Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Published 2011.

This book has been receiving rave reviews and it is not un-warranted (love my double negatives). What's interesting about this book is that it could be under the banner of "celebrity" writer as it was written by a member of the Decemberists, but I don't think this faults the book, rather than add an interesting layer to the author's background (apparently Colin Meloy plays with the themes and legend in this book in his rock operas often). But anyhoo...its a thick tomb of rich vocabulary, descriptions that place you in the moment and scene, and a creative fantasy world that seems disconnected and connected to our world at the same time. This could be because the setting is in the Impassable Wilderness of Portland, Oregon, a mythical country that mere humans are unable to pass into because of the magical protections surrounding it.

In this world, there are talking animals, evil rulers, bureaucratic red tape, blood sucking ivy and more. As many reviews prior have pointed out, this book is like a new Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz. It feels instantly classic and timeless yet of this moment and not dated. For the summary, Prue loses her baby brother when a murder of crows picks him from the basin of his Red Flyer and takes him into the Impassable Wilderness. She must go in after him but she is followed by Curtis, a boy from her school, who insists on being partners even though he is unaware this means that he will be swept away into a coyote army and eventually made part of a group of bandits. Prue must bring the North and South Woods together to defeat the evil Dowager Governess of Wildwood if she has any hope of getting her brother back before he is sacrificed to the ivy.

My problem with this book was also one of the things that made it great. It doesn't water down its language so that younger kids will have an easier time reading it, which is what makes it rich and wonderful, but also what will make it a hard sell to readers who aren't already strong and voracious consumers of their fantasy fiction. At 540 pages, its may be difficult to inspire a child to continue when even as an adult, I had some difficulty with some words. I mean, who knew that "gorp" was just trail mix. But hopefully, with its wealth of description that added to the action rather than slog it down, they will be pulled into Wildwood.

Also, something should be said for the illustrations. Their quaintness was somehow reminiscent of Quentin Blake to me, not in style, but in that they are very specific to their illustrator and they instill warm feelings in you when you look at them. Now, that being said, as I mentioned before, the descriptions in the writing at times was so specific and wonderful that I almost wish there were no illustrations or that they weren't so innocent looking because sometimes the action was grisly and bloody and menacing and that is where the pictures failed.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Reading level: listed as Grade 5, but I would say more like 7
Genre: Fantasy

Comparable Titles: Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz

Book Connections: Portland, Oregon, Building Imaginary Cities and Map Making, Green Connections (talking to trees and plants)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and other Scary Things

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and other Scary Things by Lenore Look. Published 2008.

This cover always attracted me and the intrigue from the long title added to my excitement about this read. I had heard good reviews but I had never gotten around to reading it. Well, I'm happy to report that on all accounts it did not fail. The illustrations are adorable and match the character and family so well. The story is cute and fun and full of the trials of family and school life in all the ways you want it to be.

Alvin Ho is allergic to school, or so he thinks, and has never spoken in class. He can talk at home and on the bus, but not at school. This stops him from having very many friends but with his PDK and lessons from his dad and brother, he will try his best to meet people and survive anything that is thrown at him. Over the course of the book, we get to know Alvin and his family more, but we also watch as he makes a big mistake with his dad's favorite toy, and see how his father handles it in a mature way that is both believable and refreshing. We also watch as Alvin comes out of his shell, if only just a little bit, enough to make it so that this series continues on in many more books.

I've been reading it to my second graders and we're all enjoying it. It gets lots of laughs and Alvin's mishaps keep them riveted.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Reading Level: Grade 3
Genre: Humor, realistic fiction
First in series

Comparable Titles: Big Nate, Joey Pigza Swallowed a Key

Book Connections: Making survival kits, allergies/hypochondria, discussion of ethical dilemas, playing piano

Friday, January 13, 2012

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Published 2011.

For whatever reason, I didn't have this book marked as YA in my library and its been circulating madly. I finally took an hour to read it and I can see why its been so popular. There's people making out, talking about boobs in shirts, smoking cigarettes, murder. Not what I first expected when I kept hearing about this book. Now that being said, I think the material is okay for the older grades from 5th to Middle. There's no sex or language too extreme (though there is some name calling and slight bad word use). Overall, its a book about finding yourself as many young adult books are and also standing up for yourself and fighting for what's right too.

