Thursday, April 29, 2010

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Small problem with our new weekly structure: it meant we had to wait (picture three turtles bouncing up and down in anticipation) until today to review this one!

Perkins (Newbery winner for Criss-Cross) has another award-winner on her hands! We weren't sure what to expect from the cover and title, and the ARC (provided by publisher) didn't have a jacket description. We try not to read the promotional blurbs until after the book, so we sort of delved in blindly. And started alternately laughing and groaning almost immediately!

Ry is having a Judith Viorst kind of day (you know; terrible, horrible, no good, very bad...). He is on a train headed towards camp, while his parents are on their way to the Bahamas for a loosely structured vacation. He remembers a last-minute letter from the camp (they had been peppering him with daily missives like, "don't forget your sunscreen") that he had jammed in his backpack, and pulls it out to read. In brief: camp has been cancelled. Don't come. Oops!

Of course, he can't get cell service on the train to call either his parents' cell, or his grandfather, who is house/dogsitting for them (in the house and town they just moved into). Fortunately, the train has to stop in the middle of nowhere for repairs, which will take at least 45 minutes. Plenty of time for Ry to slip off the train, hike up a nearby hill, and see if he can get a few bars, right? Right? Darn those quick mechanics.

Within a few pages, Ry is stranded in the desert with a black eye, numerous scratches, a useless cell phone, about $80, and only one shoe. The phone thing doesn't really matter anyway, since his parents' cell phone has been stolen by a monkey, and his grandfather bonked his head while walking the dogs and is wandering around with short-term amnesia, in the town Ry's family just moved to, while the dogs take off on their own cross-country trip. Just a little bit of bad luck there. Then he meets Del, and his luck begins to change - or does it? It's a little hard to tell in places, but sometimes you just have to let things happen and trust them to fall into place eventually. Or not. Well, if nothing else, you can at least enjoy the ride!

There are so many great lines we want to quote. Anyone who came within range while we were reading it was hit with, "Wait, you have to let me read this part to you." A few that are within pages of each other:

"Ry glanced back at the truck as they headed down the shoulder of the road. It seemed at home there in the timeless earthy expanse. It blended right in. It looked like it was planning to stay. Marry a local rock and put down roots. By the time they got back there would probably be young tumbleweds nesting and mating in the cab." (pg 103)
Quite a feat to use words like "timeless earthy expanse" and be so funny in the same breath.

"The sediment of dirt deposited evenly across the windshield, punctuated by the dried fluids of unfortunate insects, glowed incandescent in the sunlight. It was like trying to see through dandelion fluff." (pg. 107-8)
Great description! Here's another:

"Del's face did its trick where without actually moving any of its parts, you could tell he was smiling. You could tell he was amused. If you want to see how this is done, watch an old Clint Eastwood movie." (pg. 165)
And one more:

" 'So, do you really have errands between Montana and Wisconsin?' he asked Del. Because looking around, he couldn't think what anyone would do here. No offense to North Dakota, but it was pretty subtle so far." (pg. 130)
Having trouble getting your students to stop using boring adjectives, like...well, "boring"? What better example than the North Dakota line! (Note: quotes and page numbers are from the ARC, and may differ slightly in the final version.)

And then there are the characters. Del is the kind of free spirit (and ninja cowboy repairman) we wish we could be. Carl, the semi-blind probable car thief with the two-minute memory span and no feeling below his knees...well, you just have to admire his joie d'vive! Some characters appear for only short bits, while others reappear periodically. All are memorable, as is this book!

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth released two days ago, so run right out to your local library and check it out - and if it isn't there yet, stand on the counter and refuse to leave until they order and/or finish processing it! Better yet, order your own copy by clicking on the picture link. That way you can underline your favorite parts and dog-ear it all you want, and we will get a small portion of the proceeds for our library.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picture Book Wednesday: Elmer and Rose, by David McKee

