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.
June 17, 2015
by Devin Greyson and Greg Land
The Nightwing comics take place in Gotham city in the DC universe. Nightwing was Robin, Batman’s sidekick, until the Dark Knight took some time off, leaving his mentee to fight the villains of Gotham. However, Nightwing does not have to fight alone. In this story he enlists the help of Huntress. Huntress’s family was killed by the Gotham mafia aka “la familia.” This causes her to harbor rather harsh grudges against the organization.
Frankie Black, a member of the Gotham mafia, is trying to leave the mafia to start a new life and get out of the life of crime he’s been leading. Unfortunately he is framed for the murder of an undercover police woman and is arrested by the police, just to be broken out by the mafia for them to question him. Nightwing knows Black is innocent and needs to find the true murderer. Huntress wants to see Black jailed for the crime because of her agenda against the Mafia. When she finds out he is innocent, she joins Nightwing in looking for the real murderer.
Nightwing and Huntress are very different. Nightwing is much more merciful and less aggressive than his new partner. Huntress originally wants to see Frankie Black ruined but Nightwing refuses to see him go to jail for a crime he did not commit. This causes tension between Nightwing and Huntress. Nightwing disapproves of Huntress’s techniques while sometimes turning to look the other way as in this case, because they are necessary. This makes them excellent foil characters.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a good place to get into DC or Nightwing comics. This is the first one I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. I had always thought Nightwing was a more interesting character than Batman or Robin and this story affirms that.
Reviewed by Jared (son of SueBE)
June 15, 2015
High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs
by Lisa Kahn Schnell
illustrated by Alan Marks
Not much is known about horseshoe crabs, prehistoric-looking animals that come ashore at night to lay their eggs. Perhaps that is why to make this story work, author Lisa Kahn Schnell intertwines three stories — the crabs coming ashore to lay their eggs, the shore birds that rest at Delaware Bay, and the citizen scientists that study them both.
To get the full hermit crab story, readers will have to study the end pages of this book. The end pages are the pages that are pasted to the cardboard cover and their heavy paper facing pages. In this case, they are printed with labeled diagrams detailing horseshoe crab anatomy. Schnell also tells of how these creatures journey into shore to lay their eggs.
As the same time, huge numbers of shore birds are migrating. Migraition is hard work and when the birds reach Delaware Bay, many of them are lean and tired. They spend some time at the bay feeding and fattening up. Some of them go so far as to double their body weight and they do it largely by feeding on horseshoe crab eggs.
Scientist don’t know much about these crabs. They don’t even know how many there are or how far they journey. To find out, scientists tag them. Whenever someone finds a tagged crab, they can report the tag number and sciensts have a bit more information.
The author has provided interestested readers such as teachers or student scientists with a wealth of information in the back matter. This expands on how they grow (molting) as well as giving more information on their coppery blue blood.
This book would make a welcome addition to the classroom bookcase and an excellent jumping off point for discussions on the ocean, how scientists collect information and more.
June 11, 2015
The First Strawberries:
A Cherokee Legend
by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Anna Vojtech
Long ago the Creator made a man and a woman. He made them at the same time so that they would always have each other for company. Before long they married and things went well for a long time.
Then one day the man came home from hunting and his wife had not yet started dinner. She was picking flowers, hoping to share their beauty with her husband. The man, hungry after a long day, asked if she expected him to eat the flowers. At his hurtful words, she turned around and walked away.
The man was quickly sorry but his wife would not listen. She continued to walk and he followed but nothing he said made her turn around. When he told the Sun how sorry he was and that he only wanted to apologize, the Sun offered to help.
Reading this story, I was amazing once again by the breadth of Joseph Bruchac’s work which includes a wide variety of poems and books on Native American topics. This one is a quiet story and Vojtech’s watercolor and colored pencil illustrations compliment it well, giving a peaceful depth to the tale.
This might work well for some story times but may not be high impact enough for a younger crowd that expects something high energy or rowdy. But it would make an excellent quiet time book for one on one sharing.
As is the case with so many folktales, there is great depth to this story. It shows how easily words can wound as a well as the importance of forgiveness and persistence. I can see this book working well in a counselor’s library or any time you want to encourage young readers to talk about their feelings or things that worry them.
