Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tidbit for Librarians

One of the more popular summer reading activities/displays is collecting postcards from areas around the country (or world) and displaying them with a map in you library. Since the national theme for the 2011 SRP is "One World, Many Stories", more libraries than usual are already thinking about such a display and looking for other libraries to exchange postcards with. To help, we have set up a Yahoo group with a simple database. Simple to join, then just click on "Database" and then "Contact List", and you are set to go!

Now to start collecting postcards...and begging for stamps...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Cybils Mini-Reviews

Cybils is done! Well, our part of it, anyway. Sunday night, the Round 1 YA Fiction panelists met virtually and held a spirited, sometimes silly, sometimes frustrating (technology - gotta love it) discussion narrowing the 182 choices down to the top (insert much smaller number). It took almost five hours, mainly because we have seven very different panelists with very different tastes and perspectives - exactly what every judging panel needs, I think. At long last, we came up with our final list, which is...


Top secret! You didn't think I would really tell you, did you? Nope, you will have to wait until Saturday, when you can go to Cybils.com and watch the results from all the Round One panels as they are revealed throughout the day. Librarians, have your order cards ready, because these will be the best of the best! We all had favorites that didn't make the cut for whatever reason (sniff), so you know the ones that did had some pretty strong backing all around.

In the meantime, we can all now get back to actually BLOGGING about some of those great books. We turtles have been so busy reading (not to mention all that holiday stuff), we haven't had time to scribble out more than a few words for our typist. We hope to begin making up for that, and we'll start here with a few more mini-reviews of Cybils contenders:

by Natalie Standiford
Scholastic
978-0545107105
 
The Sullivan sisters have a big problem. On Christmas Day their rich and imperious grandmother gathers the family and announces that she will soon die . . .and has cut the entire family out of her will. Since she is the source of almost all their income, this means they will soon be penniless.
Someone in the family has offended her deeply. If that person comes forward with a confession of her (or his) crime, submitted in writing to her lawyer by New Year's Day, she will reinstate the family in her will. Or at least consider it.
And so the confessions begin....

We confess we were hoping for some secrets a bit darker and more shocking, but what we got was entertaining enough. We also toyed with the idea that grandma didn't know squat, and was just fishing for dirt. We won't say how right or wrong we were on that, let's just say everybody learned something new, and we don't necessarily mean a moral lesson! No, there wasn't much remorse except in getting caught, and not a lick of character development. But, still a fun, light read. We give it a

3 out of 5.
by Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic
978-0545165747

Abby Goodwin is sure her sister Maya isn't a murderer. But her parents don't agree. Her friends don't agree. And the cops definitely don't agree. Maya is a drop-out, a stoner, a girl who's obsessed with her tutor, Jefferson Andrews...until he ends up dead. Maya runs away, and leaves Abby following the trail of clues. Each piece of evidence points to Maya, but it also appears that Jefferson had secrets of his own. And enemies. Like his brother, who Abby becomes involved with...until he falls under suspicion.

Is Abby getting closer to finding the true murderer? Or is someone leading her down a twisted false path?
Nice, dark mystery with enough plot twists and red herrings to keep readers guessing to the end. Most teens will love every bit of it. How far should Abby go to protect her sister? What - or who - should she be willing to sacrifice? What, ultimately, is the truth? Be prepared for some loud outbursts when readers get to the ending. We give it a

4 out of 5.

by Watt Key
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
978-0374308636
Hal is no saint, and has some time to serve in a high-security boys' home. His plan is to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, so he can get out as soon as possible and rebuild his life with his father. Everything seems stacked against him, though, from the two gangs trying to force him to choose sides, to the warden who has no interest in letting any of his charges leave early.

A companion to Alabama Moon, which we hadn't read - and didn't need to. This one stands just fine on its own, although we will be going back to read Alabama Moon soon. A powerful story that sucks you in quickly, we became extremely frustrated with the trap Hal found himself in. Teens are usually quick to protest injustice, and this book is sure to get them riled up. We would have given in to despair early on, but Hal has more strength than we expect. This would make a great class read - if you have a supportive administration and parents! We give it a

5 out of 5.

Monday, December 20, 2010

by Mary Jane Beaufrand
Little, Brown and Company
978-0-316-041683
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration.

Veronica Severance feels cut off from the world. Forced to move from the city to rural Oregon with her parents, she is haunted by loneliness and by the chilling sounds of the Santiam, the river that runs through her backyard.
Through the fog of isolation, Ronnie finds herself becoming close with Karen, a young girl who she babysits. But when she discovers Karen's body on the banks of the Santiam, the victim of a supposed accident, Ronnie feels compelled to uncover the truth.
As she becomes increasingly obsessed with solving Karen's death, Ronnie is led deeper and deeper into the woods surrounding the river and to the dark secret hidden within its midst.
Haunting. Compelling. Edge-of-your-seat reading. How many cliche terms could we come up with to describe this book? Probably a lot more! Fortunately, a) they are all true, and b) the book itself is anything but a cliche. Along with a good murder mystery, we have some fantastic character development and skillful writing.

Ronnie represents any of a million teens who find themselves suddenly out of their element, but never becomes a stereotype. She isn't thrilled about the move, but isn't so whiny and self-centered that she fails to see how it really was a good thing for her family. Despite being the girl from the 'big city', we discover she isn't quite as streetwise as some of her new friends. Readers might be able to see things a bit faster than she does, but it just doesn't seem important. We are drawn into her character, and perfectly content to experience things right along with her.

Other characters and the area itself are portrayed just as vividly, with more showing than telling (for which we are eternally grateful, after some of the describe-every-outfit books we have been forced to read lately). The atmosphere itself seems to become a character at times. This is a book that stays with you for a while, although you may not be able to put your finger on exactly why. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mini Reviews and Some Miscelleneous Notes

First, a big thank-you to our Blogger Secret Santa for the book and bookmark! We are looking forward to digging into the book once Cybils is over, and everyone wants the bookmark:)

Second, to the lady suing McDonald's:
a) It's not McDonald's fault if you can't say no to your children. Please work on your parenting skills before they become teenagers.
b) You can buy the toy without buying the Happy Meal.
c) An occasional Happy Meal will not hurt your kids anyway.
d) The toys aren't even advertised on commercials, so if your kids are pointing and asking for them, you must ALREADY BE AT MCDONALD'S.

Pick any of the above as a reason to stop wasting the courts' time.

