Tuesday, September 30

Rhyme & PUNishment: Adventures in Wordplay

Rhyme & PUNishment: Adventures in Wordplay
Written by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by J. P. Sandy

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1575058498
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Date of publication: March 1, 2006
Age: Grades 3 and up
Genre: Poetry

Themes: puns, poems, music, places, food, animals

Okay, normally I make up my own summary, but the publisher's summary really does it better. I cannot compete. See for yourself: "Ready to laugh until you're horse? ...This imaginative collection of silly and sophisticated puns uncovers double meanings that are kind dove hiding in everyday phrases. A helpful pun-unciation guide is included on porpoise to help ewe give it a try!"

You get the idea? This book is HILARIOUS. And I do not go in all-caps for just anyone. He divides the book up by themes--music, animals, food, places--and then has puns corresponding to that theme. Really, there's no other way to describe how hilarious it is without showing you some of my favorites.

In the Music theme:

"They tune into the older films
and love to watch the dancing
'There's too much sax and violins now,
and not enough romancing.'"

Bahahaha. Okay, and then there's also the super clever puns. Check out this one from the Places theme:

"My dad comes home so tired
he can't keep his Bering Strait.
His Sudan Thailand on the floor,
his shoes land on his plate."

Right?? It took you a second, huh? So this book is FULL of these little, simple poems. Plus, (get this), he includes the factual information about whatever puns he uses at the bottom of the page! For instance, with the last poem, he included, "Bering Strait is the narrow stretch of water that separates Alaska from Siberia." So it's totally educational! I'm telling you, Cleary's poetry is genius. Funny and educational. That is what I require. Go and check it out!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 29

Boy + Bot

Boy + Bot
Written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 9780375867569
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: April 10, 2012
Age: 2 - 5 years

Themes: robot, friendship, selflessness, misunderstanding

One day, a boy meets a robot. They quickly become friends and have lots of fun. But when the robot's switch is accidentally hit, the boy doesn't know what to do to fix it. Is he sick? Does he need some applesauce? Well, in the middle of the night when the robot's switch gets hit back on, he's now wondering what's wrong with the boy. Perhaps he needs a new battery?

It's adorable. It's about robots. What else could you want in life? Of particular value: it's not long at all. Short, easy to read, but with a good story. Also, when you read it, you can practice your robot voice. I'm looking forward to using it in storytime this week when talking all about friends. It would also be fun to read at home before creating your own robot friend. Either way, I recommend it for sure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, September 27

The Fire Artist

The Fire Artist
Daisy Whitney

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 9781619631328
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: October 14, 2014
Age: Grades 7 to 11
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: elemental powers, performances, family relationships, genies,

Aria has stolen her power to create fire. She has broken the law and stolen her power from lightening--but it is the only was she can get out and away from Florida. And so she does, by joining the most prestigious elemental performing group in the nation. But since it is stolen, the power cannot last. And now that she's away from the only friend who could help her steal her power, she becomes desperate. A Granter will be the only solution to save her powers, but at the chance of not only losing her career as a fire artist, but her family and her heart.

The characters are (for the most part) awesome and have some great emotional depth. The concept is imaginative and the story is engaging. Often, stories focused on elemental powers do not depict their characters as performers in modern-day America. But that might have been why I had trouble fully connecting to it. It was...weird. It combines a modern-day dysfunctional family/abusive father AND the fantastical elemental powers granted to a select few AND the mythological wish-granting genies. And some romance. It's a lot to fit in! Thus, the book isn't smooth. There's jumps and convenient loopholes and plot breaks that give it the right ending. So, in the end, I did not really enjoy it. But some may. Up to you.

If you want, you can pre-order it on Amazon 
...or wait for its release at your library

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Friday, September 26

Library Lesson: Banned Books Week

This week is Banned Books Week. It's an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. So, from September 21-27, "the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types—[come together] in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular" (from the Banned Books Week website).

Being one such librarian, I must admit that I do feel that all books should have a chance to be read by the right person. Personally, of course, there are books I choose not to read, but I don't want to deny that right to anyone else. I mean, that's the whole point of a library, right? Access to free information? So that's the basis behind this celebration.

Here's how we celebrated at my library:

Do you see And Tango Makes Three in there?

To celebrate here on the blog, I've made a list of my top five favorite banned children's books from ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009.

Harry Potter (series)
J. K. Rowling
#1 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: anti-family, bad role model, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence

Why I like it: This is my childhood. The power of one boy to save a magical world...well, I think it's inspiring. And I loved it.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (series)
Alvin Schwartz
#7 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: insensitivity, occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, religious viewpoint, violence

Why I like it: Because I like to scare myself.

