Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Shiloh

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Antheneum Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780689316142
Publication Date:  September 30, 1991

While on a walk on his family's property, Marty comes across a sad-looking beagle dog.  It's obvious that this dog has been out on his own for a while, and was previously hurt by his owner, so Marty lets  the dog follow him home.  But his dad knows this dog belongs to their neighbor Judd, and furthermore, they don't have the money to care for a dog.  When Marty returns the dog, Judd is cruel to him and kicks him, and Marty decides if the dog runs away again, he won't bring him back.  And that's just what happens.  Now, Marty is keeping a secret from his parents and trying to keep the dog, Shiloh, safe and happy while figuring out a way to keep him out of Judd's hands.  This is a touching story about one boy's love for a dog.

Shiloh is a classic story, having won the Newbery in 1992 and becoming a fixture in the dog cannon. I'd never read it, but felt compelled to because of my own beagle dog, Lucy.  That might have been a mistake.  Being the hormonal pregnant woman that I am, plus my love for my own beagle, I found the passages about animal cruelty hard to digest.  It wasn't gratuitous but it was a little too much for me to handle.  I can't imagine someone treating a dog that way, although I did grow up in a hunting community so I'm sure that my community was rife with this type of story.  Luckily, there are two other books that follow Shiloh and Marty, so I knew that somehow it would work out in the end.  

I think the biggest strength of this book is the setting, the hills of West Virginia which are beautiful but cruel.  The people in this book have very little, as evidenced by Marty's family not being able to afford a dog.  And while this book is over 20 years old, even at that time many families were more prosperous than Marty's family.  It recalls a time and place where neighbors were more helpful, but also kept quiet about each other in a protective fashion, like not reporting someone to the game warden, again, something I can relate to from my own childhood.  The dialogue is slow and measured, exactly how you would imagine it to be in a small, sleepy town, and there is a certain innocence in the setting despite the overall theme of animal cruelty.

But finally, Marty breaks through Judd's exterior as he is working to earn Shiloh.  Judd did not have a good childhood and that, in part, explains why he is incapable of being kind to his dogs, or anyone really.  Reader's will still hate Judd, but they at least have a reason why he is so cruel.  He's rather like Gar-Face in The Underneath, a cruel human who has been made that way.

While this isn't a dead dog book, it's close.  Hopefully most readers will be able to focus on the love that Marty and his family give to Shiloh and not the cruelty.  It's a classic book for a reason and will still resonate with readers.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky 
By Shelia Turnage
Dial, 2012
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780803736702
Publication Date:  May 10, 2012

Moses LeBeau is looking for something, her upstream mother who let her go during a hurricane twelve years ago.  Luckily she was found by the Colonel, an eccentric man with little memory and a habit of running off, but she also has Miss Lana, an eccentric woman with a passion for wigs and theater.  Mo's life is centered in Tupelo Landing, a small town where everyone knows all your business and very little else.  When a detective comes to town and starts asking questions about a robbery in the next town over, the townsfolk get nervous, but they are even more nervous when one of their own turns up dead.  None of this stops Mo and her friend Dale from getting in on the action and trying to solve the mystery themselves, and try to solve their own problems at the same time.  A great Southern mystery with colorful characters a plenty sure to delight readers.

Let me start by saying, why hasn't this been a Caudill yet?  It's perfect!  There's your Newbery Honor to appease the teachers and librarians, and plenty of humor and action for your readers.  This to me hits the Caudill sweet spot and I hope to see it make the list very soon.

I loved the community in this book.  Tupelo Landing is a place that time forgot.  It's often hard for authors to write books with perilous action in the modern era because even 8-year olds have cell phones, so why don't they call for help?  Well, in Tupelo Landing you won't get a signal.  They are living on the river, close the hills, and are pretty cut off.  But everyone from the mayor to the neighborly grandmother are willing to lend a hand.  