Published in the UK five years ago, but now here in hardcover. If you haven't been introduced to Elmer, the multicolored elephant, you need to get to your local library and check him out. The first book, Elmer, is a simple story about appreciating the things that make you different. We like to use it for story time and then give the children elephant outlines to decorate as they choose - sort of our own version of the Painted Ponies. The other books in the series introduce other 'different' elephants, and mostly follow the same themes of self-acceptance and friendship.
In Elmer and Rose, Elmer and his cousin Wilbur debate the concept of being unique (as this is a picture book, by "debate" we mean two or three sentences.)  Elmer's grandfather then asks them to escort a young, pink elephant back to her herd. They think her color is unique, but discover - surprise - that her whole herd is pink, illustrating that the conept of unique is relative.
The lesson is fairly obvious, but not delivered in a heavy-handed way, and obvious is a good thing with younger readers. We would have liked to see uniqueness demonstrated in areas other than color, but a teacher/parent/librarian can easily make that connection in discussion after reading.
Our favorite part of McKee's illustrations are his trees. From twisty trunks to ball-shaped foliage and triangular red tops, his wide variety of shapes and colors are sure to inspire your kids' imagination. For another fun extension, ask children to follow his example and come up with wildly different flowers, or fish, or cars. This could even be an art lesson for older kids - maybe something for substitutes to keep in their emergency back-up kits. (For those who are new to substitute teaching, an emergency back-up kit is a bag of any-age-level-activities you can turn to when you show up to teach middle school social studies and discover the regular teacher was kidnapped by aliens who apparently also took her lesson plans. You need a kit, trust us.)
Copy provided by publisher for review. If you purchase a copy by clicking on the picture link, we receive a (very) small portion of the proceeds, which then goes to our local library.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Sea Creatures You Can Draw, by Nicole Brecke

Drawing books are always popular in libraries, whether public or school. They also make great gifts, even if the recipient is not an avid artist. There is something about the idea that even the most fumble-fingered (or flipper-fingered) can draw something recognizable by following a few easy steps. To test this out, we tried drawing our cousin, the sea turtle (see him on the cover there?)

Here is the result:
We said "recognizeable", not "good", so we'll call it a success! (Freaky thinks he looks like he has eaten a few too many fish).

The directions were fairly easy to follow, although some of the more vague shapes were hard to copy. It might have helped to have a small version of the finished product on the page for reference, rather than just at the end of each set of directions. Each set starts with a paragraph of factual information about that animal, and the book ends with a further reading/web site list, so kids might get away with calling this a reading book during SSR. Hey, we'd count it!

Review copy received from Lerner Publishing Group. To see more reviews of great nonfiction books, follow this link.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Story Starter Saturday

A new feature in which we will start a story, and we invite you to write the next part! Just read what we have here, read the posts following it, then compose the next few paragraphs in a post of your own. Remember this is a family-type blog so keep it appropriate for a young turtle's eyes:)

     They were in the grocery store, in the freezer section, when it happened. Colin heard it first - a slight rumbling, a sort of muttering sound coming from the direction of the rump roasts.
     "Do you hear that," he asked Liz. Liz was about to say something smart in reply, but stopped short when she heard a tiny voice say

Friday, April 23, 2010

Karaoke Night

While we have different teen programs throughout the year, there are several that have become tradition. September, of course, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. In February, shortly after Valentine's Day, we have the annual chocolate party. April is always Open Mic Poetry/Karaoke Night.

This year, due to the two-day remodeling project that took two months to complete, followed by the birth of Miss Ami's baby, we missed a few months of programs, so earlier this week we combined two favorites. Mountains of chocolate, 25 teens, and a microphone - what could possibly go wrong?

Of course nothing did (we take no responsibility for anything that happened after the highly caffeinated urchins arrived home), and a good time was had by both regulars and newbies. We even finished scheduling our summer activities (and for the last time, we are NOT having a food fight/World of Warcraft Party). Here are a few pictures from the singing portion - wish I could figure out how to embed videos without putting them on Youtube (any blogger techies out there?)

Nobody wanted to sing standing up for some reason!

We know that's not 25 teens, but not all parents were available to give permission, and we're sticklers about that:)  We are also looking for something to replace our dinosaur of a karaoke machine - any suggestions?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Little Restructuring

We are coming up on 5,000 visits! A drop in the bucket compared to many of our favorite blogs, and not nearly as many as The Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay (our hero!) but not bad for less than a year. During that time we have changed our name once and experimented with different voices and structures. We have also had a few lapses in which our typist was unavailable, but we think we have her a little better trained now.

Beginning next week, we are going to try to give our weeks a little more of a permanent layout. Mondays we usually participate in Nonfiction Mondays, hosted by different members of Kidlitoshpere. Tuesdays will continue with Retro Tuesdays, when we review a book (usually YA) that isn't new, but that we somehow missed the first time around, under the premise that perhaps someone else missed it, too.

Wednesdays we are going to devote to picture books - some fiction, some nonfiction. Thursdays will be for chapter books, either juvenile or YA, possibly an occasional adult novel as we get more of those in to review.

Fridays and Saturdays we are going to try some new things (for us, anyway). Fridays will be "book club" days, when we will discuss something we have all read, either amongst ourselves or with library patrons, putting the gist of our conversations down in print.

