Saturday, June 18, 2016

Khalib's Book Reviews

I think people will like Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel because some people like to be friends. -- Khalib

Jasmine's Book Review

The cat in the hat the cat came to the house the people was sad because they could not play outside because it was raining.  Sally and her brother were sitting in the house they wish that they had something to do  so it was to wet to go out and it was to cold to play ball so Sally and her brother had sit in the house for it stops raining.  Sally hird a Bump then sally jump!  Then her brother saw him step in on the mat and we saw him it was the cat in the hat and he said why do you sit there like that I know that it is wet  and the sun is not sunny so we can have a lot of fun. -- Jasmine

India's Book Review

If you like monsters and school then the principal from the black lagoon you will like it   if you read the book.and they talk about  how the principals office is so spooky like if she has a pet alligators and she feeds short kids to the alligator.or does she keep cages under her desk with kids's not so spooky it’s just from a boy’s imagination in the story.  -- India

Darren's Book Review

I think people would like Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff because it has dinosaur.It is at is a fun book to read.he went to the museum.he saw indians,bear,eskioms.he saw guns and swords and dinosaurs.

Daisy's Book Review

Summer of the Sea Serpent

The Summer of the Sea Serpent  is a great story it has adventures and saving her friend they find a note from their  friend. The critters name are Jack and Annie they want to help her friend she left a note jake and annie want to help so they began there to save their friend so they mate meen diferite people they meet a nite, with there horse that has a fishtail then they meet a SPIDER QUEEN but it was a friendly spider queen she is a BIG spider and if you like adventures and scary books this can be the book that you need this can be a book that you can read if you like scary books then they found  another cloud but it was a poem the decided  to read it the books is a very good book it’s help me to help other people and to make me feel like i should do that this is a very good book i think that people should read the book it is a nice book.   – Daisy

Emma's Book Review

I think that you should read The BFG because it is funny. Their is a big giant and he is nice to this girl named Sophie.Sophie is a brave girl she is also nice to THE BFG. THe author is Roald Dahl he is funny because the words THE BFG says Frobscottle and whizzpoppers it is so funny.And Sophie and THE BFG become friends.The people hooo should read this book should be people who like giants and queens i know i do. I also like it because they're in a adventure. And i also like it because THE BFG does not know how to talk but Sophie helps THE BFG. Then THE BFG know how to talk thank you. – Emma

Sophia's Book Review

The  Magic  School Bus Hops Home
I like this book because it has animals and
adventures and you learn about animal
habitats.This book is about animals habitats
Like a beavers need a quiet pond to live in.
So they make their own habitat.Beaver are
Rodents like mice and squirrels.I recommend
that  if you like  adventures and like animals
To read and you are getting smarter,smarter,
It is call hops home from the magic school bus.
The magic school bus is a good book because
Ms.frizzle soooo fun and funny and cool.
Ms frizzle kids look at Ms.frizzle clothes

And discover what kind of the field trip.  – Sophia

Lyric's Book Review

The      foot         book        is          about         the        men      put           his        wet         foot        i           like      this       book            because        it     is   funny.       – Lyric

Dereck's Book Review

Chameleon!  I like the book because the chameleon camouflage in the trees
And i know that chameleon isn't a insect and i know that some chameleons
Look like trees and chameleons go step by step by step
And some chameleons look like a low and some
Chameleons are white.
It has eyes that move around to see insects 

Chameleons camouflage to catch their prey. -- Dereck

Ayleen's Book Review

The Magic School  Bus on the Ocean Floor
I like this book because i love the beach a lot,
and because on the ocean floor there are a lot of
living  creatures like and because the magic
school bus is adventurous , and you can find treasure .
This book is interesting because you are getting
smarter. And  some plants you see in the ocean are
living things,some animals will camouflage so they
won't being seen  ,and so they won’t be eaten up  .
 I recommend this book because it is interesting ,
And You  are getting smarter.The magic school bus
this is a good    book  because  Ms.Frizzle is soooo
Funny ,and fun because is always up for fieldtrips
She knows a lot of things about the earth,human bodys,and

living creatures. -- Ayleen

Friday, June 17, 2016

Robert's Book Review

The book Motorcycles is really fun to read, it shows you all the different kinds of motorcycles. I would recommend this book to anyone who is into dirt bikes.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eduardo Book review

