Saturday, January 31


Megan Miranda

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0802737748
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: February 3, 2015
Age: Grades 8 to 11
Genre: Science Fiction

Themes: identity, justice, fugitives, reincarnation

Alina Chase has been imprisoned on a secluded island her whole life because of a crime committed in a previous lifetime. Her soul, printed and tracked in a massive database, has been pegged as guilty. And she's sick of it. She finally manages to escape with the help of three teens with their own ulterior motives. Can she trust any of them? And as she uncovers clues from her past life, will she be able to clear her name? Or is she fated to repeat history?

It's a pretty suspenseful read, with plenty of intrigue and a fast-paced plot. But I'm not sure Miranda is quite able to handle the rather weighty issue of reincarnation. It just doesn't come off as plausible. She makes attempts at gravitas—bringing in its affect on religion, fate, and perception—but it just didn't quite get there. Alina is a troubled character: can she make her own decisions or is her soul deciding her fate? It didn't feel real enough for me.

But that's more of my personal bias. Otherwise, you've got a pretty exciting read with a lot of action and whatnot. The characters are interesting, with their current pasts, as well as their soul's past to deal with and delve into. Miranda does a good job of revealing the depth of the characters piece by piece. And I do like how it ends. So you can decide for yourself.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, January 30

Another Best Gift for Die-Hard Readers

Or maybe we can just call this one 10 Best Gifts for Die-Hard Readers part II. Addendum to. The sequel. Amendment 11. And then some.

Actually, this is better than that post because all of the items in that post were simply things that I saw online and thought, "Man, I wish I had that." See this post is, "Man, I actually have this and want to tell other readers."

Behold, the Peeramid Bookrest:

Thursday, January 29

Boys of Blur

Boys of Blur
N. D. Wilson

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0449816738
Publisher: Random House
Date of publication: April 8, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 7
Genre: Horror

Themes: football, folklore, family, courage

Charlie has just moved to Taper, Florida—a small town isolated by everglades and swamps, and covered in sugarcane. It breeds the fastest runners and football players in the state, boys that chase muck rabbits in the fields when the cane is being burned and harvested. But it also breeds a dark secret, growing under the ancient mounds and roaming the cane at night. Together with his cousin, Charlie will hunt the secret and try to save those he loves.

This book has popped up a few times as a possible Newbery nominee, which is why I read it. And I can see why: it combines the ancient epic of Beowulf with African American lore in an engaging way. But it also combines child abuse, race relations, the South's love of football, zombies, blended family relationships, and more. In 200 pages. Yeah. There's a lot of gaps, jumps, and confusing little twists. Not to mention I was just really blind-sided by the zombie aspect: nothing on the cover, summary, or elsewhere led me to believe it was a horror story.

The characters came off flat, probably because there just wasn't time to develop them. Charlie's tumultuous relationship with his birth father comes to a head quite suddenly and ends just as quick. His mother makes, like, two appearances, even though her son is running all over creation with zombies. There's just too much crammed into one little book. With a big dose of weird. I didn't much like it.

If you really want to, find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, January 27

Athena the Brain

Athena the Brain
(Goddess Girls #1)
Written by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1416982715
Publisher: Aladdin
Date of publication: April 6, 2010
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: Greek mythology, intelligence, friendship, enemies

Athena has just learned that Zeus is her dad. Zeus! And not only that, be he's the principle of Mount Olympus Academy—and wants Athena to start attending immediately. Athena knows she's pretty smart, but will she have what it takes to succeed as a goddessgirl? Some quick new friends and her quick intelligence certainly helps. But how is she supposed to handle Medusa?

After reading and enjoying the first in Heroes in Training from these authors, it only makes sense to try out Goddess Girls. And it did not disappoint! It's a bit thicker, with no illustrations, and a more substantial in story. Which is a good one: who knew Athena's story could work out so well in a middle school? I love the details these authors include that keep it true to the mythology, but also the writing and style that keeps it modern and fun for young readers. It's a high recommendation for sure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 26

Must. Push. Buttons!

Must. Push. Buttons!
Written by Jason Good, illustrated by Jarrett Krosoczka

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1619630956
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: January 6, 2015
Age: 3 years and up

Themes: toddlers, hyperactive, pace, distraction

Do you want to know how a toddler's mind works? Because it is something like this: "I want to wear Mommy's shoes. Get the shoes off NOW. I want to go outside. Don't take me outside! I don't like inside. Juice! I need to play with Dad's phone. I must. Push. BUTTONS!" Until maybe, just maybe, the little guy will tucker out.

