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1. The Shadow Throne (2014)

The Shadow Throne. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2014. Scholastic. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Shadow Throne was the PERFECT conclusion to a near-perfect trilogy. I fell in love with this series from the very beginning. I absolutely loved The False Prince, which introduces the orphan Sage. Our hero is brave, strong, snarky, and clever. Technically, he's also good at lying. But some of that at least is due in part to the life he's been forced to lead for so long. Dare I say it's been NECESSARY lying?! Sage is a character I loved from the start. He's one of several orphan boys kidnapped by a rogue regent with his own agenda. Tobias and Roden are the other two boys. The regent's mad plan is to put an orphan onto the throne, trying to sell the other regents with the idea that this boy is THE LOST PRINCE thought to have been killed by pirates over four years before. Connor, the mad and bad regent, knows his schemes are ambitious. But he's very arrogant, confident that he can do the impossible: train an uneducated orphan how to be a prince in just TWO WEEKS. Sage, guessing that failure equals death, decides he will be THE ONE to win the job that when all is said and done he does not want. In book two, readers see Sage, King Jaron now, on the throne. But this transition has been anything but easy. His regents who are much, much older see King Jaron as a joke. I don't know that they'd openly admit that they regret his return from obscurity. But, more and more are willing to say they regret putting him on the throne WITHOUT a steward or regent to "GUIDE" him until he comes of age. Just a few weeks have gone by, and Jaron's future is looking bleaker and bleaker. Early on, it becomes obvious to Jaron that life cannot continue on as it is. Without his country's support, without his country's knowledge, King Jaron is determined to act in the best interests of Carthya, and try his best to prevent the war from starting NOW. Even Jaron knows that war will come. But war in a few months is better than war tomorrow if your country is as ill prepared as his is. This is the book with Pirates! In the third book, the war has begun. Jaron and Tobias and Roden (not to mention Imogen, Amarinda, Mott, and Harlowe) face incredibly difficult challenges; everyone will be pushed and challenged. It's VERY, VERY intense. I loved it.

There are so many reasons I loved this series.

I loved the characters. I loved how the characters developed throughout each book. I loved how the core of each character stayed the same, in a way, yet how they continued to grow and mature. I loved the main character, Sage/Jaron. I loved the minor characters. They never felt minor to me. I loved getting to know Tobias and Roden. Especially in this final book, I really appreciated these two! I also loved Harlowe, a character first introduced in the second book. Mott is another character I adored!!!

I loved the relationships. I loved how the relationships built. How respect and trust worked out in some of these relationships. I loved the theme of grace and redemption, of forgiveness. I loved the honesty. I loved see Jaron and Mott; loved seeing Jaron and Tobias; loved seeing Jaron and Roden. The friendships in this one are so very, very strong. And this isn't even including the light touch of romance!

I loved the world-building.

I loved the plotting. The twists and turns. This series has so many surprises! The plot is well-paced and a perfect blend of intensity and humor.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Reread #15 The Runaway King

The Runaway King. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2013. Scholastic. 352 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I have just finished rereading The False Prince and The Runaway King in anticipation of The Shadow Throne. In a perfect world, every single reader would be a rereader. In a perfect world, every one would find the time to go back and reread all the prior books in a series, in trilogies especially. I know it's not realistic. But I can dream, right?! I took the time this time. I am SO GLAD I took the time to go back and read these two books back to back. In three days, I read The False Prince, The Runaway King, and The Shadow Throne. It was WONDERFUL. It was all kinds of wonderful!!! It was so satisfying, so compelling. I really came to know and love all of the characters. I really started noticing all the stories within the BIG story. I definitely recommend this series!!!

I originally reviewed this one in March 2013

Original review:  

Jaron has only been on the throne a short while and already the kingdom is in great danger, Jaron's life is at risk. The regents of the kingdom want Jaron to go into hiding, "for his own good" of course. They would rather deal with a steward in the king's place than have a "boy" on the throne, a boy who isn't afraid of facing reality. Jaron looks at the facts and sees: WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING, WAR IS COMING. His regents seem to see a different reality: peace, peace, peace, we must have peace no matter what, peace, peace, always we must have peace. Jaron would feel absolutely alone--forsaken--if it wasn't for a few friends who knew him before, knew him as Sage...

Running away from the throne, from the kingdom, might be Jaron's best option...

The Runaway King is such an exciting book! I love, love, love the fact that we get to go with Jaron/Sage on his journey into enemy territory as his own cleverness is put to the test...

I am still loving the world-building, the characterization, the dialogue, the storytelling. It's a GREAT book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

RulesofSummer 300x279 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanRules of Summer
By Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
$18.99
ISBN: 978-0-545-63912-5
Ages 4 and up
On shelves April 29th

When I was a young teen my favorite book was Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. Steeped in Bradbury’s nostalgia for his youth, I was in the throes of adolescence, probably on some level nostalgic for my own younger days. In this book I reveled in a childhood that was not my own but felt personal just the same. Summer seemed like the perfect time to set such a tale, what with its long days and capacity for equal parts mischief and magic. I loved my summers, even as I failed to know what exactly to do with them. I think of Bradbury’s novel from time to time, though its use for me has long since passed. I found myself going back to it after seeing Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer. Encompassing a full summer season, Tan indulges his capacity for the odd and extreme while also managing to delve deeply into a relationship between two brothers. The family story is this book’s heart and soul meaning that when all is said and done this is a book for big siblings and little siblings. Miraculously both will see themselves reflected in the pages of the text. And both, if they approach it from the right direction, will find something to pore over in here for years and years to come.

“This is what I learned last summer,” says the book. It’s the kind of statement you might expect to find in an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Instead, what follows is a series of imaginative, wholly original extremes. Two brothers live in a world of fantastical creatures and gizmos. The younger continually breaks the rules as the elder either berates him or tries to save him from himself. A dinner party of well-dressed birds of prey contains the sentence, “Never eat the last olive at a party” as the older brother pulls his younger away from the potentially deadly entrée. “Never leave the back door open overnight” sees them both facing a living room awash in vegetation and giant lizards, the older boy clearly put out and the younger carrying a bucket and shovel. As the book continues you realize that the younger boy is often at odds with the rules his elder is trying to instill in him. The final straw comes after a massive pummeling, after which the elder brother sells his little bro off to a flock of black birds (“Never lose a fight”). Fortunately, a rescue is made and the book subtly shifts from admonitions to positive statements (“Always know the way home”). The final shot shows the two boys sitting on the couch watching TV, the walls of their living room wallpapered with drawings of the out-of-this-world creatures encountered in the rest of the book.

RulesSummer4 300x211 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanAs a general rule I try to avoid reading other reviews of the children’s book in my hand until I’ve read the stories myself and gotten a sense of my own perspective. In the same frame of mind I avoid reading the bookflaps of books since they’ve a nasty tendency to give away the plot. Usually I’ll even avoid looking at them after I’ve read the book in question, but there are exceptions to every rule. After reading Rules of Summer I idly turned the book over and read this one on the back cover: “Never break the rules. Especially if you don’t understand them.” Huh. Oddly insightful comment. Aw, heck. I couldn’t resist. I looked at the bookflap and there, lo and behold, the book started to make more sense. According to the flap the rules are those seemingly arbitrary ones that younger siblings have to face when older siblings come up with them. Slowly a book that before had seemed to have only the slightest semblance of a plot began to make a lot more sense. Had I not read the flap, maybe I would have come up with an entirely different interpretation of the pages. Not sure. Whatever the case, I like where the flap took me, even as I suspect that some kids will have entirely different takes.

Tan’s strength here lies partly in the fact that these brothers command your equal respect. When I read the book through the first time I thought that the younger brother was the hero. A couple more reads and suddenly the older one started to get more and more sympathetic. Consider, for example, that very first shot of the two after the endpapers. The text reads, “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.” There, hunched against a fence, the two brothers huddle while a scarlet-hued red-eyed rabbit eyes the sock in question. The older brother has one arm protectively around the younger’s back and his other hand gently cupping his mouth. In later images the younger will mess something up and the older won’t bother to hide his frustrations. The lack of parents in this book is the only way to make it work. When kids deal with one another in the absence of adults, they make their own rules. Even when the elder sells his brother to a flock of birds for a dented crown (his least likable moment) you’re almost immediately back on his side when he rescues his little brother with a pair of bolt cutters a couple pages later. And honestly, what older brother and sister hasn’t fantasized at some point about selling off their annoying little brothers and sisters (see: The great Shel Silverstein poem “Brother for Sale”)? Tan is capable of seeing both sides of the sibling equation. Few picture books even dare.

Tan’s always had a bit of a fascination with the surreal world of middle class life. Suburbia is his Twilight Zone, and he hardly has to add any mechanical monsters or sentient birds to make it unusual. In Tales from Outer Suburbia it was language that primarily painted suburban Australia’s canvass. Here, words are secondary to the art. As I paged through I began to take note of some of the mechanics present on a lot of the pages. Water towers, oilrigs, and even the occasional nuclear power plant. Most beautiful and frightening were the extremely large structures holding the power lines. In one picture the younger brother plays a paddle-based game against a robot opponent while his older brother arbitrates. The sky is an overcast slate gray with these unnerving grids of line and metal towering over them in the background. Extra points if you can find the single black bird that makes an appearance on almost every spread until that climatic moment when it no longer appears.

