Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America

If you enjoy the gross and gory, perhaps you should consider a future working in bacteriology - you might get to do the exciting job of examining rats and their fleas for traces of plague. That would have been a big possibility if you were working for the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco during the early 1900s. But that is not where the story starts. Jarrow traces the plague back to Constantinople in 542, and shares all the theories of how, when, and why it spread from one place to another through Asia and Europe, before it eventually reached North America. It's amazing how much progress was made in identifying and treating the disease from the mid-19th century on. Readers may see parallels between the terror bubonic plague caused in the past and diseases today such as Ebola. But readers may also be shocked at the way in which politics and racial prejudices made the containment and control of the disease a difficult proposition in San Francisco 100 years ago. 

The author takes great care in laying out the timeline of the plague's spread through the ages, as well as describing how it was treated (or not), and the number of deaths associated with it in each epidemic. Primary sources such as newspaper headlines, photos, editorial cartoons, and historical images of other sorts to illustrate popular reactions to the epidemics. Quotes from these materials are used to bring the historical figures mentioned in the narrative to life. In the back matter there are a glossary, timeline, author's note, bibliography, and sources for further information. The book is the final in a trio of Deadly Diseases - the other two are Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat and Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Readers who find this type of documentary of medical subjects may wish to find the other two books.

The text is clearly organized and easy to follow - maintaining a balance of facts and of establishing the context for the events. The numerous primary sources show everything from tombstones of plague victims, photos of medical investigators, and illustrations from periodicals with popular opinions. These images make it much easier to visualize the different eras, the victims, and those trying to save them. The book seems much shorter than it really is because the story captures the reader's attention. The style is reminiscent of Jim Murphy's historical works such as The Great Fire.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 The Slowest Book Ever


"If you think slowly enough, the entire world can be amazing." That statement should have you pausing to ponder it, and then diving in to enjoy this book full of slow facts. Sayre has gathered thoughtful bits of information about a range of topics from the slowest animals on Earth to slow phenomena in outer space and lots of things in between. I enjoyed reading about giant sequoias, the Methusaleh tree, and the subjective nature of time. Some of the facts were very funny such as the idea that hummingbirds are actually some of the slowest animals. Sure, they move their wings really quickly, but they are hovering; they don't actually go anywhere. Some explained situations that happen all the time, like why I seem to want a snack every day around 9:30 (it's those 90 minute cycles our systems go through). And some made me want to try it for myself, like her experience with

Whether you read it from beginning to end, or skim through and read whatever catches your attention, it is an entertaining and enlightening book. Books that give you ideas to think over aren't always this much fun. Recommended for trivia nuts, science lovers, folks who enjoy records of all sorts (slowest animal, slowest rock erosion, etc.), reluctant readers, and fans of the author. As she says in closing, "The universe is expanding...and expanding... Will your mind expand with it?" It will if you read this book.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Parents for Sale


It's a common enough story - a family gets a pet which the children promise to care for, but then the parents wind up doing all the work. Luke and Lucy's parents are tired of walking Pistachio, the dog, and tired of frequently reminding the children to fill her water and food bowls. Although the kids beg and plead, their parents decide to sell Pistachio to a family that will care for her properly. But Luke and Lucy decide to sell their parents instead. The "For Sale" sign they put in the yard attracts plenty of attention, but also causes some unexpected problems. Will the family come to a happy solution to the problem?

Dr. Nicole has taken this commonplace story and given it a unique twist. It's not just the decision to sell their parents that is unusual, but the final person who responds to their sign is very unexpected. Each of the children who wants to buy the unfortunate parents has a different reason for wanting a new mother and father, which helps to illustrate the fact that no family is perfect. Young readers can take away from this book lessons about responsibility and being wary of strangers, but they will most likely remember the humorous parts best.

The audio book version has two narrators, one male and one female, so that the parts for each character are voiced by the same gender. (That isn't always the case, so it is a nice touch.) The narration is at a comfortable speed for young readers.

I received e-book and audio book copies from the author for review purposes.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Bad Luck (Bad #2)


Games of Capture the Flag played in the vog (volcanic smog). A library full of ancient books, grimoires, and artifacts. A cruise ship with wonderful Jello parfaits. Yes, this all fits together in this second book featuring Max-Ernest's younger brother, Clay and his fellow Earth Camp residents. The kids are still at the secret camp for young magic users on Price Island. When Clay finds a boy washed up on the beach, he helps him to shelter and agrees to keep the boy's presence a secret. The castaway is named Brett and has fallen off a passing cruise ship, which now anchors just off the island and sends in search parties. But are they looking for Brett, or something else?

