Frazier, Sundee. The Other Half of My Heart.
From the author of the excellent Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It, this is another excellent book about multifaceted characters who also happen to be biracial. Keira and Minni are twins, but Keira looks more like her mother, who is black, and Minni looks more like her father, who is pale and red haired. They live in a predominately white community, so their grandmother thinks it would be a good idea for them to spend some time with her in North Carolina, participating in the Miss Black Pearl Preteen pageant. Keira thinks this is great, but is worried that her grades will be a detriment. Minni, who has wavy red hair and is often thought to be completely white, is uncomfortable with her light skin and starts to understand how difficult things have been for her sister. Spending time with their strict, uptight grandmother is not pleasant, but they start to understand more about her. The best part of this book is the consistent message from the girls' mother-- the girls are themselves, not a color or a label, and they each have unique qualities that they should embrace.
Richards, Douglas E. Trapped (Book 1: The Prometheus Project)
Nominated for the Cybils by Robin Prehn.
Review copy provided by Paragon Science Fiction.
Ryan and Reagan have moved to the most boring place on earth because of their scientist parents' new jobs. After overhearing their parents talking about some secrets going on, the two sneak over to where their parents work, break in using their parents' passwords, and find out that there is a massive alien city whose technology their parents' company is studying. When their mother is gravely injured, they have to investigate the city and find out a way to go back and prevent this from happening. Even though the company is reluctant to let the children into the city at first, once they save their mother, they are welcomed as apprenticed scientists, and the stage is set for the next two books, Stranded and Captured.
Strengths: There is a lack of straight science fiction that is more alien/spaceship based than futuristic dystopia. John Christopher fans will like this one.
Weaknesses: The writing tends to be didactic (the children have to figure out puzzles to get their parents' passwords, there is a lot of scientific description of things like why ice floats), and there is a little too much emphasis on the adults in the story.
Bladek, John. Roll Up the Streets.
Nominated for the Cybils by Lisa Barker
Review copy provided by Kane Miller
Jake moves to a new town where his parents have jobs at Mr. Rumbleguts' factory. Jake, and his new friend, Sammie, seem to be the only ones who realize that the two stinks. As in, smells really bad. The two track the source of the odor to glowing yellow goo that seeps out from beneath the streets, and find that it is a biproduct of Rumbleguts' corndog and Planet Janet doll factory. No one else seems to be bothered by this, except their teacher, Ms. Frampton, who warns them not to eat the corndogs but has a run in with Rumbleguts' goons and then seems to think the corndogs are great. There is a weird and devious plot afoot, and it's up to Jake and Sammie to figure out what is going on.
Strengths: I liked Jake and Sammie, and this fell on the middle school side of the Pilkey Line. (On one side of Captain Underpants, the humor is elementary, on the other, middle school.) There were a lot of good laugh-out-loud lines, and there is always a demand for goofy mysteries.
Weaknesses: The goofy narration (complete with footnotes) got to be a little wearing for me. This would have succeeded more if the plot had been goofy, but not the names.
Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Cosmic.
Nominated for the Cybils by Eric Carpenter.
For some reason, this author's Millions and Framed did not do it for me, so I was a little leery of this. Turns out, however, that I may have to go back and pick up the other two books, as this was great fun. Liam is tall for 12 AND is sporting some facial hair, so he gets into all sorts of trouble, almost taking a car for a test drive and generally be thought of as a man of thirty. He uses this to his advantage when the DraxPhone company has a contest for fathers who want to take their children to the ultimate theme park-- he enters and claims that his friend Florida (with whom he sometimes hangs out at the mall, pretending to be her father!) is his daughter. He has one of the winning entries, so tells his parents his school is going on a long field trip, and is whisked off to China with Florida... and ends up going in a real rocket. Of course, the Drax Corporation isn't necessarily using the children for good, but they aren't overly evil, and everything turns out okay.
Strengths: Liam's perspective of the world of adults was hilarious. I especially liked how he uses the book "How to Talk to Your Teen" to study up on how to act like a father.
Weaknesses: This dragged in the middle for me, when there was a competition among the fathers to see who would go up in the rocket. Since we already know that Liam is chosen, I just wanted to get on with the story. Also, this would have been a stronger story if there had been more emphasis on the space trip rather than Liam's ventures into the world of adults.
D'Amato, Jennie. Barbie: All Dolled Up.
There has been a huge demand for Barbie books in my library recently. No idea why. The Dorling Kindersley book is fine for the pictures, but this had more in the way of historical development of the doll, which I liked. I know, I know. Barbie is evil. So why is it that we can't look away? Warning: this does contain some small pieces of paper like a replica of the Barbie fan club letter, and these are apt to get lost. If you need a Barbie book, this is a good one, even though it made me feel old. Barbie just turned 50, and I vividly remember getting the Sweet 16 Barbie for Christmas!
Keenan, Shelia. Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People.
This 112 page hardcover appeared in my Scholastic book fair and was quite an excellent history of domesticated pets. Well-illustrated, there aren't a lot of words on each page, so it's really not that long. It covers pets in general, and then has sections devoted to cats, dogs, pocket pets, and exotic pets as well. This will be a great addition to my "fun" nonfiction section that gets a work out every year when the 8th grade teachers assign their nonfiction project. A good addition to any middle school or elementary collection where pet books are popular.