Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Anna Was Here, by Jane Kurtz

Anna is a worrier.  But she is also a planner, which helps to alleviate some of those worries.  Her weekly Safety Club meetings also help.  She doesn't let the fact that the only other member left is Jericho - Anna's Sunday school teacher and part of her minister father's college group.  But it is in one of these very meetings, that Jericho lets some news slip.  News that Anna hadn't heard.

Anna's family is moving to Kansas.

This unleashes a whole new set of worries for Anna.  She's prepared for weather emergencies in Colorado, not Kansas.  She is going to have to sleep in a house that belongs to a church!  She is going to have to deal with cousins.

Little does Anna know that there will be emergencies that will change her family and make her look at the big picture instead of focusing on her own private worries.

Anna Was Here is a charming book that explores family and faith in equal measure.  Anna's family is Christian and their faith truly does drive their actions and their interactions.  Even if readers are not religious they will be able to identify with the themes of moving, getting past oneself and shifting allegiances.  Anna's relationships with her cousins and her conflict with her dad are perfectly age appropriate and it's refreshing to see her grow out of behaviors and into herself.  A perfect read for those kids who are fighting the change of growing up, and for those families who are looking for Christian books for kids.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George

I was scrolling through my blogposts on this here blog because I was SURE that I had blogged Tuesdays at the Castle back when I read it.  No dice.  I really enjoyed that one, and you can get Jen Robinson's take on it over here.

Wednesdays in the Tower starts with an egg.  Celie is surprised because Castle Glower doesn't change on Wednesdays, but all of a sudden the school room isn't at the top of the spiral staircase.  Celie follows all the way up to a new outdoor room that slopes toward the center where there is a nest with a huge orange egg.  Celie cannot believe her eyes, and quickly heads over and lays her hands on the egg. She is surprised to find it hot to the touch.  When Celie runs down the stairs to spread the news of the egg, she finds she can't.  Nobody is listening to her, and what's more, only she can find that extra staircase!

The nest room isn't the only change that is coming over Castle Glower.  There is that mysterious armor gallery that appeared along with its magical tendencies.  The fabric room is another new one.  Before this, Celie and her family just accepted the castle's changes without really thinking about them, but some of these new changes have them thinking more deeply.  Where do the rooms go when they disappear?  Why is the castle suddenly becoming more fortress like?

In this installment, readers are treated to the real history of Castle Glower and Sleyne.  We learn in real time just as Celie and her family are learning.  Maybe some of the tapestries in the castle are more than just decorative.  Perhaps they are telling the stories of the castle.

Wednesdays in the Tower really should be read after reading Tuesdays at the Castle.  Jessica Day George doesn't  fill in the blanks with backstory, and if you haven't read the first book, you will be slightly off kilter.  That said, I really enjoyed the character and world building - Prince Lulath is a favorite of mine.  The cliff hanger ending will have readers clamoring for more.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rump: The True Story Of Rumplestiltskin, by Liesel Shurtliff

Imagine being named Rump.  Imagine it.  Imagine what other kids could do with your name.  Especially when you live in a place that believes that your name is the key to your destiny.

Rump lives on the Mountain with his Gran.  His mother died when he was born, and Rump just knows there is more to his name, but his Gran does not know what it is.  Life in the Mountain is rather bleak.  The residents almost all work in the mines looking for the ever elusive gold to trade in to the miller for food.  One day Rump notices an old spinning wheel in with the firewood.  He asks his Gran about it and it turns out this was his mother's spinning wheel.  Even though it is beaten up, Rump polishes it up, thrilled to have something that belonged to her.

On rations day, Rump and his friend Red are on their way home when they see Kessler the peddler.  Aside from the regular wares, Kessler also deals in magic.  Against Red's advice, Rump trades some grain for a bit of magic.  The trick does go a bit wrong, and Red states that there are consequences for *all* magic, no matter how small, but Rump finds himself hungry for more.

Soon enough Rump discovers why the gold loving pixies of the kingdom have always favored him.  He finds he is able to spin hay into fine gold thread.  He promises himself he will only spin enough to get more food for him and Gran, but promises to oneself often go unfulfilled.  Before Rump knows it, he is bargaining away his own magic for a fraction of what it's worth.

This new twist on the Rumplestiltskin story will have readers looking at Rump with fresh eyes.  This magical world with its gold hungry pixies, message delivering gnomes, magic hoarding trolls, magical aunties and fierce best-friends pretty much begs for a film treatment.  There are pearls of wisdom dropped throughout the text, and readers will likely have many moments of taking pause to ponder over some of the ideas.  Happily, I read on twitter that there will be more titles coming from Shurtliff - one featuring Jack and another featuring Red.  I for one can't wait!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Hypnotists: Hypnotize Me, by Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman isn't exactly a newbie in the realm of children's literature.  As Canadian kids, we all read This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall and as a librarian I know that he's been publishing solidly all along.  But here comes my confession...I hadn't read his books for a long, long time.  I am very happy that I picked up the first book in The Hypnotists series.  Not only is this book a page turner, but it has humor, big ideas and suspense all rolled into a great story.

