Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cats, frogs, birds and goblins

Epstein, Adam Jay and Jacobsen, Andrew. The Familiars
Nominated for the Cybils by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

Aldwyn is a street cat who gets caught by a bounty hunter and mistakenly adopted by a young wizard's familiar. He manages to keep his secret and starts to train with his owner, Jack, and the familiars of two other children, Gilbert (a frog) and Skylar (a bird). When a previous ally of their teacher becomes evil, kills him, and abducts the children, the familiars must fight against her to win their children back.

Strengths: This was a good paced, tradition fantasy. Pictures were okay, print size and book format was good. Writing is clear and descriptive.

Weaknesses: Light on plot, the story relies heavily on very descriptive turns for every monster the familiars encounter. This odd style made it seem more like a novelization of a tv series-- and when I got to the author description in the back, I found that the authors are indeed screenwriters and this has been optioned for a movie. It will be easy to adapt.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Elliot and the Goblin War.
Nominated for the Cybils by Ruth Barshaw (review copy provided by Sourcebooks)

After saving a girl (who turns out to be a Brownie) from bullies (who turn out to be goblins)who were taking her candy on Halloween, Elliot finds himself in the odd position of having been made the Brownie king after Queen Bipsy perishes and tells her followers to name their own replacement. The Brownies are at a loss about how to effectively fight the goblins, and Elliot draws on his inner reserves to help them with the battle. There is a lot of adventure and odd situations, and the fantasy world that Elliot must keep from his family is full of characters with names like Fudd Fartwick. The narrators voice is strong and constantly telling Dear Reader that there is danger in continuing to read the book.

Strengths: The writing is brisk and the situations darkly humorous. This would probably go over well with younger readers (3rd-4th grade) or students who are enamoured of Lemony Snicket.
Weaknesses: The overly precious tone ("Dear Reader,m you may wonder why I haven't said anything yet about a character in this story names Diffle McSnug.") will make this a difficult book for older readers to take seriously.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh, and I was supposed to read, too?

Well, I did read, just not much in the way of young adult books. Guess I needed a break from reading 2-3 science fiction or fantasy books a day. Also, I have an exteme dislike of getting on the computer at home!

Maberry, Jonathan. Rot and Ruin.
Nothing says "holiday" like a zombie apocalypse! Benny is living with his much older brother, Tom, because on First Night both of his parents were turned into zombies. No one knows exactly why, but lots of people were turned, and they bit people who then were also turned into zombies. Some 14 years later, society is operating in a very limited way. Benny must find a job in order to keep getting food rations, and tries several things before deciding to go into the zombie hunting business with his brother. At first he is disappointed because his brother kills zombies quietly and humanely, at the request of families who seek closure. He then starts to understand, and gets drawn into the convoluted world of fighting zombies. When his best friend is kidnapped by evil zombie hunteres, he uses his new skills to save her.

Strengths: Middle schoolers love zombies. The cover is great, and the story was interesting.
Weaknesses: At 458 pages, this is going to be too long for most of the students interested in zombies. While I liked the philosophical bent the book had, most students are going to want a book with more action. For this reason, this may be more of a high school book.

Cadbury, Deborah. Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers.

What do I check out when I actually go to the public library? Nonfiction about cultural phenomena. My students would NEVER read this, since it has very few illustrations and quite a lot of business discussion. I found it very interesting. Cadbury was founded as a Quaker business that wanted to do good as well as make money. The family, in the same way as Milton Hershey, dedicated a lot of time and money to building facilities for their workers and trying to improve the lives of those living in poverty. The business prospered, went into many, many markets, and was in family control until less than a year ago, when it was taken over by Kraft. I feel marginally better knowing that Kraft doesn't seem to be owned by Philip Morris (now Altria) anymore, but it's still sad that family owned businesses are no longer able to survive in the current economy. Of course, now I really want a box of Cadbury Fingers (available at the dollar store in Ireland; $3.00 for a much smaller packet here!) and to visit Bournville Village.

Back to work reading this week!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ghost of Heroes Past

Reid, Charles. Ghost of Heroes Past.
Nominated for the Cybils by Hilda Polten

Johnny doesn't want to spend his birthday at a Remembrance Day parade, and that's enough for his father to make him go. At night, Johnny keeps having dreams where he is led, A Christmas Carol style, through various battles with different Canadian war heroes and sees how devastating battles can be. During his waking hourse, he makes the aquaintance of Casey, a girl who is interested in military history, and the two of them work on a school porject together. Johnny tells Casey about his strange dreams, and try to figure out why Johnny is the one having these. In the end, Johnny decides that the Remembrance Day parade is important, and that knowing about Canadians war heroes enriches his life.

Strengths: There is a fair amount of action in this book, and details about the battles in which the Canadian heroes fought. Since I didn't know about the Canadian involvement, this view point was interesting.

