Monday, December 21, 2009

See ya later!

Hey there!

I am taking a bit of a family holiday break here! Come on back post January 1st.

Happy reading!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Best of the Year

Well, the best that I read this year, anyway! As you can tell from the last posts, I love the lists. Some readers may know that I used to hold down 2 blogs...this here Tweendom, and the now defunct Booktopia. Booktopia was the place that I discussed picture books, young adult books and the occasional adult title. Last year I decided to break down my favs of the year into several top 5s, and this year I am adding another category. So without further ado, here are my favorite 5 picture books, tween titles, young adult titles, and graphic novels of 2009!

Picture Books

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney
Birdie's Big Girl Shoes, by Suejean Rim
Let's Do Nothing!, by Tony Fucile
Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, by Mac Barnett, ill by Adam Rex
Yes Day!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill by Tom Lichtenheld

Tween Titles

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly
Newsgirl, by Liza Ketchum
Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko
Peace Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson
11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass

Graphic Novels

Secret Science Alliance and the Copy Cat Crook, by Eleanor Davis
The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan
Stitches, by David Small
Lunch Lady, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
( 4 of these!)

Young Adult Titles

Lips Touch, by Laini Taylor, ill by Jim DiBartolo
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
We Were Here, by Matt de la Pena
The Silver Blade, by Sally Gardner
Peace, Love and Baby Ducks, by Lauren Myracle

So, there you have it. Of course these are my opinions of the best that I read this year. Best is an idea that is quite personal, and for my purposes here these are the ones that made me smile, flip pages desperately, and made me want to share the titles with the kids, tweens, and teens in my life.

What made your list?

Friday, December 11, 2009

More List-y Goodness

I am constantly looking for LGBT books to share with our kids and families. I am very lucky to work in a school that celebrates all kinds of families. Generally speaking, picture books and young adult books dealing with LGBT themes are pretty easy to find. It's the middle grade area that gets sticky.

Luckily for us, Lee Wind over at I'm Here, I'm Queer. What The Hell Do I Read? has put together a Middle Grade Bookshelf featuring titles where the tweens/teens are LGBT or questioning, and another list that features titles with family members or people in a tween's/teen's life are LGBT.

Head on over
to check it out!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dear Pen Pal

It's 8th grade year for the girls and changes are afoot. Jess is surprised to learn that she has just received a scholarship to snooty Colonial Academy. Jess could care less about the scholarship...she just wants to stay at Walden Middle School with her friends. Her parents, however, keep talking about opportunities, and college, and want to reach a compromise of having Jess board at the school during the week and come home to help at Half Moon farm on the weekends.

Without Jess at Walden, Emma is a bit sad. She misses Jess, and even though things are warming up with Stewart and she is editor of the paper, she still feels like something is missing. If only her parents would finally say yes to a dog...

Megan's grandmother has moved into the house and Megan finally feels like someone understands her. Gigi is totally into fashion and travel. She is an amazing cook who even uses meat (gasp!) in her dishes. But the closer Megan gets to Gigi, the more annoyed her own mother seems to get.

Among all of the changes, Becca and Cassidy actually have something common. Their mothers seem to be going a bit crazy. Mrs. Chadwick has discovered a whole new her, complete with outrageous outfits, spiky hair, and animal print glasses. Mrs. Sloane-Kincaid is always tired. She's nauseous and napping.

The book club is changing too. The club is reading Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster, but what is new to the club are the pen-pals. Mrs. Hawthorne has been in touch with her old college friend who has her own mother-daughter book club, and they thought it would be great for the girls to write to each other while reading the same book. Some of the girls aren't too pleased about this...after all, who even writes letters anymore. Texting or emailing would be so much easier. But the moms stand firm. Old fashioned letters with stamps will be sent!

What follows is a story complete with nasty room-mates, sleep-over pranks, road trips, first kisses and secrets kept from friends and mothers alike. Heather Vogel Frederick's latest installment in the series will not disappoint fans of the first two books. The girls are growing in real time, and their 8th grade problems are different form their 6th grade ones. Each character, though somewhat typed, brings something fresh to the table in Dear Pen Pal. Cassidy's growing away from her jock persona and Emma's geek is ascending the social ladder with the help of her girlfriend status. But the characters never lose their souls over it. The changes simply feel true to the tumultuous times of middle schoolers.

