Saturday, December 16, 2017

Daniel Coldstar: The Relic War

















I truly love a good sci fi, space book.  Yep, Star Trek (and kindof Star Wars) nerd right here.  And this did start out well.  Children working as slaves on a mining planet.  Some disappear every so often including the main character Daniel.  But then he is returned, with his memory wiped.  When he gets a chance he escapes the compound and eventually the planet and becomes part of the Truth Seekers.  But there is a lot going on - good vs. evil, relics with great power, and a traitor in their midst.

I think the book had a lot of potential and I think as the series progresses it will probably be quite interesting.  I felt I didn't get to know some of the characters well and it was a lost opportunity - especially the other "kids" on the Truth Seekers - not enough of their friendships developed.  There were also 2 surprises near the end but I didn't feel invested enough in the 2 characters involved for it to really impact me.

Friday, December 15, 2017


















I would love to see a shiny sticker on the cover of this book in a few months.  It was that good.  I had the opportunity to listen to it on audio and there were several times that I was entranced by the quality of the writing.

Crow has lived her whole life on a tiny island with Osh, the man who discovered her as a baby in a skiff.  But where did she come from.  After someone moves to another island nearby as a game warden, Crow starts finding out more about her own ties to the island.  But the truth can be hard to deal with especially when there are others who fear who she is or who want what has been left for her.

Well done.  It has a touch of danger to it but I think readers will be able to handle it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Magic Misfits

















Carter is quick with his hands.  He knows a lot of tricks.  But his uncle, who is his guardian because his parents died, wants him to use his tricks to steal from people.  So Carter decides to run away.  He soon finds himself in the town of Mineral Wells.  But, he soon finds himself in the sights of B. B Bosso who runs a carnival and would love to have Carter on his staff as they swindle people.  Fortunately Carter meets some new friends, kids like him who have some unusual talents and want to keep Bosso and his gang from stealing.  Can Carter find a family with this group of misfits and save the town as well?

This was a cute read and good for my younger students.  It may also increase interest in magic.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Karma Khullar's Mustache


















Ok, I confess at first I was really annoyed with this book.  Seriously, how many middle school novels have I read when two best friends are suddenly at odds after the summer or vacation or something?  One becomes interested in boys, clothes, being popular and the other one is left out.  And yes, that is the basic premise of this story.  So what makes it different?  Well, Karma's mustache for one.  Funny and embarrassing and ultimately the basis for a life lesson.  Having Karma be part Indian made the story a bit more interesting as well.  I wish there had been more with certain characters - particularly David.  Overall, to be honest, middle school kids enjoy these types of books because it does represent their lives and struggles so this wasn't all bad :)

The Great Hibernation


















I can see now why this has been on so many end of the year, "best" lists.  This was so much fun.

Jean and her family live in a secluded village in the far north.  Their village has some pretty strange traditions including eating bear liver.  This year is Jean's first year to partake in that tradition but she is unable to stomach the delicacy.  Soon after the ceremony all the adults go into a strange sleep.  The mayor's son then decides that all the kids will just take over their parents jobs and duties - including voting on a new controversial factory - until the parents wake up.

But Jean thinks something fishy is going on.  Can she prove it and save her town from the new mayor and his allies?

This was clever and lots of fun.  Very enjoyable.

How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe


















Oscar Indigo loves baseball but he is terrible at it.  He is encouraging, he shows up for all the practices but he never gets to play.  But that all changes when, while visiting an elderly neighbor, he gets a watch that can stop time.  When Oscar decides to stop time during the first game of their championship baseball series in order to score a homerun he not only helps win the game but also loses 19 seconds of time.  And the universe wants it back.  Now all he has to do it get the watch back (which has been stolen), figure out how to get the 19 seconds back, and win the series fairly.  Or the universe will be destroyed - no pressure.

I really liked the humor and cleverness.  I enjoyed how the author brought in a version of the story where Babe Ruth was struck out by a girl.  This was cute.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

One Hundred Spaghetti Strings

















Steffany and her sister Nina have lived with their Aunt Gina for years.  Their mom is in the hospital with a brain injury and their dad left.  But now dad has come back and Aunt Gina has moved out and is getting ready to marry her boyfriend.  Steffany wants her family to be whole again - her parents to reunite, her mom to get better - but will that really happen?

The story focuses a lot on Steffany's passion for cooking and how she uses that to cope with what is going on around her.  Overall, the book was quiet and slow moving and there were a lot of unanswered questions.  This will have an audience but I feel like I would need to find just the right readers for it.

Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics
















A very nice collection about poems about famous and not so famous Hispanics.  For those trying to diversify their collection and/or for those who are in search of more poetry this is a good fit.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures















While I love the story of Temple Grandin and have a longer biography of her in the school library I am not a fan of this shorter one.  I felt like the rhyming read more like a Dr. Seuss book and it just didn't sit well with me.  Kids would probably not mind though...

Can an Aardvark Bark?















Cute and informative - what a winning combination for elementary nonfiction.  Add in the combination of Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins and you have a masterpiece.  From the clever rhymes - can an aardvark bark?  can a kangaroo mew? and so on Stewart explains the sounds animals make in certain situations.  Jenkins illustrations are lovely as usual.  A fun nonfiction selection.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

















For anyone who actually reads this blog you may notice that there have been more nonfiction books than usual.  In addition, many are shorter.  No, this is not to ensure that I reach my goal on Goodreads (although it will help) or so I can rack up my reviews for Maine Student Book Award (not even counting many of these).  Many of these books are actually nominated for Cybils.  While I will be a finalist judge I am trying to read quite a few of the books now.

So onto this one.  I am noticing a trend of shorter biographies and quite a few featuring women.  Great!!  For me I don't really see an audience for these types of books at my school but maybe I need to be promoting them more somehow.

Grace Hopper is fascinating.  A woman who broke barriers and solved problems.  She is an inspiration to all girls who dream to doing things outside the "norm".  

Shark Lady















Eugenie Clark was not even someone on my radar until a few years ago when I got a request from a student for a biography about her.  In fact, almost every year since I have had a similar request.  I think there must be a teacher in the district who has a book about her and then her students want more.  Regardless, this was a good, short account of her life and especially her early fascination with fish in general and sharks in particular.  While good, I still think I will need a longer biography to satisfy my students' curiosity.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Balderdash!














A children's book lover's dream - thank you John Newbery for "birthing" children's books.  This was a cute look at John Newbery and his work in publishing - specifically publishing for children.  I have been asked before why our American children's book award is named after an Englishman...  but it is because he is truly the father of children's books.

Grand Canyon
















Gorgeous informational text about the GrandCanyon.  My favorite part of the book was the cut outs in the illustrations as the girl discovers various fossils.  Well done.

Hatching Chicks in Room 6














Informative book about the process of hatching chicks with delightful photographs from the classroom featured in the book.  Great for classes studying the life cycle of chickens or participating in similar activities.

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

















This is the second Pete Seeger book I have read in the last two weeks and I have heard there were a few more published this year as well which intrigues me.  As I believe I stated in my other review I was not really influenced by Seeger - kind of before my time.  I think overall I liked the other book better - more information in the text where this relied on the timeline at the end for a lot of the factual bits.

The Great American Foot Race

















I had visions of Forrest Gump running across America while reading this book.  I had never before head of this transcontinental footrace so it was interesting.  Much of it was really about the organizer and his lack of organization and profit but there were interesting stories of the participants as well and the challenges they faced.  Fascinating stuff - but not sure it inspired me to run across country.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Trials of Morrigan Crow

















Morrigan Crow is a cursed child.  She knows it, her family knows it, everyone knows it.  So it is very unexpected when she attends the Bidding Ceremony and is actually bid on more than once.  But were they serious offers?  Especially when, as a cursed child, she is going to die at anytime.

But then, mysteriously, a benefactor named Jupiter, rescues her on the night of her looming death and takes her to Nevermoor where she will participate as his apprentice in the Wondrous Trials.  But how can she win if she doesn't have any knack (talent) to speak of and what will happen if and when she fails?

I was surprised this was over 400 pages (read as an eBook) because it read very quickly.  It was a lot of fun, quirky characters, and a clever world.  While it appears there may be more about Morrigan it ended well.

The Librarian of Aushwitz


















I have read many fiction and nonfiction (mostly children's) books about the Holocaust.  This book, based on the real life of Dita Polachova, was amazing.  I found it to be one of the most thorough as far as day to day events inside Aushwitz.  In addition, it was a testament to the human spirit and what hope can do.  I loved the references to events that took place while she was there or other known people that she may have met.  My one complaint was that Fredy Hirsch was not resolved in the book but rather in the afterwards but that may be because Dita did not learn the truth until after the events of the book.  

Very well done!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Guts & Glory: The American Revolution

















I love the author's voice.  This is the second Guts and Glory book I have read and I will admit to laughing out loud several times and sharing excerpts with my husband.  For a topic that could be dry - the American Revolution - that is a cool thing.  Not only wasI reading this for Cybils but also to see if it would work for my school library.  While I love it - it is too hefty for my 4th graders who study the Revolution (of course I think they are too young for it anyway but who asked me).

