July 28, 2015
The Stand: Soul Survivors
by Stephen King
This book tells of the journey of several groups of survivors in a post-apocalypse America. A deadly plague has wiped out most of the known World and most of the survivors are plagued by terrible nightmares instructing them to go to Mother Abagail in Nebraska. Other survivors are corrupted by the dark man and go to the West.
Nick Andros is a deaf, mute man with an eye patch over one eye. However this does not keep him from surviving. He seems to be an unlikely match for Tom Cullen, a mentally challenged boy who cannot read the notes that Nick normally communicates with. After meeting him while searching for a drugstore, Tom struck Nick as an irritant. After seeing how helpless Tom would be without him Nick convinced him to join him on his trek to Mother Abagail’s farm in Nebraska. Nick and Tom continue together until they meet another group of survivors. They then continue by truck to Nebraska.
The Stand: Soul Survivors mixes the post-apocalyptic journey featured in the Walking Dead with Stephen King’s storytelling ability. The story is definitely more of an adventure than an action book. It is a little slower paced but it’s slow pace gives it a more story vibe than a action packed comic book vibe. You won’t find the gore splattering firefights and running from hordes of undead that the Walking Dead comics feature but you will still find yourself loving the characters and turning the page.
I would recommend this book for readers ages 14 on up. If you liked the Walking Dead or any more of Stephen King’s novels this is a good read. This has several graphic scenes so be wary. That said, the novel is not too scary so don’t be afraid to read it before bed but does have a creepy feel to it.
Reviewed by Jared (16 year-old son of SueBE)
Note from SueBE: Yes, those of you who are familiar with King’s work will recognize the title. This is a graphic novel retelling of The Stand, my all time favorite King novel.
July 23, 2015
Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy: Book One)
by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass has learned a few lessons in her 17 years. Prominent among them? When you can talk to a boy named Jared in your head, don’t do it for too long and don’t let anyone else know. If you do, they’ll think you’re crazy.
But Kami can talk to Jared. He’s been with her as long as she can remember and she’s been there for him. Tough times are a bit easier when you have a friend.
Then Jared shows up at Sorry-in-the-Vale, the town where Kami lives. Have a friend talk to you in your head is strange enough. Having him standing in front of you, tall, blond and oh-so handsome is another. It’s clear from the start that Jared is a bit of a bad boy, but Kami already knew that. What she doesn’t understand is why he keeps shying away from her.
Jared and his family have been gone for seventeen years. Kami doesn’t know that the deal is with the Lynburn’s but she knows it can’t be all good. Even her mother is suspicious of them and immediately forbids Kami from seeing Jared.
Then the killings start. Could it be Jared? That’s what her mother seems to think. Kami can’t stand that thought but she doesn’t want it to be someone she grew up with either.
That’s it on the plot. I don’t want to give too much away.
Don’t be fooled by the cover. While I love the use of silhouettes and shadow, something about this felt one very “old-time” to me. Not old as in Victorian but quite possibly 1950s little girl. The main character in this book is a full-fledged contemporary teen.
As always Brennan has done an amazing job in weaving together a world that is both contemporary and recognizable, but also fantasy. Her characters are wonderfully complex with a mixture of good and bad in each. Yes, you’ll have to look a bit harder to find the good in some of the antagonists but it is there and includes a frighteningly rigid code of honor. Break this code and, even if you are one of them, you’ve gone too far.
This book will probably appeal a bit moe to girls than to boys because of the romance element but it is not a girly book. As always, Brennan deals with some tough themes including loyalty, honor and honesty. Because of the darker elements, this book might not be a good choice for a sensitive tween. But for a reader who is ready to explore the dark side of humanity in a safe venue, this book is a must.
July 20, 2015
The Bear at Your Sandwich
by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Alfred A. Knopf
“By now I think you know what happened to your sandwich. But you may not know how it happened. So let me tell you.”
This is, in short, a story about a bear. A bear who smelled wonderful, delicious berries. Who knew that eating these berries would fill his tummy and he’d fall asleep in the bed of the pick up which would then carry him to the city?
