August 27, 2009
The Big One-Oh (AR 4 . 5)
by Dean Pitchford
Faced by the prospect of another party-less birthday, Charley Maplewood decides that this year, his 10th birthday, will be different.
- He will make friends.
- His party will have a theme.
- And it will not be horrible, regardless of past birthday party experiences.
Unfortunately, Charley is a latch key kid. Sadly, it means he may have to throw his own birthday party. Scarily (for the parents out there), it means there is a very real possibility that he could get away with it.
Fortunately, he starts making friends rather quickly, once he puts his mind to it. There is a fellow horror comicbook fan, the school genius, two bullies and the creepy guy next door (Gary). Gary turns out to be a not so creepy, just socially inept, special effects man and Charley, a budding chef and horror comicbook fan, finds himself fascinated by something that combines his two great loves.
Quite a bit about this book made me squirm and I found myself wondering if it was really “appropriate” and why the Mark Twain award committee would have chosen it.
Then I got over my knot-headed, grown-up self and realized what made me squirm. All of the adults were hopelessly irresponsible, like many actual adults who also make me squirm. They aren’t mean or malicious. They’re just clueless. Any kid reading this is nodding. “Duh, they’re grown ups.”
If your child is reading selected books from this year’s Mark Twain award list, pick this one up. It is an excellent boy book and is funny and gross and action filled enough to appeal to reluctant readers. There is a lot about horror effects, scary comics and cooking.
And if you read it with your child and find yourself squirming, pat yourself on the back, check out how hard your young reader is laughing.
August 25, 2009
My Name is Sangoel (AR 3 .2 )
by Karen Lynn Williams and Khara Mohammed
illustrated by Catherine Stock
Books about immigrants to the US are hardly new and making the character a refugee only narrows the field by a bit, but this book is a must read.
Sangoel must leave behind his homeland of Sudan and the refugee camp in which he lives. He and his family are venturing to America.
Those of us who live here think of the name as magical but for a young boy even the airport is a scary place where people rush up and down moving stairways, doors mysteriously swish open and everyone speaks very fast. . .
. . . until they get to his name. Then they stumble and mispronounce it. Some of his classmates even make fun of it.
When he complains to his mother, she points out that he might have to change his name to fit in, but this gives Sangoel bad dreams. How can he discard the name of his father and his grandfather when it is all he has left of them?
I know the litany of arguments for changing immigrants’ names when they come to the US but it has always b0thered me, snatching away this bit of who they are. Fortunately, Sangoel (pronounced sun goal) finds a way to not only teach his classmates his name but also to get them in on the fun.
An excellent choice for any young reader who is struggling with a new place or questions of identity and an excellent stepping off place for discussions on identity, names and our alleged Melting Pot.
This book really should have a place in every grade school.
August 20, 2009
Dixie in Danger
by Julie Sykes
This is book #2 in the Pet Sitter series.
This time around, Max gets a hasty phone call demanding his services as a pet sitter. When he goes to meet his new client, he discovers a house full of wacky inventions including a hamster trail with a gym and natural garden. Dixie, the resident hamster, initially turns her back on him.
Max doesn’t take the slight to heart. He’s sure Dixie is upset that her friend and owner has left town without her. What he doesn’t count on is her ability for mischief, starting when she squirts him in the face with her water bottle so that she can escape. When Max chases Dixie into what he assumes is an ordinary elevator, the two set off on a series of adventures and Max has to come up with his own invention to get the pair back home.
I have to admit that I was more than a little shocked when the hamster started talking. Clever adult that I am, I didn’t read the books in order although the #2 on the spine should have been my first clue that this was the second book in the series. If I had read them in order, I would have known that this was normal for The Pet Sitter books.
This book moves along at the same brisk pace as the first and is even more fun. Give it to your young reader to keep them exercising those new skills. And if they still seem hesitant, why not read with them? That way you could laugh together and make gagging noises when Max finds out what Ancient Romans thought was good to eat.
