Saturday, February 28, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Circus Mirandus

"Ephraim heard the music. Not classical music, not choir music, not even the dire wails of a hurdy-gurdy. The music that calls a person to magic is always the same. Pipes and drums." If that is true, then there must have been pipes and drums playing while I was reading Circus Mirandus, because it is a magical story.

Micah lives with his Grandfather Ephraim quite happily until his grandfather gets sick and Great-Aunt Gertie comes to help out. She doesn't seem to like her brother or her great-nephew, and Micah certainly doesn't enjoy having her around. What he does enjoy are Ephraim's stories of the circus he found when he was a boy, the Circus Mirandus. He tells Micah that the Man Who Bends Light (one of the performers in the circus), promised him a miracle and he is now asking for it. And Micah is determined to do whatever it takes to get his grandfather that miracle.

The story is so sad at times, with the worry that Ephraim is slipping away. But there are also very funny parts. For instance, while waiting for the messenger to return from the circus, Micah makes Aunt Gertie so angry that she locks him out of the house. He and his friend Jenny spend the night in the tree house and Jenny is awakened by a parrot landing on her. "The sight before him was bizarre. Jenny and the sleeping bag looked as if they'd had a fight to the death, and the bag had almost won." 

I laughed, I cried, I wanted so badly to smack Aunt Gertie. This is one of those books that captivates you and has you living the story, feeling everything that happens just as surely as if you were in one of the Lightbender's shows. You don't want to miss it. Follow the music; it will show you the way. "You never need an invitation to go home." 

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

Winter Reading 2015 School Days Around the World


This is a quick visit to over a dozen schools in different countries around the world. Some students live in boarding schools while some have to walk for an hour to reach the nearest school. Schools in one place may have digital tablets for each student while in another country the school has only a few books. Each one is unique, but they all have one thing in common - they are places where children gather to learn. The collage style illustrations are inviting and fun, and the positives in each school are emphasized (rather than dwelling on the negative). I especially like the quote from Malala at the opening of the book. The extra material includes suggested activities to help children learn more about the places shown in the book. There is also a glossary to help with the words from other languages that are used in some of the descriptions. 

This would be an excellent book to pair with This Is the Way We Go to School by Edith Baer and Steve Bjorkman, or the Scholastic Nonfiction Reader of the same title by Laine Falk and Amanda Miller. Together they could be used in a lesson or unit on cultures around the world, comparing something that children are familiar with - school. I would love to use this book to kick off a simple research project, and team up with the art teacher to have the students create their own collages of the countries they investigated. We could put it all together in a class book, or create a museum display for other classes to visit.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove


Once again Nick and Tesla use their scientific know-how to save the day. This time they are visiting the science museum where their Uncle Newt has been hired to make sure all the animatronic figures in the Hall of Genius are in working order for a grand reopening ceremony. But when he turns the exhibits on, they suddenly go berserk, the voice recordings speaking faster and faster, arms and heads spinning and swiveling until they come flying off or the mannequins topple over. What could be happening? The museum's head programmer swears there are no glitches in the software, but something is causing all these problems. Tesla suspects sabotage and convinces Nick and their friends Silas and DeMarco to help her investigate (although Silas believes Robogeddon is upon them and they are doomed to a robot uprising). Who could the real culprit be? Is it the new museum director who used to work at a rival institution? Or maybe it's Mrs. Wharton-Wheeler, who believes this X-treme makeover is bad news for the museum. It might even be the security guard, Berg, who keeps showing up just when the kids think they have found a clue. Even with the number of suspects growing by the minute, the kids manage to build the Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove and use its various functions to help them look for evidence.

This entire series is so much fun to read. And for those teachers and librarians looking for inspiration for projects to host in a makerspace - the step-by-step instructions for each of the gadgets the kids build during their adventures are a great starting place. With simple household items and a few supplies from your local Radio Shack (or other electronics retailer), readers of all ages can enjoy recreating the inventions from the stories.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 If: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers


"If scales down big concepts and invites readers to see the world in a mind-bending new way." (from just jacket) Author David J. Smith has written other books about scale, <>If the World Were a Village and If America Were a Village, but If contains illustrations of all sorts of concepts. Everything from comparisons of the planets in the solar system, to comparing when inventions were made, are all explained and illustrated. A table of contents makes it easy to locate the comparison you are want. There are also suggested activities for teachers and parents and a list of sources. The author explains that when you are talking about such big numbers there is plenty of room for margin, but that he has used the most reliable data he could.

