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
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
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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You are the Best Medicine by Julie Aigner Clark

You Are the Best Medicine
Julie Aigner Clark
HarperCollins Childrens
Review copy sent by publisher
This. book. is. beautiful.

There are a few picture books out there to help kids with sick parents (Hair for Mama, for example, is one of our favorites), but nothing we have seen comes close to this one. Mommy explains to her daughter that she has cancer, and what that will mean in the future - she may be tired, she may be scared or sad, her hair may fall out, etc.. These are things children need to know about ahead of time, because things can be much less scary when we know what to expect and why they are happening.

Clark is absolutely brilliant in pairing each of these things with a happy memory Mommy has of her child:
For a while I will have to take medicine that makes me feel bad, and this medicine will make all my hair fall out. I will look different.

But I will laugh when I remember your own sweet little baby head, how round and bald it was, and how warm it was on my lips when I kissed it every day.
The entire tone of this book is one of love and hope. Jana Christy's warm and cheery illustrations, any one of which could be a print on a nursery wall, are the perfect complement. The overall result is a book adults can use to share some potentially sad and scary information with their children in a way that ends with laughter and hugs rather than tears. If you are a librarian, you MUST have this on your shelves! Oh, and ALL of the author's portion of the proceeds go to Breast Cancer Research. We give it a definite

5 out of 5.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Heist Society
Ally Carter
Hyperion Books
Borrowed from Library.
When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own--scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving "the life" for a normal life proves harder than she'd expected.

Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history--and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.
Despite coming from the other side of the law, this new series by the author of the Gallagher Girls books has more in common with it than not. As such, it will appeal to most fans of the Gallagher Girls - those who enjoy quick reads with lots of action, humor, and a bit of romance, but who aren't overly burdened with the need for plausibility.

Kat is a very likeable character, but even with her background taken into consideration, she is a bit too poised and worldly to be a believable 15-year-old. Despite hearing her age early on, she was fixed firmly in our minds as at least 17. The story started slowly for us, and it wasn't until Kat walked into the bad guy's lair that we started becoming intrigued. There is some definite cleverness in the main heist at the end, and a history lesson concerning the Nazi theft of famous artwork added a bit of depth to the story.

It is unfortunate that there wasn't as much depth in the characters. We found them less three-dimensional than those in the Gallagher Girls books, and in fact saw a lot of crossover. Zach has a different name and background, for example, but he's still an obvious Zach.

There were other intriguing elements in the story that it appears will be built on in future titles, so that we look forward to. We hope we will also see the characters become a bit more real to the reader, and this series become more distinguishable from the other. A fun read with potential, we give it a

3 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Carter's Big Break, by Brent Crawford

Carter's Big Break
Brent Crawford
This book was written for adolescent human boys.

We are not adolescent human boys.

We have, however, encountered enough adolescent human boys in our collective lifetimes to be able to say with conviction that Carter is, in fact, a very typical adolescent human boy. Is every male teenager exactly like Carter? No (they can't really all be that clueless, can they?), but we think every teenage boy we know would identify with Carter, recognize his thought processes, and enjoy his story. While we, not being adolescent human males, did not quite identify with said thought processes, we could recognize them (so that's what they're thinking about when they're obviously not listening!)

This, btw, as the parent of a teenage girl, concerns Miss Ami greatly. Said teenage girl will be allowed to date in T-minus 9 days, and already, in fact, has a date for that night. Dating, unfortunately, seems to involve typical teenage boys, a creature that scares many otherwise brave adults. (Public notice: Miss Ami has guns. Several of them. And lives on the National Forest, which has LOTS of places to bury a body. Just sayin'.)

This is the sequel to "Carter Finally Gets It," and as we follow Carter into the summer after his freshman year, we have to wonder how much he actually 'got'. From the first page:
I studied so hard last night, I thought my brain would fall out. But it didn't, and I aced that sucker with a D+!...(his teacher) gave me a nod and said, "Imagine if you'd applied yourself like this all year, Mr. Carter." I laughed at his joke, returned the nod, and replied, "Yeah!" as I headed for the door.
Erm...Carter...never mind.

In short time, Carter has managed to alienate his friends, get dumped by his girlfriend, hurt his father, and - oh, yes, score a starring role in a major Hollywood film. The latter should be the easy part, right? Okay, this is Carter we are talking about.

It is easy to get frustrated with Carter, but at the same time he remains a very likeable guy. He's not a bad sort at all, he just...doesn't always think. He chooses the wrong people to take advice from, doesn't always recognize what's going on around him, and can be a bit self-absorbed. He really does care a great deal about the people around him and how they are feeling, he just doesn't always see how his actions relate to that. In other words, he is...can we say it one more time? A typical adolescent human boy.

