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1. Muddy Max - a graphic novel review

I have been busy lately with review and blogging obligations, as well as work and preparation for the holiday season, but I did take time out to read a copy of Elizabeth Rusch's graphic novel, Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Thanks to the hard-working intern who brought it to my attention and supplied me with a copy.


Rusch, Elizabeth. 2014. Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.  Illustrated by Mike Lawrence.

Max lives in the aptly-named suburban town of Marsh Creek. In addition to the marsh on the outskirts of town, mud is everywhere in town as well, making it almost impossible for the child of neat-freak parents to stay clean!  Max becomes suspicious of his parents'secretive habits, frequent trips to the marsh, and fanatical obsession with his cleanliness.  When he accidentally discovers that mud gives him superpowers, he and his friend Patrick become determined to figure out exactly what is going on in Marsh Creek.

This is an easy-to-read graphic, sci-fi novel that should be popular with younger kids and reluctant readers. The panels are easy to follow, with simple, but expressive drawings in muted browns and grays that reflect the book's muddy locale. Hopefully, future installments will add some dimension to the Max's female friend. Not willing to completely divest herself of her nonfiction roots, Rusch adds some real science about mud and its denizens in the back matter.

I predict that more than one member of my book club will want to take this one home.  I'll have to place some holds on library copies.



A Teacher's Guide to Muddy Max is available here.


Elizabeth Rusch is also a talented author of nonfiction. Last year I reviewed her book, Volcano Rising.


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2. Space Case - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audiobook Space Case by Stuart Gibbs, read by Gibson Frazier, as it appeared in the December 2014, issue of School Library Journal.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

GIBBS, Stuart. Space Case. 6 CDs. 6:28 hrs. S. & S. Audio.
2014. $29.99. ISBN 9781442376397. digital download.

Gr 3–7— The year is 2040. Dash, his sister, and their scientist parents are inaugural inhabitants of Moon Base Alpha (MBA), Earth's extraterrestrial colony. Housing only a few dozen people and governed by a strict commander, MBA is not exactly a barrel of laughs for a 12-year-old boy. However, when one of MBA's scientists dies suspiciously and a supply ship brings new residents (including a girl his age), life in space becomes much more intriguing. Though the story has many humorous moments—especially involving the insufferable wealthy space tourists—it also has some plausible science. Each chapter is preceded by a reading from "The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha," NASA's part propaganda/part instruction manual, containing such riveting topics as "Exercise" and "Food." Narrator Gibson Frazier keeps the story moving at a good pace, conveying suspense without melodrama. Rather than create pitched character voices, he relies on intonation to differentiate among the large cast. His own voice is deep and clear but boyish enough to suit Dash. The narration flows smoothly, broken only by the humorously intended commercial quality of the "Official Resident's Guide." Space Case should appeal to a broad range of listeners but especially space enthusiasts.

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

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3. The Terrible Two - a review

Barnett, Mac and Jory John. 2014. The Terrible Two. New York: Amulet.



Miles is moving away from his beloved home at the beach to Yawnee Valley, where the slogan is "Come Look at our Cows."  Miles Murphy, the best-known prankster at his old school, will be attending the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy,

     Miles awoke with a sense of dread.  He opened his eyes and stared at his blank ceiling.  Last night he'd dreamed it had all been a dream, and now he wished he were still dreaming.
     Miles shut his eyes tight.  He tried to fall back asleep, but downstairs he could hear his mother shuffling around the kitchen, preparing breakfast.  Breakfast smelled like eggs. And cows. Although that might have just been the cows.
     Miles ate his eggs.  They tasted like dread, although that might've just been the dread.

When he's paired up with the insufferable school helper, Niles Sparks, Miles thinks things can't get worse, but they do. Someone else in school is a prankster, and whoever it is, he's outpranking Miles.

What's the best part about pulling a great prank?  Getting away with it, or getting credit for it?  Miles is about to find out!

