Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Introducing Sasha Abramowitz by Sue Halpern

Sasha Marie Curie Abramowitz is a pretty typical eleven year-old. She is an aspiring writer/pastry chef, smart, funny, a good friend, good listener, and when she wants to be, a good talker. As long as that does not include talking about her feelings about her family, particularly her older brother who attends a special boarding school for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. Danny has Tourette's Syndrome, and his relationship with the rest of the family is complicated. Sasha's parents don't talk much to Sasha about Danny, and Sasha would rather do anything than talk to her psychologist Dr. Serkowsky, "the Eraser", as she refers to him. To make matters worse, her best friend Carla has suddenly discovered boys, and now she doesn't seem to have much time for Sasha lately. Then Sasha meets Andrew Hardy, a student at Krieger College where Sasha's parents are both professors and dorm parents, and she thinks that perhaps she finally has a friend to confide in. That is until an unexpected event brings Danny home to spend the summer with his family and Sasha's world threatens to be turned upside down again. This is a wonderful book, full of well-developed and likeable characters, and surprising plot twists and turns. It sheds some light onto the effects of a debilitating neurological disorder on family relationships, without being too technical or preachy. Highly recommended. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Nicky Deuce -- Welcome to the Family by Steven Schirripa and Charles Fleming

It is summer, and Nicholas Boreli II's parents have plans to go on a two-week cruise. Nicholas will attend Camp Wannameka just like every other year. But...the night before he's set to leave, Nicholas' parents get a call on their cell phone. The septic system at the camp has blown up, and camp is cancelled for the summer. The only place left for Nicholas to go is to his grandmother's home in Bensonhurst (Brooklyn), New York. Nicholas has never been to Brooklyn -- Brooklyn is the place his father left, never returned to, and never discussed. Nicholas is not happy about going, but once he gets there he quickly warms up to his grandmother's delicious Italian home cooking, and his uncle Frankie, who makes it his mission to turn Nicholas into a real "goomba" -- a macho, Italian-American man with some street cred. It's not long before Nicholas, now known as Nicky Deuce, meets Tommy and gets involved in all sorts of schemes to make some quick cash, the riskiest of which gets them into some serious hot water. This book is a lot of fun, full of all sorts of characters. I think it would be a great vacation book. Reviewed by Jane Malmberg.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee

This is a really fun book to read. It's a sequel to Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Stanford is pretty much the opposite of Millicent - he's terrible at school and is really good at basketball. He's a sort of hero at his middle school, because even though he's only going into 7th grade, he's been chosen for the "A" basketball team for the next year. He's going away to a high-powered basketball camp for the summer, too. But everything changes on the last day of school when Stanford finds out he flunked English, and he also finds out that unless he goes summer school he won't move on to 7th grade, and he can't play on any basketball team, not even the "B" team! Stanford's family is having some problems, too. His grandmother has been living with them and it's not working out really well, although Stanford likes it. His parents are fighting all the time; his father never seems to have time for any of them and is never satisfied with Stanford's efforts. Millicent comes back into the story when Stanford's parents arrange for her to tutor him, and of course they despise each other. This book is just as funny as Millicent Min, with lots of misunderstandings and warm-hearted characters. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lucky Stars by Lucy Frank

This book is told in the alternating voices of two middle schoolers in New York City, both struggling with seemingly overwhelming personal problems. Kira has come to New York to visit her father, a musician who performs in the subways with his two young sons (Kira's half-brothers) since he quit his band. Jake hears Kira sing in the subway when he is cutting class to avoid having to give an oral report, something he does anything to avoid because he has a terrible stutter. Kira has been living with her grandmother in upstate New York, but decides to stay in the city with her father if he will agree to her conditions: no more singing in the subway, and he has to get a real job. The book is a little depressing, but the lives of the characters begin to improve as they become better friends, and by the end things are looking quite hopeful. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Room With A Zoo by Jules Feiffer

More than anything else in the world, Julie wants a dog. A dog she can love, and who adores her. She is willing to be responsible for her dog. She promises to feed and walk him, but her parents have strict rules. Since they live in a city apartment, Julie has to wait a year and a half till she is old enough to walk the dog by herself in the city streets. Julie's passion for animals takes over her entire life as she begins to fill her room with cages and aquariums. She collects a sick cat, a hamster, a big ugly fish, six smaller fish that start to disappear, a turtle, a strong-minded kitten and an unresponsive hermit crab. As Julie tries to keep up taking care of her animals in one room, disaster strikes and animal chaos ensues. Will Julie ever be able to convince her parents that she can be responsible and take care of a dog -- her very own dog? Julie's hilarious story is told to us in her own convincing words by her author/illustrator father, Jules Feiffer. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Defiance by Valerie Hobbs

Eleven-year-old Toby is looking forward to his summer vacation in the country. He imagines himself hiking and racing his bike down the hill. He also wants to learn to fish out on the lake. Then Toby discovers a new lump on his side. There is no way he will tell his parents, who would just return him straight to the children's hospital for further painful cancer treatments. Then Toby meets a spunky old woman who lives on a nearby farm with her cow, Blossom. Pearl helps Toby discover the beauty of life, and what is really important. As Toby tries to live in the moment and to enjoy this summer to the fullest, he also struggles with some important decisions about his own life and destiny. This is a very moving summer story filled with respect and love for all life. Review by Trudy Walsh.

