Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Doom Machine by Mark Teague

doom Things are getting very strange in the sleepy town of Vern Hollow. It’s 1956 when Jack Creedle sees the flying saucer overhead. Not everyone believes that aliens have landed, so Jack and his new friend Isadora set out to prove it. Sure enough, the huge spider-like aliens known as Skreeps are there, and they’ve come looking for the secret invention that Jack’s Uncle Bud has created. When Jack and Isadora almost thwart the aliens’ plans, they find themselves kidnapped and taken aboard the spacecraft, along with Uncle Bud and Isadora’s scientist mom. This is quite the adventurous tale, with Jack and Isadora escaping from the Skreeps and traveling to different planets, all in an attempt to keep Uncle Bud’s dangerous creation out of the Skreeps’ hands. The characters are interesting, especially the ruthless Skreep commander Xaafuun. I thought that the book was a little too long because it started to lose me at the end, but all-in-all I thought this was an exciting sci-fi adventure! Review by Katie Corrigan

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

evolution I know a book is good if I don’t want it to end, and that is definitely how I felt about this one. With one chapter left, I found myself putting the book down to finish the next day. I wanted to put off saying goodbye to Calpurnia, her family, and her interesting life. Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate lives in Texas, and is smack-dab in the middle of three older brothers and three younger brothers. During the hot summer of 1899, she starts to explore the animals and plants near her home. Her grandfather, impressed with this, shares his own nature observations with her, and shows her the correct way to make scientific observations in her notebook. But not everyone is pleased with Callie’s new hobby. Her mother thinks she should spend more time learning needlework and cooking, in preparation for when she’ll one day be a wife. This is a charming and humorous story of a girl on the verge of growing up, and not sure if she’s ready to. Callie’s brothers are also growing up, learning that it’s best not to make pets out of farm animals, and developing crushes on Callie’s best friend. The rest of Callie’s family is as interesting as she is, making for a book that is hard to put down, and hard to finish. Review by Katie Corrigan

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

al One of the things I like the best about this sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts is that things and people are rarely black and white, except in the end, of course.  Moose encounters lots of people in his life on Alcatraz Island in 1935: a mean guard, Officer Darby, who seems to have it in for him; Al Capone himself, who is calling in the favor Moose owes him from the previous book; Willy One Arm and Buddy Boy, two convicts that work at the warden’s house; Piper, the warden’s daughter, who Moose has a love/hate relationship with.  It’s hard for Moose to tell who he should trust.  HIs instincts are pretty good, but the thing that continues to get him in trouble is that he wants to make everyone happy.  His sister, Natalie is away at a special school on the mainland, and though everyone says it’s good for her, Moose isn’t too sure.  The conclusion of the book is very exciting, and involves guns, kidnapping, and an attempted prison escape.  Review by Stacy Church

Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

wild This is a book that really drew me in. Although I wasn’t crazy about the chapters told from the young horse’s perspective, the chapters told from Lidie’s viewpoint just got better and better as the book went on. At the beginning, Lidie is getting ready to leave Jales, Brazil, where she has been living with her aunt and uncle for the past 5 years. Her father and brother moved to the US after her mother died, but they couldn’t take her with them. Even though she is angry at having been left behind, she loves her home, the countryside, her aunt Titia Luisa and even her Uncle Tio, who she has a stormy relationship with, and especially riding the neighbor’s horse wildly through the fields. When she arrives in New York, she is angry to discover that her father and brother expect her to be the same 7-year-old girl they left behind in Brazil (not realizing that she expects them to be the same also). She doesn’t speak much English, and school turns out to be humiliating when she can’t make the teacher understand that she needs to go to the bathroom. She wets her pants and then runs away from school, swearing to herself never to return. It takes a while for things to improve for Lidie, but the world of horses that surrounds her (her father runs a stable and her brother is a budding jockey) draws the family together and when the filly whose voice narrates the alternating chapters comes to the stable, Lidie recognizes a kindred spirit. There are exciting scenes from the racetrack, and it’s nice to see that Lidie loves the old horse her father bought for her to learn to ride on, even as she resents that he thinks she could only ride such a broken-down old horse. Review by Stacy Church

Friday, November 27, 2009

Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy edited by Leonard S. Marcus

 funny business This book is a great opportunity to learn more about your favorite writers: Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Sharon Creech, Daniel Handler…Included along with each interview is a manuscript page with mark-ups, a bibliography of the author’s works, and, of course, pictures.  I found some of the interviews more interesting than others, and they weren’t necessarily the authors I was the most curious about.  I learned some really interesting things, like the fact that Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham,  Bucking the Sarge) worked on the assembly line at General Motors for 13 years before he ever started writing.  Daniel Handler talked quite a bit about the Holocaust –his father left Germany to avoid the Holocaust, and many other family members didn’t make it out.  A number of the authors had no support or encouragement for their talents growing up, and some others remember an important teacher or other adult during their childhood who nurtured their talent.  One of my favorite stories is from Judy Blume, about how her character Fudge is based on her son Larry. “Fudge is thirty-five now.  Larry is forty-four.  So it’s a long time ago that he was Fudge-like.  But we met a little boy the other evening whose father reads him Fudge every night.  We were at this boy’s grandma’s house having dinner.  His father said to him, ‘Do you know who this is?  This is Judy Blume, who writes the Fudge books.’  The little boy’s mouth just dropped, and then he came over to me and kind of petted my arm.  Then I said, ‘And guess who this is?’ pointing across the table to Larry.  Larry said, ‘I was Fudge.’  The little boy just couldn’t believe it.  He said, ‘Oh!’  and now he calls Larry ‘Fudge.’  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

unfinished Do you believe in angels?  With this story you can travel to Switzerland to a remote village nestled high in the Alps, and meet one!  The angel lives in the ancient stone tower of Casa Rosa.  When Zola arrives from America, she is amazed to discover the angel in her new home.  Promptly she asks the angel all kinds of questions, like: Who are you? Are you a boy or a girl angel? Are you all-knowing and powerful?  Zola is not impressed when she hears that the angel has been living in the tower for hundreds of years and likes everything in the village just the way it is.  Zola quickly gets to know the villagers.  Then she surprises a group of orphans hiding in an old barn.  Now Zola is on a mission!  She sets out to help the children, and she pesters the angel to come out of the tower and get involved.  This is a delightful story of a very energetic young girl who has an encounter with an angel.  Review by Trudy Walsh

