Thursday, September 29, 2011


Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space by Philip Reeve. Illustrated by David Wyatt. Published 2006.

This book was so much fun. It was Charles Dickens meets Star Wars. I really enjoyed it and I can't wait to read the next one in the series. Plus the illustrations were great too. This was my first real venture into the Steampunk Genre which I had been hearing so much about and I have to say I was really pleased and shocked also that it has been around for the last five years, but I do think it takes about that long for something to really catch on and start proliferating the market. It had what you expect in Steampunk--re-imagined history, advanced iron works, Victorian time period, automatons, and I also read that a Steampunk usual is brass goggles, which this had as well only worn by a small evil spider steering a life size automaton.

Arthur and Myrtle Mumby live in the furthest reaches of space in their home called the Larklight. There mother has been missing since they were little and their father is obsessed with the floating animal life of space. There life is turned topsy turvy (which is easy to do when the gravity generators are turned off) when evil, larger than life spiders attack their home and take their father. They escape to the moon where they are rescued by a ban of misfit pirates. Aboard the pirate ship Sophronia they travel through the galaxy attempting to keep a mysterious key away from the spiders and potentially find the whereabouts of their parents.

Full of action, humor, romance, piracy, space travel and British manners, this book has a little of everything for everyone. Sadly, my only problem with it is also what makes it great. The language is highly advanced as its stylized after the novels of the 1800s. I felt like I was reading an updated version of H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon and even the author alludes to the role of Dickens in shaping the Copperfield-esque story. I want to give this book to so many of my readers for all different reasons but I'm afraid they will be bogged down by the language and put it aside. Here's hoping that won't happen.

Interest level: Grade 5-8 Intended reading level: Grade 7
Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy, Adventure

Comparable Titles: The Search for WondLa, David Copperfield, The First Men in the Moon

Book Connections: British Colonization history, Newton and the study of Gravity, pirates, space travel, aliens, spiders

Monday, September 26, 2011


Archvillain by Barry Lyga. Published 2010.

I feel like I am the villain of this review, but this is the first book I've read that I can definitely say I did not like. I ended up skimming the last few chapters and skipping to the end even because I didn't want to waste any more of my time reading it. Usually, I can find something redemptive for why the kids would like it even if I don't (which could still be the case) but I can't even find that silver lining right now. I'm sad that I purchased this for my library even.

It's basically Megamind as a book only the main character doesn't really become a good guy in the end. We're set up with the premise that Kyle is popular and his popularity is based on the fact that he plays pranks on people to show them how foolish they are. Then he gets super powers when an alien appears. This alien is basically Superman as a kid. We are told that he just wants the world to see their foolishness, that they are "worshipping" an alien, but of course his "pranks" to show them this make him out to be the bad guy. The narrator is supposed to have that anti-protagonist style of Diary of a Wimpy kid, but I just can't help but really not like him. There is no humor or life lesson to be learned from his villainy. I thought the end would have him come around to being a good guy, but I guess he only saved some people by picking up a statue, but refused to join Mighty Mike in his do-gooding. I get that the book tells us that his things are backfiring and he's stopping the bumbling Mike from making stupid mistakes that make him look like he's evil but he's not, but I shouldn't have to be perpetually told these things. The book should just show it and all I really see is a kid that thinks he's so smart but yet hasn't done one smart thing. They've even set it up for a sequel so that he can be more of an archvillain. I'm all for the bad guy having a good side and vice versa and showing that there are multiple layers to each character, but this didn't work for me. It didn't have the kapow of Artemis Fowl or the different perspectives to bring us out of the villain's mind to make it work like Fowl did. Sad face.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: humor, action

Comparable title: Artemis Fowl, Sidekicks

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Glee Season 3 Episode 1 2011

If I've picked up anything from being in the classroom the last couple of years, its that the kids love anything to do with music. I can't count how many times a kid has mentioned watching Glee even if I think that kids is way too young to be really enjoying it. Then, you start noticing the traveling music shows featuring the cast and the documentary movies trailing the traveling movie show featuring the cast (that's a mouthful), and then you really understand how much this is a tween phenomenon, cause believe me, teens don't pay to go to shows like this. It wouldn't be "cool."

So I decided to watch the season premiere through Tween eyes. There are cute characters in the Disney bubble gum way where they're almost too perfect and too cute, even if they are suppose to be dirty and grungy they are still somehow cute (ie Quinn's transformation). They may deal with bid kid issues like sex and pregnancy but its still handled in a cheeky, it can't really hurt you manner that is not scary to kids...and then of course, there is the music. I do honestly believe that the kids probably aren't even paying attention to the plot itself, but instead are just waiting in between the musical numbers. They're big and colorful and larger than life and never makes sense to the show (oh, hey look there just happens to be a full band waiting here for us.) And the creators slip in lessons whenever possible which is a sure sign that its really a show for kids (think Jesse Spano's breakdown on Saved by the Bell.)