RulesSummer3 300x168 Review of the Day: Rules of Summer by Shaun TanEven the endpapers of this book have the power to make you sit and stare for long periods of time. They inspire a feeling that is just impossible to put into words. The endpapers are also the place where Tan makes it clear that he’s going to be playing with light quite a lot in this book. For a fun time, try to figure out where the light source is coming from in each and every one of the book’s pictures. Sometimes it’s evident. Other times, the answer could well be its own little story.

The thickness to Tan’s paints also marks this as significantly different from some of his other books. Nowhere is this more evident than the cover. Look at the Picasso-like grassy field where the older brother scowls at his younger sibling. The midday sun, the paints so thick you feel like the cover would feel textured if you stroked it, and even the pure blue of the noonday sky has a different Tan tone than you’re used to.

I don’t know if Tan has sons of his own. I don’t particularly care. For all I know the inspiration behind this book came from a relationship with his own brother at an early age. Wherever it might have appeared, one cannot help but feel that Tan knows from whence he illustrates. Thanks to films like Frozen we’re seeing an uptick in interest in stories about siblings of the same gender. Brothers have a tendency to tricky to render on the page (see: the aforementioned Dandelion Wine) but it can be done. Tan has perfectly rendered one such relationship with all its frustrations, betrayals, fights, complaints and deep, enduring love. This book sympathizes with those kids, regardless of their birth order. The rules of childhood are built on shifting sands, causing children everywhere to look longingly at the seeming sanity of adulthood. It’s only when they cross over that these kids will find themselves nostalgic for a time of outsized rules and their overblown importance. Without a doubt, the best book about what summer means to child siblings I’ve ever read.

On shelves April 29th.

Source: Galley acquired at ALA Conference for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: Australian Comics Journal

Interviews: Gillo talks to Shaun Tan about the book here.

Misc:

  • The book is available as an app, with music by the hugely talented Sxip Shirey.
  • Download the Teacher’s Guide for the book here.
  • If you don’t mind knowing as much as Tan himself knows about this book, you can read his commentary about each image here. And yes, he was quite close to his own older brother growing up.  So that solves that mystery.

Video:

Seven videos about this book exist on Tan’s website.  Check ‘em out if you’ve half a mind to.

And here’s a sneaky peek at the aforementioned app:

And here’s an interview with him about the book on ABC RN:

 

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4. Scholastic Launches Summer Book Reading Challenge

scholastic304Scholastic has opened the pre-registration for the 2014 Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge for educators.

The free online reading program encourages kids to read during the summer and to log their hours through Scholastic’s site. Students and teachers can set their reading goals and compete against other their students to win prizes.

“We know all teachers are committed to ensuring that their students keep their reading skills sharp throughout the summer,” stated Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer at Scholastic. “The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge offers a fun and interactive experience designed to motivate kids, engage parents and make summer 2014 a summer of reading.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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5. Five 2014 Picture Books

The Very Cranky Bear. Nick Bland. 2008/2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day, four little friends found a perfect place to play. Moose had marvelous antlers, and Lion, a golden mane. Zebra had fantastic stripes, and Sheep…well, Sheep was plain. None of them had noticed that someone else was there. Sleeping in the cave was a very cranky…BEAR!

I liked The Very Cranky Bear. I really liked some things about it. I liked the rhyming text. I liked the story of it. I liked how Sheep, who was, after all, so very plain…was the hero who made a friend of the "cranky" bear. Sheep's friends were a bit vain and very silly. As if adding antlers or stripes to a bear would make him less cranky?! I was less fond perhaps of the illustrations. While I certainly enjoyed it, it remains an almost book (an almost-love).

This story was originally published in Australia.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

Mighty Dads. Joan Holub. Illustrated by James Dean. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mighty Dads, strong and tall, help their children young and small. They keep them safe and bolted tight and show them how to build things right. Excavator Big helps little Vator dig. They go scoop, scoop, scoop.

I liked Mighty Dads. I think there will be a definite audience for this one. I think little ones who are truck-obsessed (construction-obsessed) will enjoy this very playful and active rhyming story that celebrates fatherhood. I thought it was interesting to see the pairs at work and play. To see what the little vehicles were called. My personal favorite was the pairing of "Backhoe Steady" and "Hoe-Hoe." I enjoyed the illustrations by James Dean. (Yes, the same James Dean who created Pete the Cat.)

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons. Jon J. Muth. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Autumn,
are you dreaming
of new clothes?

these leaves
fall forever
my Broom awaits

found!
in my Coat pocket a missing button
the wind's surprise

Dance through the cold rain
then go home
to hot soup

Eating warm cookies
on a cold day
is easy


Jon J. Muth's newest picture book celebrates the four seasons through haiku. Each season has its fair share of poems. These poems celebrate nature, life, and friendship. Many spreads star a panda that will be recognizable to Muth's fans. I enjoyed this one. I didn't love, love, love it. Poetry tends to be hit or miss with me. But I would still recommend it. These poems are, I believe, accessible to young readers.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10


Hot Rod Hamster Monster Truck Mania. Cynthia Lord. Illustrated by Derek Anderson. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Truck day, treat day, cotton-candy sweet day, fun day, fair day, music in the air day.
The monster truck show starts at there o'clock. We have some time to wait. What should we do? Rides!


I was surprised by how much I really did enjoy this one. I found myself really loving the rhythm and rhyme of it. It's a book that deserves to be read aloud again and again. It's just one of those books that reads oh-so-easily. You don't have to over-think it. It just works. For example, "Sailboat, rowboat, pirates long ago boat. Sub boat, tug boat, chugga-chugga-chug boat. Which would you choose?" Anyway, this book is about friends spending the day together at the fair. They are super-excited about the monster truck show, but, they're going to have as much fun as they can BEFORE the show starts. They are on a quest to find the best ride ever, and they will not leave disappointed!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

The End (Almost) Jim Benton. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Once there was a bear named Donut.
That's me.
And he burped.
BURP!
The end.
Excuse me.
I said, that's the end.
Really? One burp?
Yes. The story is over.
No way.
This can't be right.
Sorry, it's the end. I mean it. I'm sending you home.

Someone does NOT want his story to be over. Donut the bear is sure that there is more to his story than just one not-so-tiny burp. What kind of story is that after all?! Donut gets in a very, very long argument with the narrator. He tries EVERYTHING to stay in the book. He's determined and sneaky. But will he actually win the day? You be the judge.

I didn't love this one or hate it. It reminds me, for better or worse, of an Elephant and Piggie book. And since I love, love, love, love the Elephant and Piggie book (We Are In A Book), this one ended up disappointing me. I can see why it would probably appeal to other readers.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Books My Family Received for Christmas

My daughter received quite a number of books for Christmas. I must confess to having purchased quite a few of them myself. Here is the full stack:

ChristmasBooks

And here they are listed, with comments (and links):

Jules Feiffer: Bark, George. A friend on Facebook recommended this one back in October, when I was looking for books to read aloud to a mixed age group of preschoolers. I didn't end up using it for that, but I ordered it, and saved it to be a Christmas present. Baby Bookworm think it is hilarious. 

Mo Willems: That Is Not a Good Idea! OK, the truth of the matter is that I coveted this book for months, and used Christmas as an excuse to buy it for my daughter. I'm happy to report that she enjoys it, though I don't think she 100% understands the trick that the author pulls on the reader. But she will!

Beverly Cleary: The Complete Ramona Collection. This was a gift from Baby Bookworm's godparents. It was on our Amazon wish list because I look forward to reading it to my daughter when she's just a little bit older. And I wanted to have the books here, ready, when we are. Thanks, G&G!

Charles M. Schulz: Peanuts: A Charlie Brown Christmas. My husband picked this one up. The television special is one of his favorites. He also got the Record a Story: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, but that book is just annoying (it makes noise every time you touch it, and we couldn't figure out how to actually record). 

Eileen Rosenthal & Marc Rosenthal: Bobo the Sailor Man! We loved the first two Bobo books (my reviews of I MUST Have Bobo! and I'll Save You Bobo!). I happened to learn right before Christmas that there was a third book out, and couldn't resist. 

Deborah Hautzig & Diane GoodeThe Story of the Nutcracker Ballet. My husband and I spent some time in a bookstore between a Nutcracker show and dinner reservations. I decided to bring this back for our daughter (who isn't quite old enough to sit through the show - maybe next year). 

On the same bookstore visit, I picked up Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts (reviewed here), and Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins & Paul Zelinsky. This is what happens to me when I go to bookstores. I had a copy of Toys Come Home, and it seemed like we would eventually want to start reading this series from the beginning. I gave Toys Go Out a try with my daughter the other night, but the lack of pictures on the first two pages put her off. "Maybe later."

Cynthia Rylant: Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake. My dear friend's daughter loved this series when she was younger, so they picked out this one for Baby Bookworm. I suspect it will be the start of an appreciation of this series in our house, too. They also sent Caroline Repchuk's My Little Supermarket, which is very fun, and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers, which was on our wish list. Thanks, my friends! 

