Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Wikkeling

The Wikkeling

by Steve Arntson (2011)

A little spooky, a bit complicated, and very much well worth it. Three kids that don't fit in with the "normal" -- one would love to be a garbage collector when he grows up -- in a future society of computers for standardized testing on every students' desk and cell phones tracking one's every movement. (hmm, did I say "future"?)

A special attic is discovered, full of old books and candles and a window that shows a tree lined street of the past, and the children are chased by a ghost-like creature that is also connected to the city's Big Brother-like computer system. A little mystery, some adventure, helping friends and standing up for what you believe in. Cats, grandparents, and a man named "Oak" are also involved.

4/5 stars, highly recommend it.

connections: 1984, The Last Book In The Universe

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Dork Diaries

My son is appalled that I even brought this home, much less plan on reading it.

Dork Diaries
by Rachel Renee Russell (2009)

Ok, I did read it. Well, I read all of the first 100 pages, and most of the last 30 pages, and a good selection of what was in between. And while it is full of silly girl stuff like cute shoes and lip gloss, it's also about friendship, believing in yourself, and not letting yourself be dragged down in all the popularity and gossip stuff around school.



by Brian Selznick (2011)

Just in time to go watch Hugo Cabaret on the big screen I got to read Selznick's new magical combo of words and illustrations.  There is a lot going on, the two stories in words and pictures across different time periods are not always the smoothest to follow, but it all wraps up cleanly and clearly in the end. The pencil drawings are incredible, telling a beautiful and emotional story all on their own.

 Set both in the 1920s and 1977, the stories follow a boy and a girl each searching for a parent and running away from an unhappy home situation. It's not light-hearted -- one mom dies, the other leaves the family and rejects her child -- but there are elements of mystery, searching, danger and adventure, not to mention wolves!, that will keep readers interested. I would be curious to see how a child reads just the drawing pages all the way through first, just to see how much or what story they make from it.

Lots of connections -- museums, collections, sign language, Deaf community/school, that Basil Frankenriter (?) book about kids running away and living in the museum...

The Annotated Cat

The Annotated Cat

by Philip Nel

While a bit too dry/scholarly for most classrooms, this could still be an interesting reference book and certainly helps illustrate the importance of editing and rewriting for young authors. If Dr. Seuss himself has to work hours on one page and try many different words in a sentence to get it just right, maybe that will encourage students to keep working.

I love annotated editions because I like knowing where the ideas came from and how the story and art takes shape over the creative process.  This is a great book for Seuss fans, talks a lot about his early years and the effort to improve beginning reader books. The author tends to repeat himself, how many times can one bash poor ol' Dick, Jane, and Spot, but overall interesting and worth a look.

The Santa Club

The Santa Club

by Kelly Moss (2011)

Just in time for the holiday, and the mystery of Santa Claus, comes complete with membership certificate and website with countdown to Christmas Day ( First up, Elf #3's review:

"It's a good book for preschool teachers. I didn't really like the St. Nicholas illustrations. It's also a very good Christmas book."

Ok, so he's not my most verbose son, but he did give it two thumbs up. I give it thumbs up as well, although it's not a book for the classroom library, seeing as it not only spills the secret of Santa but preaches the Gospel. Detailed, colorful art and bright graphics, but it's not really a story to read but more like an introduction to a Sunday School lesson. I cracked up on all the "don't tell any other children our secret" warnings.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Common Sense Media

I mostly check out this website for movie info (violence? cleavage? creative cuss words?) but they also do book reviews

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story

by Michael Ende (1979)

About half way through, but I've been enthralled since the beginning -- and confused: Why have I never read this before?!?

I think it's because the movie came out in 1984, and as a high school senior I wouldn't be caught dead even debating seeing a silly puppet kid's flick... I still haven't seen it, and I've exposed my kids to The Dark Crystal and every Muppet epic.


update: Finished! It's a long one, could almost say it felt ne.  ver.  en.  ding, but well worth the full read.  Heroes, self-worth, scary and silly creatures (very Narnia-like), finding and following the right priorities of love for family and friends.  I think the first half would be a great read aloud for the classroom, but the second half gets a little long and deep.