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Twelve-year-old Anand is forced to work very hard for a demanding merchant to help his family survive in India. Anand longs for a different life. He would love to get away from the crowded, dirty city of Kolkatta. Then Anand meets a mysterious old man, who claims to be a healer. He asks Anand to help him return a precious conch shell to a secret green valley nestled high in the snowcapped Himalayan Mountains. When Anand agrees to help return the shell to its rightful home, his adventure begins. Along the way Anand meets powerful spirits and fantastic creatures who try to lure him away. If you are looking for a great fantasy story, read The Conch Bearer and accompany Anand on his adventure as he crosses arid plains and turbulent rivers, and climbs icy mountains in search for the most beautiful valley in the world. Also look for the sequel to The Conch Bearer, The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Worlds Apart by Kathleen Karr

Travel back in time 400 years when a group of colonists arrive in the Carolinas. As they make their way up from the beach, fifteen year-old Christopher West becomes aware of faces and movements among the trees. He realizes that they are not alone, but does not want to alarm his family, since the weapons have not been unloaded, yet. When the colonists and the Sewee finally meet the following day, Christopher sees a young brave, Asha-po, who looks about his own age. The two young men are drawn to each other. As they tentatively try to communicate with each other, a friendship is beginning to grow between them. Can the two young men overcome their cultural differences and truly share their innermost thoughts, while they spend a summer together roaming the forests and fields and beaches? This book brings you back to 1670, when two very different groups of people try to make a living in the Carolinas, and two young men try desperately to form a bridge of understanding and co-operation between them. Review by Trudy Walsh.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

No Small Thing by Natale Ghent

This is a great book! I love the beginning, "Sometimes, something as small as an ad in the daily newspaper can change your whole life." The ad Nat is talking about reads, "Pony to give away to good home. Call before 4 p.m." Back when their father lived with them, they had their own ponies. They also had enough to eat, their mother didn't have to work so much and they lived in a nice house. The idea of having their own horse just seems to make up for a lot, so Nat and his two sisters, Cid and Queenie, decide to answer the ad without telling their mother. The book is told from Nat's point of view and since he is a kid who spends a lot of time thinking about things, you feel a lot of empathy for him. Don't get me wrong, plenty happens in the book: broken bones, barn fires and rescued horses, and an attempt to run away from home on horseback. Even if you're not a horse lover, this is a great story of a boy trying to make the best of a pretty sad situation. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, December 02, 2005

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

Right from the beginning of "Listening for Lions" you know that Rachel's life is going to be full of sadness. Her missionary parents, who were also the local doctor and teacher in their East African village, had given Rachel a magical childhood in a beautiful country. They taught her love for the land, kindness for their neighbors, and they inspired her to be strong and brave. When the terrible influenza of 1919 claimed the lives of many villagers, it also claimed the lives of Rachel's parents. Among the many casualties was a young girl, Valerie, the daughter of a wealthy and cruel family, the Pritchards. After losing their only child and discovering that Rachel was now alone, the Pritchards began to devise a terrible plot to have Rachel take over Valerie's identity in order to get money from her grandfather. I loved this book for the courage of Rachel, for the beauty of her home and for the ways that she remains true to the lessons her parents taught! Review by Loretta Eysie

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure by Georgia Byng

I honestly wasn't sure how much of a story was left to tell in this third book of the Molly Moon series. It does get off to a slow and depressing start with Molly "mooning" about (pun intended) with her depressed mother who she previously rescued from the clutches of her evil twin brother, the famous hypnotist Cornelius Logan. Luckily, Molly is almost immediately kidnapped by a mysterious man in a turban, who takes her on a roundabout time-travelling journey to 1850's India. There she is turned over to another evil villain, a maharaja who has a strange speech problem which causes him to mix up the beginnings of words. I have to tell you that I found it very annoying to have to read his garbled speech and figure out what he's saying. If you like puzzles, maybe this will appeal to you. This problem aside, there is a lot of detail about India that makes it a fun read, and it's a pretty interesting concept having a bunch of different aged Mollys all present at the same time (conjured up by the maharajah from different time periods). Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Convicts by Iain Lawrence

19 century London was an exciting and dangerous place for 14-year-old Tom Tin. The son of a sea captain unjustly sent to debtor’s prison for standing up to an evil businessman, Tom sets out to rescue his father and the family’s future. He is soon caught up in the London underworld of grave robbers and crime-hardened juvenile gangs. Tom is mistaken for a gang member known as the Smasher, and winds up convicted of murder. He is sentenced to seven years hard labor in Australia, a common fate in those days, and sent to a vile convict ship anchored in the Thames River to await transport. Here things become even worse as he deals with a cruel captain, vicious bullies, and a very bad case of sea sickness. The ship is where Tom discovers he has the courage and heart to resume his quest. The Convicts comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but not without a price. I liked this book for its realistic picture of London. Tom is a character that will certainly hold your interest - he’s not a typical hero and his doubts and faults make his final triumph all the more enjoyable. The author focuses on the ugly and gross conditions of the time, but it made the book seem more believable. I would recommend it to anyone who likes an exciting, historical adventure story. Review by Tom Viti

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Leon and the Champion Chip by Allen Kurzweil