I also gave my daughter several books that I had ordered from Scholastic Reading Club. In truth, I probably would have given them to her anyway, so they were a bit of a cheat as Christmas presents. But that's how I roll this time of year. And actually, one of them, a set of three Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems in paperback editions, was the (book) hit of Christmas day. We had to stop opening presents and read all three immediately (I Love My New Toy, There Is A Bird on Your Head, and My Friend Is Sad). The other, Dav Pilkey's A Friend for Dragon, we haven't read yet, for some reason.

I think that's it for her pile, not including sticker books and workbooks and the like. I also received Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park (from the same friend who I sent a copy to, in a delightful coincidence) and The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That by Richard Betts. A copy of Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance arrived on my doorstop from Scholastic on Christmas Eve, and that felt like a Christmas present, too. My husband received a Boston Red Sox Stocking Stumpers book.

We naturally gave away quite a few books as gifts, too. But I'll have to share those another day. Did the holiday season bring new books to your house, too? Wishing you plenty of time for reading in the New Year. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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7. Scholastic Audio Polar Opposites!


OK, I just finished listening to the 4:31 Scholastic Audio recording of POLAR OPPOSITES. I was skeptical at first, it was really pretty nice :) These arrived in the mail about 10 days ago, but I really could't bring myself to listen. Its a short book, and the story is shared pretty evenly between the words and the pictures -- You HAVE to see the artwork in order to understand the story.

But you know what? They did right. There are some fine "Tinkerbell-style" charms to indicate page turns. Paced just about right for a child to read the simple sentences in concert the audio AND still have a moment or two to take in the art. The sound quality is great. Very professional with both the narrator's voice and some short snippets of background music suited to the story - and there is even some additional whimsy with an audio effect or two - IE some lip-smacking when Alex and Zina enjoy their breakfast, and a well placed grunt and groan as they both push and pull their luggage along the ice.

All-in-all a pleasant surprise :) Thanks Scholastic, for making a fine day even better!

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8. Five 2014 Picture Books

Naughty Kitty! Adam Stower. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Lily wanted a doggy, but her mom said dogs were too messy, too smelly, and far too much trouble. So she got Lily something else…Kitty! He was a bit scruffy…and no good at tricks… but otherwise he was quite cute, especially when you tickled his tummy. And Mom was right, he wasn't any trouble at all…at first.

I loved, loved, loved Naughty Kitty! Lily can't believe ALL the trouble her kitty has gotten into today. But readers know something that Lily doesn't. And that is more than half the fun in this oh-so-playful read along adventure. Hint: A tiger has escaped from the zoo! The real story, of course, is communicated through the illustrations! I loved seeing the tiger sneak around on each and every page. I loved how clueless Lily was. And Kitty, as you can imagine, is quite an adorable, innocent-looking kitten. Everything about this one just worked for me!!!

Definitely recommended!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

Zoe's Jungle. Bethanie Deeney Murguia. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: High above the jungle floor, the fearless explorer glimpses a rare spotted Addiebeast. She sails through the treetops, quickly closing in on the elusive creature. Zoe! Addie! We're leaving in five minutes! "Only five more minutes? I'm not ready! It's still adventure time! And exploring time! And chase time! And…and…and… It is definitely NOT leaving time! I repeat, it is NOT…" Four minutes! "Is there no respect for the explorer and her quest?"

I have enjoyed the previous Zoe books. I definitely liked this one. I like Zoe and Addie. I like seeing them at the park or playground. I like seeing them being so active and using their imaginations. I like the storytelling too. How the story closes with Zoe embracing the story of it. The adventure is now done, now it can be told and retold. It is a way to continue the fun and still be obedient! I liked how the illustrations switch back and forth from the real world situation (playground) to the imaginative jungle of Zoe and Addie.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

A Pet for Fly Guy. Tedd Arnold. 2014 Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A boy had a pet fly. He named him -- Fly Guy! Fly Guy was the smartest pet in the world. He could say the boy's name -- Buzz! One day Buzz said, "Fly Guy, we are going on a picnic!" Buzz and Fly Guy played chase all the way to the park.

For young readers who enjoy the Fly Guy books, this new one should prove just as enjoyable. Buzz and Fly Guy are enjoying their day together when they notice that others at the park have pets. Buzz decides that Fly Guy should have a pet too. They think about all the typical pets. But. As readers may guess, a typical pet just won't do. A frog? A cat? Not best friend material. Fly Guy hears Buzz describe all the best traits a pet should have, and he realizes he's had a pet all along.

I am not especially a big fan of this series. I think series books are important for young readers, and this one is a good choice for those in the target audience.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10


Hello, Moon! Francesca Simon. Illustrated by Ben Cort. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Hello, Moon! Can we talk? I get lonely down here sometimes. What I want to know is… Do you have a bouncy bed? I like bouncing on my bed. Do you go to the park, Moon? I like going down the twisty, turn slide. Do you like chocolate ice cream? That's my favorite food. Do you pretend you're a crocodile? Do you play pirates? So do I! What else do you do?

A curious but lonely little boy has a conversation with the moon in Francesca Simon's latest book, Hello, Moon! I enjoyed the illustrations and the story. I thought it was very creative and playful. I think it's a bit unusual for a bedtime story, which, could be a very good thing depending on if your child connects with the book. After all, there are only so many times you can enjoy reading stories about sleepy bunnies and lambs.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

The Tree House That Jack Built. Bonnie Verburg. Illustrated by Mark Teague. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Here is the boy up in the tree where he built a house overlooking the sea. Yes, this is the tree house that Jack built. Here is the fly that buzzes by the tree house that Jack built. Here is the lizard that snaps at the fly that buzzes by the tree house that Jack built. Here is the parrot who pecks at the lizard that snaps at the fly that buzzes by the tree house that Jack built. But who swats the parrot?

The Tree House That Jack Built did not work for me. Then again, I'm not usually a fan of any adaptation of the House that Jack Built. This one had potential in the beginning. But with the introduction of the parrot, well, the text just lost it. It lost the rhythm and the rhyme and the patterning. By the end, I felt it was a mess. That being said, the best thing about this one is the bright, bold illustrations by Mark Teague. I really loved the illustrations. I thought they were very well done.

Text: 1 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. 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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10. Scholastic’s “Worlds Collide” Initiative Brings 3 Multi-Platform Series Together

WC_LogoScholastic will launch a new initiative called “Worlds Collide” to bring together three popular multi-platform series: The 39 Clues, Infinity Ring, and Spirit Animal.

Here’s more from the press release: “As part of the ‘Worlds Collide’ initiative, Scholastic will release for the first time a digital ‘Powerpack’ ebook bundle—including three first-in-series books in one volume—featuring The 39 Clues #1: The Maze of Bones by , Infinity Ring #1: A Mutiny in Time by , and Spirit Animals #1: Wild Born by . Scholastic will support the ‘Worlds Collide’ initiative with an extensive marketing campaign to link together the global audiences of The 39 Clues, Infinity Ring and Spirit Animals through a dedicated ‘Worlds Collide’ online hub (www.scholastic.com/worldscollide).”

Through the Worlds Collide website, fans are encouraged to play around with the stories from all three series and create mash-ups. To extend beyond the internet community, the minds behind this initiative have also organized the “Worlds Collide #1s” live tour.  Fans will also get a chance to meet some of the authors who contributed books to these popular series including James Dashner, Brandon Mull, Gordon Korman, and Jude Watson. Rick Riordan will make a special appearance at one of the events. See below for the complete list of tour dates.

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11. Two About Penguins

Scholastic Discover More: Penguins. Penny Arlon. 2012. Scholastic. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I believe this is the first book I've read in Scholastic's Discover More series, but, it won't be my last. In this short nonfiction book, young readers learn a lot about various kinds of penguins: rockhopper penguins, Fiordland penguins, snares penguins, African penguins, erect-crested penguins, chinstrap penguins, Humboldt penguins, Magellanic penguins, Adelie penguins, royal penguins, macaroni penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, gentoo penguins, king penguins, and emperor penguins. Included, of course, is much about their habitats: where they live, how they live, the dangers they face, the breeding and raising of their young, etc. This book is packed with photographs, and packed with rich I-didn't-know that facts! This book is so appealing, a good example of how nonfiction text can be appealing to readers of all ages.

I love the use of color photographs! I love the captions, fact boxes, table of contents, glossary, and index. Every two-page spread could potentially be read on its own making this one great for browsing.

Scholastic Discover More: Penguins Stickerbook. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]

An interactive nonfiction sticker book focusing on penguins. Readers will, in addition to sticking stickers and reading jokes, learn basic facts about penguins: where they live, how they live, what they eat, what eats them, the penguin life cycle. There are plenty of photographs, plenty of stickers, plenty of facts, a few games, and a few jokes. For example, it includes "Top 10 Swimming Facts" in which readers learn among other things that: "penguins can hold their breath underwater for 18 minutes; penguins spend 75% of their lives in water; penguins will swim up to 185 miles round-trip in search of a good meal."
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Fire & Flood (2014)

Fire & Flood. Victoria Scott. 2014. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Did I love Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott? Not exactly. I neither loved it or hated it. I was completely indifferent to it. I would say it is more plot-driven than character-driven. I would say that it is a quick read, but, perhaps more forgettable than memorable when all is said and done. I'll also say that I never once thought of stopping while I was reading it. I wanted to stick with it and find out what happened.