I also loved the dialogue.  I really should have used more highlighting in this book.  There are just some great one-liners.  Like this one when Mo loses some documents from the Colonel's file, she says:  "I'm sorry sir, it's real hard to flatten tires and do paperwork at the same time".  That struck me as incredibly funny.  And Mo has a dry sense of humor like that.  You won't find any fart jokes here, but most readers will get the subtle humor and appreciate it all the more.

I'm very tempted to check out the follow-up The Ghost of Tupelo Landing.  I've read the reviews on Goodreads and they are quite positive, but after loving Mo and Dale so much, I'm afraid for that to be ruined.  

This book is a perfect bait and switch.  It has real substance but enough humor to fool readers into loving it.  It's like a really healthy corn dog, or great tasting fat-free ice cream.  It's a rare thing indeed.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Librarians Make Good Secretaries

I never knew that my reader's advisory skills would serve me so well as a secretary.  If there is one common theme between being a librarian and being a secretary, it's the expectation that you should know everything.  What book won the Newbery in 1972?  Can an undergrad take a course for grad credit?  I saw a book once with a blue cover about a witch-do you have it?  My voicemail's not working-why and fix it.

That type of thing.

Also, when you're the secretary primarily reporting to one person, the department chair, you can sometimes develop a particularly vague type of code language and this is when the reader's advisory skills come in.

Take yesterday.  My chair asks me if I have any copies of the pink chart.  I give him a completely blank stare.  He adds, you printed it on pink paper, or maybe purple paper, with the ACT scores.  Bingo!  You mean the scholarship qualification chart, which I have never, in fact, printed on pink paper, nor does it have anything pink on it, but yes, it does have ACT scores.

See, if I'd never been a librarian, I would have searched for the elusive "pink chart" for days to no avail, but because I understand how readers, or supervisors, can get hung up on random details that can actually make your job harder, I was able to read between the lines and come up with the right answer.  Plus, since you can pull out your Nancy Drew skills and pull answers out of thin air, you look like a genius.  And aren't we all--librarians and secretaries I mean.  The rest of you would be lost without us!

Now for the answers to the questions in the intro of this post:  The 1972 Newbery Winner was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien, a great book with some action, talking rats, and humor.  Yes, undergrads can take a course for grad credit as long as they are seniors who have applied for graduation and have applied to graduate school and there's another form to fill out and yes, I will email you the form, and sure, I can run it to the grad office for you, and okay, I'll pick up some coffee for you too (this really does feel like my day sometimes).  A book with a blue cover about a witch-try Well Witched by Frances Hardinge or Weather Witch by Shannon Delaney, although I would recommend the former as it has more action and less romance, and is a stand alone book.  Finally, you're voicemail isn't working because a server went down over two months ago resetting all of our voicemails, and I've told you twice to set-up your voicemail again, but you don't follow directions, but sure, I'll email you the instructions again.

It's a never-ending job!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Itty Bitty Cubbie Bear

I've told the story before about my conversion to the Cubs.  Love will make you do crazy things!  Even crazier, we are going to raise our little Alice Rose a Cubs fan.  There are many good reasons for this.

1.  It's family tradition.  Doug's 100 year old grandmother (yep, Wrigley and Grandma Erickson hit the century mark in the same year) is a big Cubs fan, so you have to uphold the tradition.  In fact, his whole family are such big Cubs fans that they nearly hit the roof to see me in my Cubs maternity tee this summer.  It's very easy to fit in with the Ericksons-just be a Cubs fan.

2.  Being a Cubs fan is the ultimate show of humility.  Rarely is the team in the off-season, and even when they are, it's short-lived.  There's nothing wrong with being the underdog, but when you're the constant underdog, you have to be humble.

3.  Cubs fans are in it for the experience.  There's really something to be said for being a Wrigley fan.  Going to a Cubs game is not all about winning or losing, it's about going to the ballpark, having a good time, watching some baseball.  It's about more than the game.

