Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Last in a Long Line of Rebels


Imagine living in a house that has been in your family for 150 years, since the time of the American Civil War. Wouldn't that be an awesome place to grow up? Now imagine that the city has decided to condemn the house so that they can bulldoze it and build offices on the property. Not such an awesome feeling. And that's what Louise Mayhew is dealing with, among other things. There is also the new baby that her mother will be having soon, her grandmother Bertie has gone through a third divorce and moved in with them, the football scholarship her friend Isaac hoped for has been given to another player, and the snobby Sally Martin is still teasing Lou about living in an old house next to a salvage yard. So, it's really just your typical summer vacation, right?

Lou, her cousin Patti, and her friends Benzer and Franklin, make it their mission to find a way to save the house. Franklin has been working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, and Lou finds that there is a badge for American Heritage. She convinces everyone to work on having her house declared an Historical Landmark so that it will be protected from demolition. As they begin to research the history of the house and Lou's family, they find that there is an old unsolved mystery about the Mayhews. According to local legend, some gold was stolen during the war and it was suspected that Walter Mayhew hid the gold. Now they have two possible ways to save the house - because if they find the gold, that would work, too.

All through the summer the kids visit the local historical museum and the library, search the house, use a metal detector to search the yard, and try to think of where else they can look for clues. They are also busy with the town's reaction to Isaac not getting the scholarship and rumors that the coach gave it to a white player, rather than Isaac, because he is prejudiced. The fair comes to town. Grandma Bertie is busy dating. Lou's family is still trying to get a nursery ready for the baby, hoping that they won't have to move. It is a busy time, even if they are not off on a cruise like Sally Martin.

I enjoyed the way the Civil War diary entries of Lou's namesake, Louise Duncan Mayhew, were interspersed with the chapters of present times. And the way that each new discovery changed Lou's perceptions of her family's history shows how our assumptions can be changed by learning new facts. Even without the fair it seems that Lou is on a rollercoaster - proud of having the oldest house in the county, ashamed that the family sided with the Confederacy, appalled at learning they were slave owners, relieved to learn that some of them supported emancipation - her emotions get a thorough workout.

I also enjoyed this book because of its setting in Zollicoffer, Tennessee. Although there is not such a place (although Bluff City was briefly named Zollicoffer from 1862 - 1865), its location in middle Tennessee is close enough to my home to have many familiar references. Lou mentions Knoxville, the UT Volunteers, Cookeville, Tennessee Tech, MTSU, the 1982 World's Fair and the Sun Sphere - all of which are places I've been and things I've seen. Tying in the Civil War history of Tennessee with the story makes it very compelling.

This is a book that entertains and draws readers in while at the same time making them aware that some prejudices from the past are still in evidence today, and that people are still making a stand for what they believe is right. I highly recommend this for middle grades and up - especially for readers who enjoy mysteries.

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

Fall Reading 2015 Finley Flowers: New and Improved


Finley Flowers is ready to make fourth-grade fin-omenal. As she reminds her friend, Henry Lin, "We're role models for all the younger kids." While Henry worries that this is a lot of pressure, Finley is positive that they will have a fin-tastic year. Their teacher, Ms. Bird, is ready to start their first big project of the year - a unit on inventors during which the students will each create their own invention, "a 'nice device' that makes the world a better place." 

What a prefect way to amaze the teacher! Finley is always making and creating things, so this should be easy, but it isn't. Just when she needs lots of ideas, she can't think of any. And when she does come up with some inventions, her brother informs her that they have all been done before. (pulleys, catapults, etc.) Finley may get discouraged, but she doesn't give up. She and her friends make quite an impression on the inventors who come to judge the Invention Convention.

One of the things I love most about this series is the way ideas and inspiration are described. The author, Jessica Young, came to visit our school and talked to the students about the topic of inspiration. She told them that anything can become a seed for an idea just waiting to grow into something wonderful. This theme comes up several times in New and Improved. As Finley thought about the project, "she knew the perfect idea was somewhere in her brain - a tiny seed ready to grow and burst into bloom." (page 23) When Henry asks her how it's going, she says, "Nothing's sprouting in my idea garden." (page 33) But she also has persistence, and that is another great trait to model for young readers. If they cultivate their idea gardens and don't give up, they just may "better-ify" the world someday.

