Monday, July 31, 2017

Chester and Gus

Chester is bred to be a service dog.  But his fear of loud noises makes him unqualified.  Gus has autism and his parents hope that a dog will help him with his social skills.  At first Chester and Gus have trouble connecting but they soon develop a special bond.  Unfortunately, the school discovers they can't really let Chester stay in school but when everyone witnesses Chester's ability to predict Gus' seizures everything changes.

Really nice book, heartwarming.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Orphan Island

Every year it is the same.  1 child arrives on the boat and another, the eldest child, leaves.  The new child falls under the care of the new elder child and so it goes year after year.  But now it's Jinny's turn.  The boat has just taken her best friend Deen and she is in charse of Ess.  But Jinny is conflicted - she doesn't want to leave.  What would happen if she broke the rules?

This was haunting and in the end left more questions than answers but it was beautifully written.  Would be one to discuss for sure.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Someday Suitcase

Clover and Danny are always better when they are together.  Their friendship is perfect, they balance each other out, it is symbiotic.  When Danny becomes sick, Clover tries to scientifically figure out what is wrong and more importantly how to fix him.  Could she be the answer?

A beautiful book about friendship, hope, and magic.

Friday, July 28, 2017


After cell phones are banned the middle school resorts to post it notes to send messages.  Frost and his friends Bench, DeeDee, and Mozart find themselves in the middle of it and their friendship is tested.  Not only that but a new girl Rose, threatens their tribe.

This was really interesting.  Anderson captured the dynamics of the middle school - good and bad.  Quite realistic.  Words can be powerful things.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pigs Might Fly

Lily has been working on an aircraft design but no one knows about it - not even her inventor father.  But then Warthog planes fly overhead on a scouting mission and it's imperative that the pigs get aircraft soon.  But Lily's dad won't listen to her so she takes matters into her own hands and goes off to find the source of the warthog's power.  But what she finds is an old friend who is obsessed with revenge and magic.  Can Lily save the Pigdom?

It is no secret that I don't love graphic novels.  I was not really a fan of this but my students will probably like it.


Rachel has scoliosis.  It's hereditary, she knows it and it has been monitored.  But all of a sudden it is getting worse and she is going to have to get a brace.  Why now?  It's right before soccer tryouts, before a new school year.  Everything will change.  To make matters worse her mother who also wore a brace and then had surgery (and who is also pregnant) doesn't seem to understand.  Then her dad is never around, she starts getting teased at school, and even her best friends are having trouble relating.  How is Rachel going to get through this?

I thought this was interesting - especially having a character dealing with scoliosis which is not often addressed in children's lit.  For that reason it should probably have a place in a junior high library.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Star Scouts

Avani does not like the Flower Scout troop that her dad made her sign up for so when she is accidentally transported onto an alien ship by Mabel she is thrilled with the chance to join the Star Scouts.  She soon has the opportunity to go away to camp with the other Star Scouts where she enters into a competition with another scout named Pam.  The competition leads to some important lessons for them all.

I would not be surprised if there are more Star Scout adventures ahead but the story ended well.  My 4th and 5th graders will like this.

The Pearl Thief

Julie is back from Code Name Verity except this is a prequel and it was so cool to see a younger her and have a mystery to boot.  Julie has returned early from boarding school where packing and renovations are underway.  After the death of her grandfather the estate has been sold to pay the debts.  On her first day back however, before her family even knows she has arrived she is hit on the head and is unconscious for 3 days.  During that time she first stays with a Traveler family who then take her to the hospital.  Not only that but another man has gone missing as well.  In the midst of all the mystery Julie makes some new friends and learns more about herself.

This was really good - tension, mystery, exploration.  It is definitely too mature for my kiddos but a worthwhile read.