 Once there was a girl named Chrysanthemum she loved here name she thought here name was every thing she needed but when she started school a girl named Victoria made fun of here also Jo and Rita in nap time Victoria told Mrs. Chud that Chrysanthemums name has thirteen letters. Mrs. Chud said thats exactly half as many letters as there are in the entire alphabet Victoria explained thank you for sharing that with us Victoria said Mrs.chud now put your head down.

Anabels book reviw

Harolds purple crayon treasury This book is by Crockett Johnson

First  Harold woke up and he had a purple crayon then he made a rocket then lift off. then he sarted to write stars and a moon to land on then he made a alian and he and he got scard then ran off.
he went back he made a crake in the space ship. next he ran then he made more stars then he hoped on one star then to the space ship then his adventure was done. In my opinion I think my friend would  like this book becasuse she might like  purple.she is a good writer from Anabel C.

Lizette Book Review

Book Review

I am going to writ a book review Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Once upon a time in a far far away there was a king named the prince and a woman told the prince. The village a beautiful girl loved to read and her named was belle. One day belle crossed the town square. Belle went to town to buy book. A man that want to marry belle NEXT she cried running for home. Belle father went to go some where it was cold and fog soon they got lost. Belles father herd something and it was a wolf where the fog was last. He went into the home. He said hello he called. Belle kissing the beast and he is a human.

    In my opinion Beauty and the Beast is a good book because it said. Belle love to read all kinds of books and 3 girls like the man that is a good book. To read The End.

Ceejay,s book Review

Book Review

Stan and Jan Berenstain.

In the book The Berenstain Bears and the MESSY ROOM

In the story the two cubs did not clean up there toys. There mother came in and she was so so made. After he said I will clean it up. Then the next day he for got to get to pick up his toys. Then his mom came in with a trash cane. They gave a look like they ware afraid. Then she said put the toys in the trash. Then they ware made and then he said again I will clean it up then she said next time it goes in the trash. Then they said ok .

In my opinion this story is a good book for people how loves bears.I think this is a life lesson.    

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lucky For Good

Lucky for Good

Susan Patron (2011)

Third in the Lucky of Hard Pan series. Hard to pin down what this book is "about" except it's about Lucky and how she deals with different events -- school bully, friend leaving, religious beliefs, her absent father.... Good characters, interesting stories.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated...

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making

by Catherynne M. Valenti (2011)

Full of interesting creatures and people, a spunky, resourceful heroine, very Alice in Wonderland-like. I like books that I can hear myself reading to a class; even though the vocabulary in high, the story has a captivating tone and many reading levels would be able to follow along.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

by Sonia Manzano aka Maria from Sesame Street! (2012)

Three generations of women deal with being Puerto Rican in New York City, the past and present of poverty, politics, and class struggle, and the family drama of being three women. Set in 1969 Spanish Harlem the story is full of true events and shows how larger events change personal daily lives, and how people can also affect larger events. Lots of discussion also for holding on to ethnic roots and traditions.
The newspapers from the story's events can be seen here at the book's website.

Stuck In Neutral

Stuck In Neutral

Terry Trueman (2000)

A narrator with severe Cerebral Palsy describes what he sees, thinks, and longs for, and how he fears his father may end his life out of "mercy" -- not light themes, but lots of humor and personality. Similar to Out of My Mind but Shawn is much less functional, more "trapped" by his disability. The book, and narrator's fate, has one of those he did/did not endings, but there is a recent sequel out so that settles the cliff hanger.
Great review and discussion ideas here at TLT: Teen Librarian Toolbox and an interview with the author, whose son has CP, here at The Hub website.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses

Kate DiCamillo
Newbery Medal 2014

A fun book, whimsical and cartoony but poignant. A girl with divorced parents, and a distracted, disinterested mother, saves a squirrel from a vacuum cleaner and their adventures begin. Great vocabulary, some of it comic book creative, and parts of the story are shown in comic style panels. Good read aloud.