I can't wait to see what the book club reads next!

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I am a list girl. I love lists. This is one of the main reasons that I love this time of year. I get to reflect upon what I have read, and to figure out whether it has stuck with me, what I still like about it, or if it has faded away. I no longer mourn for those titles that I didn't get to. I have faith that the good ones will draw me in some day.

Before I go on to make my own top 5 lists, I like to browse the others that are floating around. Luckily, the talented Chicken Spaghetti has gone and pulled many of the lists together on her page. Head on over to check them out.

Are any of your favourites there?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Calamity Jack

So I was part of the judging panel that awarded Rapunzel's Revenge the Cybils Award. Imagine my pleasure when Calamity Jack showed up on my doorstep months ago. Imagine my excitement at reading it. Imagine my dismay at realizing the pub date of 01/10! But now, I feel like we're close enough to said date to blog it, so yay!

Jack has always been somewhat of a trickster, though often to unfortunate ends. He considers himself a criminal mastermind with a bit of bad luck. He is a born scammer, and he remembers all of his schemes fondly enough to have named them! "The Sugarbowl Gambit", "The Great Sandwich Caper", "The Grocery Job", "The Purloined Pig", "The Cane Mutiny", "The Ice Cream Con"...and the list goes on. Picking the right target and having the right partner are key elements of pulling off a scheme. Jack soon fancies himself a Robin Hood of sorts, when he sees his jobs as righting wrongs and helping less fortunate folks. But Jack doesn't always get away with it, and his mother is beside herself. Jack promises himself he won't make his mother cry again. It's time to go straight. After one last caper...

Jack is taking on the big boss Blunderboar this time. Jack should have known better, but his luck truly takes a turn for the worse and he soon high tails it out of town where he meets Rapunzel. They have their adventures and Jack decides it's safe to head home, and he takes Rapunzel along with him.

Of course the trip home is anything but dull and the wanted posters featuring Jack's mug complicate matters even more.

Chock filled with action, beasties, and steam punk sensibility Calamity Jack takes readers to a far flung world where fairy tales do come true in unexpected ways. Perfectly paced, fans of the first book will happily devour this installment, and first time readers will no doubt go back and read about Rapunzel after they finish Jack's story. The only time that Rapunzel's Revenge is in our library is for somebody to check it in so that a friend can check it out, and I am sure that Calamity Jack is in for the same fate. Appealing across genders and ages, this is no doubt a graphic novel series that will stand the test of time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On the Clipboard This Week

Artemis Fowl, by Colfer

Redwall, by Jacques

The Lightning Thief, by Riordan

The Supernaturalist, by Colfer

Amelia Rules, by Gownley

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On the Clipboard This Week

Here's what our tweens are checking out!

Remember Me to Harold Square, by Danzinger.

Flyte, by Heap

Unclaimed Treasures, by MacLachlan (even with the same cover!)

Green Lantern Chronicles, by Broome

Flipped by VanDraanen

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Picture Books for Tweens

I have been reading many, many picture books lately. Both for review and for a presentation that I am giving later this week. As a result, I have been thinking about picture books and tweens. There are many picture books that are perfectly suited for tweens...especially those with out of the ordinary non-fiction themes. Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle is just one of those books.

Cromwell Dixon was a kid who loved to invent things. From a rowboat with extra oars, to a mechanical fish made out of clocks, Cromwell's imagination ran wild. He read all that he could about the inventions of the day, but he was especially captivated with the flying machines. Cromwell had been up in a hot air balloon in 1904 and by 1907, fourteen year old Cromwell decided that he wanted to be an aeronaut and began to build his own flying machine.

Now, many inventors have parents who do not support their passion, but Cromwell was very lucky. His mother supported him 100%. His design was based around his bicycle. He rebuilt it so that pedaling meant that propellers would turn and turning the handlebars would make the rudder in the back go left or right. Cromwell's mother sewed up a grand silk balloon that would support the bicycle and its rider!

A tragic set back would probably have made many teens give up, but Cromwell and his mother started sewing again, and he was convinced that his new design would be even better than the last.