Weaknesses: Flipping back and forth so frequently between dreams and waking got a bit confusing, and not identifying the ghost soldier guide until the end, while an effective twist, leads to some clunky descriptors. While younger boy readers may not be bothered by Casey's description as a messy, boyish girl who cleans up her act, it irked me every time it was brought up. Girls can be interested in war without being slobs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Elementary Side of the Pilkey Line

Beaty, Andrea. Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jess Pugh

Kevin and Joules Rockman are dropped off at a suspiciously decrepit summer camp because their parents are off to attend Spam conventions, and find early on that there are giant, evil, sugar crazed rabbits invading the camp because their planet has burned up. Complications ensue. Eventually, the evil rabbits are subdued.

Strengths: This one almost had me. There are many clever lines and concepts, and I did laugh out loud several times. The mix between the graphic novel portion and the text portion is good, but ultimately, it was too goofy.

Weaknesses: I think my interest flagged at page 45 when the author admonished us again to wait, and filled the page up with "...................". This is probably a very good bet for 4th graders, but would have limited appeal to my students.

Klise, Kate. Dying to Meet You
(Sequel nominated for the Cybils. Drat.)

I always think that I will like these books and... don't. I. B. Grumply, a children's write with a bad case of writer's block rents a decrepit house for the summer and finds out that he is responsible for a young boy, a cat, and a ghost. Since Grumply's books were about ghost tamers, the ghost is not pleased and attempts to make him see reason.

Strengths: Some students might enjoy the epistolatory format, which uses different fonts for each character. There are also many illustrations and newspaper articles to go along with the story.

Weaknesses: Again, too goofy. Really-- the parents leave the boy with the house? There was really very little character development, and they all annoyed me slightly. I will need to read the sequel, however, because that's the one that was nominated.

Wiseman, Blaine. Boston Marathon. (Sporting Championships)

My last Follett order had several books from this series. The Boston Marathon one was particularly informative. It is short, with just 32 pages, but covers the history, highlights, and current record holders. I know several students who will want this for their nonfiction book for our 8th grade language arts unit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some realistic fiction

Fantasy really isn't my favorite thing, so when I got a new order of books in, I was so excited that I HAD to read a few of the titles that I bought without reading, which is something I try not to do. Then, of course, a few fantasy books snuck in anyway!

Sheldon, Dyan. My Worst Best Friend.
Gracie has been best friends with Savanna for a long time, but doesn't understand it. Savanna is popular and pretty, while Gracie is quiet and unassuming. Gracie is also a much better friend, and when Savanna gets involved with a college boy and starts using Gracie to hide this fact, Gracie starts to realize that living with Savanna's lies and manipulations isn't something that she wants to do anymore, especially when Savanna tries to sabotage her budding romance.

Strengths: LOVE Sheldon. Her Planet Janet has a line about middle schoolers having amnesia that I quote all the time. She understands the trauma that friend problems can bring, and captures the whole experience of not liking your best friend brilliantly. This will be hugely popular.

Weaknesses: The cover will date quickly with the skinny jeans and the whole belt-over-shirt thing. And I wouldn't have made Gracie quite so wimpy.

Franklin, Emily and Halpin, Brendan. The Half-Life of Planets.
Any book that starts with the sentence "I am not a slut" is probably not going to be a middle school book (especially when the f-word is flung around later in the book), but I was enthralled nonetheless. Because Liana has kissed a wide variety of boys (and has impressive cleavage, which we hear about a lot), the girls in her school think she has loose morals. Because of this, Liana decides to spend her summer not kissing anyone. Then she meets Hank, a music-obsessed guy who is great fun to be around, if a little hard to understand at times. Hank has Asperger's Syndrome (now sometimes called a disorder, and sometimes just put under the category of Autistic Spectrum Disorders; labels change so quickly.) and isn't very smooth when it comes to reading other's body language or social expectations. Emily brings him out of his shell a bit, and the two become involved even though Liana is still overly concerned about her reputation.

Strengths: This was great; a book with a character who has a disorder, but the whole book is not about that. Hank's attempts at understanding his world and himself are part of the larger story.

Weaknesses: Just a few tweaks would have made this middle school appropriate. Argh.

Weyn, Suzanne. Empty.
Don't read any further, or read this book, if you are still working through peanut butter and tuna reserves that you stockpiled after reading Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone. The US has run out of oil, and is involved in a war in Venezuela because they are withholding oil-- but it turns out that they are short, too. Add a horrible hurricane on top of it, and things get bad in Sage Valley. Gas goes up to $80 a gallon, and Gwen's brother is working the black market. Niki's father loses his job and his sanity. Tom tries to get by as well. Will normalcy ever be restored? Can the world learn to get by without oil?

Strengths: Very, very depressing but powerful. Makes you wonder why we don't have disaster plans. Or more peanut butter in the basement. A nice, short science fiction addition to any collection.

Weaknesses: A little didactic, and the appearance of an experimental "green" house with hydroponic garden comes out of the blue a bit.