Saturdays will be "Story Starter Saturdays". Readers are often writers (albeit closet ones), so we are going to throw out a story starter each saturday, and let you, ou readers, continue the story in the comments section. Knowing some of our readers, that could get interesting:)

Of course, we have never managed to post six days in a row, so we probably won't hit each of these every week. Hopefully, however, this general structure will keep us on track and give you an idea of what to look for each day (aside from counting how many times we can use variations on the word "structure" in one post.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Red, White & True Blue Mallory, by Laurie Friedman, reviewed by Freaky

We have several of the Mallory books here at the library, and they have not been terribly popular. Of course, neither has the book we reviewed yesterday, which we loved, so number of check-outs is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

These have all the attributes of, say, Junie B. Jones or Amber Brown which should make them appeal to younger girls, so we are inclined to think it is just lack of name recognition. We are going to start pointing them out to kids who ask for similar books, and see if circulation increases.

For those who are new to the series or who have read every title (more than a dozen) so far: Red, White and True Blue Mallory is written in journal format, which is a very popular venue these days, particularly with reluctant readers. It has more pictures than many of its predecessors, so in those respects it might make a good introduction to the series for someone who needs a little pushing.

The story itself, however, reads like a guidebook, as Mallory's class visits Washington D.C. A very entertaining guidebook, mind you, with tidbits like, "It took almost 30 years to build the Washington Monument (which is even longer than it takes my brother, Max, to finish a book report)", or "There are some very big monkeys at the [National] zoo called orangutans who know how to use a computer. HOW TOTALLY COOL IS THAT?" Mallory's enjoyment of the trip is clouded by her best friend, Mary Ann, paying more attention to a boy than to Mallory. The problem is that the guidebook part takes over the story part - in other words, it reads more like a guidebook with a story included as a way to connect the museums and monuments.

And they visit a LOT of museums and monuments. I think that is the root of the problem: when I read the itinerary at the front of the book, the list of places the class was going in a few short days made me want to crawl into my shell and hide in the mud. (Okay, the idea of traveling anywhere for four days with a class of ten-year-olds does that, but you get the picture.) For a field trip or for a chapter book, that was just too much information to try to cram in. I also - minor quibble - have to question a ten-year-old getting so excited about a loose tooth. Six, yes, ten - not so much.

So, to recap: a good series in general. The format might make it a good first choice, the content might not. Give it to girls in the 8-11 range, or young fans of American history.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Retro Tuesday: Life as We Knew It (2006), by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Publisher's description:
Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove. In her journal, Miranda records the events of each desperate day, while she and her family struggle to hold on to their most priceless resource—hope.

This book came to our attention when we read reviews of the third in the series - somehow the first two escaped our notice. Apparently they escaped everyone's notice, because we are only the second checkout for each book - and they are GOOD! We are going to be hand-selling these to fans of Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfeld.

On the surface, they aren't as dark as the Hunger Games or Uglies series. When we passed this one on to one of our favorite teens, however, she found it more disturbing than she did the others.

While any of these series could take place in the future, this one is more immediate - it could happen tomorrow. She found the characters easy to identify with, and the daily routines and plans were similar enough to be familiar - and thus all the more jarring when they changed so drastically. It was reassuring to her to realize that her family is more self-sufficient than some already, but many of today's teens are so used to relying on technology for everything, this book may hit them harder than adults might expect.

It was also somewhat reassuring for our teen to realize that, in this scenario, it's not that the world itself ended - just, to paraphrase the title, the world as we know it now. No civilization lasts forever, and for thousands of years people have learned to adapt to whatever new civilization has come along. This series might prompt both teens and adults alike to reflect on what they may have within them that would make them one of those who would adapt and survive.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: S is for Smithsonian, by Marie and Roland Smith, Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen

While we are probably all familiar with Sleeping Bear's alphabet books by now, this one bears a slightly closer look to find some hidden fun - not unlike the Smithsonian itself.

We can start with the authors and illustrator: while the name Roland Smith isn't usually associated with nonfiction (this is his third in the alphabet series), it is certainly a familiar one to librarians and adventure fans (Cryptid Hunters and Tentacles, the I,Q. series, etc.) While the illustrator's name is not as familiar, it will certainly give you pause - and we thought Jon Scieszka's was hard to pronounce! No wonder, as his bio says, kids call him "Mr. Nick". Right there you have the making of a mini-lesson on name origins, elementary linguistics, geography, etc. His family's 20 years of wildlife rehab make us wonder if he doesn't have a story or two to tell himself (surely he has had some heartwarming success stories involving turtles!)

On to the actual book. Of course we have Sleeping Bear's usual quality in binding and print, and the now-traditional short poems with information sidebars. The Smithsonian is such an eclectic and HUGE collection of items, we don't know how the Smiths were able to decide what to include - in fact, on several pages, we get two items for that letter. At any rate, just like in the museums, there should be plenty to interest any reader. And yes, we said museums, plural - we did not realize that the Smithsonian is actually made up of 19 museums, 156 affiliate museums, and 9 research centers.

