Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb

Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Fox Street was a dead end. In Mo Wren's opinion, this was only one of many wonderful, distinguishing things about it.

Mo lives on Fox Street with her dad and little sister, the Wild Child. Their house is in the middle of the block—right where a heart would be, if the street were a person. Fox Street has everything: a piano player, a fix-it man, the city's best burrito makers, a woman who cuts Mo's hair just right, not to mention a certain boy who wants to teach her how to skateboard. There's even a mean, spooky old lady, if ringing doorbells and running away, or leaving dead mice in mailboxes, is your idea of fun. Summers are Mo's favorite time, because her best friend, Mercedes, comes to stay.
Most important, though, Fox Street is where all Mo's memories of her mother live. The idea of anything changing on Fox Street is unimaginable—until it isn't.
This is the story of one unforgettable summer—a summer of alarming letters, mysterious errands, and surprising revelations—and how a tuft of bright red fur gives Mo the courage she needs.
We weren't sure about this one at first. Mo is described early on as a girl who "thinks too much", and her thoughts in places are worded more as if from an adult than from a child:
"That was how fast a life could change. The blink of an eye. The turn of a head. Change could come barreling down on you, out of nowhere, without warning, humongous and stupid and unstoppable."
"Every person you pass on the street, or wait behind in line, or see sitting alone on her porch-every one is summoning up the courage for some battle, whether you can see it or not."

In many ways, however, Mo is an adult, having shouldered some of the adult responsibilities in the house since her mother's death. In other ways, she is very much a child, wanting things to stay the same forever, not seeing things that are right on front of her because they aren't what she wants to see. As we read, we quickly got a sense of Mo on that familiar brink between child and adult, a young girl who is very smart in some ways but naive in others. This is the summer when things start to catch up with and balance each other out.
A bit of a slow start, but very enjoyable once you get into it. We would have liked to see some of the characters of the neighborhood fleshed out a bit more - some stop just short of being caricatures. Perhaps a sequel? This is the type of book that might gain more of a following were it part of a good series. The ending is satisfying and realistic, and could be left as is, or could lead the way to more. We give it a

3.5 out of 5.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Always in Trouble, by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Noah Jones

The first of our reviews from the Scholastic Book Fair:

Emma's dog, Toby, was always in trouble. Any kid with a dog can probably relate to the midnight barking or the trash spread throughout the house. He can probably also relate to Emma's efforts to keep the peace, by giving him extra attention or by taking him to obedience school. The pictures are cute (loved the crayon on the nose), and express Toby's gleeful approach to life. The final solution is a little ambiguous, but maybe that's for the best - if Miss Ami knew just what that special training consisted of, she might start expecting us to vacuum, as Toby now does! We give this one a

4 out of 5.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Christmas in July!

Oh, book lover's bliss! The end of the fiscal year in June always means a gap in ordering, as accounts are closed out and reopened, new purchase orders requested, etc. At the end of July we finally start seeing boxes of new books roll in and go through processing, which is like water in a desert. At the same time, we have our annual Scholastic Book fair - imagine, boxes and cabinets just full of books! Books we don't have! Books we just ordered (oops - dangit)! Books we get for FREE when our lovely patrons stock up for Christmas and birthdays! And then...the Lerner Review checklist comes out. It's almost too much excitement for a small turtle to handle!

Over the next week or so, we will be featuring mostly books from the Book Fair. If you are a local, you will be seeing them on our library shelves soon. If not, you can purchase your own copies by clicking on the cover art for each post. Rumor has it we would receive a small portion of the proceeds from Amazon, but we have never actually earned enough to meet their minimum for sending out a check. That's okay, because we are feeling absolutely rich in books right now! Off to relax under our sunlamp with a nice big stack! Stay tuned for our first review tomorrow!

After Ever After, by Jordan Sonnenblick, reviewed by Miss Ami

Wow. He did it again.

When I finished reading Sonnenblick's first book, "Drums, Girls and Dengerous Pie" (and after I had finished crying), I read over his bio to find out what personal experience he was writing from. I still can't believe that the answer was, basically, none. I mean, he got it. Every little bit of what the family of a child with cancer goes through, down to the exact words the doctors use in some places! And yes, I am speaking from experience, but I don't know that I could have portrayed things so well. Amazing book!