Berry, Julie. The Amaranth Enchantment.
It says a HUGE amount about the quality of this book that I was enthralled even though it was a sort of medievalish fantasy. I've read so many of them, but this was intriguing in the was that Two Princesses of Bamarre and Ella Enchanted were intriguing. The orphaned Lucinda is slaving away at her uncle's jewelery store, suffering under his wife's abuse, when Peter, a young thief, breaks in and demands to spend the night while he is fleeing someone. He also steals a jewel from Lucinda that belongs to Beryl, the Amaranth Witch. He then sells the jewel to Prince Gregor, whom Lucinda finds very appealing even though he is betrothed. She tries to steal the jewel back, setting in motion a series of events that manage to improve her lot in life because they uncover secrets.

Strengths: I immediately liked Lucinda and wanted to know more about Beryl. The magic was light enough that it didn't overshadow the characters. Nice twist at the end. Good cover.

Weaknesses: Never really understood what world Beryl came from, but it didn't matter all that much with the other things going on.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

George Clooney and the Gravedigger Pirates

Nielsen, Susan. Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.
Nominated for the Cybils middle grade fiction by Sandra Stiles

Violet is not happy with her family situation. Her father left her mother for a younger actress and now lives in California with her and their twin daughters. Violet's mother has sated a string of undesirable men and is currently going out with Dudley Wiener. In order to stop this, Violet works on a plan to write to George Clooney, whom her mother once met, and get him to marry her. This is actually a fairly brief bit of the story-- most of which is concerned more with daily life. (Washer is on the blink, so Violet doesn't have a clean shirt for school, she refuses to talk to her father on the phone, her mother's friends at work discussing the men that they date.)

Strengths: Even with more divorce now than in the 1970s, most of the books I have on broken and blended families are older titles. Violet's anger seems real, even when she encourages her younger stepsisters to eat cat poo.

Weaknesses: The George Clooney angle seems a little fake, and will date the book, but is a bit fun.

Kennedy, Kim. Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jason Wells

Misty has a hard life-- her parents make their living buying the estates of people who have recently passed away, and haul their purchases around in an old ice cream truck. When Madame Zaster dies and Misty gets some of her belongings, including her diary and a pair of her glasses, she gets sucked in to a plot to destroy the town, and must find three Greek statues left in the care of descendants of the town founders to avert disaster.

Strengths: I liked Misty and her friend Yoshi, and there was decent plot and character development.

Weaknesses: I got really distracted in an unpleasant way by the oddities the author threw in. Yoshi's father works at an insane asylum? And there is an escaped inmate named May Nays who goes crazy around (you guessed it) mayonnaise? Every time something like that popped up, it made me cringe, and then I started to anticipate the cringing. Quirky character names are not endearing.

MacHale, D. J. The Light (Morpheus Road #1)
Nominated for the Cybils by Karin Lackman

Marsh is struggling with the death of his photographer mother and the increasingly bad behavior of his best friend Cooper. It's bad enough when Cooper gets caught scalping counterfeit tickets and gets sent to the family cabin for the summer, but when Marsh starts being stalked by one of his own drawings, the Gravedigger, and Cooper disappears, he must find some way to survive. Aided by Cooper's snarky but pretty sister Sydney, he tries to find out not only what has happened to Cooper, but also why he, Sydney, and many others seem to be experiencing hallucinations that become all too real and try to kill them.

Strengths: The emotions in this are refreshingly real. After feeling breezes and seeing symbols appear on the shower door, Marsh wisely decides that he needs to consult his father and get some professional psychiatric help. How many other characters in fantasy stories think that? His anger and disappointed with Cooper, and his sadness when Cooper disappears, also ring true. Never fear, though, there's lots of creepy psychological horror interspersed with lots of action and adventure. This will be a BIG hit with the students. I'm shortlisting this one.

Weaknesses: Meanders a bit, and there are more questions at the end of the book than at the beginning. Yes, it's a trilogy, but it's hard to wait.

I do not concur with Kirkus reviews that this is too long for middle schoolers or that Marsh is portrayed as an immature 16. I thought MacHale did a great job at creating realistic characters, although the romance between the sister and Marsh seemed a bit forced.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Carpet

You know, I'm still coming to terms with the carpet. It is not as bad as I thought it would be, but it still makes me slightly dizzy when I run across it if I'm looking down.

I thought that everything I wore would clash with the carpet, but today I managed to wear a sweater that matched.

And my Bluebird leader would be very proud that I was able to sit on the floor in a skirt!

Guy Friday-- Boys through the decades

Again, the disclaimer that I was never a 12-year-old boy. I also didn't read a whole lot of books about boys, preferring strong girl characters, but since I read a lot, I did come across a few. Homer Price was one of my favorites-- Homer would be about 80 were he still alive, but the book is still in print. All of these are, which says something about their staying power. I didn't include ones like the Danny Dunn series, which is defunct, or the Hardy Boys, because they morph with every decade.

