Friday, August 30, 2013
Cheesie Mack is Not a Genuis or Anything
by Steve Cotler
Random House, 2011
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience: Grades 3 to 5
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Cheesie Mack is an unusual fifth grade boy that loves fun facts and lists. He is looking forward to hanging out with his best friend, Georgie, at camp, but then some bad news makes that plan fall apart. But, while cleaning out his basement, Georgie discovers an old necklace and penny, which might be valuable. Cheesie insists that they do the right thing and try to find the owner, but that leads them to the Haunted Toad, an old, green, creepy looking house. But before they can give back the penny, they learn that it is extremely valuable, so what will they do now-give it back because it's the right thing to do or sell it and go to summer camp? Cheesie is a character with heart and humor and readers will enjoy all of his lists and jokes and extras on his website.
Even though the whole plot wraps up with a morally satisfying ending, it's a funny book that most readers will enjoy for the pure mystery and humor of it. Plus there are many plot points that readers will appreciate, from the point system that he has going with his sister to his loyalty to his best friend. I also like his approach to feeding his dog and wonder if I should try something similar.
This book is exceptional it that it's about ordinary life-not demigods, not clue-hunters, not spies, or warriors, or any of that. Plus, the website will give readers another way to connect to the book and to the action.
I like this as a Bluestem. It has a heart of gold, but plenty of spunk. I don't think that it will be difficult getting readers involved and it's quite accessible. I feel like I am saying this about most of the Bluestems that I'm reading, but I hope this one gets a top-ten finish.
Give this to readers that like humor, but need a little more substance.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
by Michelle Y. Green
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience: Grades 3 to 5
Publication Date: July 22, 2002
If you met Mamie Johnson today, you wouldn't believe that she was once a professional ball player. But she happily tells her story in the pages of this book from her days on an all boy, all white, police sponsored little league team to her doomed tryout with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Finally, she describes her career with the Negro League. The entire tone of the book is like sitting at Mamie's feet, listening to her wax nostalgic on her past. This is a book that will please baseball and history fans alike.
As a Bluestem, it's pretty great. I like the powerful message that weaves through the story-never becoming too apparent or forced. Mamie never gave up on her dream to play baseball, although toward the end she knew that the league was changing and her place in baseball was dwindling. Readers will be inspired by her story and will also learn a little more about the Civil Rights movement in a more indirect way.
I'll say it again, I would rather see quality non-fiction and information books on the list than message-heavy fiction. This book fits the bill perfectly. It reads like a fiction book and some readers might even be surprised to learn that it is a true story. Hopefully readers give it a try and this one finishes well.
Give this one to your baseball fans or to any little girl that needs to read about something other than princesses and ponies.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Absolutely Lucy #2: Lucy on the Loose
by Ilene Cooper
Random House Book for Young Readers, 2010
Audience: Ages 5 to 8
Publication Date: April 14, 2010
Bobby Quinn has a funny beagle named Lucy, and while she's a good dog, she's also a little tricky. She has helped Bobby make friends, like his new neighbor Sam, but she also likes to get in trouble, like when she chases a cat and runs away. Now Bobby and Sam are chasing Lucy and as they go, they have to talk to people, despite their shyness, to find out where she's gone. Will they ever find Lucy? This sweet book ends happily enough for all dog lovers and beagle lovers will definitely relate to Lucy.
I bet some of you were a little scared when you saw this blog title. That's because I have my own Lucy beagle and I know all too well how it feels when she runs off. But my girl didn't end up at a Little League game causing so much trouble. A friend of mine bought this book at a rummage sale, so I had to read it before I sent it on to my Lucy-loving nephew.
While this is the second in the Absolutely Lucy series, it does not need to be read in order. From what I can gather, in the first book Bobby gets Lucy and she helps him overcome his shyness and make friends. In this book, he's still a little shy but not when he has Lucy, or when he needs to save her. It's a sweet relationship and some readers that are shy themselves will appreciate it.
While searching for Lucy, Bobby picks up more help at each stop, making it quite the rag-tag parade that is looking for this dog. Readers will enjoy the humor that is included because it lessens the anxiety that comes with a missing dog.