In this fun, imaginative story, author/illustrator Julia Sarcone-Roach creates a picture book in which the text and illustrations play off each other perfectly. As the text describes the bear exploring the new forest in which the truck leaves him, we watch him explore the city. He discovers great climbing spots (fire escapes and washing lines), itchy trees (telephone poles) and squishy mud (wet concrete).
On the prowl for fabulous smelling things to eat, he discovers a part and in the far corner an open lunch box sitting on a park bench. In the box is a glorious sandwich which the bear proceeds to eat.
Spoiler alert! Do not read past this point if you will be mad that I give away the ending.
As he finishes the sandwich he notices that all the dogs in the dog park are watching him.
In the end, we discover that it is one of the dogs telling the story to his owner — the somewhat miffed person who planned to eat the sandwich.
The text in this book is oh so brief and young readers will love the play between what the book says and what the book shows. These contradictions will lead young readers to wonder did the dog really see a bear eat the sandwich? Or is the dog the culprit?
Sarcone-Roach’s illustrations give us a bear that is detailed enough to read his expressions but cartoony enough that he isn’t big and scary. In fact, attentive readers will notice in the artwork that children through out the city notice and point to the bear but no one is running in fright.
This is a great book to share as a jumping off point for discussions about truth and expectations.
July 16, 2015
In this version of the Cinderella story, we don’t have a raggedy girl who dreams of balls and gowns. No, this young miss is into fancy rocket repair. During the day, she fixes the robot dishwasher and the zoombroom but at night she reads manuals detailing ship repair.
When the prince announces an upcoming space parade, Cinderella’s family is invited. They shuttle off without her announcing that there is no room in their craft. The only possibility is for her to repair a broken down ship. Of course, when they rocket off, they take her tools.
Needless to say, a fairy godrobot saves the day with a sonic socket wrench and Cinderella makes it to the parade where she meets and impresses none other than … the prince. But I’m sure by now you saw that coming.
The story has creative touches, especially the sonic socket wrench and the other gizmos and gadgets but I’m not always a tremendous fan of rhyme which the author chose to use. Still, this story is worth it for the message — it is okay for a girl to be more than a pretty miss and mechanics and technology are totally within a girl’s sphere of influence.
Meg Hunt’s illustrations combine traditional media including graphite and brush and ink with digital for details and depth and the ability to bring Cinderella to life. While nothing says that the characters are multicultural, Hunt’s art work portrays adults and young people with skin of many hues. This is no milky white, blonde fairy tale.
This book will make a great addition to the classroom library when it comes time to discuss friendship, expectation, and acceptance. Of course, young readers will be just as interested in talking about the faux technology as well as how they would have fixed the engine without help from anyone.
Share this book with your class to spark discussion on a wide variety of topics.
July 13, 2015
Spencer loves his books. That said, as with so many book loving kids, he has his favorites. His bedtime favorite is Night-Night, Narwhal. After Mom reads it to him, he slips it back into place on is bookshelf ready for tomorrow night.
But when tomorrow night comes, his favorite book is missing. He tries to make do with Tenacious Todd but Todd is a toad and thus not entirely suitable for bed time.
Day by day, more of Spencer’s books go missing. The attentive reader will notice that as the books disappear from the shelf, other objects — flowers, nuts and bolts — take their place.
Spencer is bound and determined to figure out what is happening so he sets a trap. What he discovers is startling but he quickly finds away to make his books available to everyone who loves them while assuring that he still has Night-Night, Narwhal at bedtime. I know — that doesn’t really tell you what happened. But it is so offbeat and creative that I don’t want to ruin that page turn when all is revealed.
As a reader who can be a wee bit possessive of her books, I picked this one up as soon as I saw it on the library shelf. Where oh where are this poor kid’s books? As a parent, your first assumption may be that he needs to pick up after himself. As a former-kid whose mom used to clean up her room, my first assumption was that Mom might have been cleaning and weeding. Take a deep breath! Mom did not get rid of his books.
Ohi’s digital illustrations provide as many clues as to what is going on as the text. They are also light and cartoony and keep things from getting too dark when a very young reader might be worried or at least frustrated about the disappearing books.