Extra Credit

Extra Credit

by Andrew Clements (2009)

Pen pals across international boundaries, a Midwestern girl not doing well in school and an Afghani boy excelling in his classes. Good read aloud with lots of ideas for research projects, letter writing, social studies, and of course pen pals.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Who's Next? Any suggestions?

Any suggestions?
 I of course want to know who the bald guy is in the background?!?

Among The Free

Among the Free

Margaret Peterson Haddix (2006)

The conclusion to the Shadow Children series, a Big Brother dystopian saga of "third children" forced to hide. I read the first one, Among the Hidden, but skipped right to the last book (it was only one the Library had). Some adventure, some danger, lots of bravery and decisions to help others and the greater good. My first impression of the lead character is why is he still so weak and confused after 6 books? Seems like by now he would have a better idea of what's going on and where he stands.

Like Dystopian books? Here's a website with series titles, summaries, even teaching ideas: Dystopian Pathfinder. And here is the author's site, but I'm not sure it's been updated in a while.

My Brother's Ghost

My Brother's Ghost

by Allan Ahlberg (2001)

A short little book about a woman remembering her childhood and how the ghost of her older brother helped their family through rough times. Set in the 1930s (40s?) it's a bit old fashioned -- polio, cigarette cards, pork pie hats -- and British, but the story stays interesting and has a dramatic finish.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary Pearson (2008)

A techno-mystery thriller with questions of medical (and parental) ethics. Good supporting characters, quick paced, futuristic, and a little family drama. A girl awakes from a terrible car accident and must put together the mysterious pieces of her life. Friendship and a bit of teen romance, plus her strong courage, help her start figuring things out.

And now for our Guest Reviewer, Son #3:

I liked the book because it is suspenseful. Jenna Fox is a 17 year old girl that just woke up from a coma and is dealing with amnesia. She slowly finds out the danger of the whole truth about her survival of a deadly accident. The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a good story of the future of illegal medicine.

Timmy Failure 2

Now Look What You've Done

Stephan Pastis (2014)

Actually haven't finished it yet, but really enjoy it so far. I don't think there's any other book character I've wanted to give a hug to more than Timmy, but I doubt he'd accept one. "Mendacity!"

Not as sad as the first one, but the Calvin and Hobbes-esque (totally a compliment) detective duo is still frustrated in their efforts at Greatness. And solving any case.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein (2013)

A game, a mystery, a list of great authors and books to read, a Willie Wonka homage, and a celebration of libraries. Kyle loves to play all sorts of games, and while spending the night at the brand new town Library takes part in he most challenging game yet: how to escape from being locked in the Library? It is more game than dangerous mystery, very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-ish, but there are many clues and puzzles to unravel before the end. Great examples of teamwork, using your brain, never giving up. And many, many books are referenced to fill an entire shelf.

Deeper: How many authors and books are mentioned? Research libraries, Dewey Decimal, and apparently there is one more problem to solve for the reader, not the characters in the story. I think this would be a great read aloud and higher level project book.

Nice author's website too, and it looks like he visits schools!

The Young Man and the Sea

The Young Man and the Sea

by Rodman Philbrick (2004)

A boy and his father deal with loss, the dad stuck on the couch and the boy out at sea after the tuna that can help turn their lives around. The hero is brave and resourceful and we pull for him immediately.

Deeper levels: geography of story, fish/lobsters.

Timmy Failure

Mistakes Were Made

by Stephan Pastis (2013)

Tragicomedy with bad art and a polar bear. The story of a boy detective not in any way in the same league as Nate the Great and Encyclopedia Brown. Imaginative and silly, similar to Calvin & Hobbes (or is the bear real?), but with a poignant touch of real life sadness.