So then we get "After Ever After", the sequel. One of those sequels you can't wait to read, because you want to know what happened next, but you are dreading it at the same time - can Sonnenblick possibly pull it off a second time? Can he suck us in from the first page, make every character real, stay away from stereotypes but still hit on the feelings and experiences of cancer survivors worldwide? In short, does he still get it?

As you can gather from my first sentence, the answer is a resounding "YES"! Little brother Jeff is now in 8th grade, cancer-free but not without some lasting effects. Treatment has affected his gait and his learning abilities. More important to an adolescent, his bout with cancer has affected the way people see him. As he tells us on the very first page, "There isn't a kid in the grade who hasn't eaten spaghetti at the church hall's annual Alper Family 'Fun-Raiser' Dinner, or gotten dragged to a high school jazz concert in my honor, or - God help me - bought a Save Jeffrey T-shirt." Kind of hard to develop your own identity when people are constantly mentally adding the moniker "The-Kid-Who-Had-Cancer" to the end of your name.

This is not a depressing read, though. As I told my teenage daughter, this is the funniest book about a kid with cancer (see, I'm doing it too) that I have ever read. Some people push books to their kids by giving them a plot synopsis, or by telling them how much they will identify with the main character. Blah. I prefer the drive-them-crazy approach;

Me: This is the funniest book about a kid with cancer I have ever read! Oh my gosh, and the part with the testing! I mean, you knew they were planning something, but that was so cool! But you had better not EVER try to pull something like that.

Her: Why? What did they do?

Me: Oh, and then when the teacher tried to stop them? And Tad? Ohmigosh! I could have cried! I think I did cry.

Her: What???? What did he do??? Wait, who's Tad?

Me: And that girl who hates him! So sweet!

Her: Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad! Make her stop!!!

Bet she'll read it:) And you should too! You do not need to have read the first book, as this one stands on its own, but we definitely recommend reading both. We give it a:

6 out of 5. Because we can.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Goal! by Mina Javaherbin

We are fudging a little, in that this is a fiction picture book, but based on real events that go on today. Back in May, we reviewed another book titled "Goal", about the history of soccer. One of the things we found interesting was that soccer was outlawed in some places - even punishable by death. Yet people still played.
In some places in the world, playing soccer can still be dangerous. Just being out on the streets is taking a risk, and gathering in groups can attract unwanted attention. Yet still, children play. Because after all, no matter what is going on around them, children are still children, and it is inspiring and refreshing to see them just enjoying themselves for a little bit.
Javaherbin has done an excellent job of presenting a book that can be read to any age group. Younger ones will simply understand that bullies want the ball, while older ones will be able to see and discuss some of the more implied threats, making this a great discussion starter. We give it a
5 out of 5.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Series Review: The Magnificent 12, by Michael Grant

Okay, it may be a bit of a stretch to call this a series review when the first book, The Call, isn't due out for another month. But we love it! Think The Grey Griffiths, or Percy Jackson, for slightly younger readers - but just as enjoyable for adults. From the back cover (ARC):
"Twelve-year-old Mack MacAvoy suffers from a severe case of mediumness...And then, one day, a three-thousand-year-old man named Grimluk appears in the boys' bathroom to deliver some startling news: Mack is one of the Magnificent Twelve, whatever that is. An evil force is on its way, and Mack must track down eleven other twelve-year-olds in order to stop it. But Mack doesn't want to be a hero. Will he answer the call?"
Of course, Mack doesn't have much of a choice in the matter, what with the poison snakes and the golem. His story is told alongside that of Grimluk's sad tale. Geico's cavemen may not be happy with those parts - much is made of the fact that 12 had recently been discovered as an astronomical number beyond most people's comprehension. (Btw, try plugging the words "So simple even a cave man can do it" into your favorite search engine. Talk about capitalizing off someone else's advertising!) This is definitely more lighthearted than The Grey Griffiths series, and contains plenty of humorous situations and one-liners to keep even your most reluctant readers chuckling. We can't wait to read the next in the series! Click on the link above to reserve your copy now, or stop by your local library to make double-triple sure they have it on order. We give it an easy

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Picture Book Wednesday: Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink, by Victoria Kann

Yes, another Pinkalicious book! This one, due out in a couple weeks, will no doubt be snapped up by little girls (and a few big ones) everywhere. The whole series has without a doubt been wildly popular.

