Sunday, April 28, 2013


Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Published 2010 by Groundwood books.

This was a superb graphic novel. Having won the Best Illustrated Children's Book Award by the New York Times, its already proven its caliber. The artwork is so filled with fluid and delicate dark lines that it reminds me of calligraphy. The backgrounds are extremely detailed and the way panels will be placed above them in a smaller space makes it feel like poetry in images. There are a lot of close-ups and variety of angles used by the illustrator. These  aspect to aspect and moment to moment shots slow the action down and let us feel what the characters are feeling.
The story is about a girl, Kim, known by Skim to the girls at her school, and her friendships and budding love affair. Like all good teen stories, it is a novel about identity and finding our true selves and our true friendships as well as what love means and how it can so easily tear our heart apart.

While the below image might ruin part of the story, I just have to share it because I think it is so beautiful. It reminds me of two flowers blooming inside a patch of thorns, a briar rose, if you will:

Interest level: YA - because of smoking, drinking and adult concepts I would say Grades 8-12

Questions to Readers:
What choices did Ms. Archer make, bad or good? Would you have done anything differently? What changed between Lisa and Kim? Why do you think Lisa was so angry all the time? What different things do you think Katie was feeling over the course of the novel? Why was Kim able to sympathize? 

Read-alikes: Page by Paige, Friends with Boys

When We Wake

When We Wake by Karen Healey. ARC. Published March 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.

For all those into the dystopian, sci-fi future books, this is another one for your reading list. The book is framed by the main character, Tegan, telling her story. We don't know who she's telling this story to or how she is telling it, but the premise is that we, the readers, are the recipient of this message some time in the future. We also know that this is Tegan's second lifetime. She has already died once and been brought back to life by a secret military cyrogenics project. Being that Tegan is still in a 16 year old body with a 16 year old mind, we still follow her in her normal teen pursuits even thought its more than a hundred years into the future passed the time of her death. But it's not just the teen pursuits we follow along after. With political intrigue and human rights issues surrounding her resurrection, Tegan and her friends find a mystery they must uncover and bring to the light of day.

I liked the framing of the story and the connection it created between the main character and the reader. I felt that I was implicit in this plot somehow and wanted to know why she was in hiding and where she was broadcasting, or 'casting, from. I had questions about the reality of the science that brought her back to life without any brain damage, but I suspended my disbelief to go along with the action and drama of the story. Also, I liked the cover even though it was another with a pretty girl face on the front, but this one applies. While there is a romantic storyline, its stays relatively PG, so I don't mind sharing this one with middle schoolers. I think there will be a lot of great discussions to be had about human rights issues around the world as well as the climate change issue.

Intended reading level: YA -Grades 5-8 okay
First in series

Questions for the Readers:
Does the mean always justify the end? Do you believe sacrificing a few to save millions is worth it? Would you want to be frozen after your death to be revived in a different century? What were some of the hardships Tegan faced when she woke up? Can you think of more that the book didn't address? What issues surrounding climate change were in the book? How did the different factions handle their thoughts or opinions about these issues? What do you think the Australian government should do to address these issues?

Read-alikes: Delirium series by Lauren Oliver. Matched series by Ally Condy. I haven't read them yet, but this book almost seemed like it could be a prequel to the Across the Universe series only they're written by separate authors. I would encourage reading them in tandem.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Genie Wishes

Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl. ARC. Published April 2013  by Amulet Books.

I really enjoyed this book. It was perfectly realistic in all the right ways. It didn't try to be over the top to get laughs or deal with issues that were too heavy. It captured what it was like to be at the edge of adolescence exactly.

The story takes place at the end of the summer right before school starts with the impetus of a new girl, Blair, who starts to put a wedge between the main character, Genie, and her best friend, Sarah. The drama between the three builds slowly over the course of the book but in a way that is natural and true to how it would unfold in real life. The gem of this book, for me at least, was how realistic the school situations were and how the school was run. Its the first school-based book I've read in a long time that actually had students doing things that I believe students actually do these days and without the emphasis being on a horrible teacher or a mean principal. The story is shaped by  Genie becoming the class blogger and writing posts about the fifth graders dreams, wishes and hopes over the course of the year. There would be such a great tie-in with student blogging using this book as a catalyst.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-5

Questions for the Readers:
Have you ever grown distant with a good friend? How did this make you feel? What changed between you and your friend? Do you think students in fifth grade should wear make-up? Why or why not? Convince the readers to your argument persuasively.

