May 28, 2014
Deep Dark and Dangerous
by Mary Downing Hahn
When the photograph slips out of the old mystery that she’s reading, Ali recognized her mother and her aunt although they were both children in the photo. But the photo has been torn and all that’s left of the third girl is a bit of her arm. Curious, Ali takes the photo to her mother. Mom snatches the photo away and refuses to answer any questions, going to bed with a migraine.
That doesn’t surprise Ali as much as it would some people. Her mother, a fearful woman who worries contantly, has frequent migraines. But when her aunt comes to town and invites Ali to the lake with her for the summer, Ali’s mom melts down again. She doesn’t want Ali at the lake and insists it is a horrible, unpleasant place. How can her mom and her aunt have such different memories the same place? Ali pushes to go and, with her father’s help, heads off for a summer in Maine. She will be in charge of her preschool cousin, Emma, when her aunt is painting in preparation for a big art show.
Sure the weather is a little cloudy and chilly but Ali doesn’t get what her mother disliked so much until she meets Sissy. The blonde girl is closer to Ali’s age of 13 than to Emma but she befriends the younger girl and starts to turn her against her older cousin. Instead of the happy girl who loves stories, Ali is suddenly stuck watching a lying sneak. How is it that Sissy has such a hold over her younger cousin and where does she live? She’s always evasive when Ali asks a question about her home and manages to give Ali the slip somewhere around the old cemetery when the older girl tries to follow her.
Then someone tells Ali about a girl who disappeared the last summer that her aunt and mother spent at the lake as children. Could she be the one in the photo? The one Ali’s mother won’t discuss and her aunt claims not to remember?
Hahn has written a horror story in the old-style sense of the word. This isn’t a story full of blood and gore. Instead it is a mystery full of deep, dark atmosphere. There is obviously something wrong and the question is simple — will Ali figure out what it is before something awful happens?
This is an excellent middle grade novel and middle school readers will definitely identify with Ali who is trying to be mature and responsible but simply can’t keep all of the adults in her life happy.
This might not be the best choice for a young reader who scares easily but this story is not gory although it is spooky in the very best ghost-story tradition. An excellent choice for a summer read.
May 22, 2014
by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends (MacMillan)
Cress lives in a small, oh-so shabby world, aboard a satellite orbitting Earth. She isn’t an Earthen, but a Lunar but the threat she feels comes from the moon. In fact, when she was younger, she used to hide whenever the moon came in sight. Now that’s she’s grown up, she doesn’t do that anymore. The task that she’s been assigned, monitoring Earthen communications and hacking their systems to hide Lunar ships, doesn’t take all of her time so she fills her days listening to, and learning Earthen opera, watching net dramas and dreaming.
Her dreams all revolve around her eventual rescue. Because isn’t that what heros do? They rescue young maidens and set them free. And that would satisfy both her dreams — freedom from this wretched satelite and companionship.
When rescue does come, things don’t go entirely as planned. Her Lunar captor pays a surprise visit and by the time its all over, her would-be rescuer has been blinded and needs help from none other than Cress. But is she ready to be a hero?
This is the Third Book in the Lunar Chronicles series. If you haven’t read Cinder or Scarlet yet, it would be a good idea to at least read Cinder. With three strands, one each for Cinder, Scarlet and Cress, the story is growing increasingly complicated. Still really good, but complicated.
Cinder is still trying to save the Prince from the Lunar Queen and Scarlet, who was part of the not-entirely-successful rescue party, has been taken captive. We also get to meet the Lunar Queen’s niece, a young woman who may not be entirely sane. I suspect she will be the head-line character in the next book. In keeping with the Fairy Tale theme Cress is Rapunzel. It is a little less obvious than Cinder ans Cinderella and Scarlett and Red Riding Hood but read the book and it will click.
Fans of earlier books will want to pick this one up and get a look at Luna and Lunar society. I almost said that they would enjoy getting to read about Lunar society, but in all honesty there isn’t a lot to enjoy. They’re the kind of people who would imprison a girl for years-on-end in a satilite.
These books are hard to classify. They have kind of a steampunk feel in that they are that tech oriented and gritty although they are clearly set in the near future and not the Victorian past. Still , they have that gritty feel of steampunk.