This book is a sequel to a book that I love, Leon and the Spitting Image, in which a 4th grade teacher teaches only sewing in her class. This is disastrous for Leon, whose small motor skills are not up to par. Leon makes a doll that is an exact replica of his teacher and, through some lucky breaks, discovers how to use it to control the actions of their teacher. Of course the results are hilarious. In the sequel, Leon and his friends are trying to achieve the same kind of success with a doll (or action figure as the boys like to call it) that is the image of the class bully, Lumpkin. There's also a new science teacher who decides to teach his class using potato chips (Leon's other obsession) as the subject of every lesson. Through the scientific methods they learn in class, Leon and his cohorts try to solve the problem of the failure of the Lumpkin doll. I enjoyed the book. It's funny (although not as funny as the first book) and you learn a lot about science (not to mention potato chips), too! Review by Stacy Church

Grace Happens by Jan Czech

This book is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who lives a very glamorous life -- her mother is a very famous movie star and she travels all over the world to various movie locations bringing Grace and her tutor in tow. Most kids would be envious, but Grace really longs for a normal life with school and friends and a stable homelife. She also longs to learn about her father, who left the family before Grace was born, and whom her mother refuses to talk about. When Grace's mother takes her to Martha's Vineyard for a real vacation, Grace decides it's time her mother told her the truth. I enjoyed this book. The characters ring true, and there are some good issues for discussion. I did find the ending somewhat disappointing, though. It seemed too hasty and the problems in Grace's family are resolved a little too easily. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tackling Dad by Elizabeth Levy

I wasn't expecting much when I started this book - I'm not really interested in football - but once I started reading it I was hooked. The main character Cassie is 13 and she's always had a natural talent for football. Her dad was a football player through college and she's inherited his moves. She used to play peewee football, but when she got older and girls didn't play football, she switched to track. She still plays backyard football with her friend whose father is the coach of the middle school team. The coach recruits her and her friend Molly to try out for the team. Cassie's parents are separated and her mom is great, even though she's worried about Cassie getting hurt. You would think her father would be impressed when Cassie makes the team, but instead he's a real jerk about it. She has a tough time with her parents, her teammates, the other kids at school, and also with the physical pain that comes from playing tackle football, but she just won't give up. Good for her! Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Belle Teal by Ann Martin

Belle Teal is a poor white girl who lives with her mother and grandmother in the rural south. Her mother works full time and her grandmother is slowly losing her memory. Belle is really excited about school this year since she got the teacher she has always wanted. Inside the classroom, there’s a lot going on, between a snobby girl, a boy that is physically abused by his father and a black boy. The book takes place in the early 1960’s and black students are new to the school. Some townspeople treat them badly and hold demonstrations. Belle struggles with these issues in a very mature way. It’s an enjoyable book because Belle is such a likeable character. Review by Joyce Levine

United Tates of America by Paula Danziger

This is another great book by Paula Danziger that is both fun and serious. Sixth-grader Sara Kate Tate, who likes to be called Skate Tate, is beginning Middle School and trying to get used to all the changes that come with a new school. She gets great comfort from her Uncle Gum, one of her favorite people. He lives part time with Sara’s family and the rest of the time he travels the world. When he dies suddenly, Sara’s heart is broken. Instead of being sad, her uncle wanted her family to take some of his money and travel around the United States. Sara and her family head off for adventure. The book also includes some scrapbook art that Sara creates with her new camera. Review by Joyce Levine

Secret School by Avi

To many people in this small working-class town, school isn’t as important as helping on the family farm. When the town’s teacher announces she has to leave before the year is up, the School Board decides not to replace her and let the kids finish the school year “early.” This becomes a problem for the students that want credit for that school year, especially for Tom and Ida who want to go on to High School. Tom suggests to Ida, the class brain, that she become the teacher for everyone. The kids vote and decide to have a “Secret School.” You quickly see how teaching and keeping up with her chores takes its toll on Ida. This was a lovely book that will appeal to anyone. Review by Joyce Levine

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

This fantasy book will take you under New York City to an amazing world of horse-size bats that people ride upon and bond with for life. There are nefarious people-size rats and enormous spiders, as well as giant cockroaches that are able to communicate and help the bats and people in the underworld. Don’t let the gigantic bats, rats, spiders and cockroaches turn you away from this book. There are some likeable characters in all of these creatures. The main character is Gregor, an 11- year-old human boy, whose father went missing years before. His mother works full time to support Gregor’s Grandmother and the 3 children. Gregor is responsible for watching over his Grandmother and his 2-year-old sister Boots while his other sister, 7-year-old Lizzie, attends camp for the summer. Let yourself be carried to the underworld and swept away in this amazing quest foretold by an ancient prophecy that only Gregor can unlock. You will experience suspense, frightening moments and maybe relief. This is the first in a trilogy, all 3 of we have at the library. Review by Ann Thomas

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chicken Boy by Francis O'Roark Dowell

The author of this book, Francis O'Roark Dowell, is also the author of one of my favorite books, Dovey Coe (a funny and suspenseful story of a girl who winds up in jail, accused of murdering her sister's boyfriend). It took me a while to pick this book up and actually start reading it (I mean, really, Chicken Boy??), but I have to say that I really liked it. The main character Tobin has a pretty terrible life. Since his mother died, no one really takes care of him. There's no food in the house, his dad never talks to him, and he has no friends. Only his grandmother seems to care about him, but she is basically crazy, and she and Tobin's dad hate each other. He doesn't like school, doesn't play sports and basically isn't interested in anything. Tobin gets in a fight with another kid at school, and a new kid, Henry, joins in to help him (he was getting trounced). After that, Henry just keeps pestering Tobin until he gives in and starts hanging out with him. Henry and his brother keep chickens, and Henry thinks chickens hold the secret to the universe. Of course, Tobin gets roped into the whole chicken-keeping enterprise. Even though you feel sorry for Tobin, the book is funny, so it isn't depressing. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke

I loved this book! Even more fast-paced and exciting than it's predecessor and chock full of funny, scary new characters. The story begins one year later with Meggie thinking constantly of Inkheart. She longs to visit the exotic world contained within the book. Dustfinger has the same wish, and he becomes more and more desperate to find a way back into the story. He meets a storyteller, Orpheus, with the ability to read him back. However, Dustfinger returns without his young apprentice Farid. Heartbroken, Farid goes to find Meggie, and convinces her to read both of them into the book also. But, as wonderful as the storybook world of Inkheart is, it is also quite dangerous. And before too long, the trio are joined by other characters from the first book, some of whom would do them harm. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gilda Joyce Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

I loved this book! At the beginning, Gilda Joyce is studying a battered paperback book she found at a garage sale, The Master Psychic's Handbook: A Guide to Psychic Principles and Methods. She wants to be a professional psychic investigator, and spends all of her time wearing disguises and secretly observing human behavior. After boasting at school that she will be spending the summer in San Francisco, she remembers that she has distant relatives there. Her mother forbids it, but she writes a letter to them inviting herself for a visit. In the letter she claims her mother told her, "A young lady with your talents isn't meant to spend the summer wiping drool from the mouth of a big, dull lug of a boy (her brother, who is a perfectly normal intelligent boy)." She doesn't know that she has a cousin there who's the same age she is who just got hurt falling down the stairs when she thought she saw her dead aunt. The old mansion they live in is haunted, possibly by the ghost of the cousin's aunt who committed suicide years before, which is the perfect situation for Gilda to practice her psychic skills. This book is suspenseful, funny and sad. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Helicopter Man by Elizabeth Fensham

I have to say right up front that I did not love this book. However, it does give a good view into the life of a kid living in a terrible situation: trying to cope with a parent's mental illness. In this case, Pete has been on the run with his dad for years, hiding out from some unnamed someone (maybe a government conspiracy?) and he slowly begins to realize that his dad's behavior is not only bizarre, but may not be based on reality. I like the way the story resolves - I thought it was realistic, both in the ways that people tried to help him and in the way he reacted to them. Definitely worth reading. Review by Stacy Church

Flush by Carl Hiaason

After reading Carl Hiaason's first children's book Hoot, I couldn't wait to read his new one, Flush. I didn't find this one as funny as Hoot, but I did get hooked on the characters. This is another book about an environmental issue - Noah and Abigail's dad has been arrested for sinking a casino boat because he says it's been dumping human waste directly into the water of the Florida Keys. This is not his first arrest (he's not a criminal, he just has trouble controlling his temper when confronted with wrongdoing) and their mother is pretty fed up with his behavior at this point. Of course the kids take it on themselves to prove, well not their dad's innocence because he really did sink the boat, but to prove that he was justified in sinking it and that the real criminal is Dusty Muleman, the owner of the boat. I didn't love this book the way I did Hoot, but it's still worth reading. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Do You Know the Monkey Man by Dori Hillestad Butler

I loved this book! 13-year-old Samantha hasn't seen or heard from her father in 10 years since her parents divorced and her twin sister Sarah died in a canoeing accident while she was with her dad. One of the only things she remembers about him is that he used to sing the muffin man song to her, but with the words "Do you know the monkey man?" Now that Sam's mother is getting remarried, Sam becomes obsessed with finding her father. She is so despearate that she calls on Madame Madeline, the only psychic listed in the yellow pages of Clearwater, Iowa. The fortune teller doesn't reveal anything about where her father is, but she has some startling news about Sarah. "I don't think she's dead...I think she's very much alive." Of course, then Samantha becomes even more determined to find out what really happened, even though it might lead to a painful and shocking secret. I loved the conclusion. Review by Stacy Church

Pay the Piper by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

The subtitle of this book is: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale. It's a retelling of the Pied Piper story, set in modern times with rock and roll being the music played by the piper. 14-year-old Callie goes to a concert of the rock band Brass Rat to interview the band for her school newspaper. During the interview she senses something odd about the lead singer, Gringras, and after the concert when she sees him in the alleyway she sees rats who seem to be dancing to his music. She also eavesdrops outside the dressing room door and hears him make some cryptic statements about tithes and souls. She has a difficult time trying to write the story, so much so that she stays home during trick or treating to work on it. Because she has her headphones on while she's working, she is the only child in town not enticed away by the piper's music. Interspersed in the narrative is Gringras' story of his old life in Faerie, and how he came to be exiled. Even though this is not the kind of book I would normally choose, I really enjoyed reading it. Those of you who like Jane Yolen will be sure to like it. Review by Stacy Church

Deliver Us from Normal by Kate Klise

Things are not normal enough in Normal, Illinois, at least not for Charles Harrisong. Charles is 11 years old, just starting junior high, and he worries constantly about how abnormal his large family is. They are all embarrassing (not only because they are poor), but he seems to be the only one who minds. He copes by making lists; he hopes to someday be able to remove them from the top of his "Most Embarrassing Things in Life" list. He is also still trying to live down his overly emotional reaction when he read The Yearling at school the year before. His older sister Clara decides to run for 7th grade class president, and her campaign is interrupted by an incident so nasty that her parents decide to leave Normal in the middle of the night to start a new life on a boat they bought sight unseen in Alabama. Of course, the boat turns out to be a wreck, but since they gave up everything to buy it they are stuck with it. This book is funny and sad, my favorite combination. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Adam Canfield of The Slash by Michael Winerip