August 18, 2009
by Julie Sykes
Finding reading material for a newly independent reader can be tough. While many of them want to use their new skills, they don’t want it to be too hard — books often can’t be too long or too serious.
Fortunately Julie Sykes has created a series for just these readers. “The Pet Sitter” books are funny, full of adventure and quick to read. Today, I’ll review Tiger Taming. Thursday, come back for a review of Dixie in Danger.
If you’ve got a young reader who is a fantasy buff, loves cats or magic, then be sure to pick up this book.
When Max finds an ad in the pet store window for a pet sitter, he jumps at the chance. Max is a tried and true animal lover but because of his sister’s allergies, the family can’t have a pet. He sees the job as a way to be around animals, earn a little cash and show the grown ups just what he can do. It’s not hard to spot the kid appeal, is it?
It quickly becomes clear that his client, Miss Warble Itchy, is a witch and her cat, Tiger, is full of surprises, starting with the fact that she can talk. While you might think a talking cat is a great thing, it isn’t so marvelous when she won’t listen to a thing you say and does whatever she wants. Otherwise, she’s a cat.
But when Tiger is kidnapped, Max realizes that he has to take some chances, do things he’s never done, and get that cat back.
Sykes’ book has plenty of tension to keep readers turning the pages and the danger isn’t too scary. Keep your new reader enthusiastic about their new skills with this fun series.
August 14, 2009
Cave Detectives: Unraveling the Mystery of an Ice Age Cave (AR 5 . 7)
by David L. Harrison
Getting kids excited about science can be tough. After all, kids want to be heroes. They want to make great discoveries. With so many discoveries already behind us, is there really anything they can hope to discover in the world of science?
Author David Harrison makes it clear that the answer is YES as he describes the discovery of Riverbluff Cave. The cave was found while blasting to build a road near Springfield, Missouri. When workers found the cave, they called in scientists who quickly realized that they had a real treasure on their hands, or, more accurately, under their feet. This Ice Age cave had been sealed off, the fossils protected and preserved.
Young readers are encouraged to follow the thought process and the discoveries of scientists as they work out just how old various portions of the cave are and dream of what still might be found. Harrison also emphasizes how many caves are discovered each year. What treasures might they hide?
Harrison is a prolific Missouri author. His respect for children and their intellect as well as his enthusiasm for science shine through in his work.
My son latched onto this book after completing a recent geology class at a local college. We were both surprised to read about the animal tracks found preserved in the cave’s moist, clay floor. Who knew something like that could remain for so many years?
Don’t be spooked by the book’s AR level. I suspect that has something to do with the specialized terminology that Harrison includes. Between Harrisono’s explanations of these terms and the book’s glossary, young readers who are interested in the topic will breeze along, learning as they help scientists uncover the cave’s myteries.
Why not encourage the dreams of your own rock hound and explorer?
August 6, 2009
The Gardener (AR 3 .9 )
by Sarah Stewart
(Farrar Straus & Giroux)
Even when things are down, including the economy, Lydia Grace looks for the silver lining. Set during the Great Depression, Lydia Grace is sent to live with her Uncle Jim above his bakery in the city. With Daddy out of work and no one asking Momma to sew, there’s really no other way. In the city, Lydia Grace misses Grandma and her garden but she learns to bake bread even as she finds cracked cups and cans to use in creating her own rooftop oasis.
If you haven’t read this one, pick it up. For whatever reason, my library remaindered a copy so I have a glorious hard cover of this Caldecott Honor book.
Told through the letters Lydia Grace writes first to her uncle and then her family back on the farm, the spare text is broadened and deepened through David Small’s remarkably detailed illustrations.
Perfect for young plant lovers, young bakers and every kid who has had to go somewhere they didn’t want to go, do something they didn’t want to do, and endure a scowling adult.
A quiet feel good read for book lovers of all ages.