Put it on your shelves for the teenage boys, and steer the fussier mothers away from it. We give this one a

4 out of 5.

Random quote we would like to see on a bumper sticker: "ADD is easier to spot in other people...and much funnier."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nonfiction Monday:Animal Adaptation series from Lerner, by Sheila Anderson


One of the most common questions you will hear from young children when you are reading something particularly interesting to them is, "Is it real?" Nonfiction is huge with the lower elementary set, especially (and please don't bash us for being sexist, because it's true) boys. Trucks, space, dinosaurs, and animals, animals, animals!

Unfortunately, there has been a trend for a long time to skip the science in younger grades - reading and math are SO much more important, we have too many phonics and flashcard drills to do to mess around with science and social studies, except for maybe half an hour on Fridays. By fifth grade, when standardized tests start counting those subjects and we start trying to make up for lost time, many of the kids have lost interest.

Fortunately (hmm, this is starting to read like a popular old story), publishers have started listening to the poor beleaguered teachers waving their hands and saying, "Can't we COMBINE reading and science? I mean, isn't that how we know kids learn best?"

Enter the nonfiction books we refer to at our library as "Junior Readers". These aren't new by any means, but the quality has improved SO much in the past 5 or 10 years - both in substance and in appeal. This is one such series. The pictures are clear and beautiful (we want a porcupine!), the text is just right for, say, a first grader, without sounding too choppy or dull. "Fun Facts" at the end provide just a little more trivia, and a short glossary and index offer an introduction to the parts of a nonfiction book.

Know what animal we would like to see in books of this type, though? People. Not just because many small children don't realize that people are mostly animals (we have known a few that more resembled vegetables), but because children who have grown up exclusively in one type of habitat sometimes don't realize people live amongst the scorpions and roadrunners, or the bighorn sheep. That's just personal commentary, not a negative reflection on this series.

We live in a somewhat unique area that includes all three of the above habitats - in a forest on a mountain range that surrounds a desert. In any given day Miss Ami may see a mountain lion, a skunk, and a deer on the way to work, where she may have to shoo a gecko away from the door. Our young patrons are sure to enjoy this series, and we will be ordering the rest of the titles (covering grasslands, lakes, and the ocean) shortly. We give them a

5 out of 5.

Don't forget to check out the other nonfiction Monday posts.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chapter Book Mini-Reviews

Our "to-review" pile is beginning to take up way too much space on our desk and in our brains, so today we are offering several mini-reviews of YA and Middle Grade Fiction books. Some of these (not all) have been nominated for Cybils awards this year - have you nominated your favorites yet?

Change of Heart
Sheri Maurer
Westside Books
Borrowed from the library

     Emmi, 16, is focused on soccer and a new crush, when she discovers a recent virus has affected her heart - to the point that she now needs a new one. We follow her through the wait for a transplant, medical procedures, her frustration at the limitations it has placed on her, and how it effects her relationships with those around her.
     We got to know Emmi's character well, and many of the feelings and experiences she had rang true. Having vicariously experienced a major organ transplant recently through some friends, and having had a terminally ill child, some parts of the story jarred. To a reader without similar experiences, however, those parts would probably not be noticeable.
     We loved Abe, and the scenes he was in were definitely the best. We have to ask publishers/editors/authors everywhere, however, WHY must there always be a love interest??? The character of Sam could have been left out entirely, and the story would have been all the better for it. There was a lot of character development that could have been much more interesting if it weren't constantly being sidetracked by the obligatory boy trouble. 3 out of 5.

Only the Good Spy Young
Ally Carter
Borrowed from library

     See here for our earlier review of the Gallagher Girls series. The main theme of this one seems to be not knowing who you can trust. The usual fast pace and funny lines. Boy trouble. Good friends. Some surprising revelations at the end. (Note to self: when giving the book to your teenage daughter, be prepared for the "What??? No!!! squeals, or you will spill your coffee.) A fun way to spend an afternoon, and sure to please those who have been waiting for the next installment. If you provide books for teens and haven't purchased this series, you need to catch up quickly. 4 out of 5.