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes by Mariane Kennedy

dog days Charlotte is not a dog person. Dogs drool.  Dogs shed. Dogs have to be fed, watered and walked.  Charlotte knows all about dogs.  Her family owns a Saint Bernard puppy, and nobody seems to pay any attention to him anymore.  He is forever chained in the backyard, and is not allowed in the house, no matter what the weather is.  Then Charlotte’s father decides to sell the dog for $350, and he doesn’t care who gets the dog as long as he gets his money.  All of a sudden, Charlotte realizes that she is worried about what will happen to the big, sad-eyed Saint Bernard puppy.  Charlotte would like the puppy to go to a loving family who will take good care of him.  That’s when she has a brilliant idea: she tells her father that she knows of someone who is willing to pay $400.  The father accepts the offer, but when he finds out it is Charlotte who wants to buy the puppy, he is furious!  She asks for a grace period of three months to raise the money.  This is a wonderful story about the growing relationship between a 12-year-old girl and her gentle giant Saint Bernard puppy.  Review by Trudy Walsh

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

When Sadeed Bayat is invited to meet his teacher at the house of the extra headmaster of his village in Afghanistan, he is sure it is for a special honor.  He is the best student in his class, and he hopes they will offer him a scholarship to a fine school in Kabul, the capital.  As Sadeed moves closer to the door to hear what his teacher and the councilors are discussing, he looks through a crack in the door and sees his teacher holding up a bright green envelope with stamps of the flag of the US and some pink butterfly stickers on it.  His teacher has picked him to be the pen pal for a girl in America.  The council men are appalled!  It is not right in their culture for a boy to correspond with a girl.  The men finally come to an agreement: Sadeed’s younger sister, Amira, will write to Abby in America, with Sadeed helping her with her English.  Then we meet Abby, an American sixth grader who has been careless with her homework this year.  To keep from having to repeat sixth grade, Abby has agreed to do her homework, pass all of her tests, and do a special project for extra credit.  For the project she has to find a pen pal in a different part of the world, send letters to the pen pal and create a bulletin board about the pen pal’s culture.  Through their correspondence, Abby and Sadeed learn about their different life styles and traditions.  The pen-pal friendship also causes problems for both of them: Abby gets into trouble for displaying the Afghan flag on her bulletin board, and Sadeed is almost killed by a Taliban for carrying a letter with the American flag stamp on it.  This is a fast-paced, often humorous story about two sixth graders living worlds apart.  Review by Trudy Walsh

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew

wonderland Ever wonder what happened in Wonderland after Alice left? It was not a peaceful place. Find out why as Mary Ann, the White Rabbit’s housekeeper, continues the tale. She’s a humble servant girl with an obsession for cleanliness –normally sweet-natured, but when the Queen of Hearts accidentally stains Mary Ann’s apron with a tart, she goes a bit insane and whacks the Queen. Then she and the White Rabbit have to run for it. They run into all of the well-known characters: the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, Jabberwock, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and get into trouble with most of them. The artwork in this graphic novel is beautiful and the story is whacky and exciting. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud


This long, involved, original and exciting fantasy is the first book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and is set in an alternate London, during a time when England is in the power of magicians who hold all government offices. The one dirty little secret that magicians don’t want the commoners to know is that on their own they have no power at all. What little power they do have is gained through the various demons (efrits, djinnis and other spirits) they summon and control with elaborate rituals and protections that force the demons into servitude.  Nathaniel is a boy who was sold by his parents at the age of six into apprenticeship to a pompous and stuffy mediocre bureaucrat, Arthur Underwood, who doesn’t see the boy’s exceptional talents. Underwood tutors Nathaniel in magic, but as the pace is so slow and boring, Nathaniel takes the initiative to advance his education behind his master’s back.  When he is ten Nathaniel suffers a very public humiliation by an up-and-coming politician Simon Lovelace. He takes revenge by using some of secretly gained knowledge to summon a powerful 5,000-year-old djinn named Bartimaeus. He instructs Bartimaeus to steal an artifact called the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace. Little does Nathaniel know that Lovelace himself stole the Amulet (and killed its original owner) and will stop at nothing to get it back. Lovelace has big plans for all of England that involve the Amulet (think overthrow of the government).  As if Nathaniel doesn’t have enough problems, he finds out that Bartimaeus has learned his real name, which makes it possible Bartimaeus to gain his freedom from Nathaniel, and to take his revenge on him. 

The story is told in alternating chapters: a third-person narrative about Nathaniel (not a sympathetic character by any means, being whiny and self-absorbed), and first-person by Bartimaeus, who is cynical, wise-cracking, and has an extraordinarily high opinion of himself. Bartimaeus’s chapters are filled with very funny footnotes explaining the finer points of magic, details about different planes of existence, types of demons, and the history of magic and the world. Don’t be tempted to skip the footnotes; they’re my favorite part of the book.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stolen by Vivian Vande Velde

This book is not as scary as the cover makes it out to be; in fact, it’s stolen more a spooky mystery than a horror story. Isabelle’s first, and only, memory is of running in the forest and being chased by dogs. She’s not sure that her name is Isabelle, but one of the villagers is convinced that Isabelle is her daughter that was stolen by the witch of the woods six years earlier. Isabelle’s first memory does coincide with when the witch was hunted down and disappeared. Did she escape from the witch? If so, how come she doesn’t remember her family? Readers will be surprised by the unexpected ending.  Review by Katie Corrigan