Tella, our heroine, LOVES her brother, Cody. Unfortunately, Cody is dying and there is nothing to be done for him. Or so readers (who avoid blurbs) are led to believe in the opening chapters. It seems Tella, and Tella alone, can TRY to save her brother by participating in the oh-so-mysterious survival game called Brimstone Bleed. The ultimate winner of the games will receive THE CURE which will provide one person with a cure for any disease. In Tella's case, it will be for her brother, Cody. But not all participants are doing this for siblings.

The games are NOT public knowledge though they've apparently been going on every six years for several decades now. Those who survive the game are NOT allowed to speak of what occurred during the games. It also seems the game has a curse-aspect to it. Those that have been invited to participate are related to others who have endured the games. Apparently, Tella's mother has a secret!

So Tella's invitation to participate arrives suddenly. She's barely heard the message when her parents intervene oh-so-dramatically. They try to destroy the device that delivered the mysterious invitation. They fail. (It would be a short book if they'd succeeded!) Tella decides to defy her parents (not a surprise) and follow the instructions and become a contender. Tella realizes that she is one of hundreds participating in this game. There will be only one winner. She's not sure what--if anything--happens to those who fail. There is not a sense of doom like in Hunger Games. And the games do not in any way appear to be publicized.

This is the first in a series. In this book, Tella endures two challenges: the jungle and the desert. The winner of the first challenge receives 2 million dollars. The winner of the second challenge receives a portion of "The Cure" which supposedly means five additional years of life for their sick relative.

Each participant chooses an egg--a pandora. The pandoras, when hatched, reveal themselves to be various mutant animals with magical powers, of course. Without pandoras, NO contestant could hope to survive all the challenges.

Tella's pandora is probably the most interesting pandora. A shape-shifting fox that can read her mind.

What would a survivor-based game be without romance?! So of course, Tella has several guys interested in joining her during the challenges...

Some characters I liked. Some characters I didn't like. I can't say that I truly loved, loved, loved any of them.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Switched at Birthday (2014)

Switched at Birthday. Natalie Standiford. 2014. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really enjoyed this middle grade novel. I thought the premise--which was explained in the prologue--to be fun. Here's how the book begins, "Once there was a boy who lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His father was a baker and his mother was a candlemaker. They owned the Cake and Candle Company of Kalamazoo. The cakes and candles that the boy's family made were perfectly ordinary in every way but one: When, on your birthday, you lit a Kalamazoo candle on a Kalamazoo cake and made a wish, a tiny spark of magic was ignited." The boy in the prologue is, the reader supposes, the theatre teacher at the school our two heroines attend. (There is definitely something a bit magical about him.)

Lavender and Scarlet share a birthday in October. The two hardly share anything else. Scarlet supposedly lives a perfect life: she's beautiful, she's stylish, others look up to her, she has plenty of friends. Lavender sees Scarlet across the hall and thinks she lacks nothing. Lavender represents the stereotypical imperfect life: she's unattractive, she's clumsy, she's awkward through and through. If Scarlet was someone you'd seek after, Lavender, well, she's someone you'd want to avoid just in case her unpopularity was contagious. Lavender is clueless to Scarlet's hardships; Scarlet is clueless to Lavender's blessings. But. All this changes with a little magic.

When Scarlet and Lavender switch bodies, well, things may never be the same again. The two discover that they both have things to be thankful for and they both have things they struggle with.

Switched at Birthday is a coming-of-age novel with a fantasy twist. I especially enjoyed the theatre scenes, both girls audition for the Music Man: one lands the role of her dreams, the other a spot on the chorus.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Reread #14 The False Prince

The False Prince. Jennifer A. Nielsen. 2012. Scholastic. 342 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Last March, I read The False Prince and The Runaway King the first two books in Jennifer A. Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy. It was love. Not just love, but LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I considered myself lucky that I had waited until the second book in the series had been released. I didn't have to wait! I could continue reading right away! When I received a review copy of The Shadow Throne a few weeks ago, I was oh-so-tempted to read it right away. But I didn't. I thought the book would be even more satisfying, even more wonderful if I took the time to reread the first two books. It was worth the wait.

I thought it was love the first time around. I really, really did. But. If it's possible, I think I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it even more the second time. The False Prince introduces the world and the characters so very well. And its a timeless fantasy story in many, many ways. Even knowing where the twists and turns were going, I still found myself very engaged with the story, still in love with its richness.

From my original review:

I thought this one would be good, but even I didn't expect it to be THAT GOOD. This book is WONDERFUL. Everything I wanted it to be! Readers first meet an orphan named Sage. When we meet him, he's on the run having just stolen meat from the butcher. He is "rescued" from the butcher by someone in the crowd, Connor. But is the rescue genuine? Connor goes with Sage to the orphanage and explains that he's just bought Sage. Sage soon meets other orphan boys his own age that Connor has bought from various orphanages in the land. He's taking them to his castle...

Sage is suspicious fearing that Connor and the men working for him are DANGEROUS. Yes, he could be beaten, he could be imprisoned, but he knows that he could also be KILLED if he displeases Connor. Does knowing this make Sage less defiant or outspoken? Not really.

Connor has a plan--an ambitious plan. The royal family has been killed, murdered, and no one knows the truth, yet. The second son was presumed dead at sea, but, what if one of the orphan boys could assume this second son's identity and become king? Connor wants the boys in competition with one another and in training to become the future king. In a few weeks time, he'll pick the "lucky" boy.

Sage wants to be the boy, for better or worse, perhaps knowing that to fail in this means certain death. But that doesn't mean he likes Connor or trusts him. He doesn't trust Connor...at all.

I loved spending time with Sage! I loved being introduced to this fantasy world!!! I loved the setting, the characterization, the writing!!! This is a magical, oh-so-satisfying read!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Five New Board Books

Peppa Pig: My Mommy. 2014. Scholastic. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]

My name is Peppa, and this book is all about my mommy, Mummy Pig! She is the best mommy in the whole wide world! And the prettiest. My mommy is very graceful--like a ballerina..except when it comes to picking blackberries. My mommy can be very serious...but sometimes she can be silly, too! 

 I love, love, love, LOVE this Peppa Pig board book. I do. If you enjoy the television show, chances are you'll be just as giddy to see this one release in time for Mother's Day. (Though I must say, it can be read EVERY DAY of the year. There's no reason to limit it!)

This board book stars Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig, and Peppa and George. Readers very familiar with the show may recognize references to certain episodes. The book is very sweet and funny.

Best Friends Pretend. Linda Leopold Strauss. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love to play with my best friend. Our favorite game is Let's Pretend...
Let's play... Ice Cream Truck!
You drive the truck.
I'll ring the bell.
"It's ice cream time!"
the kids will yell.
One scoop, two scoops, three scoops, four...
If one falls off, we'll give them more!

This book celebrates creative play and friendship. Despite the pink glittery cover, the book is much better than you might suppose. (In case you're "allergic" to glitter-y, princess-y books.) Each two page spread is a different "let's pretend." They pretend to be an ice cream truck; they pretend to be princesses; they pretend to be superheroes; they pretend to be astronauts; they pretend to be explorers; they pretend to be grown-ups.

I like this one. I do. I had my doubts. Glitter doesn't say read me, read me. It just doesn't. But I liked that this one shows two girls--two best friends--playing together. I liked the variety. Yes, they play princess which is typical or stereotypical--take your pick. But the other choices more than make up for it! And if your little one happens to LOVE playing princess, this one has some obvious appeal working in its favor.

Who Can Jump? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who can jump? A cat can jump.
Who can jump? A frog can jump.
Who can jump? A squirrel can jump.

What a fun lift-the-flap board book! I really enjoyed this one. It is very simple. It asks one question, and only one question: who can jump. The answers vary, of course, spread by spread. Frogs. Dogs. Cats. Squirrels. Kangaroos. And, don't forget kids like YOU."Lifting" the flap shows the jumping action.

I like the simplicity. I like the boldness. I found the illustrations to be bright and bold and charming.

This one was originally published in the UK in 2012. It is newly published in the US this spring.

Who Can Swim? Sebastien Braun. 2014. Candlewick. 14 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Who can swim? A fish can swim.
Who can swim? Penguins can swim.
Who can swim? A seal can swim.

I think I loved Who Can Swim? even more than Who Can Jump? I definitely enjoyed both lift-the-flap books. In Who Can Swim? I love how the flap reveals the answer. The flap is the ocean on almost every page. Most of the time readers get a good hint or clue about what the flap will reveal. The whale, perhaps, being the MOST obvious. Again, the book is simple. The question is the same on each spread. Readers learn that fish, penguins, seals, polar bears, and whales all swim. The last page, you might have guessed, shows that kids (like you) can swim too.

