Sunday, January 31, 2010

New slave and a short hiatus

Miss Ami will be taking a short break from posting our words of wisodm, while she recovers from a billion hours of labor followed by a five-minute C-section. The good news is, as soon as 'Little' Miss Thing, weighing in at 8 lbs 10 ounces, learns to type, we will have another slave to do our bidding!

Friday, January 29, 2010

NERDS by Michael Buckley, reviewed by Fegan

Jackson Jones is easily the most popular kid in fifth grade. Star football player, good looking and charming - unless you are one of those unfortunate kids with allergies, buck teeth, or a strange habit that makes you just beg for an atomic wedgie. You know, nerds, geeks, spazzes. Nobody can blame a star kid like Jackson for having a little fun with them, right?

The tables are turned, however, when Jackson is outfitted with the braces and headgear from H-E-double-toothpicks, and his social status slides so low his own father can't stand to look at him. Even the nerds won't give him the time of day - and why should they? Not only was he horrible to them before, they are too busy saving the world as a team of top secret, high-tech superspies to really bother with him.

Jackson discovers their secret, however, and is made a part of their team - a decision neither he nor his teammates are happy about. What follows is a lighthearted and engaging adventure with just enough character development to make the grown-ups happy, but plenty of action and humor to keep it fun. I'm already looking forward to the next installment!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Nelson, reviewed by Squirt

I just read this book for the first time, and it has immediately jumped to being my favorite of Vaunda Nelson's books. I was expecting one of those typical "I can have any career I want" books, and found so much more. As with many of Nelson's books, there is a lot of thought packed into a few short words.

A young girl wonders 'who she will be', looking back over the lives of her family living and deceased. As we get a glimpse of daily events like stretching out on the floor with Daddy when he comes home from work, we realize this question is about more than a choice of career - will she be like Grampa, whose "voice is nice and soft, but his words talk loud"? Or like Uncle, who, according to Mama, "is who he is"? Personally, I would like to be like Mama, who sees the specialness and gifts in everyone, and is making sure her daughter sees them too.

This book, with perfect illustrations by Sean Qualls, will have wide appeal for libraries, classrooms, families, and read-alouds.

I borrowed this copy from my library.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Retro Tuesday (on Wednesday - so sue me): Runaway Princess by Kate Coombs

Like Chains, this one isn't old by any means, but it is old enough to have a sequel out (The Runaway Dragon, which you also need to read). In fact, I read this one, which I had somehow missed, because I saw a review of the second and knew I had to read them both.

Definitely a 'girl book' for the most part, although boys who enjoy the Squire's Tale series by Gerald Morris might give this one a try. Meg is the spirited tomboy princess who would rather catch frogs with her friend than learn to curtsy. Her clueless father offers her hand in marriage and half the kingdom to any prince who can accomplish three tasks (all in the name of economic development), and of course Meg disapproves of the plan, and adventures ensue.

We've seen the basic plotline a million times, but Meg is a very likeable heroine with some great lines, and there are enough surprises and humorous bits in the book to make it quite an enjoyable read. Without giving too much away (I hope), I was pleased with her mother's decision, and while certain twists (like that involving a certain prince) may be a bit predictable for the fan of fractured fairy tales, they are not any less enjoyable. Great pleasure read for just about any girl over the age of 8 (I gave it to my mother to read next!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Sir Francis Drake by Roy Gerrard, reviewed by Squirt

Miss Ami is working on our Summer Reading Program right now, and I have been reading over her shoulder. Apparently, one whole week is going to be devoted to pirates and shipwrecks, and she has unearthed some older treasures worth sharing for Nonfiction Monday:

Sir Francis Drake may have been knighted, but that just made him a legal sort of pirate! He mostly attacked and stole from the Spaniards, which made it politics and not piracy, you see. He also experienced his share of shipwrecks (and near wrecks), which puts him quite fairly into this category.