Tweens will be captivated with this story about the original "balloon boy". Cromwell is an example of resilience embodied and his stick with it attitude is inspiring to us all. John Abbott Nez's illustrations perfectly set the tone of the time, and readers will pour over the details of the air ships and the blueprints. At the end, there is a mini-biography titled, "This is a True Story" that gives readers a bit more detail.

Why not consider some picture books for the tweens in your life?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn

New kids are used to hearing stories about the places they move into from the local kids. Almost immediately upon driving up to their place, Logan meets the kid next door, Arthur. It doesn’t take long for Arthur to tell Logan that he was surprised anyone bought the place, considering what happened there. It’s not called the murder house for nothing.

Logan cannot believe that his mom and dad bought their new house knowing that someone was killed there. Logan’s folks think that Arthur is exaggerating, and while they agree that Mrs. Donaldson did die in the house, they doubt she was murdered.

Ever helpful Arthur takes Logan to the local library to check out the old newspapers from the time of Mrs. Donaldson’s death. Turns out that there is a lot more to the situation with Logan’s house than he even heard about from Arthur. There is missing money from Mrs. Donaldson’s job at a now abandoned theme park, and tremendous amounts of family drama, including the fact that Mrs. Donaldson’s son-in-law might have somehow been involved in this whole situation.

Now Arthur is the kind of kid who marches to his own drummer, and really doesn’t care what other kids think. Logan is fine with that although he is a little worried about what might happen once school starts. But they do have a long summer ahead of them, with unscripted days. Arthur is soon leading the charge for him and Logan to solve this old mystery. Logan’s a bit unsure about the whole thing, since it includes lots of bike riding up many hills and skulking around a creepy abandoned theme park.

Mary Downing Hahn has written an atmospheric and just creepy enough story. Don’t be fooled, there are issues of spousal abuse that make this a read for the older tween, but all of the details are appropriate to the story. Arthur, while unlikable, is believable and his story gives insight into the way that many children live. It’s a powerful thing to see a character shunned from his own mother, to the other kids at school, just keep moving on and be strong enough to believe in himself. The juxtaposition of Arthur and Logan’s families will definitely give readers something to think about.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Clipboard Thursdays - What Our Tweens Are Reading

Enola Holmes, by Springer

Warriors, by Hunter

The Name of this Book is Secret, by Bosch

Pippi Longstocking, by Lindgren

The Supernaturalist, by Colfer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Sisters Club: Rule of Three

Middle sister Stevie Reel knows that there really is a rule of three. Everything seems to come in threes. There are three sisters in her family, and that’s not all. As she says, “Think about it: Red, white, blue. Snap, crackle, pop. Bacon, lettuce, tomato.” (p.1) Sometimes Stevie is a bit jealous of her friend Olivia who doesn’t have to live in the midst of a three sister family, since she is an only. She doesn’t have to worry about living up to the idea of herself just because that’s who people think she’s supposed to be.

For example, Stevie’s older sister Alex is the actor of the family. The Reel’s are all dramatic in their own ways, but Alex typically gets the lead in every school play. Her whole existence seems so scripted that she even acts out dialogue with her Sock Monkey in order to work through her personal drama.

Little sister Joey is a bit of an instigator as well as a list maker, a girl with a cause (Locks for Love), and currently is obsessed with the book Little Women. She is also in the unique position as the secret keeper, since both older sisters come to her to complain about each other!

Stevie is the baker. Her frustrations and worries get channeled through the creation of such recipes as “Don’t-Bug-Me-I’m-Baking” cupcakes, or “I-Hate-My-Sister” cupcakes. She likes baking so much that she is hoping to enter her local cake off, and maybe even win a prize.

So there they are: three sisters, with three roles to play.

But identities have a way of shifting, and when the new school play is decided to be Once Upon a Mattress, Alex decides she is sick of musicals, and Stevie, who loves to sing, thinks that this might be the time that she wants to stick her toes in the waters of acting. After all, she does have the voice, if she doesn’t have the acting skills. When Stevie decides to go out for the play, and Alex decides that she wants to audition after all, the family will be facing sibling rivalry like never before!

