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Viewing Blog: Welcome to my Tweendom, Most Recent at Top
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A blog filled with books for the contemporary tweenster! I am a school librarian. And an avid reader of children's and YA fiction, with the occasional dabble in the world of grown up non fiction
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1. Why Libraries?

A couple of weeks ago my twitter feed kept revealing a #whylib hashtag. Some of the most creative folks in my PLN were participating, so of course I clicked through and have spent quite a bit of time reading the stories of how so many of the people I admire ended up in libraries.

I didn't start out ever thinking I'd be a librarian.  The public library was always part of my life growing up.  I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club outlining my early experience with libraries. (Please excuse the typo in the text!)

My journey to being a librarian didn't start until I was well into my undergrad years.  Originally I was setting my sights on earning a PhD in History.  After meeting quite a few TAs who were mid thesis and having some serious conversations with them, I started to think more about options for someone graduating with a degree in History and Women's Studies.  After a bit of exploring, I starting thinking about Archival Studies...after all, my favourite bits of history were the research ones - especially those dealing with primary sources.  In the last year of my BAH I applied at UBC's program for Archival Studies.  It was not meant to be.  In hindsight it makes lots of sense, but at the time it did sting.  I took a year after graduating to take some extra classes and thought about library school.

Interestingly enough, once I decided on library school, I asked one of my History professors for a recommendation to McGill's program and she told me she thought I was making a mistake.  She had come the other way...she had been a librarian, and then went back for a PhD in History.  She told me that my love of research would be lost in library school.

She wrote me the letter and the next year I started my MLIS at McGill in Montreal.  The degree is a 2 year program that I attended full time.  The summer between first and second year I scored a job in a special library (thanks, Uncle Michael!) and pretty much decided that special libraries were where I wanted to land.  The second year of my program, I was free to take some optional courses and I decided to take a course in YA lit.  My sights started to shift.

My graduation year was 1996  -  a very different time.  This was a time that the NYC libraries came to Canada to recruit folks.  Entry level jobs were scarce in Canada and many of my classmates were moving to the States to work.  My roommates and I attended ALA in San Antonio resumes in hand hoping to score an offer before graduation.  I was still of two minds - special libraries or YA?  An offer came for each, and ultimately I followed my heart and became the YA librarian at a branch of the New York Public Library.

I landed at the perfect branch for me, which is a lucky thing when you think about the fact that there are 81 branches plus the research libraries.  My teens were little goths and punks and comic book addicts and poetry writers.  I know, right?  I had a fantastic branch manager who let me try things like zine workshops and other programs that hadn't been done in house before.

Ultimately my journey has brought me to school libraries, and I have to say this is where I think I belong.  I am lucky enough to work with a team of librarians (also a rare thing for a relatively small school) who challenge me professionally in a school where I am allowed to take risks.

At the end of the day, I am glad I didn't take my History professor's advice.  While I don't pull on the white gloves and tweezers to look at primary resources, I get to have conversations with kids about their reading and their lives.  Every now and again I get an email out of the blue from a former student who has something great to say.  I am immersed in amazing literature written for children and teens. I am exploring technology and learning about and using resources I hadn't heard of the year before.  Each day is different, and I have to say I love it.

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2. Jane, the fox & me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

I am smitten with this graphic novel that hits all of the right spots for any tween who has ever felt alone.

Hélène has been dumped by her friends. Not only dumped, but they are actively making her life intolerable.  Huddled in the hallways of school, snickering when she walks by, writing on the walls of the girls' bathroom.  "Hélène weighs 216! She smells like BO?" There's nowhere to hide.

Hélène finds some solace in her reading of Jane Eyre.  She reads better when her old friends aren't on the bus.  If they are she can at least look like she's not listening even when she can't help but hear them.

Hélène doesn't want to burden her mother with what is going on. Her mother works so hard for the family, and Hélène doesn't want to add to her pile of things.  But her mother does have to take her shopping downtown when it is announced that Hélène's class will be going to the woods to nature camp for four nights.  Four night with Geneviève, Sarah, Anne-Julie and Chloé.  And bathing suits will be involved.

Not surprisingly Hélène is selected into the tent of outcasts.  Which is okay with her because at least it's quiet.  But a chance encounter with a fox and noticing the empathy in someone's eyes combine to shift Jane's world of exile.