The little bear above is modeling the Cubs apparel that we have so far-just a sun hat and bib.  I didn't want to spend a ton of money of Cubbie bear clothes since Ali will be a late-July baby, and likely won't get in on much of the season.  My hubby can't wait to take her to her first game though-likely next year already if he gets his way.

While I'm trying to reign myself in and not buy too many clothes and toys for Ali, it's a little difficult when you start seeing all of the darling stuff out there!  Here's my round-up of too cute baby stuff from Fanatics, a great website for all things sport.

I love this Cubs dress!  It's very team oriented without being too much.  The same can be said for the Cubs creeper featuring the little necklaces--it's girly without being pink!  And speaking of necklaces, they make Cubs chew beads!  Perfect for this little mama who plans to wear her baby.  (Wonder if they make Cubs sling wraps?  That may just be an untapped market!).  Finally, who doesn't love a Cubs lovie?  I am in favor of lovies in all varieties, but this one is extra special.

Who knows what type of Cubbie Bear Ali will be?  Maybe a little girl that only has a passing interest, or maybe baseball won't be her thing at all.  Although, I bet she comes to love watching the games with her daddy.  Let's just hope my hubby can tone down the commentary when she's around.

How do you pass the fandom along?  Let me know!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: Six Earlier Days

Six Earlier Days
By David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 10 and up
ISBN:  9780449819296
Publication Date:  November 26, 2012

In this prequel to Every Day, A takes us through six days in his life.  These days are sporadic in nature as some of them occur when he is young, and others seemingly right before Every Day picks up.  The reader learns a little bit more about how A navigates his life and the lives of those he inhabits for one day.  A has to reach into the memory of his host to find out how to function, and if he doesn't do this quickly enough, it's trouble for everyone.  Also, he has to learn how to not cause harm by committing his host to something, most often romantic in these stories, that they may not want to be a part of.  While this story is ultimately entertaining, it does little to further the original story.  I'll just have to wait for Rhiannon for more detailed information.  

Due to the spawn of ebooks, authors writing additional stories has become quite the trend.  Often these are stories that didn't quite make the cut for the original book (see also Night of Cake and Puppets, and The Julian Chapter).  Sometimes it's to tell the story from another characters point of view (see Free Four and others in the Four saga).  And sometimes it's to tell what's going on between books (see The Lunar Chronicles).  

When done right, it's almost like fan fiction.  It's the author giving you a little taste of the rest of the story that they worked out in their head.  When done poorly, it feels like a cheap play for more sales. I wouldn't say that Six Earlier Days was on the cheap side, but I was a little let down by it.  I wanted something a little more sensational I guess.  Like I said though, it was entertaining, and I do love being back in A's headspace, so all things considered, it wasn't a bad way to spend $2 and a hour of my time.  

But this does leave me wanting Rhiannon all the more.  And with an expected publication of 2015, I'll be waiting a while.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Five Things: Soccer and Date Night

5 Things to Brighten Your Day
Despite the BS that May Get in Your Way

1. Only two weeks until my due date!  Or, three weeks until my doctor takes pity on me and induces me.  One way or another, I'm getting a July baby!

2.  I'm loving the World Cup.  It's such a great way to spend the afternoon, with ESPN Gamecast open next to my spreadsheets.  But yesterday I had to stream the game live--I just couldn't believe the beat down Germany gave to Brazil.  Don't mess with the motherland!

3.  I scored a great galley on NetGalley this week and I can't wait to start it.  Covert reading time is seriously in my future.  I'll have to do some serious multi-tasking to read it and stay on top of todays Argentina-Netherlands match up.

4.  When you live in a small town, the morning news mostly consists of farm reports and municipal meetings, so I've started watching Boy Meets World everyday at 6:00 am.  Doug just rolls his eyes at me, but then I remind him that it's better than my watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 6:00 am and having nightmares.