As fun and creative as Ohi’s book is there are also very real elements. When Spencer can’t find his books anywhere, he blames his sister. As a result, Mom makes him take part in a tea party. His hang-dog expression in that particular piece is priceless!
Although this is a book about bedtime and bedtime books, it is upbeat and your young reader will want to tell you how he or she would have solved the problem. That may make this a bit sharing or story time book than a bed time book but it is definitely worth sharing.
July 9, 2015
In this first person story, the narrator explains what it would be like to have a raptor as a pet. Of course, you would have to get a raptor when it was still quite young and tiny. Because your shy, skittish raptor would be prone to hiding in the apartment, it would be necessary to bell it. As your raptor grows, she will be easier to find but that bell is still a good idea for altogether different reasons. Cat people won’t even have to ask why.
In fact, the raptor in this book is portrayed as quite cat-like. She has to be taught not to claw the furniture, claws need to be trimmed and she even gets stepped on in the dark.
But like any good cat owner, the narrator doesn’t see these as bad things or her raptor as a bad pet. As any pet owner knows, having a pet you love is the best thing ever.
O’Connor’s pencil and watercolor artwork is fun and cartoony and keeps it from being altogether creepy when the raptor is stalking the narrator through the house. Although O’Connor’s raptor is capable of some purely predatory facial expressions, she looks so much like an enormous, fluffy blue road runner that she is hard to truly fear. Yes, in some shots she looks positively feline but something about the tail is too birdlike to make that perception stick.
This book is a quick read and sure to set of discussions about what animals make good pets and which should be left in the wild. No, the raptor in the story was not a wild capture. She was adopted from a cardboard box of raptor kittens? Babies? Young?
Share this book to kick off discussions on pets and pet care and be ready for your young readers to be stalking you and each other through the halls.
July 2, 2015
The Arctic Code (The Dark Gravity Sequence)
by Matthew J. Kirby
Balzer and Bray
Eleanor Perry lives in Phoenix but it isn’t Phoenix like we know it today. An Ice Age has frozen much of the planet leaving many cities and countries uninhabitable. Refugees pour into Phoenix, crowding into apartments that sometimes have no heat and where people often go hungry.
Eleanor knows she should feel lucky. She and her mother live with her uncle. At least they did until her mother had to go to the Arctic. Now it is just Uncle Jack and Eleanor but at least Eleanor has a Sync, a device that let’s Eleanor communicate via text messages with her mother so far away.
One night, Eleanor receives a batch of mysterious files. She doesn’t know what they are, some of them look like maps, but the message from her mother tells her not to share them with anyone. Her mother is on a job out on the Arctic glacier so Eleanor knows communication will be limited until her mother gets back.
Then she and her Uncle get a message. Her mother is missing. The only way to find her is to hand over the Sync. At first Eleanor hesitates; the Sync is her link to her mother. Without it she may never hear from her again. Besides, it also contains the mysterious files. She isn’t sure why but she knows that her mother’s company is lying. The only solution is to head up to the Arctic and find her mother herself.
I’m not going to give many more specifics because this is a story you want to explore yourself. Suffice it to say that Eleanor reaches the Arctic and finds two boys whose father disappeared with her mom. Together they have to uncover the lies and find their parents. Along the way they discover the source of the mysterious pulses of energy as well as the ghostly wolf-like forms that several scientists have spotted.
This is a postapocalyptic story in that there is a freeze and an energy collapse. I love that the most adventuresome and reckless person in the story is a girl. So often the female characters hang back while the boys take the risks.
This is a fast-paced middle grade story that will satisfy both girls and boys. The explanation behind all that happens seems to be scientific even if all is not revealed in the first book but the story has a mystic feel much like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books.
Definitely an icy fun read for the hot summer months.
June 29, 2015
Chu’s Day at the Beach
written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Adam Rex
When I saw this picture book at the library, I had to stop and rub my eyes. An adorable panda bear on a book by Neal (The Sandman) Gaiman? Yep, that’s the one. What can I say, Gaiman is an amazingly diverse writer.
Chu is a small panda with a very big sneeze. In fact, it is so big that whenever he sneezes big things happen.