And that cover. How can you not love that cover? What a darling beagle dog!!
I didn't read Lucy on the Loose to my Lucy because I don't want to give her any ideas, but I did manage to snap a couple of pictures of her with the book without her eating it entirely.
But she did try to eat it. Anthony, if there are a few bite marks on this when it gets to you, just know that your furry cousin thought it was delicious!
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
by Cynthia Voigt
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Previewed from NetGalley
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013
Audience: Grades 3 to 6
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Max is the son of two very well regarded actors, William and Mary Starling, and while Max doesn't quite shine as brightly as his parents on the stage, he is a fine actor, but he uses his acting skills for other purposes. When his parents get an invitation from the Maharajeh of Kashimir for his parents to go on a grand adventure setting up an acting company in India, at first, Max fears he will be left behind, but then his parents secure a ticket for him. Then, when Max goes to the dock to board the ship bound for India, he sees no ship and does not find his parents. Now Max must live independently, but with the help of his grandmother, his tutor, and a pesky school girl, Max takes up finding lost things and solving problems, but what will he do about the biggest problem of all - the disappearance of his parents? The first book of the Mister Max series introduces readers to a kind-hearted character with a talent for becoming someone else.
Max is a great character in a strange situation. He wants to be independent, yet he wants his parents to pay him a little more attention. He likes that his Granny is right next door, but he wants to make it on his own. He wants to follow the law, but wants to follow his heart too. As far as being a solutioneer, Max stumbles upon that quite by accident, but he is a very attentive young man and it's that attention that helps him solve the cases of the missing spoon, missing dog, and missing magazines. But his kind-heart is what helps him solve the bigger problems like what to do with the dog, how to help Nance, and heal two broken hearts.
The supporting characters in this book are fantastic too. Granny, the librarian, was a very smart choice. Not only do her librarian skills occasionally help Max in his problems, but any time a writer wants to instantly increase the likability of her books, just add a plucky librarian and all librarians will love you! And Granny is quite feisty. Ari, the tutor, is kind, but sad and even when his mystery is solved, his still cares for Max and wants to stay with him. Pia is wonderfully drawn. She's annoying and frustrating, but quite helpful when she pauses long enough to breathe.
I couldn't quite figure out the setting. It is a generic town, not based on any real city, although I feel like it is in England. The time was more puzzling. There is talk of horse and carriage, automobiles, electricity, and telephones all mashed together. That leads me to believe it is the turn of the century of sorts when all of these conveniences were just being adopted. The descriptions of the parks, and homes were quite vivid however, so not knowing the exact year wasn't so troubling.
I did feel like the story ran a little long. When Max comes to the final mystery of the missing magazines I was starting to get tired of the book, but that could have more to do with my growing reading list than the actual plot. It was a sweet resolution so I am not altogether unhappy about it, but I hope that future books in this series will stay right around the 400 page mark and not continue to get longer.
The mystery element surrounding Max's parents disappearance will easily tie the next books together and should make for a satisfying overall plot. I would recommend this book to readers that have enjoyed Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, and All the Wrong Questions series, and well as readers that like period books like Liesl and Po.
Monday, August 26, 2013
I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures
by Carlyn Beccia
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience: Grades 3 to 5
Publication Date: October 25, 2010
Don't reach for a bandaid the next time you get a cut, reach for some spider webs instead. And forget cough syrup, just wear a necklace of worms! History is full of strange cures, some of which are still being researched today, and all of which are gross enough to hold any young readers attention. Each ailment is presented as a quiz: which of these wacky, disgusting cures actually worked? This format allows for greater interaction with the book and will be perfect for classroom use. The cures are terrible with plenty of historical information thrown in so readers understand why on earth someone thought it was a good idea to use leeches to cure disease. These cures will have kids squirming and squealing for more!
I love engaging information books like I Feel Better for reader's choice award lists. If I had my way, instead of preachy, message heavy fiction there would be more information books that pique a child's curiosity and lead to further reading. This book in particular could take readers in many directions, to studying about the bubonic plague, ancient Greeks, Native American cultures, or the Civil War.