I liked it, chuckled out loud many times, and definitely want to keep reading about his misadventures.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mick Harte Was Here

Mick Harte Was Here

Barbara Park (1995)

A quick read and no mystery, we know from the beginning the brother died in a bicycle accident. Doesn't shy away from the pain and confusion of losing someone, but there is humor mixed in and a likable, connectable main character.

Should be required reading for our school, we had two helmet-less incidents last year, skateboard and motorcycle. Can we duct tape helmets on all kids until they turn 18?

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars

John Green (2012)

Quite the prolific young man, this Mr. John Green. Author (5 or 6 books since 2005?), websites (leading the "fight to increase awesome and decrease suck"), and YouTube star... when does he sleep?

Cancer isn't new, rare these days is any person that hasn't been touched by it. And while this book is about the pain of living and dying with cancer, it does such a great job letting us know the characters as real, quality people that I didn't feel played when someone died, I felt thankful I was able to read the story.

And I'll probably kiss my boys a few extra times today.

Besides the whole painful death by cancer subject matter there is alcohol, language, and un-explicit sex. Nothing most kids don't see/hear/know about already but I'd still suggest waiting for the teen years to read it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013



by Liesl Shurtliff (2013)

Orphaned "Rump" must find his real name and find his own destiny, amid greedy kings, trolls, feisty friends, magical aunts, and a stubborn donkey. Cute details, funny scenes, interesting characters (love to read more about his friend "Red"), and bad guy situations that keep the peril coming. The last chapters were slightly disappointing, what felt like a build up to action filled climax tended to get bogged down in Rump's inner turmoil/debate/reflection as he figures out who he is and what he needs to do. But overall, very enjoyable.

Someone needs to get a collection together of all the "True Story of..." fairy tale books and tv shows. We've been watching "Once Upon a Time" and the boys like figuring out which character is who.

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky

by Kirby Larson (2006)

Newbery Honor Book

Having a soft spot for Laura Ingalls Wilder, this book fits right in, minus Michael Landon as Pa. A girl on her own on a Montana homestead facing extreme weather, diabolical neighbors, stubborn animals, poor baking skills, and the struggle to fence and farm her land in order to meet the claim.

Hattie is definitely independent and capable, but needs and helps her neighbors as they face the harshness of frontier life. The story also deals with the fears of "The Great War" as friends and family are in Europe fighting and the pressure put on German townsfolk to prove their patriotism. A lot of outside issues to explore with this book: WWI, propaganda, farm life, even baseball.

Water Street

Water Street

by Patricia Reilly Giff (2006)

Brooklyn, 1870s, as the city builds a bridge families try to build lives. Bridget, aka Bird, follows in her mother's footsteps as a neighborhood healer while being a friend to a boy with a drunk father and worrying about her older siblings. Interesting picture of inner city life and how friends and neighbors need to help each other.  Bird faces fears and has the strength to help when needed.

"12+" not for content but writing style, some passages jump back or forth and from character to character and can be confusing. The family life and interaction was done very well, easy to know and care for the characters.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Top 100 Children's Novels

Update Time! Let's see how I've done past three years... (red bold)

Thanks to the always interesting TeacherNinja and this amazing person that polled/counted/etc....
here are The Top 100 Children's Novels -- how many have you read?

I thought for sure I would do better, even counting books I know I read in my precocious youth but haven't checked out in 30 years or more... If it weren't for Ms. Rowling and Mrs. Wilder my total would be a lot smaller as well!

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice/Wonderland I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightning Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. ... Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

53 books read -- looks like I just barely passed 50% ! We need to head to the library...  
How did you do?

Update Results: 6 more!