Some of these representations could be used with students - actually taking the objects shown in the illustrations and measuring out the distances between them to show the solar system in scale, for example. I know that those who hold a strictly Creationist view will not approve of the timelines showing the development of life on earth or the history of earth, but there are still other parts of the book that they could comfortably use. The comparisons of energy sources and energy consumption, or those for food production and consumption would make excellent social studies lessons. All of the comparisons would be useful to work on numeracy skills, as Smith states in his foreword.

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

Check out the book trailer.

Winter Reading 2015 Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin


Although Hana is not teased by the children at school, and does not wish to change her name, her story reminds me ofChrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Hana has just begun taking violin lessons. She was inspired by her grandfather's music while she was visiting him in Japan and her parents have agreed to the lessons. The problem is that Hana has signed up for the school's talent show and she has only had three lessons so far. Her brothers nearly fall out of a tree as they laugh at her announcement, but Hana just keeps practicing. On the day of the show, she is nervous and even wishes she could disappear, but she does her best - and it is a surprise to everyone, even the reader!

This is a wonderful story for so many reasons. It illustrates perseverance, courage, and the bond between a grandchild and grandparent. But it also would make a wonderful model text to share while studying descriptive writing. The imagery is so rich, and there are similes - "her brothers laughing like monkeys in the tree," adjectives - "oceanic roar" or "indigo evenings" and other great word choices to discuss. Whether you are looking for a read-aloud to help students become better writers, or just want to share a book about someone pursuing a talent and not giving up, read Hana's story to someone. You will be glad you did.

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

Check out the book trailer.

Winter Reading 2015 The Joker's Dozen

The Joker's Dozen
"You Choose Stories: Batman" is published by Stone Arch Books (Casptone), in cooperation with DC Comics. The reader follows the directions at the bottom of the pages and the choices that are made determine the path of the story. Once the end is reached, the reader may start over and experience a new story by making different choices. The style of the story allows readers to choose which clues Batman will follow or which action he will take. The action is spiced with occasional sound effects (onomatopoeia) in bold print, reminiscent of the comic books that first introduced Batman to the world. The full-color illustrations add to the comic book feel of the story. In The Joker's Dozen, citizens of Gotham are being controlled by the Joker's laughing gas and committing crimes under its influence. Batman must figure out what the Joker is really up to while the police are busy rounding up the citizens used as decoys.

I know there are many adults who express concerns that children read too many comics, graphic novels, and manga titles. Although this is more of an illustrated chapter book, some parents and teachers might still have those same misgivings. They fear that the kids depend too much on the illustrations to derive meaning from the text, but visual literacy is an important skill. Learning to scan for visual clues and to interpret the multiple layers of story revealed in the illustrations and in the text actually makes the brain work to synthesize the meaning. Another positive aspect of these superhero stories is the rich vocabulary. Words like fearsome, fiendish, felon, asylum, institution, and demented are not commonly used in daily speech, but they all appear on the first page of the story. Imagine how many words of this kind are contained in the entire book! And a final positive feature of this type of book is that is encourages multiple readings, because the story can be changed by making different choices. All of that reading will help to build fluency.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks


I love the illustrations on the dedication page; they show portraits of the author and illustrator with clothespins on their noses. It is a very humorous way to start the book. The table of contents is followed by two pages explaining the form of a limerick - where the rhymes come and how many syllables are generally in each of the five lines of the poem. Many of the limericks also play on words that sound alike, but have different meanings. One example is the poem about the teacher whose students are bright. In the illustration, the teacher is wearing sunglasses and her students are various types of light bulbs. Another would be the pirate is out dancing and shaking his booty, while holding a treasure chest (both kinds of booty shaken at the same time). There are also suggested books and websites for further reading. This installment in his "Poetry Adventures" series is illustrated by Andy Rowland. His humorous way of emphasizing the wordplay within the limericks adds another layer of hilarity to the reading experience.

This is the perfect book to introduce students to poetry - especially if those students have already decided that poetry is boring. They will probably be inspired to write their own limericks after reading these entertaining rhymes.

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

The author has games and activities on his website.

Winter Reading 2015 Chips and Cheese and Nana's Knees: What Is Alliteration?


Brian P. Cleary does it again, with another addition to his "Words Are Categorical" series. This time he takes on alliteration and laces the book with excellent examples. (Did you see what I did there?) Before the text even begins, the illustration shows a scholarly cat pointing to an easel that displays the definition on the dedication page. To help make the connection between the alliterative words, they are color-coded. So, "Frances froze...frowned" are all in blue, while "start...same sound" are in pink, etc. It makes a nice visual cue for readers who haven't quite grasped the concept yet. Other examples of alliteration pop up in the pictures, such as the take-out box labeled "Pete's Pizza" or the map with the location marked as "Stop at Stella's." Cleary makes sure to explain that it's the sounds that create the alliteration, so the letters do not always have to be identical. He lists places you may notice these sounds like "in talk and texts and tweeting." And at the end of the book there is a chart listing examples of alliteration with a single letter, two letters or more (like digraphs or syllables), and some of the sounds that can be made by different letters.