One of my most treasured books is one sent to me by Donald J. Sobol. I have very fond memories of reading the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries with my mother. And I was voted down when I wanted to name Norbert "Henry Reed". (Bonus points: from which of my favorite books does the name "Norbert" come? Hint: It's a girl book.)
What books did the boys out there read? Certainly there were more in the 1970s that I missed.

McCloskey, Robert. Homer Price (1943)
Cleary, Beverly. Henry Huggins. (1950)
Robertson, Keith. Henry Reed, Inc. (1958)
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain (1960)
Sobol, Donald J. Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective (1963)
Fitzgerald, John Dennis. The Great Brain (1967)
Rockwell, Thomas. How to East Fried Worms (1973)
Byars, Betsy. The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown (1988)
Pilkey, Dav. The Adventures of Captain Underpants (1997)
Winkler, Henry. Niagra Falls or Doesn't It? (2003) Hank Zipzer

Working down the TBR pile

Noyce, Pendred. Lost in Lexicon.
Nominated for the Cybils by Rebecca Raibley

Cousins Ivan and Daphne are bored at their Great Aunt Adelaide's house, so she sends them on an adventure into the land of Lexicon, where they must find the missing children of the town after saving the inhabitants from a plague of punctuation. In order to do this, they must solve many word and number puzzles and rely on their intelligence and ingenuity instead of rotting their brains away with screen time.

Strengths: This was well-written and intelligent, and the characters, while a bit whiny in some points, likeable.
Weaknesses: Couldn't help but think that this was a Phantom Tollbooth imitation. While I agree with the premise that children have too much screen time, it was not that intriguing a book.

Dyer, K.C. Facing Fire.
Nominated for the Cybils by James McCann

After accidentally setting fire to her school, Darby gets an opportunity to spend time with family friend Fiona in a coastal town. She has plenty of time to explore, and after visiting a lighthouse finds that she can travel through time by stepping through windows. She once again visits the past, as she did when she she traveled back in time in A Walk Through a Window. Things are complicated when she and Zander, a new boy, travel back and get involved in helping former slaves from getting sent back to the US.

Strengths: Always love time travel, and this is convincingly done. Well-written and atmospheric. Nice to see something from a Canadian author!

Weaknesses: It would have been helpful to read the first book, and this was still a bit slow. It read very much like the books that I read back in the 1970s; if the cover hadn't been so great, I would have thought I had picked up an older book.

Lyga, Barry. Archvillian
Nominated for the Cybils by Kirby Rundell
After getting caught in a meteor shower in a field, prankster extraordinaire Kyle is out of commission with some horrible flu-like symptoms, but soon discovers that whatever occurred left him with super powers. Of course, the powers aren't as great as Mike's, a boy who was found in the field afterward and is now going to Kyle's school and getting national acclaim for using his powers to save people. Kyle detests Mike, especially when Mike starts monopolizing Kyle's friend Mairi. Kyle tries to sabotage a day honoring Mike, but his pants laser malfunctions and his Azure Avenger is accused of being a Blue Freak. Undaunted, Kyle keeps trying to undo Mike, whom he believes to be an alien with evil plans.
Strengths: Interesting science fiction twist, with funny scenes and a nice love interest.
Weaknesses: Kyle is a supercilious, obnoxious character, and I didn't feel any sympathy for his plight or his quest. Also, the book did not reach any conclusions. It's one thing to hint at a sequel and another to leave the book in such a state that one is required to finish the story.
The books above were all review copies provided by the publishers.

Haddon, Mark. Boom.
Nominated for the Cybils by Kara Dean
Jim and his friend Charlie have a fairly normal life, hanging around Jim's housing estate watching his unemployed father work with model airplanes, or around Charlie's posh place because he's been grounded. When they sneak a walkie talkie into the teachers' lounge to find out whether or not Jim is going to get kicked out of school, they hear a couple of teachers talking in a strange language and determine that they are space aliens. When men in suits start warning the boys off, Charlie investigates further and gets kidnapped. Jim and his sister take off to Scotland to find him, and Jim gets taken by the aliens, who are trying to repopulate their world by stealing science fiction fans. Not wanting to be away from their planet, the boys manage to escape and save the world from destruction.
Strengths: This was funny and very British. A nice short read with amusing characters and a fast-paced alien invastion plot, this will be perfect for my 8th grade students who need a science fiction book. The cover is very appealing.
Weaknesses: I didn't want to like this one, but I did. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is by this author, and is very high on my list of overrated books that everyone wanted to read that I thought were really, really awful. This one was good. A little like Cosmic but without the huge sagging bit in the middle.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Merlin and Milo

Barron, T.A. Merlin's Dragon: Ultimate Magic
Nominated for the Cybils by Barb Langridge