There are plenty of secrets besides the camp itself. Where is junior counselor Flint always sneaking off to, and why? What are the sisters Leira and Mira always arguing over - do they really both have a crush on Clay as his cabin mates believe? And who made the cave drawings that they find? Are they pictures of dinosaurs or dragons? The camp humor of using a stinky sock as the team's flag for the game, playing tricks on people during meals, and kids rolling their eyes at the adults, are just a part of early teen life. But the added ingredient of magic moves the story into the fantasy genre, with kids who can see the future, start fires, talk to animals, and other abilities. And then we mix in the bad guys with the SWAT gear and explosives, the rich guy under the sway of his evil but beautiful girlfriend, and the desperate rescue mission that the campers launch. There's something for everyone - magic, humor, action, suspense, and the return of familiar characters.

Great for middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Putter and the Red Car: A Cross-Country Family Adventure


Books about dogs and cars are always popular with young readers. This has the bonus of being the story of a family road trip that is narrated by their dog, Putter. The trip takes place as the family moves from Boston, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington. The stopping point for each day's journey is given, and any famous sites along the way are pointed out. Putter also enjoys telling us about the "firsts" that he experiences on the trip - his first time in a hotel, first time in an elevator, and first time inside a real tipi are all shared. He also tells some of his favorite parts of the adventure such as having a hamburger for lunch, visiting a friend in Chicago, and getting to push the buttons on the elevator. He also mentions the disappointment of heavy rain preventing them from seeing Mt. Rushmore as they pass through South Dakota, and many of us can sympathize with similar experiences during a vacation or visit.

For families who are preparing for their own move to a new home, this would be a wonderful story to use for dealing with fears about the move. It would also work well to introduce some of the things that may take place during a long road trip - staying in hotels, eating out, spending hours in the car each day, etc. I can imagine a class studying geography and mapping out the trip across the United States, or a math class calculating the distance traveled each day. Students might be inspired to create their own stories about moving to a new home or taking a long trip. Whatever the setting, home or school, students will enjoy Putter's tale and hearing about the journey from his point of view.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2016 Quick, Little Monkey!


In a story that reminds me of Stellaluna (by Janell Cannon), we meet Little Monkey. She travels through forest, swinging on vines, leaping onto branches, while clinging to Papa's back. He teaches her how to hide from black hawk-eagles flying overhead, ocelots stalking through the trees, or emerald tree boas slithering along the tree limbs. Little Monkey has a close call with several predators when she slips from her hiding place and falls to the forest floor, the suspense keeps us turning the pages breathlessly to see how things end.

Sarah Thomson has created an introduction to the world of pygmy marmosets that shows the habitat and dangers. She also shows the care and protection given to the young monkeys by their parents, especially their fathers. Lita Judge's pencil and watercolor illustrations show the thick branches and ropy vines, the brightly colored butterflies and birds, and the wide-eyed curiosity of the little marmoset. The return of Little Monkey and Papa to the rest of the marmosets, with the beautiful parrots flying overhead, is a triumphant scene.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. Curious City DPW has a wonderful STEM story hour kit for the book.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Winter Reading 2016 Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market


Poems describe the various produce available at the farmers' market accompanied by acrylic and collage illustrations. Families of various types of animals are buying and selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Each page features something different from tomatoes to watermelon. Whimsy is woven throughout the collection in a way that is sure to have readers laughing. For instance, a hippo and giraffe dressed as pirates are examining a treasure chest full of farm-fresh eggs, while on another page animals peek out of portholes in cucumber submarines. The description of okra as "mouse-sized swords" with "fuzzy sheaths" will surely produce chuckles. And the first poem welcoming everyone to the market and the last poem describing the closing of the day frame out the whole collection nicely.

The pairing of text and illustrations works perfectly together to bring the imagery of the words to life. It may even tempt some young readers to give a few of the vegetables a try out of curiosity. Teachers will find it an entertaining way to introduce poetry or descriptive writing to elementary-age students. Similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia all appear within the book. I must warn you that the animals having such fun spitting watermelon seeds may encourage kids to do the same.

I received a book from the publisher for review purposes.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library. 