Again, I like the illustrations. I think they make this one work. Who Can Swim? was originally published in the UK in 2012. It is newly published this spring in the US.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by David McPhail. Text from 1902. Illustrations from 1986. Board book format 2014. Scholastic. 28 pages.

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree. 
"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.

This board book offers readers the original text by Beatrix Potter with new--or relatively new--illustrations by David McPhail. The story itself is lovely; it is everything it should be. It is a rich story. I love the writing. I love the language. It's just a good, entertaining story.

The illustrations. Well. They are not the original obviously. For readers who love and adore the original illustrations by Beatrix Potter, I'm not sure that McPhail's illustrations will satisfy in any way. For readers with less of an attachment, these new illustrations may work just as well. For readers meeting Peter Rabbit for the first time, I don't think the illustrations would be a big issue at all. Personally. I don't care for David McPhail's illustrations in this book. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. 7 Actors Join the ‘Hunger Games’ Film Franchise

Mockingjaycover-330Several actors have joined the cast of The Hunger Games film franchise. Their characters will be introduced in the two-part Mockingjay movies.

Entertainment Weekly reports that Golden Globe-winning actress Julianne Moore has been confirmed as District 13 president Alma Coin.

Tony Award winner Patina Miller has been hired for the role of rebel leader Commander Paylor. Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer will step into the shoes of a filmmaker named Cressida.

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17. Free Fall Friday – Results

randy_gallegos_emperor_of_the_merfolk

The above picture prompt was used for the story below:

he Neptune Diet by Karen Fortunati – MG Fantasy

What is this?  Some kind of underwater optical illusion?  Because I’m ripped.  Totally freaking cut.  Even with my vision blurred by these crappy goggles in the steamy murkiness of the hot tub, there’s no doubt about it.  My brand new biceps, triceps and deltoids bulge and clench as I wave my hands through the white froth.  Whoa! These beauties, usually held hostage under a thick layer of “baby fat,” now rise up separate and defined, dancing under my skin.  Where did they come from?

Lungs ready to burst, I stick my nose and mouth out of the water and the chill of the October afternoon hits my face.

“Teddy!  Get out of there!” Mom yells from the open sliding door.  “You’re just getting over your cold.”  Her orange crocs move across the splintery deck, towards me.

I rise from the water like a Greek god.  And wait for her screams.  What did you do to yourself?  What did you take?  Steroids?  No baby! You’re only in eighth grade!   

            But there’s not one lousy scream. Instead she tosses a towel next to the hot tub.  It lands on the empty Twinkie box and dented can of Diet Mugs Root Beer.

            “Well, mother?” I ask.  “Notice anything about your favorite son?”  I twirl, allowing her to visually feast on my eight-pack abs, whittled waist and pecs of steel.

Mom ignores my physique.  Instead, open-mouthed, she points to the carved stick of driftwood lying next to the hot tub.  The one I dropped as I got out of the water.  The one I borrowed yesterday from the maritime exhibit at Harriman House as Mom was giving a tour.  But just as I’m about to explain my temporary need for “Neptune’s Walking Stick,” I catch sight of my reflection in the slider.   What the?  My body has morphed back to its normal, depressing, pudgy shape.

Below are Zack’s comments:

The Neptune Diet

There’s definitely some cool stuff going on here. The magic piece of driftwood that gives one a godlike physique has fun potential, both for comedy and complications. As a fantasy nerd, I’m already wondering what the rules for the driftwood might be, and imagining the ways Teddy can get in trouble with it. You have some nice details in there, too: the crocs on Teddy’s mom, the food laid outside the hot tub, all do a nice job characterizing this family. As a first page, though, I think there’s definitely some fine tuning to do. This feels almost like the first page of a second or third chapter. I imagine that, because you’re writing with an image as a prompt, you want to dive right in to the exciting part—Teddy discovers the power of the driftwood and becomes the figure we see in the illustration—but there’s some narrative work still to accomplish. The driftwood is going to be life changing for him, so I’d like to get a brief view of the life that will be changed, and witness Teddy “borrowing” the driftwood from the exhibit. There’s obviously a story there—is it funny, ominous, both? I wouldn’t just bury it in exposition. Even the first line, “What is this?” seems to reference something we’re missing, rather than giving us something intriguing to chomp onto. I’d suggest leading with the hook—since this is in first person, maybe Teddy talking about how his life went to hell (or was saved, whatever the angle is) because of a piece of wood—and then spending the rest of the time showing us how he got there.

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Marooned by BettelynnMcIlvain – MG

Cycle 22: Planet Earth.

The big fish the planet’s inhabitants call whales were particularly annoying this morning. Their curiosity will be my early demise. I can only hope that the calls they make to one another satisfy spotted sonar. Clearly I am being hunted.

Cycle 23: Planet Earth.

A lone whale calf I have named, Grail, has been following me. He has soulful eyes and a talent for getting into trouble. This morning small cans of explosives were released from my hunters. To me, puffs of smoke disturbing the currents.  “Away!” I yelled as Grail swam into the field of eruptions. Had I not grabbed him, the youngster would have died. Bubbles from my warning rose to the surface. The ships are now sure of my existence – at least in their waters. At dusk, out of range, I rise to the land.

Cycle 25: Planet Earth.

My plans to make ground have been foiled. Not by the ships I left in the middle of the ocean, but by two earth children who clearly love the sunset. My last trip here I learned about these creatures. I was much younger then, much smaller.  I could move about undetected, splashing in the waves near the beaches as if I was a hallucination from the sun in their eyes. This trip I picked a jagged mountainous coast to come ashore.  Who would have thought children could climb these rocks? I have decided to stay in the water using the towering boulders dotting the coast as shields. At least for a while.

“Look, Austin! Whales!” the young girl points as if her arm is an arrow.

“Whales? Naw. Whales never come this close to shore. Not this time of year. Not at this hour,” the boy calls to her.

“I’m going to swim out to them!” she shouts, deftly jumping from rock to rock until she reaches the edge of a calm pool feeding into the sea.

Here is Zack’s comments:
Marooned
Lots of interesting elements at play: the alien that’s being hunted by someone, the sweet bond that it forms with a whale calf, and then throw two spunky kids into the mix. All the pieces are here, but I think you need to do a bit more work up front figuring out (and showing us) who and what this narrator is. We don’t yet even have a name to go on, or any details about what it looks like or what it’s doing here. It even took me a while to figure out that it was deep underwater. (Swimming? Wearing a suit of some kind?) It seems to know some things about Earth, but misses others—like understanding sonar, but confusing whales with fish. I think in your own mind you need to have a clear vision of where this being came from. Most of its reference points seem to be human. Does it have fish on its own world? What makes the whale’s eyes seem “soulful”—does it have a concept for soul, or does it mean the whale seems intelligent? Is it familiar enough with “arrows” that it would compare a girl’s pointing arm to one? Creating a completely alien creature and plopping them into our world is tough, especially when that alien is the narrator. They need to be both believably different from us, and yet familiar enough that we can understand them. I think I’d suggest actually showing us the creature’s arrival for your first chapter. Set the stakes and make it clear the alien is marooned early in, then slow down and make a bit more of its escape from the ships that hunt it. Does it have a ship of its own somewhere? Did it crash land? I’m sure there’s an exciting opening chapter in all that.
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Who Stole Ben Franklin?  By Susan E. Harris  Middle Grade Mystery for Boys

There might have been a bag of jewels and coins, or an ancient Hindu dagger or even a set of swords.  John had seen endless possibilities before opening the footlocker.  But now it was open and…

“There’s a uniform.”  His cousin pulled out an olive green jacket and pants.  “Ewww, and it smells like stinky feet.  Get it?  Footlocker?  Feet?”

“Yep.  I get it, Will.”  John felt a small trickle of disappointment.

Evidently the smell didn’t really bother Will because he yanked the jacket on.

There’s got to be some kind of treasure.  But the next item John found was a pair of brown lace up boots.  “Speaking of stinky feet—”

“Hey, let me have those.”  Will tugged them from John, stuck his feet in and tromped around the kitchen.  Dirt fell off in puffs, leaving a faint trail behind.  “I really wish we could have watched that old Indiana Jones movie.”

John nodded.  He’d been looking forward to the movie himself.  What could be better then adventure, treasure and mystery?  But a fierce summer storm had hit that morning and knocked the power out.  John and Will had made a trip to the basement to find the portable DVD player in hopes of still watching the movie.  Instead, they’d found a plywood box with metal bands on the corners and faint letters spelling out U.S. Army on the lid.

Will continued to stomp.  “Anything else?”

“Just these letters.”

“Letters?!”  Will snorted.  “Boring.”

John didn’t disagree and yet he was still curious.  Picking up the bundle, he untied the string.

