Friday, June 30, 2017

Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting

Another quick review from Guatemala...

All Kelly wants is to earn enough money to go to camp.  She has done a lot of jobs and made some good money.  When a babysitting job becomes available she takes it - because how hard can it be?

That's before she meets Jacob who is kind of a terror but it gets worse when Jacob is kidnapped by a monster.  Kelly has to figure out how to rescue Jacob before his parents get home.  She soon discovers that there is more going on than she realizes - a secret society of babysitter's who protect children from monsters and that it isn't just any monster that wants Jacob but the Boogeyman (or one of them).  You see, Jacob is special - his nightmares become real and the Boogeyman has plans for Jacob.  Can Kelly and the other babysitter's save Jacob and the other kidnapped children?

This was a pretty decent book.  A tad scary.  I happened to love that her crush was a Guatemalan ;0

Guatemala Reads - part 1

This will not be a typical entry for me.  I have been traveling since June 23rd - first drove to Rochester, NY and then flew to Guatemala.  So hola from Guatemala.  I read a lot in the plane and airport but it has been inconsistent since then.  I am working on cataloging books for a library here.  I have done about 700 so far.  So here are my reviews - no pictures and multiple in the same post...

Making Bombs for Hitler

I enjoyed this book about children who were kidnapped and worked as slaves for the Nazis.  This was something I had not heard of before and it added to my knowledge 
of the atrocities that took place.  Even more intriguing to me was what happened to Lida's younger sister, Larissa who was "adopted" by a 
German family during the war but once the German's lost she was given up.  The story talked about how children were given a small tattoo
to show they they were not "real" sons or daughters.  This was really interesting and I would love to do more research on it.

How Could We Harness a Hurricane

First this book suffered from a bad conversion to an eBook so it came out disjointed.

In terms of content.  It started with an explanation of hurricanes and how they form.  Then it delved into various ideas of how to "harness" a hurricane but removing a component needed in its formation or finding a way to alter it or lessen its impact.  For the most part, the ideas were
too outlandish or too costly but some are in development. 

Fault Lines in Our Constitution

This was a timely look at the history of the Constitution and some of the issues or "fault lines" that have appeared over the years.  It is extremely current
and includes the Trump election as well as issues during the last several presidencies.  While timely and informative I don't think it is a good fit for the list.
Great for a junior high or high school government class though

Army Brats

3 kids, Tom, Charlotte, and Rosie, have moved with their family to a base.  Each has a struggle - the girl wants to fit in with the popular crowd and goes along with their
teasing even when they tease her brother.  The boy has some anxiety issues and gets teased by a bully.  The youngest is very assertive and has trouble
making friends.  Together though the three of them not only tackle their personal problems but also work to solve the mystery of a strange building on the base.

This skewed a bit young.  While I will classify this as a mystery it was really pretty light fare.  While 4th graders might like it, I feel that it would be a stretch to
put it on the list just for them.

Defender of the Realm

This was so good.  Alfie has never wanted to be king or all the responsibility that comes with it but since he was born 10 seconds before his twin 
Richard, it all falls on his shoulders.  Then weird things start happening - there are sightings of a black lizard and also the Defender of the Realm who
rides a magical horse.  But when the king, Alfie's father dies, he learns the truth about what the monarch really does besides opening ceremonies and
shaking hands.  But is Alfie up to the task.

This was great.  There was good interaction between Alfie and his friend Hayley and his many advisers.  There was good suspense, action, and mystery about it.
I will say it did set up for a sequel with a big reveal at the end but it didn't bother me as much as they usually do.

Otherwise Known as Possum

It is the middle of the Great Depression and everything is changing.  President Hoover is about to replaced by Roosevelt but to "Possum" the changes in her
own family are far more concerning.  Ever since her mother and baby brother died her father has been different and Possum feels she needs to be with him.. But,
nosy neighbors start interfering and soon her daddy is convinced she needs more formal learning and the influence of another woman.  So off she goes to school with
a fancy teacher from NY.  Possum is convinced that she knows all there is to know and if she can win the essay contest she will show everyone that things were fine
the way they were.  But Possum discovers that she does, indeed, have a lot to learn - about friends, family, moving on, and growing up.

Possum had a great, distinct voice and is a wonderful character.  The story is kind of quiet but heartwarming.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

The book starts with an assassination attempt on the prince and keeps going from there.  Valor has been accused of trying to kill the prince but what she really did was fake the attempt in order to be thrown into the same prison as her sister, Sasha, who has been accused of stealing a very valuable music box which is the key to a treaty between their country and another.  Once inside the prison though Valor finds that the intrigue goes deeper than she thought.  Who can she trust and how can she prove her sister's innocence?

This was a fun read - lots of action.  There is a bit of a set up for a sequel but the ending was satisfying.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Isaac the Alchemist

This was an interesting look into the life of Sir Isaac Newton.  He was a reclusive man who kept many of discoveries secret for a long time.  He also had a fascination with alchemy.  This seems directly opposite of his scientific mind but at the time both the sciences and alchemy were seen as "magic".  This book shows the bridge of these two interests of Newton.  The text is not too dense with mathematical or scientific terms or equations so for the most part it is an accessible read for students.  The difficulty lies in the direct quotes from his works and other people talking about him.  These contain old English spellings and grammar which could trip up younger readers.  I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher to review for MSBA and also had an eBook from NetGalley.  I liked the text and hope others on the committee read it but it would probably be too complex for the readers in my library - I will pass it on to the junior high.

