Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Oh, give me back my HOME! " (Anne Bronte)

Telly, J.J. Panjandrum (Book 1 of The Aerolith Adventures)
PDF received from author.

Gelsem is taken from her home by the Rulvi and sent from level Gee of her world to level Pee, where prisoners are kept. She does not know what she has done but knows that she has to get home. After several narrow escapes, she meets up with the Parasitic Punks, children from other levels who have banded together to survive. Benji especially wants to take care of her. In the meantime, Bellamy, a thief from another level, blunders into the throne room and is made the new Panjandrum, the ruler of level Pee who really is just a puppet of the politicians. These same politicians are trying to catch Gelsem, as is the evil artist Pterido, who makes statues from the bodies of children! The Punks come to the rescue again, even though one of them is tricked into becoming the Panjandrum after Bellamy escapes. Gelsem is able to use her intelligence to avoid the politicians and figure out some of the secrets of level Pee, and is on her way to discovering how to get home. Perhaps in the sequels (Schismarch comes out in December 2011, and the author is at work on the fourth book), we will find out more about how she can do this!

Strengths: Strong, well-developed characters; good action scenes and pacing. Particularly good start to the book. Excellent villians.
Weaknesses: Bit of an audience disconnect: the writing is strong and the plot complex, which would be good for older children, but there's a distracting goofiness with the description of the worlds (Pee has pachyderms and a plethora of peculiar, p-named pieces) that would intrigue younger students. I imagine that the following books will describe the world a little more, because I still had questions about it at the end.

Edgar, Elsbeth. The Visconti House.

"Laura Horton has always been an outsider, more interested in writing, drawing, or spending time with her free-spirited family than in her fellow teens, but she is drawn to Leon, a new student, as together they explore the mysteries of her eccentric old house."

What I Wanted: A spooky house mystery like West's The Shadows or San Souci's Haunted Houses, or anything by Betty Ren Wright.
Why This Didn't Work for Me: Too introspective and coming-of-age. The American cover (left) made it seem spookier: the Australian cover (right) seems better suited.
Who Really Liked This: Bookshipper, Sweet on Books, Klickitat, Book Yurt, Boomerang Books and Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club.

Cotler, Steve. Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything.
Being a fifth grade boy means being thwarted at every turn. Cheesie and his friend Georgie have the BEST ideas for summer, but keep getting shot down. They can't pull their awesome pranks at fifth grade graduation. Then, Georgie can't go to summer camp because his father loses his job. When the boys find an envelope from the 1950s in the basement, they try to locate the owner to return the penny and necklace within it, but are stopped by a policeman who thinks they are just fooling around. The boys persevere, and things end well, but not after a lot of high jinks.

Strengths: Funny, with enough action to satisfy the target audience. Interesting bits of information thrown in for the die-hard nonfiction readers who are being forced to read a chapter book. I believe Mr. Cotler that he still can think like an eleven-year-old. This will be popular.
Weaknesses: Just a tiny bit too young for my students. I'm getting nose wrinkles from the Time Warp Trio books, which I still think are great, and the same illustrator provided the fine illustrations for this book, which elementary students will adore.

I was a bit annoyed by the constant mention of Cheesie's website, but students might like that. There is a sequel in the works.

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