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

The things I didn’t like about this book mostly have to do with notes implausibilities.  I don’t really buy that a graduate student in her early 20’s would spend her money (if she had it) to pay a 14-year-old to spend the summer making a garden in his own backyard  (I have a 23 year old, so I do have some experience in this area).  I also don’t buy that someone who says about himself, “It’s not that I don’t like people, but they make me feel uncomfortable.  I feel like an alien dropped onto a strange planet and that I always have to be on the lookout for clues and cues on how to act and what to say…” would have as many different types of friends as Finn describes himself as having: Carl, who’s his best friend; Jamie, who’s his oldest friend; Christopher, his fun friend; and finally, Matthew, his only true friend.  Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are the things that I did like about the book.  It’s pretty funny, especially when Finn uses all of the fertilizer on his back yard because, if a little bit is good, a lot is better, and when he transplants poison ivy into the yard from the woods.  I like the parts about Dylan, the dog. “Dylan sat up as she got closer and looked at her with that teeth-baring border collie grin that scares people who don’t know that dogs can smile.”  And, when Finn starts getting anonymous notes, delivered by Dylan, “He pushed at my hand with his nose to get me to take the piece of paper from him and wiggled his whole body in excitement, as if he know what the words said.  Dylan’s a border collie, so the whole note thing is not as out-of-the-realm-of-possibility as it first sounds.”  The book is a good read about a teen dealing with death and mortality for the first time.  Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee

There are two really interesting things about this book, and the first one is touched on so briefly that if you didn’t already know about synesthesia, you still wouldn’t know about it because the author never puts a name to it. Synesthesia is when a person’s sensory wires get sort of crossed, so they might, for instance, see a certain color when they hear a particular sound, or in the case of Zoe, see certain colors associated with particular numbers. I was so disappointed that the condition was never named, even though Zoe’s color/number association plays a part in solving an ancient cipher. And that’s the other interesting thing about the book: the plot revolves around codes and ciphers and the main character’s previously undiscovered natural talent for them. Other than that it’s a pretty good story, entertaining and kind of funny. For a great book about synesthesia, read A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass) Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Slob by Ellen Potter

Owen Birnbaum is above-average in two things: his IQ and his weight. slob He’s smart enough to know that he’s 57% fatter than the average 12 year old boy - not that his classmates, or gym teacher, would ever let him forget. He’s also really good at inventing things. One is a trap to catch a cookie thief, and the other involves outfitting his TV with a receiver to receive signals from the past. He’s trying to see a day two years ago that changed his life forever. As the story progresses, we learn what it is that Owen wants to see, why a certain store in the city makes him upset, and why he cherishes a piece of paper with the word “slob” on it.  Owen is a very likeable and real character. There are other likeable and interesting characters, like his sister who goes by the name Jeremy and joins the group GWAB (Girls Who Are Boys), and his Tibetan neighbor Nima, who gives him advice on his inventions and life. It’s been awhile since I read a book that was so funny and sad at the same time. This book will have wide appeal for boys and girls. Review by Katie Corrigan

Friday, August 28, 2009

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez

confetti What a colorful cover!  The book begins with instructions for making cascarones, which are “festive, hollow eggshells, filled with confetti, that are cracked on people’s heads, scattering confetti all over the place and bringing everyone good luck!”  Each chapter begins with a dicho, or Spanish proverb, and the book is full of small bits of Spanish culture, which I really enjoyed.  Apolonia, or Lina, is a middle schooler in Texas, trying to get on with her life after the unexpected death of her mother the year before.  Her father, a high school English teacher, has retreated behind his love of books and words, and Lina feels as if that’s all he cares about.  The writing is sometimes stilted, and the reader is a little too outside the main character to be able to believe it when Lina stops doing her homework for English class, and blatantly makes up the answers on all of her quizzes, even though she knows that failing English will keep her from being able to play the sports that she loves.  She has constant squabbles with her best friend Vanessa, who has started to use Lina to cover up her relationship with her boyfriend (Vanessa’s mother doesn’t allow her to hang out with boys), and again, it’s kind of hard to “feel her pain.”  That said, it’s a fun book to read –the story is pretty good, and the characters are interesting.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Roar by Emma Clayton

roar After the Animal Plague, the inhabitants of London built a wall around their city to keep the animals out and the people safe. Mika’s twin sister, Ellie, disappeared and is assumed dead, but Mika refuses to believe it. Things start getting strange when a new arcade opens up in town with an amazingly realistic flying game called Pod Fighter that all the kids become obsessed with. Soon there are Pod Fighter contests, with the winners being promised extravagant vacations and brand new houses. Mika advances in the tournaments, and finds himself in the final rounds, but it soon becomes clear that these contests are testing much more than the children’s abilities in pod fighting…  There have been quite a few futuristic children’s books published in the last couple of years, and this one stands slightly above the others. The action is steady throughout the book, and the dangers facing the children are original. There is some violence and the storyline is dark, so I don’t recommend this book for younger or sensitive children, but for fans of futuristic adventure stories, The Roar is a good bet. Review by Katie Corrigan

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero by Charise Mericle Harper


This is the third book in the Fashion Kitty grahic novel series, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first two.  The illustrations are adorable, and the whole thing just makes me laugh.  Fashion Kitty is the secret identity of Kiki Kittie.  Kiki’s patience is tested when the principal of her school, Mrs. Rumple, decides that the students are spending too much time thinking about fashion (as if that’s possible), and too little time thinking about learning.  She decrees that they must wear uniforms to school (gasp!).  It’s a shock to Fashion Kitty when she appears at the home of fellow student Becky, and Becky politely declines her help.  That arouses Fashion Kitty’s suspicions, so she begins following Becky at lunchtime to find out what’s up.  Of course the solving of the mystery also results in the restoring of fashion at Kiki’s school. The book is also full of little truisms such as: It’s hard to be sad about your life and keep 2 big secrets all at once.  Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wild Things by Clay Carmichael