Fall Reading 2015 Penguins


Part of the Zoo Animals series by Sandcastle Books (an imprint of ABDO Publishing), Penguins is a simple introduction to these feathered creatures that are admired by so many. Large, clear photographs cover 2-page spreads with the text kept to a minimal few sentences in one corner. Basic facts about their feathers, flippers,and coloring are shared. A comparison is made between how they find food in the wild and how they are fed in zoos. Chicks, colonies, grooming, and movement are also covered. There is a small glossary in the back and words from the glossary appear in bold within the book's text. There are also a list of fast facts and a short true/false quiz in the back matter.

This is a good title for students or young readers just venturing into nonfiction text.

Fall Reading 2015 Jr. Graphic American Inventors: Robert Fulton

This graphic novel biography of Fulton is short enough to be non-intimidating, but covers all the basics. What I especially liked about the book were the inclusion of the influential people in his life. Fulton isn't given credit with accomplishing everything on his own through pure genius or luck; rather, he had powerful sponsors who were willing to refer him to those that might help him in his goals. His acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin led to Benjamin West, which led to Charles Stanhope, and then to Lord Shelburne. Shelburne referred him to friends in France which led to meeting with Napoleon Bonaparte and the first working model of Fulton's submarine being built. While in Paris, he met the American Ambassador Robert Livingston and they began their partnership to build paddle wheel steamships. Visiting England to purchase a larger steam engine put him in the right place to have the English Navy interested in his designs for torpedoes. 

While Fulton was very talented as an artist, designer, and engineer - his success would not have been possible without his persistence and the support of many people along the way. This portrayal of his life includes those friendships and contacts, as well as the numerous ventures he pursued along the way. It also takes care to mention that Fulton was not the first to design a steamship, his design simply improved upon the idea and proved that travel on such vessels was economically sound. We can only imagine what he would have gone on to accomplish if he had not become ill and died at the age of 49.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 The Night Parade


The Night Parade is a wonderful adventure into the land of Japanese mythology. Saki and her family go to visit her grandmother for the Obon Festival. As Saki thinks of it, "three full days of boring ceremonies to remember ancestors she hadn't met." Her younger brother agrees with her and they both wish they were back in Tokyo enjoying their summer break, rather than in a small village where cell phone service is unreliable. Everything that they are asked to do is complained about, or argued over, or only half-done. And Saki lets local troublemakers talk her into visiting the graveyard at night to play a game of Kokkuri-San (a little like a Ouija board). When they all become frightened and run off, Saki is left to take the blame for the mess they have made.

While the overturned offerings in the graveyard may not be all her fault, there is something wrong and Saki is responsible. Spirits come to her for three nights to help her reach the castle of the Midlight Prince and get his assistance to fix everything. These spirits are not the wailing ghosts that visited Ebenezer Scrooge. The first night there is a fox spirit. The second is a tengu bird spirit. And the third is a tanuki animal spirit. But she also meets a witch, ogres, talking prayer beads, a filth monster and many other members of the Night Parade. Some are helpful and some try to stop her, but she only has the three nights of the parade before the final bonfire of the festival to put things right.

There is spookiness, magic, friendship, danger, courage and resourcefulness - a wonderful fantasy adventure. Readers who enjoyed May Bird or Coraline will probably have a great time reading this book. 

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

Fall Reading 2015 The Rise of Herk (Nnewts # 2)


I'm a big fan of Doug TenNapel, so I had to add the Nnewts series to the library. Book 2, Rise of Herk, continues the saga. Herk is in the city of Amphibopolis, staying with Pikk and his mother. He doesn't realize that his long-lost twin, Zerk, was taken in by the same family years ago. The Snake Lord is trying to find the Spell of Spells. He believes it will allow him to have a body made of stars, so that he can defeat Orion. But for now he is stuck in the body of a radish - which makes him look really silly. He has managed to convince many Nnewts to transform into Lizzarks using the Blakk Mudd, and they attack Amphibopolis at his command.

