July 30, 2012

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:42 am by suebe2

See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press
AR 3.6

Have you ever started a novel thinking that your main character was going to be dealing with Problem X only to have Problem Y come galloping to the forefront?  That’s basically what happened with See You at Harry’s.

Fern feels invisible.   Sometimes it really bothers here — like when her three-year-old brother hogs all of Mom’s attention.  But sometimes invisibility is a good thing especially when Dad is cooking up a new idea to publicize Harry’s, the family restaurant.

From an ad featuring horrible t-shirts and her lisping little brother to his messy-faced image on the side of the restaurant’s delivery truck, Fern is sure her Dad’s ideas are designed to embarrass.  At times like that, invisibility is almost okay.

But then she starts riding the bus to school with her older brother.  She and Holden are super close and she doesn’t get it when he tells her not to sit next to him on the bus.  “Act like you don’t even know me.”  Fern can’t figure out what is going on until she watches two boys flick cuff her brother’s ears and make kissing noises at him.   Holden isn’t exactly out of the closet but Fern can’t figure out why the bus driver doesn’t do a thing.  When the boys decide to pick on her, Fern takes matters into her own hands and punches one of them in the nose.

But this isn’t a book about bullying or being gay.  It’s a book about being who you are, accepting your strengths and your weaknesses and managing to love and respect yourself in spite of all that baggage.

I’m hesitant to say much more about the plot because what happens is just to horrible and a huge surprise.

That said, this is a truly amazing book.  Sad, yes.  But amazing.

In spite of the low reading level (AR 3.6) this is not a grade school book.  There isn’t any on-screen sex and there really isn’t even any explicit talk about sex but there is a lot that is implied.  It doesn’t happen but various characters worry about what might happen or what could happen.

This is definitely a must read.  There is so much about tragedy, fitting in, accepting yourself, accepting others and knowing that we all have limits.  Thank you to Jo Knowles — so many of these scenes had to be really hard to write but she had the guts to put down the story that had to be told.  I just hope you have the guts to share it.


July 23, 2012

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:09 am by suebe2

Eye of the Storm
by Kate Messner
Walker and Company
AR 4.8

Jaden lives in a not-too-distant future plagued by monstrous storms.  They come up so fast and so frequently that children are no longer allowed to ride bikes, many kids are home schooled and storm shelters can be found every 15 miles along the highway.  Museums have been closed down so their treasures can be safeguarded underground and arts performances must be small enough to house everyone in a shelter.  In fact, one of the primary functions of the handheld computers that everyone carries with them is to issue storm warnings.

So its a completely different world for Jaden when she goes to spend the summer with her father, a scientist who specializes in storms and tornadoes.  She hasn’t seen him in several years and will be staying with him and his new wife and baby daughter.  As if that wasn’t strange enough, kids in the town of Placid Meadows not only ride bikes but the littlest ones also chant anti-tornado rhymes on the playground.

Their exclusive community is guaranteed storm-safe — it says so in the paperwork.  Jaden can’t believe it until she sees it for herself — a massive storm heading for the community seems to shift directions and head away, building up speed and ferocity as it moves away from her new home.

At summer science camp, Jaden meets some of the local kids, including two boys who live outside Placid Meadows.  Where her new home may be safe, the local farmers have been plagued with week after week of storms, more than ever before.  Jaden and one of these boys jump at the opportunity to work with the storm simulator and devise ways to use satellites to short circuit storms before they can launch deadly tornadoes.

When none of their simulations works, they decide to collect raw data from a new storm.  As they explore the data from various storms, they realize that what they are seeing local duplicates of some of the worst storms in history, storms that have taken place all over the world.  It seems that someone has learned to manipulate storms and is sending them toward the local farms.

Girls will be drawn to this book because of Jaden, a smart, spunky heroine who doesn’t take no for an answer.  Boys may not be thrilled with the jr. romances (hand holding and a few kisses, nothing more) but they will love the action and the storms.  A great choice for any young reader who loves science or adventure.

This book would be an excellent jumping off point for a discussion on scientific ethics and just how much people should mess with nature — the author presents information on genetically modified foods as well as the various information on weather and storms.

A fast moving book sure to pull young readers in and leave them asking questions about how we as a society use our scientific knowledge.


July 16, 2012

Cornered: 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza

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

14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance
by Rhoda Belleza
Running Press

Some bullies use fists and feet as their weapons.  Others rely on words, sharp as knives.  It can also take place anywhere — at school or at home or out on the street.  That’s probably why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

But it’s also why book like this are so important.

