May 28, 2012

Croak by Gina Damico

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:02 am by suebe2

by Gina Damico

Lex isn’t sure why she’s so angry all the time — sure, its easy to believe the stupidity of those around her but even she has to question the rage that leaves the entire hockey team quivering in fear.  The only person who sticks up for her anymore is her twin sister, Cordy, and even Cordy doesn’t understand.

So its no great surprise when Lex’s parents have had enough but no one sees their solution coming.  They are shipping her off for the summer to live her Uncle Mort.  Lex vaguely remembers meeting her uncle — about 10 years ago — and he regularly sends her gifts.

When she gets off the bus in upstate New York, she’s greeted by a crazed looking man on a motorcycle.  Granted, he looks kind of cool, but seriously, whose dumb enough to get on a motorcycle with a crazy guy out in the middle of no where?

As you no doubt expect, this is Uncle Mort who is far from the ho hum farmer Lex has been expecting.  Nope.  Mort is actually a grim reaper and he’s ready to train Lex in all of the tricks of the trade.

I can’t say a whole lot more about the book without giving away far too much.  Lex has an amazing sassy voice but she’s met her match for both audacity and quirkiness in her genius scientist biker grim reaper uncle.

Damico has created a fun cast of characters, trouble makers all.   In fact, every one is so off beat that its the “normal and responsible” people who cause most of the trouble.

This would make a great summer read for both tween and teens.  Yes, there is death (they’re reapers, people!) and some serious snogging but the details are vague enough not to be offensive or suggestive.

Pick this up and be ready for some deadly fun.


May 24, 2012

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:41 am by suebe2

The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
AR 5.8

Victoria Jones is unprepared when she turns 18 years-old.  As a foster child living in a group home, this marks the day that she begins her adult life.  She has several months in a transitional home to find a job and a place to live.

All Victoria knows is flowers.  Not only can she name most every flower she sees, she knows the meaning behind the flowers.

After spending some time sleeping in a park, Victoria uses her knowledge to get a job with a florist.  Normally, Victoria helps purchase and arrange the  flowers for weddings but when her employer is making a delivery Victoria puts together a bouquet for a regular customer to give to his daughter.

Unlike their normal arrangements, Victoria ignores the looks of the flowers and chooses them instead based on their meanings.  When the bouquet actually changes his relationship with his distant daughter, the man comes back for more and starts referring people specifically to Victoria.

Victoria may know flowers but she doesn’t know people, including herself.   While she’s able to help other people find love, because of her childhood, it continues to elude Victoria until she learns a few choice life lessons.

I’m hesitant to say anything more about the plot of this book because there are twists and turns I don’t want to ruin.  I also don’t want to ruin the horrible awful suspense the reader will feel toward the end of the book.  I was so sure that Victoria was about to do something truly awful, truly unforgivable.

This is definitely not a feel good book but it is hopeful.  Happiness may well be within Victoria’s reach but she will have to work, and work hard, to catch it.

Technically, this is an adult title but Victoria is a character that many teens will identify with — she has been failed by the adults in her life from foster parents to her social worker and her teachers.  She doesn’t trust anyone, including herself.  But she’s smart and she’s caring — its just that people are often more than she can handle.

Although the reading level is low enough for a middle grade student, content is more appropriate for teens who will engage with this story of a young woman trying to find her place in the world.  There is some profanity as well as onscreen sex (onscreen but not explicit).   And not all of the adults in this story are beyond hope but they are all human and, thus, are flawed.

This would be a good book for a teen who reads a bit below level.  Of course, its also an excellent book for adults.

Happy Reading!



May 21, 2012

Candy Bomber by Michael O. Tunnell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

Candy Bomber:
The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot”
by Michael O. Tunnell
AR 7.2

The German children came to know him as Onkel Wackelflluger (Uncle Wiggly Wings) or Der Schokoladen-flieger (The Chocolate Pilot).  Lt. Gail Halvorsen was the young pilot who launched operation Little Vittles.

When Soviet Russia created the blockade to starve the people of Berlin into submission, the US was among the countries who flew food and other needed supplies into Berlin.  Halvorsen was one of the US pilots assigned to this task.