I would have to say that the storyline reminds me of Star Wars. Twin separated at birth to protect them from an evil ruler. Unknown powers coming into play as the bad guys attack, trying to turn everyone to the Dark Side, I mean...with Blakk Mudd. And there is a lot of Harry Potter mixed in there, too. The prophecies. The elderly magician. The bad guy trapped in an inferior form and trying to get his own body back (or an even better one). Lots of pop culture tropes being manipulated here.

For readers who enjoy TenNapel's style, appreciate humor mixed in with their fantasy-adventure, and don't mind that the characters are amphibians - Nnewts is a series you will enjoy. If you haven't tried one of Doug TenNapel's graphic novels yet, you should.

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

*We just added this title to the library through our fall Scholastic Book Fair.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 A Visit to the Library


This is a title from the Norwood Press Pair It/Twin Text program, where nonfiction books are matched with a fiction book on the same topic and written on the same reading level. The suggested book to pair with this one is Dear Dragon Goes to the Library by Margaret Hillert. 

A Visit to the Library does a good job of introducing the basics of being a library patron - using a library card, finding books, reading them in the library or taking them home, returning books, finding music and movies at the library, story time, toys and puzzles in the children's area, computers, and librarians. I appreciate that the photos which accompany the text show people from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds, ages, and genders. 

The Reading Reinforcement section in the back of the book includes ways to discuss writing craft and structure, questions for close reading, lists of the high frequency words and the content words, and suggestions for helping build reading fluency. Providing all of this support for parents and caregivers to use with their children at home is very helpful, and could also be useful to teachers.

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

Teacher's notes will soon be available on the Norwood Press website.

Fall Reading 2015 Dear Dragon Goes to the Library


Those of us who are teachers or parents of young children may already be familiar with Margaret Hillert's books, including those that feature Dear Dragon. The books have a controlled vocabulary of common sight words and even feature a word list at the end along with suggestions for how to help early readers. In this story Dear Dragon watches as his boy gathers up books from all around his room and loads them into a wagon. Dear Dragon pulls the wagon to the library and helps to carry them up the stairs (see cover illustration). Once they enter the library, the boy sees a notice for story time and wants to go. Dear Dragon sits on the floor with the children and listens to the story, then they see what other fun they can have. They find a floor puzzle of dragons, and choose more books to take home, including Dear Dragon's A is for Apple.

Young readers will enjoy the cheerful illustrations and probably wish for their own dragon. (Who doesn't?) Adults will appreciate the short sentences and sight words that help build reading fluency for their children and students. This would also make a good read-aloud for someone getting ready to visit the library for the first time. Teachers and school librarians might wish to pair it with a short nonfiction book on libraries such as, A Visit to the Library by Mary Lindeen.

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

Norwood Press has provided teacher's notes and correlations to the Common Core for this title.

Fall Reading 2015 The Super-Smelly Moldy Blob (Olive and Beatrix #2)


Branches keeps coming up with fun ideas for its emerging chapter book readers. I love the Eerie Elementary stories, but some young female readers may wish that for a main character who is also female. Ta-da! Now there are Olive and Beatrix - twins who happen to be very different. Beatrix is a witch and even has a talking pig named Houston. Olive is an ordinary girl, but very smart and scientific, with a friend named Eddie. In this book, the three kids all want to win the science fair. The girls are busy arguing over who gets to set her display up on the table closest to the judges and...OOPS...the projects go crashing to the ground and get mixed together. Suddenly the girls, Eddie, and Houston are rushing to save the school from a giant moldy blob! (It reminds me a bit of Cream of Creature from the School Cafeteria by Mike Thaler.)

With plenty of sibling rivalry, a face-off of science versus magic, and the humorous commentary by Houston, this is a story that never leaves you bored. Great for readers who enjoy the Eerie Elementary stories or for those who want something with a bit of magic but are too young for My Sister the Vampire.