Although there are as many male characters as female, the romance element will most likely appeal more the girls than boys although this is not a girly book.
This is a great choice for summer reading with its fast pace. Pick it up and get to know these fascinating characters and their world.
May 19, 2014
Say Hello Like This
by Mary Murphy
Looking for a fun read aloud for a young crowd? Pick up Mary Murphy’s Say Hello Like This.
“A dog hello is licky and loud . . .” Murphy begins. Truly, you know what’s coming. You turn the half page for a chorus of happy barks, licking tongues and wagging tales.
Murphy introduces young readers to a host of animals from dogs and cats to birds and beetles. The first spread featuring each beastie gives some hint what this hello will look, sound or feel like. The reader then turns a half page for a full-view of this animal’s version of hello.
It is a short, simple book with much of the suspense and the drama coming through the book design and these half pages that are both unusual and fun. Murphy’s ink and watercolor illustrations add to the light-hearted cartoony feel of the book.
Warning: This is not a quiet bed time book. This isn’t even going to be one of your more sedate read-alouds because, I predict, that you will soon have a chorus of ribbits, clucks and hee-haws and your young listeners jump in and participate.
This book’s construction is sturdier than your typical picture book so it will stand up to eager young hands who want to join in with this silly, boisterious concept book.
May 15, 2014
A Thirst for Home:
A Story of Water across the World
by Christine Ieronimo
When I saw this book, I assumed it would be about a water program in an African village, perhaps in Ethopia. Instead, I found myself reading a story about Alemitu and her mother and the miles they must walk to find water. And the water they have access to isn’t clean. They are always tired and thirsty and hungry, mostly hungry, but they have each other.
At the watering hole, they would gaze into the water and imagine the cities and worlds that lay on the other side. But always the lion of hunger roared in their bellies.
One day, her mother takes her to a place where she will never be hungry again. She tells Alemitu that she will have the opportunity to see the cities on the other side. Alemitu doesn’t understand where she is but she does understand that she is alone, without her mother to keep her safe. One day, a lady the color of the moon comes and they tell Alemitu that this is her new mother. She cannot understand the woman but the woman stays beside her until she falls asleep. Alemitu again feels safe.
In her new home, she has brothers and a sister and a mom and a dad. She can turn on a tap whenever she wants a drink, and because she no longer has to walk to the water hole, she gets to go to school.
When it rains at night and the drops beat on the roof, she is again scared but this time she crawls into bed between her new parents. She falls asleep safe and sound.
The next morning, she goes outside and finds a puddle. In the puddle, she sees to the other side of the world and her mama smiling at her.
This book isn’t at all what I expected but it is lyrical and poetic and oh so meaningful. I don’t always care for books that promise me one thing and then don’t give it to me, but I couldn’t help but adore this one. In the author’s note, you do find out about water projects.
Eric Velazquez mixed media and oil paintings are as richly colored as the dual worlds in which the main character lives. While in Africa, the colors are often warm yellows and orange and the deepest gold. In the U.S., there is a range of greens and blues as well as touches of the golden colors of Africa.
This is the perfect book for sharing with a group in school or at church. Use it to spark discussions about resources and helping others. And also for cluddling close and just reading together.
May 12, 2014
The Skull in the Rock
by Lee R. Berger and Marc Aronson
National Geographic Books
Are you the kind of person whose gaze can pass over a scene and spot the anamoly? If you have the skill for spotting what is different or what doesn’t belong, than paleoanthropologist Lee Berger wants you (or your young reader) in the field. He’s not overly concerned about who makes the next great find — he just wants to see whatever it is.
Paleoanthropologists look for fossils that belong to the ancestors of mankind. Berger is the scientist credited with finding Australopithicus sediba, but he makes no secret of the fact that it was actually his son Matthew who spotted the bit of bone that turned out to be a sediba clavicle. The skeleton is one of the most complete ever found and of a new species as well.
Berger and Aronson together tell the story of Berger’s childhood, growing up in small town Georgia and collecting every scrap of nature his mother would let him bring into the house. He loved exploring and the thrill of discovery and daring-do, joining the Navy and even saving a woman’s life when he was a news photographer.