Moving on, then! So many great books read lately, and just not enough time to give each a full review, so here are a few with a blurb or two about why you may want to pick them up:

by Lauren Strasnick
Simon Pulse
978-1416982654
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration
 This book was a pleasant surprise, as it did not sound at all like the type of book we would enjoy. We completely ached with Holly, and despite knowing these were some pretty bad choices she was making, we were right there with her in making them. We got so sucked into her character, we didn't even feel any remorse until she did. In the end, of course, we got slapped in the face with the no-man-is-an-island fallout, but were still left rooting for her and hoping life will work out.
When Holly loses her virginity to Paul, a guy she barely knows, she assumes their encounter is a one-night stand. After all, Paul is too popular to even be speaking to Holly...and he happens to have a long-term girlfriend, Saskia. But ever since Holly's mom died six months ago, Holly has been numb to the world, and she's getting desperate to feel something, anything—so when Paul keeps pursuing her, Holly relents. Paul's kisses are a welcome diversion...and it's nice to feel like the kind of girl that a guy like Paul would choose.
But things aren't so simple with Saskia around. Paul's real girlfriend is willowy and perfect... and nothing like Holly. To make matters worse, she and Holly are becoming friends. Suddenly the consequences of Holly's choices are all too real, and Holly stands to lose more than she ever realized she had.



by Pegi Deitz Shea
PM Press
978-1604861983
Review copy from publisher for Cybils consideration
 As with Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, this book delves into the issue of child soldiers, but is an entirely different experience. The settings and conflicts, of course, are different, as well as the age of the characters. Abe's voice may seem more familiar to teens, even as he begins remembering things they have no experience with. While the writing is not as taut as Perkins', and some of the revelations don't come as complete surprises, it is still a worthwhile addition to any high school library.
 Portraying the pressures of teens to live a normal life while facing mental illness, this suspenseful young adult novel follows the journey of success-bound Abe, who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A senior in high school, with a loving and wealthy adoptive family, Abe is on track for a big scholarship and an open future. Suddenly, horrific flashbacks rip him back to war-torn Africa, where five years previously he lost his mother, sister, friends, and almost his own life to torturous violence. During therapy, he uncovers even darker moments from his past that make him question how he survived. This action-filled thriller will open the eyes and hearts of teenagers to the lives of young people who have been exposed to profound violence around the world.



by Todd Mitchell
Candlewick
978-0763640842
Review from publisher for Cybils consideration
 
James was the guy no one noticed — just another fifteen-year-old in a small town. So when he gets into an academy for gifted students, he decides to leave his boring past behind. In a boarding school full of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless pranks to invent a new James: fighter, rebel, punk. Everyone’s impressed, except for the beautiful "Ice Queen" Ellie Frost and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees through his new identity. But James is riding high, playing pranks and hooking up with luscious Jessica Keen. There’s just one thing awry: he’s starting to have vivid dreams of being a demon-hunting warrior, a thrill that is spilling over into dangerous and self-destructive acts while he’s awake. As he’s drawn deeper into his real-life lies and his dream-world conquests, James begins to wonder: What’s the price for being the coolest guy around?

This seems to be a "love it or hate it" kind of book. While we loved it, we concede that it is a bit of a strange book - especially the dream sequences. That part 'worked' for us, though, and we think it will work even better for teenage boys. This is another subject area (boys with possible mental/emotional issues) we don't see too much in YA literature, and this is solidly written enough to fill that niche nicely.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty

by Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine books
978-0545069724

Review copy received for Cybils consideration
This was one of the longest books we have ever read.

We don't mean by actual size, although it is a respectable 496 pages. We don't mean it's boring, either - it's quite intriguing, in fact. We mean it was long as in, there was so MUCH in it, we kept getting that nearing-the-end-of-the-story feeling, when it looks like things are going to be wrapped up tidily. Then we would realize there were still, say, a hundred pages to go.

Readers looking for a traditional ghost story will find the title misleading. Is there a ghost? Or more than one? Maybe. Sort of. Yes. No. There are many types of ghosts, you know? American teens may be put off at first by the format. Most of the book is written in the form of school essays and blog entries. One major essay assignment is supposed to be written in the style of old gothic novels, which leads to some very dramatic passages. Readers who aren't familiar with this style (or who don't bother to read the explanation) may wonder why everyone is suddenly so over the top. Once you get into the swing of things, however, the story draws you in to where you simply have to know what's going on - and don't even think of skipping to the end, you will just end up even more confused.

What amazed us about the book was how quickly the characters' voices became seperate in our minds. Each time the 'writer' changes, there is a heading with his or her name, but after a while we didn't need to read the heading to know who was talking. When your characters are all of similar ages and backgrounds, that can be hard to do, so a definite hats-off to Ms. Moriarty.

The way all the details come together (and at different intervals, not just the actual final ending) was also very well done. In the end (the actual final ending), things were wrapped up in nifty little packages, with some satisfying twists and a fair amount of humor. (The ghost! Who knew? We probably should have seen it, but...well, we didn't!) If nothing else, the whole book serves to remind us that we probably never see the whole picture on anything, and it's amazing how one tiny tidbit can completely reverse how we see any situation.

Do we recommend it? To individual readers, yes. If this description makes you intrigued rather than putting you off, you will probably love the book. To libraries? We're not sure. As we mentioned, fans of traditional ghost stories may not finish it. It's not a book for the masses. It is, however, a book for that small group of teens you have who want something outside the box, something that maybe takes a little effort and commitment from the reader, but promises great rewards at the end. If you are up to hand-selling it to those kids, and don't care if it doesn't get as many check-outs as Twilight, then by all means grab a copy! We give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Giving

We have been on an unintended break of sorts, due to some "stuff" going on. Many apologies! We should be back in the swing of things soon, but first wanted to pass on the very cool thing one of our favorite blogs is doing.

Last year, CakeWrecks hosted a holiday charity drive, with a different charity featured each day. They made it incredibly easy for readers to donate a dollar (or more!) to each charity, and through the combined efforts, thousands of people and animals were helped out last year. It was such a rousing success, they are doing it again this year, starting today.