In this third book in the series, DoomRaga, who is serving Rhita Gawr, a wicked overlord, is behind the war in Avalon, and Basil the giant green dragon, with the aid os a magic map he recieves from elves, pins his location to the Haunted Marsh. First, Basil must fight Lo Valdeargh and destroy a seige weapon of the flamelons that traps him in a net, but he escapes with the help of Marnya, a dragon of whom he is very fond. Fighting off a swarm of flying leeches with the aid of Merlin, Basil and he compatriots head off to the marsh where they see that Rhita Gawr is infusing his spirit into DoomRaga by means of a thread of power. While trying to prevent this transfer, Marnya is killed, but the fight does not end well for Gawr once Basil, Merlin, Merlin's son Krystallus the elf, and all of the combined spirits of Avalon gang up to blind Gawr/DoomRaga so Basil can defeat him... at least for now. Maryna is rescusitated, Merlin heads off to earth to help with Camelot, and peace reigns in Avalon, at least for the moment.

Strengths: This was well-written and easy to follow even though I have missed book two. There was a lot of fighting, which many students like, the characters were easy to understand, and the plot was uncomplicated. After reading fantasy for a month and a half solid, let me tell you that an uncomplicated plot is something very rare in fantasy, and I appreciated it.

Weaknesses: The first book is not circulating in my library. The Lost Years of Merlin books are falling to pieces, but I had forgotten I even had Merlin's Dragon. This is a shame, but there must be something about it that's not appealing to students.

Silberberg, Alan. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze
Nominated for the Cybils by Elizabeth Bird for Middle Grade Fiction (so not my committee, but again, needed a break from fantasy all the time!)

Milo is fitting in pretty well at his fifth school in several years. His neighbor, Hillary, is too friendly but helpful at times; he has a best pal, Marshall; he even has a crush on the gorgeous and untouchable Summer. He knows he's a bit of a dork, and is trying to make 7th grade a successful year despite his bald on purpose math teacher, the fact that Summer doesn't know he exists, and the overwhelming feeling of missing his mother, who has recently passed away.
If there were any justice in this world, this would win the Newbery. Not that it's the most fabulous book, but it's incredibly readable and would make both students and teachers happy. It's essentially a funny book, complete with fun drawings, and Milo gets himself into all sorts of middle school scrapes. But he misses his mom. A lot. These moments are realistically included at random moments of the story in a way that's not maudlin or instructional. I'd almost like to see a series for Milo, and if Mr. Silberberg could get Milo on a sports team, it would be perfect!

Strengths: All over the place. Student appeal, message, writing, format of book.

Weaknesses: The inside cover blurb is instant poison: "Brimming with heart, humor and ultimately hope, [this] is a powerhouse of a novel that will stay with you well after you've turned the last page." True. But that's the way language arts teachers describe Bridge to Terebithia or Jacob Have I Loved. Bleah. Not a way to get kids to read the book!

Think I have fewer than 40 Cybils books to read, but it is getting a little desperate because there are some that are not held by any libraries in Ohio! I have a pile for over Thanksgiving, but am also stocking up on some books that were not nominated for the science fiction and fantasy award just in case. Or maybe I'll clean the basement. Or watch some movies.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wizard of the Mirrorworld

Funke, Cornelia. Reckless.
Nominated for the Cybils by Angela

Jacob has escaped from his dull life to Mirrorworld for years, finding magical objects and selling them. When his younger brother also ventures into the world, he gets injured by the Goyl and starts turning to stone. Not just any stone-- jade, and this fulfills a prophecy that a jade Goyl will help the evil king become invincible. Jacob decides to enlist the help of the Dark Fairy to reverse the curse. Accompanied by Clara, Will's girl friend, and Fox, a young shape shifter girl who prefers her animal form, Jacob must get help from many who have helped him in the past in order to save his brother and get on with the sequel, which seems almost assured.

Strengths: The twists on Grimm tales are well done and fresh, and the suspension of disbelief is complete-- little explanation is given for the existence of Mirrorworld or any of the creatures within it.

Weaknesses: The language is very rich and stilted in some places, and students without a strong knowledge of German folklore may be confused.

Duane, Diane. A Wizard of Mars
Nominated for the Cybils by Liz.

