Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

I recommend this book for: middle school

Alex Rider is 14 and lives with his uncle because his parents died in an accident when he was younger. Then two police officers show up at 3 am (never a good sign) to tell him that his uncle has also died in a car accident, because he wasn't wearing his seat belt. That sounds fishy to Alex, so he does a little investigating and finds that his uncle's death wasn't accidental at all, and that he died because of bullets, not his own carelessness. Ian Rider was a spy with MI6, and now the agency needs Alex to finish his mission.

Over the top? Of course, but loads of fun. Alex is just realistic enough as a teenager to get away with ridiculous stunts like entering his uncle's office by swinging from a flag and escaping a car that is inside the crusher in a junkyard. The goons hired by the bad guys are typically terrible shots, and MI6 and Ian Rider combined miraculously supply Alex with exactly the equipment and training he needs to fulfill every contingency of his mission. For young James Bond fans, or anyone who likes a nice light adventure, this is fantastic, and I especially recommend it for younger teen boys. Also, this is the first of a series, so Alex Rider could keep them reading for quite some time.

Survey says . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

I recommend this book for: grade 4-6

I LOVED this book. It begins with Boowie, a British boy in the present day who has a fantastic relationship with his grandmother, Lily. When she sends him the diary she kept during WWII, the narrative switches to her voice, and the story she tells is indeed amazing. One of the untold (at least, I've never heard it) stories of the war is that several coastal towns in England were forced to evacuate so that the Allies could practice their landing for Normandy - aircraft, mines, live ammo and everything. Although Lily's grandfather refuses to leave his farm at first, all of the people get safely away - but Lily's beloved cat Tips is nowhere to be found. Harry and Adie, two black American soldiers befriend Lily and promise to look out for the cat, but they're in a lot of danger themselves, even before they travel to France.

This is a lovely look at the war and what it meant through the eyes of a 12 year old girl. Lily's only personal loss is that of the cat, but her father is away with the engineers, her teacher loses her husband, and a boy who has been evacuated from London stays with her family, so she does have personal experience with the effects. I thought it was beautifully written, and the ending where the narrative goes back to Boowie and Lily in her later years has a very sweet and fitting surprise ending. Probably not a book for everyone, although the war aspect might draw some boys in, but definitely worthwhile for the right reader.

Or, see what real reviewers think.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pieces of Georgia by Jen Bryant

I recommend this book for: middle school and up

Oh, this one was a winner! Georgia is on the at-risk list at school, but she doesn't do drugs like most of the others on the list - she lives in a trailer with her father and has frequent stomach pains ever since her artist mother died. Georgia was 7 at the time. Now she's 13 and a budding artist herself - something she tries to hide from her father because it pains him to be reminded of his wife. She has only one good friend, other than the horses in the stable where she works. But then some wonderful things happen - Georgia receives a membership to an art museum as an anonymous birthday gift, her art teacher enters her in a contest for a special art program, and her counselor tells her she won't have to come to those awkward sessions for a while, under the condition that she keeps a journal. The novel takes the form of this journal, written as free-verse poems addressed to Georgia's late mother. I thought it was beautiful and uplifting.

Hey, the pros agree! Other reviews.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

I recommend this book for: mostly those under the age of 10 (and Dads of any age)

I love Eric Carle, and this is one of the reasons why. Monica sees the moon in the sky and decides she wants to play with it, so she asks her father to go get it. Papa gets a very long ladder (you have to fold out two pages to see exactly how long!), goes up to a very tall mountain, and waits for the full moon to get small enough to carrry. Monica plays and dances with the moon until it disappears entirely, but then it reappears in the sky and starts to get bigger, and bigger . . .

It works on so many levels! The fold out pages are really fun, the illustrations are gorgeous (as always with Carle), it shows the cycle of the moon, and tenderly portrays the relationship between the father and daughter. I read this book one night in a small storytime where only 2 dads had come - both with their daughters - and it was a beautiful thing.