I'm not going to lie: I read this book and laughed out loud. Repeatedly. Partly because I had just finished babysitting a toddler just like this. And that's the whole point: it really does represent the mind of a precocious toddler pretty accurately! So yeah, I'd recommend it to parents everywhere!

But then I realized that's just it. It was hilarious for me, the adult. Would kids laugh? It's so scattered that there is no real story. The illustrations are bright and attention-grabbing, but since they're following the text, pretty random. Might it encourage bad behavior? Like grabbing Dad's phone or squeezing the juice box into a sticky explosion? Perhaps. I don't know, I'm not a parent.

Would I read it in a storytime? It would be super fun to read aloud because it is so fast-paced and exciting. But I'd probably read it for the parents' amusement more than the kids. So it's up to you, in the end. If anything, sneak a read of it at the library when you're in the mood.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, January 23

The Paradoxes in Librarianship

Do you have what it takes to be a librarian? That's the question that prompted this post. There's some definite traits a person should have before he or she should consider become a librarian. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these traits can be rather paradoxical.

So the idea for the post changed. I'm naming the paradoxical traits often found in librarians. For instance:

Thursday, January 22

The Secret Hum of a Daisy

The Secret Hum of a Daisy
Tracy Holczer

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0399163937
Publisher: Putnam
Date of publication: May 1, 2014
Age: Grades 6 and up
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: family relationships, death, grieving, discovery, journey

After the sudden death of her mother, Grace is forced to go to the home of her last living relative: her grandmother, whom she has never meant. She only knows that her grandmother kicked her mom out of the house as a teenager, when she became pregnant with Grace. Surely, her mother doesn't mean for her to live here? When Grace starts finding some clues, she wonders if her mother has left her a treasure hunt again—just like she used to—leading to her true home.

This one deserves a high rating because I started out begrudgingly and ended in love. I'm amazed that this is Holczer's first published novel, because she writes with the finesse and imagery of a master. The language is beautiful. She also captures the characters, with all of their unexpected depths, brilliantly. I mean, the whole point of the story is how this girl can learn to love the grandmother she's never known, a grandmother that must not have loved her mom...or did she? It's a complicated relationship and Holczer explores that beautifully. Be ready with some tissues, that's all I have to say.

But, in the end, is it really something a middle-grader would want to read? It's much more the complex exploration of relationships and values, rather than the adventure. She's on a treasure hunt, yes, but even I had trouble following Grace's justification for how the clues fit together. It's really about her dealing with the grief. I'd recommend it, for sure, but for its literary excellence rather than excitement.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, January 20

Oldies: Frog and Toad Are Friends

Frog and Toad Are Friends
Written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Harper & Row (1970)
Age: Grades 1 - 4

Themes: friendship, helpfulness, care,

Frog and Toad are the best of friends. Whether one of them is sick, lost a button, or wants a letter, they'll help each other out. Of course, they have their funny moments—but that's just what keeps things fun. Here are five chapters of their adventures.

Before Elephant & Piggie, my love resided with Frog and Toad. And it's the same theme: one is a little more uptight and serious (Toad) while one is always looking for fun (Frog). So together, it makes for a perfect story.

I love the illustrations because they're simple, yet well done (they did garner a Caldecott honor). Which matches the simple text. It can get a little monotonous, but it has really great repetition and vocabulary for beginning readers. While Elephant & Piggie are definitely better at getting emotion across, Frog & Toad have some much more involved stories.

So, in case you're curious, my rating is: ★★★★

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 19

Please, Mr. Panda

Please, Mr. Panda
Written and illustrated by Steve Antony

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0545788922
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: December 30, 2014
Age: 2 - 6 years

Themes: manners, donuts, black & white, minimalism

Mr. Panda has a tasty box full of donuts he is willing to share. Penguin wants one, skunk would like more, and the whale would like a whole bunch! But no. They don't get any. Because the best way to ask for something from Mr. Panda is to say, "Please!"

This book is awesome. The art, the writing—it's minimalistic. There's no frills, just the straight up fact: it's better when you say please! I love the illustrations because the colorful donuts, looking so tasty, are the only color on the page; they really stand out. Each black and white animal would like some, but only the lemur says please—in nice, big lettering, filling the page so you don't miss it. It made me laugh out loud, it teaches a good lesson, and the illustrations are fantastic. Definitely a winner in my mind! makes for a good excuse to go eat some donuts. But only if your kids say please, of course.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, January 16

Flannel Friday: Penguins & Polar Bears

With plenty of winter-themed storytimes going around at my library, I've created/reused some flannels involving my favorite polar friends: penguins & polar bears

I've got two variations of "Monkeys on the Bed" here.