Nita and Kit are back for the ninth time, and this time because of Kit's interest in Mars, they travel back and forth from there. However, Kit gets stuck back in an ancient version of Mars, and things escalate until even Earth is threatened. Since it has been three years since the previous book (Wizards at War) and because many of the characters from these books show up, I found this extremely hard to keep straight in my mind. So much is going on. The first book in the series, So You Want to Be A Wizard (1983) also was hard to follow, but I've liked all the other ones. Will have to admit that, like most of Garth Nix and D.J. MacHale, the details of this one have Tefloned right out of my brain. Almost didn't purchase this, but have had three students this year eager to read it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Curse of the Darklings

Crilley, Paul. Rise of the Darklings (The Invisible Order Book 1)
Nominated for the Cybils by Virginia; review copy recieved from Goodman Media
In Victorian London, Emily Snow's life is hard enough. Her parents have both gone missing, so she and her brother William live in a horrible boarding house, and she goes out every day to try to sell watercress to buy food. When she happens upon a fight involving piskies, things get worse. While she is befriended by the piskie Corrigan, she is stalked by the evil Ravenhill and has to enlist the help of her friend Jack when the fey queen, Kelindria, wants her to complete a task in order to regain her brother. Then things get complicated. Pursued on all sides by evil water witches, Ravenshill, the fey on the side of Kelindria AND the fey on the side of the possibly evil Dragda, Emily and Jack have to work out what is best for the humans, who belong to The Invisible Order, an institution founded by Christopher Wren in order to keep the fey at bay.

Strengths: Good use of Victorian London setting, innovative use of different fantasy creatures, plenty of action and suspense.

Weaknesses: It was hard to tell who was good and who was evil, which makes for a more intriguing book but is also a bit hard to follow.

Vernon, Ursula. Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-Wiener.
Nominated for the Cybils by D.M. Cunningham.

Danny Dragonbreath and his friend Wendell are concerned after Wendell is attacked by a school hotdog and starts itching and growing hair on his back. Upon investigation, the hot dogs are found to be feral were-wieners, and the product help line is not much use, other than to tell the boys that they have a limited time to stop the wieners from turning all of their victims into lycanthropic minions. With the aid of rats and a previous nemesis, a blob of potato salad, the boys manage to defeat the main wiener and restore order to their school. Until the next time.

Strengths: This made me laugh out loud several times. Vernon has a good feel for things that will make ten year olds AND adults laugh. The illustrations add some zip to the story, and the format is excellent for younger or struggling readers. I can see these being wildly popular in elementary school. Really enjoyed this.

Weaknesses: Falls on the elementary side of The Pilkey Line. There is no way I'm going to have a book in a middle school library with the word "wiener" so prominently displayed!

Mail with a side helping of guilt.

Part of me was thrilled when I got a huge box from Simon and Schuster last night, until I realized that out of the dozen books, I had read 10 and had two sitting on my pile. I filled out all of my forms telling the Cybils what books I had, but I feel guilty. To assuage that, I will post the links to the books in the pile that I have already reviewed.

This is why normally, I just read books from the public library.

Appelt, Kathi. Keeper.
Bracegirdle, P.J. Unearthly Asylum (The Joy of Spooking)
DiTerlizzi, Tony. The Search for WondLa
Dowell, Frances Roark. Falling In.
Haberdasher, Violet. Knightley Academy.
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Sabotaged.
Landon, Kristen. The Limit.
Myklusch, Matt. Jack Blank and the Imagination Nation
Trivas, Tracy. The Wish Stealers.

Need to read:
Catanese, P.W. Dragon Games / (Books of Umber #2)
MacHale, D.J. The Light (Morpheus Road)
Scieszka, Jon. Spaceheadz (Which I thought I reviewed but hadn't.)

Also received Pendred Noyce's Lost in Lexicon and K.C. Dyer's Facing Fire.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giveaways: Happy Haul-idays from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books has launched the Happy Haul-idays promotion. There are two ways to win!

For bloggers:
Post a list of the books you'd like to haul in in a $500 Chronicle books spending spree and you could win your list.

For everyone else:
Visit participating blogs and leave a comments for your chance to win. Lists of participating blogs will be posted on our site starting on Monday the 15th.

Go here for more details

Here is my wish list for the Blendon Library. A bit hastily compiled, but I LOVE the stuff that Chronicle publishes. It's just that most of it I have bought for myself or gifts!

Weekend Reading

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Crossing Over (Suddenly Supernatural)
Nominated for the Cybils by Jenny Schwartzburg

The always delightful Ms. Kimmel continues her story of Kat Roberts, who can talk to the dead just like her hippie-eqsue mother. With her trusty side-kick, the cello playing Jac, she manages to enjoy a school field trip to Canada while fending off several ghosts and sending them on their way to the light. Further complicating matters are the snotty Brooklyn Bigelow and the enigmatic but oh-so-attractive Ben Greenblott. Brooklyn just makes life difficult for Kat with her barbs, but Ben makes her heart flutter. Will Ben be able to accept Kat, ghosts and all?

Strengths: The writing is funny, facile, and fresh. Kimmel is just so much fun. Adored Lily B., and we've worn out about four copies in my library! Kat comes through as a wonderfully normal, impetuous middle schooler who just happens to have a supernatural gift.

Weaknesses: Supporting characters are somewhat one dimensional. Jac develops a little more, but we've seen her mother several times, and I'm starting to feel sorry for her. Why is she so uptight?