Megan McDonald has written a fun and breezy read for tweens. Chapters alternate and highlight each sister’s unique voice. Alex’s voice is shown in script form, Joey’s is lists, diagrams and statistics, and Stevie is given the voice of straight prose. There are all kinds of magazine style fun facts throughout (like the fact that a bunch of gnus are called an implausibility), and Little Women related quizzes. It’s a quick read, and the age range of the sisters mean that readers will most likely find somebody to identify/sympathize with.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diary of A Wimpy Kid 4: Dog Days

Greg is back and this time he has to survive summer. He has no real problem with summer since he is a self-described “indoor person”. He’s ready to spend his days with the curtains closed playing video games. Unfortunately, his mom has other ideas.

Greg has already spent part of the summer with Rowley at the country club, talking to the ladies and ordering up fruit smoothies. But he got uninvited as soon as he let Rowley’s dad know just what was wrong with the place (like the time the waiter forgot his little umbrella in his smoothie!). Now his mom is trying to convince him to come to the town pool with her and Manny. The problem with the town pool is the showers. You have to walk through them to get to the pool. And they tend to be filled with naked old guys. Greg would rather pass.

Mom’s next big idea is a reading club with all of the neighbourhood guys. When she asks them to bring books they would like to discuss, some of the titles that arrive are: SUDOKU INSANITY, ULTIMATE VIDEO GAME CHEATS, GREEN WASP, AND XTREME POP-UP SHARKS! Greg’s mom deems all of these too violent and suggests some classic titles, like Little Women, The Yearling, Old Yeller, and Anne of Green Gables! Guess how many guys make it to the second meeting?

Jeff Kinney has once again written a laugh-out-loud funny book that appeals to such a broad spectrum of readers. My adult self was laughing out loud as are the tweens that I see reading this. We all have had endless summers that include chores, car trips, and family drama. The vignette style keeps reluctant readers going and voracious ones satisfied. The illustration to text ratio is perfect, and Kinney’s illustrations are spot on as always with my favourites being of Greg in the beauty shop!

Fun, fun, fun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clipboard Thursdays - What Our Tweens Are Reading

Checked out on the clipboard this week:

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, by Messner

Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, by Ferber

NERDS: National Espionage Rescue and Defense Society, by Buckley and Beavers

The Twilight Zone: The After Hours, by Sterling

Twelve, by Lauren Myracle

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cybils 2009

I am happy to once again be a part of the Cybils Awards! This year I am going to be judging middle grade fiction, along with the folks from Shelf Elf, Educating Alice, The Excelsior File and Wagging Tales! I've been keeping track of the nominations, and I have to say, I am very excited!

If you haven't nominated any titles yet, head on over now!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dani Noir

"What would Rita Hayworth do?" is a question that Dani often asks herself. She is spending the summer in her upstate New York town where she often has no bars on her cell phone and is dealing with her own family drama which is including her parent's recent divorce.

Dani loves immersing herself in the noir movies that are being shown all summer at the Little Art theater. She adores Rita Hayworth's ways, and loves the predictability of the shadow laden stories up on the screen. As soon as the credits roll and Dani is back to reality she finds a certain amount of dissatisfaction with her life, until a bit of a real life mystery presents itself. Dani's friend and former babysitter Elissa is dating the projectionist at the Little Art, so why is there a girl with polka-dotted tights who is definitely NOT Elissa, hanging around?

Dani clings to this new real life mystery as a way of escaping her weepy mother, and the reality of her cheating father. Her focus zooms in so tightly on figuring out the polka-dotted tights girl's identity that she doesn't think about who might get hurt along the way.

Nova Ren Suma has written an interesting and thoughtful novel that is character driven in the best way. Dani is very much 13 years old, and her resentment of her father is real and raw. As a reader, I found myself hoping that she wouldn't make some of the choices that she did, but they were the choices that a 13 year old would make. The integration of today's social networking technology fit the story and does not feel forced at all. I read this book in arc format a month or so ago, and it has been on my mind. Nova Ren Suma has managed a certain authenticity with Dani, and while this isn't a title that I found myself gushing about, it has been simmering and simmering. Certainly a sign that it will stand the test of time.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Clipboard Thursdays - What Our Tweens Are Reading

A few titles from this week's clipboard!