Friday, June 16, 2017


8 kids on a plane - some headed home, some on vacation, some going to a robotic competition.  Then there is a crash and these 8 seem to be "chosen" to survive.  Instead of landing where they think they were flying - the Arctic - they end up in a jungle with weird creatures, deadly plants, and strange devices that seem to alter physics.  What is going on here?  Who or what is the mastermind behind this?  

This is the first in a new series - similar to 39 Clues, Spirit Animals, etc with an online component as well as the book.  It reminded me of Maze Runner but a bit tamer for the younger crowd.  I think students will enjoy this new series.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Best Medicine

What could be more embarrassing for a 12 year old boy than for his mom to have breast cancer?  That's what Philip thinks at first but when he takes a step back and learns that it's not all about him he learns a lot about himself and those around him.

So I was wondering how much of this book would focus on mom's breast - the blurbs about the book made it seem kind of shallow in that regard.  Philip was a bit one track at first but did learn and grow throughout.  My issue was the other character's development - all of a sudden at the end he finds out his best friend is dating someone and he had no clue they liked each other, he learns about the bully's secret, and his crush now likes him.  There didn't seem to be enough lead up to those events and some things were just left dangling - the poetry assignment for one.  I just didn't think the book as a whole was fleshed out enough.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

See You in the Cosmos

In my circles this book has been receiving a lot of buzz.  Confession - I had a hard time getting into it.  Maybe I just don't like rockets or the format was weird for me.  I buckled down today though and told myself I needed to just read in longer sections.  So off I went - 90 degrees, kayak, waterproof back, book, and wind.  I plunked myself out in the pond and read til I drifted to shore and repeated that for at least an hour.  That definitely helped me get into the book more.

Alex is obsessed with rockets and has built one that he wants to test out at a convention.  So he books himself a train ticket and heads out.  Problem is - he's 11.  But, his mom is pretty quiet and let's him do whatever he wants.  When he gets there he meets people he only knew online.  While the launch doesn't go as planned, he sets off on an even bigger adventure which takes him to Las Vegas and LA, he learns the truth about his father and meets a half sister, and develops friendship and strengthens family bonds.

I did end up liking the story but was troubled by this 11 year old hooking up and traveling with so many strangers...

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Big & Little Questions...

Wren's life has been turned upside down.  With no warning her parents decided to get divorced.  Over the summer she went to stay with her grandparents while they worked out details.  Because she was some embarrassed and confused she didn't talk to anyone - not even her best friend - about it.  Now that school has started everything has changed.  A new girl has moved in, Amber is mad at her, her dad is in a different house and she sees him on the weekend.  Wren has a lot of questions but mainly - will her life and family ever be the same?

This is a decent solid chapter book for about 4th graders.  There are some familiar themes and doesn't really break any new ground but it is pretty good.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Funny Girl

This book is a selection of short stories and comics by many talented authors.  The title - Funny Girl - says it all.  Funny stories about girls by girls.  The problem with a collection of stories and humor in particular is that inevitably some are better than others and since humor is so subjective some are funnier to the reader than others.  I found this to be the case.  I also felt, that some were a bit too advanced for my particular library, so I will send it along to the junior high.


Feather's mom is morbidly obese and after a scary incident requiring her hospitalization, Feather knows she must intervene.  When a boy, Clay, shows up things seem to get worse.  As Feather starts trying to help her mom she finds out that her mom used to be an activist and very healthy.  What was the "trigger" that caused her mom to overeat and hide away from everyone.  What does Clay, who suffers from Anorexia, have to do with it?

There was a lot going on with this book - from the 2 main issues of overweight and underweight to the secrets people keep for others.  I liked the book but it is really too heavy for my students.  I think it would do well in a junior high and high school setting.  My biggest complaint was that in Feather's digging into the past she was able to find out about her mom being a dancer and an activist but wasn't able to find out about the "big secret" to the book.  I can't imagine that (no spoilers) the event wouldn't have been in the news of the time and searchable via the internet.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

This was a short text about Chef Roy Choi and his passion for food.  It tells about his life growing up as a Korean American and how he struggled to find his place.  He eventually became a world class chef but even then he didn't find his true passion and calling.  He eventually started opening food trucks and small local fast food places that offered quality food with unique flavors.

The story behind the story and the illustrations really added to the book.  The messages of doing what you really love and giving back to your community were powerful.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers

Utterly silly British import.  I chuckled a bit at it.  I think my students will like Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Faces' silly antics.  Not sure it is of sufficient caliber for the Maine Student Book Award though.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Great Penguin Rescue

Another solid title from Sandra Markle.  This installment is about the plight of African Penguins and efforts to rescue them.  Solid research and writing and students will enjoy it.

Night Witches

Before the war both Valya and Tatyana were trained as pilots by their father.  Now, Tatyana is using her skill as a Night Witch bombing Germans during the Battle of Stalingrad.  Valya, meanwhile is told to stay at home and care for her mother and grandmother.  But then, in the space of a few days both her grandmother and mother are dead and Valya is determined to find Tatyana and join her as one of the famous night witches.

A solid story with lots of actions.  Fans of WWII fiction will enjoy this perspective.  I wish their had been an author's note about the history of the real Night Witches.