All in all, an amazing and astute addition to any classroom or library. (I did it again.)

The author has games and activities on his website.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Finley Flowers: Original Recipe


The first book in the Finley Flowers series gets things off to a great start. Finley's story has all the right ingredients: a creative and energetic main character, her intelligent and supportive best friend, understanding parents, a precocious younger sister, and an older brother that is actually kind of cool. Finley is a rock star with arts and crafts, but she still can't think of what to give her best bud Henry for his birthday. When she decides to enter the school's cook-off and win a year's supply of free pizza for him, Finley is convinced her plan will work. As it turns out, making a delicious and original recipe is harder than one might think. As the days to the contest dwindle, will the friends be able to make a Fin-tastic and Hen-sational new dish?

Author Jessica Young knows how to appeal to young readers, due in large part to her experience as a teacher. She has also done many school visits with her picture book, My Blue Is Happy, and talked to tons of students about what they think is important in a good story. She's taken all that and whipped up the perfect recipe for early chapter book readers with this series about Finley and her friends and family. The illustrations by Jessica Scheret capture Finley's verve and personality, as well as her affectionate relationship with Henry. If you know some elementary age readers who enjoy stories of friendship, trying new things, and being creative - you should steer them toward this book. They are sure to be begging for a second helping!

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

P.S. The recipes at the back of the book are a great garnish for the story. :-)

Winter Reading 2015 Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Ireland


Brothers Gannon and Wyatt are lucky kids. They travel all over the world on vacation with their parents. While their father looks for inspirations for his art, their mother (a flight attendant), home-schools the boys. Part of their language arts assignment is to keep a journal of their travels and what they learn about each location they visit. In this book of the series the family is in Ireland and the boys sign up to work as youth volunteers on an organic farm. But when they arrive, they learn that the small farm that has been in the same family for generations is in danger. A nearby commercial farm is polluting the area with their chemicals and waste runoff and they are keeping the animals in terrible, inhumane conditions. Mr. O'Leary, the farmer they are working with, tells them that the owner of the commercial farm, Mr. Mulroney, has paid off local officials so that he can continue with his illegal practices. What can a couple of teenagers and a small, independent farmer do against a rich businessman?

Along with the mystery and action (being chased by armed thugs, getting lost in the forest at night, etc.), there is plenty of information about Ireland and the sites the boys see during their trip. Kissing the Blarney Stone, rock climbing on the Cliffs of Moher, seeing monuments to famous writers like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, and watching a rugby match in Dublin are only some of the activities they pack into their tour of the country. The photos that accompany the boys' journal entries give readers a chance to see some of the sites that are described. 

Another perk is that the boys have such different interests and personalities, so they focus on different aspects of each location. Gannon is more interested in the culture - people, language, history. Wyatt is a "total science nerd" (that's his brother's description of him, not mine), so he is drawn to details of the geography, climate, and ecosystem of their vacation spots. With each of them talking about the things that catch their interests, there is well-rounded coverage of their trip within their journal entries. And their approach to life also balances out, with Gannon charging forward and going on impulse while Wyatt tends to think about the consequences and provide a calming influence.

Any young readers interested in travel, exotic/foreign locales, and a little intrigue and adventure will enjoy this series.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You can check out more info about the real Gannon and Wyatt and the rest of their books at their website. They have their own blog, photos from each of the books' locations, and a video web series about their real-life travels.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Christmas Truce


Shepard has taken details from firsthand accounts of the December 1914 Christmas Truce and used them to create a picture book version of the events. Written as a letter home from one of the British soldiers, the story includes facts about life in the trenches of World War I - but without making it too frightening for young readers. Descriptions of the dreary rain day after day and the mud sucking at their boots constantly help to add realism to the scenes. Other things, like the fact that some of the German soldiers had at one time lived in England and worked or attended school there, might surprise students and cause them to rethink their assumptions that all Germans were "bad guys." The author's note at the end of the story builds on this and explains that short-term truces have happened in other armed conflicts in different time periods.

This would be an excellent addition to a unit on WWI. It could start a class discussion or even be used as a model text for students who are writing up their own narratives based on research into the war. I would recommend this for any school library.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You may visit the book's official webpage.