This book is a fun read because it is all in sing-songy poetry (in fact, you might challenge older readers to put it to a tune.) It does treat him as more of a hero than a pirate (who also captured and sold slaves), focusing on the adventurous spirit. The pictures have a lot of detail (including some bare bums in a couple scenes) that children will enjoy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Note on Laurie Halse Anderson from Fegan

I love me a good historical fiction novel, and a couple weeks ago Miss Ami reviewed Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. The sequel, Forge, is due out this fall.

Any good historical fiction writer does his or her research, but some get more into it than others. As a sun (or at least heat lamp) worshipper, I am in awe of this post from her Facebook page. I don't know if you have to be on her friends list to read it, but it is not yet on her blog page. Now that's dedication! I am going to go toast my toesies under the heat lamp, because she has made me feel the chill of Valley Forge!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

YA Titles that did not make one of "the lists"

As most of us are well aware, the Cybils short lists are out, and most of the other major awards for the year have been announced. Some great titles (I am currently reading Marcelo in the Real World at work and Mare's War at home, and boy does THAT make for some weird dreams), but as many others have pointed out, there are countless other books worth reading. Today, Kelly at YAnnabe (who looks just like my OB, which will no doubt also figure into tonight's crazy-pregnant-lady dreams), is hosting The Best YA Books You Haven't Read. Warning before you click there, my TBR list grew exponentially as soon as I started reading!

It's a great idea, though, and since I totally missed this week's Retro Tuesday post, I'm happy to have a chance to make up for it. In no particular order, here are some YA books I think everyone should read, but which you may not have heard of:

1. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle - anything by her, actually, especially for 'thinking' girls. This particular one is the fourth in the Wrinkle in Time series, and many fans of the first book don't even know this one exists.

2. Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli - we are all familiar with the author, but this is one of her lesser-known books, and it got mixed reviews. Some felt the ending wasn't up to snuff, I thought it was more realistic. Perhaps those who didn't like it felt that way because it wasn't what they were hoping for - although I'm not sure what ending could have made everyone happy.

3. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu - this is one of those flash-in-the-pan books that I think got a lot of attention for a brief time and then disappeared off the radar. A fascinating book, I loved it so much I even named one of my sugar gliders Zahrah (which gives you a hint as to the special talent she discovers). I also loved the Hitchhiker's Guide reference somewhere in the latter half, which no one around me got. Sigh. I'm drawing a blank, and I know there are many more. Tell you what, let me head home and add more tomorrow - home is where I keep the books that are out of print, rather than bring them to the library and run the risk of them disappearing:) In the meantime, check the link above to find what others are recommending (but clear your calendar first, you're going to be busy!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hidden Bestiary by Judy Young and Laura Filipucci, as reviewed by Squirt

Before we start, click on the cover image above and see if you can find the two turtles hidden in the picture. Aren't they cute? They look just like Fegan and me when we are hanging out! (Freaky likes to keep to himself). How many other animals did you spot while you were looking? If you, or the young readers in your life, are at all into "I Spy" books, this is definitely one you will want to pick up.

The Hidden Bestiary follows Basil B. Barnswhitten, a "scientist of sorts", as he searches the world for evidence of animals you may have heard of and some you may not. Mr. Barnswhitten writes great poetry, with two stanzas describing each fantastical creature, but he is obviously blind as a bat. Kids of all ages will spend hours picking through Filipucci's pictures for all the hidden animals, perhaps challenging each other to find the same ones. This is a book to go back to over and over.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Baby Books from Miss Ami

It was a three-day weekend, people. As in, take the weekend off. Like, for instance, go to a baby shower (more on that later). Not as in post so many times that those of us who follow your blogs spend half the day catching up on them! Sheesh.

Of course, the announcements of the Newbery, Caldecott and Prinze awards was certainly newsworthy, and making a display did take up a little of my time today, too. For a list of the honorees with a bit of commentary, click here

While I stayed off the blog for the weekend, part of it still centered around books. Saturday was the baby shower for the lump-on-her-way, and one of the suggested gift items was a copy of your favorite picture book. She already has The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, of course. Popular choices given as gifts were Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Lowrey, and The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.

