moletown grows from a single mole in a beautiful green meadow, to an over-industrialized barren landscape with little hope of recovery. (Readers will be hauntingly reminded of the scenery in The Lorax after all the truffula trees are harvested.) Yet these furry little beings come to their senses and take steps to correct the problems. 

Younger readers will be delighted with the amazing details in each illustration. They will easily see the progression from moles carrying pickaxes, to moles with an excavating machine, to moles with a steam-driven power drill. And they can also watch as the living quarters change from one mole in a large tunnel, to increasingly smaller rooms packed more and more closely together. Urban blight seems to transfer very well from above ground to below. (If only the common sense to fix the problems transferred in reverse as well.)

This is an excellent book to share with students while studying problems in overcrowding, straining natural resources, and solutions such as greener energy sources. They might even be inspired to write/illustrate their own versions.

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

Summer reading 2015 The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon


Fans of The Tale of Despereaux will love this new story that also has elements of Watership Down. The setting is the fabulous Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna with the action taking place in the surrounding gardens and within the very walls of the palace itself. Nesbit is the youngest son of Lavendel, the leader of the garden mice in the Long Meadow. His oldest brother Blum was recruited to become an Eagle Guard to the Konig (king) and was never seen again. Now his older brother Sommer has also been recruited, even though everyone expected him to become their colony's leader after Lavendel. When Nesbit protests the news that his brother will be joining the guard in the palace and that the colony must turn over all the Essen (food) they have gathered for the winter, he is exiled to the Forest of Lost Life.

What follows is the most amazing set of adventures you could ever expect one small mouse to live through. The members of Nesbit's family must survive attacks by cats, owls, and evil mice; find the Sacred Goldessen (legendary cheese); protect the kingdom from The Army of a Hundred Thousand; and discover the truth of the Konig's plans for everyone. All in a day's work, right?

The author has done a wonderful job of showing us the palace and its gardens through the eyes of these tiny creatures. Everything from the names they give locations in the garden (The Light Path, The Dark Path, The Fountain of Certain Death), to the little habits they have (grooming their whiskers, stamping their feet to warn of danger), and even their own myths and tales, all make them come to life as both individuals with their own personalities and as a group with their own culture.

Lowell Press has joined the ranks of Kate DiCamillo, Dick King-Smith, and E.B.White as a teller of excellent animal stories.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You may check the book's webpage for more information.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Imelda and the Goblin King

Fans of books like Bullies Never Win and Enemy Pie will find this story an enchanting (pun intended) new way to deal with grumpy bullies who push everyone around. Imelda lives near a wood, like many children in fairy tales do. (Think of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) Imelda loves to visit the woods and her friends the fairies. The fairy queen and all her subjects enjoy Imelda's visits and they teach her all about the woods and its secrets. Everything is going along beautifully until...the Goblin King arrives. He does not play well with others (he probably never went to preschool or kindergarten and learned how to make friends). Readers will be outraged at the king's behavior and then delighted at how Imelda and her friends ingeniously teach him a lesson. 

Briony May Smith's illustrations are fun and fanciful. The fairies come in a variety of sizes from adult human, down to almost as small as a butterfly. Some of them look like miniature humans, while others have blue skin, fox heads, or wings. The goblins are tiny versions of their king - with their green skin, pointy teeth and fingernails, horns, and cruel or angry expressions they are easy to distinguish from the fairies.

If you enjoy stories with magical creatures (of whatever size), tales where the hero outsmarts the evil villain, or strong female characters who stand up for their friends - then you should find a cop of Imelda and the Goblin King. It's perfect for a read-aloud, a bedtime story, or to complement a unit on fairy tales.

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

Summer Reading 2015 Pieces of Why


Pieces of Why makes you begin asking questions immediately. You might start with, "What does the why in the title refer to?" or "Who is this girl on the cover?" As you read the story of Tia and her decision to ask some questions that she has been wondering about for most of her life, you will begin to think of other questions. Some of what Tia wants to know will probably be similar to your own thoughts. Why do people do bad things? Does doing a bad thing make you a bad person? Is it right to forgive someone who has done something really bad? But other questions are very unique to her situation, like wondering why her mother is so reluctant to go anywhere in public, or why her father is in prison.

Questions aren't the only things in the book; after all, that wouldn't make much of a story. Tia lives in New Orleans with her mother and her father is not around (although we don't know why at first). Her best friend Keisha sings with her in a children's group called the Rainbow Choir, led by Ms. Marion. Even though Tia is "a skinny white girl with brown hair, dark brown eyes, and skin about as pale as a person's could be" (her own description of herself), Keisha says that, "Tia does gospel the way it's supposed to be done."

