Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ridin' Dinos with Buck Bronco by George McClements

I recommend this book for: preK-grade 2

When you work with kids, you learn pretty quickly what they like: animals, things that go, pirates, cowboys, and dinosaurs. This fun picture book takes the last two and combines them to make a story about a cowboy and dinosaurs - who wouldn't love that?

Buck Bronco was astonished to find some "loco-lookin' eggs" in his field that turned out to be dinosaur eggs. This book is his how-to guide for the proper care and riding of dinosaurs. Full of fun facts, such as the difference between a biped (better for speed) and a quadruped (more comfortable), and what herbivores and carnivores eat, it's a great blend of silliness (make sure to check that dino's feet for foreign matter like sticks, stones, and puppies!) and tidbits of information that dino lovers will adore. The format of the book is fun, with collages of smiling dinosaurs, helpful diagrams, and labels to help you identify different dino species and pieces of riding equipment. There is probably too much reading for the youngest dinosaur fans, but I think kids 4 and up would get a big kick out of this one!

More reviews here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm and Elicia Castaldi

I recommend this book for: grade 5 -8

This book is so cool! Ginny is in 7th grade and experiencing a period of changes: her mother is getting remarried and her older brother is on his way to becoming a juvenile delinquent, just to name a few of the major problems. The story is, as implied in the title, entirely told through "stuff": notes Ginny and various members of the family leave for each other, receipts from stores, bank statements, newspaper clippings, correspondence from school, IMs with friends, and entries from Ginny's journal all mesh together to tell the story. The pages are all put together in interesting ways and colorful, fun to look at and take in all of the details. One of my personal favorites was the English composition Ginny writes about a big change in her life - the advent of a stepfather, and how his presence makes her brothers think it's okay to leave the toilet seat up. Her perspective is witty and her bad luck is funny but makes it easy to sympathize with her. A great choice for reluctant readers or those who just want something quick and fun.

Reviews that are better than meatloaf.

Friendship According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

I recommend this book for: grades 2-5

Humphrey is the adorable, doted upon class pet of room 26. He also has a few special skills, such as the ability to read, write, understand human speech, and get out of his cage (which is probably the least amazing, as my hamster accomplished the same feat at least once a month when I was a kid . . . but I digress.) When Humphrey returns from winter vacation, there are a few surprises in store - there's a new girl in the class AND a new class pet! Og the frog seems pretty unfriendly, but Humphrey is determined to give being friends with him a try, despite his own jealousy at all the attention the newcomer receives. Humphrey also works hard to help his other, human friends in the class deal with their problems - a bully on the bus, a mean stepsister, and a fight between two best friends, among others.

This is a cute story - sometimes almost too cute. Humphrey's antics and narration are way over the top, but fun to read about, and he does a great job of explaining vocabulary like "psychology." One thing that bothered me is that I never found out what grade the children were in -although I didn't read the first book, so I may have missed it there. Those are minor complaints, though, and I will definitely be recommending this book to animal lovers and kids looking for something funny to read.

Did the pros like that hamster in the window?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

This book marks another first: my first Gail Carson Levine book! Somehow I missed her when I was younger, and I clearly have a lot of catching up to do!

In the kingdom of Ayortha, Aza is an innkeeper's daughter who is ashamed of her looks - she is too tall and too wide, and people always stare. Her compensation is that Ayortha is a kingdom of singers, and her voice is among the most beautiful. Her life changes when she gets an opportunity to attend the wedding of the king and the new, stunningly beautiful queen singles Aza out to be her lady in waiting - but there's more to Queen Ivi than beauty, including the tendency towards fits of jealousy, complete inability to rule effectively, extreme vanity, and a very interesting magic mirror . . .

I somehow missed before reading this book that it was a new take on the Snow White story (one of my favorites!), so I was pleasantly surprised by the twists in the tale. Levine's characters are well-drawn and interesting, particularly zhamM the gnome (gnomes capitalize at the end of their words, to be exact) and Aza herself. A great, engrossing story for fans of fairy tales and those wise enough to know that looks aren't everything.