Adam Canfield holds two distinct titles. First, he has been the star reporter for the Harris Elementary/Middle School paper The Slash for years. And now, he is also the most overscheduled kid in America. He's always on the run somewhere -- and he's almost always late. To make matters worse, his friend Jennifer convinces him to become coeditor of The Slash along with her. While he does have a talent for investigative reporting, his people skills leave something to be desired. Between figuring out how to supervise Phoebe, an incredibly persistent third grade cub reporter with a knack for sniffing out front page scoops, and dealing with the school principal, who insists upon dictating the paper's content, Adam worries that he is losing his grip. But then, Phoebe delivers a scoop to beat all others -- an ugly story detailing misapropriation of school funds -- and involving none other than the principal! Now Adam has an even bigger problem -- can he and his friends dig deep enough to get to the bottom of the cover-up, and do they dare to publish the story and risk ruining their "permanent records"? Review by Jane Malmberg.

Three of Diamonds by Anthony Horowitz

The third book in a series about a pair of private detectives, the Diamond Brothers. Older brother Tim is perhaps the world's worst detective, but thanks to his clever 13-year old brother Nick, the duo always manage to crack the case. This volume finds the brothers in the middle of three exciting and humorous adventures. In "The Blurred Man", they must find out who flattened philanthropist Lenny Smile with a steamroller. A vacation in France proves to be a near-death experience when they become mixed-up with drug smugglers in "The French Confection". And in the final story, Tim is invited to a class reunion and becomes trapped on a Scottish island with a murderer in "I Know What You Did Last Wednesday". It takes some quick thinking for Nick to solve the crimes before his bumbling brother either messes up the investigation, or worse, gets them both killed. If you're looking for stories with plenty of humor and suspense, then Three of Diamonds is the book for you. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcum

11-year-old Mitch has his upcoming summer with his best friend Tick planned out in detail: monster movies, 10-S 2 RRC (ride 10 speeds to Redlands, Riverside, and Crestline), skateboarding (down "the Hill" where Mitch previously left most of the skin of his right leg on the pavement), swimming, and sleepovers/stay up late/sleep in/TV/cartoons/Stooges. Mitch is horrified when his father announces that he has to report for a military assignment and the rest of the family is going to spend the entire summer on the farm in Louisiana where his mother grew up. There are a bunch of cousins - all boys who wear overalls and no shoes - that Mitch is expected to make friends with, a group of juvenile delinquents he tries to join in with, a raging bull and worst of all, poisonous cottonmouth snakes. This is a funny book and it paints a good picture of what life was like in the rural deep south, but I think some of the things Mitch does when he's hanging out with the "bad kids" (such as swimming across a cottonmouth-filled creek on a dare) are more dangerous and should be taken more seriously than they seem to be in the story. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

This was such a relaxing book to read! The style of the book is chatty and felt very familiar, but I can't figure out exactly what it reminded me of. The Penderwicks are a family of 4 girls, a father and a large unruly dog named "Hound." The girls are wildly different from each other and each is quite a character, especially the youngest, Batty, who insists on wearing a pair of wings at all times except when she is sleeping. The Penderwicks have rented a cottage in the Berkshires for vacation since their usual Cape Cod house was sold unexpectedly. They arrive only to find that their cottage is on the grounds of a huge mansion called Arundel; as they come up the long winding drive they see a boy looking out of an upstairs window. Jeffrey lives at Arundel with his mother, a horrible mean woman. There are plenty of adventures involving Jeffrey, Cagney (an older boy who is the gardener), and Cagney's rabbits. Review by Stacy Church

Septimus Heap, Book One: Magyk by Angie Sage

It took me several tries to get far enough into this book to get hooked on the story, but once I did, I couldn't put it down! The book reads sort of like it's set in medieval times, except there are wizards, magical creatures (many of them disgusting or frightening), and of course a struggle between good and evil. Septimus Heap is born the seventh son of a seventh son, and in the wizard world that makes him very special. But the midwife pronounces him dead soon after birth and whisks his body away before his poor mother can see him. Around the same time, Septimus's father finds an abandoned infant in the forest. He brings her home and she grows up as the only girl in a family of 6 boys, living a happy, hectic life until her 10th birthday. On that day, the ExtraOrdinary wizard knocks on the door of the Heap house with a shocking revelation, and this is when the real story begins. Even though this is the first book in a trilogy the ending doesn't leave you hanging. Book Two is due out next April. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Jimmy Coates: Assassin? by Joe Craig

This book is not what I thought it was going to be when I started reading it. I expected a detective/thriller, and instead it turned out to be science fiction. Jimmy Coates grows up thinking he's just an ordinary boy, with an older sister and a mother and a father, but when two men in suits show up at his house unexpectedly and try to make him go with them, he discovers that he has super powers. At least that's what it seems like when he is able to fight them off and jump out his second story bedroom window without getting hurt. From that moment on there is non-stop action: fighting, chase scenes, and kidnapping, as Jimmy tries to find out the truth about himself and the career he was engineered for. This book will really appeal to lovers of action, science fiction and thrillers, and it also touches on ethical questions about government interference in people's lives. Review by Stacy Church

