3 2012 March

EllRay Jakes is not a Chicken by Sally Warner
EllRay is short and one of the few African Americans in his school. For unknown reasons two boys have decided to pick on him. If EllRay can stay out of trouble for a week his dad has promised a trip to Disneyland. (really?) This is a pretty typical early chapter book. Plenty of awkward moments to keep the story moving. This was OK and helps fill a need for early readers. 2nd +

Waiting for the Magic by Patricia Maclachlan
William's dad leaves because he is "flawed" (according to Mama), and the family copes by adopting four dogs and a cat. Each member discovers that they can talk with the dogs. It's Magic. Nicely written for 3rd grade.

The Great Rabbit Rescue by Katie Davies
Joe-down-the-street has moved away to live with his dad. But he's left behind his New Rabbit. Anna and Suzanne are sure they need to fix everything. Sequel to The Great Hamster Massacre. OK. 3rd+.

Scumble by Ingrid Law
Another story following Savvy. Ledger Kale turns 13 with trepidation and rightly so. It seems his savvy (special ability) is destroying anything mechanical. Until he can scumble his power (control it) his family leave him with his uncle in Wyoming on the family ranch. Complications ensue (of course). This story has great self-discovery, and a terrific story line. Satisfying conclusion too. 4th+ Excellent.

Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex
Graphic novel about a boy-warrior from Skullbania (Is that in New Jersey?) who is guarding the big toe of Drool. Yes, of course it is silly. that's the point. But there is still the undercurrent of courage, friendship, and bravery. I liked this and it should be as popular as any other graphic novel.

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
Number Four (aka John Smith) has been fleeing the Mogadorians since landing on Earth as a small child. Now in high school he and his Lorien mentor have settled temporarily in Paradise, Ohio. There are six Lorien Legacies waiting for their powers to mature while they are also hiding from their predators. Despite the random fights with evil aliens, this moves too slowly for me. There is the oh so sweet first love with Sarah, the conflicts with jerk exboyfriend/football hero Mark, and sidekick Sam whose own father may have been abducted. Somewhere close to the end Mark suddenly shows up and helps everyone. Huh? This just didn't grab me. I don't feel compelled to read the sequels--and I'm an easy sell for series. Meh YA for romance and icky alien violence. Shotgun hits that blow the heads off of nasty alien soldiers. They nicely turn to dust. (Too much gore would be ...too much).

The Last Apprentice Revenge of the Witch by John Delaney
Though I didn't think I would enjoy this, I ran through this in one sitting. I read this just to see if it should be YA. Probably not. It's not any worse than Mary Downing Hahn for scariness. Tom is the seventh son of a seventh son and is being apprenticed to the Spook who keeps evil boggarts, ghosts and witches under control. Lots of creepiness here. Very Britsh. May be a drag from some students. I liked it. 5th+ Good for middle school boys..

The School for the Insanely Gifted by Dan Elish
This is absurd like Series of Unfortunate Events. Kids at this school are inventing crazy stuff all sponsored by Ignatius Blatt (a character wierdly molded after Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka). Daphne Whispers, a recent orphan (of course!), has a unique gift of music. But she is being stalked by weird (did I mention the weirdness?) antelope men. The mystery deepens as expected until a climax involving all of New York City. Actually pretty good in a wierd sort of way. 4th+

the First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Bobby is a regular urban teenager until he discovers he is also a father. Written from his perspective alternating then and now with his newborn daughter Feather. This is a sparse but weighty story. Quick but not easy read. My favorite passage: "I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end. Then everybody could end their life on their momma or daddy's stomach in a warm room, waiting for the soft morning light." (p. 4)

How to Talk to an Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefanski
Shorter than I expected, but feels just right to share with kids. Daniel is autistic and shares what that feels like and how he would like to be treated. Would be excellent to share in a class with an autistic kid. any age Very Goodl

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses with lots of complications. Azalea (yes they are all named for flowers in alphabetical order, but it's not too much) has promised her dying mother to take care of the girls. Devastated by grief, the King withdraws all contact. The girls find their only relief in nightly dances in a magical ballroom run by the Keeper. This is very emotional and deals most deeply with the relationship between the father and his daughters. Some bits of humor that keep this from being too depressing. The girls pelt suitors with snowballs and potatoes. I liked this. Not as good as some (13 Princesses?), but enjoyable. YA for ? may be OK for fifth graders.