wild I really enjoyed this book, but retelling the plot won’t really explain why.  It’s another one of those books about a child who doesn’t know how to trust people because of the way people have let her down in the past, and yet on the surface Zoe seems to be a balanced character –she doesn’t treat her uncle (her new guardian) badly, or sulk endlessly in her room, or lash out at the kids or teachers at her new school.  It’s also a story about a man who’s never had children of his own, and yet he seems to know how to let a new child into his life –he’s not too strict or too private or too pushy.  The rest of the characters are interesting and not too stereotypical –there’s  a bully, but he turns out to have a soft spot for animals,  and there are some rich artsy snobs from New York, but there are also some rich artsy types from New York who turn out to be good friends.  I wasn’t too taken with the chapters written by the cat (who used to be feral until Zoe spent months winning him over).  There’s some suspense as the sheriff tries to figure out who vandalized the cabin in the woods that Zoe has made her own; there’s a white deer; there’s a wild boy; and some tense moments when someone or other is having a gun pointed at them.  Sounds like a good story to me.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Girl Who Saw Lions by Berlie Doherty

girl This novel tells the story of two girls with very different lives. Abela lives in Tanzania on the continent of Africa, and is dealing with the death of her mother and baby sister from AIDS. Abela’s uncle has recently been kicked out of London for being there illegally, and he comes up with a plan to return that involves Abela possibly being sold as a domestic servant. Rosa lives in a suburb of London with her mother, who is considering adopting another child. The thought of sharing her mother, her home, and her life with another child who is a stranger makes Rosa very uncomfortable. This book sensitively and honestly deals with some tough subject matters, but the intertwining of Abela’s and Rosa’s lives makes for a positive and uplifting story. Review by Katie Corrigan

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino

 neil armstrong2Tamara Ann Simson is mad.  She’s mad because her mother  watches soap operas all day and doesn’t fit in with the other mothers in their suburb.  She’s mad because her beloved brother is away at college, and when he comes home, their dad yells at him about his long hair, and he yells at their dad for “working for the man.”  She’s mad because the new kid in the neighborhood, Douglas McGinty, lies about everything (“Did I happen to mention that I’m training for the Olympics…” “Did I ever tell you about the time I sang on Broadway?” “My uncle is Neil Armstrong, the astronaut.”),  and all the other kids and adults seem to believe him. But most of all she’s mad because her best friend Kebsie moved away one day without even saying good-bye.  And worst of all, the new kid is living in the house where Kebsie lived with her foster mother.  Tamara calls him “Muscle Man” because he’s so scrawny, but he seems to like his nickname.  In fact, he’s cheerful about everything, no matter how mean Tamara is to him.  By the end of the book, when everyone in the neighborhood is watching the astronauts land on the moon, Tamara learns that even though someone is cheerful on the outside, they might be just as lonely on the inside as she is.  Author Nan Marino says that she chose 1969 as the year to set her first novel in because, “ The day that the first man walked on the moon is one of those moments in history that elevated the human race by filling our hearts with hope.”  Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

ear the eye This science fiction/fantasy book is set in the future, Zimbabwe in 2194, and involves two trios of characters: the three children of General Matsika, the country’s Chief of Security, and the three detectives the General’s wife hires to find them when they disappear on their first outing outside of the family residence.  Harare is a dangerous place full of gangs (especially The Masks) and criminals who are all too eager to get their hands on the General’s children.  The General would never have agreed to let the children' venture out on their own, if he hadn’t been tricked during his morning session with the Mellower (somehow no one can ever quite remember what the Mellower says to them during the combination praise and storytelling sessions designed to make every feel relaxed and happy).  Of course, the children disappear, the General and his wife suddenly remember the Mellower asking for passes, and, in desperation, they turn to a detective agency operated by three mutants with special talents (caused by a nuclear accident that killed and maimed many people).  The book is full of legends and history based on Shona history.  There is a glossary at the back of the book with a combination of the made-up terminology in the book, and actual Shona, Zulu, and Afrikaans words.  There is also an appendix with info on some topics covered in the book.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

anything I was so excited to read this new book by the author of a few books I love--In the Company of Crazies, and especially, What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows –but I was completely let down. I had read the reviews, so I know my expectations were high, but still, that doesn’t account for all of my disappointment. Baskin tries hard to put the reader inside the head of an autistic boy, 12-year-old Jason, and she does a good job of describing his behavior, but it feels like someone on the outside describing him. I know that people will say she’s trying to show the detached way of thinking a person with autism has, but that doesn’t make the book any more engaging. For me, Baskin’s style of writing in the book prohibits any connection with the character. Maybe part of the problem is that there isn’t much of a storyline. If you want to read something about people whose minds work differently, I would suggest you try The London Eye Mystery, or Blue Like Friday, and, of course, for older readers, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

The time period: 1863, the Civil War.  The story begins when 7-year-old Homer and his 17-year-old brother, Harold, are forced to live with their nasty uncle after their parents pass away.  The uncle has a terrible temper, he doesn’t feed them, works them hard on the farm, and makes them mostly true sleep in the barn.  One day, in a fit of temper, the uncle sells Harold to the Union Army, despite his young age.  And here Homer’s adventures begin: he grabs his horse (which his uncle had stolen from him) and heads south to find Harold and save him from getting killed in the war.  His journey is anything but smooth!  He’s often at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he meets up with some not-so-nice people.  The thing that repeatedly gets him out of trouble is his ability to lie himself out of any situation.  Review by Joyce Levine

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forensic Science by Alex Frith


I love this book about crime scene investigation!  It’s gory, but not too gory, because it’s in comic book style.  It’s full of information about what evidence scientists use to solve crimes, interspersed with actual cases.  There’s a list of who’s who in a criminal investigation, from the victim to the coroner and jury.  There’s an illustration of a crime scene, showing what evidence was collected where: fingerprints, bloodstains, files on a computer hard disk.  There’s even a chapter called Criminal Identity that includes forensic psychology, or profiling. In the back is a timeline of forensic science and some internet links for those of you who want to learn more.  Review by Stacy Church

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


This is a really fascinating book by the author of my favorite graphic novel, The Arrival.  It’s a collection of 17 stories with a wide variety of illustrations, including a very dark-looking landscape in grandpa’s story, and an essay told in collage called Distant Rain (about what happens to all the poems people write) .  The author has a very unusual viewpoint, which in this book he gets across not only with bizarre illustrations, but also with his seemingly unconnected short stories and essays.  “Shaun Tan was born in 1974 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In school he became known as the 'good drawer' which partly compensated for always being the shortest kid in every class.” (  Check out the author’s website for some really cool line drawings and his thoughts on art, picture books and creativity.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