Jackson (Jax) Opus is a seemingly regular NYC kid.  He's just trying to get to basketball with his best friend Tommy Cicerelli, but the bus just passes them by.  In a fit of desperation, Jax jumps out into the bus lane in front of the next uptown bus and stares the driver down until he stops.  Jax apologizes upon boarding the bus and implores the driver to get them to 96th Street as soon as possible.  The bus takes off and is soon speeding through red lights, passing stops, and terrifying everyone.  Once at 96th Street, the driver stops, lets the boys off, and resumes his regular route.


Then comes the basketball game.  Jax is not evenly matched against Rodney, but somehow he is managing to hold him off.  And when Jax wants him to miss, he does.

What is going on?

After a series of seemingly unrelated events, Jax ends up being recruited Dr. Elias Mako, founder and director of The Sentia Institute as a part of their New Horizons program.  Dr. Mako seems to come with his own tagline - "Dr. Elias Mako has devoted his life to New York City education and is an inspiration to every single one of us."  Anyone who comes into contact with Sentia seems to repeat these same words.


But Jax's parents are all for it.  Jax learns that he comes from some very powerful bloodlines.  Both of his parents families had the gift of hypnotism, and Jax seems to have inherited a rare command of his gift.  After spending every extra hour at Sentia, Jax is getting uneasy with the whole thing.  He has questions and nobody seems to want to answer them.  Being able to hypnotize people seemed like no big deal when it involved extra gravy and hopping up and down, but add some political intrigue and scandal and throw in computers and blackmail, and Jax's abilities could take a very different and dangerous turn.

Korman has written a thriller that will get kids thinking big.  How are our opinions formed?  How are we influenced?  Where would you draw the line when it comes to sticking by your values?   The relationship between Jax and Tommy is perfect and laugh out loud funny.  Their dialogue is authentic and readers will definitely want more from these two!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Summer Vacation, by Tommy Greenwald

I figured this was fitting to post today as I am sending my own 10 year old off to sleep away camp today!

Resident non-reader Charlie Joe may just have gotten himself in over his head this time.  In a moment of temporary craziness and trying to please his parents, Charlie Joe agreed to 3 weeks at a camp for smarty pants kids.  Camp Ritubukkee.  Pronounced Read-a-Bookie.  For real.  Now that the time has come, he is pretty much in shock about the whole thing.  At least his bud Katie Friedman will be there, and Nareem from school will be there too.

The camp schedule is filled with "workshops", which Charlie Joe knows is just code for classwork.  He cannot believe that kids actually acquiesce to go to what is essentially summer school.  Charlie Joe is also a bit bummed because he had just started hanging around with Zoe, and if he had the summer off like a normal kid, that might just have gone somewhere.

Charlie Joe doesn't exactly get off the a stellar start at camp.  At school kids know him and know that he wields his sense of humor like a finely sharpened sword.  Here, his anti-reading stance and his sarcasm aren't appreciated.  Charlie Joe decides that it's going to be in everybody's best interests for him to try to de-dorkify these kids...get them to relax a little bit and enjoy the summer.

What Charlie Joe doesn't expect is to get sucked into the world of reading (just a bit), to use his devious brain for the greater good, and to genuinely like some of these campers.

Tommy Greenwald has created a reluctant reader character who is incredibly authentic.  Charlie Joe doesn't have trouble reading, he just can't be bothered.  I know several kids like this.  By putting Charlie Joe in a camp with kids who pretty much adore learning, there is super wide appeal to this title.  The writing is tight, the voice is authentic and I love the fact that unlike other series that aim for this audience, Charlie Joe isn't mean.  I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy at ALA in Chicago this summer, and was super pleased to relate the story of my own real life reluctant reader really taking to this series.  When kids want a step up from the Wimpy Kid titles, send them over to Charlie Joe!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Crush: The Love Plan, by Angela Darling

Lauren is a girl who plans things.  She checks and double checks.  She loves having everything in its place.  So it really comes as no surprise that when it comes to love, she has a plan.  Lauren has come up with her love plan.  This is the summer that she will get Charlie not only to notice her, but fall for her just like she has fallen for him.  She knows from taking lots of multiple choice tests in teen magazines that she and Charlie are indeed soul mates.  She will get him to notice her through her flowcharted Operation Cell Phone, where she has planned each detail of their "chance" encounter.

The problem is Lauren hasn't even left for the beach and there is a wrench thrown into her plans.  Lauren's mom thought it would be fun to invite Chrissy along on vacation to keep only child Lauren company.  Lauren likes Chrissy alright, but she certainly isn't part of her plan.  And the worst part of it is that Lauren sort of told everyone at school that she and Charlie are already an item.What will Chrissy think when she sees the truth?

Lauren need not worry about Chrissy.  It turns out she is super understanding and supportive of Lauren's love plan.

Things start off great.  The girls get along famously, and Charlie is indeed at the beach with his friend Frank.  Lauren thinks this is just perfect because she can hang out with Charlie and Chrissy can hang with Frank.  But Lauren soon learns not only that the best laid plans don't always work out, but that crushing on someone from afar, is indeed different from knowing a person face to face.

This is an easy breezy beach read that gets the desperate tone of first crushes just right.  What I like is that Darling gives Chrissy and Lauren agency, and put it right out there that sometimes the boy with all the looks can be lacking in other areas.  This is a squeaky clean romance that will have tweensters flipping the pages to find out who Lauren will choose.