Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Discovery Spaceopedia: The Complete Guide to Everything Space


Packed with excellent photos and facts, the Discovery Spaceopedia covers everything from the life cycle of stars to NASA technology that is now used on Earth. The organization makes it easy to find specific topics by using the table of contents or the "At a Glance" page that begins each section. There are plenty of helpful charts, diagrams, captions, and sidebars. Definitions of unfamiliar words appear in a small text box shaped like an open book. The back matter includes suggestions of science centers to visit and activities to try. 

One of the features that I thought was very helpful was the way comparisons were made. For example, the heat of the sun is compared to a hot summer day, a barbecue grill, and a volcano to illustrate the difference in the intensity of the heat. In another section, the rotation of planets is compared to things that spin such as tops or merry-go-rounds. The use of familiar objects as a basis for the comparisons makes them easier to grasp.

There will be something to catch the interest of almost any reader among the topics that are covered. Constellations, stars, planets, asteroids, rockets, space missions, astronauts, telescopes, the space really does cover nearly everything related to space. If a reader is most interested in black holes and supernovae, they are pictured and explained. or, if a reader prefers to learn about astronaut training and things like the "Vomit Comet" and coping with microgravity, that is covered, too.

Whether you read straight through from cover to cover, or sample here and there as something catches your eye - it will be an enjoyable experience either way. It is a great book for introducing concepts that will be studied in more depth, either by an individual or a class. I plan to add a copy of this title to my school's library.

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars


Sawyer and his friends, Elliot and Sylvie, are caught up in another adventure when Sawyer's grandfather takes them to Mars to search for Sylvie's missing father. Sylvie has seen a partial message from her father that included phrases such as "...held against my will..." and "Tell Sylvie not to..." Although she knows that her father is probably saying for her not to worry, she is very concerned and leaps at the chance to find him. Along the way they drop off some polar bears at an unexpected location, pick up a stranded traveler from Pluto, and finally get to see Sylvie's old apartment on Mars. But they also find out that there is a major soccer match between the Mars team and the Pluto team, which will be followed by a vote on whether or not to ban the Plutonians from the Intergalactic Soccer Federation. Since Pluto was demoted to the status of dwarf planet, its inhabitants are already angry with the Martians and the results of the soccer game and the vote could lead to riots, or worse.

You would think that being part stegosaurus and having plates down his back and a tail with spikes would be enough of a challenge, but Sawyer winds up playing a very important part in the crisis between the feuding planets. (I can't say more without spoiling everything.) Along the way are some surprising revelations about Sylvie's mom and dad, Sawyer's grandfather, and even Elliot. Sawyer does his best to work out a happy ending for his friends and his new acquaintances, even continuing with that trend when the kids return to Earth.

Besides being a funny story and packing in lots of action and suspense, other themes are also tackled. Sawyer is still dealing with his new status as a human/dinosaur hybrid and feels uncomfortable with all the attention he receives on Mars. Sylvie needs to resolve her feelings about her parents and their divorce. Elliot is trying to find his own identity besides just being the tall kid at school. There are also plenty of examples of how people feel about and respond to being excluded, illustrated by the extreme measures some of the Plutonians are willing to go to.

Despite the far-fetched elements of dinosaur hybrids or life on Mars (and other planets in our solar system), the Dinosaur Boy books show a lot about tweens trying to deal with family, homework, and friendship. A great addition to the chapter books in a school or classroom library, I highly recommend the series.

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Oddly Normal vol. 2


Oddly is still in the land of Fignation, where her mother grew up. She is staying with her aunt as they try to figure out what happened to Oddly's parents when she made her birthday wish and they disappeared. How can they find them and get them back? Her first time at the nearby middle school didn't go very well and several students seem to be out to kill her or at least scare into returning to the real world. In this second collection (issues #6-10), Oddly visits her new friends Reggie, Ragnar, and Misty and receives a birthday gift from the boys. It seems that their father worked for Dr Frankenstein and continued on with his experiments; Oopie is one of his creations and bonds with Oddly when she picks it up. As she starts her first full week at Menagerie Middle School, things don't seem to have changed much, but it is funny to see the kids who attacked her on the way home from school last week sporting bandages and crutches. Will those who are trying to get rid of her make another attempt? On a positive note, she does get invited to a Rocketball game that Reggie's team is playing. We will have to wait for issue #11 to see how the game goes.