If you had only a short time to live on this earth, what would you still like to experience, to learn, and to accomplish? The best way to get started would be to make a "bucket list" by recording all the things you still want to do before "kicking the bucket" --before dying. Eleven-year-old Sam starts writing a book when he finds out he has leukemia. He wants to find answers to questions nobody ever seems to want to talk about. He especially wants to break a world record and get his name published in The Guinness Book of World Records. He also wants to become a scientist and do important research. Then, Sam meets Felix, who uses a wheelchair to get around. They work on Sam's book together and have a lot of fun plotting against the adult world that surrounds them. Here is a book about two young boys who want to enjoy themselves while asking some serious questions about the meaning of life and death, and the many "Ways to Live Forever." Review by Trudy Walsh

For another review of Ways to Live Forever, see Jan. 25, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

I was drawn to this book because of its beautiful cover. In this fairy-tale-like book, a well-to-do girl is forced to live with her evil aunt after her parents pass away. There is a magic stone, a witch, and a prince which all come together at the royal ball. So if you're a fan of fairy tales with happy endings, this book won't disappoint you! Review by Joyce Levine

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thank You, Lucky Stars by Beverly Donofrio

Ally is actually excited to start the fifth grade. She and her best friend, Betsy, are going to wear the same outfit on the first day, and this is the year that they can enter the 5 th grade talent show. But when she arrives at the bus stop, Betsy isn’t wearing the same outfit as her. Worst of all, she’s talking to Mona, a girl that Ally can’t stand. Betsy’s and Mona’s families had vacationed at the same place that summer, and now they are the best of friends. Ally had never had a lot of friends – just one had been enough for her. Now she doesn’t have any. But then she meets the new girl, Tina, who is super weird. Her clothes are odd, she says the strangest things in class, and sometimes she wears her hair like Princess Leia! But Ally has fun with her. Tina doesn’t make fun of Ally the way Betsy did when she gets the heebie-jeebies and needs to dance around to get rid of her pent-up energy. Tina thinks the same way Ally does, and even agrees to dance disco with her in the talent contest. But then Betsy and her band decide that Ally would make a great go-go dancer for their talent show act. Will Ally go back to her old best friend, or stay true to her new one? Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, May 04, 2009

All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall

I really love this book! I thought it was going to be a light read, and it is because it's funny and it is, after all, about a kid whose father becomes an Elvis impersonator, but it has a lot to say, too. Poor Josh! The summer he turns 13, his grandma breaks her hip, and his mom has to go to Florida to take care of her. So that means Josh has to go stay with his Dad in Chicago for a few months. What his father hasn't told anyone is that the shoe store where he'd worked for years went out of business, and since he won the Elvis singing contest at the mall, he's been working as an Elvis impersonator. I don't think I need to tell you how embarrassing that would be. Josh has to go to a new school, and his main concern is to fit in and not draw attention to himself. This plan works pretty well until he meets his dad's new girlfriend, and finds out that her daughter is one of the "losers" at school. She dresses in 60's clothes from her mom's vintage shop and starts leaving notes on Josh's locker signed, "Elvisly yours." Of course by the end of the book Josh learns not to be so concerned with what everyone else thinks about him, and to be more concerned about the feelings of the people around him. Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

This is the latest book from Carl Hiaasen, author of Hoot and Flush. It's another environmental, fun mystery with great characters who have to go through some difficult times to save a species of endangered wildlife, in this case, the Florida Panther. There are some bad guys (oil company executives), some good guys (the main character Nick, his best friend Marta), and some people who seem like bad guys that aren't (Mrs. Starch, the dreaded biology teacher; Smoke, the juvenile delinquent). If you liked Hiaasen's other books, you're sure to enjoy this one, too. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fiendish Deeds by P.J. Bracegirdle

This first book in The Joy of Spooking series introduces the very original and very strange character of Joy Wells. Wise beyond her twelve years, Joy enjoys dressing in the vintage clothes of dead people, sneaking into graveyards and other haunted places in the middle of the night, and reading scary stories, especially those written by the mysteriously vanished author E.A. Peugeot. Joy lives in a dying town called Spooking, but since there is no school she and her brother are forced to go to school in the neighboring city of Darlington, where they are taunted daily and called “Spookies.” Joy is angered when she learns that Darlington plans to build a water park over a bog in Spooking. She became interested in the bog after reading one of E.A. Peugeot’s stories, “The Bawl of the Bog Fiend.” She wonders, was Peugeot onto something? Is there really a bog fiend, and did it have something to do with Peugeot’s disappearance? I like the character of Joy – she’s funny, smart, and doesn’t care what people think of her. The writing style is humorous in a dry-wit kind of way, and the villain of the story is realistically creepy. However, I don’t know how it will do as a series. I enjoyed reading it, but the ending didn’t leave me dying to know what happens next. If you’re in the mood for an environmental mystery with quirky characters, then check out this book. Review by Katie Corrigan

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was set in the 1950's, a time during which there was rampant racial discrimination, and which has been written about extensively, so I was surprised when I realized that the setting for the book is much earlier -- 1917. The author drew on her grandfather's experiences growing up in Moundville, Alabama, gleaned from pages typed by her grandmother and given to each of their grandchildren. In the book, 12-year-old Dit has been waiting for the new postmaster to arrive because he heard that the family has a son his age. Instead, when the train arrives, the first person off is a young African American girl, followed closely by her mother, then her father, who "was just as black as the rest of them." The town is aghast, and so is Dit, but not for the same reason. His dreams of having a new best friend to go fishing with, play baseball with, and go hunting with are ruined. This is the story of an unlikely friendship between a white boy and a black girl, both about two steps away from adolescence, during a time in history when relations between the races were anything but casual. Dit has a true, original voice, which you see from the very beginning of the book. "I've been wrong before. Oh, heck, if I'm being real honest, I've been wrong a lot. But I ain't never been so wrong as I was about Emma Walker. When she first came to town, I thought she was the worst piece of bad luck I'd had since falling in the outhouse on my birthday." Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Itch by Michelle D. Kwasney