I won’t lie to you.  This is a tough read.  It may surprise you that the hardest ones to read are often about the bullies themselves.  In part, this is because the authors bring so much empathy to their stories and their characters.  Its painful enough when the main character is the one who is bullied. It is almost unendurable when the main character is the violent one, the bully who is acting out against someone else.

Editor Rhoda Belleza has pulled together a wide range of stories by top writers.  By far my favorite is “Nemesis” by Kirsten Miller in which a girl uses e-media to stop the bullying.  This isn’t a simple story of bullies getting their just desserts because, in  the end, the main character  has to make a choice.  Do you stop someone from being bullied if you have a rock solid reason to wish them ill?

Brendan Halpin’s story, “How Auto-Tune Saved My Life,” is another favorite.  Why?  Because it deals with an all-too-common reality, academic bullying.   Jennifer Brown’s “But Not Forgotten” deals with the hell of suicide.

This is an excellent book for teens but I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers.  Yes, they too have to deal with bullying but as a Mom I just can’t see turning a tween loose with some of these stories.   They are just that gut wrenching, but then again maybe that was because I am a Mom.  It happens.

This would make an excellent choice for sparking off discussions on this vary difficult topic.  I’m saving it for my thirteen year-old to read when he’s a bit older.  It isn’t a depressing book — it is actually full of hope.  But it is still a very difficult book to read.  Worthwhile, but difficult.


July 9, 2012

In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:03 am by suebe2

In Our Mothers’ House
by Patricia Polacco
AR 4.3

Patricia Polacco was inspired to write this book by the teary question of one young reader.  “Mrs. Polacco,” asked the girl, “are you ever going to write about us?”  Earlier in the day, the students had been reading essays aloud.  The essays were about their families.  When this little girl started to read from her own essay she was stopped by an aide who told her that she didn’t come from a real family and needed to sit down.

Like the little girl who spoke to Polacco, the narrator of this story comes from a somewhat unconventional family.  She and her sister and brother have all been adopted by two moms.  Meema was a pediatrician while Marmee was a paramedic.  The house bustled with the smells of food cooking and the sounds of music playing and laughter.  Family and friends gathered there for meals and chatter.

Marmee also organized the neighborhood block party with all of its games and activities and food.  Every family celebrated their heritage and their connection to each other.

Every family but one.

Unlike the majority of Polacco’s books, this one centers not on a character and a plot but growing up in a loving community and family and I would like to take this time to thank her for writing it. Clearly, Polacco knows what makes a family and a community strong.  She also knows the importance of books in the lives of children who need to see themselves and the families they live in represented in print.

Whether you are one of two moms or dads, the parent of a curious child, or simply wanting to share the idea of tolerance with your children, pick up this book.  You won’t regret it.


July 2, 2012

Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:43 am by suebe2

Minette’s Feast
by Susanna Reich,
illustrated by Amy Bates

How do you make someone like Julia Child accessible to children?  Simple.  Just connect her to something that children  find sympathetic.  Author Susanna Reich does this by telling the reader about Minette, Julia Child’s Parisian cat.

When they  moved to Paris, Julia Child and her husband wandered the cobblestone streets, visiting shops, spotting tiny courtyards and having many fine meals.  Yet something was missing from their lives until they were adopted by an energetic cat with a lovely speckled coat.

Like many a Parisian, Minette had very fine taste in food and something out of a can simply would not do.  How to solve this problem?   Minette had her own solution —

“What a thrill to pounce on an unsuspecting bird!  How delightful the crunch of a fresh-caught mouse. . .”

Not that that was all she was given.  She was offered bits of her peoples’ lunch or freshly cooked fish heads, but “mouse and bird were really much preferred.

While Child’s buys her knife set, studies cooking at the Cordon Bleu and becomes a gourmet cook, Minette continues to stalk the mice that plague the apartment.

In this brief picture book, Reich captures not only Child’s love for food and entertaining but also the playful, finicky nature of Minette.  While the book won’t tell a young reader everything there is to know about Child’s it is enough to whet the appetite and leave the reader hungry for the next course.

This book would also make an excellent gift for the adult in your life who is nuts for Julia Child.   In addition to listing the sources for all dialogue found in the book, the author’s note also gives sources for the various facts and a pronunciation guide for all French terms.

Bon appetit!


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