The wonderful hostess had a great activity: everyone was given a sheet of stickers and asked to create a scene and short story about the baby-to-be. Some were sweet, some were hysterical, and all were put into a keepsake book that will be read over and over.

For some reason I don't get too many baby books to review, but I did recently receive a copy of Go Baby from Tricycle Press:

I love the fact that the name of the series is "Milestones Project Chewables", because that's what babies do with books, isn't it? Off the shelf and right into the mouth! I also love that photographs are used as illustrations. Many times board books are just smaller, harder versions of picture books. The llustrations may be perfect for a 4-year-old, but what babies respond to best are photos of other babies.

In this book, babies from all over the world are shown learning to crawl, stand and walk. The photographers make an obvious effort to include a wide variety of cultures/races/skin colors (and do I detect some Downs syndrome facial features?), even naming the country each child is from. Are babies going to care or understand that the cute little chunker in the sand is from Belize? No, but it's great that we can start them off seeing a rainbow of people, whether that is what their community looks like or not. (I also loved loved loved that the babies were not all perfectly coiffed, clothed and cleaned. A big thank-you from the real moms out here.) Definitely a series to add to our collection.

For more board books with great baby pictures, check out Margaret Miller, Roberta Intrater, Neil Ricklen, and Tom Arma. If you are buying for a library, buy multiple copies - board books or no, they won't last long on your shelves!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Waiting for the Owl's Call by Gloria Whelan, reviewed by Fegan

I have read quite a bit about children in countries such as Afghanistan who are basically sold into slavery, forced to work long hours making rugs that they never see the profit from. The most commonly known name in this area is Iqbal Masih, the young Pakistani boy who escaped such slavery and spoke all over the world, only to be assassinated back in his home village. There are several fantastic books about him for varying age groups, and at the end I will include links to some organizations that try to help children like him, many doing it in his name.

I had not, however, thought about those who live with their families, but perform the same work day after day, slowly becoming crippled and never getting to go to school or to just be kids. They aren't beaten or purposely mistreated, they are with their families, doing what must be done to keep everyone together and alive.

That is the story told in "Waiting for the Owl's Call". Without the work of Zulviya and her sisters, her family would likely not get by. Even the arthritic grandmother does her part in preparing the rugs they sell. They are very proud of the work they do, and their life is not without joy - yet, whispering together as they eat their meals, they can't help dreaming about what it would be like to be able to stop weaving and go to school.

Giving up an education to support one's family while very young is not a new issue, and it is not one that is likely to go away any time in the near future. Whelan's book, beautifully illustrated by Pascal Milelli, gives parents or teachers a gentle way to introduce this problem to children for whom attending school is a given. It is part of the Tales of the World series from Sleeping Bear Press, which provided a copy for our review.

Some organizations to look into:
RugMark, "working to end illlegal child labor in the carpet industry and to offer educational opportunities to children in South Asia."

Heifer International - just something as seemingly insignificant as a flock of chickens ($20 donation) can make the difference in whether a family can afford to send its children to school or not. Offspring of animals provided by Heifer are to be passed on to other families nearby, making entire communities self-sufficient.

Free the Children"empowers children in North America to take action to improve the lives of fellow children overseas." They currently also have a special link set up to help the children of Haiti.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

After by Amy Efaw

An infant left in the trash to die. A teenage mother who never knew she was pregnant . . .

Before That Morning, these were the words most often used to describe straight-A student and star soccer player Devon Davenport: responsible, hardworking, mature. But all that changes when the police find Devon home sick from school as they investigate the case of an abandoned baby. Soon the connection is made—Devon has just given birth; the baby in the trash is hers. After That Morning, there's only one way to define Devon: attempted murderer.