Nobody has a ton of money right now, but surely we can at least scrape up a dollar. Seeing it added in with all the others gives a great sense of impact. We plan to participate each day, and hope you all will too! Just click on the word "CakeWrecks" above, and check back each day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bamboo People
Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge Publishing
978-1958089-328-2
Bang! A side door bursts open. Soldiers pour into the room. They're shouting and waving rifles. I shield my head with my arms. It was a lie! I think, my mind racing.
Girls and boys alike are screaming. The soldiers prod and herd some of us together and push the rest apart as if we're cows or goats. Their leader is a middle—aged man. He's moving slowly, intently, not dashing around like the others.
" Take the boys only, Win Min," I overhear him telling a tall, gangly soldier. "Make them obey."
This is still an area of current events many young people may not be familiar with, and whether as a private read or a class assignment, Bamboo People is an excellent way to bring them right to the heart of the conflict. In addition to the war in Burma, there are a myriad of other issues that could take hours of class discussion time.
Chiko isn't a fighter by nature. He's a book-smart Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. When Chiko is forced into the army be trickery, he must find the courage to survive the mental and physical punishment meted out by the training faciliy's menacing captain.

Tu Reh can't forget the image of the Burmese soldiers buring his home and the bamboo fields of his oppressed Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. Now living in a Karenni refugee camp on the Thai border, Tu Reh is consumed by anger and the need for revenge. He can't wait to join his father and the Karenni resistance in the effort to protect their people.

Chiko and Tu Reh's stories come to a violent intersection as each boy is sent on his first mission into the jungle. Extreme circumstances and unlikely friendships force each boy to confront what it means to be a man to his people.


The general attitude among some teens is still that being a soldier might be cool (and we do in fact think our American military members are pretty darn cool). Chiko's experiences, however, will take away quite a bit of the perceived glamour. And in a time when many young men - and women - are filled with feelings of anger and helplessness, it is Tu Reh's story in particular that may open a dialogue about what it in fact takes to be a man.

Perkins as usual conveys culture, politics, and history in such a way that readers never feel like they are being instructed. Characters are real and easy to empathise with from their first introduction. A must-have for any middle or high school library. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza, by Holly Clifton-Brown

by Holly Clifton-Brown
Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
978-0-7613-6444-3
Annie Hoot loves to knit. But the other owls refuse to wear her colorful creations. So Anie knits herself a hot air balloon and sets off to find some animals who will appreciate her talents. What can she make for the rainforest animals? African animals? Polar animals? And what will she discover when she returns home?

Originally published in the UK by Andersen Press, you will find a few words and spellings changed - 'scatty' becomes 'scatterbrained' (although we kind of like "scatty" better), and 'colours' of course becomes 'colors'. What bright, bright colors they are! While the story is simple and sweet, the pictures definitely make the book. Annie is a plump little bird with an expressive face, and a cute little acorn button on her sweater. Parrots happily admire their new knitted boots, and giraffes look serene in their (very long) new scarves. Children will enjoy poring over the details, and may be inspired to do some creating of their own - whether with yarn, or on paper.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: God Made Your Body and How God Makes Babies by Jim Burns - and an announcement!

by Jim Burns
Bethany House
978-0-7642-0211-7
by Jim Burns
Bethany House
978-0764202100

       Miss Ami posting today! The turtles are still sleeping off their Thanksgiving feasting - lucky reptiles.

I first came across these two books last year, when I was pregnant with my youngest. My teenager is pretty clear on general concepts (and, after being in the delivery room, is also pretty clear on avoiding all possibilities for a while!) but I have three younger boys, then aged 3, 5 and 6. Their initial questions were along the lines of, "How is the doctor going to get the baby out?", followed by the inevitable, "How did the baby get in there in the first place?"

Every parent handles these questions differently, and since you know your kids best, you know what works best for you. We tend to use accurate names for body parts, and try to give straightforward answers that are age-appropriate. Even the most open parent, however, can stumble and stammer a bit trying to find the right words, and that's where a good book can come in really handy!

Burns takes a very straightforward approach I appreciated, with a Christian viewpoint that I also like. The religious message is not heavy-handed, so you can hand these to a variety of patrons looking for a way to explain the differences between boys and girls, or where babies come from. For example:

To every little girl God gave a vagina and a womb. Little girls grow up to become women, and because they have these special parts in their bodies, they can become mommies. (pg. 14 God Made Your Body)
The text is accompanied by pictures of multi-racial children and a simple line drawing.

These books are geared toward children around the ages of 3-7. Some parts may be a bit technical for the 3-year-old, but it is a simple matter to skip over those for the time being. Explanations are, for the most part, very simple and easy to understand. Objects familiar to a child, such as a Cheerio or an orange slice, are used to show how big a baby is at different stages of gestation.

The only part we take issue with is the section in both on adoption. We love that it is included as a way families are formed, but we wish that a) Burns had included families formed by marriage (where the parents already have children), and b) Burns had NOT stated, "The birth parents lovingly choose to have someone else raise the child." Um...sometimes. Very often, though, adoption has more to do with the decisions of social workers and judges than any selflessness on the parents' part.

That bit aside, these books were perfect for our family, and were read over and over last year. And now it's time to dust them off again! Yep, Miss Ami is expecting again, due in August (one week after summer reading - do we plan things well, or what?!) Great news to start the holiday season with!

For more reviews of great nonfiction books, click over to Playing by the Book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!



We're taking a break until Monday, but be sure to tune in then for an extra special Nonfiction Monday post!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, by Kody Keplinger

Kody Keplinger
Poppy
978-0316084239
Copy borrowed from library.
Cybils nominee.
 
Remember that episode of Average Joe, many moons ago, when the bachelorette was dressed in a fat suit and introduced to the bachelors as her own cousin? And while the guys were polite to her face (or ignored her completely), behind her back they said really awful things about her, and one guy went off on how she was obviously the DUFF - not knowing he was being taped, and that not only the bachelorette, but everyone in TV-land was watching and listening?

Not that we ever watched that show, of course. We just...er...heard about it.

At any rate, the guy that made the DUFF comment was summarily sent home, and to this day probably gets slapped upside the head by his grandmother on a regular basis. Because it's rude, right? It's really mean and awful and the guy made himself look like a jerk, right? Of course, he thought he was just talking to other like-minded guys. How much more of a jerk would he be if he, say, walked up to the 'cousin' and said all those things to her face?  And that, boys and girls, is how you paint one of your main characters as a complete and utter jerk in 100 words or less.

Because yes, that is what Wesley does. And then she kisses him. But later. But wait! Don't turn away in disgust, because this isn't a "gosh you're a jerk but you're so cute and I'm so worthless I can't help it" kiss, this is an angry, "I still hate you but that just makes it easier to use you" kiss. There's a difference, trust us. Sound complicated? It is! She is! And in case you've forgotten, high school is!

As much as we may hate some of the choices Bianca makes, we can't help becoming firmly entrenched on her side from the very start. She's a good person, a good friend, and by no means a doormat, but Wesley's "DUFF" comments have hit the heart of every teenage girl's insecurities. Every girl feels at some point that she is the weak link among her firends, that she is the one who doesn't measure up. Add in some serious problems at home, and who wouldn't want an escape of some sort?