Oddly's story shows the feeling of not belonging and being out of sorts that many tweens and teens experience, but she has very identifiable reasons for those feelings. After all, she is half-human and half-witch, she has pointy ears and green hair, no one from her school in the real world has ever attended her birthday parties, and she never got to meet any of her grandparents. It would be hard not to feel "odd" under those circumstances, and to perhaps wish for things to change. But she does have support from her new friends, her aunt, and her companion Oopie as she tries to get her parents back and repair her life. It is encouraging to see that she still has kindness and compassion for others, despite how she has been treated in the real world and in Fignation. These are great books for fans of comics and graphic novels of all ages. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas


Wild horses. Indian attacks. Buffalo hunts. Wagon trains. Imagine growing up in an era where those things still happened. Billy Cody moved with his family from Iowa to Kansas. His father hoped for a free state, but some folks in neighboring Missouri wanted another slave state and it caused enormous problems. There were vigilantes, border raids, ballot boxes were stuffed with illegal votes, and his father was stabbed by a man just for saying he wanted Kansas to be free. Although his father was not an abolitionist, the Cody family was persecuted and threatened repeatedly. It wasn't enough that his older brother had died after a riding accident, or that his father never recovered from the stabbing and died a few years later. Their crops were burned, cattle run off, belongings stolen, and Billy was the man of the house when he wasn't even a teenager yet.

Despite all the hardships, he also had a lot of adventures that he enjoyed, and the book captures those times, too. He herded cattle along the wagon trails, rounded up horses, acted as a scout and messenger, rode for the Pony Express, and served in the Union Army long before he ever formed his famous Wild West Show. Often we overlook the childhood of famous individuals, but Buffalo Bill Cody's younger years were what gave him the skills and confidence to put together a show that traveled America and Europe, even getting a bow from the Queen of England and impressing a young Winston Churchill.

The events are described using information from interviews, books, and other documents by Cody and his sisters. There are photographs of Cody and Sitting Bull, along with many illustrations from paintings and sketches from the time period of the events. Tying in the primary sources helps to ground a story that might otherwise seem unbelievable. 

For anyone who enjoys the "Wild West" or is interested in Buffalo Bill and his contemporaries such as Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, and Annie Oakley will be captivated by this retelling of the major events in Bill's life.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Seasons of the Freshwater Pond Biome


Love clear, detailed photos of nature and easy to understand text? Thinking of doing a unit of study or a research project on biomes with younger readers? You should try Rourke Educational Media's series. Each book features a different biome and shows how it changes through the seasons. Plants, animals, and weather are discussed and illustrated with photos that capture your attention. In Freshwater Pond Biome, you learn what qualifies as a freshwater pond, what happens at the pond during each season, and ways to help keep ponds clean and safe for the future.

Even if you don't plan to do research, these are written at a reading level that makes it easy to use them with students as young as second grade (reading independently), or younger if an adult is reading aloud. The length is perfect for lessons on finding main ideas and supporting details or learning to summarize a text. They are also good books to use in introducing the text features of nonfiction/informational text. A table of contents, index, glossary, bold print, captions, headings, and sidebars help make the information easy to find and use.

I received a sample copy of the book from the publisher.

Fall Reading 2015 Hey Jack!: The Bumpy Ride

Jack is so excited to go horseback riding. He imagines that he will have a fine looking horse and be a real cowboy. But when the class gets to the stables, Jack is given a sweet-natured pony named Betty. He is so sad about getting a slow and steady pony that the ride loses most of its fun for him. But then he finds out that Betty is a really great mount to help out his friend Billie when she needs a rescue. Maybe a cowboy doesn't need the biggest or fastest horse after all.