Exquisitely drawn, this is a book to be owned.  And shared.  I borrowed it from the library, but then quickly purchased the English and French versions.  Jane's life is depicted in black and white, while the Jane Eyre portions are awash in blocks of color.  I would buy this book for the panels on pages 58-59 and 74-75 alone.  I look forward to reading the (original) French version to see what nuances might be different.  This is a quiet book, but it is not to be missed.

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3. A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd

Sometimes a book will just call out to you.  It tells you that it was meant for you and that you need to read it.  The first time I heard the title A Snicker of Magic, I was intrigued.  The first time I saw the delightful cover, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

Felicity Juniper Pickle is a collector of words.  Not in the same way that some of us are, she is lucky enough to see words.  Words surround certain people and things, and when Felicity sees them, she writes them down in her always present blue notebook.  When her little sister Frannie Jo asks for a poem, Felicity can pluck them out of the air and combine them into a soothing rhyme for her.

There are two things that Felicity Pickle cannot do, however.  She cannot comfortably speak those words in front of anyone, and she can't stay in one place too long.  The first thing she can work on, but the second thing is all because of her Mama.

Her Mama is cursed with a wandering heart.  She loads her girls up into her beat-up van and travels around with them.  This last jaunt has brought the Pickles home to where Mama grew up: Midnight Gulch.  Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, but a few generations ago the magic seemingly up and left town right along with the famous Threadbare brothers.

But for Felicity, Midnight Gulch does turn out to be a magical place.  First of all, she acquires her very first friend - Jonah Pickett.  And Jonah, it turns out, has a secret and a bit of a magical identity as well.  As he takes Felicity under his wing, she sees the things that could be -- the things that she didn't even know she was longing for as Mama shuttled them around "Per-clunkity-clunk, per-clunkity-clunk" across the country.

Natalie Lloyd has created the kind of world that readers want to jump into.  This small Tennessee town should exist and feels like it does.  Perfectly quirky, the characters are interwoven, layered and kind. Turns of phrase verily melt in your mouth, and beg to be read aloud.  This is a heart-song book, if ever there was one.

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4. Time, time, time....

Holy cats!  It's been a while.

February was an incredibly busy time around school and this blog has suffered for it.

Rest assured, I have been reading and will be reviewing a couple of titles shortly.  I have been reading all over the place lately, but a couple of good tween fits were among the stack.  Look soon for recommendations of:

Nightingale's Nest, by Loftin - a foray into magical realism that packs a punch.

The Meaning of Maggie, by Sovern - an incredibly likable Maggie adjusts to the changes around her.

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5. The Mother-Daughter ALA

I did not attend ALA proper this year, but I did manage to road trip down with my 10 year old daughter to take a turn on the exhibit floor.

If ALA is ever local to you and you have kids who are old enough to handle the relative overwhelming nature of the floor, I highly recommend it.

The publishers all treated her with care, and we timed it so that she got to meet Tom Angleberger and have him sign a copy of Horton Halfpott complete with illustration.

It was fun seeing ALA through her lens.  She couldn't believe that arcs were for the taking, and she is super-excited to have some new titles to blog about this spring.

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6. Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers sat on my shelf for about two months before I pulled it down to give it a read.  I had heard the murmurs that it was not to be missed, and a few pages in I was kicking myself for leaving on the shelf for so long.

Sophie is plucked out of the sea where she has been bobbing in a cello case after the ship she was presumably traveling on went down.  Her rescuer is bachelor Charles, who lives on his own and is decidedly a cerebral sort of gentleman.  According to the National Childcare Agency, Charles is ill equipped to care for a one year old girl, but he knows he possesses all the love necessary to do right by the child.  The NCA decides to let Charles care for the girl for the time being, and worker Miss Eliot vows to stop by to make sure that all is well.

Sophie's upbringing is by all means unconventional.  She is schooled at home according to what Charles deems important: Shakespeare, geography and the art of whistling.  Sophie, however, cannot stop thinking about the mother she is sure she lost when the ship went down.  Charles has alway told Sophie to "never ignore a possible", and though her memories are improbable, they are not impossible. Sophie is certain her mother is still alive and playing the cello somewhere, and she has a growing desperation regarding finding her.  Her phantom memories of trousers worn at the knee are no longer enough.  Once the NCA decides that a girl of Sophie's age needs alternate guardianship and Sophie finds a long overlooked clue, she and Charles decide not to ignore the possible and head to Paris.

Paris is where the adventure truly begins.  A world Sophie never could have imagined is right above her on the rooftops, and it seems that Charles' upbringing was the perfect thing to prepare Sophie for the next steps of her life.

