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

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One False Note: The 39 Clues, Book 2 by Gordon Korman

In Book 2 of the 39 Clues series, Amy and Dan's adventure takes them to Austria, the birthplace of Mozart. As in the first book, it is a race to find the clues before their crazy and aggressive relatives, but sometimes they're not so lucky, and things get dangerous. Amy and Dan are clever, and their resourcefulness gets them out of a few sticky situations. They're accompanied by their babysitter, Nellie, whose knowledge of languages and gutsy personality prove to be a great help. I enjoyed this book, and look forward to book 3, which is due out in March. Review by Joyce Levine

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nightmare at the Book Fair by Dan Gutman

Trip Dinkleman just wants to make it to lacrosse tryouts on time, so he isn't thrilled when a PTA mom asks him to help her move some boxes of books for the book fair. When a book hits him on the head while he's reaching for a box on a high shelf, it's just the beginning of Trip's adventures through time and space. He wakes up and finds himself in what turns out to be only the first of many weird places. Trip isn't sure whether what's happening is real or just a crazy dream, but whatever it is, it isn't long before he's ready to go home! Review by Joyce Levine

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hurricane by Terry Trueman

This book is a fictional accounting of the devestation caused to one small town in Honduras in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch. Jose wakes up the morning after a terrible storm to find that every house in his village, except his own and one other, is gone, completely buried under mud. His father, sister, and older brother were away from home when the storm struck and haven't returned, and his dog ran off during the storm. 13-year-old Jose has to overcome his own fears and help find food, dig up dead bodies, and finally go on a journey to find medical help for his younger brother. I love the way the book conveys how unreal it must have seemed for Jose to wake up and find his whole village gone. The people who are left really pull together to make the best of things, and Jose's knowledge of English makes him an important helper for the military who finally come to help. The author, who has written some of my favorite young adult books, including Stuck in Neutral, adds a note at the end of the book detailing the effects of the hurricane on Honduras. Review by Stacy Church