This book would also be a great jumping off point for a class assignment as there are so many treatments mentioned. Each child could be given a different treatment and be asked to research it a little further. This would make a great topic for class posters, or fiction writing as readers could invent their own wacky cures. They could pitch these cures to the class and the most believable and unbelievable cures could win a prize - maybe some "unicorn" horn!
As for the Bluestem, I do hope that I Feel Better performs well. I think that librarians may need to book talk it, but I think telling one class will be enough to spread the word since this is the type of book that will be traded frequently among readers. I'm seeing a top 10 finish with this one.
If you're feeling a little sluggish this Monday, just take two maggots and call me in the morning!
Friday, August 23, 2013
Have you met Harry Bliss? He's a children's illustrator extraordinaire and cartoonist for The New Yorker (how fancy!). Aside from his dozens of recognizable children's book characters, he does funny, strange, and thoughtful drawings and posts them on his website. And if you're really smart, like me, you can join his email list and get new cartoons everyday straight to your inbox. Now, I will warn you, Harry Bliss is an extremely intelligent man and sometimes I look at the cartoon and go: okay, maybe someone else finds that hilarious but I don't get it.
But, there are some absolute gems, for a geek like me! Take last Friday's cartoon.
I'm a book nerd so I find this funny. It's currently posted on my bulletin board, and my Pinterest.
If you only know Harry Bliss for his children's illustrations, I suggest you check out his other work too, and if you don't know Harry Bliss, I suggest you two get acquainted. What better way to spend your Friday than having a good chuckle while searching through harrybliss.com!
P.S. Harry Bliss has no idea who I am, but I just love this stuff, so I'm passing that love on to you. Think of it as a book review, but with a website instead!
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Aren't sweaters everyone's favorite part of fall? After a summer of sweltering, we are all ready for cozy, comfy sweaters. And this foxy sweater from Old Navy is just too funny! Plus, I love tall riding boots in fall and winter because, again, my toes are ready to go unseen after a whole summer on display. I personally love scarves and wear them year round, but they are more necessary in fall. I usually end up hiding behind mine at least once a day. And those loafers! I might be buying those. They are casual enough to wear with jeans, but much nicer than my beat-up Pumas. By the way, all of these things are available at Old Navy.
I'm dreaming of yummy chili, hot chocolate, and fresh s'mores! Fall means more time out by the fire pit, and fire pits are only good for one thing to me-roasting marshmallows. Or setting them on fire and then pealing back that charred layer and roasting them again. Seeing how many times you could burn one marshmallow used to be a game when I was little.
I participated in the Ladies Leatherneck Football Academy again this year and loved it! I am definitely looking forward to tailgating, but if I'm going to be happy at the game, I better remember blankets.
Fall is a big time for new book releases and while it's true that I was able to score some previews at ALA this summer, there are a few that I am still waiting for, like Allegiant by Veronica Roth and The House of Hades by Rick Riordan.
So while it's not quite fall yet, I can at least appreciate all the lovely things it will bring, even as I'm stuck in the grip of another back-to-school season.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
When I came back from ALA, I carefully sorted all of the galleys I received by publication date and told myself that I would read them in order of publication date.
I lied. Like my plans ever hash out.
I batted out of order. I'm currently reading a sequel that doesn't come out until November when I have several very exciting September releases, a couple of galleys for books that have already been published, three Bluestems sitting on my table, and of course, like always, review books. This time a middle grade fiction, three series non-fiction books about different musics styles, including Hip-Hop because I'm so street, and an audiobook about recovering from drug addiction. An 8 CD long audiobook about recovering from drug addiction.
Can you see why I batted out of order?
Has this ever happened to you? Maybe you have books for a book club, or even assignments. Or you are trying something ridiculous like reading biographies of all the presidents (I actually know someone who did that) and you just need a break! Personally, I've been jumping from Bluestems to New Adult which is quite the subject change! I desperately needed something in the middle and this sequel was just right.