Noonie's Masterpiece
Lisa Railsback
Chronicle Books
review copy provided by publisher

     Noonie, age 10, is a slightly eccentric, undiscovered artist. When an art contest is announced, she is thrilled, until she hears the topic: a family portrait. Since her mother's death she has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin ("Just because they're related doesn't make them family"), while her archaeologist father travels the world. Noonie misses her father terribly, and comes up with creative diseases (such as Purple Principal Pneumonia) to bring him rushing back to her side, but he never stays for long. Can she paint a family portrait of just herself? Her focus on what she doesn't have almost causes her to miss what she does.
     Noonie isn't always completely likeable, but that adds realism to a character who is going through a lot of personal growth. While some other characters are less three-dimensional, and we usually complain about that, it works here because Noonie is at an age where everything is all about how she is feeling.
     Noonie's constant companion is her copy of Masterpieces of Art, and information about various famous artists is sprinkled throughout the story. Complimenting the theme nicely are Sarajo Frieden's pen-and-ink drawings (very 1960's) and some font changes here and there. Might be a good read-aloud for an elementary school class, or a good gift for a misunderstood artist. 4 out of 5.

Tune in next week for more mini-reviews, and don't forget your Cybils nominations!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Red Umbrella, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

The Red Umbrella
Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Random House
Copy borrowed from our library

In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States—on their own.
Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, a new way of life. But what of her old life? Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she still be the same girl?

As we may have mentioned once or six times before, we love historical fiction. We are always excited about books that cover 'holes' like this one. Not only are we unaware of any other books set around "Operation Pedro Pan", we were completely unaware of this mass exodus of children from Cuba in the early 1960's.

We can only imagine the turmoil these parents went through. It is very easy to look at a situation from the outside, with historical hindsight, and say "Yes, they should be willing to send their children away." Quite another thing to be in a horrible situation that you hope will get better, and have to make a decision you will never stop second-guessing. Some parents, in fact, were never able to reunite with their children.

The Red Umbrella begins when the soldiers first arrive in Lucia's town. Her parents are worried, but she is more focused on nail polish and boys, and their sudden restrictions on her movements chafe. The propaganda taught at school does its job at first, and she does not understand her parents' lack of enthusiasm for the revolution...until some real-life occurrences open her eyes, and force her to grow up a bit faster.

The pace of the book changes 2/3 of the way through, when Lucia and her pesty (and very realistic) younger brother are sent to the United States, first to a shelter, and then to a farm home in Nebraska. Quite the culture shock! At first the kindly Mrs. Baxter seems to be one of those clueless, well-meaning people who only manage to make things worse, and the reticent Mr. Baxter does not even seem to want them there. We as readers get to know them slowly, as Lucia and her brother do, and both Baxters prove themselves quite capable of guiding the children through a very difficult time. Loved the scene with the mud!

While we would have liked to see some of the characters (Mr. Baxter, Frankie) fleshed out a bit more, Lucia's is strong and well-written. The changes she goes through in the course of the book are sometimes due to her circumstances, but often just a result of growing up, and all are realistic. All in all an impressive first novel, and we look forward to seeing more from Diaz. We give it a

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
by Morgan Matson
Simon & Schuster
Borrowed from our library.
Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move across the country and needs Amy to get their car from California to Connecticut. There's just one small problem: Since her dad died this past Spring, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger, the nineteen-year-old son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute...and dealing with some baggage of his own.
Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father's death were not what Amy had planned on this trip. And traveling the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado mountains, crossing the Kansas plains, and visiting diners, dingy motels, and Graceland were definitely not on the intinerary. But as they drive, Amy finds that the people you least expected are the ones you may need the most - and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.
We try to go into every book wanting to like it, but we have to admit we were a little predisposed not to on this one. The cover was the problem: the road behind the characters illustrates the road trip aspect nicely, but the hand-holding turned us off. A new romance on a 4-day road trip? Seriously? Can't we just have a journey of self-discovery without the whole boy-girl thing thrown in?

Oh, judge ye not a book by its cover! The relationship between Amy and Roger (and we're not sayin' what kind of a relationship it is), is certainly central to the story, and pivotal in the way both of them deal with their respective baggage, but this is definitely not one of 'those' stories.

Amy, her mother and her brother are coping with her father's death differently, but each in a way that distances them from each other. Amy is basically going through the motions of life right now. She doesn't drive, she doesn't socialize, she just wears the same clothes and eats from the same plate day after day. It is going to take something special to break through and let her enjoy life again.

As the jacket cover says, enter Roger. His issues are not as serious as Amy's, but until he deals with them, he isn't going to be able to move forward either. Through the trip (which lasts a bit more than the four days), they go from complete strangers (playing Spud when they were six does not count) to friends, meeting others who contribute in small ways to the healing process. This part alone prompted a huge discussion with the favorite teen (who read the book in two hours straight, part of that in the car by the light of her cell phone because she couldn't put it down), about the little things we do that may have a huge impact we never know about.