This Book Stinks















A well done look at trash - the issues of too much, where it is kept, how it is handled, and what can be done about it including recycling, upcycling, and more.  What I liked were the infographics and bright visuals and that it wasn't overly "preachy".  The facts were laid out well - problems and solutions.

Her Right Foot














I know this a really popular book right now and I can understand and appreciate why.  I like the illustrations and I like the author's voice.  It is a good history of the Statue of Liberty.  But, even as the author says in the book, it takes awhile to get to the point - her right foot.  Then when the book finally gets there I don't think the author solidly proves the point.  Yes, idealistically we like to think Lady Liberty is moving forward to greet the immigrants but where is the evidence from the designer's perspective.  Was that the intent?  Even the section about the chains, while it says what it is intended to show, does not quote the source that proves it.  I would just like more in the back matter even that substantiates the ideology.  I agree with it... but as a librarian teaching research I would like more.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Maya Lin Artist-Architect













Having been to the Vietnam Veterans memorial a few times I have to say it is one of the most beautiful, haunting, striking memorials I have ever seen.  This was a great picture book biography of Maya Lin and how she grew up and became the designer of this memorial.  Well done.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street


















The Vanderbeekers, a crazy, fun, loving family has lived at the brownstone on 141st Street for years.  Their landlord hasn't always liked their wild ways and antics but they ever expected that he would refuse to renew their lease and make them move right after Christmas.  While their parents try to find a new place to live that they can afford the children have some plans of their own.  Can they get Mr. Beiderman to change his mind?  It would be a Christmas miracle if they could.

This was a sweet, gentle family story.  There is certainly an audience for this but it was a bit too slow moving for me.  I did like the ending.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Radiant Child
















Bad librarian!  To just now be reading last year's Caldecott winning book.  I had never heard of Jean-Michael Basquiat so this was an interesting look at his childhood and his road to becoming a famous artist.  It did pique my interest and makes me want to know more about it.  It does sound like there was some tragic aspects which, understandably, were not covered in this children's book.

Stand Up and Sing













Yes, I had heard of Pete Seeger but to be honest he was a bit before my time so I didn't know that much about him.  This was an informative introduction into his early career especially and how he used his music to fight for justice.  Well done picture book biography.

The Founding Fathers Were Spies


















A clever, humorous introduction to spying during the Revolutionary War.  Definitely thinking of buying for my 4th graders who study the American Revolution.  My students also like spies and codes because of Breakouts that we do.

The Wizard's Dog


















What a clever take on the Arthur legend!!  The story begins with Merlin who is training Morgana.  Merlin also has a dog Nosewise who is the star of the story.  Nosewise would love to be just like Morgana, especially if he could learn how to open a door.  But Morgana is frustrated with Merlin's restrictions and when her "father" asks her to do something for him she agrees.  Unfortunately, her father is actually Oberon, the king of the Fey, and he wants Merlin to help him pull the sword from the stone.  As Nosewise seeks to help Merlin escape from Oberon he meets a young servant named Arthur.

Full of adventure and humor and a few surprises this well please Arthur fans and maybe gain some new fans as well.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue


This was a really interesting book.  It looked at 3 zoo scientists who take their knowledge of science and the their experiences with animals in the field to better helped endangered species.  The specific animals in the book were orangutans, ferrets, and rhinos and there was a chapter about the efforts being made to help each.  In addition, there was information on how zoos in general are working more toward preservation.  Nicely done.

Skavenger's Hunt


















This was such a cool time travel, scavenger hunt book.  

Henry has lost his father and now his mother is so overprotective that he never gets to have any adventures.  But on Christmas Eve his grandfather tells him of an old scavenger hunt that was never solved.  In just a few hours Henry stumbles upon an old ledger and is transported back in time to that scavenger hunt and the only way back to his own time is to solve the clues and meet the famous Skavenger.

Along the way he meets a few friends and some famous people as well.  He also learns more about adventure and living life to the fullest.

I really enjoyed the puzzles and the friendship.  There were a few surprises and twists as well that I didn't see coming.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Good Fight


















This was an interesting text about some of the founding fathers and their feuds.  From the most famous - Hamilton and Burr to Ben Franklin and his son this book gave brief accounts of the history behind the feuds and how they turned out.  Unfortunately I think the brevity of the text made things a bit unclear.  In some cases too much time was spent on the history of the person (Washington and Hamilton) and not enough time on the actual disagreement (Hamilton and Burr).  For a student studying any one of these feuds the text is a good introduction but they will need and want more.