Do you have any children or students who enjoy hearing stories about Junie B. Jones or Ready, Freddy read aloud to them, but they are not quite ready to read a chapter book of that length on their own? Then Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack! are perfect for them! The same sort of real life situations and humor, but in a shorter format with more illustrations. These books are great for beginning chapter book readers. Don't worry that the boys won't like them, because Billie's friend Jack is in Billie's stories and has his own series, too.

I won a copy of the book in a giveaway by the publisher and can't wait to introduce it to my students.

Fall Reading 2015 Billie B. Brown: The Copycat Kid


Billie B. Brown is so excited to be chosen as the buddy for a new student in her class. She loves being there to help ease Mika's transition into a new school, especially since Mika does not speak much English. But when Billie comes to school the next day and Mika copies everything she does, the thrill is gone. Why does Mika have to dress like her and do everything she does? It's enough to make a girl lose her cool.

Do you have any children or students who enjoy hearing stories about Junie B. Jones or Ready, Freddy read aloud to them, but they are not quite ready to read a chapter book of that length on their own? Then Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack! are perfect for them! The same sort of real life situations and humor, but in a shorter format with more illustrations. These books are great for beginning chapter book readers. Don't worry that the boys won't like them, because Billie's friend Jack is in Billie's stories and has his own series, too.

I won a copy of the book in a giveaway by the publisher and can't wait to introduce it to my students.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum


Provoking red-eyed demons with itching powder. Facing down giant sea serpents with a bubble of fairy dust. Braving the possible wrath of Queen Nimue of Avalon. All of these sound like a list of things to avoid if one wants to live a long, healthy life. But the crew of Alistair Grim's Odditorium actually attempt all of them. Along the course of their latest adventure they encounter a crazed witch, Grubb's evil old master (Mr. Smears), sea serpents, demons, a long lost princess, mechanical sharks, a Gallownog, and a history professor. Then there are the odditoria (magical artifacts), including Excalibur, a transmutation dagger, a witch's wand, Merlin's map, and a demon buggy. Figuring out which of these will be friend or foe, help or hindrance in the fight against Prince Nightshade is not always easy. 

While the high-stakes strategy of their campaign to stop Prince Nightshade is being planned, Grubb still has the rather mundane job of getting to know his father. After believing himself an orphan for 12 years, you can imagine that becoming accustomed to having a parent is not easy for him. It has only been a few weeks since he met Mr. Grim and became his apprentice, now he has to learn to call him Father and they both have to figure out their relationship. There are also his lessons to be dealt with - magic lessons, learning to play the organ that controls the Odditorium, target practice with Nigel - it would be a busy life without the quest to find a magical sword and defeat an evil sorcerer.

Funaro has once again crafted a story that combines riveting action scenes, magical elements, and humor. Gwendolyn the Yellow Fairy acting silly and a bit tipsy from eating chocolate is one funny scene. The sentient pocket watch, "Mack" McClintock, is always good for a laugh. When his bravery is questioned, Mack says, "Let's show the numpty who wears the kilt around here." Just imagining a pocket watch wearing a kilt should make you smile. 

Readers of the first book will not be disappointed in the second installment. Those who have not read Alistair Grim's Odditorium may miss a few references, but there is enough explanation given to keep them from being altogether lost. Recommended for middle grades (and up), readers who enjoy action adventure mixed with magic and mechanical gadgets.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 The Last Bogler


It boggles the mind! Bogles in the laundry. Bogles in the chimneys. Bogles in the theater. Ever since Alfred Bunce, bogler and go-devil man was hired by the Sewers Office and the Metropolitan Board of Works to kill any bogles found lurking in the sewers, it seems that people are seeing bogles everywhere. With Alfred's original apprentice, Birdie McAdams now training as a singer, Ned Roach and Jem Barbary have taken positions as Alfred's helpers. Although bait might be a better word for it, since the children are what lure the bogles out of hiding so that they can be killed. That might not be necessary for long though, because the gentlemen who have been helping with charting the bogle sightings and trying to analyze the remains of the ones that are killed, are trying to find safer methods to deal with the bogles. In the midst of all this activity and possible progress, the group is still trying to deal with the criminal known as Salty Jack who wants Jem dead, Birdie's guardian Miss Eames has two possible suitors, and Alfred is researching the history of the spear that his bogling mentor gave to him.