Winter Reading 2016 Space Boy and the Space Pirate


Niko is busy reading a story while he and the rest of his crew are resting by their spaceship. He invites his cousin Sasha to take a ride in the ship, but she is snatched away. Oh, no! Niko and the crew must get her back at once. With his copilot Radar and his faithful dog Tag, Niko takes off after the space pirate. Even after the long journey to Planet Zorg, the brave crew still have to face Pirate Posh. How will they free Sasha from their fierce enemy? Niko's spaceship is constructed from cardboard boxes. His copilot is actually a toy robot and the space pirate is only his cousin's friend. (Tag really is a dog) But with the power of his imagination, Niko has them all flying through space, tracking across a wild planet, and facing down an evil pirate. And when Posh tells Sasha, "Let's delete ourselves from this story," Niko refuses to give up control of the narrative. "It's MY story!" he tells her.

The illustrations show the transition from reading in the backyard to starring in this daring adventure. Once the rescue begins, Niko and Tag are shown in spacesuits, the ship is suddenly real rather than cardboard, and Radar is moving around and checking the ship's systems. And then, once the trip is over and Niko is called to dinner, everything is back to its original appearance. There is also plenty of humor worked into the illustrations. The dolls that the girls are playing with "trigger bad memories" for Tag, and in his thought bubble we can see the girls dressing Tag up as if he were a doll. At the end of the story we see Radar sitting in the ship next to a doll that has been left behind, and there is a heart in Radar's thought bubble. But my favorite may be the double-page spread of Niko and his crew spacewalking back to Earth after the pirate steals his ship. Radar has flames coming from the bottoms of his feet, Tag has a rocket pack on his back, and Niko seems to be holding his breath with his cheeks puffed out. What determination! 

This is a perfect story for children who enjoy make-believe and outer space. It could also be used to help someone deal with disappointment when a playmate prefers another friend. I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Dorothea's Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth


Have you ever seen the iconic photo of the migrant mother? Dorothea Lange took that photo and hundreds of others, but she was not always a photographer. As a child she noticed things - faces, shadows, patterns, buildings - there was plenty to see in New York. When she tells her family that she pans to be a photographer they don't understand. It isn't ladylike to mix chemicals, carry around heavy equipment, and spend her time with strangers. But Dorothea knows what she wants and finds work in photography studios, learning everything she can for five years. She move to San Francisco and starts her own portrait studio, but then the Great Depression hits. Her love of faces leads her to make photos of bread lines, tent cities, in twenty-two states she takes these pictures for five years. Her photos make the plight of these people known to everyone and help convince politicians of the need for programs to help them.

The back matter contains some of Dorothea's photos and more details about her life and work. There is also a bibliography, further reading suggestions, and a timeline to help out those who are interested in learning  more. The text of the book does a wonderful job of focusing on Dorothea's interest in people from her childhood through her whole life, and the connection she made with those she photographed. I love the period details in the illustrations such as the clothing, the cars, and even the cameras that Dorothea uses. It would be fun to bring in cameras from various time periods and let my students see how they have changed as technology improved. Kids today don't really know about film and dark rooms and box cameras.

I highly recommend this to classrooms, libraries, and anyone interested in famous women, the Great Depression, or photography. I read a copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Winter Reading 2016 Fearless Flyer


Fans of aviation history, rejoice! Here is another wonderful picture book about Ruth Law and her daring flight from Chicago to New York in November 1916. Those who are familiar with the Reading Rainbow book, Ruth Law Thrills a Nation, already know the basic facts of Ruth's journey. She began by flying aerial tricks and entertaining crowds, but she also studied her plane and knew how it worked and the meaning of every sound it made. When she decided to try her record-making flight, she wanted to buy the latest Curtiss airplane, but Mr. Curtiss thought it was too powerful a machine for a woman. Undaunted, Ruth simply made modifications to her own trusty biplane.

The author narrates the events with plenty of details, but keeps the reader entertained along the way with her descriptions. What really brings the story to life are the amazing illustrations by Raul Colon. From the swooping loops of her air show tricks to the crowd and marching band waiting for her in New York, everything comes to life through Colon's pencil and crayon creations. The back matter includes archival photos, a bibliography, source notes, and suggested collections and websites related to Ruth Law. This is perfect for a lesson on aviation, women's history, technology, and setting records.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle


It's wartime London during the Blitz. What parents wouldn't be glad of the chance to send their children to a school housed in a remote castle in Scotland?  There will be fresh air, plenty of food from the farm (in spite of rationing), and the children will be safe from the bombs. But things aren't always what they seem, and neither are people. When Kat arrives with her younger brother and sister and a young American named Peter, something feels off about the place and it's mistress, Lady Eleanor. The castle seems to rearrange itself and purposely mislead the children when they try to explore. All the adults appear to be walking around in a fog. And there are children who are not part of the school, but the students see them around the grounds and also see them disappear without an explanation. As logical as Kat is with her penchant for puzzles, math, and clockwork, even she begins to suspect that there is something supernatural at work. Can they solve the mystery before it is too late?

