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Monday, December 31, 2018

Sleepless Beauty by Frances Minters

Sleepless BeautyLittle Beauty (yeah, that's actually her name) was born in a city, and her very excited parents loudly invited all of their friends. They skipped over their mean neighbor down the block, but then it turned out the mean neighbor was a witch. The witch cursed Little Beauty that on her fourteenth birthday, she would prick her finger (on something) and she and everyone around would sleep for a hundred years. When given sufficient feedback, the witch amended the curse to say that only a famous rock star would be able to awaken Little Beauty when the time was right. Naturally, Little Beauty's parents hid everything sharp from her, and they spent a lot of time worrying about their little girl. However, it is eventually Little Beauty's own ingenuity that saves them all.

A clever retelling, Sleepless Beauty tells in rhyme (or song) the tale of a teenage girl who loves music. This one would be great read aloud to a group to really get the jazz chorus effect of the narrator's voice.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Dory FantasmagoryDory, otherwise known as Rascal, is a six year old pest with an imaginary friend, Mary.  Dory has one big wish.  She wants to be allowed to play with her favorite older siblings, Luke and Violet.
Her older brother, Luke, and sister, Violet, don't want to play with her.  So, they tell her a scary bedtime story about Mrs. Gobble Cracker, who takes
pesky children away.  Dory just adds Mrs. Gobble Cracker to her world of imagination and goes wilder than ever.  Will Dory ever get to play with Luke and Violet and defeat scary Mrs. Gobble Cracker?

This book is ideal for readers in first to third grade as a first chapter book.  With the mix of pencil drawings and text, the reader will find Dory's enthusiasm catching.  Readers will see that Dory just wants to find her place in the family by doing what she does best, pretending.
Dory has more adventures  that are just as entertaining.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Field Tripped by Allan Woodrow

Field TrippedEach year the fifth grade class of Liberty Falls Elementary School take their annual field trip to Mink's Mystery Mansion.  The mansion belonged to Edward Minks, who was an inventor that gave his money away for the greater good, leaving the rest of his family with nothing.  Eddie is the great-great-great grandson of Edward Minks, and he is one of the fifth graders coming on the trip.  It is rumored that the mansion holds a secret room filled with undiscovered inventions.  Unknown to his classmates, Eddie has the blueprint to the mansion and is determined to find the room in hopes it will help his family out of their financial troubles.  Aaron had just moved to Liberty Falls and doesn't know anyone.  His dad is in the military, so he is always having to switch schools.  He is hoping that this will be his last move and he can make some lasting friendships.   Then there is Jessie.  She is a little quirky and very much into cats.  Anna is a shy girl who smuggles her rabbit Mopey on the field trip in her backpack.  Chloe is friends with Sophie, who is the popular girl but also a bully, and this trip makes Chloe begin to question if Sophie is truly a friend.  A horrible snowstorm strands the children at the mansion, leaving them the opportunity to explore for the hidden room.

Field Tripped is the third book in the Liberty Falls series and is a perfect book for students in third through fifth grade.  The adults are quirky and the children are definitely smarter than the adults.  It also deals with bullying but also looks at trying to find a way to fit in with one's peers.  The relationships between the kids are realistic.  I've been lucky enough to meet Allan Woodrow at Anderson's Author Breakfast!  He is humorous both in person and in his books! Mr. Woodrow is an author who lives in the Chicagoland area, so you may just run into him at a nearby author event or at a local bookstore!

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan

Amina's VoiceAt the beginning of this story, middle schooler Amina, a Muslim American, has one big problem: She really wants to sing a solo at her school's winter music program, but she has a very bad case of stage fright.  Soon, however, her problems start to mount up.

First, she finds out that her uncle from India is going to be staying with her family for several months, and although she loves him, his very strict adherence to Muslim customs and religious practices is not something she's used to.  Her family follows Muslim traditions, but her uncle is not used to American life and she's worried she will be a disappointment to him.

She's also having best friend problems.  Her bestie is going to become an American citizen in a few weeks and wants to change her Korean name from Soojin to Susan.  Amina thinks that's a terrible idea, which causes some tension between them.  On top of that, another classmate, Emily, wants to be friends with them, and Amina is afraid of losing Soojin to this newcomer.

Then one night something truly terrible happens which rocks the Muslim community.  I'm not going to write about it, (you'll have to read the book!) but it's really bad.  Amina can't understand what has happened, but the rest of her friends and their families all pull together to make the situation better.  Through their expressions of love and unity, Amina finds. . . her voice.

There's a lot going on in this book, but it's fast-paced and easy to follow.  It's a story of friendship and courage that drives home the point that there is more in this world that unites us than divides us.