What's on your to-read list? Anything worth skipping or moving up to the front of the line? Anyone else planning the perfect read line-up only to bat out of order? Let me know! I don't want to feel like a total reading failure!
Monday, August 19, 2013
Binky: License to Scratch
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, 2013
Previewed from Edelweiss
Audience: Grades 2 to 4
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Binky the Space Cat is back with his partner Gracie and their newest recruit, Gordie. This time they are not worried about aliens, but about the fact that their people are leaving and sending them to a pet hotel that turns out to be the vet's office! Our resourceful heroes must escape, but not before Binky has a chance to find out what the strange shadow that has been haunting the vet's office is all about. Then it is up to Binky and his partners to save themselves, and the vet's office!
Like other Binky the Space Cat adventures, the pictures tell most of the story. There is actually very little reading in this book if you don't count the sound effect-type words. But the pictures do a wonderful job of telling the story and readers will enjoy the various expressions and situations that are illustrated.
Since book awards are in the forefront of my mind, I wonder why Binky has not turned up on the Monarch or Bluestem. I personally think he would make a great Bluestem book and I do think that graphic novels should get more attention from the award committees. Well, there's only one way to change that. I'll just have to infiltrate the Bluestem committee. I wonder if Binky and Gordie could help me come up with a plan?
If you know a reader that is an animal lover, or just likes a quick graphic novel, this book is for them!
Thursday, August 15, 2013
I have a slight reading problem. I think I'm a chain reader. I just binge read one book after another, after another, after another with no time to properly digest them. Case in point: I finished This Is W.A.R. over the weekend and didn't know what to do with myself. There had to be another book I could jump right into. Anything, just a quick fix.
It's not that I lack books. I told my husband today that I had to go to the library and he sarcastically said "because you don't have books on your shelves and you don't have books on the Kindle". I did point out that I was returning a library book, but that didn't seem to convince him.
True, I'm not always a great reader. There are times when I would rather do something else, but right now, that's unthinkable. All I want to do is read--I'm like a junkie! I'm sitting around waiting all day for that next break where I can get away and read.
But to give myself some time away from the books, I've taken up magazines. I know that's not exactly going cold turkey or anything, but I need some time more connected to the real world and less obsessed with my fictional characters. Also true, I am not reading The Economist or Forbes. I'm reading Marie Claire, Real Simple, and Redbook. Yes, Redbook. I feel old just admitting that, but I scored a free subscription somehow and Kristen Bell was on the cover and things just happened.
While I'm not giving up my compulsive reading tendencies anytime soon, I am trying to come up for air every now and then. The weather is turning fallish here for a minute and my dog needs to explore the world on walks, plus my house needs to be cleaned and my husband keeps thinking we should eat everyday, which is just weird. You don't need dinner, honey, just read a book!
For the time being, I'll still have lots of book reviews to share but hopefully I'll sneak in some other fun posts too, because I really do have other interests besides books, but the books are just so good right now!
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
by Sarah Weeks
Scholastic Press, 2011
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience: Grades 3 to 5
Publication Date: October 1, 2011
Everyone loves Polly's pies, but no one loves Polly as much as her niece Alice. Alice and her Aunt Polly would spend every Saturday together baking pies for the shop and talking about anything and everything. So when Polly dies suddenly, Alice is left adrift, and the whole town is only thinking about one thing: pie. But when a strange item in Polly's will sets the town to talking, Alice starts to solve a mystery that will hopefully bring wealth and happiness to her family. With sweet characters, a tasty town, delectable pie recipes, and a savory plot, this book will leave readers hungry for more than just pie.
Sarah Weeks is one of those mavens of middle grade fiction that cannot do wrong. Like Kate DiCamillo, her books are just right for elementary readers. Alice is a very likable character, but she is caught in the middle of her talented and famous, yet exceedingly humble, Aunt Polly and her jealous, bitter mother. While her aunt encourages her songs and imagination, her mother wants to suppress those traits. While baking in the kitchen is a joy with her aunt, her mother should only be in the kitchen to make cereal. But it truly is Alice's overactive imagination that solves the mystery and brings justice to her aunt's memory.