Katherine Rundell has written what can only be described as a modern classic.  It has the feel of a story that has been around for an age, one that is timeless, but somehow has not been done before.  The turns of phrase are magical without crossing into the realm of purple.  Rooftoppers begs to be read aloud, and deserves a place of honor on bookshelves everywhere.

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7. Real Life Tween Reader

D is a girl who reads all the time.  Seriously.  All. The. Time.

She is always up for a recommendation, has no problem with abandoning a book that doesn't fit, and is super enthusiastic about books.  I asked her if she would answer some reading questions, and she answered with an enthusiastic "Yes!"

Do you consider yourself a reader?
Yes.  A serious one. I love to read and get upset when someone tries to interrupt me.

What are your favorite genres to read?
I love to read Realistic Fiction, but my favorite books are FANTASY!

How do you select the books you want to read?
I look at books that might seem interesting and I read the blurb.  I also get book recommendations and look for other books an author may have written.

What is your favorite book so far?
My favorite book so far is...Hunger Games, When You Reach Me, Harry Potter series, Proxy, Crook series, Ranger's Apprentice series, Sea of Trolls series, Cherub and MORE!

What is your favorite thing about reading?
That it takes me to a different world.

Do you read on an e-reader/phone/computer?
No.  I like the feel of paper and the solid form of a book.

What kinds of books do you think are the most popular with kids your age?  Why?
I think fiction books are most popular with kids my age because we like how we can be in a world that isn't possible, or won't happen to us.  We like how we experience problems that most likely won't happen to us now-a-days.

What are you currently reading?
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

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8. Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

I was going back through old reviews assuming that I had blogged Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.  Ooops!  If you feel a need to catch up before this one, head over to HuffPo and see what they have to say.

We start off with Nate escaping from his dreary bullied existence in Jankburg to go live with his Aunt Heidi in Queens and understudy for E.T. in E.T.: The Musical.  He's not sure how he is going to make it sans best friend Libby.

His first dose of rehearsal is complete with a sense of disorientation, dread and filled with full time theater kids.  You know, the ones that attend the Professional Performing Arts School for kids?  The ones who have side-eye implied in their questions?  Nate isn't exactly seasoned in theater, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm and observation skills.  Before he knows it, he is assigned to be Alien #7 as well as one of two understudies to be E.T.  It becomes apparent before long that there is some dissension among the ranks of the director (who doesn't even remember Nate's name), producers and choreographers of the show.

Nate, however, has other things to worry about.

Things like the fact that Libby seems to have taken up with one of his old bullies back in PA...in a romantic way.  Things like the other E.T. understudy, Asella, wants to take him out for mani-pedis and run lines.  Things like the secret admirer Nate seems to have acquired.

Listen, I'm going to be honest with you -- I am not a musical girl.  I have an active disdain for many if not most things theater, but do you know what?  Federle won me over.  Why?  Because these books aren't about Broadway or call backs or auditions.  These books are about the characters.  Nate is a kid who is definitely a square peg.  He doesn't fit in in his small town, or in his family and frankly he's not a perfect fit in the theater either.  But what Federle does so well is write the relationships.  There aren't any throw-away characters in here.  Everyone is here for a reason and works in a way to either build Nate up, or help him learn something about himself.  The character dynamic doesn't go one way either.  Often Nate helps other characters be more of themselves (Aunt Heidi, Jordan, Asella).

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention these books fill an enormous void.  Yes, Nate is gay, but as he puts it in the first book - "My sexuality, by the way, is off-topic and unrelated".  Federle makes Nate's sexuality only one facet in his life.  There is no hammer of message coming down, which I appreciate and I think readers will too.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate isn't just for theater kids.  Or gay kids.  Or small town kids.  It's the kind of book that crosses genders and genres.  Because after all, it's all about relationships.

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9. Favorite Reads of 2013

Wow!  2013 was quite a year for books.  I kept getting nervous while choosing the next book since I kept reading good books.  I was ready to be let down, but thankfully there were very few let downs for me.  Please enjoy the following top 5s from my reading year.  Let it be noted that these lists haven't been balanced in any way...they are my from the heart favs!