For preschool, we used these five polar bears with this rhyme...

Thursday, January 15

The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds
(The Unwanteds #1)
Lisa McMann

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1442407695
Publisher: Aladdin
Date of publication: August 30, 2011
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian

Themes: good vs. evil, creativity, fear, twins, control

Every year, Quill has a purge of 13-year-olds: the stoic and intelligent, like Aaron, are Wanted and sent to the university. The creative with an infraction too manymany, like Aaron's twin brother Alex, are Unwanted and sent to be eliminated. But Alex is shocked to discover that, instead of death by boiling hot oil, he is welcomed to the secret land of Artime, where the Unwanted train their creative magical powers. But will the bond between twins be too strong, revealing the secret of Artime to the destructive society of Quill?

This book had a lot going for it. But perhaps, that is what turned out to prevent it from being amazing. The overall concept takes place in a dystopian society but the one twin gets sent to train his magic. Enter in one wise, old mage and an epic battle of good verses evil. It didn't really shine in one aspect, just taking on a lot of aspects at once. It's still good, just not great.

There are a lot of characters, including some pretty random magical creatures (Ms. Octavia: half croc, half octopus). Alex was pretty good, facing some hard times and good times. Aaron may have been a bit confusing for me because I never really got a good grasp on why he does what he does. Then, there's the magic. The magic in this book has no real parameters; any creative action a character does can be turned into some magical action.

The writing? Well, the narration jumps from different characters suddenly, even on the same page, which makes it unimpressive. But I really did enjoy how McMann addresses fear and why a person would want to control a society. She did get me thinking in that sense. So overall recommendation? Up to you. I think kids could find it really exciting and enjoyable.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, January 13

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom
(Heroes in Training #1)
Written by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
Illustrations by Craig Phillips

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1442452633
Publisher: Aladdin
Date of publication: August 7, 2012
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: Greek mythology, Olympians, origins, heroes, prophecies

Ten-year-old Zeus doesn't mind chilling in his cave on Crete, enjoying goat's milk and the company of nymphs—except for the constant thunderstorms that try to strike him with lightening. Some adventure or excitement might be more fun... But when some Cronies (half-giant soldiers of King Cronus) come traipsing through and kidnap him, Zeus is about to learn his destiny: a hero in training. Cool! After half-giants, harpies, oracles and other such dangers, Zeus now has a lightening bolt in hand and a hero's quest to save... Poseidon? Who's that?

So while it doesn't follow Zeus' origin story exactly (well, who really knows the story perfectly, anyway?), the book provides an excellent juvenile perspective on history of the king of gods with just enough true elements to make it useful. In this version, Zeus is a little bit clueless and a little bit brave, providing just the right amount of humor and exciting adventure. There's an illustration for each chapter that is really well done; they each tie-in well with the story and look rather Greek, in style (if that makes sense). Really, this book is awesome. With the huge success of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, this book provides a fantastic introduction into the ever-popular world of Greek mythology. It's perfect for younger readers.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 12

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied

Special bonus book review today after a successful chat with the Virtual Book Club (#vbcbooks). The author was able to join in! I learned some extra cool facts that I included at the end of today's post. Come join the VBC every second Monday of the month at 9pm EST!

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied
Jess Keating

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1402297557
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Date of publication: June 3, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: middle school, bravery, self-image, friendship, family

Now that her best friend's moved to New Zealand and a her family's temporarily relocated into the zoo research house, Ana is the prey of choice for the Sneerers, a rather rotten group of carnivorous girls at school. Ana finds her courage dwindling and doesn't know how she'll survive--chameleon powers, maybe? But with a visit from her famous TV-zoologist grandpa and some encouragement from her mom, Ana may be able to find her strengths and discover the courage she needs to stand up to her fears.

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky: and Other Poems

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky: and Other Poems
Written by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 9780062014641
Publisher: Greenwillow
Date of publication: February 26, 2013
Age: 4 - 8 years
Genre: Poetry

Themes: imagination, animals, uniqueness, discovery

Prelutsky has returned from his adventures to far off places to report on even more strange and unique creates. He observed stardines in the sky, jollyfish under the sea, and even the annoying tattlesnake. There are sixteen in all, and all have hilarious attributes described in pure poetry.

As a companion to his earlier book, Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: and Other Poems, Prelutsky again impresses with his profound imagination and grasp on the English language. With Plandas, Sobcats, and Braindeer, one must admire his creativity. The illustrations are brilliant, using scraps and cut-outs to personify some crazy animals. I really enjoyed the Stardines illustrations, as seen on the cover.