Having grown up in a small town, I also liked the quaint town that was build around the pie shop, PIE. When the residents were describing the last time they ever had Polly's pie, it reminded me of the last time I had potato salad with my grandma's canned pickles. It's a little thing, and it's silly, but losing that one last connection was hard for the town. But the way they all honored Polly's memory, and how Alice helped with that was very special.
This is one of the better Bluestem books in my opinion. It is a good length for 3rd to 5th grade readers, it has a solid plot that while a little more appealing to girls will also find some males fans as well, and the programming possibilities are great too. Classes can make a pie, write a jingle, or sing a song to better connect with this book.
In the end, Pie is a sweet book that I would recommend for anyone looking for a light, happy read.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
This is W.A.R.
by Lisa Roecker and Laura Roecker
Soho Teen, 2013
Audience: High School
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Everyone has a different memory of what happened on July 4, but they all know one thing-Willa Ames-Rowan was killed by James Gregory. But justice doesn't come swiftly at Hawthorne Lakes Country Club, especially when it comes to convicting a Gregory. Four girls-Marge, Sloane, Lina, and Rose-are brought together by their love for Willa to avenge her death and make the Gregory's pay. Little do they know that they are being targeted too, and this whole mystery goes deeper than they understand. Another revenge fantasy from the author's of The Liar Society with plenty of action and deception, but a lackluster ending. The Roecker Sisters coming along but not quite there yet.
I am really starting to think that Revenge Fiction is the next Dystopia. Either that or they have a way of finding me. I picked up This is W.A.R. for a very ridiculous reason: a free necklace. I'm a sucker for a giveaway. I pre-ordered Scarlet for lip gloss. So, I pre-ordered This is W.A.R. for a cheap faux-gold key necklace that I likely could have picked up at Claire's, but it's kinda cute and the book was pretty good, so no harm done.
The revengers (revenger-seekers, revenge-a-nistas?) were well drawn characters that each had their own reasons for feeling guilty about Willa's death. Marge, the step-sister, was angry with Willa for leaving the boat at all that night and felt like she should have done more. Sloane, the not-so-perfect daugther, also feels like she could have stopped Willa from getting so wasted. Lina, the attention sneaking friend, knows that she wasn't the best friend to Willa. Rose, the outcast, wishes that she had gotten to know Willa better while she was alive. Each of these girls have their own secrets and tell the story from their own point of view. The lead characters are the most compelling part of this story.
The villains are a little shallow. Grandpa Gregory, or The Captain, is your stereotypical country club aristocrat and is willing to pay off the town to keep his good name. His grandsons, Trip and James, are also one dimensional. James is lost to booze and Trip is just psycho, although we never quite learn why Trip is the psycho one. I'm not sure if there will be a sequel, but it seems to me like the reader needs to learn more about Trip.
I was cruising along with his book just fine until the ending, which went something like this "You're right. We've entirely been covering this up, and we've successfully succeeded in framing you, but he's a sick boy and should be punished. The End, now go have some ice cream."
That was fast. It felt too simple, too clean, too easy. I don't buy it. And if there is another book, which I keep thinking there has to be, I'm not sure how long it can really keep the reader hooked.
But This is W.A.R. was better then The Lies that Bind, I'll give the authors that. They are coming along, but they do need to work on creating a more complex ending. I have no doubt that they will get there, but by then, revenge fiction may have gone the way of shiny vampires.
Monday, August 12, 2013
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
by Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, 2001
2014 Bluestem Nominee
Audience: Elementary School
Publication Date: January 1, 2001
Waterhouse Hawkins dreamed of dinosaurs and making them come alive to everyone. With the help of famed scientist Richard Owen, Waterhouse created life-size models of extinct dinosaurs using only a few bones. He was eccentric and daring and passionate. But a trip to America in the late 1800's had him questioning his dream as his models were destroyed by vandals. Not only is the story moving, but the illustrations hold so much emotion and depth that many readers will spend more time pouring over them than reading the text. This is a fitting tribute to the man that brought dinosaurs to life.