Unfortunately, with this particular book we see signs of the curse many series fall under. Sometimes the pressure to produce more causes the stories themselves to suffer. "Tickled Pink" isn't awful, but if it weren't a Pinkalicious book, we aren't sure it would stand on its own. The storyline just doesn't seem as smoothly written. We hope that this is just a fluke - or that it's just a matter of turtles not being attuned to 6-year-old humor - because we know there will be a continued demand for Pinkalicious books! We'll give it a

3 out of 5.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Media Literacy series from Capstone Press

This series includes the titles:
At the Controls: Questioning Video and Computer Games
Coming Distractions: Questioning Movies
Music Madness: Questioning Music and Music Videos
Pretty in Print: Questioning Magazines
TV Takeover: Questioning Television
Virtually True: Questioning Online Media
What's Your Source?: Questioning the News, and
Yourspace: Questioning New Media
On the one hand, these definitely fill a niche. While there have been general books about internet safety out for years now, there aren't too many for kids addressing specific sites like MySpace. Kids (and adults) tend to automatically go to the internet for report information, but do not understand in the least how to evaluate the information they find there. Our library ordered this series to fill that niche, and so far they have been checking out (mostly via parents wanting their kids to read them. Kids already know everything.)
On the other hand, we are a bit confused as to what the intended niche/audience is. If a child is computer-savvy enough to set up his own Facebook page, would he really need you to define a "wall post"? At times, the books read as more of a primer for older folks (like Miss Ami) who aren't up to speed on all the new technology and lingo.
Language and tone issues aside, these books contain a lot of good information, and give important warnings without sounding too preachy. Readers are shown how to find out who created a web site - and why that matters - and how to spot product placements in TV shows. Both kids and adults may learn some things they didn't know. Warning: reading the entire series back to back can make you extremely paranoid and suspicious of everything you see and hear - which, these days, may not be a bad thing! The layout of the pages is very kid-friendly, lots of sidebars, familiar pictures, and varying page designs.
For more great reviews of nonfiction finds, click on over here. And stay tuned - in a couple more weeks, we will be hosting Nonfiction Monday ourselves! (We almost feel like real bloggers!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fat Cat by Robin Brande

A surprisingly refreshing take on the fat-girl-gets-thin theme. It's not often you find a lot of science in your teen novel, especially one that is part romance. It is the science, however, that has sparked the most discussion around here.

As turtles, we don't eat a lot of junk food - some turtle pellets, a goldfish here and there, maybe some greens from someone's salad. Humans, however, are continually eating things they know are bad for them. Add in the lack of exercise, the dependence on technology, the pollution, the increasing dependency on others to do things for them, and the constant barrage of negativity, and we have to wonder, not just how humans get through their days at all, but what they are doing to their species in the long run - as in, genetically?

Heavy stuff, but very well presented, and balanced just as well with character development, a quick-moving plot, and yes, a little romance. We can't wait to pass this on to our favorite teens, and give it a

5 out of 5.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Old Spice Guy on Libraries

We're not sure this is what was meant by "saying a few words", but the ladies that work here seem to be happy with it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Picture Book Wednesday: Pinkalicious: School Rules! by Victoria Kann

Don't you hate it that you can't bring your pets to school? Particularly your (imaginary to some people) pet unicorn, Goldilicious? Pinkalicioues is not a huge fan of rules, especially this one. We have to say we agree - we can't tell you how many stuffy places we have been kicked out of ourselves! Pinkalicious tries bringing Goldie to school with her one day, but Goldie unintentionally causes a little trouble. Fortunately, Pinkalicious has a very cool teacher (who even calls her by her chosen name), and he finds a way for Goldie to stay at school.

Pink and unicorns - does anyone not know several dozen little girls who will swarm this book? We recommend multiple copies for your shelves, and give it a

4 out of 5.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Picture Book Wednesday: Over at the Castle, by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Cute, cute, cute! We just got this one, and cannot keep it on the shelves. Murphy is one of our new favorite artists, from the dragons we loved in Hush, Little Dragon to the prisoner in the dungeon (but not for long)and his sweet little mice. This rollicking version of "Over in the Meadow" sometimes trips the tongue a bit, but that challenge can be part of the fun of reading it. Some words may be new to children ("sous chefs"), but are quite clear in context. Little ones will delight in guessing what the little dragon is so impatiently waiting for, and we think will be happy with the answer.
So many extension possibilities! Check out other versions of "Over in the Meadow" or make up your own ("Over in the ______ house..."). Use this as a springboard for a study of the middle ages. Learn to weave like the seven, or figure out what you can saute (or if you're feeling brave, flambe), like the six. Read other tongue twister books like Piggy in a Puddle, or Bubble Trouble. Or, just read this one over and over and over, while checkingout all the details in the pictures. We give it a
5 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Candy Land!