I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of a darker Hereville and a more teen obsessed Persepolis. Anya is Russian American and she desperately wants to fit in and date the cute boy in school. After she befriends a ghost, Emily, she finds that that Emily will help her cheat on tests, find out where Sean is and get invited to parties. She wants to help Emily find her "murderer" but soon she finds that what she thought she wanted isn't all its chalked up to be and who she thought she knew Emily was, isn't quite the truth.

Interest level and reading level: YA
Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Comparable Titles: Persepolis, Page by Paige

Book Connections: Russian-American culture, library research (this would be a great chapter to show students how to use micro-film or how research was done before Google), ghost stories

The Adventures of Captain Underpants

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. Published 1997.

First, I'm amazed how long these books have been around in the same way I found out that Magic Tree House has been around since I was little. To me it seems like they've only been on the scene the last five years, but maybe that's because I've only started paying attention to children's books in the last five years. I've obviously known about these books and glanced through them but I hadn't read one from front to back yet so I decided to spend 10 minutes on the first one.

I can see why kids love them. While it is potty humor, its not necessarily disgusting. The illustrations are fun and the little animation bit towards the end is interactive and intriguing. I can see all the kids making their own flip book animations after reading this. The plot's obviously not extensive but the kids are fun and I love the idea of the mean principal being hypnotized into the crime fighting Captain Underpants. It makes it that much funnier when he's streaking across the campus. While, I've known some teachers and parents who are against their kids reading these books, I say, if they're excited about reading then let them read this one. It will only get them reading more books in the future.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Reading level: Grade 3 (titlewave says 4.8, sometimes I don't understand where they get these numbers from...but then again, looking at the book there are words like "miserable, behavior, hypnotize" that I suppose could be difficult for some students. Personally, I find as young as first grade is an appropriate reading level for these titles.)
Genre: Humor

Comparable Titles: The Adventures of Super Baby, Babymouse, Super Amoeba

Book Connections: making your own comic books, creating super heroes, making flip books

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Published 2009.

This is one of those beginning reader books to be put in the same category with Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Its formulaic and uses strange kid humor but the concept is fun and there are more pictures than words, so its a good transitional book for a struggling reader. There's a whole series of these that don't necessarily have to go in order and their bright yellow on black and white makes them pop on a shelf.

In this one, the Lunch Lady must battle the evil league of librarians as they plan to dominate the world through their magical book monsters. Being a librarian, I was a little sad that they didn't help the Lunch Lady in her spy endeavors, but I understand that the concept of these books is the Lunch Lady taking on the ills of the school world, so I'll go along with it. That's pretty much the book in a nutshell.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Reading level: Grade 2
Genre: Humor, graphic novel

Comparable titles: Captain Underpants, Big Nate

Book Connections: Roles and Jobs in a school, Book Monster Attacks

Hereville: How Mirka got her Sword

Hereville: How Mirka got her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Published 2011.

This was an interesting, quick graphic novel. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting but it didn't disappoint me either. If anything, I thought it was too short and that it could have been one chapter in a collection of three that inter-weaved more. It reminded me of American Born Chinese in that it was highly focused on a specific culture but also extended itself into a fairy tale like telling. This is why I think I wanted more because American Born Chinese was able to push itself to a near perfect level with the interweaving of the stories that I think Hereville could have really benefited from.

In this story, a young girl in an Orthodox Jewish community has benefited from the lessons of argumentation that she's learned from her Stepmother. After she stumbles on a witch's house and has a confrontation with a talking pig, she must defeat a troll for her sword of destiny. As you can see, not much happens. The story seems to be more about the culture and watching how the family interacts and deals with their problems. The more I think about it, the more I am bothered by how abruptly it ends but it was a fun read and I feel like I learned something about Orthodox Jewish communities.

Interest level: Grades 3-6 Reading level: Grade 4
Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Comparable Titles: American Born Chinese, Page by Paige, Anya's Ghost

Book Connections: Judaism, Shabbos, knitting