Yes, we pretty much knew how it would all end, but we didn't care. We were happy with the ending. We were happy with the realistic characters and relationships. We were VERY happy with some of the insights that came to Bianca and her friends. And we are especially happy that turtles never really have to go through adolescence. We give it a

5 out of 5.


Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn't think she's the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She's also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her "Duffy," she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren't so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn't such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she's falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Witchcraft in Salem, by Steven Stern

by Steven L. Stern
Bearport Publishing
978-1-936088-00-3
Review copy sent by publisher.

The Salem Witch Trials are one of those events in history that continue to enthrall readers of all ages. This book gives a concise overview of the events and names associated with it, as well as possible reasons for the girls' behavior and accusations, and the citizens' willingness to believe them.

The book has the aura of wanting to sensationalize or spook readers (and it is, after all, part of a series titled "Horrorscapes"), but nothing in the text was inaccurate or exaggerated. Some of the pictures add nicely to the background information, from photographs of tombstones and a fungus that could have caused hallucinations, to a map showing how politics may have come into play. Other pictures, however, are a bit bizarre, making us think about bad photoshopping, and distracting a bit from the text (pg. 4-5 is a good example).

If your library size or patron interest warrants a good-sized collection of books on this subject, we recommend adding this one, but we wouldn't make it our sole source. We give it a

3 out of 5.

For more reviews of great nonfiction books, click over to Practically Paradise.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mary Engelbreit's Fairy Tales

Random House
978-0060-88583-0
Who doesn't love a book of fairy tales with rich, lavish illustrations? And who doesn't love the illustrations of Mary Englebreit?

The illustrations for this collection of twelve traditional fairy tales are bright and cheery, and full of little details children (and adults) will have a great time discovering. In Beauty and the Beast, one of the sisters has her tongue sticking out in concentration as she makes a list of all the things she wants her father to bring her. Snow White's evil stepmother sports a tiny skull bracelet as she furiously mixes the potion for her poison apple.

The picture definitely make the book, as we had mixed reactions to the stories. Engelbreit mentions in her author's note that she rewrote some of the endings to show her daughter and other young girls that it isn't necessary to marry a Prince Charming to be happy. The Princess and the Frog become good friends. The Little Mermaid is carried into the air by friendly spirits.

In some cases, this works, in others, it frankly doesn't. In Rumplestiltskin, it is the King's advisors who lock up the miller's daughter and make their demands, so we don't have to wonder why on earth she would marry someone who would threaten her life. The Little Mermaid, however, is a little too white-washed, and The Princess and the Pea still leaves the impression that a) the girl must be perfect, nobody cares about the prince's flaws, and b) being oversensitive and wimpy somehow makes you perfect. We would also have liked to see a bit more of an ethnic mix in our heroines (and heroes) - with a very few exceptions (Thumbelina), everyone is obviously Anglo.

In short, if you are looking for a beautifully illustrated book to read aloud - and hopefully discuss - with your daughters, this book is a fine choice. If, however, you are looking for a collection that is either all traditional or all PC, this is not it. Overall, we give it a

3 out of 5.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

by Tara Kelly
Henry Holt and Company
978-0-8050-9010-9

Sixteen-year-old, music- and sound design-obsessed Drea doesn’t have friends. She has, as she’s often reminded, issues. Drea’s mom and a rotating band of psychiatrists have settled on “a touch of Asperger’s.”
Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea meets two other outsiders. And Naomi and Justin seem to actually like Drea. The three of them form a band after an impromptu, Portishead-comparison-worthy jam after school. Justin swiftly challenges not only Drea’s preference for Poe over Black Lab but also her perceived inability to connect with another person. Justin, against all odds, may even like like Drea.
It’s obvious that Drea can’t hide behind her sound equipment anymore. But just when she’s found not one but two true friends, can she stand to lose one of them?

A few posts back we talked about issues books - those that were centered around some sort of major issue faced by teens today. One of the big 'issues' that has been popular lately is autism or Asperger's Syndrome.

But, wait! This is not one of those! Yes, Drea is somewhere in the Aspergers spectrum, but we can say that just as we say she is a musician. Or that she has moved a lot. Or that her grandmother is crotchety. Oh, or that she is a teenager! All of those things are just a part of who she is, and while all of them contribute to her personality and struggles, none of them is the entire sum of who she is. That is just one of the many reasons we absolutely loved this book.

Kelly, in fact, says it even better in her author's note:

"I'd like to start off by saying that this book is not about defining Asperger's Syndrome (AS) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's about one girl's story and experience - which I hope everyone (whether on the autistic spectrum or not) can relate to."

Teens can definitely relate to Drea's story - the struggle to make and keep friends, trying to fit in in a world that seems totally alien, first relationships, drugs, abuse, family problems, etc. Musicians will love the music aspect of the story, but non-musicians won't feel lost. And the cover! Doesn't that just make your hand automatically reach out to open it up and check the description?

Fantastic and refreshing addition to the YA shelves from yet another debut writer. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan

Erin McCahan
Arthur A. Levine Books
 978-0545088183
Borrowed from library, read for Cybils
Bronwen, as she tells us in her very first sentence, was switched at birth. She quickly goes on to tell us this is just a fantasy of hers, but...after meeting the rest of the family, her mother in particular, we have to ask...are you sure that's all it is? From eating habits to hair color (which her mother actually has her dye so it matches hers!), they couldn't be more different - and not in the "gosh, we're all different but we're just one big happy family" sort of way, but in the "what planet did you come from?" kind of way.

At any rate, Bronwen does not feel that she belongs in her current family, and we gradually get enough back story to understand that thoroughly. She remembers a time when things were better, and longs to be part of a close, open family once again. When Jared enters the picture and she is welcomed with open arms by his family, it looks like she will finally get what she has wanted. When he asks her to marry him, everything seems perfectly set up for her happily ever after.

Major shocker of the book: nobody is pregnant. Yes, we know, you just laughed, but think about it - how many YA books can you think of where a teenager gets married, and not only is nobody pregnant, but nobody is having sex? Nobody is a runaway, nobody is abused, there is no huge tragedy forcing them into marriage as the only option. Once they get over their surprise, the parents on both side are happy and supportive. Refreshing, isn't it?!

Of course, if everything worked out perfectly, this would be a really boring story. Instead, it works out realistically. Even really good, sensible plans can be far from perfect. Even being in love - really, truly in love - doesn't ensure a happy ending. And we. loved. the. ending.