This illustrated novel is the first in a series that's sure to appeal to middle-grade jokers and pranksters.  The writing style is conversationally funny with great black-and-white illustrations that add to the humor, A goofy, cud-chewing cow with a bell stands in a pasture adorning half of page one, which reads,

Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks, and cows as far as the eye can see. There's one now.
The Terrible Two has more than just humor. There are some intricate pranks woven into the plot, and there are well-developed characters in Miles, Niles, and Principal Barkin - all of whom are sure to reappear in future installments. It's got more text and fewer illustrations, but this series should be popular with Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.


Note:
I have to add that this book had the best Advance Reader Copy promotion ever!  I was totally pranked!  I received a large box in the mail marked "Perishable."  Inside was the big milk carton, and inside the milk carton was my copy of The Terrible Two, a coffee cup featuring cartoon images of the authors, and a signed certificate from The International Order of Disorder proclaiming the holder to be "a distinguished member of the International Order of Disorder."  I will raffle this off to the members of my book club.  Someone is going to be as happy as a cow in a cornfield!

Advance Reader Copy supplied (with coffee cup and milk carton) by the publisher.

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4. GUs & Me - a review

Richards, Keith. 2014. Gus & Me: The Story of my Granddad and my First Guitar. Hachette Audio.

Keith Richards, the rough-edged, raspy-voiced, Rolling Stones guitarist, is hardly the man that comes to mind for a picture book writer and narrator, but then again, who better to tell the story of his first guitar?

Richards wins the listener over immediately with his folksy, working class Estuary English accent (think dropped h's and "intrusive" r's) and unmistakable fondness for his topics - his first guitar and his beloved Granddad, Gus. It was the musically talented Gus who introduced a young Keith Richards to the guitar, teaching him how to 'old it, and suggesting the classical Malagueña(r) as the pinnacle of guitar mastery.

I have yet to see the print version of this story, but I don't believe it could surpass the audio book.  A story with music at its heart needs music to be understood. Richards plays bits from Malagueña in appropriate spots throughout the story, and during a visit to a music shop in London, we hear Steve Jordan on drums.  Once, the listener even hears a little chuckle - not musical, but surprisingly sincere.  Richards collaborated with other authors, but this is obviously his story, and he delights in telling it.

(Run time: about 7 minutes)

My review of Gus & Me for AudioFile Magazine appears here with a small excerpt.  Take a listen!



Visit the Nonfiction Monday Blog, "rounding up the best nonfiction for children and teens."

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5. The Paper Cowboy

Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

     I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
.....
     "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
     "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
     I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
     "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
     "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
     "You stole it."
     I shrugged.
     "Ahh."
     "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
     Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
     I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.


Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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6. Audio book reviews - recent fantasy favorites

*
I'm back from vacation and have some catching up to do!  If you're a frequent reader, you'll know that I review books for AudioFile Magazine.  Once submitted, I cannot reprint my reviews here, but I can offer a quick rundown, and link to the reviews as they appeared for AudioFile.


I am smitten with the unflappable Jennifer Strange, protagonist of Jasper Fforde's Chronicles of Kazam series. I recently reviewed the second book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast. A quirky, funny, and smartly-written fantasy series.  Book 3, The Eye of Zoltar just published last month, so get reading!  Read my review of The Song of the Quarkbeast here.  Suggested for ages 10-14. (I think older readers may enjoy it as well.)

I love Cornelia Funke's dark fantasy titles.  The Inkheart trilogy is a favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed Reckless, the first in the Mirrorworld series. I was thrilled when offered an opportunity to review her new early chapter book fantasy, Emma and the Blue Genie, especially when I discovered that she is the narrator.  My review of Emma and the Blue Genie is here.  Suggested for ages 7-10.
 (I only reviewed the audio copy, but the print copy is lovely - small and special and delightfully illustrated)




* Headphone image courtesy of Openclipart.org.