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Published 2010.

Black Pathers. Oakland. Poetry. Golden Gate Bridge.
As a teacher in San Francisco, I always enjoy a book that takes place in the Bay Area because it's an instant connection to the students' lives. This has a bonus in that it is historical fiction as its based in Oakland during the 60s and the Civil Rights movement specifically the Black Panther movement. I can't think of any other books that deal with this issue for kids, though I'm sure there probably are some out there. This book was also a Newbery Medal honor book for this past year.

Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent to visit their mother in Oakland after she left them in Brooklyn with their father as babies. Cecile, their mother, now goes by Nzila and definitely acts as though she does not want them there. The girls spend their days out of her hair hanging out at the Blank Panther Peace center to learn about the movement and get a free breakfast in the morning. Delphine begins to realize that this is a dangerous place for them to be in, but the longer she stays with their mother, the more she wants to get to know about her and why she abandoned them. Rather than call her father and go home, the girls stick out their summer in Oakland and learn what it means to take a stand for something and take pride in themselves.

Told in short chapters, with a clear voice that is specific to Delphine, this is an engaging and quick read full of history and a new perspective on an era. Because of language that is specific to the time, there definitely needs to be a discussion about why certain words are used and why that is okay for this novel.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: historical fiction

Comparable titles: Al Capone Does my Shirts, Ninth Ward, Bud not Buddy

Book Connections: Blank Panther history, Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, Oakland history, poetry, self-publishing (printing press), egg rolls

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos. Published 1998.

I taught an ADHD kid just like Joey a few years back when he was in first grade and it was amazing to see into the mind of this child through the narration in Jack Gantos' novel. I loved how the teachers were really fond of Joey because that is exactly how we felt about the kid I taught. Everyone truly loved him and we just wanted to see him make the best choices for himself so that he could get through the date. We could also see how smart he was and it was amazing to see how differently his brain worked and how into sensory stimuli he was that was also mirrored in this novel.

So to sum up, Joey has ADHD and he's been raised by his Grandmother whose never tried to get him any help. His mother finally returns and together with the school, after some really bad decisions on Joey's part, they try to get Joey better meds and help through a special ed school to make him learn to control his behavior. That is a very quick summary. I liked how this story was told from Joey's perspective and it never talked down to his condition or those around him either. It really showed how bright he was and how he really wanted to try to do the right things but couldn't necessarily do it. It also showed how the adults were well-intentioned but some times you just don't know what to do and what you think is right isn't always right.
I think you'd be able to get kids to read this based on the fact that Joey swallows his own keys and tries to retrieve them and some of his other antics but I do see this much more as a teacher book then one students gravitate towards.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: realistic fiction
First in series of four titles.

Comparable titles: Fudge books by Judy Blume, Al Capone Does my Shirts

Book connections: fuzzy bunny slippers, chihuahuas, keys on strings, molasses pie

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Published 2001.

This book pleasantly surprised me. I was not expecting The People to be kickass CIA-like recon officers with master technology combined with the use of magic. Who would have expected that? I was also surprised that the title character is the villain and that this series, using that premise, continues on for eight more books (the last hasn't been released yet). My surprise was not tinged with disappointment though.

In this tale, Artemis Fowl is a boy genius and millionaire whose greed for power, or quite possibly just a fairy wish, has him concoct a plan to kidnap a fairy and ransom her for The People's gold (the People here being fairies, goblins and such that live underground). Meanwhile, LEPrecon officer Holly Short is desperately trying to out wit and out maneuver her captor while simultaneously trying to save the other Mud People (or humans) in the house. I would tell you more, but I don't want to ruin the suspense.

The story is told from multiple perspectives and from the point of view of the various characters, which gives it a movie like quality that moves around with the action. It is fast-paced, definitely not boring and has an ending that will satisfy you, but also keep you guessing. I have to say, the epilogue was needed, because I wasn't quite sure what happened with his mother until I read the last section.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Comparable titles: Artemis Fowl in Graphic Novel format, The Goose Girl series, H.I.V.E., N.E.R.D.S.

Book Connections: mini-fairy books, fairy language decoders, acorns

Book Trailer:

Monday, September 19, 2011

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Published 2009.

