March 29, 2012

The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:15 am by suebe2

The Hunchback Assignments
by Arthur Slade
Wendy Lamb Books

Modo doesn’t know who his parents were.  In fact, he only knows three people — Mrs. Finchley, his governess and tutor; Mr. Socrates, his guardian; and Tharpa who trained him in self-defense and martial arts.  His whole world revolves around the handful of rooms in which he’s spent his fourteen years . . .

Until the day Mr. Socrates takes him outside and abandons him in the streets of London.  The purpose — to see if he has what it takes to not only survive but to thrive.

Before long, Moto has set himself up as a finder of lost things, traveling the rooftops and disguising himself as needed.  For the power of disguise may be Moto’s greatest talent, molding his face, limbs and body into any form for a matter of hours.  Its painful, reshaping bone, and Moto relies on his masks as much as possible for he is hideously deformed — a fact Mr. Socrates makes sure he is painfully aware of.

And then he meets another trainee — the beautiful, resourceful Octavia Milkweed.  Can the two truly be friends if he cannot let her see who he really is? Even Mr. Socrates has warned him to hide  his true appearance.

But soon the two are tracking down something truly twisted and evil.  Someone is kidnapping orphans and poor working children, implanting bolts in their shoulders and feeding them a formula that turns them half raging animal.  What can be the purpose?

When Octavia and Moto find the children and learn what is going on, Mr. Socrates orders them to abandon the youngsters.  Will Moto do it or will he die trying to save children who, like he and Octavia, must struggle to survive?

Slade has created an awesome steampunk adventure for middle grade readers.  Both boys and girls will find something to love in this story with both a brave young hero and a gutsy heroine.  And, the fact that the two young people have a stronger sense of right and wrong than the adults?  That will simply be the icing on the cake.

Check out the book trailer (see below) for a sense of suspense and the dark and dangerous mood.


March 26, 2012

Orchards by Holly Thompson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:11 am by suebe2

by Holly Thompson
Random House
AR 6.5

Just who is to blame when someone who has been bullied takes her life?  This is the question that Holly Thompson asks in this free verse novel.

Our narrator is Kana Goldberg, half-Japenese and half-Jewish American.  After a classmate hangs herself in another classmate’s orchard, a suicide note is found implicating a group of 8th grade girls, including Kana. As a result, summer plans are upended as the adults find someplace for each of these girls to spend their summer.  Kana is sent to stay with her aunt, uncle, cousins and grandmother in Japan.

In Japan, Kana finds herself in a world where she doesn’t quite fit in.  She’s simply not Japanese enough — not even her ample butt which her grandmother comments on almost daily.

Each and every day, Kana wonders what she should have done differently back at home.  When she sees a Japanese classmate being bullied (she’s arrived in Japan with a month of school left and gets to spend part of her summer vacation in classes), she decides to intervene.  Instead of being grateful, the other girl brushes her off and Kana is no longer the fascinating visitor from America.  She is simply tolerated.

Ironically enough, Kana’s family owns an orchard and this is where she spends large parts of her summer, tending trees and getting to know her cousin, Koichi.  It isn’t the orchard Koichi loves as much as it is the equipment that he gets to tinker with and he is soon issuing her challenges.  “What is the best way to do this?  How can we more efficiently do that?”

All the while, Kana is learning the Japanese traditions for honoring the dead, including her grandfather who died three years earlier.  She makes offerings, lights incense and helps her grandmother in countless tasks — not because she necessarily understands them but because it is the right thing to do.

I’m not going to discuss the plot any more because I don’t want to ruin the ending, suffice it to say that this story is depressingly realistic, but the way it is handled is appropriate for a middle grade audience.  While numerous books discuss “boy bullying,” I haven’t seen nearly as many that feature the less physical girl version.

Kana was initially a little hard to sympathize with but that’s probably because I am the Mom of a tween.  Can you say, “I want to pick her up and shake some sense into her”?  But her attitudes were irritatingly realistic and, initially, self-serving.

The free verse format makes for a quick read that will pull in young readers and hopefully make some of them think about how they act and react with their classmates.

A must read for middle schoolers and those who work with them.



March 23, 2012

Wisdom: The Midway Albatross by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Kitty Harvill

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:49 am by suebe2

Wisdom: The Midway Albatross
by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Kitty Harvill
Mims House

Wisdom was the oldest living wild bird.  How do we know?  Because a scientist placed a band on her leg in 1956.  In 2002, a new group of scientists caught Wisdom and read her tag.  They knew that she was at least 51 years old.

Wisdom had survived sharks and fishing lines, thunderstorms and hurricanes, and the plastics that kill some birds when eaten.  But there was more.

Wisdom was on Midway atoll in 2011 when an earthquake struck off the shore of Japan.  A tsunami raced towards Midway.  Scientists took shelter on high ground but they didn’t know if Wisdom and the nest with her chick in it were on high enough ground to survive.

The wave swept across the atoll.

Scientists found the nest and the chick but for 8 days they didn’t know what had happened to Wisdom.  Finally, she was seen feeding her chick.