This is an entertaining mix of wartime intrigue (Nazis, spies, wireless radios),  enchantments (magical chatelaines, ghostly apparitions, nightmares), and charms or spells in the most unlikely phrases. The children are typical sorts - the younger boys who are glad to have a castle to explore and swords to play with, the younger girls are eager to play dress up, and there is a boy from a wealthy family who is insufferably snobby. Kat herself is very practical, but finds young Peter a possible ally. The ice-cold Lady Eleanor is reminiscent of the "other mother" in Coraline, and just as creepy and insidious.

Fans of historical fiction mixed with fantasy will enjoy the suspense and thrills of Rookskill Castle. Perfect for middle grade readers and up.

There are a book trailer and clip of the audio book available to give you a taste of the story. And Curious City DPW has created an event kit to use with the book.

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

Winter Reading 2016 Strike at Charles' Farm: Greve a la Ferme de Charles


There have been several stories of animals on strike or refusing to carry out their customary duties. Karma Wilson's Animal Strike at the Zoo, It's True!, Chris Babcock's No Moon, No Milk!, and Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo all show animals bargaining for everything from electric blankets to the moon. In Dr. Nicole's story, Strike at Charles' Farm, every animal from the cart horse to the bee has stopped doing its job. When Charles gathers them in the barn, they all make their demands. The dog wants quieter sheep to tend, the cat wants more mice to eat, etc. Rather than haggling over terms or giving in to their requests, Charles simply suggests that they might have better luck if they lived in the zoo. That sets things straight in a hurry and soon the farm is back to normal.

The illustrations show each animal refusing to work, so even beginning readers could guess at the meaning if they don't recognize all the words. As with Dr. Nicole's other book, Are You Eating My Lunch? the text is in both French and English, making it handy for ELL or foreign language classes in elementary schools. I especially like the details in the illustrations that add extra humor to the situations. The dog ignores the sheep, so they are playing leapfrog and forming towering pyramids like professional cheer leaders. The cat won't chase the mice, so there are a pair of mice dancing on top of a picnic basket behind the cat's back. Those little extras will give parents and children something to look for and laugh over as they read together. (I especially like the rooster imagining himself surrounded by admiring hens while he wears dark glasses as if he is a movie star.)

This story could be used in an ELL or foreign language class because of its bilingual text. It could also be used along with some of the other books I've mentioned to discuss fairness, responsibility, and how workers bargain for improved conditions or wages (in a very simple introduction to the topic). 

I read an e-book provided by the author for review purposes. For more information about the author and her other books, please visit (English site), or (French site).

Winter Reading 2016 Are You Eating My Lunch? Manges Tu Mon Lunch?


Xavier has a problem. He is visiting the zoo and his lunch goes missing. Where can it be? Carefully, he goes from animal to animal, asking each of them, "Are you eating my lunch?" To his disappointment, each animal tells him that they are eating what one would expect them to - the goat has hay, the seal has fish, etc. Finally, he comes across the zookeeper eating at a picnic table. "Are you eating my lunch?" Xavier asks him and waits to hear the answer.

In a style reminiscent of Are You My Mother? or Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? the story follows a pattern that makes it easy for early readers to pick up on it. Once they sense the pattern, they may easily draw clues from the pictures to help them reason out the words. Because the text is in both English and French, it would be a perfect book for ELL readers or for a class in elementary school teaching English to French-speakers or French to English-speakers. The illustrations are bright and clear, and easy to understand. 

This would be a good addition to elementary classrooms, ELL programs, and school libraries. It would also be a pleasant story for a parent and child to read together. Children would have fun creating their own version of the story featuring animals of their own choice, and then creating the illustrations. 

I read an electronic copy provided by the author for review purposes. For more information about the author and her other books, please visit (English site) or (French site).

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Winter Reading Alex vs. the Four-Headed Gargantuan


In the grand tradition of superhero comics everywhere, Alex vs. the Four-Headed Gargantuan shares the story of an intrepid hero who braves the weather, a vicious yapper-snapper, and even a gang of teenagers to make sure the newspapers are delivered to his customers. Alex is a typical suburban kid who decides to take a paper route and earn some spending money. He loves the growing pile of cash, but worries that the gang of older boys always hanging out down the street will beat him up and take his hard-earned money away from him. In his head he imagines himself as a fearless superhero who can take on any danger and come out on top. But when he actually confronts the posse, he is in for more than he imagined.