Rapunzel's Revenge, by Hale

The Thief Lord, by Funke

The Transall Sagg, by Paulsen

If We Kiss, by Vail

Huge, by Paley

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Luv Ya Bunches

On the surface, Violet, Katie-Rose, Camilla and Yasaman seem to have little in common outside of the fact that they all are in fifth grade at Rivendell Elementary School. Katie-Rose is a film buff who if truth-be-told, tries a little too hard. Violet in the quintessential new girl with a bit of a secret. Yasaman is the only fifth grader who wears a hijab. And Camilla is just on the edge of the queen bee crew next to Modessa and Quin. But school life has a way of throwing people together, and soon their lives are indeed intertwined.

Katie-Rose went to pioneer camp over the summer with Camilla (Milla for short), and is hoping that they can be friends inside school as well. She knows that Milla hangs out with queen bees Modessa and Quin, but Katie-Rose is sure that Milla doesn't really belong with them. After all, Milla is the nice one of the bunch.

Yasaman is the kind of girl who keeps to her self and stays out of trouble. Over the summer, she went to a computer camp and actually came up with her own social network. Kind of like facebook, but private to those who join. Too bad she doesn't have anyone to join. And too bad she can't come up with a better name for it than!

Katie-Rose meets new girl Violet the very first day. As she is directing Violet to her next class, she accidentally causes a big collision between Milla and Yasaman. Violet gets a taste for the school hierarchy as Modessa and Quin come by calling Yasaman Spazaman while they help Milla gather up the contents of her spilled knapsack. Violet is surprised when Katie-Rose disappears instead of helping Yasaman out.

Milla soon discovers that something from her knapsack is missing. Her favorite toy turtle named Tally is gone! He's a bit of a security blanket for Milla and she's devastated by the discovery. Will she ever get him back? Or a better question to ask is whether or not Tally is actually "lost".

Soon all four girls are tangled up in the push-pull of fifth grade friendships. Milla isn't really happy with Modessa and Quin's nasty ways, but she's not sure she's ready to be friends with Katie-Rose and Yasaman, who by now have found each other. Violet is playing it cool with Modessa and Quin while she tries to figure out what to do about the predicaments that she is in at home and at school. Will these four manage to get together to shield each other from the mean girls?

Told as only Lauren Myracle can, Luv Ya Bunches is a pitch perfect tween read. Told in alternating chapters and using screen play and IM format as well as traditional prose, readers get a bird's eye view of each of the girls as they muddle their way towards one another. I sat down and thought to my adult self if four such diverse characters were a little too convenient, if you know what I mean, and I decided that convenience was not a factor. These girls are all geeked out in their own way, whether it be over computer code, film, pioneer camp, bobble headed toys or just being the new girl. There's a definite connection between the characters that shines through. Myracle will also have her audience in fits of giggles over things such as bewitching girdles and dingleberries.

In stores 10/09.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan

Jake is the textbook juvenile delinquent. He has been kicked out of every public school in Rhode Island, and was shipped down to Traybridge North Carolina and his grandfather. Jake managed about 3 weeks at Traybridge Middle School before he was asked to leave as well. Lucille Applewhite had been conducting a poetry workshop at the school when Jake got kicked out and she suggested that Jake attend the Creative Academy: a home school that the Applewhites ran out of their home.

E.D. can’t imagine why Aunt Lucille thinks that their home school can help Jake when so many others had failed before. Then again, Aunt Lucille tends to see the good in everyone. Jake doesn’t exactly want to move into the Applewhite’s place either, but his social worker told him in no uncertain terms that it was this or Juvenile Hall.

When Jake arrives with his scarlet liberty spikes, piercings, foul mouth and cigarette habit, he doesn’t get much of the reaction that he is hoping for. Aside from the smoking, nobody seems to care. In fact, the family parrot swears more than he does.

The Applewhites are a family of artists with a capital “A”. The kind where the grown ups are too busy creating to go grocery shopping, forget to check in on the kids home school lessons, and can even forget what day it is. So Jake is left up to E.D. who is the lone organized, structure-loving member of the family. Neither of them are pleased and they manage to pretty much ignore each other.

It’s not until E.D.’s director dad gets asked to direct a community theatre production of the Sound of Music that everyone’s talents (even E.D.’s) get put to good use. Jake comes to see that he can separate himself from what his parents have made him.