Since winning the Newbery Medal last year, I've been curious to read this book. I can see how it fits in the Newbery category as it has an intriguing narrator with a quirky/interesting story, but at the same time not much happens until the end of the book. Though some could argue, that the nuances of the little things friends deal with in school are monumental things happening and that the strange letter frame keeps the mystery moving it along, but really its a string of incidents that are compiled together until the grand finale. This is not to say I did not like the book. On the contrary, I enjoy books of this nature.

Some spoilers: Miranda lives in New York in 1978 and she has just discovered the loss of her best friend after he chooses to ignore her after a "bully" punches him in the stomach in front of her. She spends the year helping her mom study for the 20,000 Pyramid Game Show and trying to figure out why Sal no longer wants to be friends with her. Not one to just sit by, she finds two new friends in Colin and Annemarie. But sooner than later, mysterious notes start to appear in her life and these notes know things that a person can't possibly know yet because they haven't happened yet. Based on her obsession with Madeleine L'Engle's a Wrinkle in Time, a coming-of-age story quickly melds into a sci-fi bender of time travel.

I thought the strange sci-fi twist is what elevated this story...but as Marcus questions L'Engles' Time Travel premise, I couldn't help but question Stead's as she based the story in 1978 so thirty or so years later wasn't far enough in the future to imagine someone was capable of time travel or that there was a giant dome that protects future humans from the sun, after all, we are reading this book in 2009 supposedly. But that's a small thing to pick at. Secondly, my only other issue was that her friendship with Sal wasn't established enough in the beginning, so every time she pines after her loss, I can't feel it because Sal still feels like a stranger to me.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: coming-of-age, friendship, (sci-fi sort of)

Comparable Titles: A Wrinkle in Time, Ida B. and her plans to maximize fun, avoid disaster and possibly save the world

Book Connections: time travel movies, Madeleine L'Engle, Game Shows, two dollar bills, deli sandwiches

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger and illustrated by Aaron Blecha. Published 2010.

Lets begin with the fact that Zombies are in--from tv, movies and even reviving the corpses of classics and turning them into pulp fictions, so why shouldn't kids fiction benefit from this surge. With zombies as a subject and fun illustrations coupled with potty humor, the kids will eat it up. That being said, wasn't my favorite. Like Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, it took the idea of the zombie movies and made it kid friendly, but somehow the other title still had some substance and the ending wasn't predictable. Don't think you'll be free of a zombie filled playground though. There is no saccharine substitute to the fact that a bite of a zombie will turn you into one, just these un-dead may not stay un-dead for long.

Intended reading level: Grade 3-6 Interest level: Grade 5 (I ammend this to grade 3)
Genre: humor, fiction

Comparable titles: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, Captain Underpants

Book connections: taffy candy, stuffed animals

The Great Good Thing

The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley. Published 2001.

I follow a blog by another librarian and she had her daughter blog about her favorite books. Using the Fahrenheit 451 premise, she considered remembering the text of The Great Good Thing if she had to. So...I had to check it out. It's an interesting story and not at all what I was expecting. The narrator breaks down the fourth wall, if that term can be used for writing, and identifies the book as what it is, a book, with characters in it who wait for readers to pick it up and read it. This device makes it difficult to read at first but sooner than later it breaks away from its own conventions and becomes a story about more than just storybook characters.

What it really deals with is death and dreams and how we pass things on to the ones we love. I found this to be a more interesting way to handle death with kids then in some of the other titles about this same subject. I also think this would be a great book to use in a creative writing unit about how we shape stories and what the role of the characters are. There is supposedly sequels, but I don't really know how they would connect.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: fiction, fantasy (princess-storybook)

Comparable titles: The Tale of Desperaux

Book connections: dream journal

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by Dan Santat. Published 2010.

I have to admit that the Monty Python fan in me couldn't help being pulled in to this title with the image of the fluffy white bunny attacking the neck of a Knight of the Round Table. While less Monty Python-esque, this book embraces the B movies from the 50s and the idea of aliens landing on our planet and attacking, but the premise is much more what a kid would dream up. The bunnies are man-eating but also candy eating and their devious plan involves turning children's brains to mush via the watching of Junior High School Musical.

While not the best of literature, this book will definitely be a fan of the 8 to 10 year old set. The illustrations are great, the kids attempt to save the day and, hey, there are giant attacking bunnies.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: humor, fiction

Comparable titles: Zombiekins, How to Train your Dragon

Book connections: marshmallows, B Movies, lanyards and craft time

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes

Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes by Lisa Greenwald. Published 2010.