Real Friends

As a graphic novel memoir this is a departure from Shannon Hale's typical work.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is different.  Shannon in the story struggles with making real friends as opposed to being in "the group" and constantly struggling to maintain a position in that group.  She also struggles with her relationship to her older sister who has some behavioral issues.  In the end, Shannon finds friends who are loyal and who like her for who she is.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jelly Bean Summer

Okay, I am starting to feel old.  We now have more "historical fiction" that takes place in my lifetime.  As a result I find myself being more picky about the accuracy.  I was having trouble getting into this book as it was.  The book starts out with Joyce wanting to move up to the roof.  There she can escape the sadness of her brother Bud being MIA in the Vietnam War, his sister's weird obsession with UFOs and her guinea pig Jelly Bean, and her parents' fighting.  Soon she meets another boy Brian whose brother has died in the war and who is fixing up an old truck in his honor before he moves to Arizona.  Okay - on the surface not bad but then the issues creep in.  She is looking for Orion in the night sky?  Nope, Orion is a winter constellation.  They sell tickets for the UFO scheme - first it's $1.00 each, then they are made for 50 cents but then again at times it seems like a dollar and then once it even seems like 25 cents.  When they talk about the total it was mentioned as being over $30 but when they go to divide it among 4 people they each only get a little over $2???  But the kicker was when mom brought out her portable cd player.  In the late 60s???  Nope.  Now, I know I read an ARC so maybe this issue got resolved?

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Whydah

An interesting account of a slave ship turned pirate ship which was later shipwrecked and eventually discovered in the 1980s.  Students interested in pirates will enjoy this tale.


It's only been a few years since the famous Bigfoot photo swept the country and Tobin knows there are more around which is why he started the Bigfoot Detectives, Inc.  When Lemonade moves to town after the death of her mother Tobin is hesitant to let her help him but together they make a great team.  

The two characters together are great.  Both help each other - Lemonade helps Tobin become a bit more social while Tobin helps Lemonade as she works through the death of her mother and adjusting to her new life.  Together they solve one mystery and get clues about another.  

All in all a fun read with some nice twists and a great ending.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

2 books for tonight

This book is based on a true story of an elephant named Zambezi who was rescued when he was only a month old.  The story features Aaron a boy who helped rescue Zambezi and who continues to work with elephants at the Lilayi Elephant Nursery.  The book has several chapters of the story as well as informational blurbs about elephants in general.

The book talks about the design process and 9 real life engineering projects.  The projects themselves were pretty interesting, especially the bridge and I can see this having a place in STEM, maker, design thinking initiatives.

Moon Shadow

Lucia's mom has always been a bit mystical about the fact that she was born during a lunar eclipse and now, for the first time, she is about to witness a lunar eclipse herself, on her 13th birthday.  But things have been so weird lately - her mom and dad divorced and her mom now lives in Sweden, her ex-best friend Violet is now dating her other good friend Will, and she has two new friends but she isn't sure where things are going.  When she wishes on her moonstone during the eclipse she doesn't really believe anything will happen.  But then she starts having some weird dreams - but stranger still, the dreams actually seem to be reality but in a weird, shadowy, different version of herself way.  What exactly is going on and is it a good or bad thing?

I enjoyed the book quite a bit but by the time we got to the shadowy explanation the book was almost over and things seemed almost too easy.  I think kids will like it though.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Space Runners: Moon Platoon

Benny has been picked, along with 100 other teens, for the trip of a lifetime - 2 weeks on the moon with the creator of the moon resort, plus everyone will get money when they return, and someone may even be picked to stay on the moon and work.  Sounds wonderful - learning to drive space runners, reverse bungee jumping, and more.  But when one of the girls' space runners is hit by an asteroid things get bizarre.   The asteroid doesn't look natural.  Just what is Elijah, the creator of the resort hiding?  When Benny and his friends find out what is really going on they decide to step up and meet it head on instead of hiding in lunar tunnels.