This is one of those heartfelt, personal stories that leave you feeling sad when you've finished the book -- not because the ending is sad (it isn't) but because you won't get to read about the characters anymore. The main character, Delores (called Itch after a bad case of poison ivy), has lived with her grandparents since her mother ran off. When Gramps dies suddenly of a heart attack, Gram decides that she can't stand to live in Florida anymore, where everything reminds her of him, and she takes Itch with her to live in a trailer park in Ohio, to be close to their cousin Effie. Itch really misses Gramps, who gave her lots of advice, such as, "Life is like a recipe. If you got two basic ingredeients --one, somebody to care about, who cares about you in return, and, two, a place to call home, no matter how humble --you'll be good to go." Itch finds plenty of reason to think back on things her Gramps told her, when she sees signs that her new friend, Wendy, is being beaten by her mother. Of course, Itch has to decide which is most important: to try to help Wendy somehow, or to keep her secret. Itch is also crazy about words, and at the end of the book is a list of her favorite ones, which includes enigma, persnickety, and talisman. Review by Stacy Church

Sunday, April 05, 2009

One Small Step by P.B. Kerr

It's 1969 and 13-year-old Scott is living a normal life, except for the fact that his dad is a flight instructor for the Air Force, and has started letting Scott take control when they're up in the air - completely against Air Force regulations. When there's an accident and Scott's dad is knocked unconscious, Scott does such an amazing job flying and landing the plane that NASA comes to his house and tries to recruit him for the next test flight to the moon. It sound far-fetched when you outline the plot, but it's so well written that it seems believable while you're reading it. One of the many problems is that Scott's mother is completely opposed to his flying at all, and they have to concoct a cover story for her and for his school. There's lots of technical information about flying and space flight to satisfy those of you who are interested in that kind of thing, but not too much for those of us who aren't so interested. There are some pretty funny parts, like when they ask their astronaut instructor how they deal with "waste management" in space. This is definitely a good read. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

Global warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise; consequently, much of the Earth’s land has disappeared, leaving only high-lying islands. A corporation run by a woman known as Earth Mother now rules all of the islands. Honor and her family have moved to Island 365, and from the outset it looks like they’ll have a hard time fitting in. First of all, Honor’s name is all wrong. Everyone born in her year has a name that begins with H, but Honor’s name has a silent H and is therefore all wrong. Honor’s family also sings songs (forbidden), stays out past curfew (a serious offense), and worst of all, has a second child. Honor grows more and more embarrassed by her family’s disrespect of the rules, but her embarrassment turns to concern when she finds out what happens to people who do not fit in. This book is similar to other futuristic children’s books, like the City of Ember books and the Shadow Children series. If you liked those books then you’ll probably like this one; however, it’s not a standout. I liked how some of Earth Mother’s rules were similar to the rules of the former Chinese ruler Mao Zedong, like how all people had to hang a picture of her in their house and have a book of her sayings. It is truly frightening how Earth Mother and the people who work for her are able to control the population. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, March 23, 2009

Piggy by Mireille Geus

This is a very disturbing book. It's the story of a girl who is content to lean against a lamppost and watch the neighborhood boys play ball in the street, until one day, on the opposite side of the street, there's another girl leaning against a lamppost, watching the kids, just like she is doing. The story pretty much goes downhill from there. The first girl, Lizzie (who calls herself Dizzy because of the dizzy spells she suffers), tells the story, and it's somewhat disjointed as it jumps back and forth in time between the aftermath of the terrible thing that happened, and the story she is telling to a nice policewoman about the terrible thing that happened, and the time when the terrible thing actually happened. See what I mean? Lizzie tells the story firsthand, but I'm not sure I really got a sense of her as a round, complete character. She is very detached, but I guess that is the point, and the bully character, Piggy, is very emotional. There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout the book, but little explanation of what is actually different about Lizzie. This is a quick read, but it will be a while before I stop thinking about it. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel

I really enjoyed this book. It deals with an unusual topic: having a father who is just a sperm donor. Leah told everyone that her father lived in Europe until she was in the fourth grade and her mother told a new friend the truth about her parentage, and the friend told her daughter, who was a friend of Leah's. That's when she gained the nickname "Science Experiment." So when her mother and stepfather tell her that they're moving to a new city to live, Leah realizes it's the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. The new school is good, she makes friends right away, and her new friends even like having her little brother, Charlie, around. Leah is an interesting character, because even though she seems so independent, her desire for people to like her and not find out the truth about her background makes her willing to go along with her friends plans even when it gets her in big trouble with her parents. She also finds herself drawn to a website she discovered: Lyon's Sibling Registry. It's a website that connects the children of sperm donors from the Lyon's Sperm Bank. She uses her mom's credit card to join, and learns about a girl who has the same father. In secret, Leah becomes friends with her and even goes to visit her without her parents knowing. I'm not sure how believable the story is, but it doesn't really matter. I like the resolution: Leah finds out that her parents and her new friends are a lot more accepting and understanding than she thought they would be. Review by Stacy Church

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson

Sixth-grader Margaret's life has gone downhill since her father's death. Her mother spends entire days lying on the couch in front of the TV, her younger sister is obsessed with "The Hardest Jigsaw Ever Made," which she takes with her everywhere, and their "Family Fun Day" involves going to the laundramat and the grocery store. So the girls know something is up when their mother loads them into their pick-up truck one Sunday, drives them a long way to a broken-down mansion at the end of a lonely road, and then plants a "For Sale" sign on the lawn. Boyd lives next door to the mansion and is obsessed with a series of hand-drawn comic books by an author named Ratt. He finds the comics at the local library which isn't really a library at all: there's no catalog, all the books are hand-written, and there are no patrons except for Boyd, who comes every day to get the latest Ratt comic, which will have shown up on the doorstep during the night. This is one of only two books that I know of that incorporate graphic novel sections into the text. The other is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, published in 2007. Margaret goes into the mansion when her mother isn't paying attention, and finds an unopened package addressed to her mother. It's marked Return to Sender, and Margaret takes it. When she opens it later, she finds a comic book, a swimming medal and a key to the old house. Margaret's father drowned, so when she finds out the championship swimming medal was his, she knows she has to find out what really happened to him. How could he have drowned if he was a championship swimmer? There are other mysteries, too. Who is in the old mansion and what is he trying to tell Boyd and Margaret? Is he trying to kill them or help them? He chases them out of the house, along with some growling, hairy monster they never really catch sight of, but he also leaves them pages from comics that chronicle whatever has just happened or is about to happen. This is a creepy mystery with lots of suspense. For more about this book, visit Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