We also loved the characters. Bronwen has a snappy wit and an intelligent, perceptive outlook. Jared is just dreamy, but not in an over-the-top unbelievable way (after their first date? The call? yeah, Miss Ami swooned.) There is some strong character development in Bronwen throughout the book, as while as the issues of family, communication, planning for the future, discovering a sense of self - all deep issues covered in a very light and easy read. Hand it to any teen (or adult!) girl you know (boys might enjoy it too, but wouldn't be caught dead holding a book with that cover.) We give it a strong

5 out of 5.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk

by Josh Berk
Alfred A. Knopf
978-0-375-85699-0

Not only is this one of the Cybils nominees for young adult fiction, but has been tagged for a few other awards, including the Parents' Choice. What seems to be getting the most buzz is the cover - mostly negative buzz, unfortunately. Three tiny people walking? What does this mean, exactly? One looks vaguely worried, the other two are chipper. Not exactly attention-grabbing.


The paperback version, due out in June 2011, seems to address this issue - can we assume they will also address the misspelling?

So, then, what is it about? It is the story of Will (Hamburger is his IM name) Halpin, slightly overweight, hearing impaired, and attending public school for the first time. In addition to the usual issues of trying to fit in as the new guy, he has the added issues of being deaf in a school that cannot afford any sort of interpreter or closed captioning. Let's stop here for

Issue #1: Federal law states a school MUST provide what a child in special education needs in order to succeed in class, regardless of whether it fits in the school's budget or not. So, a little unrealistic there.

The big news at school is a birthday party in honor of the star quarterback, whose family is obscenely wealthy.

Issue #2: Why would a wealthy family send their child to an impoverished school?

Needless to say, Will and his new friend Devon (the second least popular kid at school) are not invited, but it really doesn't matter, because the star quarterback is pushed into a mine by...who? We now have a murder mystery which Devon is determined to solve a la Hardy Boys style (their code names are Frank and Chet). They enlist the help of Ebony, Will's smart and sassy former-sort-of-girlfriend from his old school. All sorts of secrets are uncovered before the somewhat-predictable murderer is revealed.

Issue #3: Many of these secrets are pretty heavy stuff. Very adult issues that are often dealt with by teens, unfortunately. Yet, the tone is never serious. It has been a while since we were in high school (our mascot was a snail), but we don't remember being so blase about tragic events. The voice of the characters made us feel like they were in middle school, watching some drama on the high school stage. A bit removed, more curious than concerned. Yes, Will is new to the school, and not personally vested in the murder victim, so that may explain some of it.

We do like Will. And Devon, and Ebony. Very distinct and fun characters with their own voices. Side characters were a bit one-dimensional, but that didn't hurt the story. Will's interactions with a variety of people in his life offer a good primer to anyone not at all familiar with the deaf community - you get a little bit of politics, some practical dos and don'ts, and a few "I never would have thought of it from that perspective"s.

At times this reminded us of Daniel Pinkwater in its sort of irreverent humor (which may also explain Issue #3). Not that Berk is as brilliant as Pinkwater, mind you, but he definitely shows promise (and he's a librarian - obviously a clever chap. Oops, slipping into Devon-speak there.) While we had a few problems with it, we enjoyed it on the whole, and give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots
Abby McDonald
Candlewick Press
978-0-7636-4382-9
Borrowed from library.
It's always nice when a character - and a book - find a balance. When we first meet Jenna, she is a die-hard leader of the Green Teens, loudly protesting her school's plans to sell off a field that may or may not contain a rare species of...grass. Her summer plans of interning with Earth Now go awry, and it looks like she will be stuck in a retirement community in Florida - but wait! Her hippie godmother Susie is rennovating a B&B up in Canada - surely she could use an extra pair of hands.

Canada! Lush forests, wildlife, cute boys in plaid: the perfect place for a young environmentalist. It goes without saying that everyone there will share her enthusiasm for protecting the environment at all costs, right?

Now, there's nothing wrong with dedicating yourself to a good cause, but...sometimes it's a good idea to have all the facts before you open your mouth. Jenna learns quickly - and painfully - that sometimes what you accuse your enemy of (like making decisions based on your own priorities without considering the faceless individuals they affect) becomes the exact thing you are doing yourself. Black and white becomes a little grey, first impressions have to be corrected on both sides, and Jenna is forced to examine which of her ideals are actually her own, and which she has just adopted out of a need to belong.

A fun read, with a little bit of thinking but not 'too much', we give it a

4 out of 5.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon and The Karma Club

Okay, if you're on the internet and in the world of books at all, you are probably well aware of yesterday's uproar over a book Amazon was selling that was basically a how-to for pedophiles. After first responding that it was a matter of free speech, Amazon finally removed the book from their site.

We can argue until we are blue in the face (not a good color for turtles) about whether the book qualified as pornography or not, whether the rule of free speech extended to it or not, or whether censoring this book paves the way to censor anything offensive to anyone, but here's what we think in a nutshell: The whole Free Speech thing? Doesn't matter.

Now, don't get us wrong, we are not saying that free speech isn't important. What we are saying is that, in this case, it's not the issue. Amazon refusing to publish/sell something is not the same thing as a governmental entity making a law against it being published. It's entirely possible that a court could rule that Amazon, or anyone else, could legally publish this or any similar book. But, here's the thing:

Just because something is legal that doesn't make it right.

Hardly a new concept, we know, but it looks like it's something we all need to be reminded of at times. We're sure if you take a moment right now, you can think of a myriad of things that would be perfectly legal for you to do, but you don't do them. Why not? Because they are WRONG. It would be legal for one of us to, say, catch the eye of a passing child and say, "You know what? You are one ugly child." But we wouldn't do that! We recoil at the very thought! Why? Because it would be WRONG.

These days our society seems to have a hard time deeming anything 100 per cent wrong, for fear of offending someone. And yes, there are a million areas in which we are not all agreed, and probably never will be. But, pedophilia? Seriously? Do we really need to debate this?

Whether your sense of right and wrong comes from a holy book, a person, your family, an inner sense, or whatever, you have one. It is how you govern your actions, probably without thinking about it most of the time. You have a sense of right and wrong, Miss Ami has one, even we turtles have one, and, executives at Amazon, guess what? You have one, too. Use it. Don't hide behind a law or absence of one.