With a cast of kooky characters, an angry goat, a scene stealing 4 year old, and a common goal, Stephanie S. Tolan has written a charming and thought-provoking story about family and self. How we define ourselves doesn’t have to mirror our parents and siblings, but each of us does have some definition of place within the idea of family. A Newbery Honor book for 2002.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clipboard Thursdays - aka What Our Tweens Are Reading

Last school year, following on the coat tails of The Well Read Child , I started a bit on this blog noting what our tweens are checking out on our clip board. During the week, if Jen, Jesse or I aren't at the desk, we have an honor system clip board on which students write down the library bar code of the book that they check out. Here are some of the highlights from this week.

So B. It, by Weeks

Return of the King, by Tolkien

Confessions of a Hollywood Star, by Sheldon

Raven's Gate, by Horowitz

Gorgeous, by Vail

There you have it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Here is a perfect example of the reason why I love going to the public library to browse books. Yes I get invited to a few previews every year, and yes I try to keep up with the professional journals, but nothing will ever replace browsing a shelf. I am taken with titles and covers and upon reading the blurbs I decide what to check out. On my last trip, I picked up this gem of a novel and am eager to share it with you.

Delores, or Itch as she's known to her family, has been living with her Gram and Gramps since her mom decided to leave. She's a girl who collects favourite words, does some serious thinking on her swing in the backyard, loves hanging out with her best friend Bailey, and is a bit of a kindred spirit with her Gramps. When Gramps dies, Itch is upset that Gram wants to move up to Ohio and leave every single memory of him behind.

Once in Ohio, Itch gets a bit of sunshine when she sees that the county fair starts that night. When she goes to check out the grounds on the way to the local Woolworth's, she is beckoned over by a girl in a sequins outfit and Shirley Temple hair who needs help with a zipper. Little does she know that this is the beginning of a complicated friendship between the two.

Once school starts, Itch is eager to be Gwendolyn's (or Wendy as she's known at school) official friend, which is hard since she is friends with popular girls Anna Marie and Connie and she attends lots of dance classes. But once Itch gets her mind to something, she stays true to it, and soon Itch and Gwendolyn are hanging out. Gwendolyn's other friends are surprised when Itch says she's been up to Wendy's room...most of her friends aren't allowed over. Itch wonders why that is, but soon she begins noticing some things about Wendy that just don't seem right. Will Itch have to courage to ask the hard questions and expose what is going on?

Michelle D. Kwasney has written a poignant story that packs a punch. Family structures, friendship boundaries, the realities of abuse are all explored with aplomb. The dialogue between the middle schoolers of the 1960s rings true, and Itch's relationship with her Grams grows so nicely throughout the book, readers will feel privileged to get to witness it. Gwendolyn and her mother's relationship is harder to look at, but Kwasney does it right. The frightening aspects of the abuse are not overdone, but they do not all appear off page either. The amazing thing is that this doesn't feel like a message simply is a great story about two families.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie)

Nathan is tired of being picked on. All in one day, he had his heart stomped on by Shawna Lanchester, got picked last in gym class, and then couldn’t even get past the easy level on the zombie video game while everyone was watching him. Nathan isn’t even at the bottom of the 5th grade totem pole, but school is still pretty much torturous. He is walking home with his friend Mookie when Abigail, who is at the bottom of the totem pole, comes up to him and offers to help. She says that her uncle is a scientist who is working on a formula to mask unhappiness. Although it doesn’t seem like a very good idea, Nathan and Mookie go anyway. There’s a bit of an accident, and Nathan gets an overdose of the formula. He seems to suffer no ill effects and heads home. Soon, however, the effects creep in. His food isn’t digesting, he doesn’t sleep, he feels no pain and he isn’t even breathing. It may seem really cool on the surface, but Nathan’s not ready to be fully zombified yet. Can Nathan get back to his normal 5th grade self before it’s too late?

This is the first in a series about Nathan and his friends. David Lubar gets kids, and this book is gross and funny and perfectly paced. The quality of life for many middle schoolers is exposed with the mean kids reigning supreme in places like the cafeteria and the track. No matter what side of the popularity fence readers falls on, readers will recognize themselves in the students of Belgosi Upper Elementary.