Brian Selznick's illustrations really do overshadow the text, which is likely why this book received a Caldecott Honor. The dinosaurs are drawn in their various stages of creation, and wonderful attention is paid to the destruction and how low that made Waterhouse feel. Also, as Selznick writes in his ending note, he incorporated many small details like the borders and the book plate drawing from the original notebook of Waterhouse Hawkins. This is a wonderful example of how powerful illustrations can be in retelling a story and why illustrations are not just for simple children's picture books.
The story itself is also incredible. Waterhouse Hawkins used few bones and fossils coupled with modern animal skeletons to design a dinosaur. While it is true that many of his designs were wrong, he was able to capture the size of the dinosaurs and make them into something real. He was the visionary that first dared to recreate something that has been gone thousands and thousands of years. And to think that some small minded bully destroyed years worth of work is just tragic, but imagine was could be found under the soil in Central Park! There might be a fictional story there. I should file that idea away for a rainy day.
I do like The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins as a Bluestem Nominee. It is informative and beautiful and will capture readers. Plus the subject matter is a real crowd pleaser. This might even make my top three.
Please share this book with any young reader than can't get enough dinosaurs, because we owe everything to Waterhouse Hawkins.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, & a Miracle
by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Lawson, and Mary Nethery
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
Audience: Elementary Readers
2014 Blustem Nominee
Publication Date: November 1, 2009
While on assignment in Iraq, Major Brian Dennis and his platoon met a pack of wild dogs. All of the dogs seemed friendly, except for their leader who took much longer to warm up to the men. Once he did warm up, Nubs, as the dog was called, became best friends with Major Dennis. Nubs even walked over 70 miles while quite sick to catch up to his friend. This story tells not only have Major Dennis saved Nubs, but how much joy a dog can bring in a tough situation.
I used to be pretty ambivalent about dogs. I didn't particularly like them when I was growing up, but then we got Lucy and now I am a bona fide dog person now. And as a dog person, this book took my heart! He rescued a sad and lonely dog from a war zone!
Back to evaluating this story as a book. The story is illustrated with pictures of Nubs and Major Dennis, so readers will see soldiers in uniform and see what kind of conditions the soldiers live in. The text is laid out quite well. The main points are presented in a large font size that would be enough to read in a storytime, or you can dig a little deeper with the text in a smaller font size and get the complete story.
I think that Nubs has a good chance as a Bluestem. There are several things working in it's favor like universal appeal, short in length, and full of heart. It's a short story that is not childish, so I see many readers picking it up just to make their Bluestem quota. Also, it's a story that sticks with readers, so I don't think there will be much chance of readers forgetting about it when voting time comes around.
I loved it. I read it to my husband, who normally hates when I do that, but since it was a dog story he allowed it. I tried reading it to my dog, but she was more interested in sticks. For more great heart-warming dog stories, check out Two Bobbies also by Kirby Lawson. Pair that books with Nubs for a full story time of incredible dogs.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Little Wolf's Book of Badness
by Ian Whybrow
Audience: Early Elementary
2014 Bluestem List
Publication Date: November 1, 1995
Little Wolf writes letters home as he journeys to his Uncle Bigbad's school of badness and tries to convince his parents to let him come home because he was only be good as a joke. Little Wolf describes his situation with all of the gloominess of a typical letter from camp. Once at his uncle's, he finds that the school is in complete disrepair and that his uncle is the very definition of bad. But, after a chance meeting with a scout master, Little Wolf learns that their might be a better way to live and ends up befriending the scouts instead of being bad. This is a quick, sweet little book about being yourself.
Little Wolf's adventure reminded me of Little Oink and Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, because you have a character that is acting correctly according to our standards (brushing his teeth, being nice to his brother), but is acting out of turn for his species. I think that is a lesson that many readers will enjoy. Especially when it comes to the other scouts. Instead of getting one badge for badness, Little Wolf can get dozens of badges for more interesting pursuits like climbing and navigating. Isn't that a better deal?
I also like his messages within the letters to his cousin Yeller (cousin to a wolf? Maybe Yeller is Ol' Yeller?) and his brother Smellybreath. I thought those little asides showed that maybe not all of the little wolves out there want to be big and bad.