Here is Zack’s Comments:

Who Stole Ben Franklin?
Nice first page. John and Will are clearly drawn and distinct. Your writing is clean and you’ve got lots of great details interspersed throughout. And I’m definitely interested in what’s in the bundle of letters. (Though I wonder if you could have some kind of hint up front that these are more than meets the eye. Some symbol or scribbled phrase that has the whiff of mystery?) I was a little curious why John expected there to be treasure here. Whose basement are they in? John’s? Will’s? What gave him the idea that he’d find a bag of jewels in this footlocker? I’d also suggest maybe giving Will a better zinger to lead with, rather than the foot pun. (Since no one actually called it a footlocker in dialogue, I was a little confused where the stinky feet joke came from.) This is your first chance to impress, so show off Will’s best cornball material. Lastly, considering the power is out, it might be worth spending a little more time with mood-setting descriptions. I imagine the basement is pretty dark, and they are searching around with flashlights. What does that look like? Can they hear the storm raging outside? Doesn’t have to be a lot, but I think you’ve got a nice set up here, and it can only get better with some moody sensory elements.
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QUEEN OF THE WHALES by Liliana Erasmus – MG Fantasy

There was a pool, not a large one, a regular swimming pool: rectangular with glazed blue tiles, stainless steel ladders and underwater lighting that illuminated the tropical patio at night. Magaly stood on the edge, gazing into the clear, bottomless water. Did she just see what she saw? The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real and so was the island breeze that swept through her hair and the smell of chlorine she was inhaling through her nose. She lifted her cotton slip, got down on her knees, then bent forward to take a better look. The shadows were still floating in the depth of the pool, some disappearing and others growing towards her or emerging. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be.

She looked around. The garden was deserted. Except for the large cacti, the flowering agave plants, the lounge chairs, the clicking and chirping of geckos and other night time critters, there was no one to help her understand what was going on. Screwing up her eyes against the bright water and blinking, she started to realize that there was something she could do. By standing up and backing away very slowly, she was able to flee the sight, enter the villa that belonged to the pool, wake everyone up – if there was anyone inside – and demand an explanation. It was the most logical thing to do.

Magaly stood up, but instead of running and screaming her way to the house, she walked straight to the ladder on the right. Hands on the handles, one foot on the step, another in the water and no way back.

Here is Zack’s comments: 

Queen of the Whales
Well, I’m very curious what’s at the bottom of the pool! Great job setting the suspense. There are lots of wonderful details here, too. I can totally picture the shifting water and feel the island breeze. I also like how much attention you gave to this being a normal, ordinary swimming poolclearly whatever is happening inside the pool is very extraordinary. It was funny having Magaly think of all the ways she should be responding to what she’s seeing , and then promptly ignore them. My biggest comment here would just be to keep on eye out for language economy. A good editor would be able to help you with this, but I found myself tripping over a few parts. 

For example, the sentence: “The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real and so was the island breeze that swept through her hair and the smell of chlorine she was inhaling through her nose.”
There are so many rich sensory details here, but the sentence runs long. It’s trying to do too much in one breath. I’d chop it up a bit, and even cut the nose stuff, since we can infer that she’s smelling with her nose. “The warm pavers underneath her bare feet were real. So was the island breeze that swept through her hair, and the smell of chlorine.” It might also be good to clarify what you mean by “real.” I assumed you meant Magaly was assuring herself that she wasn’t dreaming, but that’s not totally clear from the text.
Thank you, Zack, for sharing your expertise with all of us. The time you spent is appreciated so much.
Talk tomorrow,
Kathy

Filed under: Advice, Tips Tagged: First Page Session, Free Fall Friday, Scholastic, Zack Clark

2 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Results, last added: 9/29/2013
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18. Free Fall Friday – Guest Critiquer and Winners Announced

CALL FOR ILLUSTRATIONS: Please remember to send in your illustrations for October. It is a great way to get seen and keep your name out there to get noticed. Send them to Kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail.com with October Illustrations in the subject area. Please submit .jpgs at least 500 pixels wide.

emilys13croppedEmily Seife associate editor at Scholastic Press, has agreed to be our Guest Critiquer for October’s First Page winners. She works with award-winning authors such as Cynthia Lord, Philip Reeve, Daphne Benedis-Grab, James Proimos, and many others. She is an editor on the Infinity Ring multiplatform series, and is the author of The Hunger Games Tribute Guide. Emily is especially looking for: Young adult and middle grade fiction: stories with a strong voice and emotional core, contemporary humor, magical realism, mystery. She says she is not a good fit for: high fantasy, paranormal.

kristiPenguinChaChaCover500

http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/illustrator-saturday-kristi-valiant/

hazelOne Word Pearl Cover

http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/illustrator-saturday-hazel-mitchell-2/

cherry money babyClick this for the original link for Book and Agent John Cusick’s Interview.

If you didn’t win, check back on Sunday for a chance to get your hands on Cherry Money Baby.

Winners please send me your physical address, so your book can be sent to you.

You can still leave a comment for a chance to win the following books:

Click this link for Dianne Ochiltree’s Firefly Night. Winner announced on Sunday.

Click this link for Pink Cupcake Magic written by Katherine Tegan and illustrated and given away by Kristin Varner. Have to Dec. 1st to leave a comment on this link.

shawnadb29e71ae31d781af37fb29dbb5a5c18

For writers who like using a picture prompt, you may use the above illustration by Shawna JC Tenney for inspiration. Shawna was featured on illustrator Saturday April 20th. http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/illustrator-saturday-shawna-jc-tenney/

WRITERS Sending in a First Page: Please attach your double spaced, 12 point font, 23 line first page to an e-mail and send it to kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com. Also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail. Put “October First Page Critique” or “October First Page Picture Prompt Critique” in the subject line. Make sure you have your name on the submission, a title, and indicate the genre.

DEADLINE: October 24th

RESULTS POSTED: November 1st.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: opportunity Tagged: dianne Ochiltree, Editor Emily Seife, First Page Critiques, Free Fall Friday, Hazel Mitchell, John Cusick, Katherine Tegan, Kristi valiant, Scholastic, Shawna JC Tenney

2 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Guest Critiquer and Winners Announced, last added: 10/16/2013
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19. Inbali Iserles Inks a Trilogy Deal with Scholastic

Inbali Iserles author photo

Inbali Iserles, a UK-based writer, has landed a deal with Scholastic for the I Am Fox middle-grade trilogy.

The release of book one, Foxcraft, has been scheduled for 2015; that title will be published simultaneously in the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade, negotiated the deal with Zoe King, a partner and literary agent at the Blair Partnership, at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

continued…

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20. Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 25

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage.

Book Lists

A Tuesday Ten: Ghostly Encounters in #kidlit | Views From the Tesseract http://ow.ly/q4r0K

Book list: So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Catherine Gilbert Murdock @greenbeanblog http://ow.ly/q4quh #kidlit

15 Multicultural Books for Babies and Toddlers, recommended by @momandkiddo http://ow.ly/q1OsY #kidlit #diversity

At Stacked: October Debut #YAlit Novels http://ow.ly/q1N87 @catagator

New Books that should make young readers (6-12) laugh, recommended by @TrevorHCairney http://ow.ly/pYNXz #kidlit

Top Twelve Picture Book Read-Alouds for Halloween from @aliposner http://ow.ly/pYNPO #kidlit

Top Ten Middle Grade Books About Mice by @muellerholly @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/pYMKC #kidlit

Book Awards

The 2014 World Book Day titles have been announced, reports @bkshelvesofdoom | Code Name Verity is there http://ow.ly/q94GK

The UK's Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Awarded to @rebstead for Liar & Spy, reports @tashrow http://ow.ly/q99Jj #kidlit

The 2013 Red House Children's Book Award shortlists... http://ow.ly/q2vHc via @bkshelvesofdoom #kidlit

Common Core

Common Core IRL: Spooky, creepy stories to grab you (ages 10 - 14) from @MaryAnnScheuer http://ow.ly/q6QET #kidlit

CommoncoreExcellent points: How mysteries are a great fit for the Common Core, by @kkittscher http://ow.ly/q4qKY

How Parents Can Support the Common Core Reading Standards | @adlit http://ow.ly/pYCev #literacy #parenting

Growing Bookworms

Books for Kids that get them excited about learning new vocabulary, suggested by @growingbbb http://ow.ly/q1Msg #kidlit

Looking for books for your new independent reader: Bring on a Series! says @ReadingWithBean http://ow.ly/q1M4V #literacy

How cool! A theme park totally dedicated to children’s literature: Bookworm Gardens http://ow.ly/q4Jg4 @bookriot via @PWKidsBookshelf

Interesting approach: Selling Reluctant Readers: 10 Marketing Tactics To Amp Up Fun - @ShapingYouth http://ow.ly/pZALE #literacy

A Thrilling Literary Mission: James Patterson on Getting Kids to Read http://on.wsj.com/GXQoAG via @scholastic

Kidlitosphere

KidlitCon2013#KidLitCon Austin: Don't Miss Out!, urges @MotherReader | "It's worth traveling for" http://ow.ly/q94cF

Talking about #MGLit and blogging at #KidLitCon! | @BooksYALove http://ow.ly/q6Qr7

The schedule for #KidLitCon has now been published, and the deadline to register is Nov. 1st. Don't miss it! http://ow.ly/q6IdF

New post on the #Cybils blog: Register Now for #KIDLITCON! http://bit.ly/1ah9FaX

#KidLitCon 7 - Registration Closing Soon! Go because "hanging out with blogging pals is the best" says @gregpincus http://ow.ly/q4r8J

Why Leila from @bkshelvesofdoom is gearing up for #KidLitCon 2013, and you should too. http://ow.ly/q1K54 #kidlit

Talking about Middle Grade blogging (in general and at #Kidlitcon), @charlotteslib @Book_Nut @BooksYALove http://ow.ly/q1NwR

Some of the attendees signed up for #KidLitCon in Austin are listed here: http://ow.ly/q1Kiv | The deadline for registration is 10/24.