The story is told in a mix of narrative and comic panel illustrations, making it similar in style to books such as Diary of Wimpy Kid and Big Nate. This book would actually appeal to even younger readers than those series because it is a much shorter story. Its length combined with the illustrations will make it very popular with reluctant readers, too. The lessons Alex learns about earning and saving money, and about making assumptions would be good talking points for a class discussion.

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

Winter Reading 2016 Just Like Me

Just Like Me

"Mom insisted that "someday" I'd look back and be thankful for this chance to make my friendship with Avery and Becca something special. Not likely." Julia is not all excited to be sent off to summer camp with Avery and Becca, or to be part of an article on international adoptions. Her mother thinks it is a wonderful idea for her to have bonding time with the other girls who were adopted from the same orphanage, so Julia is at Camp Little Big Woods for the week. She would much rather be with her best friend Madison at their park district's craft camp and has no interest discussing what she, Avery, and Becca have in common. To make matters worse, the other girls in their cabin in their cabin don't seem to get along with anyone else and have some sort of rivalry with Avery and Becca from last summer. It's really not much to write home about. Arguments, name-calling, bad sportsmanship, and other troubles seem to be the way they will spend their entire week. Will they ever be able to find a way to get along?

The narration of the events that take place between the girls is enhanced by the entries into Julia's journal. In those private thoughts we see the doubts and questions she has about her birth mother, questions she has never admitted to anyone. All the while we are watching the campers bicker and struggle to form a working team, we also see Julia's inner struggle with her origins. The journal gives her a chance to ask the questions that she has never asked her adopted parents, for fear they would be hurt by her curiosity about her birth mother. Inspired by the adoption of her own daughter, Nancy Cavanaugh has created a story that deals with friendship, family, and what creates the ties between us. 

I've been a fan of Nancy's writing since I read her book Always, Abigail. This book has many similarities to that one, including the importance of relationships and the use of writing by the characters to help advance the story. This is a wonderful book for middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction. 

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Time for (Earth) School, Dewey Dew


Fans of Tedd Arnold's Huggly will see a kindred spirit in Dewey Dew. Poor Click-Clack Waddle-Waddle Dot-Dot Dewey Dew does not want to go to school, and it's not just the usual reluctance of a child starting school. It's much worse because he has to get in the space ship and go all the way to Earth to attend Ms. Brightsun's School. It's enough to make his eye dorfle (which looks suspiciously like crying with his one big eye). In much the same way that Huggly looks comical dressed in human clothes, Dewey Dew has trouble with the t-shirt that doesn't fit him right in any direction, his oofs are pinched in the Earth shoes, and the Earth socks are all on droopy on his hunklets. The students are colorful and noisy. The classroom routines are strange and scary. How can it be "ootay" as his mom promised him it would be?

This is perfect for a read-aloud on the first day of school, or as part of a lesson on how hard it is to adjust to a new culture. Being the new kid is taken to an extreme that makes it easy to smile and read along knowing that things just have to work out. Students may decide to create their own eight-words-long names in the style of Dewey Dew's, and they will laugh over the alien words he uses for things like feet and ankles. Readers can look for other funny details in the illustrations such as the astronaut flashing a peace sign at Dewey Dew and his mom as they fly past Space Station Zoomalot.

Fun for all ages, but especially recommended for the early primary grades.

I received an advance copy for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Winter Reading 2016 The Knowing Book

A mixture of Goodnight Moon and Oh, the Places You'll Go! is a good first impression of The Knowing Book. A young bunny goes out into the world and sees the sky overhead, something that will always be there. Journeying over hills and through thunderstorms, looking out at the sea or across a valley, watching clouds or flying a kite, the bunny learns important lessons. Phrases like "there is a magic around you but it hides," or "don't be too busy to slosh in a puddle" share some of the knowledge that the bunny gleans. And at the end of the journey, home is waiting under that same sky. 

This is a book that defies an age limit. Younger readers may enjoy it as a bedtime story. Older elementary-age readers may imagine themselves taking a similar journey and collecting shells, climbing a tree, or gazing at the stars. And adults may decide to give copies to loved ones celebrating a graduation. No matter the giver or receiver, the lyrical quality of the text and the gentle pen & ink and soft watercolors of the illustrations are homey and soothing.