This rant came as we finished one of the Cybils nominees, The Karma Club by Jessica Brody. Now, before Ms. Brody has a heart attack, let us be quick to say there is no pedophilia in this book. It is not a horrid book that should be stricken from print - in fact, it is a very cute book, which should be purchased by librarians, because teens will enjoy it.

That being said, we had some issues with it that resemble parts of the above rant. Bear with us for a moment:

Madison and her friends are a bit disappointed with karma. All three have boyfriends who have done them wrong, and nothing bad seems to be happening to them in return. They decide to give karma a little help by making sure something bad does happen. Their escapades are funny, to the point where we read some out loud to coworkers. For a while, they are enjoying the sweet taste of revenge. Then, of course, things start to fall apart - bad things start happening to THEM, as an indirect result of the things they did to their exes.

Do they learn their lesson? Sort of. Maddy realizes that the better thing to do is perform good deeds, in order to build your good karma, and make good things happen to you. The end. We suppose, if your entire belief system is built around the concept of karma, this ending will suit you just fine.

However...anybody see where we are going with this? Is the risk of bad karma the only reason we shouldn't do horrible things to other people, possibly ruining their lives? Is the hope of good karma, i.e. our own personal reward, the only reason we should perform good deeds? Let's take one example from the story (major spoiler here, so feel free to stop reading):

Seth cheated on Jade. Bad Seth. That was a rotten thing to do. So, the girls set up a fake online dating profile for Seth, saying he prefers older women. Much older. When responses start pouring in, they set up 15 'dates' with women in their 40's, of course completely unbeknownst to Seth. Strange women start showing up and embarrassing him in front of his girlfriend, his buddies, his parents and grandparents. Soon he is the laughingstock of - well, everywhere - his girlfriend dumps him, his family no longer trusts him, you get the picture.

Okay, it was funny! It was really, really funny! Until you start thinking about all the other people - his parents and grandparents, mortified in public. All those poor women. The girlfriend. Did they deserve any of that? Did Seth even deserve the ruined relationships and public humiliation? Is it really the job of a teenage girl to decide if he does? If any of those questions had been addressed by the characters, we could have gone on enjoying the book, but they never occurred to them. The only reason why any of their actions were 'wrong' was because it caused them bad karma. That's it.

How about, they were wrong because they were wrong? Because turning into a vindictive little shrew is wrong? Because taking pleasure in the pain of others is wrong? Because thinking you have enough of the answers to play God in someone else's life is wrong?

We may be coming across a bit heavy-handed on what is, really, a cute, fun book overall. Maybe it's a reaction to the Amazon fiasco, but it's also partly disappointment in seeing that cute, fun book fall apart at the end. Do buy it. Do read it. Do pass it on to your teens. But, you may want to engage those teens in a discussion when they turn it back in, and see what they thought. We give it a

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cybils Mini-Reviews, or, We've Got Issues!

We're turtles. We don't have a lot of angst. Give us a sun light with some good UVB, feed us every other day, and we're pretty much set. Sure, Freaky, as the oldest, can be a bit bossy, and Squirt gets a little hyper, but that's about it.

Humans, on the other hand - whew! Teenagers, especially, seem to go through an awful lot in a few short years. Thank goodness, then, that there are some great books out there to help them get some perspective in the tough times! A huge number of the YA Fiction nominees for this year's Cybils are "issue books", and these are just a few of those we have read lately:

by Courtney Summers
St. Martin's Press
978-0-312-57380-5
Borrowed from Library
Miss Ami used to teach middle school, which she says is why you cannot shock her, scare her, or gross her out. She also says that she learned to take a boy fight over a girl fight any day. Girls are MEAN! The news has been full of stories about vicious bullying among teens. Nobody really likes a bully, so what happens when the tables are turned, and the bully becomes the victim? Serves her right, doesn't it? Doesn't it??

This was a fantastic book, so smoothly written and intense we read it in one sitting. Unfortunately, the situations, as well as the responses of both adults and other teens, were also very true to life. This would be a great classroom discussion book - be aware of violence (duh, it's about bullying) including sexual assault. We had a teeny issue with the ending, but it's not worth the potential spoiler to go into it. We still give it a

5 out of 5.

by Donna Freitas
Frances Foster Books
978-0-374-31472-9
Borrowed from Library
Abusive relationships are not a new issue for children's/young adult books, but we are not aware of many that touch on controlling relationships. Until we read this one, we didn't realize what a gap there was in literature, but it's definitely a pervasive problem in real life. Many abusive relationships start off with isolation, but even if the abuser never continues on to physical or sexual abuse, the mental/emotional damage can be just as great. This book gives an excellent (and riveting) illustration of how an intelligent young woman can be manipulated by a man in power.

The cover photograph was an excellent choice, but we wish the title wasn't splashed across it - it makes her seem more protected than trapped. Just a little thing, and we give this one another

5 out of 5.

by Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse
9781416978916

Borrowed from Library
This one didn't seem to realize it was an issue book. If you read the jacket flap, it's your basic love triangle - the MC is in love with her best friend's boyfriend. We expect a little more depth from Elizabeth Scott - seriously? An entire book about liking your best friend's boyfriend? Then we start getting to know Brianna, the best friend.

Let's see: 1. Sees everyone as all good or all bad. 2. Must have everyone's approval. 3. Great at making friends, not so good at keeping them, except for one person she is overly dependent on. 4. Reckless, impulsive behavior. 5. Skewed vision of self. Aha! Scott is going to talk about borderline personality disorder, an increasingly common problem that many people aren't aware of. Wonderful!

Um...no. It's just the love triangle thing. Brianna very obviously needs some help, but she not only doesn't get it, it is obvious she never will. And that doesn't seem to be an issue, either. Very disappointing conclusion, but may be useful in certain situations for discussion or what-could-he/she-have-done. We have to give it a

2 out of 5.

(But we still love Elizabeth Scott. Everybody is entitled to a miss.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Homemade Lit Bling

We just have to show off how very talented one of our teens is:



If you are a Rick Riordan fan, you will recognize both the beads and the shirt. If you are not a Riordan fan, well, then, you are no friend of ours.* Yes, she made them herself, and we think she should make us some now:)

* Seriously. Go read the books, and then you can talk to us.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures, by Carlyn Beccia

by Carlyn Beccia
Houghton Mifflin
978-0-547-22570-8
Copy borrowed from our library.
Brilliant! Gross-out books are always good for bringing in the reluctant readers, and we love it when, as the disclaimer warns, "Side effects from reading this book may vary. Patients may experience rapid brain growth."