The eighth graders at school told me they like romances of the Sarah Dessen variety. I was never a reader of romances of any sort and usually steer clear of them so I told myself I really needed to start reading them. This book helped me realize that good writing, is good writing. It doesn't really matter what the content is. I was sucked in by the friendship struggles of the three girls because this was a universal thing that as a girl we've all experienced at one point or another.

Olive, Kate and Georgia are all very different but they're also the best of friends and have been since they were little. But now as seventh graders, they are finding it difficult to keep their friendship together when they start to want different things. Olivia wants to remain obsessed with her crush from afar while Kate wants to meet new friends, and new boys. And Georgia...well Georgia just wants to keep to herself. After their apartment in Brooklyn is snowed in, they decided to bake Georgia's family's famous fortune cookie recipe and go door to door delivering them to all the tenants. Their problems in their friendships come to a head, but it also forces them to come out of their shells and try new things changing things for the better.

Well-realized voices and characters, true friendship dynamics and solid reactions to fights and make-ups. The boy situation seems to wrap up a little too perfectly and the story goes on for a few more chapters then I would have expected it to, but otherwise an engaging read. The multiple perspectives that shift with each chapter keeps you interested as well.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: Friendship, Romance, Realistic Fiction

Comparable titles: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, My Life in Pink and Green

Book connections: fortune cookies, Valentine's Day, Observation Notebooks


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Published 2011.

This was a much anticipated follow-up to The Invention of Hugo Cabret and it did not disappoint. Told through narration and pen and ink illustrations like the silent stills of a movie, we follow Ben on his journey to find his father after the death of his mother. Through a strange occurence, Ben's good ear is injured when his house is struck by lightning and he now finds himself completely deaf as he ventures out alone and travels to New York from Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977.
Meanwhile, another story is being told of a young deaf girl in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927 who is locked in her house and runs away to New York City as well. While the two stories are intertwined, small phrasings and plot points keep them connected, but we don't know quite how connected the tales are until we come to the end.

The story was touching and sad, but not melodramatic and the juxtaposition of the two stories brings it to a whole other level much as Selznick deftly crafted Hugo Cabret. I was Wonderstruck :)

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: Realistic fiction, Mystery (sort-of)

Comparable titles: Selznick writes in his acknowledgements that he purposefully referenced The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and obviously it's similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret in style. He also got inspiration from My Daniel, Call Me Ahnighito, and The Moffats.

Book Connections: museum (or memory) box, sign language book, panorama of cities, silent films, polaroids, dioramas, lightning

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume

For some reason, I've always had this strange feeling like I was a reluctant reader when I was a tween, yet at the same time I always remember reading. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was one of those books that broke through and I will always remember being so amazed at how funny it was. But then, for whatever reason, I don't remember reading anything else by Judy Blume until I was older.

I believe, Fudge-a-mania is the fourth book in the Peter and Fudge series, and what is great about these books is how real they are. The characters think and do things that real kids their age would do, but so do the parents. The awkward response to Jimmy's dad staying over. The sulking Dad after he fails to sail the boat into the harbor.

And for humor, I just have to share this snippet:

"Person overboard!" Sheila shouted.
Mrs. Tubman and I remembered our responsibilities. We pointed at Dad. We pointed as some guy from the dock reached into the water and pulled him out. We pointed as someone else wrapped him in a blanket. We pointed until Dad looked at us and called, "'s enough! You c-c-can stop pointing now."

This is a good book to give kids who are moving away from Diary of a Wimpy Kid but not quite something bigger yet.
Also, its a great read aloud for younger kids too. While student teaching, the first grade teacher I worked with read it to the kids and one boy would chant out, "Fudge! Fudge!" whenever he wanted her to start reading.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest Level: Grade 3
Genre: realistic fiction, humor
Fourth book in series.

Comparable titles: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Judy Blume in general or Naylor's Alice series.

Book connections: pink rocks, blueberries, baseball mitts, Oil of Olay

Monday, September 12, 2011

The 21 Balloons

The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois. Published 1947. Newbery medal winner.

This book is out-dated so there would need to be a discussion about the use of certain terms for minority populations. Nothing in the book is used in a derogatory manner, but the terms are outdated and need to be said as such.
I picked this book up from a library sale because I liked the old fashion look to it, only to find out that it is a Newbery medal winner and is still on a lot of must read lists. I think it could make a fun read aloud to older kids but there is a lot of scientific and math jargon that could get lost to the audience. In this way though, it might be a nice book for a science or math related theme.