He was so impressed with the gratitude of the German children that he decided to drop a gift, chocolate and any other candy he could gather, directly to the children.

He then collected chocolate rations from his crew and rigged little parachutes.  When he flew over, he rocked his plane, wiggling the wings, so the children would know who was coming.

Halvorsen didn’t intend for this to be much more than a few drops.  After all, it wasn’t sanctioned by his superiors.  But they knew a good thing when they heard about it and soon he was speaking at a press conference.    This brought donations from individuals and companies throughout the US.

What’s the big deal with candy?  To the besieged Berliner’s it was more than gum or chocolate.  It was hope.  It was knowing that people outside were thinking of them and of their children.  For one father, the chocolate bar he found on the roof of his home was the only birthday gift he could give his son.  Remember, many Berliners were still living in bombed out buildings.

Halvorsen and the Americans made such a huge impact that when Berlin hosted the Olympics in 2002, they invited General Halvorsen to lead their athletes in the opening parade.

I picked this book up because it was recommended to me.  As much as I love chocolate, I really wasn’t sure it would catch my attention.  I read it in one sitting, only getting up to chase my husband and son around the house and read parts of it to them.

If you have a child who is interested in history and World War II, this book is in excellent choice.  It is a tightly written fast read.

Do pay attention to the reading level.  It isn’t so much the text as it is the concepts — this isn’t just about free chocolate, but so much more.





May 17, 2012

Blue Chicken, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:04 am by suebe2

Blue Chicken
written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman
AR 1.2

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.  In this case, the cat is the illustrator and the mouse?  A chicken who just wants to help.

The illustrator is away from her work when one of the chickens in the painting decides that today is the perfect day for painting the barn.  Chicken decides to help.

Instead of successfully painting the barn, she tips a pot of blue paint that soon turns the ground, the pansies, the ducklings, the cat,  the cow and more a vibrant shade of blue.  Chicken runs for help but what can she do?  Is there anyway to undo the blue?

With only 134 words, Blue Chicken is deceptively simple as only a book created by an author/illustrator can be.

Freedman’s illustrations aren’t complex but they clearly convey the shock of the chicken, the joy of the ducklings and more as emotions wash over character and reader alike as the blue paint washes over the page.

Children will easily identify with the chicken who just wanted to help but was too small to handle the paint.  Don’t be surprised when the kids want to discuss what they would have done in the chicken’s place!

This imaginative book will keep readers young and old coming back for more as they study the art, read the text and delight in the fun.



May 14, 2012

Take Me There by Carolee Dean

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

Take Me There
by Carolee Dean
Simon Pulse
AR 4.8

Just a few weeks short of his eighteenth birthday, Dylan already has a criminal past.  He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that his life is heading no where good.  Even when he tries to go legit, trouble seeks him out.

This particular Trouble is named Eight Ball.  He’s the head of a gang, and not just any gang.  This gang runs the chop shop that stole a car involved in a homicide.  Dylan was working in the shop when the cops arrived.

But Dylan has good reason to go legit.  He’s met an amazing girl, Jess.  Jess has the voice of an angel and, unlike his teachers or his uncle, she can see the good in Dylan.  Like his reading tutor, she believes in him.

Not surprisingly, Dylan has a reading tutor because (drumroll) . . . he can’t read.  Sure, he can pick out words but by the time he finishes piecing together a passage, the meaning is lost.

He realizes that he’ll never get his GED without this skill but there’s more. Waves of words roll through Dylan’s soul.  In his heart, he’s a poet and he struggles to get his words down, especially when he’s inspired by Jess.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot of this book, because I don’t want to give anything away.  And there is so much to give away.

Dean has created a story that is wonderfully complicated (so many things feed into Dylan’s troubles) but also astonishingly simple.  At the heart of it all is his inability to read.  Without this skill, his options are limited to bad and awful.

Fittingly, this book has a low AR level, perfectly suited to potential teen readers who don’t read at grade level.  But the content is pure YA.  Dylan’s life has been difficult and it doesn’t get any easier in this course of this book.  There is alcohol, violence (not graphic but on camera) and sex (off camera).