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7. This space intentionally blank



This space intentionally left blank.




I'm on vacation. See you next week. ;)

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8. Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!  

Today I'll be Medusa, hosting the annual preschool Halloween storytime and parade at the library, but on the way to work, I'll be enjoying Neil Gaiman's Halloween gift to the world, Click-Clack the Rattlebag.


Today is your last chance to get a free download of Neil Gaiman's scary short story, Click-Clack the Rattlebag. It's available only through Audible.com.  Get yours before your time runs out! 

Have a great day.

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9. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you


Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.

Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).

Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids.  In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success.  Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda).  He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible.  Kids love him and he loves them right back.

     

Back to Emperor Pickletine... so, I entered the Recorded Books contest because I hoped to win something for my book club members. With rare exception, after I've read them, I give away any book I receive gratis. Lucky me!  Not only did I receive the audio book, I received an Emperor Pickletine standee, some origami paper, and the biggest hit of all - pickle stickers - and boy, did they stink!

I was a little unsure about an audio book version of an illustrated book, however.  Would it be as good?  How can a narrator explain a comic? Will kids like it?

I discovered that, yes, it is as good.  The Origami Yoda books are written as "case files" with multiple students from  McQuarrie Middle School contributing to each file. The audio book version enhances that format because there is a cast of narrators, making it easy to differentiate between the student contributors.  

It's difficult to explain exactly how the printed illustrations from the book are narrated, because I don't have a transcript, but I can assure you that they retain their humor and flow easily into the narrative.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Will kids like it?  My book club meets next week, but I already have two kids who have let me know that they are already audio book fans.  I'm sure they'll like it. I did.

In the final chapter, Origami Yoda (voiced by none other than Tom Angleberger himself!) is heard to say,
"The end this is not,"  
however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.  

A fond farewell, Origami Yoda!  You'll be sorely missed.

My reviews of other Tom Angleberger books:

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10. Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls.  Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming.  And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.

First, the links:

And now something to ponder:

As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment - excessive page requirements,  narrow specifications, etc.

Obviously, a best choice for a children's book is one written by a noted children's author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors.  Rare is the author of young people's literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done.  When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author's childhood years.  This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person's lifetime.  Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen's, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example.  These books, however, don't often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.

I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable?  I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn't fit the mold.  If we want students to be critical thinkers, it's time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.



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11. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel - a review

Davis, Kathryn Gibbs. 2014. Mr. Ferris and his Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.

Though written in a fully illustrated, engaging and narrative nonfiction style, Mr. Ferris and his Wheel is nevertheless, a well-sourced and researched picture book for older readers.

The story of the 1863, Chicago World's Fair debut of the world's first Ferris wheel (or Monster Wheel, as Mr. Ferris originally named it),  is told in a flowing and entertaining style,
     George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.
     The chief stared at George's drawings.  No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated.  The chief told George that his structure was "so flimsy it would collapse."
     George had heard enough.  He rolled up his drawings and said, "You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer."
     George knew something the chief did not.  His invention would be delicate-looking and strong.  It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.
and

it contains sidebars that impart more technical information that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the story,
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy.  Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.
George Ferris' determination is a story in itself, but it is the engineering genius of his wheel that steals the show.  A "must-have" for any school or public library.

Some facts about the original "Ferris" wheel:
  • 834' in circumference
  • 265' above the ground
  • 3,000 electric lightbulbs (this itself was a marvel in 1893!)
  • forty velvet seats per car
Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair c1893.
 Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division[/caption]

STEM Friday

It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM-related posts at the STEM Friday blog.


Site Meter Copyright © 2014 L Taylor All Rights Reserved.

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12. news for a Wednesday

Just some odds and ends for a Wednesday ...


  • Today is the final day to nominate books for the 2014 Cybils.  These are the awards for us, the blog writers and blog readers. Please nominate your favorites.  I'm a judge this year.  I'd love to see what's tops on your list!