Harris, M.G. Invisible City (The Joshua Files)
Nominated for the Cybils by Kathy M. Burnett

Joshua's life has just taken a horrible turn for the worse-- his father has been murdered in Mexico, supposedly by the husband of his mistress. This sends his mother into such a spiral that she eventually lets Joshua go to Mexico with his martial arts buddy and a slightly older girl from his hometown of Oxford that he just met. They manage to meet up with the suspected mistress-- who turns out to be Josh's half-sister. Things are very complicated, because not only is Josh being stalked by federal agents, it turns out that he is descended from ancient Mayans and is the only one who can access a sacred book that kills anyone else that touches it. He visits the hidden city of his ancestors and manages to solve several mysteries.

Strengths: This has a lot of action and adventure, quite a few clues to figure out, and a fresh and innovative fantasy world.

Weaknesses: This was rather complicated, and keeping all of the story lines straight would be difficult for younger children. I would definitely put this at 6th grade or above, especially since we witness the death of several characters.

Marcos, Crystal. Bellyache: A Delicious Tale
Nominated for the Cybils by Brenda
Peter is working with his grandfather, who owns a sweet shop. He is told to eat just three pieces of candy, but goes overboard and ends up with a stomach ache. He receives a mysterious package and ends up in a world where the people are all Candonites-- made of various types of candy. He stays with the mayor's family for a day to try to learn that he should have exercised restraint, but when he is set to return home, he and another visitor must save two local children from the evil Goaltan and the Peblars even though the local children were mean to them.
Strengths: Fun and innovative descriptions of the Candonites' world. I especially liked the restaurant. Extra points for sending the book nicely wrapped with two bookmarks and a business card: some of the review copies I have received come only with terse notes that make me feel like the Cybils are imposing by asking for books that we can't locate anywhere!
Weaknesses: This tends toward the didactic, and the subplot of rescuing the children seemed a bit tacked on.
Butler, Darren. J. Merlin's Curse.
Nominated for the Cybils by Diane Hamilton of Onstage Publishing
Lucy is tired of transferring schools and having to deal with difficult children. It's not much different this time, except that she meets Shelley, who invites her to investigate a neighbor's attic to find things for a garage sale fund raiser. The two girls find rings that turn Lucy into a cat! While they figure out an antidote, they also realize that Merlin turned the evil Princess Pendalyn into a cat, and she is stalking them, trying to figure out how to regain the rings and return to her original form.
Strengths: Easy to follow plot, good chemistry between the characters.
Weaknesses: Unattractive artwork throughout, awkward writing at points, and a variation on the Merlin tale that seemed unlikely. I think the gibberish of the spells made the story seem less convincing to me.
Book Fair Report: Everything is cleaned up and most of the paperwork done. Whew. I was a little nervous about the cash drawer balancing, since Scholastic has a fancy new cash register now, but it did. Time spent in retail never really leaves one, does it?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's Book Fair Time!

My school is having conferences, so that means book fair! This year, we decided not to move it out into the hallway because it looked so nice in the library.

Book fair means long days-- I won't get home until 8:30 tonight, so I get very little reading done.

Friday we don't have school, but I will taking teenaged daughter to the University of Cincinnati for a college visit.

Have decided to go back to original code names for my resident readers (aka children)-- the teenaged daughter started out life as Hortense; the surly 9th grade boy was Norbert; and 7th grade Picky Reader was Ermintrude. Those were the names that were bandied about before they were born, so when their real names were revealed, everyone was greatly relieved and didn't complain!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Nightmarys

Poblocki, Dan. The Nightmarys.
Nominated for the Cybils by D. M. Cunningham

YES!!! What do my students ask me for day after day after day? Scary books. Mysteries. Murder. I've had to explain that really, not a lot of middle grade authors write about murders; it's frowned upon. And so my four copies of E.E. Richards The Devil's Footsteps and my R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books are reaching unsanitary states of preservation. NOW, however, I can start stocking up on Mr. Poblocki's scary stories.

Timothy July has problems. His brother has been injured in the military and his parents aren't talking about it. He has to work on a school project with a weird new girl, which has made his best friend angry. To top it off, he keeps having weird nightmares... while he's awake. And he's not alone. His best friend almost drowns when he thinks the monster from his favorite video game is in the pool with him. The new girl, Abigail, has dreams, too, about two girls at her previous school who were bullying her. Even Abigail's grandmother has them, and it turns out that she might be the key. When she was young, her friend was kidnapped by the creepy Professor Hesselius, who wanted to use the friend to fuel a powerful corpse. Timothy and Abigail find out about this through a book written by the grandmother's relative, and begin to realize that the source of the dreams is an artifact in the local museum. Will their fears take over, or will they be able to ignore them and destroy the artifact?

Strengths: Creepy. Super creepy. I made faces while reading the first gruesome chapter, and the descriptions of Timothy being chased by a painted dragon are awesome. It's perfect that it's horror AND mystery.