Professor William Waterman Sherman decides to retire from teaching in San Francisco and travel the world in a balloon in 1883. Only due to a seagull attack, he ends up on the island of Krakatoa right before it explodes, but not before he's had time to learn about its strange inhabits.

I thought this book was fun because the main characters are from San Francisco, but also it has that voice of older classics like Gulliver's Travels, where the narrator is regaling his travels and telling a tale that none would have imagined for themselves. I had hoped he would have had more stops, but there is only the one and I think the novel would have benefited from stops at multiple strange locals. For those interested in the history and how to of Ballooning, this book would be a treat, though I don't know how strong that interest is in today's youths.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6. Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: adventure, fiction

Comparable titles: Around the World in 80 Days, Gulliver's Travels, James and the Giant Peach

Book connections: math and science for ballooning, balloons, fake diamonds, international food day, volcano experiments

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Published 1997. Newbery medal winner.

"She aches for rain...I could see her from the barn,/ she was bare as a pear,/ raindrops/ sliding down her skin,/ leaving traces of mud on her face and her long back./ trickling dark and light paths,/ slow tracks of wet dust down the bulge of her belly" pg. 56

This is historical fiction told in verse. I had to open with the lines above because even as I came to the end of the story, I still had the image of Billy Jo's mom, pregnant and naked, standing in the hot summer rain with the water falling over her belly. This is a sad book, but its a book full of the hope that life will go on even through the worst sort of sadness.

Spoilers: The book takes place during two years of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Billy Jo tells us the story of the loss of her mother and her unborn baby brother, the torments of the Dust Storms and the horrible drought that plagued Oklahoma. Through the tragedies, we wonder if the family will ever pull itself together but in the end its a story of growth and forgiveness.

I am tentative to read books in verse. At first, I was especially bothered with this one, because I thought the poems themselves were just very short vignettes cut into smaller lines (i.e. not really poems), but the form grew on me and I learned to like it by the end and whether or not the line breaks were needed, there was still a great story there.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: historical fiction, poetry

Comparable titles: Grapes of Wrath, Love that Dog, Moon over Manifest

Book connections: 1930s piano songs, wheat, old newspaper articles and photos of the Dust Bowl


Megamind the movie by Dreamworks Studio. Released 2010.

What is good and what is evil? This is the premise behind Megamind. Obviously the same premise was done in Despicable Me as well, but they had different enough plots to both be enjoyed. I think I like Despicable Me's version better only because of the connection to the children instead of him changing for the love of a girl, but I'm sure they were both entertaining for kids to watch.

In this movie, Megamind inadvertently succeeds in "defeating" his arch-nemesis Metro Man. Without a superhero to battle, his purpose in life is lost. Rather than turn to a life of good, he creates a new super hero to battle him, only his creation goes bad and now they are faced with the threat of two villains and no good guy. [spoiler alert] More than an hour in, thinking Metro Man has been killed by evidence of his skeleton that comes flying in in the first ten minutes (don't know what the younger kids thought of that one), the audience now discovers Metro Man faked his own death to live out his dreams of a new identity. He urges Megamind to stand up and become the new hero. Will he or are his evil ways too deep?

It had a satisfying conclusion and good animation and cheeky humor but it wasn't a Pixar film, so few are...

Rated PG
Genre: Superhero/Action, Animation

Comparable films: Despicable Me, Superman

Book connections: Superman comic books

The Misfits

The Misfits by James Howe. Published 2001.

The Gang of Five, which really consists of four: Skeezie, Addie, Joe and Bobby, are all misfits who have been called names their whole life and will never be part of the popular crowd at their middle school. After Addie decides to take a stand for minorities and those that "Justice for All" don't apply to, the gang creates a third political party to run for Student Counsel whether or not the teachers approve of it. When the gang finds their emerging hormones raging and crushes forming, their love triangles may start to get in the way, but their political message becomes clear when Bobby creates the No-Name Party and runs on a platform of no more name calling.

This was a great, quick read about the difficulties of Middle School and how hard it is to not be part of the crowd and what finding your identity is all about as you leave childhood. I started crying when Bobby gave his speech for the No-Name Party and it was well-deserved tears, not sloppy, heavy-handed, pulling my heart string tears (though I'm not going to say that wasn't part of it). The voices of the characters were fun and real and asked the sort of questions about life that kids this age are really starting to ponder for themselves. Plus it grappled with issues of homosexuality and race without making either of these things the sole focus of the novel.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: coming-of-age, realistic fiction
First in a series of companion books

Comparable titles: Stargirl, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, The Absolutely-True Diary of a Part Time Indian

Book connetions: political pins with bad names crossed out, neckties, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches

Book Trailer:
Glogster link-

Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest

Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest by Matt Haig. Published 2007.