Top 5 Picture Books

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings, by Joyce Sidman
The Mighty Lalouche, by Matthew Olshan
Ball, by Mary Sullivan
The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant

Top 5 Tween Books

P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Willaims-Garcia
Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
Seeing Red, by Kathryn Erskine
The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu
From Norvelt to Nowhere, by Jack Gantos

Top 5 YA Books

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black
Boxers & Saints, by Gene Luen Yang
Proxy, by Alex London
Winger, by Andrew Smith
Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff

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10. On the Horizon

One of the best things about living in NYC is the proximity to so many publishing houses.  We are often able to attend a variety of publisher previews where editors and library marketing folks let us in on what is coming up.

Last week I was able to attend a preview at Penguin (since the 3rd graders I usually teach at that time were at the Natural History Museum).  Here are some of the upcoming titles that I am excited to get my hands on!

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage
I adored the first one, and we were lucky enough to host Sheila at school last fall.  Her characters are unforgettable, and I can't wait to dive back into one of my favorite towns. (Publishing February 2014)

The Last Wild, by Piers Torday
I'm intrigued by the premise of a world where animals no longer exists.  It is being touted as a "quest, a tearjerker and an environmental fable".   It sounds like it will be a perfect fit for so many of my readers! (Publishing in March 2014)

The Sittin' Up, by Shelia T. Moses
Bean and Pole of the Low Meadows are very upset that Mr. Bro. Wiley has passed, but they are also excited to be attending their first sittin' up.  Countrified and quirky, just like I like them!  (Publishes January 2014)

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond, by Brenda Woods
Biracial Violet's mom is white and her dad (who died before she was born) was black.  Violet is tired of being the only brown person in her world and starts to reach out to her late father's family.  I'm hoping this will be as good as I want it to be!

The Nethergrim, by Matthew Jobin
I starred this as soon as the editor said, "smart literary fantasy with enough air and land to satisfy dreamers and realists alike."  It was also promoted as a read next for Ranger's Apprentice fans. (Publishes April 2014)

Nightingale's Nest, by Nikki Loftin
Winner for the best cover, this book is "inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story" and seems like it has just the right amount of magical realism. Blurbed by Anne Ursu as well!

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11. Maker Monday - aka Passive Programming in the School Library

Today I attempted my first Maker Monday, and I have to say, it was a modest success.  It does help that I have my own daughter with me who is willing to jump in to any and all things crafty.  I started easy, with a craft that many children already know.

Paper snowflakes.

But I took it up a notch by asking the kids to write a hope or dream for the New Year on their snowflake.

I simply printed out step-by-step directions, along with diagrams of the necessary folds.  I found it necessary to individually ask some kids to come over to the table, but most were willing and they were all willing to help one another.  I had a mix of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders complete the craft.

I told a couple of the parents that this would be a Monday thing, and there was only positive feedback.

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12. Tween Book List

For those of you who are not members of ALSC, you should know that they have just published a booklist for tweens.  I took a look at it, and as someone who has read 17 of the titles, it is a solid list.  In fact, my most favorite tween read of the year is on that list.  Why not head over and check it out!

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13. What book did *you* write?

I love sharing a desk with two other librarians.  It's wonderful to have folks that I respect to bounce ideas off of.  We get to discuss books and movies and kids.  Both of these librarians have written books and our students know this, so eventually almost every kid asks me, "Stacy...what book did *you* write?"
They are often shocked to find out that I have not written a book, and that I am not writing a book, and even more so that I have no desire to write a book. The thought of writing fiction terrifies me.  I am a happy consumer of story, and while I do produce story in my daily life, I have neither the chops nor the talent to dive into something as arduous and time consuming as writing for others.
I have dabbled in group creation like writing camp, and I am noticing all of the folks committing to writing during #nanomo and #nerdlution . What I have learned is that it is not for me.  I have also learned that figuring this out has set me free.
I have often thought about writing.  I do enjoy writing my own poetry, and if I ever were to do all the necessary work to create a book, it would likely be the wonky non-fiction that I love.
My hat is off to those who are passionate about writing and story. Know that there are equally passionate readers out there, and we salute you!

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14. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes....

Things have been quiet around here.  I have been thinking.

I started Tweendom at a time when parents were asking and asking for books for their middle graders.  That market has clearly exploded, and while I still adore reading for this age group, I feel a bit like I am in an echo chamber.  So many folks are reviewing so often, and by the time I get around to blurbing a book, I feel like all that I would have said has been said already.

But I'm not quite ready to give it all up yet.  So now, I am thinking of changing scope. (Curse naming my blog after a specific age-group!) I will be blogging some cool stuff I am doing in my role as a school librarian.  I will also be blogging some of the bigger issues going on in the education and library worlds.  There will still be recommendations as well, but they will definitely be interspersed with the other stuff.