I've followed this series from the first time I heard it described as Ghost Busters meets Charles Dickens. Each book is full of suspense, danger, the mysterious creatures called bogles, and entertaining characters. There's crusty old Alfred Bunce, Birdie with her amazing voice and spunk, Jem with his acrobatic ability and shady past, Ned and his loyalty and determination, and all their friends from the more genteel level of society. The descriptions of London during this time - the newsboys, pneumatic tubes being cutting edge technology, laundries still using hot closets like the ones I've seen at Biltmore House (or I suppose they have them on Downton Abbey), and gas street lamps - all create an atmosphere where it seems possible that bogles could exist.

If you enjoy ghost stories or series like Cornelia Funke's Ghost Hunters, tales of suspense and danger, or brave young protagonists, then you should read The Last Bogler and the earlier books in the How to Catch a Bogle series. 

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Battle of the Bots (Robots Rule! #3)


Our hero, George Gearing is back at work trying to retrieve the digitized forms of his parents from where they are trapped inside the equipment in their secret laboratory. Since much of the equipment was damaged or destroyed in the fight with Micron (see the second book, Lots of Bots, for details), George is forced to piece together replacements for many of the devices and he only has the contents of his uncle's junkyard to use for materials. Even being a child genius has its limits and when Micron contacts him and offers to help restore his parents to prove he has turned over a new leaf, George is terribly tempted.

I can't say much more about the story without giving away important plot points, but I can tell you that this final installment of the series is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The names of the characters always make me laugh - Mr. Cog, Dr. Droid, Mrs. Glitch, Principal Qwerty, Patrice Volt and the other residents of Terabyte Heights all tickle my funny bone with their tech-related names. And I love George's friends - his faithful robot companion Jackbot and his best friend Anne Droid. Together with Anne's robotic dog Sparky I think the kids could take on anything and come out on top, although a little help from grownups like Uncle Otto is always nice.

If you enjoy stories with robots and technical gadgets, cool stories about kids being able to work together and stand up to evil, or stories where a gigantic mechanical spider is terrorizing a town and vaporizing the citizens, then you should read this book right away. For those who haven't read the earlier books in the series, you have missed out on a treat and should indulge yourself with them to make up for it.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 Heroes of the Dustbin (Janitors #5)


Imagine a world where Toxites infest every school; these horrible magical creatures cause students to lapse into distraction, be disorganized, and create messes. The hordes of Grimes, Rubbishes, and Filths are only kept in check by dedicated Janitors and their Glopified cleaning supplies. (By the way, "glopified" is a technical term for items that have been treated with magic Glop to give them powers beyond the norm.) This state of affairs would certainly explain why so many students fall asleep in class, have a dazed look n their eyes during lectures, and can never find their homework.

Spencer Zumbro and his friends are fighting a war against the Toxites and their evil masters, the Founding Witches and corrupt Bureau of Educational Maintenance. The witches plan to rule the world, so they are keeping everyone ignorant through the infestation at all the schools, and training those who will run the world for them at a special academy kept free of the Toxites and their effects. With all the grossness - sorting trash to look for clues, jumping into garbage trucks, spit sponges, Thingamajunks (creatures made from trash), and other nasty surprises - it's a wonder that a germaphobe like Spencer can hold up under all the pressure. Spencer, Daisy, and the Rebels have been fighting against the witches and trying to find a way to stop them since the beginning of this series. Now, in book 5, it is time for a final showdown. Who will come out on top - the vastly outnumbered Rebels, or the witches and their army, led by General Clean?

Author Tyler Whitesides actually worked as a janitor at an elementary school to put himself through college, so he has firsthand knowledge of the stupefying effects of Toxites. If you enjoy humor mixed in with your action and also like stories where kids band together to defeat the bad guys, then you should try this series. Where else can you read about someone whose super power is to burp up dust-clouds? That's just not something that you come across every day.

Fast-paced, funny, full of danger and double-crosses, Heroes of the Dustbin lives up to its name.

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