Similarly to Fablehaven, Matt Haig gives us a brother and sister team who go to stay with an aunt at an edge of a forbidden forest full of magical beings. Unlike Brandon Mull's book, this book is filled with more humor and yes, even though I didn't think it would be true at first, these kids are now orphans much like other books in the fantasy genre. The aunt is not really the protector of the forest, but by living at the edge of it and warning people not to go in because of the disappearance of her husband, she in a way fills that role. Using short chapters and  author interruptions similar to A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, this one has a quick pace, dreaded consequences, but also a light-hearted tenderness about it that moves it beyond Fablehaven for me.

The main character is the boy, Samuel, while the sister, Martha, is the one he goes to save after she wanders into the Norwegian forest called Shadow Forest. There, Professor Tanglewood has made himself into the Changemaker and taken all that is good about the forest and turned it bad with the help of his servant the Shadow Witch. Samuel must fight against sun-hating Huldres, poisonous pixies and rabbit-eating trolls to save his sister and escape the forest. The voice of the narration is true to a young boy but also funny and the switching perspectives help gives us different versions of what has shaped and made the treacherous Shadow Forest and those who live within and around it.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: fantasy, fiction, humor
First in series

Comparable titles: A Tale Dark and Grimm, Fablehaven

Book connections: black and white bracelets with silver circular name tags, bowl of soup, raven/bird and rabbit figurines, stuffed dog, javelin (or spear-fake of course)


Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Published 2006.

What if fairies, witches and trolls existed in this world but we didn't know about them because they were protected and kept in safe havens in different locations around the globe? This is the premise of Fablehaven, in which, Kendra and her brother Seth are sent to live with their grandparents while their parents are on a cruise. Only the children aren't aware of the haven they live in until they discover the fairies and the milk that opens their eyes to the creatures around them. Through a magical mistake, Seth gets the fairies on his bad side which doesn't help on the night the spooks come out and their grandfather goes missing. Eventually the children must release an evil witch to help save their family, but its Kendra who must battle the magical beings to save Fablehaven and the world.

The stakes grow in this story and the fairies aren't twinkling do-gooders and the witches aren't going to school. I liked that there was a female lead and that the children weren't orphans (at least not in this book, who knows what happens in the future). I think this would be a good transitional fantasy for those who are maybe wanting to jump into Harry Potter but aren't quite ready for something as grim yet.
While I think the story had a slow beginning, it was needed so that it could match the end. The climax between the witch and Kendra could have been slowed down, but the addition of mythological creatures and the characterization of the children was better than in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Intended reading level: Grades 5-8 Interest level: Grade 5
Genre: fantasy, fiction
First in series.

Comparable titles: Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest, Aliens on Vacation

Book connections: bowls of milk, rope with knots, chocolate milk-hot chocolate, jack-o-lanterns

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Magic Thief

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. Published 2008.

A few years back I bought my 8 year old cousin, who was a reluctant reader, this book and he couldn't stop raving about it. It was actually one of my proud library moments that turned him from a kid who barely read to one that was excited about books and about talking about books with me. He told me the entire plot of the book in installments whenever I saw him, which I, of course, forgot entirely, so it was nice to read it for myself.

Connwaer, an orphan thief who lives on the Twilight (bad side) of Wellmet, pickpockets a wizard and accidentally steals his locus magicalicus, his locus or magic stone. When the wizard learns of the thievery, rather than punish the boy, he takes him on as his apprentice as he is impressed by the magic the boy could withstand when he stole the stone. The city of Wellmet has slowly been losing its magic supplies and the wizard has been brought back from exile to find out why. The boy's magical powers prove to be fruitful as he helps to solve the mystery and become a wizard of his own.

The book is told in first person from the perspective of the boy, but interspersing chapters are journal entries from the wizard, Nevery. I like that the voices are different and that we can see the difference between what Nevery says about the boy compared to his actions and feelings about the boy. On the bottom of the entries are runes that can be deciphered using the translator in the back of the book. This book is not going to be able to escape Harry Potter comparisons, but it is a much different premise as the whole world is a make-believe magical realm and magic is considered normal to everyone whether or not they are wizards. It is very fast paced and good for younger readers but not an Early Chapter book. I look forward to reading the rest in the series and being able to discuss them with my cousin.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 4
Genre: fantasy, fiction
First in series.