Winter Reading 2015 The Big Snow and Other Stories: A Treasury of Caldecott Award-Winning Tales


These stories were probably in the school library when I was in elementary school, but I don't remember them. I've seen and read The Big Snow since then, but not the other two. Each of them has beautiful illustrations, obviously, since they are Caldecott winners and the details in some of the close-up views are remarkable. But they also show wonderful scenes of animals in their habitats. The Big Snow shows all the woodland animals as they prepare for winter by eating, storing food, preparing to hibernate or migrate, or growing a thick fur coat. It also shows two people being kind enough to put out food for the wildlife when the snow covers everything. Cock-A-Doodle-Doo seems as if it will be an Ugly Duckling story, but it is only similar in the way the egg of the little rooster winds up with the duck's eggs. Little Red braves all sorts of dangers when he decides to leave the pond and follow the rooster's call that he hears. As the story follows his journey, we see all the predators that would like to eat him and all the other smaller creatures in the meadow, the woods, and even the farmyard. Unlike the first story, this one mentions a little girl, but no humans actually appear in any of the pictures. The Mighty Hunter is actually the only story in the book that centers on a person. The hunter is actually a young Native American boy who chooses to hide his schoolbooks and practice his hunting skills instead. But as he encounters each animal and pulls back on his bow, the animal offers to lead him to an even bigger animal - one that is more worthy of such a mighty hunter. Young readers will find the lesson he learns very funny.

The three stories together show a variety of habitats and animals, making the book a great stating point for a unit on those topics. Or perhaps just a place for students to pick an animal on which to do a report. But it needn't be used only as the beginning of a lesson, any of the stories would make a wonderful read-aloud and captivate the audience with the lovely illustrations. It is fortunate that another generation of youngsters will be able to enjoy these stories through this collection.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Unmarked


This second installment in the Legion series takes us into even murkier waters and more complicated twists and turns. After being found by the police, Kennedy is sent to a boarding school for troubled young ladies by her aunt. She obsessively follows all the news reports of strange occurrences that she thinks might be related to the demon she and the others were trying to contain. But when she finally gets the chance to link up with the others, she finds out there are even more secrets from the past than she had imagined. Other figures from the Legion and its longtime enemy the Illuminati turn up, along with revelations that have everyone questioning what they believe. As the body count grows and the stunning revelations continue to mount, will they be able to prevent Andras from opening the Gates and letting the demons loose upon the earth?

Full of plot twists, emotional confrontations, and strained loyalties, the sequel manages to pack quite a bit into what is only a couple of weeks' events. At the end we're still left wondering if Jared and Kennedy will be together? Will the Illuminati and the Legion be able to put aside centuries of distrust and work together for the greater good? Will Lukas and Jared resolve the tension between them? If the series stretches beyond a third book, the stress on all the readers may be too great. As it is, we wait in a kind of limbo of our own, until Garcia frees us.

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

For older readers.

Winter Reading 2015 Toad Weather


I love Sandra Markle's books because they always have so much to share and this one is no exception. Ally and Grandma both feel that the rainy day is dreary and dull, but Mama coaxes them to come outside with her for a surprise. They bundle up in slickers and boots and head out into the wet world. The two doubters keep asking what the surprise will be and Mama keeps pointing out all that there is to see on a rainy day - colorful umbrellas, puddles to splash in, water shooting up out of a manhole cover. Then she asks them to listen. What is it that sounds like tiny little whistles? It's the surprise!

This is a wonderful book to read on a rainy day and remind each other that there is always something special to see or do, even if the weather isn't perfectly sunny. A fun multi-generational family outing and a science lesson presented in a descriptive narrative that carries readers along with Ally to the big surprise. It could easily be used with a unit on amphibians or weather, or simply as a delightful read-aloud.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 As Luck Would Have it


The San Soucis have done a wonderful job of bringing this tale from the Brothers Grimm to life. 
As often happens in fairy tales, the parents leave to take care of a ailing grandparent and the children are left at home and told to be careful. (Obviously the parents never listen to fairy tales or they would know better.) As soon as the parents leave, trouble begins. Jonas leaves the oxen to plow on their own while he naps, then is angry that they have wandered all over the field rather than making straight rows. Juniper leaves the cider keg flowing and makes a mess of the cellar. You get the idea. And then there are the peddlers selling pots and pans...

The illustrations are what we have all come to expect from a San Souci book. The beautiful watercolors provide a warmth and depth to each scene. But it is the facial expressions that bring the characters to life. The wide-eyed panic of the oxen in the pond. The greed on the peddlers' face when they see the family's gold. And the bewilderment when the forest drops biscuits on their heads. Each expression is priceless. Young readers will be laughing out loud at the action.

A great story to read when talking to children about responsibility and paying attention.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Help! I Don't Want a Babysitter!


