February 28, 2012

We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:38 am by suebe2

We Planted a Tree
by Diane Muldrow
illustrated by Bob Staake
Golden Books
AR 2.7

The text is deceptively simple but don’t let this book fool you.

“We planted a tree.”

The story opens with a family in Brooklyn planting a tree in their yard.  The next spread shows a second family planting a tree in Kenya.

But why?  Why take the time to plant a tree?  Muldrow covers the many reasons in text that remains simple and straightforward – to provide shade, to hold the rain water, to clean the air, to give us food and on and on.

While the focus of the story remains on these two families, other spreads show other people and other trees in other part of the world, including Paris.  In many cases, the people are simply living their lives unaware of the benefits that the trees bring to them.  But in some spreads, such as the one where they are picking fruit, the benefits are obvious.  In his illustrations, Staake carefully ages the characters, showing the passage of time and the benefits that the trees continue to bring to the families that planted them and to the world in general.

Short, this book would be a good introduction for preschoolers to the concepts of ecology.  (No, they’re never too young!)  But paired with the illustrations it is a complex enough story to spark many lengthy discussions.

And, don’t be surprised if you end up planting a tree!


February 24, 2012

For the Love of Music by Elizabeth Rusch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:58 am by suebe2

For the Love of Music:
The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart
by Elizabeth Rusch
Tricycle Press
AR 5.4

Ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a musical household?  That’s just the place that Maria Anna Mozart found herself.  Her father, Leopold Mozart, was a court musician.  Maria Anna was older sister to the renowned Wolfgang Mozart.  But she knew how to play first.

Maria grew up around the court musicians and learned to play alongside her father.  When she practiced, her little brother would sit with her and soak up the beautiful music.  In fact, the two children toured Europe together impressing royalty far and wide with their amazing skills.

Still, when Wolfgang went to Italy to study, Maria stayed home.  Scholars believe there was only enough money to school one of the children.  Still, Maria did not give up her music.  She took a piano with her when she married and later returned to Salzburg where she gave small private concerts and taught lessons.

Throughout the story, Rusch works in various musical terms, ranging from Piano Sonata (a piece composed for piano) to Fermata (in which everything stops).  Each fits its place in the story and will help anchor young musicians in

Sheet music and rich textiles are incorporated into the paintings that Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher created to compliment the lush, complex world in which Maria Anna made her music.  this world.

This is a gentle story of love and passion.  Perfect for musicians young and old, it would make an excellent book for quiet reading, sharing and time spent together.



February 21, 2012

The Holy Thief by William Ryan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:55 am by suebe2

The Holy Thief
by William Ryan
Minotaur Books

Called in to investigate the death of a woman found in a former church, Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev is suspicious.  Why are the higher ups so interested?  What aren’t they telling him?

In the early days of Soviet Russia, its a toss up.  Is it more dangerous to know what’s going on or to be somewhat clueless?  Either one can get you sent to the Zone (Siberia) especially with an investigation that involves both the remnants of the Russian Orthodox Church, now illegal, and the underground culture of Russian thieves.

First of all, this is an adult book but it is one that I think a lot of teens would enjoy.  They probably won’t identify with Korolev’s position as a divorced man but they will sympathize with his frustrations as superiors keep him in the dark yet expect him to do his job to their satisfaction.

Even in 1936, its obvious that the Soviet experiment is not a thriving success.  Comments are made about what Soviet goods will be like “one day” although at the time of the story, the dead woman is easily identified as American because of her quality clothing and haircut.  Very few Soviet women would be lucky enough to have their equal.

It is also a world where the NKVD, The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, more commonly known as the Secret Police, have quotas the same as factory workers.  This means that if not enough people are denounced by their friends, neighbors and coworkers for secretly practicing a religion or speaking out against the Soviet Union, you might get arrested anyway.  There are, after all, cells to fill.