His Dark Materials (series)
Philip Pullman
#8 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, violence, drugs/alcohol

Why I like it: I thought these books were amazing because their setting, concepts, and characters were so unique and original. It was gripping.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
#14 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: racism, offensive language

Why I like it: It examines racism in the south and other such issues through the lens of a child, which makes it really honest and fascinating. It's a classic!

The Giver
Lois Lowry
#23 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: encouraged sexual promiscuity, euthanasia, belittles motherhood and family, violence, inappropriate themes, and disrespect of the elderly

Why I like it: A dystopian novel before dystopian novels were cool! And it's groundbreaking in its depiction of such a society. And it's a Newbery winner. Just saying.

And, even though it's not really a favorite, but because this one made me laugh a little bit for its reasoning to be removed...

Junie B. Jones (series)
Barbara Park
#71 on ALA's list
Reasons for challenge: encourages poor social values, bad role model due to mouthiness and bad spelling/grammar.

Why I like it: It's hilarious. And pretty dang true to life.

So, while you may not agree--that's okay! That's what's so great about it. But let's all celebrate the freedom to read.

 I couldn't keep a straight face to save my life... Also, you now know how tall I am.

Thursday, September 25

Greenglass House

Greenglass House
Kate Milford

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 9780544052703
Publisher: Clarion Books
Date of publication: August 26, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Mystery

Themes: inn, thievery, smuggling, adoption, family,

Christmas is just around the corner, and Milo is looking forward to a quiet holiday with his parents at the inn they own in Nagspeake. But when the guest bell starts ringing--and ringing and ringing--Milo now is dealing with a home overrun with odd and secretive guests. They all seem to be after something in relation to the inn--Greenglass House. When possessions start to go missing and it's clear there is a a thief in their midst, Milo and the cook's daughter, Meddy, decide to investigate. The deepening mystery will reveal a lot about the house--and themselves.

First, to get this off my chest: this book was really slow to start. In all honesty: I stopped reading it and read another book, then went back to finish. There was also a lot of focus on stuff I (personally) couldn't relate to, like adoption and role playing games (which other kids might love). Now for the good stuff: it is thorough and detailed (part of the reason it's slow) and I had a lot of fun imagining the house, it's residents, and Milo himself. I wish I could visit the place in real life. And the ending? Well, let's just say that pretty much made up for it all. A fantastic twist that I did NOT see coming. Loved it. So overall? It's a great mystery novel, almost magical in its descriptions...but somewhat slow. It's up to you.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, September 23

What to Read to a Second Grader

Today, I have a rather fantastic book list of ten good read-aloud books for second graders (in no particular order).

Monday, September 22

A Year Without Autumn

(Breaking from the normal schedule today: we're talking about the Virtual Book Club book! We meet on Twitter and you can join in too! Just follow along with #vbcbooks!)

A Year Without Autumn
Liz Kessler

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0763655952
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: October 11, 2011
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Fantasy, Realistic Fiction

Themes: friendship, family, relationships, time travel, elevator, hardship

It is time for Jenni's family's annual vacation and she is excited--she gets to spend the week with her bestest best friend, Autumn! But when Jenni decides to take the antique elevator up a floor to visit her friend, she's not there; some terrible tragedy has struck Autumn and her family, and Jenni doesn't understand. And when did mom have a baby?? How did everyone get a year older? By the time Jenni realizes what happens, she tries to figure out a way to go back and fix everything to prevent the future she's seen. But it won't be as easing as pressing the elevator button...

While it may have been a little slow to get started, all while feeling as confused as Jenni at what's going on...I was sucked in. Because that's just it: you don't quite know what's going on. Oh man, this book had me riveted. The concept just felt original and well-thought-out. The writing is fantastic, and the characters are amazing because Kessler develops them to the depth I need for a time travel book. I mean, a person is going to change in a year, so I want to see this character changed. And she delivered. The timeline is a little hard to follow, but that's because you're time traveling. So yeah. Go and read it. It's fantastic.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Sunday, September 21

The Grisha Trilogy

Three-for-one! What a deal! Okay, I thought I'd try something new and review an entire series at once.

ISBN: 9780805094596
Published: June 5, 2012
ISBN: 9780805094602
Published: June 4, 2013
ISBN: 9780805094619
Published: June 17, 2014

The Grisha Trilogy
Leigh Bardugo

My rating: ★★

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Age: Grades 9 and up
Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Themes: dark vs. light, betrayal, uprisings, power, loss, heartbreak

Alina Starkov has just discovered her new power as a Sun Summoner. The only one of her kind, the country has begun to worship her because she alone may be able to finally banish the Shadow Fold, a completely dark void that cuts the country in half and is infested with monstrous creatures. Of course, the Darkling takes special interest in her. As the ruler of the second army and a darkness summoner, he may have finally found his equal. But instead of aligning herself with him, she flees, seeking to strengthen her power against him. And so the Darkling begins his uprising against the king, releasing untold evil into the land and reigning with darkness and terror.