As the first in a series there is obviously more to the story but Benny and his friends do manage to thwart the bad guys at least for now.  Not a bad opener - good for those who like science fiction.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lily's Mountain

Lily's dad has disappeared while coming down Denali.  But Lily can't accept that he has gone so she plots to go to the base of the mountain where he left his stash of peaches and brandy to see if he ever got them.  She is able to talk her sister Sophie into going with her and tricks her mom into thinking they will just be camping.

The trip is dangerous - water crossing, a wolf, bears, and of course, the glacier itself.  Can Lily find her dad or make peace with his disappearance?

Some of the situations Lily gets in are quite dangerous and I'm not sure how realistic it would be to have 2 young girls camp in the park even with a ranger on alert.  But, for younger readers this will be a fun adventure.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


I really loved this book!!

Lester has been homeschooled for his whole life but now that his mom has a job at the library he needs to go to school.  Will he make friends?  Will the understand his love of science?  It quickly becomes clear to the reader that Lester is unique - load noises bother him, he is very fixated on science, if the schedule changes he has a hard time adjusting.  Fortunately, the teachers and principals recognize that Lester is on the autism spectrum and soon establish a good environment for him.  But, making friends and fitting in is a bit harder.  He makes a good friend at first but soon she is pulled away by the allure of a new popular girl.  He wins the science fair but it isn't until he can apply science to kickball that he truly finds his "thing".

This book had a lot of heart.  Lester was a great character and there was good growth and honesty in the characters who surrounded him.  The chapter about his research at the library was awesome!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Girl With the Ghost Machine

Ever since the death of her mother nothing has been the same.  Her father can't seem to get over it and spends all his time tinkering with his "ghost machine" in an attempt to bring his wife back.  In frustration, Emmaline tries to destroy the machine only to discover that it actually works.  By feeding it something that holds a memory of the person (or animal) that has died that ghost will return for a short while but then that memory is gone forever.  But is it right to lose a memory for a short visit with a ghost?  Shouldn't the dead be allowed to be dead and the living move on?  These are the struggles Emmaline and her best friends Gully and Oliver face.  But then a tragedy makes them question their decisions even more.

More meat than I thought with this one - quite good and a relatively quick read.

Elsie Mae Has Something to Say

Being the youngest of 7 children means Elsie Mae doesn't get many things all to herself - attention, recognition, etc.  What she does get is the privilege of spending the summers with her grandparents and uncles in the Okefenokee Swamp.  That is, until her cousin Henry James shows up to steal even that.  But Elsie Mae has some plans.  First, she has written to President Roosevelt to try and save the swamp from developers.  Then she plans to find the thieves who are stealing the neighbor's hogs.  Maybe then she can get some recognition.  With the help of her new dog Huck and her cousin Elsie Mae embarks on a grand adventure but sometimes when you get what you wish for it comes with consequences you never intended.

This was a clever story.  I liked the historical aspect and Elsie Mae and Henry's growing friendship.

The Explorer

Not to be confused with the book I reviewed yesterday...

4 kids are on a plane trip above the Amazon Jungle when something goes terribly wrong and the plane crashes.  Of the whole book the beginning was my least favorite - I felt it was unclear where they were all going (some was revealed later) and what actually happened to the pilot (Hatchet flashbacks)?  

Once in the jungle the 4 kids must learn to survive - find food, find water, maybe try to get to the city by building a raft.  There is a lot of bickering and differences of opinion.  Once they find a map though the book gets more interesting.  They travel to an x on the map and find a hidden city and "the explorer" who wants nothing to do with them and demands that the whole place be kept a secret.

In time the children and the explorer come to understand each other and the kids realize why the city must remain a secret.  But when one of the kids is seriously bitten by bullet ants the kids must get to the city as soon as possible - leaving the explorer behind.

Overall, I liked the book but there were a few things at the beginning that kept me from getting invested right away.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

I loved the way this book started out - quirky chapter titles, a quirky character, and asides to the reader.  The problem was that the quirkiness wasn't consistent all the way through.  The book starts with Sebastian coming upon a mysterious door in an alley and discovering the Explorer's Society.  He soon begins to "work" for them.  Meanwhile, there is Evie, an orphan who finds herself in a dangerous situation and discovers that her grandfather is alive.  

