Another fun entry in the Liar, Liar series. A great, short set perfect for boys or girls, and especially reluctant readers. Kevin is a mad genius whoAnother fun entry in the Liar, Liar series. A great, short set perfect for boys or girls, and especially reluctant readers. Kevin is a mad genius who is so caught up in the details of his schemes that he can't see the forest for the trees. His ultimate goal throughout this series has been to win the most perfect girl in the world Tina Zabinski. In this book, he decides that in order to effectively get Tina to go out with him, Kevin must observe other couples to see what makes their relationships work. Some of his experiments work (in spite of themselves) and others blow up in his face as usual. In the end, Kevin once again learns a lot about people through a lot of humorous mishaps....more
This book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but wiThis book wasn't too sure what it wanted to be. What I think it turned out to be is an attempt at reconstructing Beverly Cleary's Ramona series but with a side of alcoholism and random and unnecessary historical references. This book wasn't what I thought it was going to be upon picking it up. A lot of times that's a good thing - in this case I was frustrated. There wasn't that much about marbles, which could have really been used to nice and eccentric effect. I was also hoping this story would be set in the current day (there's something unusual about playing marbles now), and when I found out that it was set in the '50s (with a lot of historical cliches), I was pretty disappointed. The character is fairly likable, though the rest of the cast was no thrill. There's the elderly next-door neighbor who seems grouchy at first but turns out to be a nice woman; a neer-do-well father; a stressed mother and boys who pick on the protagonist.
I didn't really think all of the '50s references meant anything to the story. I saw no purpose to it, and I found much of the references overdone. I wouldn't recommend this. There are plenty of other stories about plucky kids dealing with issues at home. The alcoholism plot line was also rather heavy for the intended audience, but in the end it didn't amount to as much as it could have. Marbles made little impact in this story, and the conflicting tones throughout made for a jarring read. ...more
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Wow. A slightly off-kilter beginning that later gave way to some of the more metaphysical childrCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Wow. A slightly off-kilter beginning that later gave way to some of the more metaphysical children's literature I've read recently. Jack Baker has been abandoned at a remote boarding school in Maine by his military officer father during the last days of World War II. Still adrift after the death of his mother, Jack has trouble and little interest in finding his footing in this school that favors natural outdoorsmen. Jack is a terrible sailor and hiker and is even more reluctant to join the gang in his depressed state.
After an embarrassing gym class outing, he accidentally happens upon the strange Early Auden in an otherwise-deserted room. Early sees the numbers of Pi as a story that he tells to Jack in stages throughout the book. And, as the story unfolds, the reader realizes something truly strange and extraordinary is happening - real life is mirroring Pi's tale; or is Pi's tale mirroring real life? Highly allegorical and deliberately reminiscent of the Odyssey, this book finds its purpose as an adventure tale. Unable to see his father on a school vacation, Jack accompanies Early on a journey to find his long-lost brother in the wilds of Maine rather then remain at school. They set out in a rowboat down the Kennebec River looking for the Great Appalachian Black Bear, because according to Early, this will lead them to his brother.
Jack is highly skeptical of all of this, but grief and sadness lead us on strange paths. The boys encounter all kinds of characters in the woods, and eventually this book stops existing in concrete reality and instead emerges into the highly surreal and abstract. There are a large number of coincidences in this book, but it's better to see them as something other than concrete occurrences and to instead focus on what these incidents really mean. The language was really excellent, and the story of Pi (and how Early views numbers as colors, shapes and feelings) is based on the experiences of an actual man. A thoroughly brilliant book that will keep your head spinning....more
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An excellent examination of life during war time! Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War cCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
An excellent examination of life during war time! Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War concisely lays out the troubling nature of conflict in this novel in verse. Told in alternating points of view between James, a boy living in a white settlement, and Anikwa, a Native American boy living in a nearby tribal village, this book shines in its look at the subtleties of human relations during times of crisis. War leads people to behave in inhuman ways, and this is shown in an appropriate manner for the intended audience. Frost has researched this book very well, and she provides an excellent amount of back matter for teachers to hone lesson plans. This is similar in nature to Elizabeth George Speare's classic The Sign of the Beaver, though told on a more complicated scale appropriate for modern readers.
The settlers and the tribe live fairly peacefully together, but the onset of the War of 1812 forces people to choose sides, and they aren't particularly comfortable in doing so in most cases. I would say the only flaws in the story comprise the dry nature of the plot and lack of differentiation between narrative voices. It's highly meditative, but at times feels more like reading a diary of daily chores at first. There are also too many names to keep track of in a short amount of time.