While the story itself can stand on its own, we also learn quite a bit about each state (and no, it does not in any way feel like an educational novel) through its diners, fast food places, and roadside attractions. A little disappointed that they missed our neck of the woods and we didn't get to shout out "Allsup's!" - but hey, maybe the next trip. Much of this part of the story is told in scrapbook form, with copies of receipts, playlists, and notes on state mottoes sprinkled throughout. Pay attention to the flotsam, particularly the dates - we almost missed that one! Nicely done!

This book is full of so much 'goodness', such great character development, perfect pacing, balance of laughter and seriousness, we don't feel like we're reviewing it halfway properly. Guess we're just not as good with words as Matson! Even what would be tired old scenarios in another book, like discovering the only room available has but one bed, somehow seem fresh and new here. Particularly impressive when we realize this is her first novel! We can't wait to read more, and give this a definite

5 out of 5.

NOTE: This book has been nominated for the Cybils award - have you placed your nominations yet? Just 10 more days to get over to and put them in!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder

Deep, contented sigh.

The danger in loving one book by an author and looking forward to the next one so much, is that the next one doesn't always live up to the heightened expectations. You can end up really disliking what may have been a mildly enjoyable read if you had just picked it up cold. Thankfully, not a problem here!

What if you were really bored with your life? What would you wish for?

Penelope Grey wishes for something—anything!—interesting to happen, and here’s what she gets:

• Her father quits his job.

• Her family runs out of money.

• Her home becomes a pit of despair.
So Penelope makes another wish, and this time the Greys inherit a ramshackle old house in the middle of nowhere. Off they go, leaving the city and their problems behind them. Their new home is full of artists, tiny lions, unusual feasts, and true friends. Almost immediately, their lives are transformed. Penelope’s mother finds an unexpected job, her father discovers a hidden talent, and Penelope changes her name!
Penny’s new life feels too magical to be real, too real to be magic. And it may be too good to last . . . unless she can find a way to make magic work just one more time—if it even was magic.

Any Which Wall author Laurel Snyder introduces a quirky cast of characters as pleasantly strange as they are deeply real. Abigail Halpin adds to the charm with her distinctive line drawings.

This is one of those books you can happily hand to any patron. Adults will enjoy it just as much as kids. There is nothing to worry a parent (other than some non-traditional families, if that is an issue for them), but it never comes close to one of those cheesy books that turn kids off. Even boys, if they can be convinced to start it, we think will finish.

We immediately felt like Penny was a kindred spirit, but we honestly couldn't tell you if it was because of her personality, or just the way Snyder has of making us feel we know her so well. Then again, most reader-types will feel a connection with Penny, who tries to alleviate her boredom early in the story by randomly plunking her finger down on a page of a book, and then doing whatever the characters are doing. (Go ahead, we'll wait while you try it - you know you want to!)

Penny is definitely a reader, comparing people to book covers, making references to "...her book, in which a baby was sure to bite someone shortly", or just companionably reading with a friend for hours on end. If you are reading this as a family (and this would be an excellent choice for that), you can challenge each other to be the first to identify each book reference.

The other characters, while not as fleshed out as Penny, are enjoyable as well. The plot has enough twists to keep from being predictable, but not so many as to be dizzying. When the deep thoughts are thunk, and the adventures completed (for now), you will close the cover and settle back with...well, with a deep, contented sigh. Definitely a

5 out of 5.

Friday, October 1, 2010

And Tango Makes...a Really Cute Costume!

While most of you are aware of the Miss Ami who types our words of wisdom, you may not know of "The Other Amy" (note difference in spelling), who is President of our Friends of the Library Group.

Having two people with the same name can be confusing, and they are always having to stop people in the middle of a long speech or question to tell them they have the wrong one. The simple solution would be for one of them to change her name. Unfortunately, our Miss Ami insists she was here (at the library) first, but Amy-with-a-y insists she was here (in the community) first, and neither will budge.

At any rate, despite her stubborn refusal to change the name she has had for XX years, we are very glad to have Amy-with-a-y here, only in part because of the wonderful programs she arranges! This week she hosted a Banned Books Gala, where people could dress up as a character from their favorite challenged book.

Are they not absolutely adorable?!
The winner was from one of our favorite challenged books, The Handmaid's Tale:

Lots of fun, and we didn't have to lift a flipper - that's our kind of program:) Thanks again to the Other Amy!