Did you know that the Hope Diamond, one of the most visited museum items in the world, was sent to the Smithsonian through the mail? Would you like to see life-sized replicas of a right whale or a 24-foot giant squid? How about Dorothy's ruby slippers, or Mr. Rogers' red sweater? (We weren't sure who Mr. Rogers was, which apparently made Miss Ami feel old. Just humor her and say that's cool.)

Once again, another excellent book from Sleeping Bear, sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike. Click here for more great nonfiction book reviews.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top 100 Children's Novels

Which of these Top 100 Children's Novels, as voted on by bloggers and librarians, have you read? Since there are four of us (counting Miss Ami), we did pretty well - but there are still some embarrassing holes to fill! (The ones we have read are in bold)

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)

97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950

94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)

84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997) (but we have it checked out!)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)

80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)

77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)

59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)

45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)

22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When Lulu Went to the Zoo, by Andy Ellis

What child hasn't dreamed of letting all the animals at the zoo out of their cages? Or wished they could take the capybaras and giraffe home with them? In that light, this story will appeal to most youngsters. Lulu is a cutie, and the pictures are fun, although a bit odd in places (are those ears or horns on the monkeys?) If used for story time, the reader might want to practice a bit first, as the rhyming text changes rhythm frequently.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sunrise Over Fallujah, by Walter Dean Myers

This is one of those sequels where we felt slightly guilty not having read the first book yet. Fortunately, it easily stands alone, and it wasn't until we read the description of its predecessor, Fallen Angels, that we even saw how they went together. And yes, now we have Fallen Angels on our TBR list - look for a review on a retro Tuesday soon!

Publisher description:
Robin "Birdy" Perry, a new army recruit from Harlem, isn't quite sure why he joined the army, but he's sure where he's headed: Iraq. Birdy and the others in the Civilian Affairs Battalion are supposed to help secure and stabilize the country and successfully interact with the Iraqi people. Officially, the code name for their maneuvers is Operation Iraqi Freedom. But the young men and women in the CA unit have a simpler name for it:


In this new novel, Walter Dean Myers looks at contemporary war with the same power and searing insight he brought to the Vietnam War in his classic, FALLEN ANGELS. He creates memorable characters, like the book's narrator, Birdy, a young recruit from Harlem who's questioning why he even enlisted; Marla, a tough-talking, wisecracking gunner; Jonesy, a guitar-playing bluesman who just wants to make it back to Georgia and open a club; and a whole unit of other young men and women, and drops them in Iraq, where they are supposed to help secure and stabilize Iraq and successfully interact with the Iraqi people. The young civil affairs soldiers soon find their definition of "winning" ever more elusive and their good intentions being replaced by terms like "survival" and "despair." Caught in the crossfire, Myers' richly rendered characters are just beginning to understand the meaning of war in this powerful, realistic novel of our times.

This is one of those novels that sucks you into its world, and intrudes on your thoughts throughout the day. The characters are very real, and it is shattering to be reminded of how young they are as they go through some horrible situations and have to make very adult decisions. There are also a very few fun times, some moments of humanity, and very wise perceptions from young men and women who should be attending their college orientations or having pizza with their friends. Highly recommended for anyone ready for mature novels, as is anything else by Myers.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day Giveaway and Review: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

The giveaway is not an April Fool's joke, nor is our review of this sweet book:

Cole, the illustrator of books such as "Little Bo" by Julie Andrews, is now trying his hand at authorship. We would have to declare his attempt a success. Celeste is a sweet little mouse looking for a home. She becomes friends with a young man named Joseph, who is apprenticed to James Audubon. Along with the story of her search for a home, we have Joseph's growing reluctance to kill birds just to paint them. This is a quick read, interspersed with wonderful drawings of the characters. We would give this to fans of Charlotte's Web or Avi's Poppy and Rye books.

Harper Collins sent us two review copies, so we are offering the second as a giveaway - and here is where April Fool's Day comes in. To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment with your favorite April Fool's prank, either one you played yourself, one that was played on you, or just one you heard about. What does this have to do with the book? Nothing. We just like stealing ideas from others.

Miss Ami's brother takes the prize so far this year (although the day is still young!) He announced his engagement this morning on his Facebook page. Since he has been dating the same lovely young lady for approximately 87 years, everyone was thrilled...until they realized what day it is. Fortunately, the young lady was in on the joke, or he might be finding himself in a heap of trouble right now!

We will let the staff here vote on their favorite prank, and the winner will receive their own copy of the book. We will keep this contest open until midnight April 8, so you have a full week to poll your friends for good stories. Good luck!