The story shines as an examination of how war war effects individuals and how it causes their relationships to change. The story ends on a realistic note, with some hope for the future in spite of the irreversible damage that has been done to the people living in this area. I doubt children will be compelled to grab this book of their own accord, but I think in a classroom, children will come to appreciate the story through guided reading. This is a great first look at how war causes deeper wounds those seen on the surface....more
This is a good book for having kids "act" it out in a sense. There are a lot of comparisons between different animals' bones and those bones contrasteThis is a good book for having kids "act" it out in a sense. There are a lot of comparisons between different animals' bones and those bones contrasted with the bones of a human. Make size charts on pieces of paper (the kind that come on rolls) and have kids see these things in life size form....more
Excellent set of short stories about Na Liu's childhood in China in the 1970s. The stories are tight and demonstrate how China was changing during theExcellent set of short stories about Na Liu's childhood in China in the 1970s. The stories are tight and demonstrate how China was changing during the period just after the death of Mao. This graphic novel does a great job of showing China as a multidimensional place with good points and bad. The meaning of the little white duck mentioned in the title was depicted excellently, and readers will likely come to some interesting hypotheses about what it represents. Lots of nice back matter for discussion about China too. I also love the cohesion of the color palette. The same tones are used throughout, and it gives you a great sense of unity in the story set. This lacked a bit of narrative cohesion at times, with certain elements needing a bit more development and fleshing out. Otherwise, awesome book....more
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In spite of coming off a little too clever for its own good and also being somewhat poorly constCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
In spite of coming off a little too clever for its own good and also being somewhat poorly constructed, I found myself wanting to read the next volume in this series. Who Could that Be at this Hour is an obvious nod to movies like the Maltese Falcon (this book even has a coveted figurine in it) and books like Thin Man (note sub-librarian Dashiell Qwerty). At times the adherence to the classic noir style was fun, but at other times this hemmed-in approach came off as formulaic and dry. I also did not appreciate the random references to certain classic children's books that only much later came to mean something that was kind of unnecessary. I have never read any Lemony Snicket stories; apparently this is a thing for him. The references didn't seem to expand the story, and all the constant asides from the character were distracting, though occasionally funny. I did like many of the characters, who were fun and quirky.
I'm not sure how to explain the premise of this book, because I don't quite get it myself: 13-year-old Lemony Snicket has just graduated from some kind of private-eye school for kids, and he is now completing an apprenticeship to an adult in his secret organization. He and the mentor S. Theadora Markson are sent to a small seaside town to investigate the theft of a statue of the legendary Bombinating Beast (here's where the Maltese Falcon enters). No one can figure out why it's so valuable, but it seems everyone wants it - young, old and unidentifiable. The mystery isn't solved by the end of this book, but the action moved along quickly enough that I'm willing to give this doubtful story a second chance in the sequel. There will be four books in this series.
I can unequivocally say I liked the color scheme, the illustrations and the font. Those things can really add something to a story. I also liked the mysterious Ellington Feint, a girl desperate to find her missing father and who will do anything to get him back. I also enjoyed Snicket's interactions with the journalist in training, Moxie Mallahan, who carries around a typewriter wherever she goes in hopes of finishing her stories.
All in all, kids will probably like this story in spite of the fact that I think it's a little too impressed with itself. Oh well. Sometimes a book can still be fun in the end....more
This was a fun retelling of the original set of Robin Hood ballads. Not the most gripping writing at times, but it's meant to reflect the content of tThis was a fun retelling of the original set of Robin Hood ballads. Not the most gripping writing at times, but it's meant to reflect the content of the ballads, which consequently sometimes includes pointless descriptions of clothes, castles and forests. Each ballad retelling is prefaced by a short excerpt from the source material, and fun illustrations that mimic medieval art without overtly copying it are interspersed throughout the text.