Thanks for hanging in!

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15. On the Clipboard

Here are some of the books that I found checked out on the clipboard this week!

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Kiki Strike and the Empress's Tomb, by Kirsten Miller

Sugar and Ice, by Kate Messner

Home is East, by Many Ly

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

What have your tweens been reading lately?

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16. Jack Strong Takes a Stand, by Tommy Greenwald

Jack Strong is a typical middle school kid who goes to a typical middle school. He does well in school, he doesn't make trouble, and he pretty much blends in the middle of the pack with regard to popularity. Jack even goes as far as saying that he *likes* school...especially Cathy Billows (who is pretty enough to make Jack's eyebrows hurt), his favorite teacher Mrs. Bender, and his relaxing bus ride home.

Jack's troubles start when he reaches home.

This is when his schedule kicks in.  Jack has after school and weekend activities.  Many after school and weekend activities.  Jack's dad thinks that these activities are going to look great on Jack's college applications.  So whether it's soccer, cello, tennis, test prep, Chinese, swimming, math tutor, karate, little league or youth orchestra Jack is expected to give it his all.

The thing is, Jack doesn't like all of these activities.  Some of them are great, but others just make him tired.  More and more often Jack finds himself missing out on all of the social activities that his peers are engaging in.  After winning his little league game, Cathy (of the eyebrows) invites Jack to go with her and some friends to grab some hotdogs, but Jack's dad has scheduled a tennis clinic and he isn't allowed to go.

Jack has had enough.  The next Monday, when he gets home from school he hits the couch.  Soon it's time for him to go to soccer, and he decides he's not going to go.  When his dad gets on the phone to tell him why he should get going, Jack has this to say - "Dad, do you really want to know what the other kids are doing?  I'll tell you.  They're at the party you didn't let me go to because I had to get better at cello.  And they're getting the free ice cream sundaes that I missed because I had to get better at Chinese.  And they're celebrating winning the World Series, but they're celebrating without me, because I had to get better at tennis." (p. 69)  So Jack decides to go on strike.  He is staying on the couch until his folks let him drop some of his after school activities.

What follows is an interesting and insightful look into the life of an over scheduled kid.  Sure Jack's dad wants what is best for him, but can he even hear Jack when he says he'd like to drop some activities? Tommy Greenwald has a knack for the kid voice.  Jack (just like Charlie Joe) is authentic and likable. His strike, which in other hands could have seemed like a bratty move, doesn't come across that way at all.  Jack's agency and his heart come across loud and clear, and readers won't be able to help but root for his success.

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17. On the Clipboard 2013/2014 School Year

Well it's that time again.  The books are circing and the librarians are on our toes trying to provide stellar readers' advisory.  At the end of the day, some kids still find things on their own or from recommendations from friends.  Here are some titles that have appeared on the clipboard lately.

Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis

Thorn Ogres of Hagwood, by Robin Jarvis

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel

Dear Pen Pal, by Heather Vogel Frederick

What have your tweens been reading lately?

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18. Anna Was Here, by Jane Kurtz

Anna is a worrier.  But she is also a planner, which helps to alleviate some of those worries.  Her weekly Safety Club meetings also help.  She doesn't let the fact that the only other member left is Jericho - Anna's Sunday school teacher and part of her minister father's college group.  But it is in one of these very meetings, that Jericho lets some news slip.  News that Anna hadn't heard.

Anna's family is moving to Kansas.

This unleashes a whole new set of worries for Anna.  She's prepared for weather emergencies in Colorado, not Kansas.  She is going to have to sleep in a house that belongs to a church!  She is going to have to deal with cousins.

Little does Anna know that there will be emergencies that will change her family and make her look at the big picture instead of focusing on her own private worries.

Anna Was Here is a charming book that explores family and faith in equal measure.  Anna's family is Christian and their faith truly does drive their actions and their interactions.  Even if readers are not religious they will be able to identify with the themes of moving, getting past oneself and shifting allegiances.  Anna's relationships with her cousins and her conflict with her dad are perfectly age appropriate and it's refreshing to see her grow out of behaviors and into herself.  A perfect read for those kids who are fighting the change of growing up, and for those families who are looking for Christian books for kids.

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19. Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur

"I'm obsessed with abandoned things." So begins LaFleur's quiet and enchanting book about friendship, family, choice, ghosts and history.