When so much in this world is scary and dangerous, this is an uplifting tale of survival.  Children will identify with this bird — smaller than the many things that threaten her, vulnerable yet tenacious.

I read this as a Kindle e-book using Kindle for the PC.  I would recommend buying this book in paperback format vs an e-book.  As an e-book, the images in two page spreads are separated by about an inch of white space diluting the power of vast waves and wide-spread ocean.

This is an excellent picture book for nature lovers, both young and old.



March 19, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:30 am by suebe2

The Apothecary
by Maile Meloy
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Janie Scott is busy practicing her Katherine Hepburn walk when she notices a black car following her down the street.  Even in Hollywood, its obvious when a car moves at a snail’s pace to keep an eye on a casually strolling girl.

As upset as her parents are, Janie is shocked that they are more angry than surprised.  In fact, they seem to know exactly who it was that was following her — The American Government.

Its the 1950s and this is the beginning of the Cold War.  Janie’s parents have managed to get the whole family on “The List” and must now flee to England.

Hollywood made have been strange, but at least Janie knew what was what.  Here she has to study maths and Latin and she’s pretty much completely lost.

Before long she makes friends with Benjamin, a cute, brassy chess player who has no qualms about telling the teachers and staff that their bomb drills are absolutely pointless.  The next thing Janie knows, she and Ben are hiding in his cellar, listening to a group of thugs ransack his father’s apothecary shop and trying to figure out where to hide a mystery book of spells.

I don’t want to say a lot more about this because I don’t want to completely spoil the entire plot.  Once it gets rolling, this story is full of action and intrigue and a bit of romance too.  Still, it is perfectly suitable for its middle grade audience — this is light 1950’s on-screen romance.

It takes a while before the fantasy element comes into play but I think Harry Potter pretty well showed us all that readers can move from dozens of pages of straight fiction into a marvelous fantasy world if you just give them a fantastic train to get them from one place to another.

Meloy doesn’t give us a train, she gives us wings.

Young readers won’t have a clue who Katherine Hepburn was, but there are enough references to Nazi’s and World War II to anchor the book in history with which they will have at least a passing familiarity.

This book is complex enough to appeal to advanced middle graders readers who may not be ready for older teen or adult content.  And just in case some visual will help, see the trailer below.


March 16, 2012

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:52 am by suebe2

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed
by Mo Willems
AR 2.8

How on earth can anyone make naked mole rats funny?  When I learned that Willems had a book on the topic, I knew he would try, but would he succeed?  True confession:  Naked mole rats  kind of creep me out.

Or at least they did.

In Willems’ world, there are three things you need to know about naked mole rats:

  1. They are a little bit rat.
  2. They are a little bit mole.
  3. They are all naked . . . with one exception.

Wilbur, you see, is a misfit among naked mole rats.  He actually enjoys getting dressed.  Now, there really isn’t much funny about a naked mole rat in a suit, but the humor comes on strong when the other naked mole rats react.  Honestly, imagine how people react to nudity and you’ve got the picture.



“What are you doing?”

“Naked mole rats don’t wear clothes!”

To this, Wilbur has only one response.  “Why not?”

The other naked mole rats are so disturbed by Wilbur’s refusal to do things the right, appropriate and obviously moral way, that they go tattle to Grand-pah.  (Seriously, I think I know  these little rats.)

When Grand-pah announces that he will make a proclamation, Wilbur knows things have gotten very serious.  He debates wearing a suit, a Zoro-like hero outfit, and a cowboy outfit. Finally, he decides to be like the other naked mole rats or at least as close as he can tolerate.

The crowd is so put off by Wilbur’s inability to get it right even now that they don’t notice Grand-pah’s arrival.  Grand-pah, you see, has been converted.

Willems brings his trademark humor to yet another picture book.  He doesn’t preach.  He doesn’t lecture, yet kids will definitely learn a few things about diversity and not getting worked up about the things that make each of us unique, especially if these things don’t harm anyone else.

This book may not have the action that we are told to look for in a book for reluctant readers but a lot of kids will love the humor in naked animals vs clothed animals and the human behavior of the naked mole rats.

Now, who can I buy this for?



March 13, 2012

Should I Share My Ice Cream by Mo Willems

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

Should I Share My Ice Cream: An Elephant & Piggie Book
by Mo Willems

Willems brilliantly simple illustrations easily show Elephant’s joy at encountering an ice cream cart on a hot day.  But then Elephant thinks of Piggie and things get complex very quickly.

Piggie loves ice cream but Piggie isn’t there.

Should Elephant find Piggie and over to share?  Or should Elephant simply eat the yummy treat.  Its not like Piggie will ever know.  But what if Piggie is someplace sad and lonely?  Ice cream would cheer Piggie up.

Elephant hems and haws.  Elephant waffles.  And, the reader sees it coming in the illustrations, Elephant’s ice cream melts and falls with a sickening splat.

Now Elephant is sad and alone with no ice cream.

Fortunately, along comes Piggie who just happens to have an ice cream cone — an ice cream cone to share.