A perfect book for parents trying to convince their children that staying with a babysitter is not the end of the world. Ollie and his best cuddle buddy Stubbs will be at home with a sitter while Mommy and Daddy go to the movies. Stubbs is very worried. He tosses and turns all night wondering what the babysitter will be like. Too girly? Too macho? Too strict? Too sleepy? The possibilities are all too frightening. And then the babysitter arrives...

The terrible babysitters that Stubbs imagines are hilarious and so are the situations he pictures each of them creating. And the actual babysitter is a complete surprise. I think it's a wonderful touch that it is the pet who is so concerned about the sitter coming, rather than the child. It helps to make young readers distance themselves from those concerns. They can think, "Well of course the dog is worried. He doesn't know about babysitters. I would never do that."

Even if you aren't having babysitter anxiety, this is a fun read-aloud for your favorite cuddle buddies.

Winter Reading 2015 Nick and Tesla's Special Effects Spectacular


Nick and Tesla are still staying with their Uncle Newt while their parents are off on a trip. The siblings worry that their parents are actually involved in something dangerous, but don't know what to do about it. Nick distracts himself by researching wireless power transmission. Tesla throws herself into solving any mysteries or problems that come along. She and Nick have been helping their new friends, Silas and DeMarco, with the superhero movie they are filming, "Bald Eagle: The Legend Takes Flight." The brother and sister have already created a robo-arm, a stunt dummy, and a grappling hook for the movie, but now Silas needs something to keep the camera from jiggling during shots. Tesla has the idea to create a homemade Steadicam rig. While they are watching Silas use their latest invention, DeMarco's Aunt Zoe comes by and takes all the kids to the movie set where she is a producer. Aunt Zoe is working on an actual superhero movie, "The Stupefying MetalMan." Things are not going well on the set. There have been scenes leaked on the Internet; the lead actor seems to have forgotten how to act; someone is pulling pranks that are ruining seems like the whole thing is jinxed. Can the kids figure out what is really going on and save the movie - and Aunt Zoe's job?

The story actually shows a lot about how movies are made, all the people who work on them, and the problems with security during filming. It also includes all the instructions for creating your own grappling hook and wristlauncher, Steadicam rig, alien zomboid makeup, or robo-arm. This series is great for readers who enjoy making inventions or solving mysteries. If I had read them as a kid, I know I would have bugged my parents to help me gather up all the supplies and make each one of the gadgets. :-)

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

Winter Reading 2015 Unbreakable


Have a taste for urban fantasy? Enjoy reading about teens trying to save the world? What about secret societies and legacies of protecting all mankind that have been carried on for generations? Perhaps you want some romance and maybe even a little love triangle added in for extra spice? Then look no further.

Kennedy isn't sure about much of anything anymore. Her father left when she was 5. Her mother has just died of heart failure. And as she spends one last night in her house before leaving for the boarding school her aunt is sending her to, a vengeful spirit tries to kill her. Twins Lukas and Jared save her and take her away from the house she shared with her mother, and she meets the other members of their group, Alara and Priest. They explain the Legion, a group dedicated to destroying a dangerous demon called Andras. Each time a member of the Legion dies, another member of the same family takes their place. The group believes that Kennedy is their fifth and final member, but she isn't so sure. She sticks with them because it is her only chance to get revenge for her mother's death. As they search for the missing pieces of a device they believe will destroy the demon, Kennedy finds herself drawn to the twins and regretting that she is causing trouble between the two of them. She does her best to learn the things the others have spent their lives training for, wanting to fit in somewhere, to belong. But what if she isn't the last member? What if they are wrong about her? What if they are wrong about the device? Is there any way to stop the demon? 

The characters are interesting and each is unique. Kennedy is an artist with an eidetic memory. Priest is an inventor like Magyver, creating weapons from paintball guns and household supplies. Lukas can spot patterns in weather and other events. Jared is a natural with weapons and fighting. Alara was trained in voodoo by her grandmother. Readers have choices of which character they identify with and which type of action appeals more to them; there's something for everyone. And we'll all have to read the rest of the series to find out if the Legion is successful, if Kennedy chooses one of the twins, and if she actually is the fifth member of their group.

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

For older readers.

Winter Reading 2015 The Monster Squad: The Iron Golem


Nanobots and werewolves and space ships, oh my!

How many of you remember the 1987 movie, "The Monster Squad"? In it a group of kids who are into monster movies and comics try to save their town from real monsters. Well, this is similar but has more of a twist to it. Blaine, Shelley, Kevin, and Dash all attend the same middle school. So do Blaine's older sister Vickie and a new boy named Drake that Vickie wants to date. Strange things have been happening in the area - residents have reported seeing BigFoot, the creepy boarding school for rich boys (Grimm Academy) suddenly wants to have an exchange program with the middle school, and Blaine's group has begun having weird occurrences (not just the normal teenage hormonal changes). Could it all be related? 