This a story about hope, sacrifice and fighting for justice.

It is definitely a book that teens should read but it is also a book that those who work with teens, especially teen boys in trouble, should read.  Dean has a lot to say about the connections between illiteracy and prison.

That said, it was a hard book to read.  Normally, I can finish a book of this length in two or three days.  This one took me five.  I wanted a fairy tale ending and Dean doesn’t pull any punches.

Teens will love her for her honesty.  Adults?  Some will.  Others, not so much.

That in itself says worlds about this book.  YA all the way.



May 10, 2012

Wolfsnail by Sarah C. Campbell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 1:46 am by suebe2

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator
by Sarah C. Campbell
photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Boyds Mills Press
AR 4.4

The text is deceptively simple but a young reader interested in the natural world will be hooked by the opportunity to learn about something so dramatic that can occur in their very own backyard.

Water from a spring rain
runs along the edge
of a porch.
It drips onto the  shell of a wolfsnail.
The snail is tucked inside its shell.

The rain awakens the wolfsnail and it is soon roaming the hostas looking for a handy meal.  Unlike other land snails, wolfsnails don’t eat plants.  They are the only land snail that is a predator — eating other snails and also slugs.  In fact, if the prey it finds is small enough, it devours it shell and all!

Campbell and her husband took the photos for this book and they did an amazing job.  As so often happens with really good photos, I caught myself “reading” the photos and had to go back and read the text.  Their photos are just that good.

You may think that all snails look alike, but if you have wolfsnails  in your area, your child will be able to recognize them after reading this book.  This is a great  study of the natural world and the difference between prey and predator.

Share it with a young nature lover today!



May 7, 2012

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

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

Vulture View
by April Pulley Sayre,
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Henry Holt
AR 1.1

I have to admit it — I’m disgustingly fascinated by turkey vultures.  I love to watch them circle in the sky, rocking back and forth gently in the air currents.  As much as I love to watch them in the air, that’s where my interest stops.  I know what they eat and that’s enough for me.

Still, April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite nonfiction picture book authors and Steve Jenkins is an amazing illustrator so I picked this up to see what they could do with this topic.

The book covers a vulture day from sun up one day to  sun up the next.  It describes how they soar on the air currents (hurrah!) and drink in the various smells on the search for food (apprehension rising).  Not to worry, the book is accurate while being sensitive of the fact that not all readers will be ready for an up-close-and-personal look at vultures dining.

Jenkin’s collage illustrations depict everything from vultures flying to their actual food but do so in a way that isn’t overly detailed or gory.  The book couldn’t be honest and deliver this in any way that would be more gentle.

Hurrah to Jenkins and Sayre for accurately depicting the web of life and showing young readers a bit about an animal that few people know much about.

My favorite illustrations are the silhouettes of roosting vultures against a red evening sky although Jenkins ability to depict fluffy white clouds amazes me.

This is probably more of a boy book than a girl book but it is definitely a worthy ready for any youngster who loves nature.  With a 1.1 AR level it would also be suitable for newly independent readers who still love highly illustrated texts.


May 3, 2012

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

Step Gently Out
by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder
Candlewick Press

Candlewick has put out another amazing nature book withStep Gently Out.

The spare text is a rhyming poem by Helen Frost.  This poem hints at the wonders of nature, specifically the insect world, that you could see if you could simply move quietly enough and look closely enough at the word around you.

Rick Lieder’s amazing photos bring this world alive.  From bees to praying mantis and ants to fireflies, Lieder’s photos capture the grace and beauty of these tiny animals.

For readers who want a bit more information than is delivered in the dreamy text, an author’s note gives details on the animals depicted earlier in the book.

This book would be a great introduction on insect but would also make a nice quiet time book for sitting quietly together in the evening or at bed time.

As much as I enjoyed the text, I found myself having to go back and reread it because I was so mesmerized by the detailed images in the photos, ranging from a dew covered web to a firefly lighting up at night.

Definitely worth sharing with the young nature lover in your life.


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