Professional reviews, or reviews by professionals, to be exact

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe

I recommend this book for: grades 3-5

Ida May is pretty sure she's not going to have fun in fourth grade for many reasons: she'll have to write in cursive, the math teachers will make her multiply and divide, and worst of all, her best friend moved away, and the only person who will really pay attention to her is Jenna Drews - and she only invites Ida over because her mother makes her. But on the first day of school she discovers that there's a new girl named Stacey who seems really nice. Ida wants to get to know her, but she's determined to not make another best friend who will just end up moving away and abandoning her. But, she eventually decides, there can't be any harm in leaving her a note . . .

This is a fun story about friendship in the fourth grade, with all the changes and insecurities that come with that year. Jenna is the ultimate in elementary school mean girls, and the parents are as clueless about that fact as many of them must be in real life . . . Ida and Stacey are well-rounded, interesting characters, despite the fact that neither of them feels like they're interesting enough for the other to want to be friends. A very enjoyable book.

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

Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

Justine's whole family is Jewish, but they do it in different ways. Her Bubbe (grandma) keeps kosher and walks to services every Saturday, while her other set of grandparents belong to a country club that serves all kinds of foods outlawed by the Torah. Her parents only attend services twice a year, and they and her siblings had a major meltdown when Justine announced that she wanted to keep kosher. It seems so much simpler to be Catholic like her best friend, so Justine decides to give up being Jewish for Lent.

Things I liked about this book: Justine's keen observations, such as realizing that sitting next to a cute boy in church can be distracting, so perhaps that's why men and women sit separately in the synagogue. Her guilt over what happens to Bubbe, a Holocaust survivor, seemed a bit over the top to me, but fairly believable for a child having a crisis of faith. I also enjoyed the priest and rabbi characters, who managed to fly fairly free of stereotypes. And, either I'm getting to be a total wimp when it comes to emotional books, or the scenes involving Justine and her special relationship with Bubbe were extremely touching, because I was crying through this book too!

Read it from the pros.

Mercy Watson Fights Crime by Kate DiCamillo

I recommend this book for: grades 1-3

Okay, so it isn't every Kate DiCamillo book that makes me cry! Mercy Watson is a pampered pet pig (her owners would prefer that she be called a "porcine wonder") with a sweet tooth for buttered toast. In this book, her third adventure, she hears the toaster rattling in the middle of the night. Sure that someone is making toast, she makes her way down to the kitchen, only to find a very short cowboy stealing all of the kitchen appliances! Hilarity and appearances by characters from the other books ensue, including the old ladies from next door, the police, and the fire department. As in the other books, Mercy ends up saving the day, even if all she was really after was a midnight snack. Great fun for early readers!

Professional reviews here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blaze of Silver by K.M Grant

I recommend this book for: middle and high school, fans of horse books who have outgrown The Black Stallion and Marguerite Henry's books

And so the de Granville trilogy (which began with Blood Red Horse and continued with Green Jasper) comes to a close. These are interesting books, and I'm glad I read the whole trilogy, but they don't go on my favorites list. The first volume concentrates on Will and Kamil, two young men on opposite sides of the battle lines of one of King Richard's Crusades, both of them with a deep and abiding love for one horse. The second is more about England's troubles in Richard's absence and other domestic woes, such as the girl who Will and his brother both love being kidnapped and held against her will. And Blaze of Silver wraps up all of the loose plot threads. Will Will and Ellie ever really be able to express their feelings? How long can Kamil stay in England? Will they be able to get the ransom to pay for Richard's release? What's the deal with the Old Man of the Mountain, and will he really be able to find Kamil and exact his revenge? This is a nicely realized historical novel. The ending isn't happy for all of the characters, but it is satisfying, so I definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoyed the first two books, but there's so much going on that anyone starting out with Blaze would be pretty hopelessly lost.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Mr. and Mrs. Green by Keith Baker

I recommend this book for: K-3

Mr. and Mrs. Green books are gems for early readers who can handle a good bit of reading but aren't quite ready for chapter books. The two crocodiles have a wonderful relationship, they're funny, and the books are colorful and appealing. In this adventure, they go fishing, paint pictures, and go to the park - topics with kid appeal, and the twists Baker adds on means these alligators rock!