It's hard to review these books. I'm conflicted. Obviously, the reason that I am reviewing all three at once is that it took me less than a week to read through all of them. So there was a part of me that had to find out what happened. Thus, it has the excitement/grip factor. But now that I've finished, I don't feel better about myself. I never want to read them again. So what does that say? Let's try going through this book by book...

In Shadow & Bone, I was pulled in. The characters that were introduced were intriguing--betrayal and lies, a deeper purpose to their actions. They weren't the best I've read (like, say, Throne of Glass, which had very similar characters and situations, and played it out in a way I liked more), but I still wanted to see what happened to them. I finished the book in a day or so.

And so I start the second, Siege & Storm, and it was. So. Hard. To read. I can't quite put my finger on it... The story was so depressing. Alina is soooo conflicted and troubled. It was hard to read. And SO so dark. Evil. And the ending! My gosh, blood and fury everywhere. So disturbing.

And so I read the third, Ruin & Rising, so that I could see the good triumph over the evil. Because that is how the story must end, right? And so it did. But HOLY COW it took a lot out of me to get there. Am I glad I read it? Probably not. My rating reflects my preference.

But would I tell someone not to read it? Really, as a librarian, if there was someone who preferred these types of stories, I would recommend it. The writing is good (enough) and enticing. You do get attached to characters. It draws out your emotions. Some people would really enjoy these books. So...to each their own!

Warning: Explicit Content

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, September 19

The 10 Best Mustaches of Children's Authors

I like my Fridays to be fun. So here's another "Just For Fun" post that may tickle your fancy... (pun intended)

Thursday, September 18

The Great Trouble

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel
Deborah Hopkinson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0375848186
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: September 10, 2013
Age: Grades 5 and up
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: epidemics, scientific process, investigation, London,

Eel makes a living doing odd jobs and mudlarking in the Thames for bits to sell. He needs four shillings a week to hide his secret and scrape by a living. So when he loses some work due to an outbreak of cholera, Eel will do anything he can for some pay. Enter in Dr. John Snow, a scientist who has a very different theory on how cholera is spread and needs an assistant to help prove that it is not spread by bad air, but by bad water. Will Eel be able to gather the evidence he needs and keep his secret? Especially as his own friends and associates start dying from the disease?

A rather fascinating read on the outbreak of disease and how the scientific process works to reverse it. Dr. John Snow is a real person and he really did work on cholera outbreaks, specifically this one on Broad Street in London, 1854. So the research that went into all that part--the historically based factual parts--were great and I learned a lot. Eel and his story...didn't quite do it for me. It was jumpy and a tad unbelievable (especially the end). So that's why this is between three and four stars: loved part of the book, only sorta liked the other part.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, September 16

Tales of the Time Dragon: Days of the Knights

Days of the Knights
(Tales of Time Dragon #1)
Written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545548984
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: February 25, 2014
Age: 5 - 8 years
Genre: Educational

Themes: time travel, information seeking, Middle Ages, dragons

Joe asks Lilly the librarian to help him find more information on the Middle Ages. When she searches her computer--poof!--they travel back in time! Red, the Time Dragon, is there to help guide them. They find out that life in 1200 was pretty rough--especially if you're a dragon! They'll have to stay ahead of the angry mobs as they explore villages, castles, and cathedrals.

Think Magic Tree House for younger kids. It's cute. It's educational. It's got a touch of humor. It's awesome! This one doesn't focus on any specific persons or places, but it still gives an informational look into life in the middle ages. It's a great learning tool in the classroom or at home as kids start seeking out the non-fiction stuff from the fiction. Totally recommended. Check out the sequel below.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tales of the Time Dragon: Racing the Waves

Racing the Waves
(Tales of Time Dragon #2)
Written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545549042
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: August 26, 2014
Age: 5 - 8 years
Genre: Educational

Themes: time travel, information seeking, ships, records, journey

Joe and Lilly are headed out once again with the Red Dragon on an adventure through time. They're going to 1851 to learn more about clipper ships and speed records. On board with Captain Perkins Cressy, they see what it takes to get a ship from New York to San Francisco--by going around South America. Will they be able to set a new speed record?