Always in search of something new and different to do with the teens, this week we promised "Candy Land - like you have never played it before." To begin with, we had the game board:

Thank-you, Mykela and James, for taping all of those down!

The finish line:

Yes, the same castle we used for the Fancy Nancy Tea Party - why reinvent the wheel?!

The instructions:

And the game pieces:

The crowns weren't part of the game, they were just feeling special :)

We always have snacks for Teen Cafe (whispery voiceover: if you feed them, they will come) but didn't want everyone traipsing back and forth and losing their place. We decided you could get drinks when you reached the Gumdrop Mountains, and snacks (lots of candy, of course) at the Lollipop Woods. We chose not to feature every single part of the game, mainly because of our limited artistic talents!

In the regular-sized game (in case it has been a few decades since you played), players take turns picking cards to tell them where to move next (not a great game of strategy, Candy Land). With 40 or more kids spread throughout the room, this would have been a logistical nightmare. We had one basket with the color cards, and then one with strips that read things like, "If your birthday is in April," or "If you were a junior last year." We drew one descriptive card and one color card, and our announcer read those out, then the kids moved accordingly. That worked pretty well - everyone was bunched up at first, but got spread out fairly quickly. If you are interested in doing this yourself, let us know, and we'll give some tips on the descriptors.

The pink character spaces were photocopied and blown up, and they kept things from getting too predictable - a couple times someone almost reached the end, then got sent back to "the chick with the cupcake" (Miss Ami had trouble remembering any characters' names). The only problem? We got so involved in the game, we completely forgot to take pictures during! Here is one of our winners, enjoying the spoils along with another participant:

We had twelve giant lollipops, so about 1/3 of the players won something. We just played until the lollipops were gone. The other problem? Miss Ami liked using the microphone. A lot. She says she wants it available during all Teen Cafes. We aren't so sure that is necessary - or a good idea - but we have the feeling we are going to lose this one.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Epitaph Road, by David Patneaude

It is the year 2097, 30 years after a plague wiped out 97% of the male population across the world. Males are now kept under strict control by the female-dominated government, which has eliminated world hunger, war, major crime, and global warming. Kellen is mostly resigned to his fate, until he discovers his rebel father is in danger, and in trying to warn him, discovers a world-wide conspiracy.

We have pretty well established that we like dystopian novels, so it seems a shame to give one a bad review. That's pretty much all we can do with this one, though.

We like our science fiction to have a little bit of...well, science, in it, and this one is so full of holes we wouldn't even know where to start. The situations, characters, and actions are too implausible for even a willing suspension of disbelief to get past. After 30 years, these two giggly teenage girls are the first to figure out the consipiracy? A conspiracy that had to involve thousands of women, who even according to the stereotypes in the novel are more compassionate than men, and none of those women ever felt remorse and blew the whistle? And they were all okay with keeping the world population at only 3% male???

We liked the premise, but were disappointed in the actual content. Others have obviously disagreed with us, and that's okay. For our review, however, we have to give it a

2 out of 5

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield

In the summer of 1900, a meteorite lands on the day of Peg Staynor's baptism, barely missing the small church in rural Ontario. This, along with Peg's almost colorless eyes, is enough to resurrect a local superstition that will haunt Peg and her family for years. Many believe Peg to be a "river child," taken over by an evil spirit from the Magurvey River that winds its way through the town. Feared and shunned throughout her childhood, Peg is blamed for every misfortune, from drought to ailing livestock. When her mother, her fiercest protector, dies suddenly on the same day WWI is declared, young Peg must face not only the mistrust of the villagers, but of her father. His grief has driven him to take solace in drink and old superstition, leaving Peg with only her head-strong older sister, Sarah, for support. It will take the terrible reality of World War I to shake off the grip of old world beliefs. As the town's young men begin to return mentally and physically damaged, or not return at all, the sheltered atmosphere of the town is broken. A bright flame of change will sweep through everyone's lives, leading Peg into the future.