Don't believe me? Read other reviews.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

I recommend this book for: high school

Colin, a child prodigy who's starting to feel that he's past his prime, graduates from high school and is dumped by Katherine on the same day. Even more devastating, this is the 19th time he's been dumped by a girl named Katherine. His best friend Hassan convinces Colin and both sets of their parents that what they need is a road trip, and they set off from Chicago to end up in Gutshot, TN. Colin and Hassan get jobs interviewing former employees of a tampon string factory (oh, the randomness!) for a local history project, and Colin begins working on a mathematical formula that predicts how a relationship will turn out. Oh, and he also meets an intriguing Lindsey . . .

I found this book to be hilarious, in a nerd humor kind of way - there are lots of jokes in the footnotes, Colin and Hassan are both pretty sarcastic, and there's a lot of humor in Colin's lack of social skills. Colin also has a gift for anagrams, and there are many clever ones throughout the text.

A few things that keep me from recommending this for middle school are the complexity, the language (although the f-word appears relatively rarely, Colin and Hassan are constantly using 'fuggin' as a substitute - even though it does have literary merit . . .), and one brief sex scene which is more comical than explicit. I don't think it's anything a high school student couldn't handle - I'm pretty conservative and I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

But don't take my word for it . . .

Monday, May 7, 2007

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (illustrated by Marla Frazee)

I recommend this book for: grades 1-3

Hilarious! Imagine a slightly older Junie B. Jones, and you'll sort of get the idea, but Clementine is her own character. Her grammar is better than Junie's, but her attitude is worse, and her brilliant ideas are always getting her into trouble. In the book she makes several trips to the principal's office (watching for ceiling snakes while there), dyes her best friend's hair as well as her own interesting colors, helps her dad fight a pigeon war, loses her best friend, almost gets kicked out of her house (well, okay, not really, but she thinks so, and that's almost the same thing) and wins her friend back again. It's fantastic, and several pages had me laughing out loud to the point that I attracted unwanted attention in the staff lounge. Highly recommended!

Don't believe me? Read legitimate reviews here.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Give Me Liberty by L.M. Elliott

I recommend this book for: well, nobody, really - it's a 4th to 5th grade reading level.

This is another summer reading book for my system, and I was not a fan. I was intrigued by Nathaniel, the main character in the beginning - a young indentured servant in colonial Williamsburg, just as things are starting to heat up. However, the book is disappointingly didactic - many characters spend time quoting patriots directly, and there are contrived situations (such as Nathaniel finding Thomas Jefferson's runaway horse) that exist just to bring the boy in contact with famous historical figures. Ben, an apprentice in the same shop where Nathaniel works, only speaks original dialogue about half of the time - the rest of the time, he's quoting from Jefferson or Patrick Henry.

The book illustrates the division between the loyalists and the patriots very well, and it does include interesting tidbits (such as how Jefferson won his wife's heart by playing the violin) and a nice look at the life of an indentured servant, but I think the presentation falls short of being fantastic. I've struggled to get 3/4 of the way through, and I doubt I''ll finish.

Disagree? So do the legitimate reviews.

The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell

I recommend this book for: grade 4-6

This is a book I read because it's on our summer reading list, and I heartily approve the choice on this one! Sam, an 11-year old dying for adventure, is not looking forward to spending his Easter holidays at Great Aunt Roberta's house while his parents attend a conference. Luckily, they surprise him with allowing him to stay with the slightly batty Professor Ampersand, an inventor who also has charge over his young teenaged niece and nephew, Zara and Ben. The three children become fast friends, and it's a good thing, because they're going to go through a lot together! An old friend turned enemy, Professor Murdo, kidnaps Ampersand and five other professors who once all worked together, trying to build a university in the far north. Murdo attempted to kill them all once by leaving them exposed to the elements, but some great secret allowed them to get safely back to civilization. Now, he is working on his evil project again, and he wants to eliminate the 6 professors who might stand in his way. Sam, Zara, and Ben have only one clue to follow to save the professors - a map and some code words. Can they survive the trip to the Arctic and save the professors, not to mention the world?