Teachers, librarians, and parents immersed in children's literature may recognize the author's name from several recent books including - Lemonade Sun and Grumbles from the Forest. Illustrator Matthew Cordell's work includes Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters and Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Highly recommended for school libraries, classroom collections, and everyone else.

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

Winter Reading 2016 Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown


Nick and Tesla are still trying to find their parents and find out who is after them. Agent McIntyre and Agent Doyle are still monitoring the kids and leading the investigation into the disappearance of their parents. Frustrated with the refusal of the agents to tell them what is going on, the kids come up with a way to eavesdrop and learn that the spy who had posed as a new neighbor escaped after the agents arrested her. Rather than being worried about what the agents are saying, the kids and Uncle Newt should have been worried about their own safety. Nick, Tesla, Uncle Newt, and their friends Silas and DeMarco are kidnapped by the bad guys and taken to a hideout in the middle of the desert. How in the world will they contact anyone who can come to the rescue? Lucky for them (and for us), they are good at making gadgets.

This series continues to entertain readers with a mix of friendship, adventure, danger, geeky gadgets, and humor. In the latest story they make a Guaranteed-not-to-Explode Frankfurter Heater-Upper, a Ping-Pong Ball Signal Cannon (I have got to make one of these), a Solar Spy Birdhouse, a Solar-Powered Long-Range Rover, and a Sun-Activated Alarm Clock/Villain Distractor. Of course, directions and a materials list for each project are included in the book. 

Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy spy stories, geeky gadgets, or mysteries featuring kids. The books in the series are a comfortable reading length, and the cool projects make them perfect for young scientists or makers. This and the other stories featuring Nick and Tesla would make wonderful additions to a classroom collection, school library, or public library and makerspace. I can imagine a combination STEM club/book group reading the series together and making each gadget as they reach its description.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Happy Anniversary to :01 Books!

First Second Books is celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, much to the delight of those of us who are fans. They have so many wonderful authors and illustrators in their catalog, including the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature - Gene Luen Yang. If you haven't tried out their titles yet, you simply must do so. My students love Gene's work, as well as Zita the Space Girl books, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula, Adventures in Cartooning, and Ben Hatke's books like Julia's House for Lost Creatures and Little Robot.

Here is their January reading list:

And their February reading list:

And their entire catalog:

They have so much to choose from and we can look forward to much more in the future. Hooray!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit: Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective #1


Miranda "Randi" Rhodes is no ordinary kid. Her father writes mystery novels featuring the character Glenn Street, a smart female detective who puts the bad guys away and says, "Game over, loser." Since her mother's death last year Randi has been using the persona of Glenn Street to solve mysteries around their neighborhood in New York. But now her dad has sold the brownstone and moved them back to his hometown of Deer Creek, Tennessee. Randi is pretty sure that she will be bored to death before school starts in the fall, but she's wrong. Soon after they move in, there is major theft in the small town. And there are plenty of suspects - the cranky owner of the fishing supply shop, the greedy banker, the smarmy mayor, the man who just purchased the run-down cabin on the edge of town, the kid who keeps following people around...Who could it be? With her Tae Kwon Do and detective skills, plus some help from a new friend or two, Randi will do her best to solve the mystery and save the town.

This is a wonderful middle grades story. There are scares, laughs, friends, enemies, several mysteries, and great characters.

Winter Reading 2016 Ava XOX


Ava loves words. She collects palindromes, words like her name that are spelled the same frontward and backward. She enjoys jokes and riddles, rhymes, and vocabulary. And she loves to write. Her story is told through her diary entries as she records her experiences and thoughts. In this book, Ava is having some serious difficulties. Her friend Chuck now has a girlfriend and Ava thinks she may possibly wish she were dating Chuck (instead of Kelli with the sparkly headbands). Then, when she makes a poster of tips for healthy living, some of the older girls at school take the tips as a personal insult and things get really tense. What can a well-meaning 5th grader do when she is misunderstood like that?

The situations are all true to life and deal with things like teasing, bullying, jealousy, crushes, worrying about your weight and other things that kids have to handle every day. Ava's family is depicted as supportive, but not perfect. She even mentions that her mom is not the ideal movie mom that always knows the right thing to say. And she rates some of her dad's "meatless Monday" recipes with rather low scores.

For readers who enjoy realistic fiction and stories with school, friends, and family situations, Ava is entertaining and you might even pick up a tip or two about healthy eating habits or word games.

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