Lauren Myracle's birthday series (Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen), Alice series by Naylor

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Published 2012 by
Simon and Schuster. American Book Award winner. Pura Belpre Winner. Stonewall Award winner. Printz Honor Book.

This book is precious. Just really precious. I don't know why that's the right word for it, but it is. It is such a sweet, specific love story, but it's also about finding ourselves, discovering our identities and learning how to love and be loved. And to top it all off, its about two young Latino boys who all this is happening to.

The book takes place in 1987 in Texas so we have the context of teens in gangs, rampant homophobia and cultural stereotypes that circle the characters and the story line. Because the characters feel so timely and exist within their own bubble, I sometimes forgot that this book took place in the past.

I don't want to give away much more than that, but as you can see, it's been on almost every single award list, so give it a try.

Intended reading level: YA (High school level, mature 8th grade)

Questions to the Readers:
Have you ever felt you were in love with someone? How did you feel when you were in love? Was it reciprocated? Have you ever felt love for someone but was too afraid to tell them? Where did that fear come from?

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
Compare this book to Openly Straight

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dorko the Magnificent

Dorko the Magnificent by Andrea Beaty. ARC. Published April 2013 by Amulet.

Robbie Darko opens the book by talking directly to his audience as if he's a showman on stage. He warns us that there will be no explosions or car chases like in the movies but if we happen to make his book into a movie, feel free to add them where we see fit. Robbie explains to the reader that he is a magician, whether or not his fellow students appreciate him for it. Beaty does a good job of showing us Robbie's blunders without him seeing them as blunders as he tells us about them. The story truly takes off when Grandma Melvyn is introduced and becomes part of the family. She becomes Robbie's mentor in all things illusion whether he wants her to be or not. The story also has a believable and timely subplot dealing with money woes and parent's struggling to keep the family afloat during the economic downturn.

Overall, a good read for grades 4 and 5 with two cheeky main characters and a whole lot of Trixies.

Intended reading level: Grades 3-5

Questions for the Readers:
Why do you think Grandma Melvyn calls everyone Trixie? How would you feel if Robbie was your magician brother and took your stuff to use for magic tricks? How does the ending make you feel?

The One and Only Ivan, Secrets of the Cicada Summer

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Like Bug Juice on a Burger

Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternber. ARC. Published April 2013 by Amulet.

I have to say this was not my favorite book. I don't understand when text is placed in verse when it's not actually poetry. Just let it read like regular prose please. The plot is that Eleanor is going to sleep away camp for the first time. At first she is excited but once she realizes she won't be in the familiarity of her own home with her parents, she begins to dread the experience. The rest of the book is her detailing what she doesn't like about camp but realizing that she will survive it. The book was short, probably because of the verse style writing. Once I felt like the character was reaching her growth potential and where the book was really going to take off, it ended. I don't feel like I really got to know any of the other characters and her learning process seemed to come on rather quickly. I understand it was meant to be a shorter read for younger students, but I wasn't a fan. That being said, I think this was just a personal preference and other readers might like it as the writing itself was done well. Could be good summer reading potential.

Intended reading level: Grades 1-3
Second book in a series.

Questions to the Readers: 
Have you ever been to summer camp before? If so, what was your experience like? If not, would you want to go? Why? Do you think Eleanor could have done anything different to enjoy her time there more? What was your favorite name for the goat?

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Liberty Porter, Ruby Lu

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Scott Pilgrim: Volume One and Two

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Published 2004 and 2005, Oni Press.

I have to admit, I saw the movie first, and ever since then I've wanted to read the comics. The movie sticks closely to the humor and the style and even the story line. The comics add more as each volume is only about one fight or so. Manga-influenced, video game influenced, punk influenced, all those things rolled together.

The story is that Scott Pilgrim meets Ramona Flowers and finds that if he wants to continue to date her he has to battle the League of her Evil Ex-Boyfriends. But Scott's no angel either and his ex-girlfriends keep making appearances as well. Scott doesn't have a job, he lives in a one room apartment where he shares a bed with his gay roommate, he's in a band with one of his ex-girlfriends and the band's biggest fan is the high schooler he used to date. Throw in magical elements like travelling through sub-highways in people's brains and doors appearing out of nowhere and the fact that you can battle to the death for a small collection of coins and you get the Scott Pilgrim novels. Fun!