Siena's family is about to abandon Brooklyn for the beaches of Maine.  Siena doesn't really mind.  There's not much tying her to Brooklyn anymore.  Her once deep friendship with Kelsey has fizzled since Kelsey no longer seems interested in Siena's dreams or imaginings.  And honestly, Siena is a little frightening about what has been happening to her lately.

She has always had vivid dreams, but now these dreams are creeping into her waking hours.  Scenery seems to shift and she finds herself viewing history, when she should be seeing what everyone else is seeing.  Maybe Maine will help?

The move is not for Siena, however, but for her little brother Lucca.  Lucca used to be a run of the mill little kid...sticky and loud.  But now Lucca is silent.  Siena's mom is desperate for anything that will give her son a voice again.

Once Siena is in the new house, she just knows that there are ghosts.  What's more, is that Lucca seems to sense them too.  She has no sooner unpacked her collection of abandoned things, when her vivid dreaming and visions start again.  Only now Lucca is scared, and Siena promises him that she will get to the bottom of things.

When Siena finds an old lost pen high up in her closet, pieces of the past come forward and help her to understand not only her dreams and her visions, but her family as well.

This is a lovely slow reveal of a book that will delight detail oriented readers.  LaFleur weaves the story together with invisible strings that form a delicate pattern that becomes clear in due time.  Each character is fully developed and the past and the present storylines never compete with each other; rather they complete each other.

Simply captivating.

1 Comments on Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur, last added: 7/29/2013
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20. StarWars: Jedi Academy, by Jeffrey Brown

I am a child of the 1970s, so of course I saw Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the movie theatres right when they came out.  What kid didn't?  I did not, however, keep up with the series and see the other movies.  As my neighbor Nick (14yo) always points out, "Stacy, why do you keep saying you saw the first three?  You really didn't, you know.  You saw Episodes 4, 5, and 6!".  Yes, I know.  I put this out there to let you know that even though I am not particularly well versed in the new/old Star Wars movies, I got a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of this graphic novel/ illustrated novel hybrid.

Roan Novachez has always known that he is "destined to attend Pilot Academy Middle School and become the GREATEST star pilot in the GALAXY." (p. 1)  But destiny seems to take a wrong turn for most of us in middle school, doesn't it?  Roan's friends all start receiving their acceptances to the academy, but his letter seems to be taking longer than everyone else's.  Instead of following his brother Dav's footsteps into the pilot life, Roan receives his rejection letter from the school.  He is devastated.

Soon, however, he receives a letter from the Jedi Academy.  Complete with a hand written note by Yoda himself, Roan is invited to attend the school even though most kids are accepted when they are toddlers and Roan himself didn't even apply.  It seems rather curious.

When Roan gets to the academy, he really feels like a fish out of water.  The other kids been there for a while, and they all seem to be able to use the force in controlled ways.  Roan is working on figuring out not only the force, but how to navigate the typical middle school things that all kids deal with no matter what planet they are from.  Things like dealing with bullies, figuring out where to sit in the cafeteria, opening his combination lock, and navigating a dance!  There are some things unique to Roan's situation as well - trying to understand what the heck Yoda is talking about, wielding a light saber, surviving a camping trip involving Wookies!

This is a fun and laugh-out-loud look into middle school that happens to be situated in a Star Wars culture.  Readers needn't be super well versed in Star Wars to enjoy Roan's adventures.  The cover will definitely attract younger readers, but I do think that the audience that will get the most enjoyment out of the story are 4th-6th graders who are wading into similar waters.

1 Comments on StarWars: Jedi Academy, by Jeffrey Brown, last added: 7/29/2013
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21. Crush: The Love Plan, by Angela Darling

Lauren is a girl who plans things.  She checks and double checks.  She loves having everything in its place.  So it really comes as no surprise that when it comes to love, she has a plan.  Lauren has come up with her love plan.  This is the summer that she will get Charlie not only to notice her, but fall for her just like she has fallen for him.  She knows from taking lots of multiple choice tests in teen magazines that she and Charlie are indeed soul mates.  She will get him to notice her through her flowcharted Operation Cell Phone, where she has planned each detail of their "chance" encounter.

The problem is Lauren hasn't even left for the beach and there is a wrench thrown into her plans.  Lauren's mom thought it would be fun to invite Chrissy along on vacation to keep only child Lauren company.  Lauren likes Chrissy alright, but she certainly isn't part of her plan.  And the worst part of it is that Lauren sort of told everyone at school that she and Charlie are already an item.What will Chrissy think when she sees the truth?