In this, the second Time Dragon book, things are getting even more specific and fact-based. Neubecker is teaching kids about an actual captain and crew members who set the speed record for ship travel. Which is, in a word: cool! I'm a total fan of these books. There's a touch of humor (I wish there was more, but that's just me) with a lot of information. Plus, it makes librarians look cool. So I'd recommend them for sure. It's a good book to read before Magic Tree House.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 15

10 Picture Books for the Tantrum Thrower

So the idea for this list comes directly from library patrons: I've had two patrons just in the last little while ask me what sort of pictures books were good for tantrum-throwing kids. Well, there's some good ones, folks, so here's a list of 10 favorites.

Saturday, September 13

Pride and Popularity

Pride and Popularity
Jenni James

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 9780983829300
Publisher: Brigham Distributing
Date of publication: July 13, 2011
Age: Grades 8 and up
Genre: Romance

Themes: pride, popular crowd, high school, clean romance

Chloe despises the popular crowd, but there's on in particular: Taylor Anderson, the most popular guy in school. Every girl fawns over him and he loves it, never going without a girlfriend for more than a couple of days. She finds it sickening, especially when it seems he's falling for her. And no, she does not like him back. Not at all. Maybe.

Cheesy Pride and Prejudice retelling coming right up! With a side of ultra-conservative ideals! Okay, now that I got that off of my chest, I have to admit, (it's true) I actually kinda liked it in all of its corny-ness (I know, but I'm not sorry). I read it in just a couple of hours one evening--it's just fluff. But it's cute fluff. I actually thought the retelling worked pretty well in the high school setting, hitting all the important parts. It's super, super clean (like, SQUEAKY clean) and super conservative. So if that's not your style, than yeah, you'll hate it. But me? I'd recommend it. Especially to those parents that want something clean for their daughters.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, September 12

20 of the Best Kid's Books

So it turns out that Amazon has a list. Amazon has a lot of lists, but this one specifically is, "100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime." In a word, they have selected the 100 best kids books. Anything for those aged 12 and under. Which, of course, I take a special interest in. But is Amazon right?

As far as I can tell, Amazon does not explain their selection criteria or method behind the madness. Because let me tell you, there are a lot of good books out there--how can anyone choose? Amazon has got classics and award winners, new favorites and the popular. But still. They're not perfect in my mind. So, to help you narrow down from the 100, and perhaps be exposed to a few unexpected titles, here is my response to their list...

Twenty of My Favorite Children's Books
and so I think you should read them

I've split it into 10 picture books and 10 chapter books. First, I'll list the ones that weren't on their list. Three each.

Thursday, September 11

How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous

How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous
Georgia Bragg
Illustrations by Kevin O'Malley

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 9780802734884
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Date of publication: May 6, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: failure, historical figures, biographies, selfishness

Everyone makes mistakes, including those that are famous. Some of history's greatest figures have made horrible mistakes—some lead a lot of death and destruction, such as Montezuma II or General George Custer. Some failures turned into successes, such as Susan B. Anthony's fighting for a vote she never got—but then, eventually, others did. Included here are fourteen famous historical figures and their epic failures.

I can see the idea behind this book: that people make epic failures all the time, but it's how you handle it that determines your character. A moral lesson if you will—which is great, especially to teach to kids. But holy cow! This book came off rather negatively...it was depressing! It rambled in some places and seemed terribly biased in others (there may be some false claims in this book). It still had some funny parts, but not quite as enjoyable as her first book. It was hard for me to finish. I wish it was as good as her first.

I didn't review it here, but Bragg's first book, How They Croaked was a rather amazing book, a four-star for sure! If anything, you should read that one.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, September 9

Ode to the Commode: Concrete Poems

Ode to the Commode: Concrete Poems
Written by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Andy Rowland

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 9781467744546
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Date of publication: August 1, 2014
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Poetry

Themes: humor, poetry, anything and everything

Concrete poems are shaped like their subjects--people, place, or thing. These poems cover everything from a toilet flush to an unloved piece of Halloween candy. To really understand it, you should just see some of the illustrations:

See what I mean? Who knew poetry could be so much fun!

Yes, Brian Cleary is getting TWO posts today, because I wanted to cover both of his new books, the start of his "Poetry Adventure" series (see If It Rains Pancakes just below). This one, in particular, was super fun because I hadn't really encountered concrete poems before--or realized what they were, anyway. So, now we all know!

Basically, while being funny (you know I love funny), clever, and heartwarming, it is an excellent exercise for kids to try on their own. The illustrations are cute, too, with those four friends gracing every page. It's perfect for the classroom or storytime, or to encourage some creativity at home! Like, even I want to go try it now...

Find it at your library or on Amazon