Intended reading level: YA (HS, some sexual situations)
First and second volumes in series of six.

Questions for readers: Do you think it's fair that Scott has to battle Ramona's exes? What would you do if you were Knives Chau? What do you think the phrase, "all's fair in love and war" means? Do you think this is an apt expression for these comics?

Read-alikes: shonen manga titles

Starring Jules: As Herself

Starring Jules: As Herself by Beth Ain. ARC. Published March 2013. Scholastic.

This beginning chapter book is for the readers who love quirky, fun characters. Jules lives in New York City with her artist mom and chef dad and little brother, Big Henry. The book opens with her being discovered at a diner by a casting agent when she writes and sings her own jingle. She is told she has pizzazz, her new favorite word. And that's just what Jules has. She's full of pep and humor but she also has real kid worries, like losing her best friend and wanting to find a new one, or being scared she'll throw up at her audition. The family feels very real and the relationships between the kids is fun and full of real changes and evolutions that happen as children age.

Intended reading level: Grades 1-3
First in series.

Questions for Readers:
Why do you think Jules doesn't want to be friends with Charlotte anymore? Do you think they will fix their friendship in the future? How would you have reacted if you were Elinor visiting Jules' house? Would you want to audition for a commercial? How do you think you would feel in front of the casting agents?

Read-alikes: Clementine, Judy Moody

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Notebook of Doom: Rise of the Balloon Goons

The Notebook of Doom: Rise of the Balloon Goons written and illustrated by Troy Cummings. ARC.
Release date July 2013.

I will definitely get this book for my kids. Who doesn't love a story about strange monsters especially when those monsters are Dancing Balloons? That makes me chuckle alone. It helps that the rest of the book is pretty funny too. For instance, one of the monsters in the Notebook of Doom is a Forkupine, which is a "small, metal rodent with a coat of tiny, sharp forks," with a warning that says, "Never pet a forkupine! Instead lure it near a plate of spaghetti." A fun fact is included that reads, "The forkupine is a distant cousin to the sporkupine, a creature which is less dangerous but also --let's face it-- less practical. "

Alexander is new to town and discovers a Notebook of Doom documenting different monsters when he accidentally goes to the school campus that is getting torn down. He starts spotting Dancing Balloons all over town while simultaneously discovering that the air is being let out of anything inflatable. Since his birthday is on Leap Year, his dad has decided to throw a birthday party for him. The guests are not what he expected...

Intended reading level: Grades 1-3
First in new series with 4 proposed titles.

Questions to the readers:
What monster would you add to the Notebook of Doom if you could make one up? What would its habitat be? What would it look like? What warnings would you give about it?

Read-alikes: Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, Zombiekins, Pencil of Doom

Looniverse: Stranger Things

Looniverse: Stranger Things by David Lubar and illustrated by Matt Loveridge. ARC. Release date May 2013.

This is a beginning chapter book about a boy named Ed who finds a strange coin that somehow creates strange occurrences around him. If he doesn't want the universe to lose all its strangeness he has to find the Stranger that the coin belongs too. There are silly antics like a little brother being used as a floating tube in a pool by drinking excess amounts of soda. The print is large and easy to read and the pictures are just kooky enough to compliment the text well.

I liked the premise even though I was a little confused as to how the coin depleted strangeness when things got stranger around it. Seems like things should have become boring and mundane around the coin until all strangeness was gone but perhaps that would have been too difficult of a concept.

My students who like The Weird School books might really enjoy this series.

Intended reading level: Grades 1-3
First in series of four proposed titles.

Questions to readers:
What do you think would happen if all the strangeness left the planet? Is being strange good or bad, why? Would you want to have Ed's coin? What would you do with it if you did have it?

Weird School series, Pencil of Doom

Princess Knight

Princess Knight: Part One by Osamu Tezuka. Originally published 1953. Translated to English 1977.
Vertical, Inc. 2011

For my graphic novels for youth class, I had to choose a Manga to read this week. I went with Tezuka's Princess Knight because I was intrigued by the dueling gender relationships and the playing with stereotypes especially for a book published over 50 years ago in Japan. I had also heard that Tezuka is the father of Manga from Scott McCloud's work.