I am more familiar with Ian Whybrow as a picture book author than a beginning chapter book author, and again, I think this is a book that is better suited for the Monarch List. The letters are short with plenty of drawings and the action is pretty well suited for beginning elementary. I would think that most fifth graders would turn their nose at this book, so I don't see it going very far. I see Little Wolf staying near the back of the Bluestem pack.
But, if you know a strong, independent first or second grade reader, this is a great pick.
Monday, August 5, 2013
by Andrew Smith
Audience: Young Adult
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Read from Netgalley preview
As a scrawny fourteen year old that is already a junior in high school, Ryan Dean West has a way of sticking out. He's smart, a wiry rugby player, and an inadvertent trouble maker, and that's how he lands himself in Opportunity Hall at this prestigious boarding school. Aside from being the youngest student in all of his classes, Ryan Dean is your average fourteen year old boy, which is to say that he is horny for any girl within a 200 mile radius. He's in love with his best friend Annie, he gets into a huge fight with a good friend JP, he's secretly making out with his roommate's girlfriend, and he's becoming good friends with his team captain, Joey, who is openly gay. The whole plot revolves around Ryan Dean's experience in school dealing with girls and friends and sports all with a sense of humor that fits a fourteen year old boy. It's all fun and games until Halloween, then the entire tone of the story changes so drastically that readers will wonder what the real purpose of the book is: Ryan Dean's story, or Joey's.
Be warned: there are spoilers.
Winger has been hanging out on my Kindle for several months and I just never gave it the time of day (much like Annie with Ryan Dean). Then I was looking for something new to read while at the eye doctor, and this seemed like as good a time as any. Lucky for me, it was a long wait, and I was able to read pretty far into the first part of the book. Ryan Dean is a lot to take. He ranks every girl he sees on a hotness scale, and has regular fantasies about them. And he draws plenty of pictures and comics of him being hit on by sexy nurses and stewardesses and the like. I asked me husband if this is how all fourteen year old boys are and he said yeah. We're not having boys. I thought girls would be hard to raise, but I am so not dealing with his.
Horniness aside, Ryan Dean is a good character. He's a jerk to Chas and JP, but he knows it and wants to make things right. He's a really smart kid that is in over his head and he's genuinely funny. And despite all the jerk moves, he was really just taking advantage of an opportunity. In his heart, Ryan Dean is a good kid that is trying to survive high school.
Then there's Joey. Joey is the senior captain of the rugby team and he's gay. It's something that everyone knows and everyone likes to act like they don't have a problem with it. As Ryan Dean becomes better friends with Joey (because Joey is the voice of reason and probably the only person that is keeping Chas from killing him), he keeps saying that it doesn't matter that Joey is gay, but the reader gets the sense that it really does matter. Everyone is so okay with it, but they also don't acknowledge that it might be hard for Joey to be gay, and they don't talk about it at all. Ryan Dean starts talking about it. Actually Ryan Dean is most human when he's with Joey.
And it is hard for Joey. He is attacked after a rugby game, but his roommate takes the blow for him. He is harassed by football players, and in the end, he's killed because he is gay.
So, is this a funny book about a fourteen year old kid, or is it a book about being a true friend to someone that is hurting? Maybe it's both. But honestly, what I remember most about the book right now is the scene describing how Joey died. Everything before that just seems washed out. It's a pretty amazing thing that an author can have me laughing so hard through the vast majority of the book, then bring me to my knees in one sentence.
This is a teen book. No adults allowed, unless, of course, you are a YA junkie and can handle the inner-working of the fourteen year old male mind (and believe me, adults do not want to see what's going on in there!). But it's a powerful book. One that I would really recommend to most high school students and it would also make a great book club book. Let's also think about all of those Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans that are growing up and will need reading material. I think that Winger is the perfect grown-up Wimpy Kid.
In the end, let's all be a better friend. That's the big lesson here. That, and Pokemon underwear are very comfortable.