I recommend Amina's Voice to students in grades 4-6.  I sure hope you enjoy it.

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Monday, December 03, 2018

Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne

Kate and the BeanstalkI love fairy tale adaptations, especially when they do something new with the source material! Such is the case with Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, who you may recognize as the author of the Magic Tree House books. I picked this book up hoping to find a slightly different story from the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk (if you are interested in Jack's story, though, we have a number of adaptations!). I was not disappointed! Instead of simply swapping the gender of the hero, Osborne gave Kate some extra motivations behind her quest.

Kate lives on a farm with her mother, who despairs that unless they sell their only cow, they will starve. Kate volunteers to sell the cow at the market and instead swaps her for magic beans from a beggar. Upset, Mother throws the beans outside, where overnight, they grow into a massive beanstalk leading up into the clouds. Kate climbs the beanstalk, and once she reaches the top, she encounters an old woman who points out the nearby castle. The old woman tells her of the noble knight and his family who used to live in the castle until a giant took over the castle and committed terrible crimes against the knight. The old woman beseeches Kate to take back the treasures in the castle that the giant stole from the knight and return them to the knight's widow so that she and her child won't starve.

It is with the purpose of righting this wrong that Kate sneaks into the castle, befriends the giant's beleaguered wife, and fulfills the rest of the Jack story. I like that instead of sneaking into a giant's castle to steal all his stuff because obviously giants are bad guys, Kate is given the opportunity to be a hero in the way the original brave but brash Jack was not. Stealing from a thief instead of robbing a giant simply because he is a giant lends Kate and the Beanstalk a slight Robin Hood feeling, as it has the hero committing acts of daring in the name of justice rather than personal gain.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

A Handful of StarsJust looking at the cover should make you want to open this book.  Who can resist a dog with a blueberry on its nose?  The cover, plus the fact that Cynthia Lord is the author, were enough to make me pick up the book and I'm so glad I did.

It's summertime in Maine and blueberry season.  The story begins with Lily trying to catch her dog as he has gotten lose on her during their walk.  While that's not the ideal situation, Lily's dog is blind and she is worried he will get hit by a truck.  Lucky, Lily's dog, stops when Salma entices him with her peanut butter sandwich.  Salma is a migrant worker who spends her summers moving around with her family harvesting crops.  This encounter leads to a friendship between the two girls.  Through Ms. Lord's writing, you just can't avoid loving all the characters, even Lily's friend, Hannah, who you think is going to be a villain but surprises you.

A Handful of Stars is a short book with a great story of friendship and perfect for a read-aloud.  You'll learn a lot about blueberries (I really want to try a blueberry enchilada), mason bees (new to me), and the hardship of migrant workers, especially the children whose education is often interrupted due to the constant movement of their families.  If you've never read Cynthia Lord before, check out some of her other titles:  Rules, Touch Blue, and Half a ChanceIt's no wonder she has been nominated for Illinois's Bluestem award more than once.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Be PreparedMorrigan Crow is the unluckiest girl in the town of Jackalfax in the Republic.  All her life, she has known that she is cursed to die on the evening of her eleventh birthday.  Children born with such a curse are also blamed when anything bad happens, such as crop failure or the death of a kitchen cat.  Still, she accepts this grim fate and awaits the shadow wolves and horses that will bring her death.    

Two days before her final birthday, her father, Corvus, a local chancellor, takes her to Bid Day, a ceremony in which children hope to receive an apprenticeship from a school or a business.  If a lucky child is chosen, he or she gets a free education that determines their career at the age of 11. On Bid Day, Morrigan does not expect to get anything except a break from her selfish family.  Imagine her surprise when she gets four bid letters two days before her last birthday ever.  

That night, during her last family dinner, Captain Jupiter North, an odd visitor from the Free Republic, comes to the Crow Manor with a unique offer for Morrigan.  Jupiter North tells her shocked family that he sent one of the bid letters.  Just then, Morrigan realizes that she wants to live and leaves with Captain North, barely escaping the teeth and hooves of the shadow wolves and horses.  

Once Morrigan and the brave captain reach the Free Republic, she is in a whole new magical world in which she chooses to compete for a place in the Wundrous Society.  Armed with little information from Jupiter North, Fennestra, a six foot tall talking cat, and a magical umbrella, she enters the competition.  But, how will she pass the four trials and get accepted by the fantastical group of talented people that are in the mystical and magical Wundrous Society?

This book is ideal for readers in grades four to six.  It is full of adventure, mystery, whimsy and enchanting events that will get you ready for the sequel, The Wundersmith, next month!

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