Comparable titles: Harry Potter (books 1-3), Fablehaven

Book connections: black cats, semi-precious stones and rocks, insignia patches on sleeves, rune translator, costume jewelry, biscuits

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure by Multiple Authors compiled by NCBLA. Published 2011.

I bought this book more as a teaching tool than a read aloud. Last year the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance partnered with the Library of Congress for to play a round of the Exquisite Corpse game with top children's authors and illustrators. You could follow each installment online last year. They have now compiled the whole story and published it as a book.

The purpose of the game is to start telling a story and end on a cliffhanger while passing it on to a new person to tell the next part. For this reason, its a quick read and while it can get confusing or even frustrating at parts, you continue to read because the cliffhangers are so good. That is why I bought this book as a teaching tool. I thought it would be fun to not only introduce the game of the Exquisite Corpse but to show such a well-done novel length version of it. You could take a section and see what the kids would write for the next installment and then compare that to what the authors wrote. Or use it in art and give each student a different chapter and have them illustrate it without knowing what came before or after as the illustrators did for this book.

The story basically follows twins, Joe and Nancy, who are trying to piece together a time traveling robot to save their parents, whom they have never met because they were living with a traveling circus to save them from aliens, from their time traveling other dimension. If you think that's confusing thats just the nutshell version.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Intended reading level: Grade 5
Genre: all-over the place but I would say Adventure/Sci-fi

Comparable titles: Series of Unfortunate Events

Book Connections: robots, clowns, eggs, elephants, circus-themed events

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Last Unicorn: Graphic Novel

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle adapted by Peter B. Gillis. Art by Renae de Liz. Published 2011.

I have not read the original The Last Unicorn but I'd be interested to do so. I'd been hearing good things about this graphic adaptation and couldn't help purchasing it for my library after taking a look at the great artwork at my local bookstore. While the book is marketed as YA, I included it in Tweens because there isn't any graphic violence, sexuality or harsh language. I think older Tweens would still like it more than younger ones but younger ones may just enjoy the pictures. There are a few scantily clad pictures of women but nothing inappropriate is shown in the illustrations.

Being that this is an adaptation, my main problem with it is that it seems to graze over the plot and not explain some parts completely while jumping around more than I would assume the novel would. It seems to be more of a teaser for the novel than anything else. While it took me a while to piece some things together, everything made sense to me in the end and the climax was fulfilling and exciting. Honestly, the climax seemed to be the one place I fully understood what was going on.

As a summary, the Last Unicorn goes on a search for the rest of the unicorns and on her travels meets a magician who helps her escape from a crone. They eventually make their way to a dark castle where the unicorn is turned into a woman, Lady Althea, by the wizard to save her life. The prince of the castle falls in love with her while she is in human form, but to save the unicorn kind, she must turn back into a unicorn, forsaking her human love, and battle to the death a magical red bull under the power of the evil king. I thought this book would be great for both boys and girls but based on the title and cover I feel like girls will pick it up first and hopefully pass it on to the boys.

Intended reading level: YA Interest level: Grades 7 & 8
Genre: graphic novel, fiction, fantasy

Comparable Titles: Rapunzel's Revenge, Return to Labyrinth

Book connections: bull and unicorn figurines

How to Train your Dragon

How to Train your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Published 2003.

If you've seen the movie and you're expecting the same plot, you would be sorely disappointed, so I advise reading the series first. On that count, you would be reading a humorous adventure story with quirky characters in the vein of Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Don't expect to get to emotional or the book to have any high reaching morals. This is what the movie adds, which I think makes it a better story than the book, but kids will love the books because they're simply funny.

In the first book, our intrepid young Viking, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, must retreive a young dragon to train. He claims a Common Brown dragon without teeth who becomes the stubborn, ill-behaved Toothless. (Sound anything like the movie so far? I didn't think so). Hiccup is the Chief's son and high-expectations have been placed on his shoulders, but his bumbling, weak ways don't seem to have anyone but is grandfather, Old Wrinkly, convinced he's capable of anything. After the village learns about Hiccup's Dragon Observations and being the only Viking to know how to speak Dragonese (yes, these dragons speak), he is able to save his village from the attack of the Green Death, a monstrous sea dragon that has washed up on their shores.

Had I not seen the movie, I would have really liked it. Quick read, funny pictures. Narration style similar to Tom Angleberger books, but I spent the whole time wondering why the other story wasn't told. Such a shame.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-6 Interest level: Grade 6 (but I find this odd, I would revise this to be 3rd Grade)
Genre: fiction, Humorous, fantasy, adventure
First in series.