At that point the two begin to look for a group of 5 explorer's, including Evie's grandfather, and a mysterious key.  There was some good action and a bit of mystery but...  the book ended with a cliffhanger (and the cliffhanger taunted about cliffhangers).  I think once more of the books are out the series might catch on but it wasn't my favorite.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Kit Marlowe and the Doomsday Bug

Kit is minding his own business, tolerating a holiday with his family when he finds out that his parents and sister have been kidnapped and that he must get a Faberge egg in order to save them.  He gets help from a girl named Abi whose sister was also kidnapped.

As it turns out the kidnapping was actually an initiation test into a secret spy school that his parents were part of, as were Abi's.  But there is more going on than meets the eye because Kit found a vial in the egg that wasn't supposed to be there.  It is a type of bug that can turn people into mindless zombies and there is a mad Russian who wants it.

This reminded me of Alex Rider but unfortunately I think the book got too long and there was too much extra and not enough action and character development.  In the end the vial was kept safe but the bad guys are still out there.  I wouldn't be surprised if there are more installments coming.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Player King

This book is based on the life of Lambert Simnel who was chosen to pretend to be the missing heir to the throne Edward VI.  It tells of his rise to power and subsequent loss of power just as quickly.  What I liked was the length and accessibility.  Unfortunately, to me the length was also a disadvantage as was the 1st person telling.  I never felt like I really got immersed in the conflict or Lambert's life - just not long enough to accomplish that.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Keep in a Cold, Dark Place

All Limpy wants is a way out - away from the failing potato farm, away from her father who blames her for her mother's death, away from her brothers.  She is good at one thing - art - and if she can submit her artwork on time she might win a scholarship to an "artsy" high school.  But everything seems against her - work on the farm, her father's anger, school issues.  One day, while working in the cellar she comes across a mysterious box that say "keep in a cold, dark place".  When she opens it she finds colorful objects.  When she takes one out it hatches into an adorable little creature.  Limpy names him Chup and hides and cares for him in the house.  But soon, other eggs hatch and one especially is not so nice.  Then mysterious things start happening - her father gets bit on the toe by something, chickens go missing, and something is starting to terrorize people coming to see the farm.  Soon Limpy, with the help of a friend, realize these cute (or not so cute as they start growing) creatures are actually chupacabra.  But how to get rid of them before it's too late?

This was deliciously adventurous and exciting by the end but it did take while for it to turn from cute little creatures to terrifying chupacabras.  Hopefully readers would stick with it that long.  It reminded me of Gremlins.

Soupy Leaves Home

It is the Great Depression.  Pearl loves to learn and wants more for her life, but since her mother died her father has become violent and refuses to listen to her.  So, she disguises herself as a boy and runs away.  She soon meets a hobo, Ramshackle, who takes her under his wing.  Soon she creates a new life for herself as Soupy, riding the rails, learning the ropes, finding freedom and the wisdom and dreams of Ramshackle.  But Ramshackle is ill and there are those in the hobo community who mean harm to the others.  Who can Pearl trust with her secrets and can she and Ramshackle both find what they are looking for.

I read this in one sitting even though I had to read it on my laptop and it was slow scrolling through.  The story was really good and had a lot of truth and insight in it as well as a historical perspective.  My one caution is the audience - my 4th and 5th graders will probably pass on it (unless I can entice my 5th graders with the Great Depression angle) because they typically like their graphic novels more colorful and not as serious.  I will promote it however because I thought it was great.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Single Stone

Many years ago an natural disasters left people stranded on one side of the mountain.  Over time traditions and survival have created a society where girls are prized for petiteness so they can go into the mountain, 7 at a time, and find the mica that is used for heating, light, and cooking.  But is that all there is?  And are the Mothers, the guardians of their society, manipulating births to produce even smaller offspring.  Jena has always done the right thing and is the leader of her line but when one of her girls dies and she discovers some of the Mothers' secrets she begins to question everything she has been taught.