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

Fall Reading 2015 Nature Attacks! (I Survived True Tales #2)


Lauren Tarshis has assembled a second set of true stories based on her research for the best-selling "I Survived" historical fiction series. These four accounts cover the shark attacks of 1916, the Peshtigo Fire of 1871, The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, and a box jellyfish attack in 2009. Each encounter with a deadly facet of nature is centered around a young person and is based on carefully researched facts found in historical records (diaries, interviews, news coverage, etc.). I especially appreciate the way that the author includes extra information at the end of each story. She tells what life was like at that time and what other major events were going on - like the fact that the Peshtigo Fire and the Great Chicago Fire happened on the same date, or that Americans were preoccupied with World War I when the shark attacks occurred. She also includes safety tips for sharks and fires, tells about other dangerous creatures from Australia (besides the box jellyfish), and gives facts about wildfires, smoke jumpers, and volcanoes. If a reader's curiosity has been aroused by the story, she also lists her sources and places to go for additional information in the back matter.

Her books for the series continue to be wildly popular with young readers who generally become interested in learning more about the actual events after reading the fictional accounts. The "I Survived True Tales" books are just as popular and pull in the readers who prefer nonfiction, but enjoy having it told in a narrative style. This book and all the others are highly recommended for school library and classroom collections.

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

*We just added this to our library collection through our fall Scholastic Book Fair. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Monsters on the Run! (Yeti Files #2)

Monsters on the Run (The Yeti Files #2)

Those crazy cryptids are back for more fun. This time they start off with a quick game of image scrimmage between Blizz and Cousin Brian, in which we learn that even the toughest monsters can be defeated by a cute kitty. But as soon as Brian leaves, Blizz gets a call for help from Vanessa (also known as the Loch Ness Monster). So Blizz, Alex, Gunthar, and the dogs pile on their bicycles and travel to Scotland to see if they can fix Vanessa's problem. With the help of a leprechaun named Tobin Clover, our band of helpful monsters travels through time to find a solution for Nessie's dilemma. Some of them make new friends (like a lovely family of protoceratops), while others almost get eaten by a T-Rex. Eventually they do find their way back home and get some valuable information from Tobin. Of course, as soon as they start to relax, another call for help comes in. But that's just a typical day in the life of the world's foremost cryptozoologist.

Fans who enjoyed the first Yeti Files will be glad to see some favorite characters return. For those readers who haven't tried the series yet, this adventure is just as much silly fun as the first - so jump right in! It's great for those who love books with lots of illustrations like Big Nate or Diary of  a Wimp Kid.

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

* We just added this book to the library through our Fall Scholastic Book Fair.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 I Survived the Joplin Tornado, 2011 (I Survived #12)


As usual, Lauren Tarshis has done an excellent job of researching and putting together a fictional account of a famous disaster. This time she has tackled the Joplin, Missouri tornado of 2011. Her main character is Dex, who lives in Joplin with his parents (who both teach at the high school), and his dog Zeke. Dex happens to meet a storm chaser who is in town and they realize that the chaser, Dr. Gage, and Dex's father went to college together. Dex is very excited that his parents agree to let him go storm chasing with Dr. Gage. The storm chaser tells them that he is working on collecting data about the sounds that storms make as they form tornadoes and that Dex will be helping him launch the pods that collect the information. Although they keep an eye on the weather and the radar, Dex and Dr. Gage still manage to get pelted by hailstones. And then thing start to get really intense. I don't want to give away too many exciting details, so let me just say that what Dex experiences is probably as difficult as some of the training his brother Jeremy has gone through as a Navy SEAL.

Like all the other books in the series, this one has extra material after the story to help readers understand the actual historical event that inspired the author. There is a timeline, a list of questions and answers about topics in the story, and a list of sources for additional information. The author also explains why she chose to write about this particular bit of history and why she writes about disasters in general. She states, " books are about resilience - the ability most of us have to recover after experiencing something difficult or painful." So the stories are really about people, not disasters.

Fans of the series will be thrilled with this new title. If you haven't tried any of the I Survived books yet, why not give this one a chance? Once you do, you will probably be hooked like the rest of us.

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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Recess Is a Jungle! (Eerie Elementary #3)

Sam and his friends Lucy and Antonio are still at work protecting the other students at Eerie Elementary. They have learned that Orson Eerie built the school a hundred years ago, and that he found a way to become the school and live forever. Now he wants to swallow up the students of the school, but he has to contend with Sam, the school's hall monitor, and his friends and assistants. When a soccer ball rolls through a gap in the fence, they think nothing of going to retrieve it. After all, Orson only has power on the school grounds, right? But maybe there are still secrets that they have not yet discovered. And maybe those secrets can place them and all the students in terrible danger.