If you like your creepy books with a dose of reality, then this book is for you! Ryan, Josh and Chelle are hanging out in town one summer day, when they realize that they don’t have enough money to catch the bus home. Josh, the unspoken leader of the group, comes up with the idea of taking the money from a nearby wishing well. Big mistake. Over the next few days, strange changes happen to them – electrical devices go haywire around Josh, Chelle starts spouting out thoughts and words that aren’t her own, and Ryan develops warts on his hands that have…eyelashes. Soon they discover why these changes are happening, and how it’s connected to the money they stole from the well and the spirit that lives there. This is an original paranormal story that pulls you in right from the start. What I like best about Well Witched are the characters, and their growth throughout the book. The author really understands what it’s like among three kids that are friends - how Ryan and Chelle always feel a little odd together when Josh isn’t around, and how the person with more confidence than the others is the unspoken leader. But the dynamics of the kids’ relationship takes a twisty and unexpected turn by the end of the story. The book also addresses family conflict, abuse of power, and if we really want what we wish for. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, March 09, 2009

Triskellion by Will Peterson

This is the best fantasy book I have read in quite a while, and I'm so happy that it's the first volume of a trilogy! The second book is due out in May: Triskellion 2, The Burning. Twins Rachel and Alex are being sent to spend the summer with their grandmother in England, who they've barely met before. Their parents are going through a horrible, messy divorce, and their mother wants them to be out of the way for a while. They travel alone for the first time, and as soon as they arrive in the village of Triskellion they know something strange is up. There's no one around, and then when they do meet someone, it's a pair of brothers who beat Alex up! Things don't improve much -- they go exploring in the woods, climb up into a tree fort and witness the savage beating of the brothers who tormented Alex, seemingly as payback for their bad behavior. The men doing the beating are dressed up in strange costumes with blackened faces! The story seems to revolve around a chalk diagram in a field in the shape of a triskellion, or three-pointed blade. There are a number of evil-seeming characters who do their best to make the twins feel unwelcome, clearly warning them off about something. They are befriended by a strange boy named Gabriel, who can join the twins in their telepathic communications with each other, and he seems to be hated or feared by the people in the town. There's plenty of mystery, intrigue, fighting, and attempted murder (the twins' friend, the beekeeper, is locked in his shed by the band of Green Men, and the shed set on fire!). There are a lot of references to folk lore and mythology, which you can research if you want to, but the story makes sense (well sort of) anyway. I'm glad there will be a sequel, not only so that I can read more of their adventure, but also hopefully some of the more vague parts of the story will become clearer. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I feel that I should like this book – the reviews have been great, and it won a Newbery honor and a National Book Award. But I quite frankly did not like this book. First of all, the cover is very deceiving. Looking at the illustration of the sad-eyed hound dog and his two kitten companions, you’d think it would be the cute story of an unlikely animal family. While that is part of the story, the rest of the story is dark and depressing. The pregnant calico cat has been abandoned, driven out to the woods and left there by her owners. She finds the dog, Ranger, chained to the porch of a run down house. Ranger’s owner physically and emotionally abuses him, as he himself was abused as a child. There’s also a subplot about a thousand year old snake trapped in a jar that I’m just not even going to get into. The book jacket states that this is a “tale about the power of love.” More like a tale about child and animal abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, deceit and death. Most of the reviews praise the authors writing style, but I found it repetitive and boring. I felt impatient while I was reading it, like I was just waiting for it to be over. Perhaps children who like sad animal stories will like this tale, although it’s certainly not one that I would recommend. I think that the main audience for this book is adults who are interested in children’s literature. In fact, I did not find one review that was written by a child or young adult, which I think is telling. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beowulf by Stefan Petrucha with artwork by Kody Chamberlain

Beowulf is the first epic work written in English. It was written more than 1,000 years ago in verse, but in this retelling the text is in modern English. What makes Beowulf an epic poem is that "the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts" (Wikipedia). In this case, Beowulf must defeat the monster Grendel, who has been terrifying the land for more than a dozen years. Not only that, if he succeeds in defeating Grendel, he has to face Grendel's mother, an even more terrible monster. I love the artwork in this version. It's beautiful and dark, but make no mistake about it, it is a bloody story. Even though the story is told in modern prose, the words retain the sense of poetry of other versions. For another graphic novel version of Beowulf, older readers should check out Gareth Hinds's version in the Young Adult dept. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bringing the Boy Home by N.A. Nelson

The cover was the first thing that made me want to read this book, with the scary-looking yellow eyes of a crocodile staring out at me (I later discovered that this crocodile is actually called a caiman, which is just as terrifying and dangerous), but it was the story that kept me reading. This book is about 2 boys from seemingly different worlds who have something magical in common. Luka has never been out of his hidden rain forest village and has suffered the humiliation of not completing his soche seche tente, a test of manhood. Tirio, with his disabled foot, was sent out of his hidden rain forest village in a death canoe when he was just a small boy -just a small boy alone to face the terrible caimans and other jungle predators! But Tirio is lucky; he is found by an American scientist named Sara, who has taken Tirio to live with her in California. As each boy nears his 13th birthday, their lives begin to magically and mysteriously change and collide. Review by Loretta Eysie