These stories do not include the flourishes from popular culture, so readers should not expect something reminds you of the many film adaptations of the Robin Hood legend. The adventures focus primarily on action, fun and outsmarting the bad guys. A good read for boys, particularly reluctant readers....more
This was so convoluted and odd. There was hardly any action, and this was an action show back in its day. This was mostly a history of how the villainThis was so convoluted and odd. There was hardly any action, and this was an action show back in its day. This was mostly a history of how the villain got to be a villain. I remember the Voltron series making little sense, and this set of six issues made little sense too. The narrative was revealed in flashbacks, but the flashbacks were hard to deal with. The placement of the dialogue bubbles was also awkward. It was also always difficult to keep track of who the characters were because their space suits never matched the colors of the lions they piloted. I had a lot of trouble figuring out who was talking. There was nothing about the Voltron crew as kids would have known it on TV, and I have to say I find that very odd; the show wasn't about the villain. Boring and messy....more
This book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept oThis book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept of the tesseract in this book is the best way to show that thinking and perceiving and even emotion are more than just linear, concrete things. The use of math, science, history and writing all mingle to send the reader on a real head trip. This book succeeds in its attempt to ask readers to think not just differently but as if you could bend your mind like a pretzel. This story almost comes off like it was written by somebody on acid because it's so odd and heady. At the same time, its depiction of conformity (which is very much reminiscent of a critique of communism) is a bit one-dimensional. This book also gets a little over the top in the life lesson vein. All the same, really unique and definitely a benchmark for children's literature....more
This was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obvThis was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obvious and realizing your sense of self-worth. Good book for 2nd grade and up....more
Awesome book about a girl who can't get her family's attention because they're so wrapped up in their technological devices. She gets a hint of a leafAwesome book about a girl who can't get her family's attention because they're so wrapped up in their technological devices. She gets a hint of a leaf blowing through the front door from outside, and suddenly a whole new world opens up for her!...more
Great little book about a self-involved toy rabbit who learns the value of love and friendship after being lost one day. He comes full circle throughGreat little book about a self-involved toy rabbit who learns the value of love and friendship after being lost one day. He comes full circle through a varied series of interactions. The writing too is simple but eloquent....more
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Quick-paced and exciting historical fiction that focuses on a lesser-known aspect of World War ICheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Quick-paced and exciting historical fiction that focuses on a lesser-known aspect of World War II: the Norwegian resistance effort against the Nazis. Espen is based on a real-life Norwegian spy who started out delivering illegal newspapers as a teenager and eventually became a full-fledged covert operative. Margi Preus does a great job evoking the setting. I felt like I could envision the Alps perfectly. It was also a really interesting window into how much skiing was a part of the lives of Norwegians. It was even more exciting to know skiing played a part in espionage!
This is a great middle-grade book, with some excellent back matter that expounds on the true aspects of this story. Also a few espionage-related extension activities for those who want to create their own secret messages like Espen did.
I had a couple of minor complaints about this book that actually would probably prove as strengths in a classroom setting. The first is that the "villain" Aksel was too one-dimensional. He felt shallow and just plain mean. I would have liked to see more of what motivated him, other than the fact that he was never liked at school. The second issue I had focused on Espen's friend Kjel, who joined the Norwegian Nazi party for misguided reasons; he was a good person who thought working with the Nazis would simply end the conflict. His character had a lot of possibilities for examination that weren't dealt with as much as I would have liked, but kids could spend a lot of time debating the path they would have chosen when faced with Kjel's situation.
The story had some loose ends that were later more or less resolved by the author's note about the real story in the back. However, it would have been nice if they had wrapped up in the narrative itself. All in all though I loved this book. It was inspiring and fascinating, and I raced through it easily....more
Wordless picture book about an escaped slave hiding in a shed on a farm during the Civil War. A girl finds the fugitive while gathering eggs one day.Wordless picture book about an escaped slave hiding in a shed on a farm during the Civil War. A girl finds the fugitive while gathering eggs one day. She never actually sees the slave but leaves food every day. When Confederate soldiers come looking for the slave, the girl doesn't say anything. The slave eventually escapes but leaves a corn husk doll as a gift for the girl....more
A slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literatureA slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature written all over it in the vein of stories like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremain. Avi mixes hefty amounts of period vocabulary and language with real historical figures to successful effect. Sophia Calderwood becomes a spy in the home of British General Clinton in hopes of avenging her brother's death at the onset of the war. It is there that she learns of a plot between a British officer who boarded in her family's home when she was 12 and a famous Continental general. Torn between duty to her country and her brother's memory and her lingering childhood feelings for the charming enemy officer who once lodged in her home, Sophia must decide which side she is on as the time draws near for the plot to be executed.