The book alternates between the present day and the 1930s. In the earlier portions of the story deal with a group of scientists who investigate what they believe to be a meteor that has landed in the desert near Roswell. Mina Harker, Lonn Cheney, Edge Stoker, and Ian van Helsing find something much more interesting and dangerous than a meteor, something that changes all of them. The researchers, along with their discovery, are taken to a newly built facility called Area 51. Apparently, Area 50 is being used to store some artifacts for a certain Dr. Jones, so a new area of the base had to be quickly put together for their group to use.

For any classic sci-fi or monster movie fans, this will be a fun and entertaining read. But, really, the references to characters from those earlier incarnations will keep any reader amused. And we will all be waiting eagerly for the next book in the series.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Big Nate: Say Good-Bye to Dork City


Big Nate is up to his usual silliness in this latest collection. Whether it is jamming with his band, Enslave the Mollusk; trying to get Jenny to notice him as a potential boyfriend; or writing 7 paragraphs about his New year's resolution to be less competitive (since he knows the rest of the class is only writing 4 paragraphs); Nate is happily unaware of his own shortcomings. We get to laugh with him and at him when he does things like get a detention on the way out of school because he is yelling in the halls about not having detention for once. The title refers to a scene in which Nate believes he has finally made it into the "in-crowd." Sadly, as happens to him so often, he is wrong. But who would really want to be part of that crowd when it is run by a dictatorial bully who tells you with whom you can be friends, and threatens to bust your face if you decide to leave his posse? I especially liked the part where Francis uses Nate to demonstrate how some people can remember one type of information, but not another. He quizzes Nate about all sorts of trivia and Nate knows every answer, but when he asks him a simple question from one of their science lessons, Nate has no idea what he's talking about.

Young readers who enjoy Nate's attitude and his attempts to win Jenny's heart, make some spending money, or train his dog will be delighted with this latest edition. More mature readers will still get a laugh from watching Nate try to bamboozle everyone around him, especially the adults in his life. His attempt to prove that Mr. Galvin needs to retire because he must be over 70, after all - he writes in cursive - is one such funny moment. Be prepared to laugh and think to yourself, "I know someone like that," while you're reading this book.

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters


Possibly the most fun ever in a comic crossover story. The TMNTs are experimenting with Fugitoid's interspatial teleportation unit and decide to surprise Splinter with a quick visit to test the unit. Unfortunately, the person working the controls swats at a pesky insect and accidentally sends them to an alternate dimension. The turtles, Casey, and April find themselves in the same New York as the Ghostbusters. And when they come through from their own dimension, they accidentally free an ancient deity that has been trapped in between worlds. What follows is a mix of action, brainiac bonding between Donnie and Egon, and mass destruction as the deity turns two professional hockey teams into his enthralled minions and uses them to try and gain control of the technology back at the Ghostbusters' firehouse. Everyone pitches in with his or her own expertise, fueled by lots of pizza and caffeine, to try and free the hockey players, capture the deity, and return the TMNTs and their friends to their own world.

Fans of either set of heroes will enjoy the collaboration between the two groups - and probably hope to see more in the future.  (Caution - there are some PG-rated words in the book.)

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger

Once again kid genius, Frank Einstein, has created a wonderful new invention. His Electro-Finger transmits electricity wirelessly with just the push of a button. But when he and his friend Watson demonstrate it for Midville, their nemesis Tom Edison manages to sabotage the demonstration and frighten everyone. Tom does this because he has purchased all the power supply companies around Midville and wants to become rich by charging outrageous prices for electricity. Will Frank be able to prove that his wireless power supply is safe? Where have Watson and Mr. Chimp (Edison's pet) disappeared to? You'll have to read the book to find out.

While you are reading, you may enjoy the many diagrams that illustrate the scientific principles and concepts that Frank shares with Watson. Since the boys are experimenting with energy, Frank talks about Newton's 3 Laws, force and motion, types of energy (which robot Klink can demonstrate with all his handy attachments), and Nicola Tesla's attempts to transmit energy without wires. Robot Klank tries to make Klink laugh with his silly jokes, but Klink is too literal and doesn't understand humor. We can laugh at Klink's reactions to each new joke and his own attempts to tell a joke to Grandpa. 

While the book is fun as pleasure reading, it also has simple experiments and demonstrations that you can do with just a few household items like salt, pepper, balloons, and a spoon. There are also energy notes at the back about the topics Frank tries to explain to Watson. There is even a recipe for "Ants on a Log" from Mr. Chimp, although I would recommend substituting raisins in place of the ants.