Monday, August 08, 2005

Permanent Rose by Hilary McKay

This is the third installment in the story of the eccentric and artistic Casson family. In this story, several of the characters are faced with some type of quest. Caddy has become engaged to "Darling Michael" despite her ambivalence about marriage. She loses her diamond engagement ring and tears through the house desperately searching. Saffy has become increasingly eager to find out the identity of her long lost father, and enlists the aid of her good friend Sarah. Indigo's American friend Tom has returned to America, and the Casson family has heard nothing yet from him. Rose in particular is heartbroken, and waits daily for some news in the mail. As usual, a new character is introduced and quickly becomes part of the family. David, one of the boys who spent the previous year bullying Indigo at school, has turned over a new leaf and become a friend, much to the annoyance of Indigo's sisters. The plot takes some twists and turns -- delivering some surprises at the climax. Fans of this author's other books will not be disappointed. Permanent Rose features the same blend of humor, tenderness and adventure I came to love in Saffy's Angel. A fun, satisfying, summer read. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Lowji Discovers America by Candace Fleming

This is a really fun book about a boy who moves from Bombay, a big city in India, to the small town of Hamlet, Illinois. It is the beginning of the summer, he doesn't know anyone, and his first encounters with other children are not promising. When he was in India, Lowji dreamed of having pets in America, but he soon finds out that his cranky landlady doesn't allow any pets. He does manage to make some friends, and eventually convinces his landlady that she should get a cat to catch the mice in the apartment building, and then a dog to keep away burglars, and a goat to cut the grass. Of course there are disastrous results which are quite entertaining. Review by Stacy Church

Fourth World by Kate Thompson

This is book one of The Missing Link Trilogy and I, for one, am eagerly awaiting book two. The beginning of this book was slow, but I kept on reading and I'm glad I did. The main character is 15-year-old Christie, who is angry and resentful of his new stepfather and his older stepbrother, Danny, who is mentally disabled. Christie does care about Danny and has learned some ways of helping him cope with his emotional difficulties, so when a talking starling appears in Danny's room, and Danny says they're leaving to go to his mother's in Scotland, Christie feels compelled to follow him. The journey turns out to be long and difficult. There is an oil shortage and buses have been cancelled, trains are running sporadically and finally car travel is banned completely. Most of the book recounts their journey from Ireland to Scotland and the people they meet, including a homeless girl who joins in with them and a talking dog named Oggie who helps guide them. When they finally arrive at Danny's mother's they find an unbelievable situation involving talking animals and a girl who looks just as strange as Danny but seems to possess super powers. This is science fiction at it's best - Danny's mother has a lab where she performs secret experiments. What has she done to these animals and children? Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Midnight Diary of Zoya Blume by Laura Shaine Cunningham

This book is filled with mysteries: where did Zoya's mother go, and is she coming back? Who is Leon and what is his relationship with Zoya's mother? What is a Buka and why is Zoya so afraid of it? What is making the mysterious crying sounds in the basement of Zoya's building? Before Zoya's mother went away she gave Zoya a diary to write in, and she told her that she needs to write down her first memory. But what is Zoya's first memory? I thought the style of the book was a little stilted, but I still enjoyed reading it. It's a touching and unusual story. Review by Stacy Church

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K. L. Going

The opening scene of the book takes place on fourth grade graduation day when, instead of walking across the stage to get his certificate while his parents watch proudly, Gabe is tied up under a picnic table by two fifth grade bullies. Gabe decides that he doesn't want to move up to fifth grade because then he'll have the same lunch and recess as the two worst bullies of the school,who are a grade ahead of him. This is a story of two best friends, one white and one black (the only black student in the school), set in rural Georgia in 1976. Frita decides that they have to spend the summer liberating themselves of their fears (Gabe has many many more than she does), and they write out lists of what they're afraid of so they can cross each one off as they conquer it. It's not so bad when the fear is spiders - Gabe gains a pet he names Jimmy - but when they get to Frita's fear of the Ku Klux Klan, things get more intense. This is a fun book to read, even though it paints a very real picture of life for a black family in the rural south in that time period. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Wing Nut by MJ Auch

12-year-old Grady Flood has moved around constantly with his mother since his father died 7 years before. They never have enough money, but Grady's mom, beautiful red-headed Lila, always thinks things will work out for the best. At the beginning of the book, they are living on a commune, but decide to leave when Lila finally realizes she's being taken advantage of by the other residents. They head out in their old car that's held together by duct tape. Of course the car breaks down, and they walk for miles until they reach a run-down diner where the kindly owners tell them about a mechanic who might be able to fix their car, and a job Lila may be able to get as a cook for an old man who lives alone. The old man is a crotchety guy who just wants to be left alone, but he starts teaching Grady about the purple martins he takes care of. I really liked this book - it was touching and believable. The relationships between the characters in the book are rocky, but in the end, they manage to work things out. Reveiw by Stacy Church