Facing fearsome swamps, conniving crows, tricky mazes, and playground equipment that comes to diabolical life, will Sam, Lucy, and Antonio make it back to school in time to protect the others? It takes courage, teamwork, and intelligence to battle Eerie Elementary - and these hall monitors have what it takes.

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

Fall Reading 2015 Attack of the Journal (Star Wars: Jedi Academy)

Although we've all been anxiously awaiting the next Jedi Academy book, this companion journal is a fun way to fill in the time. There are jokes, puzzles, story starters, pages to draw (even a lesson on how to draw an Ewok), comics to fill in the dialogue, places to write your own stories and comics, etc. All the characters from the Jedi Academy books appear on the pages of the journal. Sometimes Roan is explaining the activity, or Master Yoda is encouraging you to "Do or do not. There is no try." At other times, Ronald is telling jokes like, "Why did the Jedi cross the road? To go to the Dark Side." Short scenes from the books are used to illustrate the pages and inspire your creativity. Fans of the series will enjoy this journal and use it to help them wait patiently for Roan and his classmates to return.

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

Fall Reading 2015 Teen Boat: The Race for Boatlantis


If you think being a teenager is hard, try being a teenager who is half human and half boat. That's right, Teen Boat, or TB, is half boat and can transform from a teenage boy into a yacht. As he puts it, "I've survived choppy waves, white squalls, and even a pirate hijacking! But none of those things compare to the tempest that is high school." He has always felt like an outsider due to his unique ability, but when he hears about the Orca's Cup boat race, he is sure this is the chance to make everyone notice him in a good way. Perhaps he can even win the heart of foreign exchange student, Nina Pinta Snata Maria, the girl of his dreams. Of course, things are never that simple in life (even in a graphic novel), so there are all sorts of complications - his best friend Joey joins another yacht's team, his principal is urging him to cheat, he's stuck with the bully of the school as his team captain for the race, and he finds out that the trophy cup could actually open a way to Boatlantis. Yes, the lost city of Boat civilization may be accessed by the winner of the Orca's Cup. Could this be the chance to save the day, win the fair maiden, and perhaps even learn about his own ancestry? A boat's gotta do what a boat's gotta do.

For readers who enjoy comic stories, turning teen angst on its head, and silly word plays on nautical terms, this is a book to make you laugh out loud.

I received an advance reader copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Jasper John Dooley: Lost and Found


Jasper John Dooley is too irrepressible to resist. In this latest installment, Jasper's Nan has found a box of old toys that belonged to Jasper's father and uncle when they were young. Among all the things in the box, there is an orange plastic figure of Marcel Mouse. Marcel had his own television show and Dad and Uncle Tom watched it faithfully, singing the theme song and doing the little dance. Jasper immediately wants to wear Marcel all the time, just like Dad did. He learns the song and dance and teaches them to everyone in his class. Marcel hangs on a "so so long string" around Jasper's neck, except when he is sleeping or at school. And one day, there is a terrible accident with the lid of the toilet and the string. Now Marcel is lost. Will he ever find his way home?

These books are perfect for early chapter book readers - long enough to be a step up from picture books, but not long enough to be daunting. The stories are full of school,family, and friends. There are familiar things like each student having a turn to be the "Star" of the week, finding games to play at recess, and dealing with a friend's baby sister. The adults are loving and understanding, even when Jasper and his friends are singing and dancing and getting the whole class stirred up. His parents, grandmother, and uncle are openly affectionate and obviously care about Jasper and his happiness. All in all, Jasper John Dooley is as big a star as Marcel Mouse ever was.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The publisher's website has a page for the book, if you would like more information.

Summer Reading 2015 Penelope Perfect


As a bit of perfectionist myself, I understand how Penelope feels. When I was in elementary school, I often did extra credit work, even though I didn't need the extra points for my grade. I worried about my handwriting to the point that I pressed so hard on the pencil, it was impossible to erase mistakes. (My family bought me pencils with extra-hard lead so that I couldn't make such permanent marks on the paper.) Even in college, I made notes and outlined each chapter in the textbooks, completing the review questions even if they weren't assigned by the professor. Although I have lightened up a bit, I still remember how it feels to want everything to be perfect and to hate when things don't run smoothly.