Plus…zombies! Doesn’t get better than that!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cameron and His Dinosaurs

Professor Poindexter P. Poppycock has done the impossible. He has created 4 dinosaurs from DNA and 30 million dollars in backing funds via the Brotherhood of Universal Revolution for Political Subterfuge (or B.U.R.P.S. for short). The plan is to use the dinos for some serious hostage action. What the Professor doesn't count on, however, is dissention in the ranks. The dinos have been granted brain power and free will, and they tell the professor that they will not do evil!

Meanwhile, Cameron and his classmates are going to an archaeological dig at Pinkerton Park. Cameron has been asked by his teacher to go around and take pictures, and guess who is hiding behind a bunch of bushes at the dig? You guessed it!

After the humans get over the fact that the dinosaurs talk and have names (Lizzy, DeeDee, Charlie, and Vinnie), things settle down surprisingly quickly. Television crews catch the action, and the Professor is not too pleased. His financial backers aren't so happy either. So PPP gets right on building some robotic replacements so that the political hostage taking can get back on track.

There is an inevitable clash of the titans with Cameron being an unlikely young hero.

Scott Christian Sava has penned an action packed graphic novel that is perfect for your boy readers. It has dinosaurs, robots, battles, tanks, and flying wheelchairs! The fact that Cameron is in a chair is never discussed, simply presented, which works beautifully. There is a manga-ness to Andres Silva Blanco's illustrations which provides for lots of movement, including "RUMBLE"s, "BOOM"s, "SLOOSH"es, and "ZZZRT"s!

A fast, fun read.

I wonder if Cameron and his Dinosaurs will have some more adventures!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Joy of Spooking: Fiendish Deeds

Spooking is the perfect place for Joy Wells. She is as easily creepy as the old neighborhood, obsessed as she is with the stories of E.A. Peugeot and forever sneaking out to walk through the cemetery and the bog dragging her brother Byron along with her. It’s too bad that the Spooking area is considered obsolete by the mayor of Darlington --the newer part of town. The Darlings as they’re called, like things clean, neat and in rows, and Spooking does not fit the mould.

One day when Joy and Byron are out exploring the Spooking bog in search of the bog fiend, they come upon an old woman foraging. She says her name is Madame Portia and she tells the children that she lives in the bog. Her late husband was a naturalist who studied the unique ecosystem. When she invites them home Byron has visions of child sized ovens, but Joy has no fear…even when Madame Portia’s house turns out to be a rat filled submarine shaped building on stilts.

Not everyone enjoys the bog like Madame Portia and Joy, however. There is a plan in Darlington to turn the bog into “The Misty Mermaid Water Park”, which means that Darlington would be creeping even closer into Spooking territory.

P.J. Bracegirdle has written a deliciously dark story filled with mystery, murder and fiendish characters. From the embittered Mayor’s assistant Mr. Phipps, to the dark hearted Guy Smiley character of the Mayor, adults are clearly not to be trusted. Teachers play popular favorites, and children are cruel. There is bloodshed in this title of the ends justifying the means variety. Bracegirdle takes on the sanitized version of life that suburbia has to offer with scathing results. After Mr. Phipps spends time in Kiddie Kastle (a themed birthday party place) he muses, “What a pathetic operation. A case of chicken pox would have been a more authentic medieval experience, and arguably more fun…” (p. 98).

Others have said that this series will appeal to fans of the Addams Family, Edward Scissorhands and the like. The Joy of Spooking has hit that rare place of appealing to tweens and teens both because of the smart writing, societal commentary and the fact that it’s creepy without straying into silly.

Fans of Basye’s (Heck) and of Bellairs (The House with A Clock in Its Walls, etc.) should be intrigued.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The second that I saw this cover at ALA in Denver, I knew I wanted to read this book. The title, the illustrations, everything called out to me. Unfortunately, there were no arcs left while I was on the floor, but I kept thinking about it. Now, loving a cover and title has backfired on me before, but I was hoping that this time would be different. A few reviews popped up in the blogs and I knew for sure that I wanted to read it, so I ordered my copy and waited for it to arrive!

It’s 1899 and Calpurnia is wilting away in rural Texas. She is eleven years old and the only girl in a family with 7 children. When her oldest, and favorite brother Harry hears about Callie’s inventive way to find earthworms in the packed Texas earth, he gives her a red leather notebook to record her findings and Callie’s summer as a naturalist truly begins.