Rather than just list some of the odd, disgusting, or plain funny remedies used throughout the ages for colds, coughs, or cuts, Beccia lists a few and asks readers to guess which ones actually worked. In the following pages, she then briefly explains why maggots can actually be good for you, or when it can be good to dangle a frog down your throat. A little bit of science and physiology seeps in betwixt shuddering at the thought of drinking urine or drilling a hole in your skull. We learned quite a bit ourselves! This might even be a fun pop-quiz read-aloud for teachers - have your students write their answers down before you read the explanations.

This could make a good Christmas gift paired with, depending on age, a game of Operation, a play doctor's kit, or some gummy frogs. We give it a

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cybils Mini-Reviews

The following are some of the YA Fiction nominees for the Cybils awards:

by Swati Avashti
Knopf Books for Young Readers
978-0375863400
When Jace finally stands up to his abusive father, he winds up with a rearranged face, on the doorstep of the brother he hasn't seen in years. His brother takes him in, but both have many demons to deal with resulting from the years of abuse - and a mother who is still trapped at home.

Powerful, realistic, exhausting, important. There isn't much more we could say without this becoming an inarticulate mess. Buy it. Read it. Not for the younger reader - several descriptions of horrifically violent scenes. We give it a

5 out of 5.

by April Lurie
Delacorte Press
978-0385736756

Noah seems to be making a small career out of rebelling against the image of his father, The Bible Answer Guy, becoming a minor juvenile delinquent. He befriends a homeless teen who happens to be gay, right at the time when someone is killing homeless gay teens and leaving Bible verses near their bodies.

The author has an obvious agenda, which isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, but she is a bit heavy-handed in delivering it. Noah's father is the only one who doesn't give some sort of sermon, and everyone except the bad guy comes to the same conclusion about homosexuality by the end. As a result, none of the characters comes fully to life as an individual person. If she did more showing than telling, she would be a bit more effective.

That being said, the mystery aspect was extremely well-done. We constantly found ourselves positive we had it all worked out, then changing our minds completely. At one point we decided the murderer was Noah's 9-year-old sister, simply because she was the only person we hadn't suspected (it wasn't her, btw). Definitely worth reading if you like thrillers, we give it a

3 out of 5.

by Varian Johnson
Delacorte Press
978-0385-738040
Main characters quetioning their religious beliefs seems to be big this year. In Saving Maddie, Joshua is the opposite of The Less-Dead's Noah, faithfully trying to live up to the expectations ofeveryone has for the preacher's son. When Maddie, a childhood friend, moves back into town, he is dismayed by how much she has changed. He initially sets out to "save" her, but discovers things aren't necessarily as black and white as he has always believed them to be, and Maddie may not want or need to be "saved" - at least, not in the way he thinks.

We liked this one more than we thought we would. The characters manage to shy away from stereotypes for the most part, and religion itself is not portrayed as all good or all bad. Maddie urges Joshua to decide for himself why he believes the things he does, but that doesn't translate into him suddenly changing his mind about everything he believes. Overall, just as the characters are allowed to make up (and change) their own minds about things, so is the reader. Oh, and did anyone pick up on the little stab at the old damaged rose illustration? Nicely done! We give it a

4 out of 5.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Big Rigs and Fire Trucks on the Move

by Judith Jango-Cohen
Lerner Publications
978-0-7613-6023-0
by Candice Ransom
Lerner Publications
978-0-7613-3919-9
We are always happy to see good nonfiction titles for the younger set, and these certainly fit the bill. Boys (and many girls) will always be enthralled with automobiles, so you really can't go wrong with this series.

What's the first thing youngsters do with a toy fire engine? Start making the sounds! That is exactly how Fire Trucks on the Move begins:
WHEE-OOO! WHEE-OOO! What is making such a loud sound?
Text is accompanied by a close-up picture of a siren, and a larger photo showing where it is located on the truck. The rest of the book follows the same pattern, with one or two sentences in a large, clear font paired with bright, colorful photographs.

Big Rigs on the Move lists other terms we might use (semis, eighteen-wheelers), and shows readers some of the specialized types of big rigs far carrying particular cargos. The back of each book includes a diagram, glossary, Fun Facts, and books and web sites for further reading.

There are possibly as many books about cars out there as there are kids who like cars, but the format, information and just overall quality place these way above the mass-marketed dollar store variety. They are perfect for either reluctant or beginning readers, and we give the set a

5 out of 5

We also think this will be the start of our Christmas shopping! Buy your favorite youngster a nice noisy fire truck or pickup, and include a copy of the appropriate book. Stay tuned over the next couple months for more gift ideas* (just 54 shopping days left!)

*for us? Why, how sweet of you to ask! Some goldfish would be yummy. What, and humans don't eat anything disgusting?!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Family Fright Night

Last night we held our annual Family Fright Night at the library, and we thought we would share some pictures of the very cool costumes we saw:


Miss Ami always wanted to be a flapper, and is very covetous of this dress!


Great minds think alike!


Putting together one of the craft choices (spooky refrigerator magnets)


A Paper Bag Princess with the attitude to match!

Collecting our treat bags on the way out.

Pippi Longstocking, another literary figure, yay! Ghostbusters has made a huge  comebeck - we had THREE Ghostbusters...

...including this HOMEMADE costume, complete with little brother Slimer! Too cute! (And very authentically slimey)
We don't know about you, but the one on the left scares us the most.
Our favorite kind of art project, the Picasso.
For those interested, we read:
There Was an Old Monster, by the Emberleys
Monster Baby by Dian Curtis Regan
My Mama Says There Aren't Any Zombies, Ghosts... by Judith Viorst
Pog by Lyn Lee and
When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor

Hope everyone has a fantastic Halloween!!!

    

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Turtles Being Productive, or, a Cybils Picture Puzzle

There are those souls who, when faced with a number of importanttasks, quickly prioritize them and get to work. And then there are those who immediately think up a semi-related, unimportant but interesting extra task, and get to work on that, instead. Guess which group turtles belong to?

As you know, we are judges for this year's Young Adult Fiction category of the Cybils Awards. In looking over the ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY YA books nominated, some similarities have begun to appear. For example, eleven covers show a couple kissing. Many more show people from the back (is that so we can imagine our own face, thus putting ourselves in the character's shoes? Or are unattractive models cheaper?) Speaking of shoes, lots of legs here, many without shoes. Rather dangerous with all the broken glass on the other covers.

So, to make a backdrop for our display of nominees (see! It really is work related!) we have put together an "I Spy" oops - copyrighted name...a "picture puzzle" of all 180 covers. Yep, there is a piece of every single cover in this collage. Can you find them all? Here are the pictures:


And some close-ups:

Note to publishers: holding hands is a bit overplayed.