Besides the choir, the girls also sing songs by their favorite pop stars and have a regular sleepover each week. They can talk about their families, the snotty girls in the choir who are only their because their parents make them come, and even discuss boys. Through all the drama over who will sing the lead solo, who will be kissed by the boy she likes, and worry over a shooting that happens outside the church during choir practice, Tia and Keisha have their friendship to lean on. 

The author lived in New Orleans for several years and you can almost feel the heat and see the streets as she describes them. Unlike many books recently written about the city, this one doesn't focus on Katrina or its aftermath. The hurricane is only mentioned briefly as an event that Tia remembers. What is does focus on is the relationships and the dynamics between the characters. It is a book that can simply be read for enjoyment of a good story, but it also opens up so many opportunities for discussion about things like guilt by association, racism, verbal intimidation, and cultural expectations.

I would recommend this as a good read for middle grades and up - but be prepared and have the tissues handy just in case you feel a few sympathetic tears along the way.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.  There is a very interesting and informative Author Interview available if you would like to hear K.L. Going talk about some of her inspirations and how she became a writer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New Book Release on August 18th

Great news for fans of The Day the Crayons Quit - now there is a sequel!  (And it will be available at our fall book fair.)


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Finley Flowers Giveaway


Our friend, Jessica Young, has two new titles in her chapter book series.  New & Improved and Art-Rageous both feature Finley Flowers, a third-grader full of creativity and initiative - two very important life skills. To celebrate the release of these latest adventures, there is a giveaway for fans to enter. Follow the link below for more information on how to enter.

Finley Flowers Giveaway

Summer Reading 2015 How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue


I will have to have a serious talk with Jess Keating when/if we meet, because her book made me cry. She does an excellent job of showing the misery you can experience as a tween or teen who is having friendship drama. In this third book in the series, Ana is about to turn 13, she still hasn't had her first kiss with boyfriend Kevin (her first attempt ended up in a head butt and Kevin having a bloody nose), she survived volunteering at the zoo with Ashley the "Sneerer," and her friend Liv is in town for a short visit from New Zealand. So, not much going on, right? But wait, there's more - she gets an F on her Shakespeare quiz, begins as a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation shelter, and has an enormous multimedia project due in two weeks for her English teacher.

Fans of Ana's earlier books will remember her for things like having an allergic reaction to Nair, falling into the shark tank at the sea life exhibit, and other feats of incredible clumsiness and bad luck. That hasn't changed, even if Ana has officially become a teen at last. And, although her shyness and nerves about public speaking may have improved, she still gets terribly flustered when things don't go as planned. Most of us have probably had the experience of trying to fix something and having the situation get worse and worse the harder we try, so it is easy to empathize with Ana, even as we see she is not making the best choices. It makes us want to reach into the book and say, "No - that's only going to complicate things even more. Don't do it!" But have faith, our fearless author will work everything out and do it without waving a magic wand. That's part of the charm of these books; Ana and the other characters all act so human and the resolution always makes sense. It isn't a perfect ending with a rainbow and a great swell of triumphant orchestral music. It's a solution that could really happen, and it can encourage readers that whatever troubles they are having, there is a solution for them, too.

I cannot recommend Jess Keating's books highly enough. Middle grade readers (and up) will be laughing, gasping in shock or dismay, and maybe even shedding a tear or two as they enjoy this realistic fiction written with compassion and humor.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Jess also has a series of YouTube videos for sharing writing tips at Write with Jess Keating.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too)


With a wonderful assortment of tough guys, Negley shows that each one can still have feelings - and even shed a tear. Whether it's the cowboy being thrown from his horse, the astronaut missing his family, or the superhero high above the city and feeling lonely, everyone has feelings. The pages show each of these seemingly rough and tough, invincible guys in a moment of sadness or frustration or disappointment and they are letting their feelings show without embarrassment. My favorite is the pirate standing on a beach covered with empty holes as he tries to dig up the treasure marked on his map. And then there is the illustration of the father and son, cuddled up on the bed and reading together. They are "tough guys who love each other very much." Around them you can see action figures, wooden swords, and solar system mobiles that hint at all the other tough guys already shown in the book. (It makes you wonder what sort of tough guy they are reading about.)

I especially like the end papers. At the front of the book they show all the different sorts of tough guys that will appear in the story. A knight wielding a sword. A race car driver. A brave sea captain. A ninja. But in the back of the book, we see the roles of those tough guys being played by the boy, and his father is playing right along with him. It adds more to the emotional weight of their relationship, seeing how the father isn't afraid to act a little silly and be the bucking bronco for the cowboy to ride, or lifting up his son (dressed as a superhero), so he can fly.

Parents, especially dads, need to read this book to their children and reassure them that having feelings and expressing them doesn't mean that you are not tough or cool.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss. I cannot wait to add this to my school's library.