And yet gifted author Amy Efaw does the impossible— she turns Devon into an empathetic character, a girl who was in such deep denial that she refused to believe she was pregnant. Through airtight writing and fast-paced, gripping storytelling, Ms. Efaw takes the reader on Devon's unforgettable journey toward clarity, acceptance, and redemption.

Okay, first let me say that I realize this is a strange reading choice for a woman 67 months pregnant, not to mention a foster parent who has seen her share of "dumpster babies". But I loved it!

I am not alone in those who loved it, but there seem to be an equal number of folks who hated it. I don't usually read other people's reviews until after I write my own, but I was curious. Looking at sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, readers seem to be giving it either one star or five. Part of that, I'm sure, is a reaction to the heinousness of the act, and the natural urge to want to hate the perpetrator. When that perpetrator is the heroine of the story, your mind is automatically going to object!

Having said that, I did not find it at all hard to sympathise with Devon. Maybe it's the way the book starts off, with her huddled on her sofa, just hours after the birth, almost completely disconnected from reality. Have you ever been there? Not for the same reason, hopefully, but just at that point where things are too much and you want to just shut your mind off and leave reality for a decade or two? Then you can start off in the same place as Devon and see, as she and her lawyer start to see, just how unthinkable things can happen every day.

I also have to say I LOVED the ending. It was exactly right, and I did not know how it was going to turn out until the last page, which was very refreshing. I did want to know very much what is happening with the baby, but it would have been 'wrong' to include that in the book, and unrealistic to expect Devon to go from complete disconnect to sudden warm, maternal feelings. An excellent novel, definitely for the mature reader, but highly recommended for such.

And, to read a very recent article about teens in the adult prison system, click here

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Retro Tuesday: Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, reviewed by Miss Ami

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

Okay, not really retro, since it was published in 2008. Out long enough, however, that we SHOULD be checking out the promised sequel, Forge, by now. It looks like we will have to wait until October of 2010, unfortunately. Two years??? Come on, woman, enough with the Vet Volunteers, Sal has been stuck on that icy river long enough!

Sorry, put that down to pregnancy hormones. Or the fact that I just spent 300 pages engrossed in the lives of these very real characters, and now I have to wait to find out what happens to them.

"Real" is an excellent way to describe the entire book: with as much historical fiction as there is out there about the American Revolution, I don't think I've seen too many set in New York, which gives it a fresh angle. The best part, however, is the characters. They are all allowed to be real people, neither all good nor all bad. Decisions of which side to be on are not always made simply, and not always for the most altruistic motives. The Patriots are not always portrayed as saints, nor the British as evil, and the way both sides treated - and took advantage of - slaves and former slaves is not glossed over.

After you read this one, and while you are waiting for Forge, check out Anderson's blog, which we just added to the ones we follow. Somehow, even though I was terribly shy myself at one time, it always comes as a shock to hear the authors of such fantastic books declare themselves introverts! It always seems like they should have a personality as strong and forceful as their work.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Where Else in the Wild by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy, reviewed by Squirt

Review copy provided by Tricycle Press.

I'm new here, but the name "David Schwartz" sounded familiar, so I looked it up in our card catalogue. Dang! He sure gets around the 5 and 600's, doesn't he? Anybody who spends a lot of time writing about animals is okay in my book. The only other book we have by Yael Schy is the predecessor to this one (Where in the Wild), but she has made a good impression.

Dwight Kuhn completes the team again with some GORGEOUS photos, each containing a camouflaged animal of some sort. The pictures give you a lot to look at themselves, even without searching for the hidden critters, but kids will undoubtedly enjoy being the first to spot them. For those adults with older eyes (and to be honest, I had a REALLY hard time spotting the scorpionfish), you can then flip open the page to get the answers, as well as some cool facts and more pictures. Giving you a clue as to what you are looking for we have fun poems, some concrete (I love those) written by Ms. Schy. All in all a delightful book, which just leaves us with one problem: where do we put it??? Poetry? Picture books? Nonfiction under camouflage> Or should we just buy three copies and spread them out?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

If the Witness Lied by Caroline Cooney, reviewed by Fegan

You know those books where you get really mad at one of the characters, and you just want to climb in and rip their face off? This is one of them:

This is also one of those books where you figure out pretty early on "whodunit", but fortunately, the other characters don't take too long to get there too. The suspense comes in wondering whether they will figure it out and be able to DO something about it before it is too late.