Perfect for middle grade readers who enjoy humor, wacky scientists and inventions, robots, bad guys with their own chimp henchman, and lots of laughs.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 My Grandma's a Ninja

This is a book that will fly off the library shelves, and probably be checked out so often that it will never make it back onto the shelf. Who wouldn't want a cool ninja grandma? She can take you on a zip line to school or drop from the ceiling during show and tell. But she can also cause trouble when kicks the soccer ball so hard that she pops it and practice must be canceled. How can Ethan enjoy his time with his grandmother and still keep everyone else happy? Should Grandma change? Can she?

Kids often dream of being superheroes, ninjas, pirates, etc. And it does seem like it would be cool to be one of those larger than life types. But that sort of lifestyle can have its drawbacks, as this story shows. Can the positives outweigh the negatives? Is there something to be learned from nonconformists? Maybe we should just let people be who they are and not try to change them. Ethan will have to find out the answers to those questions, preferably before the big soccer game.

Great for readers who love ninjas or grandmas. It could be paired up with other books like Nighttime Ninja or Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed for a fun mini-unit on ninjas.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Ballet Cat and the Totally Secret Secret


You've seen them, those children who wear matching shirts or hair bows or have the same backpack and lunchbox. The ones who feel as if their friend is rejecting them when they have a differing opinion on who is the mightiest superhero or coolest singer. They actually pretend to like things just to make their friend happy, for fear that the friendship will end if there is ever a disagreement. And that's just what Sparkles thinks. Sparkles has a secret that the pony is sure will mean Ballet Cat will not want to be friends ever again. So what should Sparkles do? Continue to pretend? Tell the truth and reveal the totally secret secret? And how will Ballet Cat respond?

Bob Shea has done it again with his seemingly simple drawings that manage to convey so much motion and feeling. A perfect story for parents or teachers dealing with young ones that believe friends must feel and do everything exactly alike. 

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

Winter Reading 2015 Maggie Malone Makes a Splash


On her latest outing, Maggie Malone dons the MMBs (mostly magical boots), to become the daughter of a famous oceanographer for a day. In her own life, Maggie is having some trouble with her friends. Elizabeth and Maggie both try out for the swim team, but when Maggie tries to warn her friend about trouble with the coach's daughter, it causes a different kind of problem. Suddenly all her friends think that she is a liar and that she is jealous of Elizabeth. Maggie can't figure out how to prove to everyone that she is telling the truth, and she thinks a day in someone else's shoes is just what she needs.

Just as in her previous adventures, Maggie soon discovers that the life of a celebrity's daughter is not all glamour and fun. The very first thing she has to do as Marina Tide is to swab the deck of the boat that she and her father, oceanographer Flynn Tide, are using to film their dive at a coral reef. There are pluses of course - the beautiful location, the cute boy who is part of the boat's crew, her own dolphin friend, and really cute bathing suits. But something fishy is going on aboard the Sea Angel, and Maggie has no idea whom to trust. How is it that she seems to be in an even worse situation than the one in her real life? And can she get anyone in either of those lives to believe her, or will she be eating lunch by herself for the rest of middle school?

These stories are fun, but they also show real problems that are faced by kids every day. How do you deal with it when your friends don't believe you? How do you prove someone else has done something wrong, when no one else saw it happen? Spending some time in Maggie's shoes (or boots), may show some readers how important it is to be true to yourself.

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

Winter Reading 2015 Rose and the Silver Ghost


The Rose series continues to delight me (and other readers, I'm sure). Rose and the others from Mr. Fountain's household have returned from their trip to Venice, bringing the magician Miss Fell with them. Hepzibah Fell has consented to live as a guest of Mr. Fountain and help him to train Rose, Freddie, and Bella in magic. The help is needed since Bella has driven off another governess and Mr Fountain is often at the palace advising the king about the looming war with the Talish Empire. Rose is not very happy when Miss Fell insists that Rose must become a full-time apprentice and young lady and give up her position as a housemaid. Mr. Fountain had agreed to let Rose continue her housekeeping duties along with her magical studies, but the older lady is determined that Rose will be treated as a proper young lady and have etiquette lessons along with Bella.

Rose suspects that Miss Fell may know about her parents. Everything about them is a mystery since Rose was found abandoned in a churchyard as an infant and had been raised in an orphanage until she was hired as Mr. Fountain's maid. Some remarks Miss Fell made when they met in Venice, and her willingness to relocate to London with Mr. Fountain and the children seem to prove Rose is right. In the midst of the rising possibility of an invasion by the Talish forces, Rose and the other apprentices (along with Mr. Fountain's cat, Gus), do their best to uncover the mysteries of Rose's past. 