RT @cybils: Happy Birthday, Sheila!: It's @SheilaRuth birthday today, so leave your well wishes in the comments. . http://bit.ly/177ZowX

On Reading and Writing

Interesting piece @pbs on how the Little House books promoted libertarian values http://ow.ly/q4IJv via @PWKidsBookshelf

"To shove aside an entire category of literature because it features teen protagonists is lazy + pathetic" GeekEmpire http://ow.ly/q1Ode

Interesting, if not upbeat: Report On The Panel On The Status Of Women In Children's Publishing from @gail_gauthier http://ow.ly/pYOjE

Discussion on where horror falls as a genre (vs. speculative fiction, fantasy, realistic) at Views From the Tesseract http://ow.ly/q9aDy

Food for thought from @haleshannon Hone your internal reader, not your internal literary critic http://ow.ly/q9bsn

20 Classic #Kidlit / #YAlit Literature Heroines, Ranked – @Flavorwire http://ow.ly/q9vc7 via @pwkidsbookshelf

Parenting

Really excellent article: Ethical Parenting Is More Than Possible—It’s Essential – @TabletMag http://ow.ly/pYOCj via @medinger

Fun post on the classic childhood activity of Rolling Down the Hill from @momandkiddo http://ow.ly/q9a1P

Programs and Research

PulseMessagesOct-24On Facebook: Experts agree that reading aloud is "the single most important thing a parent or caregiver can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning." So true! Read Aloud!

Read Every Day: A simple + effective prescription from a doctor + @reachoutandread director http://ow.ly/q9bR3 via @librareanne

Well, yeah. "Reading gives kids an edge, study says", reports @TheAge http://ow.ly/pYN0W via @tashrow #literacy

Field Trips to Art Museums Improve Critical Thinking, Promote Empathy + Increase Tolerance @EducationNext http://ow.ly/pYChc via @adlit

Redlabl-logoHave you seen the ilustrator-created art for the @scholastic Read Every Day Lead a Better Life campaign? Gorgeous. http://ow.ly/q9tpL

Schools and Libraries

Good for them, I say: Kid Lit Authors Ask White House to Ease Standardized Testing Mandates | @sljournal http://ow.ly/q9uu2

KozsolQuoteShared on Facebook, the quote to the left from The Read-Aloud Handbook

On connecting students with books, by teacher @kacwrites @KirbyLarson 's blog http://ow.ly/q99s7 #literacy

"There’s no reason to stop modeling lifelong reading when students enter high school" @thereadingzone @KirbyLarson http://ow.ly/pYO2r

A teacher's experience on Reaching the Reluctant Reader by Laura Farmer | @NerdyBookClub http://ow.ly/pYNJr

I think so! Should more YA fiction be read in schools? asks @GuardianBooks http://ow.ly/q9v2Y via @pwkidsbookshelf

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

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21. National Family Literacy Day and Scholastic's SPOTLIT Collection

Did you know that November 1st is National Family Literacy Day? The idea is to focus on activities and events that showcase the importance of family literacy programs. Like these:

The folks at Scholastic are releasing infographics related to their new SPOTLIT initiative. SPLOTLIT is a "collection of children’s books (50 books per grade level - Pre-K through middle school) approved and hand-picked by a committee of 27 experts (professors, teachers, librarians, etc.)." I've seen the list of experts, and will share that link when Scholastic publishes it on their site. I certainly think that they did a great job. 

You can view the SPOTLIT collection books here. The Preschool list contains many of my family's favorites (like Blueberries for Sal, above). 

Scholastic says that SPLOTLIT is:

  • "The place to find guaranteed great reads hand-picked by some of the most knowledgeable experts in the fields of education and children's books
  • A collection of original, re-readable, memorable, diverse, appealing, and inspiring books for all sorts of kids in preschool through middle school
  • Expert-selected, kid-tested, stick-with-you-even-after-the-last-page books for today's readers"

Here is an infographic showing the connection between SPLOTLIT titles and the major literary awards:

Larger_SPOTLIT_INFOGRAPHIC_Awards_13_10_30
You can find several other related infographics, including one that highlights the range of animal protagonists in the books, on Scholastic's website

Redlabl-logoHow will you celebrate National Family Literacy Day? I'm celebrating right now, in a way, by listening to my daughter request read-aloud after read-aloud from her babysitter. I also plan to have a marathon read-aloud session with Baby Bookworm tonight. We were too tired to read at all last night, after trick-or-treating. Tomorrow we'll be going to the library. Because, really, every day is family literacy day, as far as I'm concerned. Or, as Scholastic says, Read Every Day, Live a Better Life. Sounds right to me. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate. 

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22. Cover Unveiled for David Baldacci’s Fantasy Novel

Baldacci_The FinisherFinalCover

Scholastic has unveiled the cover for The Finisher by David Baldacci. What do you think?

This middle grade novel, a fantasy story, follows a fourteen-year-old girl named Vega Jane. The publisher has a release date set for March 2014.

USA Today posted an excerpt from the book. Back in September, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced that it has optioned the film rights.

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23. Superworm: Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Book: Superworm
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8

Superworm is an upcoming picture book from the UK-based team that created The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Superworm is a large worm who is much loved for his flexibility and his willingness to help other creatures. When Superworm is kidnapped by Wizard Lizard, his friends set out to save him. 

Superworm is relatively text heavy for a picture book. All of the text is in rhyming couplets, like this:

"Superworm is super-long,
Superworm is super-strong.
Watch him wiggle! See him squirm!
Hip, hip hooray for SUPERWORM!"

The above sequence is repeated a couple of times throughout the book, giving kids a chance to chime in. There's some less-common vocabulary, like "chant", "mope", and "lair" (each of which ends up working well with the appropriate rhyme). Personally, I found it a bit too much rhyming, across the whole of the book. But I suspect it's one of those books that grows on you through multiple read-alouds. Once I have the final printed version in hand, I will try it with my daughter. 

I do quite like the creativity modeled throughout the book. The other animals and insects find creative uses for Superworm, treating him as a swing, a slide, and even a hula hoop. And when the other creatures set out to rescue Superworm, they each take advantage of their own strengths (the spider weaving a web, etc.). The villain has a satisfying comeuppance. Here's a snippet:

"The web is strong. The web is tough.
The web is plenty big enough.
The wizard wakes. "This isn't funny!
I'm wrapped in leaves and stuck with honey!"

Pretty sure kids WILL find that funny. 

Scheffler's insect-scaled illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, with oversized flowers, and big-eyed, cartoon-like creatures. Superworm is pink and wrinkled, and usually has a smile on his face. While not quite realistic in their depiction, the garden creatures are impossible not to like. Young readers may never look at worms and other small creatures the same way again.

I recommend Superworm for home or library use. The U.S. edition is due out in late January, and is sure to be a hit. 

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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24. Review of the Day: The Silver Six by AJ Lieberman

SilverSix Review of the Day: The Silver Six by AJ LiebermanThe Silver Six
By A.J. Lieberman
Illustrated by Darren Rawlings
Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)
$22.99
ISBN: 978-0-545-37097-4
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Ambition. It’s not a term I usually associate with children’s graphic novels. Your average everyday children’s comic is not particularly ambitious. There are so few of them out there that you can’t make any grand sweeping statements about them, except maybe to stress that the difference between a GN for adults and a GN for kids is scope. While an actual prose novel for the kiddos can set its sights rather high (see: The Golden CompassHokey PokeyThe Book of Everything, etc.) children’s graphic novels have more of a tendency to limit themselves. They might encompass sprawling narratives over the course of several books (see: the Bone series, the Amulet series, etc.) but in a single book? Usually there’s not a lot you can say (unless you’re Shaun Tan, of course). So I would have thought prior to picking up Lieberman and Rawlings’ The Silver Six. What looks on the outside to simply be yet another tame adventure tale for the kiddos turns quickly into a story so packed with excitement that in any other author’s hand this could easily have been split into a trilogy (at the very least). With a large diverse cast, a relatable heroine, and a good old-fashioned evil corporation, Lieberman and Rawlings dare to dream big and it pays off. Like I say . . . ambitious!

Phoebe Hemingway’s been doing okay. Sure, her parents died in a mysterious crash about a year ago and ever since she’s been faking it with her robot Oliver, living on their own. But when child welfare services track her down and send her to the ultimate nasty futuristic orphanage she discovers she may be in grave dangerd. Fortunately she meets up with five other kids that share some shocking similarities to Phoebe. Like the fact that their parents all died in the same crash. Or that they all willed to their children the same moon registration forms. Now the team is on an epic quest to escape the orphanage, travel off the planet, dodge the bad guys, and find out the true conspiracy behind their parents’ deaths.