Read it from the pros!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Jinx by Meg Cabot

I recommend this book for: high school

Jean is cursed with the nickname of Jinx, and that's not all - bad things happen no matter where she goes. As the novel opens, she is on her way to New York City to move in with her rich aunt and uncle's family to escape a stalker at home in Iowa. She's been enrolled in a snotty public school with her cousin Tory, and not only does she not fit in - she attracts Tory's hatred and a cute neighbor's admiration almost as soon as she arrives. Oh, and did I mention that Jinx and Tory had a great great grandmother who was burned as a witch and foretold that someone in their generation would inherit her powers?

This was - dare I say it? - my first Meg Cabot novel. Premise? Awesome. Execution? I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. I enjoyed the storyline, but I really could have done without Jinx constantly hinting at what was so horrible that happened in Iowa without giving any new information. The other thing that really annoyed me was how often she repeated to herself that she and Zach were just friends - both themes were explicitly stated too many times, I felt like I was being hit in the head with them. Overall, the story was pretty enjoyable, but I don't know that I'm feeling too inspired to read more Cabot just yet.

Points for parents: The setting of this book is a posh private school for spoiled rich kids who do drugs and sneak off to the boiler room during free period for extra human anatomy lessons . . . but it's not explicit, and the characters who do these things are the ones who are recognizably evil - Jinx and Zach are pretty much squeaky clean.

But it got much nicer reviews . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

I recommend this book for: preK-grade 2, and girls of all ages who love to dress up!

Oh, how I love love love Nancy! I love this book so much that I'm going to be Nancy for Halloween! She likes things to be fancy - ballet shoes that lace up her legs, glitter and feathers, and using fancy words like parfait instead of ice cream. But poor Nancy is the only fancy one in her family - her parents and sister are so plain that they don't even get sprinkles on their ice cream! Then she has the great idea to teach them how to be fancy, and her parents play along and go out for a very fancy dinner.

I can't express the hilarity of this book. Robin Preiss Glasser's illustrations are absolutely perfect - my favorite is the one where Nancy's family in all their finery bursts through the door of the local pizza joint. All of the other customers are staring with their mouths wide open because, as Nancy says, "They probably thought we were movie stars." If you haven't already, go read Fancy Nancy - it'll make your day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

I recommend this book for: grades 4-5

Books about toy rabbits make me cry. Or maybe it's just books by Kate DiCamillo . . . Edward Tulane is a very fine-looking china rabbit who's very proud. Even though the little girl who owns him loves him very much, he's too wrapped up in himself to return her love. But then an accident tears Edward away from her and he realizes how dark and cold the world can be. His various adventures take him to different people who love him - and he eventually learns to love them in return. This is not a book for every reader, but for those who can appreciate the miracle of learning to love, it will be an unforgettable experience.