Click Here by Denise Vega

The full title of this book is: Click Here: To Find Out how I Survived Seventh Grade. This was a fun book to read, and will appeal to girls who like to read books in diary or journal format. Erin Swift is just starting middle school and faces many humiliations, beginning on the first day of school when she ends up punching her archenemy for calling her "puppet," a reference to the fact that she always does what her best friend Jilly wants her to do. Erin keeps a secret unpublished blog chronicling her feelings about everything that is happening in her life, including how she feels about her friend Jilly, her crush on a boy who ends up being Jilly's boyfriend, and feeling sorry for her brother who has a crush on someone who doesn't like him back. The blog entries are interspersed in the narrative. Erin is very knowledgable about web design and becomes active in helping design a new web site for her school. In her rush to submit material for the publication date, she submits the wrong disk - the one with her secret blog! You can imagine how people feel about her after reading her secret rantings about them. Her parents won't let her change schools, so she has to find a way to make things right again. Review by Stacy Church

Surviving Aunt Marsha by Sofie Laguna

I really enjoyed the style of this book. The chapters are very short, sometimes following the story line and sometimes just sort of random recollections by the main character,
11-year-old Bettina. Bettina's parents leave for a 3-week vacation in Paris to rediscover the romance in their marriage, and their hateful Aunt Marsha comes to stay with Bettina and her two younger brothers. Since Bettina is the oldest she feels it is up to her to make things go smoothly....even though Aunt Marsha won't let their dog, who usually sleeps on Vince's bed, come in the house at all, and makes them eat black kidney pie for dinner, and won't let Aidan read his comic books. The book is funny, but it really made me feel bad for the poor kids. There's an exciting event at the end involving lightning, a tree house, and Aunt Marsha who's afraid of heights. However, I didn't feel the resolution was believable. Perhaps Aunt Marsha really does love the kids, but I thought the change in her character and the sudden love shared between them all was a bit much to swallow. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sam I Am by Ilene Cooper

When Sam Goodman's dog Pluto knocks down their Christmas tree, (also known in their family as the Hanukkah Bush), his parents start to think about whether or not they made a wise decision to raise the children without organized religion. Sam's dad suggests they celebrate Hanukkah this year, which creates a lot of tension in the household -- especially between the parents, as both grandmothers come for a visit and spend the holidays sniping at each other. Even after the holidays are over, his parents' bickering and his confusion over what religion he really is, continue to bother 12-year-old Sam. He has tried talking to God (at his mother's suggestion), but God doesn't seem to be listening. When his class in school begins studying the Holocaust, Sam only feels more distressed. Sam is a thoughtful kid, and he brings up a lot of good questions. Unfortunately, he never does receive much help with his situation. While I enjoyed the characters, and felt that many of the situations rang true, I found the conclusion to be unsatisfying. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Never Mind!: A Twin Novel by Avi and Rachel Vail

This is the story of a brother and sister, Meg and Edward Runyon, who, although they are twins, could not be less alike. According to Edward, Meg is twelve noon, and he is midnight. Meg is a statuesque control-freak who finds herself invited to join the "High Achievers Club" at her academically elite school. Edward is by contrast a short, slacker student at an "alternative" school. He is disgusted with the notion of Meg having one more achievement to rub his nose in, and decides to make it his mission to sabotage Meg's efforts to be accepted by the popular girls at school. Meg is terrified of her new friends finding out about her embarrassing twin, and concocts a story about her handsome, rock star brother. Events spin out of control, with hilarious consequences. The two authors tell the story in alternating narratives that really ring true for each character. This book is a lot of fun -- just right for a summer beach read! Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Flowers by Mary Hoffman

This is the third book in a wonderful fantasy trilogy which began with Stravaganza: City of Masks. Each book follows the adventure of a London teen drawn into the dangerous world of political intrigue and murder inTalia, a land that resembles Italy in the 1500's. In this book, Sky Meadows finds an antique perfume bottle, a talisman which turns him into a Stravagante, one of a select society who are able to travel back and forth between present day England and the imaginary Talia. The cast of characters is huge, but there is a family tree to help you keep everyone straight. I liked the parts of the story set in England, with the teens struggling with their own problems in addition to the feuds, poisonings, sword fights, etc. they are part of in Talia. A great series, although I found the beginning of this one slow going. Review by Stacy Church

Overboard by Elizabeth Fama

This is an unusual book, because after the first 35 pages, the rest of the action takes place in the Indian Ocean, where 14-year-old Emily is floundering without a life vest after the ferry she was on sank. It is based on a true story of a girl who is living in Sumatra, Indonesia, where her pediatrician parents are working. Emily helps out with the sick children at the clinic too, but she resents the amount of time her parents spend there, and she wishes she could return home to Boston with her uncle, who is visiting the nearby island of Weh. After an upsetting incident involving the death of a child patient, Emily runs away and takes a ferry to try to meet her uncle, but halfway through the crossing the ferry sinks. She finds herself in the deep, shark-infested ocean waters amid hundreds of panicking people. She meets a younger Indonesian boy who she helps, and they must struggle through the night and the next day, hoping to be rescued. The book is suspenseful and gives a good insight into the differences between Muslim and Western cultures. Review by Stacy Church

The Search for Belle Prater by Ruth White

This book is a sequel to Belle Prater's Boy, one of my favorite books. In the first book you meet Woodrow, whose mother has disappeared from their backwoods home in Coal Station, Virginia. He goes to live with his grandparents, and becomes best friends with his cousin Gypsy, who lives next door. In The Search for Belle Prater, it is 1954 and Woodrow and Gypsy are in the seventh grade. On New Year's Eve, someone calls Woodrow's house and hangs up without saying anything. He's sure that it was his mother, and when he traces the call to the nearby town of Bluefield, he and Gypsy decide to go there to search for her. Readers who were unhappy with the ending of Belle Prater's Boy will like the resolution of the sequel. A great depiction of life in a poor community in Virginia in the 1950's. Review by Stacy Church