I'm not completely won over; I got a tad bored reading it all at once. But, I still appreciate the tool it can be in the classroom. After reading this book, it's hard not to try to imagine other animals mashed with whatever variety of inanimate objects/traits. It'd be a great prompt for a poetry lesson for second or third graders.

I'd say it is definitely skewed towards older children (what with a vocabulary including "cacophonic monotone" and animals like cormorants and wapitis). But the imagination is contagious and the poems rather creative. See if you like it.

Find it at you library or on Amazon

Friday, January 9

Mock Newbery 2015

I realize there's only a few short weeks until the official Newbery Award announcement, but I still wanted to make a list of my favorites...

The Newbery. Awarded to author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. That's a big deal. But what's worse is that there were so many well-written, fantastic pieces of literature written this year, that it's going to be hard to choose.

Here are my thoughts...

Thursday, January 8

The Case of the Cursed Dodo

The Case of the Cursed Dodo
(The Endangered Files #1)
Jake G. Panda

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0990939115
Publisher: Woolly Family Studios
Date of publication: December 10, 2014
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Mystery

Themes: film noir, endangered animals, detective work, betrayal

First, because I really cannot create a summary as amazing as this one, I will quote the book's summary:

"If you're looking for trouble, you've found it. The name's Jake G. Panda, and trouble seems to follow me wherever I go. I work in the protection racket at a flophouse for endangered critters called the Last Resort. I'm the hotel snoop. The resident fuzz. It's my job to keep these guests safe and outta harm's way. This is the first of my many misadventures. A wild and woolly mystery involving a lost suitcase, a green bird, and a bunch of double-crossing animals. I'm calling this jungle noir The Case of the Cursed Dodo."

Don't you see? That's the pattern for the whole book! It's fantastic. Clever, punny, creative, and hard to put down—it's all there. And with a new favorite character! Jake G. Panda is just the type of grizzly PI that is classic, yet hilarious. I love a book that can make me laugh. The other characters are also classic and satirical—they're all endangered animals. Like the dame? She's a Californian Condor in a platinum blonde wig. Yeah. Genius. They all are pretty well developed with their own issues and depth. Plus, there's the real issues of endangered species and poachers.

The story as a whole? Well, first, it's written in a very unique way. It's not a book, it's a movie. It's a jungle noir! There's "cut to black" and "fade in" and Jake is narrating the whole thing. I liked it. Will everyone? No. And I wonder how kids would respond to it. I believe they could appreciate it... Besides, There's a LOT of action and a LOT of suspicion! It's exciting. But at some points, that did make it a little confusing ("wait, which bad guy is this?") and the mystery/case-to-be-solved isn't necessarily apparent right off. It builds as you go along. But still! I really enjoyed it. I'm recommending it for sure.

Find it on Amazon

(I received a digital copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review)

Wednesday, January 7

Frozen Storytime

This storytime was for toddlers and preschoolers at my library. We had some very special guests...

Tuesday, January 6

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Written and illustrated by Brian Floca

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1416950462
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Date of publication: April 7, 2009
Age: Grades PreK - 4
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry

Themes: rocketry, moon landing, Apollo space program,

With simple, poetic verse, the grand story is told: how Apollo 11 got to the moon and back. The rockets of Saturn V burst, machinery working in sync, to get three men traveling at amazing speeds to make the 238,000 mile trip to the lunar surface. People all across the Earth cheered as the Eagle landed. History was made.

Floca is a Caldecott winner for a reason: while the actual writing is rather simple (in a very beautiful, poetic sort of way), it's the illustrations that capture the reader's attention. They are what communicate the magnitude of the trip. Even the endpaper is filled with information and scaled drawings to help kids get a small grasp of the historical mission.

To help kids of all ages, really! One could just read the words and look at your pictures with a preschooler--or a 4th grader could use it to get needed factual information. It's that versatile. Not to mention the adults, like me, who thoroughly enjoyed it and learned some new facts. This one is definitely recommended.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 5

Any Questions?

Any Questions?
Written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1554983827
Publisher: Groundwood
Date of publication: October 13, 2014
Age: 5 - 9 years
Genre: Educational

Themes: Writing process, curiosity, creativity, questions/answers

Marie-Louise Gay gets a lot of questions from kids about her work as an author, and she likes to answer them. Where does a story start? Usually on a blank page. Where do ideas come from? Different colors or words spark an idea. And so the story begins with a shy giant in the forest...