  • Please be sure to enter my contest for a free copy of My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely.  The publisher was nice enough to offer me a free copy, so why not take advantage of the chance to win it for your child, school, or library? It's easy to enter - just a comment on the appropriate blog post will do.  Details here. 

  • In many states, today is the last day to register to vote in the November election.  If you want to earn the right to complain about the way things are, you should vote.  You really should.



  • Did you know that I'm a member of ALA's Great Websites for Kids Committee? We spend a lot of time curating and evaluating great websites for kids.  If you haven't tried the site, please check it out - Great Websites for Kids.  If you have any comments or suggestions for new additions to the site, I'd love to hear them.



That's it.  Have a good day, all.


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13. My Zombie Hamster - interview and giveaway

With Halloween just around the corner, it's a good time for a zombie book - even better yet - a free zombie book for a lucky winner.  Even if you don't win the book, you can enjoy my interview with Havelock McCreely, author of  the very funny, My Zombie Hamster

Havelock McCreely was kind enough to answer three questions for me.  Here goes ...


Three questions for Havelock McCreely, author of My Zombie Hamster:

1. I’m shocked that MS Word will highlight McCreely as a misspelled word, but not Havelock. Do you need three syllables, or can you get it done in two?
HM:    The name is Irish in origin, so the correct amount of syllables for authentic pronunciation is eight. (Or nine. It depends if you have all your own teeth or not.) But for our purposes, three will suffice.
2. I can find little about you on your “official” bio, other than “Teller of Tall Tales. Adventurer. Swordsman. Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth. Author of many great works, the latest of which is My Zombie Hamster.” Did your discovery of the Fountain of Youth pique your interest in longevity, thus inspiring your interest in zombies, or did another path bring you to zombies? I’ve drunk from your Fountain of Youth, by the way.  It tastes terrible. One does wonder though, what would be the effect of the Fountain of Youth on a zombie?
HM:    Many good questions there. My discovery of the fountain of youth is a story that would put Indiana Jones to shame. And perhaps it will one day be told. Many are the times I’ve thought about writing down my own adventures in a series of easy-to-read volumes aimed at the younger audience. Thrilling is not the word. Well, it’s one word. But there are many others. Exciting. Dangerous. Death-defying. Amazing. (For instance, there’s the time I took up with the traveling circus as they crossed the planes of Africa. This is where I saved one of my young protégés from a life of mind-numbing boredom cleaning up after hippogriffs. Then there’s the time I saved an entire city from the Witch King of Mallidar. And this is where I saved my second protégé. They booth accompanied me on my many adventures and were with me when I discovered the fabled city of Shangri-La (which lead directly to my discovery of the fountain of youth.) Perhaps someday these tales will be told. 
As to the taste, yes, I agree.  Like rusted metal filtered through an old sock in which cabbage has been boiled. It’s not pleasant. 
Finally, as to my discovery of the fountain possibly inspiring my interest in zombies, yes. You are indeed correct. The fountain was guarded by a village of zombies who had all drunk from the fountain. It brought back their minds and consciousness (but did not repair their bodies.) That was where I got the idea of my little twist on zombies.
3. And of course, the most important question, what will Anti-Snuffles do next?
HM:    Never fear, he will be back. I have recently put down my fountain pen and completed the second book in the series, Attack of the Zombie Clones. It features everything from the first book, but bigger, better, and undead-er. 

Thanks for being a good sport, and best wishes to you for continued success with My Zombie Hamster.



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14. My Zombie Hamster - a review

Put some fear of the undead into your October reading!

McCreely, Havelock. 2014. My Zombie Hamster. New York: Egmont.
See below for print copy giveaway details.