Penelope is "Penelope Perfect" because she sticks to her careful routine, skips recess to make sure her assignments are perfect, and keeps to-do lists close at hand. But when there is a thunderstorm that knocks out the power, her alarm doesn't wake her at the normal time and her day if off to a horrible start. Can such a terrible day possibly have a good ending? When she rushes into class late, everyone stops and stares. And when she gets her first ever B on a paper, it seems like the end of the world. But maybe Penelope can learn something important from this disaster.

There are suggested activities and discussion ideas at the end of the book, along with a brief description of perfectionism from a psychologist's perspective. Parents and teachers who are trying to help a child deal with this issue will be grateful for the support of this story and the additional resources in the back matter.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Here is a press release with more details about the book. The author also has her own website.

Summer Reading 2015 Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children from the Holocaust


I seem to be reading a lot of World War II and Holocaust books lately. This one caught my attention because I heard about it in a webinar on nonfiction for children and young adults. Finding nonfiction about these topics that are age-appropriate for elementary school students can sometimes be difficult, so I was especially pleased to see a picture book account of Irena Sendler's efforts to save Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. 

As a social worker, Irena was able to come and go from the Ghetto and make contact with families there. Together with other brave people in Warsaw, she helped to smuggle hundreds of infants and children to safety with foster families, orphanages, and convents. Although she was caught and held for questioning for 3 months by the Gestapo, Irena never betrayed her friends or the locations of the children. Her "jars of hope" were jars buried in the backyard that contained the detailed lists she had made of each child's true name, their new alias, where they had been placed, and the names of their parents. With this information, children whose families had survived the war were able to be reunited with their loved ones. 

Children sometimes think that heroes can only be male, or very physically strong, or good fighters. They don't understand that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and genders, or that violence isn't the only way to "fight" against evil. Stories of real-life heroes and heroines such as Irena Sendler need to be included in library collections and classroom lessons so that students can experience them and find inspiration.

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

Summer Reading 2015 Stanley at School


I will admit that my first reason for adoring this book is that my friend, Lisa Queen, gave me Stanley's Party several years ago, so I was predisposed to like this latest adventure. Stanley is very curious about school. The building is just down his street and he sees the children going back and forth to it every day. But what are they doing in there all day? He discusses it with his friends at the dog park and they all decide to check it out for themselves. (The illustration of the four dogs trying to open the front door of the school will make you laugh out loud.) When they finally get inside, they are very concerned at how empty and quiet everything is. Where are all the children? What has happened to them? In their search for the children, they do find some other interesting - and yummy things. The mad chase through the school as they try to evade the custodian takes them through several rooms, until they all wind up on chairs outside the "top dog's" office.

Fans of Stanley will be glad to see that he hasn't changed at all; he is still the same lovable and inquisitive dog. His friends follow his lead and have a pretty good time doing so. The illustrations show the various dogs, Stanley's three companions and the others from the dog park, as a mix of sizes and breeds all busy enjoying life. The pictures also show the children in the school and their joy and laughter as the dogs invade an area usually off limits.

This will be a perfect back-to-school story to read-aloud to a class, or simply a book for dog lovers of all ages to enjoy together.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Check out the trailer for the book.

Summer Reading 2015 Sleeping Handsome and the Princess Engineer


Finally, someone has seen that a princess would be much too clever to play with pointy things if she knew she was cursed. But Prince Handsome just can't help himself, because he wants to be a knight so badly. The twist of having the evil curse and the tweak to the spell be cast by male characters is also a nice change. And, of course, in the "boys will be boys" tradition, it's a fellow prince who provides the pointy thing that causes all the trouble. It is humorous that the young prince's every move was recorded by a reporter and his camera, much like our own paparazzi that follow the royal families around. So it makes sense that after 100 years have passed, the area around the castle looks like something from the future. Much like the story of The Little House, a city has built up around and even over the castle, but Anya has an antique map and a tunneling machine. The ending is a bit like The Paper Bag Princess, but with happier results for Prince Handsome.