Friday, August 2, 2013
by Sara Pennypacker
Turtleback Books, 2006
Format: Beginning Chapter Book
Audience: Early Elementary
Publication Date: September 12, 2006
While most adults think that Clementine has a problem paying attention, she really pays excellent attention, just to unusual things. Like the clouds out the window, the mustard on her teachers shirt, and ceiling snakes. Also, she's helpful, but not in a normal way either. When Margaret gets glue in her hair and tries to cut it out, Clementine helps by evening out the haircut, or cutting off all her hair, and then helps some more by coloring Margaret's head with permanent marker. Clementine is the type of character that has a heart of gold, but some trouble executing her plans, except when it comes to pigeons, then she's right on!
Clementine is the first book that I read from the Bluestem List. Since Bluestems tend to be longer, I didn't quite think it would be fair to blow through them all in four or five posts. Also, I need more material to talk about.
Clementine as a Bluestem is tough. Clementine is in 3rd grade and her friend is in 4th grade, which makes this a pretty solid book for 2-3 grades, but this is an award that goes up to 5th. And, Clementine was already on the Monarch List in 2009, and it came in 6th. See what I mean by saying that the Bluestem is going through some growing pains? This list is still trying to figure out where it fits in with the Monarch and Caudill.
Forget the Bluestem for a minute. Clementine as a character is very interesting. She is definitely part of the spunky, yet age-appropriate backlash that came after the success of Junie B. Jones. She has definite kid appeal, and readers will love her. I'm sure that boy would enjoy hearing about some of her exploits, but this might be a hard sell for some boys as leisure reading.
There is also an important lesson about friendship and family in this book that gets overshadowed by Clementine's energy and enthusiasm. The end is very touching and readers will know that her parents are not going to get rid of her, but haven't we all had that moment when we know we're not "the easy one". And that realization is hard for kids to swallow. Well, not me, because I was the perfect child. You can stop laughing mom.
In general, Clementine strikes a chord with readers. She's a little edgy, but honestly kind, and with a whole series to back her up, it's comfortable for readers to go back to her world. As a Bluestem, I'm just not seeing a ton of success here. It doesn't have quite enough appeal for a wide age range. I give it 20-1 odds and I expect to find it in the bottom ten. Not that it's not a great book, it is, but it's for a very specific age group.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
After weeks of tirelessly reading all 20 of the 2014 Monarch Award Nominees (really, it's 20 picture books and easy readers-this award list is a breeze), I've made my picks!
Now, the ranking of this list is very scientific. I have researched student reading habits, Lexile levels, controlled vocabulary, signs of the moon, patterns found in rock formations, and the migration habits of bluebirds. No, I haven't done any of that. This is all just my opinion.
I think I'll start at the end and work my way up to the grand reveal!
20. Same, Same by Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (15-1)
19. Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (20-1)
18. The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Our National Parks by Barbara Rosenstock (20-1)
17. The One and Only Stuey Lewis: Stories from Second Grade by Jane Schoenberg (15-1)
16. Perfect Square by Michael Hall (15-1)
15. Bibloburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winters (10-1)
14. Chicken Big by Keith Graves (8-1)
13. One by Kathryn Otoshi (10-1)
12. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray (10-1)
11. Balloons Over Broadway: the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet (8-1)
10. 11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill (3-1)
9. Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick (7-1)
8. The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin (20-1)
7. Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming (8-1)
6. Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich (5-1)
5. One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo (5-1)
4. Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz (10-1)
3. Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider (5-1)
2. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (3-1)
1. I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff (5-1)
Putting together this ranking is kinda like picking my NCAA March Madness Bracket, I just go with my gut and sometimes I am surprised by the results. Like 11 Experiments that Failed - I really like it, but I'm starting to doubt the kid appeal. Also, after reading a great review on Goodreads, I had to give dark horse status to The Trouble with Chickens. I do feel pretty confident that I Wanna New Room will finish strong, maybe not first place, but top five.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree, disagree, would you like to passionately endorse Perfect Square or Same, Same but Different? Leave me a comment or send me an email at misstiffread at gmail.com.
And for all things Monarch, check out the full list and round-ups one, two, three, and four.