When he and his family go to the beach, you know something is going to happen. First Chu gets a vanilla ice cream cone. Dad is wading in the water and Mom is in the shade of her umbrella enjoying a good book.
That’s when it happens. Chu sneezes.
Fortunately, he doesn’t sneeze all over the other animals on the beach but that means he sneezes out across the ocean. His sneeze is so big, that it plows a furrow through the water, splitting the ocean in two. Chu walks between the walls of water seeing many new things including a family of merpandas.
It isn’t until he sees an enormous whale that Chu realizes what he has done. The ocean is split and the whale can’t get home. Chu has to find a way to make things right.
This is Neil Gaiman so the reader has to accept that this is fantasy. You might have guessed that by the fact that the panda on the cover is wearing an old fashioned bathing suit. In reality, we know that pandas prefer board shorts. From Chu’s name (think of it preceded by a sneeze, ah-ah-ah Chu) to the merpandas and the quirky problem, Gaiman’s off beat sense of humor is evident throughout.
Adam Rex’s oil and mixed media illustrations combine to create expressive characters as well as a bright, colorful backdrop for a story about a colorul young panda who will appeal to preschool and early-grade school readers.
I read the print copy but the cover image above right is from the audio. I’m going to look for that next just because I think it would be fun to hear Gaiman read the story.
June 25, 2015
The Zombie Survival Guide
by Max Brooks
So your neighbors have been acting weird, smelling bad, growling, and trying to eat you.
Then you may be tangling with a zombie outbreak. How big is it? Is it just your neighbor? Is it the whole block, the state, or country? Are you one of the last humans on earth facing an undead army numbering in the billions? Don’t sweat it.
The Zombie Survival Guide has you covered. From how to assemble your group of survivors to the best places to defend this book will get you through the challenges ahead. The book starts by giving you a time-table of the zombie virus. After being bit, the infection will cause normal people to become flesh-eating maniacs with very poor motor function and no memory of their past lives. This book will also instruct you on what equipment you need to gather. What weapon do you need, do you have a way of gathering clean water, what if you or an ally gets hurt. Everything you need is on the list. This book also has a list for groups as opposed to the list for a single survivor.
This book is a very fun read. It is great for gamers, whether you are just looking for a good book or you need tips for your survival games, this book is an excellent choice. If you are a fan of zombie media, e.g. The Walking Dead, zombie games (too many to name), or Zombieland, this is an excellent choice that will leave you yelling at your favorite characters every time they mess up.
This book does cover slightly more mature subjects so I would recommend this for 5th grade on up. There are no graphic descriptions however the idea as a whole could be considered violent. Be sure to pick this book up from your local library or order it online.
Reviewed by Jared (16 year-old son of SueBE)
June 22, 2015
A Castle Full of Cats
by Ruth Sanderson
Once upon a time, a queen lived happily in her castle full of cats. She loved them all — the pretty ones, the plain ones, the good ones and the naughty ones. She painted pictures of them, played with them and even served the dinner at the table with the king.
The king was not happy.
So the cats decided to win him over in typical cat fashion. If you’re a cat person, you can imagine what this means. If not, just accept it as true cat behavior. If a cat loves you, it will bring you special little presents. Shoes, perhaps because they are available year round, are often the gift giving location of choice.
The king was not happy. In fact, he was so unhappy that he left and came back with his own solution. And, no, I’m not going to spoil the ending.
Written in rhyme, this book is a fun read aloud. Young listeners will also love the antics of the cats as well as Sanderson’s illustrations which show both what the cats are up to but also the king’s range of expressions. The illustrations show so much more than is revealed in the text alone that both are truly essential to fully enjoy this story.
Cat lovers with be drawn to this story and the amazing illustrations. Clearly, Sanderson studied a wide range of cats before creating her artwork.
But you don’t have to be a cat fan to love this book. Young readers will identify with both human characters (the friend who wants to share something she loves and the friend who just doesn’t get it) as well as the cats themselves who are full of energy and mischief.
Although the rhyme makes for a fun read aloud, the book lacks the quiet necessary for a top notch bed time book. Not to worry. You’ll want to share this again and again and pour over the illustrations with your young reader.