Comparable titles: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Witches, Captain Underpants series

Book connections: viking helmet, feathers to make fearther bombs, stuffed dragons in baskets

Monday, September 5, 2011


The BFG by Roald Dahl. Illustrations by Quentin Blake. Published 1982.

I opened this book to find my 8 year old signature in the front cover and my own drawings spread throughout. One of which was Saddam Hussein hanging from a bellypopper (hmm...I wonder what was going on in 1990). So 21 years later, I finally picked this up to read it again.

A young girl witnesses a giant blowing a strange horn into a child's bedroom. The giant catches her staring and scoops her up and takes her back to the land of the Giants. We find out that he is the Big Friendly Giant while the 9 other giants are horrible human bean eaters. Together, the girl Sophie, and the BFG, devise a plan to convince the Queen of England to capture the giants and save the world from being eaten in their sleep.

As mentioned before, I believe the Dahl books are perennial classics because there is so much humor that children understand and they're just fun with clever characters and satisfying endings. Imagine reading the whizpopper section to a group of second graders and you will understand why they would love this books so much.

There's also a lot of fun word play which would be a fun language arts connection for homophones or homonyms.

Interest Level: Grades 3-6 Intended reading level: Grade 4
Genre: Humor, fiction, fantasy

Comparable Titles: The Twits and all other Dahl, The Series of Unfortunate Events

Book connections: Bug-catching net, empty jars with dream labels, briefcase


Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Published 2002.

I first started to read this book a few years back as a read-aloud and did not like it. The sentences were long and had awkward formations, so it was difficult to get the correct feeling across when you didn't know where the sentence was going to end and in what connotation. Having finished it now, while reading it to myself, it wasn't nearly as difficult and I enjoyed it. So that being said, suggest it for reading but don't read it aloud. [I've started to read it a second time to my students, and having read it already, its much easier as a read aloud when I know where to put the inflections. So just a warning, as we should know already, but sometimes forget, always read the book first!]

A young girl, Coraline, moves to Oregon with her parents that are just too busy for her. She discovers a door that leads to her Other Mother who gives her everything she wishes for. But soon, Coraline learns that this is not all its chalked up to be and when her real parents go missing she has to fight to get them back from the spidery clutches of the evil other mother. Its creepy, its adventurous, its spooky in all the right places without being too scary and the movie adaptation is a good counter-point rather than a bad representation.

Interest Level: Grades 5-8 Intended reading level: Grade 5
Genre: Supernatural-fantasy, fiction

Comparable title: The Graveyard Book and other Neil Gaiman titles

Book connections: black buttons, cat and rat dolls, spiders, an antique key, snowglobe

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Aliens on Vacation

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith. Published 2011.

This book is the Men in Black for this generation and age group. What would you do if you were shipped off to the Northwest to your Grandmother's Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast just to find out that her clientele were Tourists from other planets? This is Scrub's problem when he arrives in a taxi cab without knowing what the summer and the Bed and Breakfast have in store for him.

The story is your regular adventure/sci-fi/coming-of-age tale where a boy learns how to be a leader and problem solve only his problems deal with visiting aliens and not wanting the local authorities to find out who his Grandmother's visitors are. The story doesn't drag and you do care to see Scrub save the hotel from any danger it might get itself into. A sequel is due out next summer and while this tale wraps up nicely, I think the narrator and the setting warrants another story.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Intended reading level: 4th Grade
Genre: Sci-fi, fiction, coming-of-age
First in a series--not yet released

Comparable titles: Nerd Camp, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Book connections: intergalactic passport, bed and breakfast pamphlet, vegan cookbook, camping guide

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Miss Fortune

Miss Fortune by Brandi Dougherty. Published 2010.

I have to say, my review of this book will be biased because I am friends with the author. It's part of the Poison Apple series that was a shoot off from the Candy Apple series of books. It's meant to entice the younger sisters of the readers of Twilight and other goth/vampire novels. Zoe and Mia visit a fortune teller at a carnival in Portland, OR and because of Zoe's bad attitude she is cursed when the fortune teller decides to give her a strange necklace. Zoe and Mia must find a way to destroy the cursed necklace and save Zoe's life from misfortune.

The book was suspenseful, had a strong friendship story, embarrassing crush moments and curses that lead the action along. I would say its definitely a young girl read and would be perfect for the set that has graduated from Beginning Chapter books, but not quite ready for full-length novels.

Interest Level: Grades 3-6, Intended reading level: 4th Grade
Genre: Thriller, Fiction, Friendship

Comparable titles: Candy Apple and Poison Apple books.

Book connections: snake necklace, crystal ball, mysterious book, ingredients for curse breaking spell