The characters, especially the secondary ones like the neighborhood gossip or the woman selling moonshine, are rather undistinguishable from those in a million other books, but Peg's character is more fleshed-out. It is easy for the reader to sympathise with her and wish for a happy ending (and the ending isn't too hard to predict). Issues such as superstition, small-town gossip, the ability to adapt, and the changes that come to a society when it is forced to respond to what is going on elsewhere are covered. Nothing earth-shattering, but an enjoyable way to spend your time. We give it a

4 out of 5.
This is a great summer read, with interesting characters and enough twists on old themes to keep it fresh. We found the idea of the river child intriguing, and were glad it didn't turn into some sort of implausibly supernatural element. The story moves at a pace that is relaxed, but never slow. Perfect for curling up in your beach chair under the sun (our favorite spot any time), or for reading a few chapters before bed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chapter Book Thursday:, by Liane Shaw

Seventeen-year-old Maddie has always felt insecure about herself and her body; she's never been cool, smart, or pretty enough. Dieting seems like the only way she can take control of her less-than-perfect life. But nobody else understands - not her mother, not her doctor, and not even her best friend. When she finally finds acceptance and cameraderie with her GWS (Girls Without Shadows) friends on, her parents confiscate her computer and send her to a rehab facility to "get better". Unwilling to admit that she has a problem, and feeling unjustly separated from the support of her online friends, Maddie resists counseling, avoids group sessions, and only reluctantly begins writing a diary as part of her therapy.
An amazing first (and we hope not last) book from Liane Shaw, who battled with anorexia herself. Turtles don't have eating disorders - we are on the see-food diet, you could say. It is hard for us, as it can be for many people, to understand how someone painfully thin can look in the mirror and see the need to lose more weight. Many people imagine their must be some sort of horrible trauma leading a person to such extremes - and sometimes that is the case. One of the things we realize as progresses, however, is that sometimes it is just small incidents or stray thoughts that come together in the wrong way - it isn't necessarily anybody's fault that a person develops an eating disorder, and that can be a huge relief - or a source of further frustration - for family and friends.
Maddie's 'voice' is very clear, and her story captures our attention from the beginning. Other characters are not fleshed out very much, but since this story is mostly focused on the workings of Maddie's mind, that works. In many ways, Maddie is "Everygirl". Take, for example, this passage from pg. 18:
"The older I got, though, the less she [Maddie's mother] seemed to understand about real life. My real life, anyway. It's not that she was mean or anything like those evil mothers you see on TV. She was just sort of off in her own space. Motherland, where everything made sense to her in her own mind and she didn't think she had to look inside mine.She couldn't see what bothered me or scared me or embarrassed me any more, even when I tried to tell her. Like the day she took me to buy my first bra."
Following is a cringe-worthy scene in which Mom is holding training bras up to Maddie's chest IN the department store, in FULL VIEW of two boys from her class. (See, you just cringed, didn't you?) Mom, of course, doesn't understand why Maddie is embarrassed, and assures her the boys probably didn't even notice. (Um...right!)

No, being embarrassed in the bra section does not cause Maddie's anorexia, but it does illustrate another important point of the book: image is everything to most teens. How other people see you - or how you think they see you - is often more important than grades, parental approval, comfort, whatever. That, in turn, explains the popularity and danger of pro-anorexia sites like the fictional (the real web site, run by Shaw, is quite different!)

We did a quick google search to see how easy it is to find "pro-ana" or "thinspiration" sites. Frighteningly easy! We clicked on one at random, and scrolled through messages by girls worrying that they wouldn't be able to hide their fasting at a family dinner that night, or celebrating that they had only consumed 7 calories that day (yes, 7! A chip and a stick of gum!) These girls (and there are some guys out there) are real girls, supporting each other's 'dieting', offering advice on how to hide the purging from the parents, posting their ultimate goal weights. If a normal teen weighing, say, 130 pounds, sees that other girls are aspiring to 77, what does that instantly do to that teen's body image? Scary!

The only quibble we had with the book was the addition of a love interest. Seriously? Why??? And what kind of facility rooms boys in with girls, able to go into each others' rooms unsupervised, anyway? Other than that, we couldn't put the book down, and we think teen readers will feel the same way.  We give it a

4 out of 5 (the love interest thing really bugged us).