June 8, 2015
Serenity: Those Left Behind
by Joss Whedon
“Those Left Behind” is a graphic novel based on the TV show Firefly. The show was cancelled after its first season leaving its director, Joss Whedon, in a difficult place. The decision was to continue the storyline with graphic novels and a movie.
This book takes place directly after the movie. It takes place in the 2500s in a star system far from earth. Earth has been long abandoned by humans since the human race depleted all of Earth’s natural resources and destroyed the eco-system. The two remaining superpowers, the USA and China, collaborated to rebuild human civilization in the galaxy surrounding a nearby star.
In the years that followed the terraforming and troubles came a great war. The Independents fought against the Alliance forces. The Main character fought in the rebellion until its defeat by the alliance in 2511.
This book is an excellent continuance of the Firefly storyline. The main characters find themselves trying to evade a bounty hunter bent on revenge, find a treasure, and evade Alliance law enforcement that is trying to stop them. The main characters are amusing, relatable, and likeable. The crew is an interesting mix of people with different goals, some of which seem contradictory. However, all of them seem to reach their goals one way or another and keep their ship in the air.
Why so sketchy about the story line? It isn’t one story line but three. Giving too much detail will quickly spoil the fun.
I would recommend this book to fans of the series but it might be better to read it after you watch the tv show. You can find the show at your local library or online.
Reviewed by Jared (son of SueBE)
June 4, 2015
The Poisoner’s Handbook:
Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
by Deborah Blum
This book is part mystery and all excitement. Pardon me if I get my geek on while I tell you about this one.
This is the story of the creation of forensic science — ferreting out who was murdered vs who dies by accident and what means was used to do the criminal deed. Poison is easier to get ahold of then most people realize and it was even easier during Prohibition. Bootleg? An amazing amount of it was deadly in part because the government poisoned the ingredients. Drink it and die? Too bad. You were breaking the law.
But bootleg wasn’t the only poison discussed in the book. There was also arsenic, chloroform, mercury and radium. Chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler form a crime fighting team like no other. They are amazing because they were real and they dedicated their lives and their fortunes to devising ways to detect poisons in the body and then to tell where the poisons came from.
Note: This is not a children’s book. This is straight up adult nonfiction. And because it deals with poison and murder, it deals with all kinds of nefarious deeds.
Why then am I recommending it? If you have a young person who loves science, they need to see this book. This will show them how they can use the science that they are learning in school to do work that matters. My son is interested in being a forensic investigator and this book is next on his reading list.
Any teen who likes crime dramas or CSI needs to read this book. All nonfiction should be this well written!
June 1, 2015
by Alex Flinn
“I had not been outside in years. I wasn’t sure how many, exactly, because I didn’t keep track from the beginning. I didn’t realize I’d need to…”
So begins Towering, with the story of Rachel, one of the three intertwined stories that make up this book. Mama claims that Rachel is in the tower to keep her safe but the modern reader is going to wonder if that is really true. Maybe this is a case of child abduction, one family member hiding a child from another.
Next, readers meet Wyatt. He too has a secret, something shameful involving his best friend. Whatever it is, he’s been sent away to live with Mrs. Greenwood. Wyatt’s mother and Mrs. Greenwood’s daughter were best friends until the day the other girl disappeared. Wyatt’s there now so that he can have a fresh start, somewhere that no one knows his story.
But the first night there, he finds a ratty spiral notebook. A diary. In it Danielle tells about meeting a young man named Zach, a man her mother has forbidden her to see.
Page by page, the three stories draw closer and closer together until Wyatt meets Rachel and discovers the connection. Will they both have the bravery to save themselves and so many more?
Flinn has woven these narratives together to create a contemporary retelling of the Rapunzel story. At first, the hints of fantasy are slight and fleeting but they build until magic and hope weave seamlessly together.
This isn’t a story that readers connect with because their lives are so like those of the characters but these characters are still realistic and three-dimensional. Readers will connect with them because they are brave, flawed and likeable. Readers will recognize that there but by the grace of God and a few bad decisions, could be any one of us.
This is a young adult novel — while I don’t actually remember a single curse word, there are hormones galore and some substance abuse as well. That said, I highly recommend it. Young readers will appreciate it because it is just so true and real. No one has all of the answers, people make mistakes and yet few are without redeeming traits.