5.  Doug has a happy hour meeting today, so I'm meeting him for a dinner date afterwork.  These days are numbered so I plan to enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story

The Julian Chapter:  A Wonder Story
By R. J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780553499087
Publication Date:  April 1, 2014

Julian is the bully from Wonder.  He is the one that gives Auggie the hardest time, and makes sure that no one else will befriend Auggie, except those that are independent thinkers, like Summer.  While there are many different narrators in Wonder, each contributing their own views of Auggie, Julian is never given a narrative voice, mostly because Palacio believed that would have taken away from the  intent of the story.  Now Julian gets his voice and readers will come to realize that while his actions were very regrettable, he had reasons (again, not good reasons) for acting the way that he did.

Julian was used to being popular and liked by everyone.  Then when he meets Auggie, he is reminded of night terrors that he used to have as a child.  This leads him to not only distance himself from Auggie but also go on a misguided mission to remove Auggie from his life entirely.  His mother also gets in on the action once she sees Auggie in the school picture, and learns that the night terrors have returned.  This story does not condone their actions, but it does at least explain them, which is more than you get from most bullies.  

The real heart of the story occurs after Wonder has wrapped up and Julian's family have moved him to a different school.  While visiting his grandmother in France, Julian learns about his namesake, a crippled child that saved his grandmother from the Nazis during World War II.  She had been unkind to him, but he still saved her, and she learned from how she treated him.  Her story is the most compelling part of this whole tale.  

Ultimately, the reader again learns to choose kindness.  And if parents didn't get enough lessons from Wonder, then in The Julian Chapter they learn that you can't just look out for your our child, but rather all children.  Julian is the center of his mother's world, and while it's admirable that most of the time she fights so hard for him, in this case, she was entirely wrong.  At least she realized this in the end as well.  

I would say that The Julian Chapter is required reading for everyone that loved Wonder.  It's not just a device to sell more books by creating extra content.  There is really another story to be told here and it will give some readers more closure.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
By John Green and David Levithan
Dutton Children's, 2009
Reviewed from e-book
Audience: Grades 10 and up
ISBN:  9780525421580
Publication Date:  April 6, 2009

Have you ever met someone with your name?  Then imagine that person becomes a figure in your life, in a small, but ultimately lasting way.  That's Will Grayson's story.  There's Original Will Grayson, a straight, high school student from Evanston whose best friend is the sarcastically named Tiny Cooper.  The Other Will Grayson is a gay, depressed high school student from Naperville who is in love with a boy named Isaac that he met online.  All things come together outside a concert in Chicago when the two Will Graysons meet--Original Will can't get into the venue because his fake I.D. is one month shy of 21, and Other Will is in the city to meet Isaac who, it turns out, does not exist (sidebar-way to go Green and Levithan for catching on to catfishing before it was a thing).  Original Will introduces Other Will to Tiny and love it in the air.  Now, Other Will is trying to contain the uncontainable force that is Tiny Cooper, Original Will is trying to woo the seemingly unwoo-able Jane, and Tiny is writing, producing and starring in an original play based on this life called Tiny Dancer.  What could be a mishmash of high school drama becomes a hearty book about love, friendship, and telling people how you feel.  

I've been wanting to read this book for quite a while, mostly for David Levithan, who I adore.  But I've been meaning to catch up on my non-Fault in Our Stars John Green reading, so this seemed like a perfect start.  I instantly loved this decision.  It felt like Dash and Lily's Book of Dares all over again and I was hooked.  Although, I do have to admit that this is the first time I have ever read a YA novel and really felt the angst.  I think that part of it is that Other Will is quite depressed and moody, so his over-the-top drama made the age of the characters that much more of a plot device.  Or it could be that I'm actually getting old.  Let's hope that's not the case.

Personally, even though this book is about the pair of Will Grayson's, it revolves around Tiny Cooper.  He is the glue that keeps the Wills together.  He is the gravitational pull (seriously-he's huge so it's no small wonder that the book revolves around him).  The ending is especially Tiny-centric so I think that is what gives me the impression that this is really all about Tiny.  But it's also about the people that make up your life and how they can have unexpected effects.  