It's a story-in-a-story. Gay illustrates all of these kids asking her questions (just like they do in real life) and takes them on the journey of writing a picture book. So, that being said, it is a little more complicated than your average book, meaning the target age is a little older. It's also harder to read aloud, because there's a LOT of speech bubbles and asides and...there's just a lot on every page. Gay's got a lot of ideas to share!

Overall, it's a pretty valuable insight into how one author may do her work. The little story she writes within this book is okay, but it's more just an example to get her points across. The best part is, she answers all the many questions that pop up at the end of her book. Even her favorite color. It's a bit chaotic for me, but I'd still recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, January 3


Victoria Laurie

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484700082
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: January 13, 2015
Age: Grades 9 and up
Genre: Mystery

Themes: deathdates, serial killer, FBI investigation, family relations, motive

Maddie Fynn is cursed to see the deathdate of everyone around her—face-to-face, photographed, or on-screen. Her alcoholic mother exploits this to earn some extra money by having Maddie predict people's death. However, when her accuracy predicts the death of a teenage boy in the area, the FBI focuses on her. Then more teens start disappearing. Can Maddie set things right before more kids die? Can someone's deathdate change?

It was thrilling, it was gripping, and I could barely put it down. I love a good suspenseful murder. Maddie is a girl trying to live her life, but is being pulled in many directions: helping her alcoholic mother, succeeding in school, crushing on a cute boy, and (oh yeah) predicting deaths. These difficult conflicts make for a well-written character. It was easy to read this concept of a story from her perspective. The other characters, though? A little ho-hum. And the murderer? I'm still a tad confused at where Laurie came up with that one. He doesn't seem to fit the profile.

In fact, the ending was a little too neatly tied up in a pretty bow. Basically, it's too happy of an ending. The story really did pull me in—it had fantastic suspense and some definite tragedy—but about the time the murderer was revealed to the very end was just a little too perfect. There were a couple jumps, some gaps that weren't fully explained (could Stubby really snap out of his depression with one skateboard ride?), but really. I'm still a fan. I'd recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Friday, January 2

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525423270
Publisher: Dutton
Date of publication: December 2, 2010
Age: Grades 9 - 12
Genre: Romance, Realistic Fiction

Themes: boarding school, father relationships, friendship, Paris

Anna is looking forward to her senior year with her best friend and crush. But when her dad surprises with enrollment in a French boarding school, she's sure she'll never like it. She in no way wants to live in a foreign country by herself, even if it is Paris, France. That is, until she meets √Čtienne St. Clair. He's smart, charming, handsome...and taken. Sure, they can be best friends, but what if she wants something more?

Adorable. Stephanie Perkins has a way with cute romances. I thought Anna was a rather interesting character (I loved that she wants to be a movie critic) but her lack of self-confidence was annoying (isn't that the case with a lot of romances?). St Clair is, of course, perfectly attractive in his British-accent sort of way, but I especially loved his depth of character shown through his family relationships. The last quarter of the book, however... Just sort of dragged out the inevitable. More drama drama blah blah and then it hits sort of suddenly. I wanted it to be a five-star, but it just didn't quite fill it for me.

Warning: Explicit Content
Some sexuality

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, January 1

Tommy Black and the Staff of Light

Tommy Black and the Staff of Light
Jake Kerr
(Tommy Black #1)

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0692316665
Publisher: Currents & Tangents Press
Date of publication: November 4, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: dark vs. light, pre-WWII, family relations, sexism, magic vs. technology

Tommy has just found out that his seemingly boring grandfather is actually the Archmage, owner of a most revered magical staff. But the Shadows have come for him, and before Tommy can comprehend what's happening, he is the new owner of the staff and thus, the new Archmage. He must escape the Shadows, discover his powers of light with the staff, and find his grandfather. In his adventures, he meets Naomi--a girl who's magical prowess matches her ability to hurl insults in a sexist society. Will the two be able to face the dark and powerful creatures that kidnapped his grandfather?

In the end, a great fantasy adventure with a fascinating take on magic--is it really needed? Taking place right before WWII, Kerr tells an alternate history: magic won the Great War, but technology is rapidly replacing the need for wizardry. Love the concept, but the execution left much to be desired. I really struggled reading the first two-thirds of the book. The story dragged with a lot of expository writing (I soon learned to skim those parts) and even the action parts were made dull with most of the first-person-written sentences starting with "I." The characters were a tad flat, but I appreciated the coming-into-his-own that Tommy went through. I like Naomi a lot. It picked up a bit more towards the end, and I really enjoyed the ending. I hope Kerr can carry that momentum into the next book.

Find it on Amazon

(I received a digital copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review)