One of the first things that she notices is that there is a new kind of grasshopper around. There were the quick emerald green ones that Callie has seen every summer, but there are also big, bright yellow ones. Callie asks everyone in her house (except for her formidable grandfather who lives with them, but tends to keep to himself studying in his laboratory) about the yellow hoppers, but nobody else has any knowledge of them at all. So Callie screws up her courage and goes to grandfather’s laboratory in order to ask him if in all his years he has seen the yellow grasshoppers before. His answer? “I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have.” (p.11) Callie figures that if her grandfather cannot help her, maybe Mr. Charles Darwin can, so she begs a ride into town from her brother for a trip to the library.

The librarian, however, is quite offended over Callie’s request. Without any help from grandfather or Mr. Darwin, Callie has only her own wits to help her out. After spending more time thinking about it, Callie does figure it out. Once she gets the nerve up to speak with her grandfather again, she tells him about her discovery. Her grandfather is quite impressed that Callie has figured this out on her own, and has her follow him into his library, where the children are never allowed. He hands Calpurnia his copy of The Origin of Species and at that moment, Calpurnia and her grandfather are bonded together as scientists.

Grandfather starts taking Calpurnia on his daily outings to gather specimens, brings her in on his experiments trying to distill drinkable spirits from pecans, and he begins to tell her about the World. Over time, Callie really feels like she is a scientist. She can’t help but be disinterested in the handicrafts and cooking in which her best friend Lula seems to excel. But while her grandfather believes that Calpurnia can be a scientist, her mother has other ideas, and is soon imposing cooking and knitting lessons, and letting Calpurnia know that she will be expected to “come out” as the only girl in the Tate family. Callie feels so confused; will she have to put aside all of her aspirations in order to be a wife someday? Will she have to be like her mother, with a passel of children, taking doses of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound just to get by?

Jacqueline Kelly has written a piece of historical fiction with depth, detail and characters that leap off the page. From the first telephone coming to town, to Callie’s grandfather’s first time sitting in an automobile, to the kerosene powered “wind machine”, readers will find themselves immersed in the sweeping changes that were happening at the dawn of the 20th century. Social commentary on class and slavery are worked in naturally, and the bold idea of evolution is front and center in the story. The heartbreaking aspect of Callie’s position of being a girl is perfectly placed and I hope that young readers will ponder their own privilege and position, or even the lack thereof upon reading this book. I slowed down at the end, simply because I wasn’t ready to let go of Calpurnia.

Simply wonderful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

Now that alliances have been exposed, Kendra and her Fablehaven bunch are deciding whether or not to try to find the remaining artifacts that are needed to open the dreaded prison before the Sphinx and his followers do, or whether they should just leave everything be.

The decision is made when Kendra is taken and her sting bulb doppelganger is left in her place. She is being held by the Sphinx's minions and finds out that they have stolen the Oculus; the artifact from the Brazilian preserve that allows users to see everything at once. Kendra knows that the Sphinx can use this to find all of the artifacts needed to open the dreaded prison Zzyxz. She needs to escape and try to get to the artifact that Patton told her about in his journal before the Sphinx figures out how the Oculus works.

Once she is reunited with her grandparents and her Fablehaven family, it is quickly decided that they must venture to Wyrmroost, the dragon sanctuary where humans are NOT welcome, in order to get the artifact. The team is assembled and includes Kendra, Coulter, Tanu, Gavin, Warren, Trask, Mora, and Dougan. All have gifts that will help with the mission, but Kendra is still scared. She is happy that Gavin is coming, and not only for his dragon taming abilities. They have been exchanging letters, and Kendra is still harboring a bit of a crush.

All feelings have to be pushed aside once they reach Wyrmroost. It is a very dangerous place, and everyone has to be on his/her game to survive, let alone succeed.

Brandon Mull has written another fast paced, twist and turn filled adventure, where people aren't who they seem, and death lurks around every corner. The pacing is perfect and will keep readers on they edge of their seats as they expect the worst but hope for the best. In this installment, Seth is exploring his dark side, and is developing a depth that he didn't have before. He is quickly becoming a favorite character of mine.

I have always thought that Fablehaven would translate well to screen, and it is about to! It has been optioned, and I for one, can't wait to see the film version. Head on over to Brandon's site to find more information.