I love so many of the elements in this series: the setting in a Dickens style London; Rose herself with her practical outlook on life amid all the magical people and happenings; Gus with his penchant for lobster; the steadfast stable boy Bill; it all comes together to create an enchanting story (pun intended). A great book for middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy with resourceful young protagonists.

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

Winter Reading 2015 A Rock Can Be


I'm glad to see Laura Purdie Salas continue with her series of "Can Be..." books. This time she explores the ways rocks are used or found in our world. The lovely illustrations show rocks as park fountains, stepping stones, winding paths, and other artistic or practical uses. The rhyming text carries the readers from page to page as volcanoes, harvest moons, and hopscotch boards all show rocks and stones in various ways. A section in the back contains more information about each rock that is shown in the book from the "dinosaur bone" to the "sheep stopper" wall on a farm. There is also a handy glossary and a suggested list of further reading.

This would be a great book to share with younger students learning about various things found in nature, or as an introductory read-aloud for older students beginning a study of rocks and minerals.

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

For more about the creators of the book, check out the websites of the author and illustrator.

Winter Reading 2015 Juneteenth for Mazie

I always enjoy Floyd Cooper's beautiful illustrations and this book is no exception. As Mazie's father explains the history of Juneteenth to her, the scenes from the past fill the pages. There is her Great Great Great Grandpa Mose working in a cotton field. Here is the crowd celebrating in the streets of Galveston as the news of emancipation is announced. Some scenes are much more recent. Her father mentions, "They marched for jobs...shouted for opportunity" and we see a crowd crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. When he says, "They excelled and accomplished" there is President Obama being sworn in. The mix of past moments leading up to the present day celebration traces over 200 years of the history of the African American people. By explaining to Mazie what she will be celebrating and why, her father also explains the tradition of Juneteenth to readers of the story.

This would make a good read-aloud to accompany a unit on Civil Rights. The way the story begins with Mazie being upset at being told, "No," and then shows how Grandpa Mose heard that word so much more during his life, makes it an easy introduction to the topic for even very young students.

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

Winter Reading 2015 An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns

For most kids, studying nouns and verbs is rather dull. And once the teacher starts talking about common nouns and proper nouns and collective nouns, you can almost see the students' eyes glazing over. But there is a remedy for that - comedy. Rosenthal's rhyming text and Jago's illustrations take the collective nouns for different animal groups and make them into an entertaining romp. Scenes like a "tower of giraffes" balancing on each other's shoulders to form an actual tower, a "raft of otters" floating past on a rustic log raft, or "armies of herring" with tridents and military caps will have young readers searching for details that reflect on the meaning of those collective nouns. Who could resist the "shiver of sharks" with their scarves and hats? What about a "drove of sheep" driving past in a double-decker bus? 

It truly is a wild gathering - and will have students and teachers alike laughing their way through each of the examples. Perhaps they will even want to illustrate their own versions in a joint project with the art teacher. What a gallery walk that would make! I highly recommend this for any language arts classes, especially at the elementary level. 

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

For more information about the author, visit her website. The illustrator also has a website - and at the moment, one of the illustrations from the book is on his homepage.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Ms. Rapscott's Girls


Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle - there is a proud tradition of stories about adults who teach children lessons in unusual ways. Ms. Rapscott has now joined this group with her odd boarding school for girls of busy parents. She does things in such strange ways, like sending packing boxes* in which the students are shipped to school, feeding the girls birthday cake and ice cream every morning, or deliberately trying to have bad luck. And her students are all bewildered by life away from home. The girls' parents are professional exercisers, singing chefs, bloggers, raising two sets of octuplets, or prominent cosmetic surgeons. They are all much too busy to pay attention to their daughters. Receiving a notice that their girls have been accepted to a school with "a unique curriculum designed solely for" them must seem wonderfully convenient. The girls arrive with some very bad habits, but Ms. Rapscott takes it all in stride, even when one of the girls is lost from her box during shipment. And the lessons she teaches range from poaching an egg to how to cross the street without getting squashed. During the course there are disagreements and rivalries among the girls, terrible weather, thank-you notes, and exploring Less Traveled Road. 

The characters are amusing, the action is adventurous, and I wouldn't mind signing up for a semester at Rapscott's School myself. Who wouldn't want to live for a while in a big lighthouse with two corgis who can keep checklists, tie rain bonnets, and make tea? (And they look rather dashing in their fisherman's sweaters.) I hope there is another book to follow the girls into the next semester.

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

* One of the boxes for parent to ship their daughters to the school.

  The author's office, with her dog's bed in the corner.

  Her studio

Boxes the books shipped in.

  Ms. Rapscott with her sidekick from the original draft, a parrot named Hillary.