Anyone who enjoys fractured fairy tales and humorous retellings should try this out. It would be great for a unit on fairy tales or stock characters and how the roles can be altered to create something new. I would pair it with Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox for an hilarious compare and contrast session.

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

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarin

Markle's books always have such captivating photographs to lure the reader in, and who could resist the sweet faces on the golden lion tamarins that are the subject of this title? As she explains in her author's note, she heard about a reforestation project designed to help the tamarins survive in their native habitat and the more she learned, the farther back in time she went to trace the path of all the projects that had led to this happy ending. (There is a great timeline at the end of the book that shows each project.)

Instead of diving straight into the conservation efforts, Markle makes the story personal by focusing on a particular young female who is traveling through the forest trying to find a mate. The readers becomes emotionally attached to this young tamarin as she tries time and again to find a home, only to be driven off by existing family groups. And then she hears the call of a young male, only to find the path to him blocked by open cattle pasture that she cannot cross. Is she doomed?

Having hooked us, now the author goes back to the beginnings of the efforts to save the endangered species and walks us through the various projects carried out by zoos around the world, the biological reserves in Brazil, and concerned citizens and conservationists. After showing all the steps that led to the current situation, Markle goes back to that lone female and shows how these efforts have created a way for her to reach that potential mate and start a new family group.

As in all her books, Sandra Markle provides outstanding photographs, with details of the animals, their habitat, and the humans working to save them. There are also the timeline and author's note I mentioned, a glossary, "Did You Know" section, an index, and suggestions of where to look for more information. I also appreciated how the author related the success with the golden lion tamarins to ongoing efforts on behalf of the Bornean orangutan, the pygmy elephant, and the Malayan sun bear. Readers may be inspired to pursue careers in zoology or conservation to help with these and other efforts.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You can learn more about Sandra Markle on the author page on the publisher's website, or by visiting her blog

Summer Reading 2015 Keegans Point: Good Bad Guys Series #1

For readers who enjoy mystery, suspense, danger, and perhaps a treasure hunt - Keegan's Point could be your next favorite read. Keegan's Point is actuall the name of a private island that was home to a msyterious recluse named Marcus Keegan. The island is located just off the coast of Florida near a small town called Pine Bluff Key and has been part of local legend for years. The mystique has increased since Keegan's death 13 years ago. Rumor has it that there is a priceless jewel that will prove the identity of the heir to Keegan's billions. Over the years there have been many attempts to search the house for clues, but no one has ever been able to claim the fortune.


Charlie Parker is an eighth grader in Pine Bluff Key and has been seriously studying all the information he can find about Keegan's Point; visiting the local library to look at the original blueprints of the house reading all the news coverage in the archives, etc. He has chosen to use his knowledge as the basis for a report in class. The report is in his backpack when he is carried off by strangers who have come to town looking for the missing jewel - and Charlie gets to fulfill his lifelong wish of visiting Keegans' Point. Of course, he never imagined being held captive by jewel thieves who were breaking into the house and looking for the missing "rock." As luck would have it, Charlie's mother thinks he is spending a long weekend camping with friends and the friends think his mother has made him stay home, so no one will miss Charlie for three days. He only hopes he will still be alive when the strangers leave town.

The thieves are an odd mix of characters. There is Nick, who seems to be the leader of the group and actually treats Charlie in a semi-friendly way; Paulie is the demolitions expert; Monroe is an electrical wizard; and Zoe is Nick's girlfriend and seems especially scary and evil to Charlie. Somehow these four have insider knowledge about the house and the jewel, but Charlie also knows a lot from his research and Nick takes him into the house rather than leaving him tied up on the boat. Will they be able to find the treasure before the authorities realize they have broken into the house? Will Charlie make it back home to his mother? Does the "rock" even exist, or is all part of the legend of Keegan's Point?

There are plenty of moments when readers will be holding their breath, hoping Charlie comes through unharmed. And there are clues to unravel and piece together for the mystery lovers. Hidden motives and possible double-crosses keep the suspense high throughout the adventure. Perhaps you will even find yourself rooting for the bad guys as well as for Charlie. 

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

The author, H.D. Smith is best known for YA urban fantasy stories, but has written a second in the Good Bad Guys series which is aimed more for tweens and early teens.