This was really good.  I loved the feel of this society and how it grew out of desperation and tradition.  I loved how things came together at the end. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mary Anning's Curiosity

This was a very good account of Mary Anning's early life and first discovery in the cliffs near her home.  While I have heard of Mary Anning before this was a better glimpse into her young life and would be a good introduction for younger kids.  I did read it as an ebook and will be curious to see the formating and illustrations in the published copy.

The World's Greatest Detective

Hugh Abernathy is the world's greatest detective.  The stories of all his cases are published, people line the streets to hire him, and the rest of detective row is jealous of him.  When Mr. Abernathy decides to hold a contest to determine the world's greatest detective all the other detectives rush to be a part of it except Toby's uncle.  But, while Toby's uncle is on another case, Toby joins the game in his place.  But then, instead of a fake murder case, a real murder takes place - Hugh Abernathy is killed and it is up to the other detectives to figure it out.  Can Toby and his new friend Ivy figure it out before the professionals?

This reminded me a bit of The Westing Game, though not as confusing.  It was a pretty decent mystery but it is a bit long which may deter some readers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Metropolitans

4 kids have come to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1941 and suddenly find themselves in the middle of a plot to destroy NYC.  They also take their places as 4 new knights in the tradition of Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevuere, and Morgaine and find their quest mirrors a lost story of those 4 brave legends.  Can they solve the clues and save their city while staying true to themselves?

This was a pretty complex piece of writing with mystery, adventure, and history all coming together.  I was a bit confused at first but found that I enjoyed it a lot.  It appears to be the first in a series.  I did like the diversity of it.

The Countdown Conspiracy

After years of world war there is finally peace and as part of that peace students from around the world are being chosen to represent their countries in the first manned mission to Mars.  Miranda is chosen as one of the six and heads down to Antartica for training.  But from the very beginning there are issues - someone tries to kill 3 members of the team, including her at the very beginning.  Then she continues to receive threatening messages and people start questioning whether she should have been chosen.  Then the unthinkable happens - on a routine practice their ship actually starts heading into space.  Can the 6 kids team up to save their lives, the ship, the mission, and maybe even the unstable new peace?

This book was a lot of fun - good science, good action, fun characters.

Spirit Hunters

Harper and her family have just moved to the Washington D.C area supposedly because of her parent's work but everyone knows it is really because of her - because of the accident, because she can't remember what happened...  But things aren't any better in D.C because the house they have moved in has a mysterious and spooky past.  Her new friend Daya says the house is haunted and when her brother Michael starts acting weird she believes it  Soon she starts
having visions of her own past and the past of the house and as her memories start to come back so does her understanding that her brother is in trouble.  When
she goes seeking answers at a local cemetary though she learns the truth about herself, her family's history, and why her mom and grandmother won't talk toeach other.

This was a deliciously creepy book.  There was some good mystery to it as we discovered Harper's history little by little.  I also likedthe cultural aspect.  The book really got going about 3/4 of the way in but I think it was strong enough all the way through to get reader's interest.  It does looklike it could be the start of a series but ended in a very logical place.

Family Game Night...

Annabelle's family is broken.  Her mom's collections have gotten out of hand leading to her sister Leslie's anxiety, her brother's escaping, her dad's leaving, and her own compulsion to control things and get rid of anything unnecessary.  When her dad leaves her grandmother comes to "help" but sometimes it is hard for those closest to us to help and be objective.  The books was at times funny, at times heartbreaking, but in the end it was hopeful for everyone.  The book was not at all what I expected and I finished it in just a few hours.

I am noticing a trend toward more mental illnesses in books - this is the third book I have read recently where a main character is a hoarder - then you can add in some OCD tendencies and anxiety.  It might seem like a lot but the book dealt with it well and there were some really funny moments.