When he went into paleobotany, he went into it with the same zeal throwing himself into it but disappointed that his work yielded no major finds. Then he came upon a app called “Google Earth.” With it he surveyed the South African countryside that he already knew so well, knew but had never seen from the air. Soon, he was marking various places that might be caves, one of the best places to find fossils.
As if all of this isn’t enough, Berger is part of a new breed of scientist — one of those who welcomes collaboration and the input of many minds. That is why he and Arsonson are trying something new. Whenever a scientist discovers something about sediba and publishes about this research, Berger and Aronson will summarize the findings on http://www.scimania.org. They hope that, fresh eyes will make fresh finds and add to the knoweldge we are gathering about long ago.
May 8, 2014
The Sandwich Swap
by Queen Rania al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio
illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Lily and Salma are the very best of school friends. They do everything together from jumping rope and swinging on the wings outside and drawing pictures inside. They even eat lunch together. Lily has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Salma eats a humus and pita sandwich.
Yet, in her heart of hearts, each of them thinks that the other girl’s lunch is a tiny bit disgusting.
Finally, Lily just can’t stand it and she says something to Salma about her lunch. Salma thinks about the love that her mother put into making the lunch and says something about Lily’s lunch. Lily is just as offended. Pretty soon, hurt, angry words are coming from both of the girls and the other kids are taking sides. With so many other kids involved, the taunts get worse and turn into name calling until some strikes the first blow — food fight!
Embarrased to be at the center of so much controversy, both girls get called to the principal’s office. Together, they come up with a way to make things right.
This is an excellent book about prejudice without ever using the word. Each girl is sure that her sandwich is the best, and even when she doesn’t say anything, assumes that the other girl’s sandwich is just wrong. Neither girl has tried her friend’s favorite. They just KNOW.
While dealing with prejudice, it also touches on what makes us US, on how we see ourselves and all of the emotions tied up in self identity.
Use this book in the classroom to spark discussions on both of these topics, but don’t be surprised if it is difficult to get these points across to young readers. Adults have trouble grasping them too.
This one definitely deserves a place in every classroom and the office of every school counselor.
May 5, 2014
The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt
illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Duncan’s all set for another great day at school when he reaches into his desk. Instead of his box of crayons, he finds a stack of letters all addressed to him.
Red is worn out and wants a break.
Yellow and orange want him to settle once and for all who is the true color of the sun.
Gray doesn’t get why Duncan only draw gray animals that are great big.
But it isn’t all bad news. Green is actually pretty happy. Still, he wishes that yellow and orange were getting along.
It takes some thought but Duncan finally comes up with a solution that makes every-crayon happy.
Something about this reminded me vaguely of Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, maybe just because you don’t think of a box of crayons writing letters any more than you think of a worm writing a diary. That said, that’s where the similarity ends.
The humor might be a bit sophisticated for the preschool crowd but it’s perfect for your “grown up” first or second grader. Need a teacher appreciation gift? This is perfect for art teachers or any other teacher who encourages creativity in their students.
Share it with the young art lover in your life today.
May 1, 2014
Island: A Story of the Galapagos
by Jason Chin
A Neal Porter Book:
Roaring Brook Press
I’m going with a watery theme of change this week with The Water Castle on Monday and Island today. Maybe its the spring weather and all the rain we’ve been having.
“A volcano has been growing under the ocean for millions of years. With this eruption it rises above the water for the first time, and a new island is born.”
So opens Island, Chin’s account of one Galapagos island. He takes readers from the formation of the island, how various plants and animals came to live there and how the plants and animals, and the island itself, changed over time.
Although I have read about the Galapagos, I had never considered what these islands must have looked like as each formed. While today their profiles are low, they were born of volcanic eruptions. They may never have been incredibly tall, they were doubtless taller than they are today. They are also dryer than they would have originally been and Chin shows how this change fed into the evolution that Darwin observed.
Darwin isn’t named when he first appears in the book’s fifth and final chapter, but I loved that about the book. Although the Galapagos have played a huge part in mankind’s understanding of life on this planet, we have played a much smaller part in shaping the islands themselves.
Unlike some of Chin’s earlier books, namely Redwoods and Coral Reefs, Island has no fanciful element, no child included simply to explore the environment along with the reader.
This is an excellent books for young scientists as well as teachers who are willing to address change on our planet. It really should be on every young science bookshelf.