Weaknesses: Might be too gruesome for elementary students; does use the term "butt munch" which may irk parents, although you have to love "fart slap". Ever so slightly confusing with all of the stuff going on, but still a great read.

Kirby, Matthew J. The Clockwork Three
Nominated for the Cybils by Kristen.

On the flip side, this book was NOT what my students are asking for. The whole Steampunk thing? Not a sell, except for the Philip Pullman Clockwork (1996), and that ONLY because it's 2 points long and over the 5.0 level for Accelerated Reader. This is in the Scholastic book fair.

Three children in the late 1800s intersect-- Giuseppe, an orphan living on the streets at the mercy of an evil padrone who makes him beg and steal while trying to get together enough money to make it back to Italy; Frederick, a boy whose mother abandoned him at an orphanage who has some technical skills and is apprenticed to a clockmaker; and Hannah, a girl working as a maid in a fancy hotel because her father is ill and she is supporting her family. Hannah is taken up by a woman in the hotel who approaches Frederick to make an automaton, and also gets drawn into a mystery involving a possible treasure hidden in the hotel. Each of the children helps the other toward their goals-- Giuseppe to escape his padrone and get back to Italy, Frederick to become a journeyman clockmaker, and Hannah to help her family. All are aided by a little bit of magic.

Strengths: Well-developed characters who work well together, fair amount of action.

Weaknesses: Weak beginning: "When Giuseppe found the green violin, he did not think it would help him escape." Way too much description of opera and squirrels. I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. Something too dense with the prose? This historical era works for Barnaby Grimes, but not as much here. I feel bad, because I usually agree with Kristen's recommendations!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Werewolves and Bogwitches

Toft, Di. Wolven.
Nominated for the Cybils by Nicola Manning

Nat is promised a dog by his mother and grandparents, but he doesn't plan on the mangy, smelly, wolf like creature that Farmer Tate is selling. If he doesn't taken Woody, however, he knows the dog will die. What he doesn't know is that Woody is a shapeshifter who has escaped a horrible government institution. Things become complicated when Nat has to fend off the bullying of Teddy Davis (who gets his comeupance!), the evil intentions of Lucas Scales (who is a werewolf), and the questionable help of Ophelia Tate. The government may have disbanded the experiements at Helleborine Halt, but Woody and Nat are still imperiled by them.

Strengths: Oddly appealing. Read this one over my morning tea. Perhaps it was the sympathetic treatement of Nat getting his new dog, or the fact that the words flabbergasted and lugubrious were used in the first two pages (unlike the nameless and horrid e book I read last night that had a comma fault within the first three words!), but I really enjoyed this. It's very English, too, had lots of action, bullies being put in their place-- just good stuff. There is a sequel, Wolven: The Twilight Circus out in the UK, and another, Bad Wolf Rising, coming in the spring.

Weaknesses: Never found out enough about Nat's father, but perhaps that is taken care of in the sequels.

Fagan, Deva. The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle.
Nominated for the Cybils by Saundra Mitchell.

Prunella is trying very hard to be as evil as her grandmother, an accomplished bogwitch, but she just doesn't have it in her. When Barnaby almost comes to grief in her yard, she ends up helping him escape, and then, having angered her grandmother, runs away with him to help find the Mirable Chalice, whose disappearance is bringing devastation and grief to the uplands. Prunella also intends to find the fabled grimoire of Esmerelda, in order to learn how to become more evil. As she travels the countryside with Barnaby, however, she finds that she enjoys helping people more than hurting them. There are plenty of twists in the quest to find the chalice, and a nice, gentle romance/friendship between Prunella and Barnaby.

Strengths: Again, enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. The quasi-medieval setting usually annoys me, but there was enough of a twist to it that it worked. The characters were flawed but well-developed, and the cover art actually reflects the way the they are described in the book!

Weaknesses: Not sure if I have an audience for this in my library. Maybe fans of Pierce's Alanna, but I'm finding it hard to think of a student who would want to read this, which is a shame.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Weekend Reading

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.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Gross, creepy and nasty, all in a horrible binding!

My brother, who claims never to have read a book in high school, read nothing but the Guinness Book of World Records when we were young. This was back when it was a hefty paperback with tiny print.

The books today are large, colorful-- and fall apart the minute that you touch them. I have books from the early 1990s that are still in good shape, but 2009 is in little pieces. They are not cheap, either, with a price of almost $25.00 through Follett. The people at Guinness World Records really should feel horrible about this. Sure, they sell a lot of these through Scholastic book fairs, but aren't these volumes supposed to be used to settle bar bets? How long would these hold up there?

At any rate, boys seem to LOVE this sort of book, so when the budget allows, I do try to buy these. It doesn't seem to matter how old the volumes are; the 1993 edition circulates every bit as well as the 2011 one.
And students, "Guinness" is not pronounced like "genius". It's pronounced "GIN- ness" with a "g" like in "gun". And in our library, they are located right under the television. When they aren't all checked out.