The premise of this book is that a mischievous angel named Tink places a boy heart in an unborn baby before God gives the baby a girl heart and sends he/she on his/her way. As punishment, Tink must go to earth and take the boy heart back before he can ever return to heaven. Unfortunately the baby becomes the Prince/Princess of the kingdom and it takes Tink 15 years before he can even speak to her. The story follows the adventures of Prince Sapphire as he/she deals with trying to hide his identity of a girl to be considered the heir and prince to the kingdom.

The book mainly played on gender stereotypes and had a lot of slapstick humor reminiscent of Bugs Bunny and other cartoons from that era. With the heavy religious overtones, I was worried that with the dated writing of this text that the book would try to make the character choose one gender or the other. While I've only read part one, I'm happy that Tezuka allowed him/her to remain ambiguous and has him/her gain identity from both hearts. She is neither fully princess or fully prince.

With action, adventure, knights, witches, pirates, kingdoms and assassins, this book would appeal to both girl and boy readers who love comics. The humor is kid friendly and as it was intended for a young female audience (shojo) it is not too violent or sexual.

Here's a bonus YouTube video from the opening of the Princess Knight anime:

Intended reading level: Grades 3-5

Questions for the readers:
Do you think Prince Sapphire should keep both hearts? How does each heart help her in her adventures? What do you think of the choice Tink made towards the end that changed his fate? Do you think Sapphire will choose Captain Blood or Franz Charming? What fairy tales does Tezuka use to tell his story?

Read-alikes: Astro Boy, Bone series

Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg. ARC. Publish date June 2013. Arthur A. Levine Books.

I grabbed this book at the ALA Mid-Winter conference through a flurry of other librarians all asking the same questions around the baby blue cover. We were all thinking the same thing. This can't actually be offensive, it must be a positive look at homosexuality, but what's with that title? The representative went through her spiel and reassured all of us to give it a try and see what it was about.

Rafe is openly gay in his Boulder community, but finds that he is fed up with being "the gay kid." To get away from labels, in an attempt to just be himself without anything else attached, he moves to Boston to go to an all-boys prep school. He knows that he doesn't want to lie about his sexuality, but he doesn't want to come out either. His family and friends back in Colorado are appalled once they know what he's done and he finds he must navigate who he is from both sides of his Boston identity and his Bolder identity. Things get complicated when he begins to make closer connections with boys at school.

In the beginning of the book, I was wary and kept noticing how many labels Rafe attached to others for someone who is so against labels. I was hoping this was a tactic on the part of the author and we'll just say he knew what he was doing. As an adult reader, I sometimes find this challenging to determine what the author wants you to know compared to what the character may not know yet. Overall, I think Konigsberg did a good job of letting Rafe explore identity crisis issues in his own way, even if that way may seem absurdly backwards at first. There is definitely growth and exploration of thought for the main character.

For issues exploring homosexuality, identity and first love, this is a great read.

Intended reading level: YA (HS level because of alcohol, some drug use and sexual situations-though they are very mild and only implied, not detailed)

Questions for the reader:
What do you think? Did Rafe come to understand his true identity? Was the experiment worth it or should he have stayed home?

Read-alikes: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Songs of a Teenage Nomad

Posting Again

I started this review blog as a requirement for a graduate level course in my library science program. Therefore, the audience was geared towards other librarians and teachers. I wanted to include book connections that teachers could use to entice excitement for the book or include in a display. I tried to find read-alikes for book suggestions or to find a connection to the new book to get a reader interested. I personally like reading short blog posts as I don't have much time in my day to read multiple reviews, so the posts are on the concise side with a short summary and my impression. I try to include strengths and weaknesses as well as what I think the kid's will think of the book within the short review. 
Now that I'll be transitioning the blog to use within my school community, the reviews will be geared more to my student audience and whether or not I think they will like or gain anything from the books reviewed. There is no rhyme or reason to the books that will be reviewed. Some may be new, some old that I've never read before. Some may be for younger students and some may be for high school level. For the time being, the form and signature contributions may change or evolve depending on what I think is best to include about a book to reach the intended audience.