(Note: Our computer is being stubborn and won't add the second picture - possibly the reult of typing with wet flippers - we will try again later)

Click here for alist of the nominees (and a small version of the cover). Of course, if you're local, you can just come on in with your handy microscope and search away!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Agency series by Y.S. Lee

The Agency: The Body at the Tower
Y. S. Lee
Candlewick Press
978-0-7636-4968-5
Borrowed from the Library.

Mary Quinn is back, and we have realized, appalled, that we never reviewed her first appearance, in The Agency: A Spy in the House. Let us bring you up to speed:

In the first title, we meet Mary Quinn, small-time pickpocket and thief, as she is arrested, tried, and sentenced for a crime she did indeed commit. Her life since her father's death many years ago has been nothing but struggle, and the idea of death is not entirely unwelcome. Fate - or, the ladies of The Agency - have other plans for her, however.

Spirited away from jail, Mary is given a home and an education it wouldn't have occurred to her to dream of before. Years later, she is grateful for the opportunity she has had to do something with her life, but what should that be? There are not many respectable options for a young woman in the 1800's, and she does not seem to be suited for any of them.

Now we learn the 'real' purpose of the Academy. Those special girls - women - who show an aptitude and a longing to be more than wives or serving girls can train to be...spies. In a culture where women are continually overlooked in every way, who is better placed to overhear careless comments, or to move about unobserved?

In A Spy in the House, Mary embraces her new role, fervently hoping to prove herself to her mentors. She quickly discovers that things don't always go according to plan, and complications continually come up: such as the attractive but annoyingly proper James Easton. When situations arise that her training did not prepare her for, Mary has to rely on her wits, a lot of luck - and, yes, an occasional assist from that infuriating Mr. Easton.

The reparte between Mary and James is one of the high points of both books (and fans of the first will be happy to know he reappears early on in the second). There are continual exchanges such as:


"How else are you going to manage that?"
"I'll just have to try harder."
"Ooh, yes - sheer stubborn stupidity should certainly carry the day."
(pg. 161. Body at the Tower)
James is by turns (and often simultaneously) intrigued and appalled by Mary, and true to the male culture of his time, never seems to understand why he has made her mad. Mary is struggling to keep her secrets - and the fact that she is a spy is just one of them. She absolutely cannot afford to develop feelings for James.

Never fear, this is not a romance, and if boys can get past the girl-oriented cover we think they will enjoy the action and mystery of both books. Ah, and the covers!

At the risk of including a SPOILER, can we just say, in these days of white-washing publishers, how much we love these covers? The girl pictured on both looks exactly the way Mary should look, and that's all we are going to say about that. Brava, Candlewick! We give the series so far a

5 out of 5.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Lerner's Food is CATegorical series by Brian P. Cleary

  Fun read-alouds about the food groups, who'd a'thunk it? Each of the books in this series is written in a snappy rhyme, imparting information about food group members, serving sizes and nutrients simply and memorably. Creative teachers (or their students) might even try memorizing the text as a rap, or setting it to music. (Note: teachers may, however, not want to encourage pantomiming, with lines such as : Milk strengthens your teeth, making two healthy rows. At times, when you laugh, it comes out of your nose!)

The illustrations, by Martin Goneau, are very cute and add to the energy of the text. We have to admit, until we looked at the series title, we didn't realize they were all cats, but that doesn't detract from the fun at all. Many of them just looked more like little gremliny creatures to us, biting an annoyed-looking cow on the butt, or sporting a hair net while preparing cheese.

These cute little cat/gremlins offer other salient facts efore and after the main text, including more concrete examples of what an actual serving of that food group is. A great series for any elementary school classroom or library! We give them a

5 out of 5.

For more great nonfiction reads, hop over to MotherReader.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Summer I Got a Life by Mark Fink

The Summer I Got a Life
Mark Fink
WestSide Books
978-1-934813-12-6
Copy borrowed from the Library
Andy Crenshaw, 15, is about to have a summer he didn't expect. He lives in the shadow of his good-looking, athletic older brother, Brad, and they don't get along. Lately they only agree on their excitement over their upcoming trip to Hawaii. But the family's plans change at the last minute, packing the boys off to rural Wisconsin. They'll be stuck with their wacky, free-spirited aunt and uncle - on a farm with no cable TV and internet.
Things start looking up when Andy scores a date with Laura, a cute teenage local celebrity pianist, and even Brad's impressed. Laura's amazing: besides her late night jam sessions at a local jazz club, she's the funniest, little-bit-crazy girl Andy's ever met. He's shocked at first to see her in a wheelchair, but nothing stops Laura - her killer bowling skills leave Andy in the dust.

Meanwhile, Andy and Brad share a series of misadventures and narrow escapes that move their brotherhood to a whole different level. It all adds up to a summer no one will soon forget.
If you want a believable story, skip it. If, on the other hand, you want to have FUN, then by all means pick this up! Even while we were thinking "Yeah, right," we were snorting with laughter. In fact, Freaky snorted so hard he got water up his nose, and contrary to popular belief, water turtles are not built that way. It kind of reminded us of this scene:
Darryl was laughing so hard he started to cough. But then he started to choke, and he seemed to have trouble breathing.
"S**t. Maybe we should do CPR," I said.


"I'm not putting my lips on Snot."


"Fine, I'll do it. Is it four breaths and two compressions, or two breaths and four compressions?"


"You're asking me? You know I suck at math."


"Is he looking a little blue to you?" I asked.


"He always looks a little blue to me."
See? A little juvenile. Sometimes a little over the top. But very very funny. Or, maybe we are just juvenile and over the top. At any rate, we think it's a book both boys and girls will enjoy, and after some of the stinkers we have read (and declined to review) lately, it was a welcome change.

Two minor quibbles: One, the cover doesn't fit. It makes it look like a much more serious book than it is, and while the title is catchy, there is nothing about the picture that would grab a teenage boy's attention and say, "Hey, there's funny stuff involving chicken poop in here!"

Two, and this is a very MINOR quibble that most people wouldn't notice but a copy editor should have caught and we probably only did because Miss Ami was a copy editor at one point: page 104, it was 'specially' built for her, not 'especially' built for her. See, that is SO minor, we are embarrassed to even mention it, but it was bugging Miss Ami so much we have agreed to humor her.

Other than some very mild swearing, this is a refreshingly 'clean' book you can give to just about everyone. We give it a

4 out of 5.