They say that people relate to action movies/books/comics etc. because immediate peril is instantly understandable and accessible to an audience. That said, you can write all the action thrillers in the world but unless you’ve a little additional heart it’s not going to have a lot of emotional impact. What makes “The Silver Six” a little different from the other books out there is that it isn’t afraid to go for the emotional heart more than once. So you’ve six orphans, and that’s fairly heartrending on paper. And you’ve one of the villains dealing with his own tragic past as well. But the moment that makes all the difference in the world comes when Phoebe must willingly give up the one last family member she has for the greater good. When you sacrifice the comic relief to stop the baddies, that’s tough enough. When you actually LIKE said comic relief? Pull out those hankies and blow.

And I love the way the book rewards rereadings. As you read through and pick apart the conspiracies, the first page is going to make a lot more sense. Throwaway moments, like when a character sees the initials S.O.S. scrawled on a wall, are explained at length later. Then there are the little in-jokes. My personal favorite was the tech geek who worries that he didn’t feed his fish that morning, with a glance later at the fish he’s since raised in their absence. Trust me, it makes sense in the book.

The art itself wasn’t a lure at first. Darren Rawlings hails from the world of animation and motion graphics, so there’s going to be a certain level of slickness to any enterprise he stands behind right from the start. I’ve no idea if Mr. Rawlings did his own inking and coloring (no one else is credited) but it’s a good job. Still, the first thing you’ll notice is how much the man has had to cram onto each and every page. I’m not just talking words but number of panels and even images that appear on those panels. You get the distinct impression over the course of this book that Rawlings would do best if the pages were long and extended as you might find in a Tintin or Little Nemo collection. Yet for all that, I never had the feeling that the pages felt cramped. The art packs a punch but at the same time it has a way of carrying you along. I wouldn’t give it to a novice GN reader, but for those kids with some experience it’s going to be enormously satisfying.

If there’s a problem with the book, and there are surprisingly few, I suppose it’s the ending. The big showdown with the baddie happens and then everything looks lost. Then we get a LOT of exposition and badda bing, badda boom, end of story. In a book of false climaxes and honestly awesome moments where the action rises and falls, this letdown of an ending momentarily sours an otherwise skillful outing. I won’t deny that there’s a sweet justice in the way the villain personally brings about his own destruction, but it’s odd watching your heroes stand idly by while the world comes around to their way of thinking.

Many is the parent who decides to buy their kids some comics for vacation only to find that within the first 20 minutes of the car trip their children have read every single one. If you want something with a little more meat that’s going to keep their attention for AT LEAST an hour, The Silver Six is your friend. Also recommended for fans of epic adventures, bored kids, comic lovers, boys, girls, anyone who likes snarky robots, and people who has to read these kiddos bedtime stories. A quick and exciting little package (the book literally begins with an explosion) with a surprising amount of depth. Nicely done.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Videos: And here’s the book trailer -

The SILVER SIX – Book Trailer from Rawls on Vimeo.

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25. Scholastic Declares January Book Fit Month

I don't normally share many news releases. But I couldn't help but notice that Scholastic launched a "Get Book Fit" initiative the day after I declared that my goals for 2014, for myself and my daughter, were:

  1. Get more/better sleep
  2. Read more
  3. Exercise more

So, 1 and 3 are about fitness, while 2 is about books. One might easily argue that we are trying to "Get Book Fit" in my household, too. Though really, Scholastic is focusing only on mental fitness in this particular initiative. Still, it seemed worth sharing.

SCHOLASTIC DECLARES JANUARY “GET BOOK FIT” MONTH, CALLS ALL KIDS TO READ BOOKS TO GET THEIR MINDS IN SHAPE

“Like” Scholastic on Facebook to Scratch Off Daily Tips, Get the Chance to Win Books and Get Kids #BookFit for 2014

Redlabl-logoNew York, NY – January 2, 2014 – With the countdown to the Winter Games in full swing, Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, is calling all teachers and families to pledge January 2014 as “Get Book Fit” Month, and encourage their kids to train their brains by reading more books. To help kids get Book Fit, Scholastic has launched a free Facebook calendar app, providing parents and teachers with daily “scratch off” tips from experts on ways to motivate their children to stay mind-healthy throughout the month. Parents and teachers can join the campaign by “liking” Scholastic’s interactive “Get Book Fit” calendar at Facebook.com/scholastic and by following the latest on #BookFit on Twitter (@Scholastic).

Throughout the month of January, families can visit Scholastic’s “Get Book Fit” interactive calendar to get free daily resources, including book recommendations and tips from experts at Scholastic, articles from Scholastic Parent and Child® magazine, and ebook picks from Storia®, Scholastic’s free ereading app. Plus, top athletes including gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, Amar’e Stoudemire from the New York Knicks and Justin Tuck from the New York Giants share the books that inspired them the most. Every Sunday, families can find “Spotlit Sundays,” which will highlight must-reads for every age group from Scholastic Reading Club, and Fridays will be “Freebie Friday” day, where fans can enter for the chance to win free new releases from Scholastic. 

“Just as any athlete needs to practice a sport in order to get better, kids need to practice reading to keep their brains sharp and become proficient readers,” said Maggie McGuire, Vice President, Scholastic Kids and Parents Channels. “The new year reminds us to start new, healthy habits and getting ‘Book Fit’ is a perfect way to remind kids that reading is part of having a healthy lifestyle.” 

To kick off the campaign, Scholastic’s experts curated a list of Top 10 Ways to Get “Book Fit”:

1.      Prep your home to be “Book Fit”. Make reading material available in the rooms at home where your kids spend most of their time, easily accessible on tabletops, in bins or on bookshelves in each room. Include magazines, newspapers, comic books, how-to guides, and reading material that will tap into your child’s interests and passions.
 
2.      Reward a child’s reading efforts with a medal. Incentivize the reading experience. In celebration of the upcoming Winter Games, award your child with a gold, silver or bronze medal based on how much he or she read that week.
 
3.      Make the library your athletic stadium. Get library passes and dedicate a day and time each week to visit the library. Make the search for new books into a game such as “library bingo,” where kids can actively search the library for specific genres, characters, etc. during their visit.
 
4.      Create a family game night to exercise kid’s minds. Select games that encourage critical thinking, spelling and language-building. Introduce new games to them over the course of the year. Get your kids involved in choosing what the game will be – and what healthy snack should be served while playing!
 
5.      Bring a book to life. Get kids moving with an activity based on the book he or she is reading. Is he or she reading about sports? Try out that sport that weekend. Reading about cooking? Bake something new with your child. Challenge your kids to try different experiences, enhance skills and open their eyes to things they have never tried before. Read it. Live it.
 
6.      Host a “book marathon.” Challenge readers at home or in school to to read several books by his or her favorite author. Try different book series to encourage your child to read every day.
 
7.      Make reading a friendly competition among family and friends. Challenge kids to see who can read the most books. This friendly competition can teach a child valuable social skills and good sportsmanship. They can re-read their favorite book again and time the difference between the first and second reads. Use our handy Scholastic Reading Timer app to track your child’s reading minutes.
 
8.      Make family reading time a daily routine. Practice, practice, practice! Set aside time in the morning, after school or at bedtime, without distractions, and read as a family. Be sure to read aloud to your child as often as you can this year. The more you do, the more likely you are to show your child that reading is fun. Reading aloud helps children build their vocabularies, develop background knowledge they will need to understand the meaning of text when they read on their own, and inspire a lifetime love of reading! Mix it up with your favorite poetry, a news story, short stories, chapter books, and novels.
 
9.      Organize a family and friends reading club. Reading clubs encourage all members to think critically about what they read and to help bring ideas for the next month’s book. This will encourage children to work as a team and be open-minded about the opinions of others. Teachers can help out by sending “themed months” ideas paralleling students’ current class work.
 
10.  Host book-swap parties. Have your child collect books he or she has already read and have his or her friends do the same. With parents’ permission, host a book-swap party at your house, with fun themes like “Fantasy Swap” or “Laugh Out Loud Funny Reads”. Teachers can host a “book swap” party among students the beginning of each month. They’ll walk away with not only new books, but also their friends’ recommendations, fostering a team effort to getting “Book Fit.”

For more daily tips and to win free books, “like” Scholastic’s page on Facebook and visit the Book Fit calendar app. For more information about Scholastic, visit the media room.

Here at home, I'm doing two things to help my daughter and I "Get Book Fit" this month:

1. Instead of watching television while I ride my exercise bike, I'll be reading on my Kindle. I could never read regular books while biking without getting motion sick. But it turns out that I can prop my Kindle on a nearby couch arm and read just fine. 

2. Tracking all of the books that my husband and I read aloud to our daughter, rather than just the (very small number of) chapter books. I did this when she was a baby, but stopped as she got older, largely because a glitch in my blogging software made it difficult. That glitch is fixed, so I'm going to try again. My hope is that seeing that visual progress on my blog will motivate me to find more read-aloud time throughout the days. 

Wishing you all a book-fit, book-filled 2014!

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