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements
Clements is the king of school stories. In this short read he tries to feel what the school troublemaker has going on in his head. He just wants to have fun! But his brother's return from 30 days in jail, along with his resolve to stay out of trouble forever, brings hard days. I'm not sure Clements has caught the heart of the conflict. I do love the secretary's responses--she sees the spark in the boy. 3rd+ very good.

My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald
Lucy feels like the pharmacy owned by her family is her home. But it's in danger of failing. Lucy is an artist--a makeup artist and a good one. But she's only 12 and it seems like no one, even her mother and grandmother, takes her seriously. Lots of time on beauty tips (with an emphasis on inner confidence), first crushes, and being green. It's OK for fifth grade, but meant for middleschoolers. Nothing objectionable (no language,no mature content) but it just seems meant for older girls.

Can You Survive the Titanic? An Interactive Survival Adventure by Allison Lassieur
Updated "Choose Your Own Adventure". Good story lines, extra pictures, logical choices. This was informative and also entertaining. 3rd +

The Underdogs by Mike Lupica
Forbes, PA, is a dying town as more and more people move away. Will wants to play football, but the town can't afford to provide for 12 year old football. Will goes for the Hail Mary and raises the money. Now they just need 11 players. Easier said than done. This is a classic sports story told in a gripping, inspiring narrative. Lupica does it again. 4th + Very Good

Emily's Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
It has been a couple of years since I read this, and I needed a bit of light, quick literature. Perfect. Orphaned Emily heads out to live with her good Aunt Hilda, but her evil Uncle Victor wants to claim her and her inheritance first. Joined by plucky orphan Jackson, a wild stagecoach trip ensues. Great for 3rd+. Now what in hokie smokies does that mean?

Seriously, Norman by Chris Raschka
This is an unusual story with absurd elements that reminds me of the Benedict Society or The Westing Game. Norman Normann needs help with the annual TEST that all students take. So he is tutored by Balthazar Birdsong whose main method is to have Norman read the dictionary and start observing carefully what is around him. Norman's dad turns out to be a bomber salesman but it's pretty sketchy. The vocabulary in this is the best part. Who is the epollicate man? What's going on in Singapore? "nurrma, dahlink, pleaze to not vorry, ahmm jest stayink a coupla mor daiis to vinish my verk her, ja. jest verking, thet's ride; no problims. alzo. ahmm devinitely not bin keednappt. bussi bussi, orrm." 4th+ very good.

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
Mysteries are my favorite genre, but this one never grabbed me. It was OK. It was definitely different for a YA book. Set in 1942, Iris has just moved from a private girl's school to a public school on the Lower East Side (NYC)--oh, the horror! Her father has returned after losing a leg at Pearl Harbor and her mother has committed suicide. Iris wants to help her father but gets caught up in deceptions and misunderstandings. The best part of the story was her first trip to the Savoy in Harlem for dancing on a Friday night. The story deals with social status, race (Italians and Germans are the enemy after all), and family. I was just disappointed in the basic plot--the actual mystery. Mature content (implied abortions), but not beyond mature middle school readers. OK for historical fiction. YA for sure.

The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark
This was a good read, but just over the top in sexual references, crude humor, and language. Fine for high school. Jay Baker within a horrible week finds himself in a love triangle with two beautilicious girls, in a nasty war with his nemesis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the total meltdown of his parents' marriage. The conflict is realistic (if occasionally uncomfortable) and concludes realistically too. The homophobic cuts are pretty low--which teachers do deal with. Just too much explicit talk about the affairs mom is having, and Jay's own sexual chaos. Just too loaded for younger readers. A good read for older ones. 9th grade+