Lauren need not worry about Chrissy.  It turns out she is super understanding and supportive of Lauren's love plan.

Things start off great.  The girls get along famously, and Charlie is indeed at the beach with his friend Frank.  Lauren thinks this is just perfect because she can hang out with Charlie and Chrissy can hang with Frank.  But Lauren soon learns not only that the best laid plans don't always work out, but that crushing on someone from afar, is indeed different from knowing a person face to face.

This is an easy breezy beach read that gets the desperate tone of first crushes just right.  What I like is that Darling gives Chrissy and Lauren agency, and put it right out there that sometimes the boy with all the looks can be lacking in other areas.  This is a squeaky clean romance that will have tweensters flipping the pages to find out who Lauren will choose.

1 Comments on Crush: The Love Plan, by Angela Darling, last added: 8/11/2013
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22. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Summer Vacation, by Tommy Greenwald

I figured this was fitting to post today as I am sending my own 10 year old off to sleep away camp today!

Resident non-reader Charlie Joe may just have gotten himself in over his head this time.  In a moment of temporary craziness and trying to please his parents, Charlie Joe agreed to 3 weeks at a camp for smarty pants kids.  Camp Ritubukkee.  Pronounced Read-a-Bookie.  For real.  Now that the time has come, he is pretty much in shock about the whole thing.  At least his bud Katie Friedman will be there, and Nareem from school will be there too.

The camp schedule is filled with "workshops", which Charlie Joe knows is just code for classwork.  He cannot believe that kids actually acquiesce to go to what is essentially summer school.  Charlie Joe is also a bit bummed because he had just started hanging around with Zoe, and if he had the summer off like a normal kid, that might just have gone somewhere.

Charlie Joe doesn't exactly get off the a stellar start at camp.  At school kids know him and know that he wields his sense of humor like a finely sharpened sword.  Here, his anti-reading stance and his sarcasm aren't appreciated.  Charlie Joe decides that it's going to be in everybody's best interests for him to try to de-dorkify these kids...get them to relax a little bit and enjoy the summer.

What Charlie Joe doesn't expect is to get sucked into the world of reading (just a bit), to use his devious brain for the greater good, and to genuinely like some of these campers.

Tommy Greenwald has created a reluctant reader character who is incredibly authentic.  Charlie Joe doesn't have trouble reading, he just can't be bothered.  I know several kids like this.  By putting Charlie Joe in a camp with kids who pretty much adore learning, there is super wide appeal to this title.  The writing is tight, the voice is authentic and I love the fact that unlike other series that aim for this audience, Charlie Joe isn't mean.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy at ALA in Chicago this summer, and was super pleased to relate the story of my own real life reluctant reader really taking to this series.  When kids want a step up from the Wimpy Kid titles, send them over to Charlie Joe!

1 Comments on Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Summer Vacation, by Tommy Greenwald, last added: 8/11/2013
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23. The Hypnotists: Hypnotize Me, by Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman isn't exactly a newbie in the realm of children's literature.  As Canadian kids, we all read This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall and as a librarian I know that he's been publishing solidly all along.  But here comes my confession...I hadn't read his books for a long, long time.  I am very happy that I picked up the first book in The Hypnotists series.  Not only is this book a page turner, but it has humor, big ideas and suspense all rolled into a great story.

Jackson (Jax) Opus is a seemingly regular NYC kid.  He's just trying to get to basketball with his best friend Tommy Cicerelli, but the bus just passes them by.  In a fit of desperation, Jax jumps out into the bus lane in front of the next uptown bus and stares the driver down until he stops.  Jax apologizes upon boarding the bus and implores the driver to get them to 96th Street as soon as possible.  The bus takes off and is soon speeding through red lights, passing stops, and terrifying everyone.  Once at 96th Street, the driver stops, lets the boys off, and resumes his regular route.


Then comes the basketball game.  Jax is not evenly matched against Rodney, but somehow he is managing to hold him off.  And when Jax wants him to miss, he does.

What is going on?

After a series of seemingly unrelated events, Jax ends up being recruited Dr. Elias Mako, founder and director of The Sentia Institute as a part of their New Horizons program.  Dr. Mako seems to come with his own tagline - "Dr. Elias Mako has devoted his life to New York City education and is an inspiration to every single one of us."  Anyone who comes into contact with Sentia seems to repeat these same words.