The Princess and the Page


















This one really didn't work for me at all.  I am not a huge fan of fantasy and I just had a hard time even figuring out what was going on with this.  Last night I had about 30 pages left, maybe 20 minutes of reading at the most, and meh - couldn't build up the umph to even finish it.  I feel bad about it - there are probably some readers who will love it but not for me.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Our Story Begins















This was a really cool look into the early lives of famous authors and illustrators and how they got their start.  Included in the book are samples of their early writing and/or drawings.  I did find some of the early writings hard to read and a bit long.  Other than that it was cool to read about their beginnings and will hopefully inspire future authors and illustrators.

Amazon Adventure














This is another book in the Scientists in the Field series which I find very interesting.  I like how real scientists and real problems of the world are highlighted.  I hope this series is encouraging young scientists.

I did like this book - the Amazon is fascinating and beautiful.  As someone who lives close to Boston and has been to the Aquarium I also had a connection to the book.

Now... what I didn't like.  I found the title to be a bit misleading.  I don't think the case was made that these tiny fish "are saving the world's largest rainforest".  I think it could have been said that they could save the rainforest if they themselves can be handled correctly and regain their popularity among fish enthusiasts.

This will go in my library with the other books in the series.  The photographs are beautiful and the idea behind it is worthy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lost in Outer Space

















This was a very accessible account of the Apollo 13 mission and accident.  I really liked the perspective of Jim Lovell's daughter Barbara and almost wish there had been more of that.  But, as nonfiction it is dependent on the sources of information.  There was some jargon but for those interested in this event the jargon will be expected and not a deterrent. 

Polaris


















Ooh, I liked this!!!  When I take the time to describe a book to my husband and daughter then you know it was good.  I read so many books and quite honestly some are duds but I am so afraid of the Maine Student Book Award missing some hidden jewel that I really try to find things that others may have missed.  And no one else has read this yet....

The Polaris is on a scientific expedition to South America in the late 1800s.  An expedition has gone ashore - captain, first mate, botanist, and some others.  But only half come back - the botanist and first mate are gone and one of the crew is really sick.  What happened?  Then a few days later the ships boys are told there is a meeting and they are locked into a room during that meeting.  But it turns into a mutiny.  But why do the mutineers then abandon ship and try to blow it up.

The kids have no idea but manage to escape and prevent the ship from blowing up.  Now all they have to do it get back to land.  But it is the creature in the hold that is their biggest worry...

I love the historical, sci fi, zombie feel to this.  So thrilling!  Loved it.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

















I liked the format of this - simple 1 page biographies of influential women from different time periods and nationalities.  Most of the women I was familiar with but there were a few new ones.  In the last year or so I have read many similar collections of famous women but I think I have liked this one the best.

42 is Not Just a Number


















This was a serviceable biography of Jackie Robinson.  I learned some new things about his childhood, his struggles for equality in the military and his early sports career, and his temper.  I think the part about his temper was most intriguing because it makes his ability to ignore the taunting when he started in the major leagues even more impressive.  In all though, probably because this is aimed at a younger audience, the book as a whole was too simple and I was left wanting more.

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle


















Shortly before his birthday Alfie discovers that he is going to inherit a castle.  But why him?  As he and his father move in Alfie starts to discover that he carries a secret magic given to him when he was born - over a hundred years ago.  Not only that but he must use his magic to save his friends, family, and community from a dreadful secret that lies buried beneath the castle.  But who can Artie trust?  What do the mysterious disappearances of animals have to do with everything?  And can he survive at school and the 2 terrible headmistresses that run the place?

This was a fun mystery, adventure, fantasy.  It is the first in a series but this episode ended well and not on a cliff hanger.  

John Ronald's Dragons
















This is a really nice biography of Tolkien that focuses in on his love of dragons and how that led to his writing of the Hobbit and other books.  I liked how the illustrations tied in with Tolkien's most famous works.  I can definitely see this is an elementary library. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Motor Girls
















This book really was a history of the automobile as it pertained to women in particular.  I found the gender bias of the times very interesting and it was cool to see early women pioneers using cars.  My favorite section was the discussion of motor girls and the right to vote.