Other thoughts.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up
Leo's small highschool in Mica, Arizona doesn't know what hit it when Stargirl arrives. She's been homeschooled up until 10th grade and marches to her own drummer - or more accurately, to her own ukelele playing. Her clothes come from every time period except the current one and she does everything she can to be nice to everyone. She's gawked at, becomes wildly popular, and is shunned during the course of the story because of how different she is from everyone else. Leo is in love with her, but can he handle everything that comes with being Starboy?
A great story that portrays the popularity scale of high school - how wildly it can swing back and forth, and especially how it affects relationships. Stargirl shines as brilliantly as her name, and although Leo ultimately disappoints, you understand why he does it. My favorite character was the retired archaeologist who taught informal lessons on prehistory and life to whoever showed up on his back porch. Not a happy ending, but a worthwhile read.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford and Valorie Fisher

I recommend this book for: grades 3-5

This is a book with an intriguing concept, and although I didn't love it, I thought it was okay. Moxy has to read Stuart Little before the first day of school, and the first day of school is tomorrow! She's spent all summer avoiding the poor little mouse, and even though her mother has demanded she read it before she does anything else, Moxy has plenty of other great ideas - like cleaning her room and planting a peach orchard to finance her college education - to keep her away from it. Clever, yes, but I found the narrative voice a bit irritating, almost condescending, particularly at the end. Although a very accurate and funny portrayal of how a child trys to avoid doing someting she doesn't want to do, I feel like the book was written more for adults to giggle at and nod their heads than for kids to appreciate. An aspect I really enjoyed were the photos (supposedly taken by Mark, Moxy's brother) that illustrated the action of the day, even though they did look far too perfect. In all, not one of my favorites, but still pretty good.

But hey, I'm just a cynical reader of teen lit, what do I know?

Wendy by Karen Wallace

I've always loved the Peter Pan story in all of its incarnations, so I was excited to find this on the shelf. It's a story that takes place in Wendy's life when she is 9 years old, so right off the bat there's the downside of no Peter. This tale is much darker - Wendy does associate with a young man who will never grow up, but it's her friend Thomas, a 15 year old mentally retarded boy who lives in the country and turns out to have a much closer relationship to the Darlings than anyone has admitted. Mr. Darling is an alcoholic with money troubles who has an affair with a neighbor, and Wendy and her brothers are subjected to the cruel treatment of a nanny who punishes them with castor oil for the smallest offense. Some things are very interesting, such as teen neighbor Esther and her involvement with the suffragettes, but I mostly found the novel lacking. Sadly, I don't think I could recommend this to fans of the book or the movies because it lacks the charming qualities, and I'm not sure who else would be interested.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up

What's worse than your mother dying or your parents getting divorced? That's right - acquiring, through no fault of your own, an evil stepmother. Alice, Reena, and Molly all find themselves in the position of watching their fathers marry crazy women. They also all find themselves attending a posh New England boarding school - Alice and Reena because their parents decide it would be better for them to be out of the house, Molly to escape the stepmother who wants to put her to work as a full-time babysitter. The girls initially struggle to make friends and despise one another, but when they find out their common bond, they form a group called the Poison Apples, determined to take back control of their own lives and make those wicked witches married to their fathers pay!

I love love loved this book. The package is fantastic, from the cover art to the pages edged in red, so that it looks like you're reading an apple. The three girls, who each narrate alternating chapters, have distinct and funny perspectives on life. Another fun aspect of this book is that it has the rich kid boarding school atmosphere, but the drama is much more innocent than that of Gossip Girls, for example. This one goes on the favorites list!

But if you don't believe me . . .

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

I recommend this book for: middle school, with some reservations

I had mixed feelings about this book. It seemed at first to be a typical middle school problem novel: Kirsten's parents are fighting and her best friend has ditched her to hang out with the popular girl, who is also evil. Walk is a black kid starting at an almost all-white school.

I definitely liked the characters, and the way they interacted seemed very true to life - for example, I wanted to strangle Brianna when I found out the reason Matteo was wrapped around her little finger, and I completely bought it.


I hate it when people spoil books, but I'm not sure I can convey my concerns about the book without ruining the shocker in the middle. I'll just say this - I work in a fairly conservative community, and I can see parents being upset by Kirsten's father's big secret. It certainly caught me way off guard, and it completely blew my suspension of disbelief. It actually made me think more of a soap opera and distracted me from all of the other wonderful character interactions in the book.

Maybe it's just me?