Bell, Cathleen Davitt. Little Blog on the Prarie.
I have to admit that I not only bought this book without reading it, which I rarely do, but I even included it in my "100 Great New Books" presentation in the fall. Luckily, I was not disappointed. This was fabulous fun!
Gen's mother has decided to bring the entire family on a two month "vacation" to a pioneer camp in Wyoming. Eschewing all technology and modern convenience, they will live as settlers did in 1890. This results in a lot of suppers of beans and grits, sore muscles from doing laundry, and general displeasure. Gen has smuggled in her cell phone and texts her friends, who in turn put these thoughts into a blog. When a morning news program decides to cover the story, secrets come out, Gen gets in trouble for her snarky posts, and the owners of the camp fear for its survival, until the news program comes up with a spin that will benefit them.
Strengths: Little House on the Prarie is a hard sell these days, but this might be a good way to get girls back into it. There are enough problems and rivalries that this is a good modern novel. The descriptions of prarie life and humor were great, the family dynamics realistic and interesting... this is definitely the best thing I have read in a long time.
Weaknesses: The blog portion of this was really very small, but it does make for a cute title.
Pierce, Lincoln. Big Nate Strikes Again.
Nate is back, and this time he is in an epic struggle with Gina, his arch enemy. Not only does he have to work on a Benjamin Franklin project with her, but she is on his ball team and generally annoying him. With typical verve, Nate tries to get his own way and survive middle school. Luckily, sometimes his deficits turn out to be positives, and he manages to save the day, especially when he brings his cartooning talent to the Franklin project.
Strengths: MUCH better than Wimpy Kid! Nate is a typical middle schooler who means well and doesn't always do the right thing, but he's not annoying like Greg Heffley. The pictures are much more visually pleasing, and the book format (with the exception of the horrible paper-over-boards binding) is very nice.
Weaknesses: This did not have as cohesive a plot as the last book; I liked that because it was easy for my struggling readers to follow. This was more convoluted.
Quimby, Laura. The Carnival of Lost Souls : a Handcuff Kid Novel
Nominated for the Cybils by Farrar Williams. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Jack Carr has been shuttled to various foster homes, and finally lands at one he is enjoying. Professor Hawthorne takes Jack's interest in handcuffs, magic and Houdini seriously, and the two get along well... until the professor exchanges Jack to the evil Mussini, a trader and traveling magician who inhabits the Forest of the Dead. The professor traded his own soul to Mussini years ago, and now that payment is due, he sends Jack off instead! Jack is determined to escape, but the forest is a scary place, inhabited by huge monsters whose job it is to prevent the children working for Mussini from escaping. This doesn't mean they don't try, and there's lots of action and adventure. A sequel is sure to come.
Strengths: Houdini is still of interest to students, and the magic act is compelling. Book format is good. This is different enough for a modern fantasy that it will find many eager readers.
Weaknesses: The free verse poems about Houdini are probably going to be passed over by most readers. The book started out strongly, but once Jack got to the Forest of the Dead, I actually started losing interest. Perhaps some tighter editing would pick up the pace.