Zombie Zappers and constant vigilence keep Matt and the residents of his community safe from "deadbeats" - the zombies that live outside the town's protective walls.  So on Christmas Eve, December 24,  Matt Hunter isn't thinking about zombies; he's thinking about the new video game he wants for Christmas.  His mother, however, had a more educational, more nurturing idea. On December 25,  Matt  receives Snuffles the hamster—a dumb, boring, little pet.  At least it was—until it died.

     I'll say one thing for zombie hamsters.  They don't move as slowly as their human counterparts. ...
     Snuffles had curled up and was rolling down the stairs like a bouncing ball.  I raced after him.
     He bolted along the wall.  Dad was carrying a huge pile of firewood inside so the front door was wide open. I tried to get ahead of Snuffles to slam it shut, but I tripped on one of the stupid throw rugs Mom insists on leaving everywhere and landed on my stomach.
     I pushed myself to my knees just in time to see Snuffles dart through the door and out into the front yard.
     Was it my imagination, or did I hear a little undead squeak of triumph as he did so?

In chapters titled with the days beginning on December 24,  Matt chronicles all the events until everything comes to a head at the annual town pet show on Saturday, February 4.

Matt doesn't do it alone, however.  He enlists the help of his friends,
(excerpt from "Thursday, January 2")
I emailed Charlie and told her to come over.  I couldn't keep it a secret any longer.
     "So let me get this straight," she said after I'd explained it to her. "Your dad bought you a hamster from a sleazy store and now it's turned into a zombie?"
     "Yes!"
     "And it's escaped?"
     "Yes!"
     "And you called it Snuffles?" she asked, trying not to laugh.
     "I didn't call it Snuffles! The name sort of came with the hamster.  But now he's called —" I paused dramatically.— "Anti-Snuffles."
At 208 pages, this is a quick read, but despite the adorable cuteness of the cover, it's a suitable choice for older kids, too.  My Zombie Hamster should appeal to grades 3-7.  McCreely does a great job of combining the fear factor with humor.  Matt and his friends are believable middle-schoolers - a little bit snarky, funny, sure of themselves, and prone to making poor choices. This is the first in a series that should have wide appeal.

Want your own copy of My Zombie Hamster?  
Check back tomorrow for an interview with Havelock McCreely
 and a chance to win a print copy of My Zombie Hamster.



(digital review copy provided by the publisher)

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15. A bookish microcosm of Russia

My family often wonders about my propensity to jump from one seemingly unrelated topic to another, often within seconds.  What they usually don't realize is that in my mind, the topics are connected; I've merely forgotten to fill them in on the links.

With that in mind, I offer you three new books on Russia that in my mind, are dramatically different and yet completely complementary.  A young adult nonfiction book, a young adult fantasy, and a children's picture book a microcosm of Russia in history, magic and dance.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Candace Fleming's, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Imperial Russia (Random House Audio, 2014).  My review and an audio excerpt are linked here.

You can read my review or any number of stellar reviews, but I will sum up  by saying that whether you listen to the audio book or read the print copy, The Family Romanov is a fully immersive experience into the final years of tsarist Russia - the time, the place, and  the tragically doomed family.

I was happily mulling over this excellent book when I immediately received an opportunity to  review Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Brilliance Audio, 2014).  I had received a galley copy of Egg & Spoon in the spring.  I thought it looked intriguing, but hadn't had time to read it.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a folklore fantasy that takes place - of all places - in tsarist Russia.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.  The book was enhanced by my recent reading of The Family Romanov.  With the history of modern tsarist Russia fresh in my mind, the location and historical setting was vivid, leaving me more time to ponder the story's underpinning of Russian folklore, of which I was mostly ignorant.  I knew little of the witch, Baba Yaga and her peculiar house that walks on chicken legs, and I knew nothing of the magical Russian firebird.

My reviews are linked here and here.  Again, you can read my review or any other, but I will sum up by saying that Egg & Spoon is grand and magical - a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.

