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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Flunked by Jen Calonita

FlunkedWelcome to Enchantasia, the home of princess royalty and reformed villains who run Fairy Tale Reform School.  Enter our main character Gilly.  She lives in a boot with her parents and five siblings.  Times are tough for the family shoe shop ever since Cinderella gave her fairy godmother the glass shoe business.  So in order to help feed her family, Gilly has resorted to stealing and eventually gets caught and sent to reform school.  Fairy Tale Reform School is run by Cinderella's reformed stepmother, Flora along with other teachers who are former villains, such as the Big Bad Wolf and the Evil Queen of Snow White fame.  At school, Gilly is befriended by Jax, Kayla, Ollie and Maxine.  Weird things start happening at school which makes Gilly wonder if her teachers are really reformed.  

The book reminded me of  Harry Potter.  Gilly attends a boarding school, there's good and dark magic, her teachers have secrets and there is an all powerful super villain who has been in hiding for years.   I like how it involves fairy tale characters, which seems to be a hot theme at the moment.  It's not a hard read, but definitely an enjoyable one.  This is book one in the series, so we'll see where Jen Calonita takes the story on further adventures.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Education of Ivy Blake by Ellen Airgood

The Education of Ivy Blake     Ivy has been living with her best friend Prairie Evers. Now her mom has returned and Ivy must go with her. She wants to believe that her mom has changed, but she does not trust her. Too afraid to let anyone know how bad things are at home, Ivy pretends things are just fine.

     Trying to cope Ivy escapes the only place she can, art, writing and eventually film making. People are out there that she learns to trust and believe in. She learns to rely on friends and others to help her through the hard times with her mom.

Best Friend Next Door by Carolyn Mackler

Best Friend Next DoorMeet Hannah.  Her best friend has just moved away to Canada, another country! Her father and step mother are going to have a baby. She can't have a cat because her stepmom is allergic to them.  And now this new girl moves in with the same birth date (New Year's Day), wearing the same tie-die shirt and claiming to hate pizza (just like Hannah)! What's going on?

Emme doesn't want to live in this new place.  She loved living in Florida! She misses her friends back home and she has to start 5th grade at a new school.  Now the the girl next door doesn't seem to like her. It's not Emme's fault they were born on the same day, are wearing the same shirt and have names that are palindromes! Thank goodness she still has her cat, Butterball.

It's that love for Butterball that brings the girls together. When Butterball goes missing, Emme finds out that he's been at Hannah's house. So they decide to share him and thus a friendship is born. The girls find out they have so much in common. But it's not going to be an easy friendship because Hannah is moody and lashes out when things don't go her way. Emme is quiet and somewhat shy. Hannah is lucky she found Emme because Emme is a true friend through thick and thin.

The families in this story are not the traditional ones.  Hannah's dad has full custody of her and she's never known her birth mom; Hannah's stepmom Margo is adopting her;  Emme has two moms. I liked how Mackler showed that even though friends' interests change, it doesn't mean that friendships themselves need to. She also shows how tough fifth grade can be, especially if you are the "new kid."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Alvin Ho by Lenore Look

Alvin HoIf you like chapter books and series, this one is for you. This book has so many similarities to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: humor, first-person narrative, sibling trouble. However, not only does Alvin have an older brother, he also has a little sister. Initially, he did not quite catch on that this mother is expecting another child. Yikes!

In a way, this series is more substantial than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The multicultural aspect is special and the family is Chinese American. The story is set in a real city - Concord, Massachusetts. The historical elements are few, but they highlight important fun facts. How is seven-year-old Alvin suppose to cope with the burglaries in town? The story mentions that Alvin goes to therapy. This could make a great read-aloud for an older sibling reading to a younger sibling. Perhaps shared reading or family reading could be best. By reading together, an assessment can be made as to how much the reader is comprehending Alvin's misunderstood phrases:
simply pathetic pregnant
red carpet treatment
and more.
I really appreciated how Chinese words were naturally interspersed in the story.( ex. dim sum- literally "dot the heart"). A favorite of mine from the the book is Alvin's definition of the Dewey decimal system - a mysterious sequence of numbers used by aliens to organize all library books for transport into outer space. There are six books in this series. The subtitle for this fifth one is Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night. Older readers, don't miss out on Alvin's glossary at the back of the book. You will be amazed how many words William Shakespeare invented. Hurry, use you eyeballs and read for yourself if you are suspicious of what I say.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow

Finding ZashaThis is a prequel to the Saving Zasha book that was nominated for the Caudill last year.  It's 1941 in Leningrad, Russia during World War II.  Twelve-year-old Ivan has to flee Leningrad as the Germans have cut the city off from receiving supplies.  Ivan is being sent to live with his Uncle Boris because his mom is being sent to go and work in the Ural Mountains where her factory is being relocated.  The only way out of the city is over a frozen lake.  Ivan leaves with a woman from his apartment building whom everyone calls "Auntie." Auntie is a survivor of World War I and is one tough cookie!  The two end up at the home of Auntie's sister-in-law, Galina but find that the Germans are taking over the village.  Ivan is playing music on his concertina one day for the two women when German soldiers stop at the house.  Here is where we meet Zasha and Thor, two German Shepard puppies.  Their owner, Axel Recht, is a ruthless Nazi commander who takes Ivan back to his headquarters to play music for him on his whim.  During that time, Ivan becomes involved with a group of Partisans, a group of ordinary Russians who try to sabotage German actions.  When Ivan learns that the puppies are being trained to hunt Russians, he knows he must save the dogs.  Together with the other partisans, Ivan and the dogs escape up to his uncle's cabin in a remote part of the forest but not before Axel discovers Ivan stealing the dogs and vows to find Ivan and kill him.

The story gives some background now to Zasha and the man she was found with at the beginning of Saving Zasha.  I really like the Auntie character in this book because she is so strong.  It also gave me another perspective on what life was like back during World War II, especially what children had to endure and how they had to grow up so fast.  It was not an easy time and many sacrifices were made.  Great addition to a study on World War II, especially on what was happening on the Russian front.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Honey by Sarah Weeks

HoneyMelody Bishop lives in a peaceful Indiana town. All she has ever known is that town and her father (a teacher). Maybe her father's influence is why 10-year-old Melody loves words and has a special way with words. She can't figure out some of the changes in her father such as being distracted and burning food and often singing the same song - You Are My Sunshine. Melody asks her best friend, Nick Woo, to help solve a mystery. She wants to know whom her father is calling "honey" on the phone.

I will only give you one clue about this book: there is a dog in this feel-good book and it is also ten years old. If this book was written by Sarah Weeks, I should have guessed that there would be a dog in the story. The multiple perspective and multiple generations really make this a wonderful book. The father and daughter characters are so respectful and happy. The ending is so happy, but that's not all. The back of the book has a creative list of 101 colors of nail polish named by Melody. Nail polish, anyone? Yes, nail polish. How awesome is that?  When you are done reading the book, you will appreciate and figure out how Melody acquired her name. Keep a song in our heart and a book in your hand!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lucky Strike by Bobbie Pyron

Lucky StrikeHave you ever felt like an outsider?  Have you ever been picked on at school?  That's just what happens to Nate Harlow and his best friend Genesis "Gen" Beam.  Nate always has bad luck.    Nothing ever seems to go his way.  Gen is super smart albeit socially awkward and doesn't think there is any such thing as luck.  She care about the facts and logic - oh and the sea turtles that return to Paradise Beach, Florida every year.

Nate is celebrating his eleventh birthday with Gen at the Goofy Golf mini-golf course, when suddenly he is struck by a bolt of lightning and survives.  Low and behold, his luck may have changed because he seems to have the Midas touch.  Now he can hit home runs in baseball, dead boat motors start when he touches them and he wins a new truck for his grandfather. Nate gains popularity for the first time and suddenly he starts to turn on Gen, leaving her behind while he hangs out with the popular kids (yup, the ones who originally called him names).  This abandonment forces Gen to reach out for a new friend, another outsider by the name of Chum.  However, Nate discovers that popularity is something that he may not be cut out for or needs.  What will he decide to do?

Lucky Strike has several messages.  1.  Good friends stick with you through thick and thin.  This was supposed to be Gem's and Nate's mantra.  2.  Fancy new things aren't always better than what you have.  I like the changes the characters went through.  Each one grew in some sense, even a minor character who originally bullies the friends.  This is a definite read.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Frank Eistein and the Electro-Finger by Jon Scieszka

Frank Einstein and the Electro-FingerI promised that the next book in the Frank Einstein series would be be coming. Roselle Library has it here now. Grandpa Al's electric bill is skyrocketing. His smart grandson wants to invent a wireless electric generator. T. Edison and Mr. Chimp go around wrecking all the other power sources. T. Edison and Mr. Chimp want a monopoly for their own power plant.

So much is included in this book. Even the ASL's manual alphabet is included because the chimp communicates in sign language. The jokes are silly but that's appropriate because they are coming from the lovable robots, Klink and Klank. Brian Bigg's cartoon illustrations match the text perfectly,  leaving the readers with a lasting impression. You really can't tell how much science is included (even a perfected pea shooter). Many surprises:  police chief is a member of the poetry club, smart ideas Frank Einstein and the robots create... Jon Scieszka promises that the next Frank Einstein will be published in August, 2015 - Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo!

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