The book was pretty short - only 96 pages - and I wish there had been more about some of the women and I wish it had gone farther than the 1920s and 1930s.  I know even when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s we only had one car for a long time and my mom did not pump gas.  It would have been interesting to see statistics and more of the changes over time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Girls Who Code
















I am all about kids learning how to code and I am all for balancing the divides that currently exist in the computer science fields.  I also teach coding to my elementary students via code.org's code studio.  This book was okay but would be above the heads of most of the students I work with - that's fine, I'll pass the book on to the junior high instead.  The format and layout was pretty good - I wish it had a bit more about the how to - more nitty gritty.

Revolutionary Rogues















This was a very simplified account of Benedict Arnold and his treasonous act with John Andre.  I have read about Benedict Arnold before in much longer books and it is very interesting to learn the whys and hows of this tragic figure.  That being said, I found this account too simple and therefore lacking in details, specifics, and too me there were gaps in information.  I suppose for a younger reader it might whet their appetite for more information but by itself I found it actually a bit confusing.

Long May She Wave

















This was a short account of how Caroline Pickersgill helped sew the Star Spangled Banner - the flag that flew over Fort McHenry.

What I liked was the history and acknowledgement of those who helped with this project.  The author's note also shed light on how rare it was for women to own a business and the others who helped with the project who might not have been recognized.

Unfortunately I have used the history of this flag and primary sources from the Smithsonian so I was left wanting more... like the fact that they had to make the flag in a brewery and then the history of the flag after the battle and how it got to the Smithsonian.  But maybe that is another book :)  

The book was good but I wanted more...

Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life


















Charlotte and her family have just moved to Walnut Grove so that her mom can feel Laura Ingalls Wilder's spirit and write her own children's book.  But Charlotte knows it's just a matter of time before they move again.  It is better to just blend in, not make any friends, and just wait it out with her twin Freddie.  But things are different this time.  Freddie is popular and stops hanging out with her as much, she starts spending more time with her little sister Rose, and she lets her guard down and makes some friends.  But Charlotte has a habit of jumping to conclusions and believing the worst which gets her into a heap of trouble.  Can Charlotte and her family settle down or is Walnut Grove just another stop on their crazy life?

This was a pretty decent book.  For fans of Laura and Little House there were some obvious connections but it was also a story of rushing to judgement and fitting in that will appeal to other readers as well.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Death on the River of Doubt

















This was a narrative nonfiction about an event in Theodore Roosevelt's life after his terms as president.  To be honest I did not know much about Roosevelt - Panama Canal, Rough and Ready, Night at the Museum (ha ha, but dang Robin Williams looked a lot like him) - so this was interesting from that angle.  For those who are interested in adventure and exploration this will be a good read.  The pacing is pretty good and the tale is full of danger. 

The Incredible Magic of Being

















So first off, I loved the heart of this book.  Julian as a character was quirky and lovable.  The family dynamics were believable but hopeful.  I loved Julian's ability to sense things and his ability to help others.  I will definitely want to purchase for the library but...

I did have a few issues...
First, I can't believe that a contractor, carpenter would have been able to build the addition to the house without a building permit which should have found the easement problem prior to it being built.

Second, Julian talks a lot about seeing Orion, the Orion Nebula and Sirius during the summer but they are winter constellations and not visible in the summer.   

Kids won't pick up on those things (and many adults as well) but since I am fascinated by Orion (and it's my daughters middle name) and since I live on a lake in Maine those 2 things stood out to me. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saving Marty


















Lorenzo's dad died before he was born.  He was a hero.  It's okay - he has a best friend, Pal, whose mom has also died and together they have a really strong bond and help to complete each other.  Lorenzo also has Marty, a pig who thinks he's a dog.  But Marty is in danger because he is so big and the money he could bring in would help his mom pay the bills.  Then Pal leaves for a camp and a school and a future as a musician leaving Lorenzo to try to save Marty on his own.  Then when he learns the truth about his father he worries that he may not be able to save anyone or anything.

This was a heart warming story which I really enjoyed.

Snow & Rose


















This was a really nice adaptation of the fairy tale of Snow and Rose.  It was one I was vaguely familiar with.  I have a hard time getting my students to read fairy tales and adaptations lately but maybe some fresh books like this will breathe life back into that area of the collection. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pablo and Birdy

















Once upon a time Pablo was found drifting on the ocean in a small swimming pool with a bird.  Ever since then Pablo has wondered where he came from and why Birdy doesn't talk or even fly like normal parrots.  Meanwhile, legend says that there is a Seafarer Parrot that keeps all the sounds the world has ever heard.  Is the legend true and what does it mean for Pablo and Birdy?

A quiet book but it has a lot of heart in a quirky way.