Also, since this book was set in Chicago, and Original Will and his friends are seeking out obscure bands in dive venues, I kept waiting for the Beat Kitchen on Belmont to make an appearance.  It's a super small concert venue where I saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers years ago.  The concert was in a windowless basement where we must have surpassed the fire code and will-call was a guy with a clipboard.  And the stage was little more than something you would set up for a middle school choir recital.  But, alas, the gang never made it to the Beat Kitchen.  I have a feeling that the places in this book were all fictional, Chicago-like destinations (with the exception of the Bean), but maybe Frenchy's is real.  Not that I'm going to Google that!  

Back to the point.  Will Grayson Will Grayson is a great mash-up of two wildly popular YA authors that isn't something that everyone has read, but it's brilliant.  I was laughing out loud and nearly in tears at the end.  If you want to be more than just a YA poser, read this book.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: Wake Up Missing

Wake Up Missing
By Kate Messner
Walker Childrens, 2013
Reviewed from Advanced Reader's Copy
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
ISBN:  9780802723147
Publication Date:  September 10, 2013

Cat has travelled across the country in search of a cure for her ongoing concussion symptoms and ends up at I-CAN in the Florida Everglades.  Even though this is a renowned treatment facility, there are only six patients, two of whom she never meets.  Cat meets Ben during her travel, then meets Sarah and Quentin, two other patients just beginning their treatments.  Cat is skeptical that anything can help, but the first rounds of treatment seem to work, then she meets Trent, one of the elusive patients and learns that he is acting entirely different from his original self.  Now Cat is questioning I-CAN and the charming Dr. Ames and their motives after overhearing some concerning conversations.  Will Cat be able to find out the truth about I-CAN and keep herself and the other patients safe?

This is another mid-list title from Kate Messner, but from a different publisher and it a totally different genre.  This is definitely science fiction as the treatments for concussion seem strange and quite unethical toward the end, although there is real science behind the fiction.  The story really didn't grab me until the last 80 pages or so, rather, there was a paranoid attitude on the part of Cat that the reader knew was valid, but had no context about why.  The whole tone of the book felt like something by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a very popular author that I never really got excited about.  

All that said, I would still recommend this book to young readers, especially those that want to dip their toe in science fiction.  The setting is firmly rooted in reality, but it's the treatments that are amazing, so it is sci-fi lite.  And it is a good adventure story with some real action that will have readers questioning the outcome.  For me personally, stories like this (and virtually everything by Haddix) are a lot of questioning and running and paranoia with little reward.

But for those of you that like a good government cover-up with ethically questionable experiments going on, then Wake Up Missing might be just the book for you.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Manhunt

By Kate Messner
Scholastic, 2014
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 4 to 6
ISBN:  9780545419772
Publication Date:  June 24, 2014

The Junior Member of the Silver Jaguar Society are in quite a pickle this time as dozens of pieces of art go missing all around the world as the clock strikes midnight.  Henry, Anna, and Jose are taken by their parents, and aunt, to Paris to work with the society against the Serpentine Princes.  They met Brit Hem, who instantly rubs Henry the wrong way, and the two settle on an uneasy peace when the adults fail to return back to headquarters one night.  Then it's up to the kids to not only find the adults, but find the Mona Lisa as well.  Plenty of actual landmarks become hiding places and Henry and the gang must keep searching before it's too late.

While I prefer the first Silver Jaguar Society book, Capture the Flag, this one is fun too.  The action is more pressing and dangerous this time around, where as in the first it seemed more comical.  Henry is a more developed character in this book, however, as he struggles to give up some of his leadership and learn who to trust.  The setting is impressive, and Messner gives an author's note with personal pictures from catacombs and rooftops that readers will enjoy.  

There are plenty of art heist books out there, but the Silver Jaguar Society books are a worthwhile addition to that genre.  Unlike the recently reviewed Loot, these kids are trying to save the artwork, not steal it.  Although less intriguing than Chasing Vermeer and it's successors, Manhunt and others in the series are high interest books for all types of readers.

Happy Reading!