This was a really fun read - I can see why it was nominated for the Black Eyed Susan award this year. The adventure is implausible, but it has enough to detail to make it seem possible, and the unique characters are fantastic. I especially liked Nika, the one-armed Russian girl who won a high-tech submarine from a mob boss in a game of canasta and can drive anything. It should appeal to boys and girls, as the characters of both sexes are strong and interesting, and the adventure is creative and shows that kids really can do anything!

Don't believe me? Read legitimate reviews.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

I recommend this book for: middle school

Disney characters come alive at night! The Pirates of the Caribbean (and we're not talking about Johnny Depp here) come alive and run amok! Those little dolls in "It's a Small World" try to kill people at night (I knew it!) Haven't you ever wondered what goes on in the Magic Kingdom after the gates are closed? Finn and 4 other middle schoolers get to find out in this story. The five teens are DHIs - they were recorded as holograms that appear all over the park and give tourists information about the various attractions and Disney history. But there's more to being a DHI. Every time they go to sleep, they find themselves in the park, and it isn't nearly as kid-friendly as it should be. Evil Overtakers are working to take over Disney and beyond, and the DHIs are Disney's first line of defense against them.

This is a really cool concept, and from the co-author of Peter and the Starcatchers, I expected great things. Sadly, I was disappointed. A lot of the adventure sequences were really fantastic, and even the characterizations weren't bad, but there was a lot of unexplained material. How did Amanda get involved with everything, and what on earth happens to her and Jezebel after Maleficent is defeated? Are there more Overtakers, or was Maleficent the main one? Middle schoolers who are fans of Disney will probably enjoy this, and I am going to booktalk it this spring because it does have a lot of good points, but it doesn't go on my list of favorites.

Don't believe me? Read legitimate reviews.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

This is quite possibly the best teen book I've read this year - and I have a lot of favorites. Twelve-year old Percy Jackson, a student with ADD, dyslexia, and a bit of an attitude problem, begins to notice strange things happening to him. For example, his algebra teacher tries to kill him on a field trip, and that's just the beginning. Percy (short for Perseus) is a half-blood - the son of an ancient Greek god and a mortal woman, and that means he has inherited the abilities of the mythical heroes, as well as their aptness to be attacked by monsters. Percy's mother manages to get him safely to Camp Halfblood, where the children of the gods learn the skills they need to survive in their world, a mixture of the ancient and modern civilizations.

Unfortunately for Percy, he's at the center of controversy even among other halfbloods. Zeus is furious that his lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. With his friends Grover (a satyr) and Annabeth (a daughter of Athena), Percy goes on a quest to retrieve the bolt and convince Zeus that he's not such a bad guy after all. On the way they meet with other gods and monsters and find out what they're up to, which results in hilarious scenes. For example, Dionysus has finally been cut off by Zeus, and he's reduced directing the camp and slurping soda instead of reveling in groves all the time.

Percy's narrative voice is hilarious, as can be guessed just from glancing at the chapter titles: "A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers," "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom," etc. I used this book for the first meeting of a middle school book club at my branch, and 6 young teens came - a respectable number for any teen program here, especially one that doesn't involve electronics- and amazingly, 4 (yes, 4!) of them were boys! Middle school boys like this book enough to show up and talk about it! Yes!

Don't believe me? Read legitimate reviews of this book.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Beginning of the Blogging

Here's my new ambitious project - and just in time for my annual performance evaluation, yay! I've been encouraged to keep a reader's advisory notebook to keep track of the things I read - in this line of work, it's good to keep those things fresh, of course, and as a person with a memory like a sieve, I have a hard time remembering details about books I read last year. So I kept my little reader's advisory file on a floppy disk (it just takes so long to write things out by hand in a notebook!). And then the floppy disk died. It was okay though, because I had most of my files backed up on my flash drive - which I promptly lost. And so the idea of the book blog was born - for Krystel frequently forgets things, breaks things, and loses things, but surely she can't forget about, break, or lose the Internet! (That previous statement is probably tempting fate - I assume no responsibility for any subsequent memory loss, breakage, or loss concerning the Internet.) As my memory is jogged and I finish books, reviews will magically appear!