Very little content would be inappropriate for younger readers although the book probably would not interest them.  There are references to rape and some torture and autopsies take place “on screen” but none of the descriptions are particularly explicit.

This would be a good choice for older boys with an interest in other cultures, history, war and mysteries.


February 17, 2012

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:56 am by suebe2

Everybody Sees the Ants
by A.S. King
Little, Brown and Company
AR 4.2

Lucky Linderman doesn’t feel lucky.  If he was, he wouldn’t be having to deal with a bully like Nader McMillan day in and day out.

But he does.   And McMillan has gone too far.  The assault in the boy’s locker room may have left its mark psychologically, but when you rub a guy’s face on the concrete it leaves a mark that even the most useless adult finds hard to ignore.

But instead of dealing with it, Lucky’s Mom takes him to Arizona to stay with her family.

In Arizona, Lucky doesn’t have to deal with a bully but he does have to deal with everyone staring at his face.  And asking him why he doesn’t do something about it.

The fact of the matter is that Lucky’s never had anyone teach him how to stand up for himself.  The closest thing he’s ever had are his dreams — dreams in which he stalks through the jungles of Laos where his grandfather is a prisoner of war.  In the jungles, Lucky can be a hero instead of a victim.  He can draw a bead on the enemy and he can get even.

In Arizona, Lucky lifts weights with his uncle.  He learns how it feels to push himself until he aches.  Lucky also meets a model who is acting in the Vagina Dialogues.  At first, Lucky thinks the play is just plain weird.  Cool, but weird.  But as he listens to their lines and examines the messages hanging in the lobby, he sees the hidden message about taking back your power.  Is it a message he can take with him back into his world?

Confession time — I had a ton of work to do the day I picked this book up.  I managed to read a chapter before everyone went to work/school.  I picked the book up again as I ate breakfast.  And I read.  And I read.  And I read.  I didn’t stop until I had read the entire book.  Some parts, I read twice.


Its no surprise that the ALA names this book one of 2012’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults.  King connects themes of physical and emotional torture, freedom vs imprisonment and honor in a deeply moving story.

In spite of the lower reading level, this book has very mature themes.  Some of the bullying is sexual in nature.  It is all brutal.  That said, this book should be required reading for teachers and administrators as well as students.

King has created a masterpiece.



February 14, 2012

Alien Investigation by Kelly Milner Halls

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:29 am by suebe2

Alien Investigation: Searching for the Truth about UFOs and Aliens
by Kelly Milner Halls

UFOs.  Aliens.  Mention either one and you’ve got the attention of many a boy reader and more than a few of the girls as well and author Kelly Milner Halls has served up a great read for grade school readers interested in exploring this topic.

Halls has divided her text into chapters on the space craft themselves, crashes and landings, what the aliens look like and hoaxes of various kinds.  Not surprisingly, Roswell takes up a healthy amount of space but there was also information on much more recent sightings in places like Rendlesham Forest, UK (1980), Needles, CA (2008) and Ruwa, Zimbabwe (1994).

Young readers will probably find the account at Ruwa most interesting as the witnesses were not military personal like in Rendlesham Forest but a group of school children.

The text is illustrated with some photos, children’s drawings and a variety of artist’s renderings.  There are also interviews with a  variety of experts ranging from eye witnesses to aerospace engineers.

My favorite quote?  “A person couldn’t fly from New York, New York to San Francisco, California in 1900 because the technology for flight hadn’t been developed, not because (it was against) the laws of physics.”  Stanton Friedman, physicist.

What’s missing?  Halls has left out the mention of alien abductions, but this makes perfect sense given that the books’ intended audience is as young as 10 years-old.  Halls wants to educate young readers on this topic and leave them curious, not frightened.  There is definitely enough information here to lead young readers to continue exploring this curious topic.