As with many of Coonie's books, a little suspension of disbelief is helpful. The entire 200+ pages take place in less than 24 hours, making it a bit unrealistic that everyone should suddenly come to the same conclusions after months of cluelessness. The characters are interesting, but in a one-dimensional way - either all good or all bad, hence the urge to rip their faces off. A satisfying read, though, for anyone who likes thrillers - fans of the Milk Carton series will definitely enjoy this one.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Candor by Pam Bachorz, reviewed by Fegan

How delightfully creepy! The town of Candor, Florida makes Stepford look like a hippie free-for-all. Everyone is controlled by subliminal messages hidden in the music that is piped in everywhere. The adults are all aware of the Messages, and choose to move there - paying a million dollars or more for a home - in order to 'fix' their wayward children.

The kids have no idea what is going on, with the exception of Oscar - son of the town's founder, above reproach in every way, the model child. If you don't count the offshore bank accounts he has built up helping a select few teens escape before it is too late. And his little hideaway filled with forbidden items, from alcohol and girlie magazines, to art books and M&Ms. And the fact that he makes up CDs with his own subliminal messages to counteract his father's.

Things are fairly under control for Oscar, until Nia moves in. Rebellious, spontaneous, and artistic, she is everything a Candor girl shouldn't be - and Oscar falls hard. How can he keep her in Candor without losing her to the Messages? He has an impossible coice to make, and very little time to decide.

I LOVED the premise of the book and couldn't wait until it came in. I am very happy to say I wasn't disappointed with the delivery! I read 2/3 of it before bed, and every time I woke up in the night I found myself obsessing over what Oscar could or should do. Definitely not one to try to read in spurts! There were a few technical details that niggled at the back of my brain, (SPOILER ALERTS) like why Oscar's father wasn't affected by the Messages (i.e. the ones about telling the truth). Why didn't Oscar try to put his own messages in with the ones his father was transmitting to the whole town? Why hasn't anyone who escaped tried to help their families, or told anyone what is going on? Where the bleep is his mother??? (Really expected her to show up at some point).

Overall, though, a fantastic read, highly recommended for middle and high schoolers - and adults!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Book That Eats People, by John Perry - reviewed by Squirt

What, did nobody take any time off during the holidays? We came back from just a few days of the library being closed and had a mountain of posts to read from non-slacking bloggers. To make matters worse, everyone had either posted some really great "best of the year" lists, or linked to the Cybils short lists, so we spent a couple days making order cards (in between the undecorating). We are unworthy as bloggers, but ready to get back into the swing of things with some really great books that have been waiting for our reviews.

Today, from Tricycle Press we have:

From the jacket cover:


Legend has it there exists a book that eats people.

This is that book!

Many readers have been unable to escape its perilous pages.
But this isn't that book.

Yes it is!
This is simply a story about that book.
Really. I mean, how could a book eat people?
So if you're just dying to know the history of this literary monster, all you have to do is turn the page...

Don't do it!

Unfortunately, that text is only on the jacket cover, so it gets lost if the jacket is removed. The inside cover has some great illustrations by Mark Fearing, though - a collage of sketches, stamps, and bloody warnings stapled and taped in. This style and hysterically macabre theme are carried on throughout the book. I mean, even Perry and fearing's NAMES become teeth on the front cover!

The first few pages remind you that "This is NOT a storybook. It is NOT a book of rhymes." It is also NOT a book to give to kids whose parents prefer fhem reading light, fluffy stories about puppies and princesses to their children. It IS a book to give to kids whose parents have a sense of humor. It is twisted and demented and I absolutely loved it!