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant

Yes, I know, some people will say this is a picture book and so doesn't belong on this blog, but it's a wonderful book, and it's about one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams. The book was just named a 2009 Caldecott Honors book for Melissa Sweet's collage-style artwork, which incorporates the text of many of Williams's poems. I have always thought Williams's poetry is well suited for children (check out the Poetry for Young People series book William Carlos Williams) and this book is sure to provoke new interest in his work. I never knew that he was a doctor! His poetry is so appealing, I just assumed that he was a full-time poet. It's certainly inspiring to learn that someone can be so accomplished as a writer when it's not even their full-time job. It's also funny to read about such a distinguished poet being called "Willy!" This book clearly satisfies the Caldecott requirement of being "distinguished." In the back of the book are a timeline of Williams's life, publications, and world events, and also notes by the Author and Illustrator which let the readers in on how the book came about. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Savvy by Ingrid Law

What is a savvy anyway? In Mibs’ family, a savvy is a special gift you get when you turn 13, and Mibs will be 13 soon. It isn’t a gift like a computer, or a bicycle or a cell phone; it is more like a gift you should get when you live in the middle of nowhere, away from water and electricity and people. Mibs is really looking forward to her birthday to find out what her savvy will be, but she is a bit frightened too. She has good reason for fear -- her brother Rocket’s savvy has to do with electricity, and her brother Fish’s savvy can cause hurricanes, and they can both cause destruction. But before Mibs’ birthday arrives, a terrible truck accident leaves her papa unconscious and in critical condition in a hospital far from home. When Mibs finally discovers her savvy, she knows that she must get to that hospital and use her abilities to save her father. Review by Loretta Eysie

Cyberia by Chris Lynch

Just like most kids, Zane is sick of being watched, listened to, traced, and monitored, but in this story set in a future world, his room even knows when he will need to use the bathroom! With all that technology in his life, Zane is not thrilled when he gets a super new gizmo from his dad called a Gizzard. His dad thinks that this gift is the best ever and that it will let them talk to each other just by thinking about it! Zack is speechless at this news, but his dad will be speechless when he finds out what chaos this device will cause -- it enables Zack to talk to animals - and the animals aren’t happy! Review by Loretta Eysie

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I loved this book! I thought from the title that the book would be spooky and creepy, but it's far from it. That being said, the book does begin with the murder of a family, and the only survivor is a baby who crawls out of the house after the murder and wanders into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard decide to raise the boy, and they name him Nobody Owens. While "Bod" is growing up, his family and teachers are ghosts from different time periods who have great, quirky personalities. Throughout the book the mystery remains of who killed Bod's real parents, and the murderer is out there looking for Bod. Review by Joyce Levine.

This book was recently awarded this year's Newbery Medal.

Emperors of the Ice by Richard Farr

So you think this winter has been cold and snowy? Try sleeping out in a tent in -77ยบ F temperatures, which is what Apsley Cherry-Garrard did on his trip to Antartica in 1910. At only 23 years old, Cherry was chosen to join Captain Robert F. Scott’s expedition to Antartica to carry out scientific experiments, and hopefully plant the British flag at the South Pole. He was given the title of assistant zoologist, and one of his missions was to collect the eggs of the emperor penguin for study. During the entire three year expedition, Cherry and the rest of Scott’s men experienced a fierce storm that almost capsized their ship, painful frostbite, killer whale attacks, plunges into crevasses the size of cathedrals and, tragically, the deaths of five of the men. This is a true story, but since the author writes in the first person using Cherry’s voice, it is actually a work of fiction. The author researched for the book by reading Cherry’s first person account of the expedition titled The Worst Journey in the World, and also many of the personal diaries that the other men kept. So even though this book is fiction, it reads like a non-fiction book, complete with amazing photographs and footnotes. If you like exciting adventure and survival stories, this is the book for you. Review by Katie Corrigan

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

The book is made up of a mixture of lists, questions, drawings and journal entries written by 11-year-old Sam who is dying of leukemia. Sam has already lived through 2 bouts of leukemia, and now that the disease has come back, he doesn't want to go through any more treatments. His friend Felix, who is also terminally ill, goes to school at home with Sam 3 days a week. They are taught by an unflappable tutor, Mrs. Willis, who tolerates Felix's avoidance of work (and keeps him interested by doing experiments where things get blown up), and encourages Sam in his quest to find the answers to his questions, both about life, and about death (Questions Nobody Answers No. 8 Will the world still be there when I am gone?). Mrs. Willis tries to get the boys to write journals, and Sam takes the assignment to heart, using the journal to record not only what's going on with him personally, but also information on topics that he is researching, like what rituals other cultures perform when someone dies. One of the lists is of things Sam wants to do before he dies, and of course, one list is "Ways to Live Forever." The book manages to be quite funny (the conversations between Sam and Felix are great) and even though it's sad, it never made me cry. I think part of why it wasn't so hard to read is that you know from the beginning what is going to happen. Felix insists that Sam include a place in his journal to be filled out after he has died:
"1. Sam's death was:
a. Peaceful.
b. Horrible and agonizingly painful.
c. Kind of in the middle.
d. We don't know --we were at the chip shop.
e. Other; please specify."
Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka

This is a hilarious autobiography that follows in the footsteps of some other wonderful quirky memoirs, like Oddballs by William Sleator, and Gary Paulsen's Guts: The True Stories behind Hatchet and the Brian Books and also How Angel Peterson Got His Name. The book is full of pictures of the Scieszka family -- five boys, Dad (a school principal), and Mom (a nurse). Having grown up in the fifites, the context of a lot of the stories was very familiar to me, although my brother and I never got up to quite the sort of hijinks that Jon and his brothers did. It's a good thing their mom was a nurse, because they needed a fair amount of patching up. Each chapter is only a few pages long and each chapter retells some wild story, which often resulted in damage to property or one of the brothers themselves. There's also a quite funny story about learning to read from the Dick and Jane books, the same ones we used in my first grade class. Jon couldn't understand why the people in the book talked funny, "Look. Look. See the dog. That is a dog," and also why they were always neat and didn't engage in the kind of activities his family did --wrestling, tree-climbing, bike-smashing. I highly recommend this book, and if you like it, definitely try the Sleator and Paulsen books. Review by Stacy Church