But Jax's parents are all for it.  Jax learns that he comes from some very powerful bloodlines.  Both of his parents families had the gift of hypnotism, and Jax seems to have inherited a rare command of his gift.  After spending every extra hour at Sentia, Jax is getting uneasy with the whole thing.  He has questions and nobody seems to want to answer them.  Being able to hypnotize people seemed like no big deal when it involved extra gravy and hopping up and down, but add some political intrigue and scandal and throw in computers and blackmail, and Jax's abilities could take a very different and dangerous turn.

Korman has written a thriller that will get kids thinking big.  How are our opinions formed?  How are we influenced?  Where would you draw the line when it comes to sticking by your values?   The relationship between Jax and Tommy is perfect and laugh out loud funny.  Their dialogue is authentic and readers will definitely want more from these two!

1 Comments on The Hypnotists: Hypnotize Me, by Gordon Korman, last added: 8/23/2013
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24. Rump: The True Story Of Rumplestiltskin, by Liesel Shurtliff

Imagine being named Rump.  Imagine it.  Imagine what other kids could do with your name.  Especially when you live in a place that believes that your name is the key to your destiny.

Rump lives on the Mountain with his Gran.  His mother died when he was born, and Rump just knows there is more to his name, but his Gran does not know what it is.  Life in the Mountain is rather bleak.  The residents almost all work in the mines looking for the ever elusive gold to trade in to the miller for food.  One day Rump notices an old spinning wheel in with the firewood.  He asks his Gran about it and it turns out this was his mother's spinning wheel.  Even though it is beaten up, Rump polishes it up, thrilled to have something that belonged to her.

On rations day, Rump and his friend Red are on their way home when they see Kessler the peddler.  Aside from the regular wares, Kessler also deals in magic.  Against Red's advice, Rump trades some grain for a bit of magic.  The trick does go a bit wrong, and Red states that there are consequences for *all* magic, no matter how small, but Rump finds himself hungry for more.

Soon enough Rump discovers why the gold loving pixies of the kingdom have always favored him.  He finds he is able to spin hay into fine gold thread.  He promises himself he will only spin enough to get more food for him and Gran, but promises to oneself often go unfulfilled.  Before Rump knows it, he is bargaining away his own magic for a fraction of what it's worth.

This new twist on the Rumplestiltskin story will have readers looking at Rump with fresh eyes.  This magical world with its gold hungry pixies, message delivering gnomes, magic hoarding trolls, magical aunties and fierce best-friends pretty much begs for a film treatment.  There are pearls of wisdom dropped throughout the text, and readers will likely have many moments of taking pause to ponder over some of the ideas.  Happily, I read on twitter that there will be more titles coming from Shurtliff - one featuring Jack and another featuring Red.  I for one can't wait!

0 Comments on Rump: The True Story Of Rumplestiltskin, by Liesel Shurtliff as of 8/23/2013 9:16:00 AM
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25. Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George

I was scrolling through my blogposts on this here blog because I was SURE that I had blogged Tuesdays at the Castle back when I read it.  No dice.  I really enjoyed that one, and you can get Jen Robinson's take on it over here.

Wednesdays in the Tower starts with an egg.  Celie is surprised because Castle Glower doesn't change on Wednesdays, but all of a sudden the school room isn't at the top of the spiral staircase.  Celie follows all the way up to a new outdoor room that slopes toward the center where there is a nest with a huge orange egg.  Celie cannot believe her eyes, and quickly heads over and lays her hands on the egg. She is surprised to find it hot to the touch.  When Celie runs down the stairs to spread the news of the egg, she finds she can't.  Nobody is listening to her, and what's more, only she can find that extra staircase!

The nest room isn't the only change that is coming over Castle Glower.  There is that mysterious armor gallery that appeared along with its magical tendencies.  The fabric room is another new one.  Before this, Celie and her family just accepted the castle's changes without really thinking about them, but some of these new changes have them thinking more deeply.  Where do the rooms go when they disappear?  Why is the castle suddenly becoming more fortress like?

In this installment, readers are treated to the real history of Castle Glower and Sleyne.  We learn in real time just as Celie and her family are learning.  Maybe some of the tapestries in the castle are more than just decorative.  Perhaps they are telling the stories of the castle.

Wednesdays in the Tower really should be read after reading Tuesdays at the Castle.  Jessica Day George doesn't  fill in the blanks with backstory, and if you haven't read the first book, you will be slightly off kilter.  That said, I really enjoyed the character and world building - Prince Lulath is a favorite of mine.  The cliff hanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

2 Comments on Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, last added: 8/28/2013
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