A little heavy on historical detail at times, but overall the reader can learn a lot about the period without growing so bored as to put the book down. Sophia is an admirable and realistic heroine, who behaves fairly authentically for a girl her age; she ages from 12 to 15 by the end of the story. The ending was a little dramatic, and I had trouble believing in the depth of some of Sophia's feelings, but on the whole, this was a riveting tale of espionage. And, the spy is a girl - a great hook to use during a book talk!...more
Super affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, bSuper affecting and super uplifting story of the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. This resistance came in several forms, including combative, but also through distributing leaflets, protesting, smuggling and through armed uprisings in camps. This book is very sad but also a story of hope and courage. Each chapter discusses a specific incident or individual story, and the author provides resolution at the end of each situation. You know how things turned out for these people for good or ill. The photographs that go with some of these incidents alternate between hopeful and horrific. When first-hand accounts are provided they really amplify the text, though I would say this is one element that could have been included more than it was. Sometimes though describing the incident itself is enough to illustrate its severity. The courage of these people is unparalleled....more
As the year begins to wind up, I'm trying to catch up with all of the notable children's non-fiction from 2012. This was the first of those such booksAs the year begins to wind up, I'm trying to catch up with all of the notable children's non-fiction from 2012. This was the first of those such books I began while in the middle of a vacation I took leading up to Thanksgiving. This little known rescue of stranded whalers off the coast of Alaska in the late 1890s was filled with first-hand accounts from those directly involved with this harrowing rescue. Conditions were terrible, but the rescuers had much help along the way from the various peoples living in this frozen landscape. Lots of photographs that struck an eerie chord - the black and white depictions of ice and snow were chilling and yet almost seemed to lack resonance because of the colorless format. The book had some ok back matter, but nothing to write home about. This story would have been greatly enhanced by some interesting side-panel graphics or little features on life in Alaska or whaling, etc.
The narrative was very straight, and was often gripping. At times though it got bogged down in too much detail, and it could have used a little more of a narrative punch. Just the same, a great book about surviving the elements. I wonder, however, if many kids will pick this up. The topic has a lot of potential but the presentation leaves a bit to be desired....more
A middle school theater production shown from the point of view of someone who works behind the stage curtain. Fun, quick little story about a girl trA middle school theater production shown from the point of view of someone who works behind the stage curtain. Fun, quick little story about a girl trying to find her way through 7th grade....more
A short but not necessarily quick read about a neglected boy who comes to value others and himself after being thrown in with a group of misfits in ElA short but not necessarily quick read about a neglected boy who comes to value others and himself after being thrown in with a group of misfits in Elizabethan England. Karen Cushman excels in writing tight, often-funny stories about kids growing up in a difficult time in history. She doesn't mince words on how rough it was to grow up during the Black Death, general lawlessness, great superstition and more. Adults and children alike led hard lives, but the author writes about her characters with pluck and wit. This was a bit harder to get through than some of her other fare though. Will never really jumped off the page, and while the descriptions of the time period were rich, they were a little dry. The book improves as it goes on. Will is an unlikely boy who matures while traveling with a surly band of sideshow performers. Not at the top of my list among Cushman's books, but it's a decent read....more
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A real pleasure to read, One Year in Coal Harbor is the sequel to Newbery Honor book EverythingCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
A real pleasure to read, One Year in Coal Harbor is the sequel to Newbery Honor book Everything on a Waffle. Primrose Squarp is doing well now that her parents have returned from being lost at sea. She still visits her foster parents Bert and Evie and even makes a new friend they take in Ked. Primrose is filled with plans for Ked, whom wants to stay in Coal Harbor permanently, and her Uncle Jack and Miss Bowser - Primrose would like them to get married even if they don't appear to be succeeding at this endeavor.
Coal Harbor is a small Canadian fishing village. Everyone knows everyone, and there's really only one restaurant in town - the Girl on the Red Swing, which Miss Bowser owns. Town Council meetings are the major offerings for nightlife, and for the most part life goes on quietly, until Primrose finds out loggers want to clearcut the forest on top of Mount Mandelay. Suddenly becomes fired up with protesters, some from Coal Harbor and others from out of town.
Primrose makes observations about all of these things and more in this slim little volume that reads quickly. She has a folksy way of talking that meanders a little occasionally, so it's easy at times to drift while reading. Don't do that! Stay focused, because Primrose's narration is subtly insightful, quietly funny and acutely appropriate for her age. She sees the world in all its simplicity and its complications, but she just can't figure out why people don't seem to take to her plans for them. This book was actually better than the sequel. It packed a lot in, including the sensitive issue of foster care, without getting preachy or too condescending in its descriptions of small town life.
Things get a little haywire with the plot from time to time, but overall this was a great story about one plucky girl's adventures....more