Summer Reading 2015 The Dragonsitter


Fans of zany antics such as The Bailey School Kids, My Weird School, The Creature from My Closet, and The Imaginary Veterinarian will be pleased to know that another series is right up their alley. The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey kicks off the adventures of Eddie as he looks after his Uncle Morton's pet dragon. The book takes the form of Eddie's frantic emails to his uncle after the pet dragon has been dropped off for pet-sitting while Uncle Morton is on vacation. Each day that Morton is out of town, Eddie sends at least one email with attached pictures to describe the new trouble the dragon has caused. Things like singed curtains, stinky dragon poop on Mom's bedroom rug, and a hole in the refrigerator door, all cause Mom to threaten sending the dragon to the zoo or disowning her brother. 

After 6 days of mayhem (including a slightly toasted mailman and the fire department), Uncle Morton finally writes back. His silence for most of the week seems suspicious. He doesn't answer his email, he isn't at the hotel he left them as his destination, and they can't seem to track him down. Has he left the dragon with them permanently? Did he lie to them about where he was going so that they couldn't call to tell him about all the trouble? Has he been kidnapped? 

I would say that this would be a great read-aloud, because it is so funny and will have kids rolling in the floor with tears of laughter running down their faces. But I would hate for anyone to miss the illustrations of the dragon sprawled on the couch or of Mom holding a handful of bills for all the damage the dragon has done and all the groceries he has eaten. And Eddie's profile pics in each email are a great clue to his state of mind for each message.

Other books include The Dragonsitter Takes OffThe Dragonsitter's IslandThe Dragonsitter's Party and The Dragonsitter's Castle. And a new installment is coming in January 2016 - The Dragonsitter to the Rescue. If you haven't tried out any of the Dragonsitter adventures yet, you need to do so.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

For more information about Josh Lacey and his books, please visit

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 The Constitution of the United States of America: Modern Edition

I took my time reading this over the summer, referring to the definitions for unusual words, and looking over the explanatory notes.  (I'll admit that I thought I wouldn't ever need the definitions, and that they were strictly for young readers. But it was nice to make sure I was correctly remembering what an emolument was.) Dr. Bain has reorganized the text into small chunks that are easy to deal with and grouped all the relevant amendments with the original portion of the document that they refer to. This makes reading it and seeing how it has been changed and adapted over the years much easier. He has also noted which provisions from the original Constitution and the amendments have become obsolete due to time, or have been nullified by later amendments. The detailed list of contents is very helpful when you are looking for a particular details, such as "due process of law."

Now that school is back in session, I have placed this book on the "Teacher Resource" shelf in the library so that my colleagues who teach social studies/history may use it as needed. The fourth grade studies the early development of the republic and traces the formation of our government and such documents as the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and the Articles of Confederation which predated and influenced the Constitution. The fifth grade will be studying Women's Rights and the Civil Rights Movement, which also depends greatly on understanding the Constitution. I'm sure that this new format will make it much easier to use for instruction and learning.

I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher to review.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss

Actually, I've had this book for a couple of months*, but I didn't want my review to be lost too far in advance of publication, so I've held off on posting it. Toni Buzzeo has taken the story of field scientist Cynthia Moss and turned it into a wonderful narrative nonfiction that even the youngest readers can enjoy. The repeated emphasis on words like big, tall, high, far, enormous, and overwhelming, lets us see not only the size of the creatures Moss studies, but the scope of her project. The clever emphasis on these words in the text with a larger size font and dark red color will catch the eyes of young readers and have them eagerly looking for the next occurrence. (The repetition and variety of terms also lends itself to a wonderful lesson on synonyms.) The entire story is rich in vocabulary and perfect for using as a mentor text when teaching writing.

There has been an increasing demand for narrative nonfiction to use in English/language arts lessons and stories such as this with animals that children are naturally curious about and scientists who are out in the world interacting with those creatures are always popular with teachers and students alike. Following Cynthia Moss from her childhood through to the current day gives students a chance to identify with her and to think of what they may someday become as they grow up.

I love Toni's books and I can't wait to share this latest title with my students and fellow teachers. (*Toni had some extra f&g copies and offered them to librarians and reviewers to read and share.)