I was so happy to have read these excellent books in tandem and was recommending them at every turn, when I happened to hear an interview with Misty Copeland on the radio speaking about her experience dancing in the Russian ballet, The Firebird. What a coincidence, I thought - the firebird flies again in my milieu. A greater coincidence ocurred at work when I received my new copy of Misty Copeland's, Firebird. (Putnam, 2014)  Reading Egg & Spoon gave me an historical context for The Firebird ballet, and Misty Copeland tied it all together - a modern and immediate manifestation of history's struggles and stories - all rising like the mystical firebird.

So there you have it, my serendipitous encounter with Russian history, folklore and culture.  As our two countries struggle with our relationship, may we always remember that there is more to a country than its leaders and politicians.  There is always us, the common people. And as Egg & Spoon and Firebird will show you, there is always hope.



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16. The Map Trap - a review

Move over, Frindle. A new classic has arrived!

Below is my review of The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, as it appeared in the October, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.

Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal. 

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


The publisher's website contains an audio and a printed excerpt from The Map Trap, as well as a video with author, Andrew Clements.

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17. Picture book roundup - Library books

September, National Library Card Sign-Up Month, is almost over, but if you're still looking for a good book to share, here are two new ones:

  • Kohara, Kazuno. 2014. The Midnight Library. New York: Roaring Brook. 
By the time this month is over, I will have visited thirteen kindergarten and four preschool classrooms to promote Library Card Sign-Up Month.

It doesn't matter what other books I have in my bag.  When kids see The Midnight Library, it's the one they want to hear!  Apart from Kazuno Kohara's eye-catching linocut illustrations in three colors, here's why I like it:
  • It features a library that's open all night long.  I wouldn't want to work there, but it makes for a really good story!
  • It highlights the fact that libraries are adaptable.  The squirrel band needs to practice some new songs for an upcoming concert?  No problem!  The library has an activity room they can use.
  • It features one of a librarian's favorite activities - reading stories.  Wolf is crying because her book is sad?  No worries! The librarian reads it with her.  It has a happy ending!
  • It's absolutely perfect for Library Card Sign-Up Month!  Tortoise can't finish that 500-page book before the library closes at sunrise? A library card is what he needs!

See this and more interior artwork at the publisher's website.

  • Becker, Bonny. 2014. A Library Book for Bear. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.

I've loved the Bear and Mouse series ever since it came out, and while this one is not my favorite (I still love A Visitor for Bear best!), it's a good addition to your collection of library-themed books.  You really can't go wrong with Bear and Mouse.

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18. Just goofing around today

You can find me goofing around on the ALSC Blog today - having a little fun. 
 As politics makes for strange bedfellows, Dewey Decimal Classification can make for strange shelf-fellows. 


Oh, and did I mention that I'm a Cybils judge this year for Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction? :D





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19. The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)


After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages

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20. Middle School Ultimate Showdown - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audio version of Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson and Julia Bergen, as it appeared in the June, 2014 edition of School Library Journal.



PATTERSON, James & Julia Bergen. Middle School: Ultimate Showdown. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2014. $18. ISBN 9781478952619.

Gr 3–6—Rafe Khatchadorian and his younger sister, Georgia, here engage in a series of rants about bullies, school dances, dress codes, and other middle school concerns. However, this work is not simply about rants. It centers on a showdown between the siblings—with listeners acting as judges. Included on the CD is a 66-page PDF offering. Listeners who print it out can vote, draw, play, and create, adding their own opinions to Rafe's and Georgia's. Narrators Bryan Kennedy and Cassandra Morris make it easy for listeners to follow the inevitable disagreements between the siblings. Morris, as Georgia, is likable, confident, and youthful. Kennedy's Rafe is perfect for the wisecracking troublemaker, but he suffers from the lack of character depth in the showdown format. Listeners not familiar with his character from other books in the series will find him shallow and arrogant. While considerable adaptations were made for the audiobook format, the necessity of printing and constantly referencing the lengthy PDF will likely limit this audiobook's appeal to book group facilitators and die-hard fans of the series.



Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
###

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21. Colors of the Wind - a review


National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 - October 15. What a great time to celebrate the life and work of Mexican-American painter, George Mendoza.  

Powers, J.L. 2014. Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza. Cynthiana, KY: Purple House Press.

As a child, George Mendoza began seeing brilliantly-colored lights, shapes and squiggles, eventually losing most of his sight except his peripheral vision and the ever-present colors.  Unable to play basketball or other do other things he wanted, George took up running. He excelled in the sport and competed twice in the Olympics for the Disabled.  In the back of his mind, however, he'd kept a long-ago word advice from his youth.

One day, a flyer arrived in the mail,
advertising a contest for blind artists.
George remembered the priest, who told him,
"You should paint what you see."

George started to paint,
just like the priest told him to do.
And so began the painting career of George Mendoza.

The text appears in a plain, small font on white pages, accompanied by simple blank ink drawings, often highlighted with colors from Mendoza's paintings.  Each facing page contains a full-bleed image of one of Mendoza's paintings.

Biographical information, photos of Mr. Mendoza, and painting titles are included in the book's back matter.


The joyful, riotous colors of Mendoza's paintings will certainly appeal to children, as will his story of perseverance and purpose.  Enjoy!

You can see photos from Mendoza's "Colors of the Wind" exhibit at the Ellen Noel Art Museum here.  The exhibit is listed with the Smithsonian Affiliate Exhibition Exchange.


My copy of the book was provided by the author.

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22. Skink - No Surrender - a review

Hiaasen, Carl. 2014. Skink - No Surrender. New York: Knopf.
(Advance Reader Copy)

Skink - No Surrender is Carl Hiaasen's first foray into YALit, and he's making his entrance in a big way, employing Skink —the outrageous and outlandish character from his adult novels.

In keeping with his customary practice of setting books in Florida's great outdoors (Hoot, Flush, Scat, Chomp), Skink No Surrender begins on a Florida beach where Richard finds Skink buried in the sandon the hunt for turtle egg poachers. Though at first taken aback by the one-eyed, cammo-wearing giant of a man with buzzard beaks braided into his beard, Richard soon finds out that he is the ex -Florida governor and a force to be reckoned with - even if he is presumed to be dead.

     All kinds of wild rumors got started, and some of them turned out to be true.  According to one Wikipedia entry, the ex-governor became a wandering hermit of the wilderness, and over the years he'd been a prime suspect in several "acts of eco-terrorism."  Interestingly, he'd never been arrested or charged with any serious crimes, and it seemed to me that the targets of his anger were total scumbags, anyway.
     The web article included interviews with a few witnesses who'd supposedly encountered Clinton Tyree by chance.  They said he'd lost an eye, and was going by the name of "Skink."  They had differing opinions about whether or not he was nuts.  The most recent entry quoted the governor's closest friend, a retired highway patrol trooper named Jim Tile, who said:
     "Clint passed away last year int he Big Cypress Swamp after a coral snake bit him on the nose.  I dug the grave myself.  Now, please let him rest in peace."
     Except the man was still alive.
An unlikely pair, Skink and Richard team up to find Richard's cousin, Malley, who has run off with (or been kidnapped by) a young man she met online.

An intense hunt takes the two across the swamps in search of Malley and a dangerous impostor.  Suspenseful and very funny at the same time, Skink No Surrender presents a case for Internet safety, bird habitat conservation, and the value of family, but you'll be havimg so much fun that you won't even notice!

Getting my autographed copy of Skink
See the first 56 pages of Skink No Surrender here.

On sale and in libraries beginning September 23, 2014.

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23. I'm My Own Dog - I love it!

Stein, David Ezra. 2014. I'm My Own Dog. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.


I've got a few deadlines to meet so this will be short, but I couldn't let another day go by without shouting out to the virtual world, "I love this book!"