As a beginning reader, both Willems text and illustrations are deceptively simple.  In its depths, this is a story about friendship.  Sometimes,  when you are a friend, you give comfort.  Other times, you take it even though you may not feel like you deserve it.

Because the text is so simple, the emotional depth comes through the illustrations.  Elephant is clearly joyful, thoughtful, hesitant, worried, sneaky, determined, sorrowful, and so very grateful.

This is an excellent choice for a new reader, an ice cream lover, or someone who simply adores Elephant & Piggie.


March 9, 2012

Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:18 am by suebe2

Circus Galacticus
by Deva Fagan
AR 4.2

Trix wants to believe her parents.  After all, who doesn’t want to be special?  But she’s seriously starting to believe that her parents lied.  She’s not special.  She’s just a freak who doesn’t fit in.

Since her parent’s death, Trix has been a scholarship student at the exclusive Bleeker Academy and she’s very lucky to be there.  Just ask Headmistress Primwell.

But Trix doesn’t feel lucky especially when, following a run-in with one of the popular girls, Primwell bans her from the upcoming gymnastics competition.  Gymnastics is the one thing Trix feels truly good at and, if she can’t compete, she can’t earn a college scholarship.

So what does she have to loose when Circus Galacticus comes to town and she finds a message at the bottom of one of the posters.

“Feeling alone?  Misunderstood?  Strange things happening?  We have answers! Visit the Hall of Mirrors and find your True Self!” 

In the Hall of Mirrors, Trix inadvertently slips through one of the mirrors.  She finds herself “backstage” in the circus where she quickly learns that each of the performers has a special talent.  Some of them are stunning, ranging from being able to reduce gravity to being able to ghost through solid objects, while others seem a bit ho hum.  What, after all, is the value of being able to give off a wide variety of odors?  Still even that seems more special than the one thing that sets Trix apart.  Her hair has turned shocking pink.  That’s it.  Pink hair.

But all is not well at the circus.  They are being pursued by the same strange figures Trix saw lurking outside her dorm the night before she disappeared.  The race is on.  Will Trix discover who she is and what abilities she holds in time to save everyone she has come to care for?

Fagan has created a wildly complex world that fantasy fans will love.  From a space craft that actually lives to an ancient technologically advanced, but now extinct civilization, mysteries abound.  But there is also love in the air as Trix connects with those around her.


March 7, 2012

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:51 pm by suebe2

ImageHappy Pig Day! (An Elephant & Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Hyperion Books

Pig just can’t wait to share the fun with his buddy, Elephant.  Today is the best day ever — it is Pig Day.  What can you expect to do on Pig Day?  Sing Pig songs, play pig games and eat pig foods.  Basically, have a great time.

But when a sounder of swine shows up (that’s a group of pigs!), Elephant feels left out and goes off to have a good mope.  Fortunately, Pig is a good friend and asks what is wrong.

The big reveal?  (I am so trying not to ruin the plot twist here.)  Pig Day is for Everyone!

As always, Willems has created a fun read-aloud in which young readers will clearly see themselves.  Who hasn’t felt left out?  Who hasn’t accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings?

Don’t read this paragraph if you’re worried about plot spoilers.  As much as I love Elephant and Pig, I wish that something a bit different had been done with the twist.  I don’t like that other characters had to appear to be something that they aren’t (pigs).  In Willem’s defense, very few young readers (this book is targeted to ages 4 to 8) would get that out of it.  They would simply think, “Dress up!  What fun!”

And it is a fun book and can easily spark a series of discussions with your young reader.  What does it take to be a good friend?  What do we celebrate?  Why were they disguised as pigs?

Give this one to your young reader and see what they have to say.


March 2, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:50 am by suebe2

by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends Publisher
AR 5.7

Once upon a time . . .

It is absolutely no secret.  I am a complete sucker for retold tales but most retellings are historic fantasy or contemporary.

Meyer has created a science fiction retelling of Cinderella in Cinder, book 1 of the 4 book Lunar Chronicles series.

Cinder is a gifted mechanic and its a good thing too because Cinder is a cyborg with problems.  In fact, she’s busy replacing a too small foot when we meet her, but her problems are about to get much bigger than a wonky prosthetic limb.

A deadly plague is sweeping Earth and we aren’t very deep into the story before Cinder’s step-sister succumbs.  All plague victims are carted off to be warehoused until they die.  After all, there is no cure.

But what if there was?  That’s the carrot that the evil Lunar queen holds out.  She’s a stunning beauty who is ruthlessly determined to rule the Earth and the easiest way to gain a foot hold is to marry a prince.

Unfortunately, she’s picked the prince Cinder loves.

I don’t want to say any more about the plot because I want you to read the book.  Suffice it to say that there is romance, intrigue and more than a little suspense.

This would be a good book for middle graders in that the mature themes aren’t dealt with in graphic detail but they are there.  What would it be like to marry someone you hate?  Who wants you dead?  What is it like to live in fear of people knowing who or what you are?  And what would you do to cover it up?

Definitely a must read for all girls who love science fiction and strong heroines. Now, I just have to wait until the next one comes out . . .


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