February 9, 2012

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Bantam Dell
AR 6.6

Flavia de Luce is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison.  Never mind that she’s only 11 years-old.  She’s got a fully equipped chemistry laboratory and library — thanks to Uncle Tar de Luce who outfitted it with all of the best glass and brass work.  Here Flavia duplicates the works of earlier chemists and tries out a few tricks of her own — just what concentration of poison ivy must one introduce to a lipstick to reek havoc on a dreadful sister’s lips?

One evening, her family finds a dead snipe on the kitchen door step.  Unpleasant?  Yes, but not enough so to warrant her father’s pale, shaky response.  And what does it mean?  The stamp skewered on the bird’s beak?

That night she hears her father arguing with someone in his study.  When she is caught eavesdropping by their servant, he warns her to stay out of things and sends her to her room.

Early in the morning, something wakes Flavia up and she makes her way down to the garden.  There she finds a not-quite-dead body sprawled amid the cucumbers.  Who is he and what brought about his untimely end?  And what secrets are all of the adults hiding?

While this isn’t a children’s or juvenile novel, the 11-year-old protagonist will delight bright young readers.  Flavia is, first and foremost, a world class mind.  She’s precocious and lives by her own rules — a bit Artemis Fowl in that way although Flavia is more unconventional than a true anti-hero.

A quick read, this book will appeal to girls who love science and mysteries as well as kids in general who fancy themselves the heroes their families, and the world in general, so desperately need.



February 6, 2012

The Seventh Level by Jody Feldman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:40 am by suebe2

The Seventh Level
by Jody Feldman

Travis Raines has a knack for getting into trouble.  Its not like he’s a bad kid or anything — he’d never do anything to hurt anyone else.  But he’s an active, strong minded 7th grader and when he sees something that needs doing, he does it.

When someone throw his best friend’s autographed ball cap out the window and it gets caught on a nail?  Naturally, Travis heads up to the roof and knocks the cap free.  Its just his rotten luck that the assistant principal shows up.

Now she’s keeping an eye on him and that’s bad because she isn’t the only one watching Travis.  A secret school society, known as the Legend, has issued Travis a series of challenges.  Pass them and he’s in.  But how can he hang a banner, drop things in an unused locker and dig up some plantings without getting in trouble?  Slowly but surely Travis starts to wonder if the Legend isn’t the only one dropping challenges off for him to complete.  And what if some of these challenges lead to  nothing but trouble?

This is an excellent book for anyone who loves a good puzzle.  Some of them are numeric.  Others are word based.  But all in all they are great fun and a huge challenge.  I managed to figure out all but one.

Then there’s the mystery.  Who’s in the Legend?  And if the Legend isn’t issuing all of the challenges, who is behind the others?  As Travis unravels this one, he learns that people aren’t always who you think they are.  You have to know the story behind the story.

This book is a great boy book — lots of action and suspense.  But with a strong female character, and all of those great puzzles, this is also a book that go-get-’em girls would love.

Feldman has done it again.  Pick up this book and puzzle through it with the tween in your life.


February 1, 2012

Blackout by John Rocco

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:06 am by suebe2

by John Rocco

Its a typical night amid the hustle and bustle of New York City until . . .  pop, pop, pop . . . out go the lights.

Soon it is too hot to stay inside and people head out.  Some of them climb up to the roof where people are BBQ-ing  in the star light.  Others wander down to street level where vendors are handing out ice cream before it can melt and people are playing music on their stoops.  Up or down, people are gathered together.

This is a great together time book for cuddling and reading on the sofa or the glider.  The text is ultra simple, probably not much over 100 words in length but it tells the story beautifully.  One little boy wants someone to play a game with him, but everyone in his family is busy doing other things, each in a separate room, until the power goes out and brings them all together.

If you’ve ever experienced an outage, you’ll recognize that feeling in this book. Instead of sitting inside, air conditioners humming away, everyone heads out.  Neighbors cluster together chatting, kids play and everyone looks up at the sky.

If you’ve never experienced an outage, you can still experience the together time when you share this book with a special child in your life.


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