(originally published April 2010)

Glory Be

 Glory Be

Augusta Scattergood* (2012)

Racial unrest during the summer of 1964 threatens the birthday plans of a girl in Mississippi. A small town deals with segregation, the Freedom Summer volunteers, and getting ready for the 4th of July celebrations. Similar to ...Gabriel King, but not as deep or dramatic; some of the storylines feel undone. Best parts were the sister relationship, Elvis vs Beatles, and the brave Librarian standing up to the town's racist bullies. Enjoyable story, likable main character.

*Gotta be one of the best author names ever!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Meerkat Wars

The Meerkat Wars, The Gradual Elephant, and Paka Mdogo Little Cat

by H.S. Toshack

Our trilogy of readers is working through this trilogy of African Animal Adventure books...

Guest Reviewer Son #3:

In “The Meerkat Wars” a house cat gets accidentally lost on a trip that she was never supposed to go on. In the wild Sheena must help a young Meerkat in need. The Meerkats befriend Sheena because she helped the young meerkat. I recommend this book to people who like the ‘Warrior’ books because they both involve a house cat that gets lost in the wild and then get befriended by untamed animals.

Guest Reviewer Son #2:

The Meerkat Wars by H.S. Toshack is a very interesting and exciting portrayal of life in the African Baragandiri National Park. The author tells the story of a house cat named Sheena who encounters rival meerkat tribes living on the reserve. Both tribes believe they live under the “one true sun” and battle over supremacy of the desert. The tribes hate each other because they think they are very different from each other, but in fact they are almost identical. The meerkats learn to coexist, and they become allies and friends. In my opinion the tribes represent the many religious groups of the world. The author is conveying that if people just communicate with each other and look past their differences, they will realize that the differences are in  fact very small, and that they are more alike than they ever thought before. If people would stop hating and fighting, and listen to reason like the meerkats, the world would be a much better place. I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoyed reading The Warriors books. Both authors portray the animals in the story as “people” who live and survive as a clan or tribe. Also, both books feature a newcomer who must learn the ways of the animals, and make peace between rivals. In The Meerkat Wars the author places a poem at the start of each chapter, which sets the mood and foreshadows things to come, making the book more interactive with the readers. After each poem, it was fun attempting to guess which animal was being hinted at to appear next in the story. I loved reading the book and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Not much I can add to that!  Interesting adventures, danger and humor, and lots of great animal & Africa learning connections. Some of the humor was British, and some of the jokes (lots of computer themed riddles in the Elephant book) and wordplay would be lost on most students, especially ELLs. Almost seemed it was written for the clever/higher reading child, but there is a lot of good stuff for all level readers. These would be great books for read aloud in younger grades or classes with lots of English learners.

Unfortunately, our cat doesn't seem the adventurous type. I'll have to read the books to him. Special thanks to for introducing us to these books.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Should "YA" Be Rated "R" ?

Is it just me, or have the kid's books gotten a little rougher and a bit racier lately? Now I'm not my father, believing everything would be better if it was the Lone Ranger and Hardy Boys and society is going to hell in a handbasket, but I do think children's literature, even YA, should try to temper the sex and violence. Maybe it was Hunger Games, especially the awful third book, that soured me, but why do massive body counts need to be a part of the story? I think we, as parents and teachers, let our children see/hear/read too much too soon. Yes, some kids can read anything and handle it, but those are usually the exceptions, the smarter, more mature kids. Just a theory I guess, but couldn't too much too soon delay the child's own imagination and creative process? Once you've been read Hunger Games in 4th grade, can you go back to Phantom Tollbooth?

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone

by Leigh Bardugo (2012)

Several reviews call this "Hogwarts in Russia" -- orphan has magical powers, battles the dark power -- but it's not as imaginative or cute as HP and the teen romance gets a bit racier. But it is set in Russia, with snow and mythology and royal courts, and it does have some spooky creatures and dangerous battles, with an feisty underdog heroine and a quick pace that made it a good read.

Reminded me of a more serious, Santa-free The Guardians of Childhood, as well as Westerfeld's Leviathan and Pullman's Golden Compass.

My summer break weight loss plan.