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sea Legs by Alex Shearer

This is one of the funniest books I've read, because of the sarcastic, wise-cracking voice of Eric, the older (by 5 minutes) of a pair of British twins, telling the story. Eric and Clive stowaway on the cruise liner their father works on because they're tired of being left at their grandparents' while their father is at sea, being forced, as Eric says, to stare at their grandfather's "great big corduroy bottom" while he works in the garden. Many close calls where they are almost discovered ensue, especially after they run into Swanker (not his real name), a boy from their school, and convince his mother that their father is the captain, but doesn't like to acknowledge them while on board the ship to discourage kidnapping attempts. They are suspicious of a certain crew member they nickname Lumpy, and when the boat is taken over by pirates, they discover he is in cahoots with them. The boys, of course, become heroes. Review by Stacy Church

Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Littman

This is my favorite kind of book - both funny and sad. 11 year old Justine's best friend at her new school is Catholic, and when she gives up chocolate for Lent, Justine decides to give up being Jewish. She says, "…being Jewish is all about suffering….People hate us, try to kill us, and don't want us to join their country club, while you guys get Christmas trees and Easter eggs." Her family (especially her mother who is a neat freak) is disapproving of Justine and never takes her seriously, so of course she hides her new-found Catholicism from them, pretending to confess to her teddy bear "Father Ted" and taking communion with matzo and grape juice in the closet of her bedroom. She is discovered when the crumbs and spilled juice bring an infestation of mice. Only her bubbe (grandmother) is supportive of her efforts to find her religious identity. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Beekman's Big Deal by Michael de Guzman

By the time Beekman O'Day is in the seventh grade, he has been to 9 different schools in New York City. His father doesn't have a regular job - he makes deals - and when a deal falls through, they have to move because he can't pay the rent, and Beekman has to change schools because he can't pay the tuition. His father promises that things are going to change when they move into a house on Nutting Court, and he enrolls at Chance Academy, which some kids call "Last Chance Academy." This is a funny book full of quirky characters, including, of course, the school bully, who chooses Beekman to pick on. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Guys Write for Guys Read edited by Jon Scieszka

This is a great collection of short stories, mini-memoirs, poems, comics and illustrations. The list of contributors contains well-known authors, illustrators, journalists, etc., all of whom are male, sharing their thoughts and reminiscences of what it is to be a boy. The tales are lots of fun to read (many are laugh out loud funny). This is a great book for a trip or to take to the beach. Because each piece is just a few pages, you can pick up the book, read a few stories and then put it down and come back to it later. Several of the illustrators include drawings from when they were kids as well as recent ones, often of the same subject matter. It's a great book for girls too -- it may not help you to see eye to eye with that annoying older brother of yours, but it gives a small glimpse into what goes on inside his head. Review by Jane Malmberg.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry

This book reminds me of King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, only I didn't like it quite as much. The book is confusing at the beginning. James Parrett wakes up in the middle of the night, hears a noise like water running, and follows the sound down into the basement of the flat where he and his family are staying in London. He sees a strange shimmer in the air, which turns out to be a portal that transports him back to 1600. The interesting things in the story have to do with James's resentment of his parents, who have always tried to push him into music, and the fact that James is biracial. The book is awfully slow going, but I liked seeing James discover how much he likes to sing, when he is captured and forced to perform for the queen in Elizabethan England. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sing a Song of Tuna Fish by Esme Raji Codell

The author tells stories she says are 95% true from her childhood growing up in a poor section of Chicago in the 1970's. (Her mother says the people in their neighborhood aren't "poor" but "broke.") Her unconventional parents don't care if she goes to school, and when she does go to school it's to an unusual one where the students choose what they want to do every morning, and never have to do anything they don't want to. In the first story in the book, Esme's mother orders her to throw eggs at a car that is parked in front of a fire hydrant across from their house! I really enjoyed reading this book - it was funny and nostalgic, reminding me of when I was growing up. Review by Stacy Church

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Abduction by Peg Kehret

This is an incredibly suspenseful story of the abduction of a young boy by a father he has never met before. I would only recommend this book for older readers, because I found it pretty scary. Even though Matt remembers the rules about strangers, the man in the UPS uniform lures him away by first stealing Matt's dog from his house, and telling him that the dog is hurt and needs his help. Later, Matt's sister Bonnie tries to rescue Matt and she gets kidnapped, too. The adults they turn to for help don't believe them, and it is finally up to the children to help themselves. A very believable story with a happy ending. Review by Stacy Church

Falcon's Malteser by Anthony Horowitz

A classic hardboiled detective story. The detective is bumbling Tim Diamond, whose 13 year-old brother Nick has come to live with him since their parents moved to Australia. Nick has to work hard to overcome his older brother's incompetence. In the beginning of the book, a dwarf hires them to keep a package for them, and murder and mayhem follow. There's a master criminal named "The Fat Man" who's anything but, two bad guys named "Gott" and "Himmel" ("God" and "Heaven" in German), and a slew of other colorful characters. Some of you will know the author Anthony Horowitz for his espionage novel series featuring Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, Point Blank. Review by Stacy Church