An adventure, magic, fantasy story with elements of bullying, self-image, being who you are, reaching your potential, and putting others above self.

Love to find more info on the author and the story (beyond Wikipedia).

Friday, August 19, 2011

101 Ways to Bug Your...

...Friends and Enemies

by Lee Wardlaw (2011)

A little Jane Austin for the miniature golf crowd -- lots of relationship intrigue and discovering of romantic feelings, as well as lessons in friendship as people grow and change.  A lot going on, the numerous characters (and ailments, and accents, and...) in the first chapters had my head swimming, but everything and everyone ties together nicely at the end.  Genuinely funny, and without the usual base juvenile book humor. Loved the Hawaiian golfer character, something different and fresh.

Although I do wonder why I feel the urge to rent Roxanne ...?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sammy Keyes and the...

Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man

by W. Van Draanen (1998)

Sometimes an author puts in too much, this one is a mystery and a revenge story all rolled together, and the two parts really have nothing to do with each other.
Sammy is misfit teenager being bullied by the cool girls while illicitly living with her grandmother in the ol' folks home and solving a family feud/attempted murder/theft of rare books... The crime solving stuff could have been much better and made a more complete book if most of the teen girl drama material would have been saved for another book.
That said, Sammy and cohorts are attractive and entertaining characters, I'd probably get more into the book if I'd read her backstory and followed the series from the beginning rather than somewhere in the middle.

Comments from the author, including the word "prevarication" !


Shredderman 1:  Secret Identity

by Wendelin Van Draanen (2004)

Nerd boy gets his revenge on the school bully... in fact, if you look at it from the bully's pov, he's the victim of cyber-bullying and very pubic humiliation. I'm sure it will teach him a lesson and he'll be a better man for it. I also read Van Draanen's Sammy Keys book, and I think the author has a serious revenge complex. Were most authors nerds growing up?

Good read aloud for the classroom, touches on bullying, being friends, working together to solve problems, as well as a few tips on how to avoid being so nerdy. And it's funny.

Mr Biggs .com   ...and this is the illustrator's website.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gregor the Overlander

Summer is here, and with the sun, free time, and slim chance I might get a classroom next fall comes the list of childrens/young adult books to read -- the stack's not too tall yet if you have any suggestions...

by Suzanne Collins (2003)

A good ol' traditional Tolkien-ish fantasy quest, including the unlikely hero full of unexpected bravery, the quarreling companions, the ancient poetic prophecy, and right down to the spiders... these ones are orange with blue blood, but still creepy and gross.  This one adds in a cute and courageous baby sister who sings to giant cockroaches, and a good time is had by all.

Quick paced, fresh ideas, lively battles, and of course more adventures/books to come!

Thursday, March 10, 2011



by Nick Hornby (2007)

actually not quite finished with it yet, but almost. It's good and highly recommendable so far but you know how a bad ending can mess up a perfectly good book...

Ok, finished!

Unlike most teen pregnancy stories/books, especially from the male POV, this one doesn't just end in a scare or something to get the guy off the hook -- whew! that was close! This one touches on many of the dire consequences of sex: diapers, in-laws, what she looks like after having the kid, and the dreaded "is it mine?" all with humor, honesty, and the magic of Tony Hawk.

The book started slow for me, too generic, but then came an ill-fated attempt to run away from life's troubles and "magic" leaps into the future which kept me interested. It ended well so I'm glad I stuck with it.  I certainly related to poor Sam, always saying wrong things at the worst time and being totally confused with the whole pregnancy/birth/baby deal. I will make my 16 year old son read it, and recommend it to any teens.

Sex? Yes, no details but obviously they have it. A few f-bombs get strewn about as well, but appropriately.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Forgot How To Read?

No, I just forgot/neglected/was too lazy to post...  I have read a few books in the past 6 months, such as The Hunger Games and Westerfeld's Behemoth, but for some reason I have strayed from children's lit lately.

What do I need to read to get back in the swing of things?