Funny, inventive, clever and touching, this book will work its way into your heart even as it has you laughing out loud.

This is no ordinary dog.  No one owns him, no sir!

Every morning when I look
in the mirror, I lick my own
face because I am so happy
to see me.
I say, "GOOD DOG.
I AM A GOOD DOG."
You'll think so, too!

Don't just take my word for it.  See more great reviews at

From the end papers,
The illustrations' line work was created using pen as well as a kids' marker hacked to dispense India Ink; it was then photocopied onto watercolor paper.  The painting was done in liquid watercolor, with a hint of crayon on the dog's muzzle.
Ingeniously childish - a perfect presentation of a delightfully independent dog with a soft spot as big as his heart.

Click here to see an inside spread from I'm My Own Dog.

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24. If - a review

If... A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith.


If you're familiar with If the World Were a Village (also from Kids Can Press), then you'll understand the context in which If introduces large concepts. Take "Your Life," for example.

On a two-page spread, a large Sicilian-style pizza is depicted on a table surrounded by several happy children and one salivating dog,

If your whole life could be shown as a jumbo pizza, divided into 12 slices ...
4 slices would be the time you spend in school or at work
1 slice would be spent shopping, caring for others and doing things around home
4 slices would be the time you spend getting ready to sleep and sleeping,

etc., until all twelve slices have been accounted for.

Other concepts featured are:

  •  "Inventions Through Time" - depicted on a 36" measuring tape
  •  "Our Galaxy" - presented on a dinner plate
  •  "Water" - represented by 100 water glasses
  •  and 12 others 

In each case, care is taken to equate the concept to something with which children will be familiar.   This is a great way to place an intangible concept into a simple object that a child can hold within her hand.

Suggested for grades 3 - 6.  See an interior preview of If at the publisher's website. 

Today is STEM Friday.  You can see other posts at the STEM Friday blog.

STEM Friday

It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 L Taylor All Rights Reserved.

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25. Egg & Spoon - an audio book review

I can save you some time today. If you'd like the short review of Egg & Spoon, click here to read my review for AudioFile Magazine. However, if you want to hear more about this wonderful book, read on!

Maguire, Gregory. 2014. Egg & Spoon. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio.  Read by Michael Page.

Can what we want change who we are? 
Have patience and you will see.

Set in the tsarist Russia of the late 18th or early 19th century, Egg & Spoon is an enchanting mix of historical fiction and magical folklore, featuring switched and mistaken identities, adventurous quests, the witch Baba Yaga, and of course, an egg.

Narrator Michael Page is at his best as the self-proclaimed “unreliable scribe,” who tells the tale from his tower prison cell, claiming to have seen it all through his one blind eye. In a fashion similar to that of Scheherazade, spinning 1001 "Tales of the Arabian Nights," our narrator weaves fantastical stories together and wraps us in their spell.

Ekaterina and Elena are two young girls - one privileged, one peasant - yet so alike that their very lives can be exchanged. Page creates voices so similar that one can believe the subterfuge, yet the voices are also distinct - a necessity in a book written to respect the reader's (or listener's) ability to discern the flow of conversation without the constant insertion of "he said/she said."

One girl finds herself en route to see the tsar, a captive guest of  the haughty and imperious Aunt Sophia on a train to St. Petersburg.  The other finds herself a captive guest of the witch, Baba Yaga, and her curious home that walks on chicken legs. As Baba Yaga, Page is as wildly unpredictable as the witch herself, chortling, cackling, menacing, mothering.

Michael Page is wonderful.  He brings each of author Gregory Maguire's many characters to life with a distinct voice.  He never falls out of character, and his pacing is perfect - measured to keep the listener from being overwhelmed by the story's intricate plot.

Grand and magical, Egg & Spoon is a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.
Notes:
If you find the egg (or eggs) elusive, you will find the spoon even more so!
My copy of the book was supplied by the publisher. My copy of the audio book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.  

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