Monday, September 16, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

Image: Hachette Book Group
Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell. The Wizards of Once series #2. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~6 hours. Read by David Tennant. Hachette Book Group, November, 2018. 9781478999461. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library. Purchased hc.)

Middle Grade Monday features Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell. Book two picks up where The Wizards of Once left off. Xar the Enchanter's son is imprisoned and Wish, daughter of the Warrior queen is locked in a cupboard in the castle. That won't stop the evil that Xar unwittingly unleashed. No one has escaped the magical prison, but Xar is determined. Someone has to save the kingdom! 

I just reread my review and saw that I promised myself to read the second installment with my eyes because I found the sound effects jarring. Oops. Well, I'm glad I read with my ears because Tennant is such a delight. I am also happy to report that there seemed to be fewer sound effects. The world building is wonderful and Cowell's characters are vibrantly alive!

As in Wizards of Once, there are lots of laughs along with lots of action. Secrets are revealed, but all is not solved. And, who is our narrator?  Readers will eagerly await book three, Knock Three Times, due out mid-October. Check this week's "Waiting on Wednesday" post for deeds.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Picture Book Review: Mother Goose of Pudding Lane: a small tall tale by Chris Raschka

Image: Candlewick Press
Mother Goose of Pudding Lane: a small tall tale by Chris Raschka. Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. 48 p. Candlewick Press, September 10, 2019. 9780763675233. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Kablam! That's the sound of all the possible opening lines of this post colliding. So here's a stream of consciousness: At first, I thought this was a straight-up biography of Mother Goose. It's not. But there are many biographical facts wrapped in playful verse. Two, all Mother Goose rhymes are nursery rhymes but not all nursery rhymes are Mother Goose. Or are they? Is there a French Mother Goose? A British one? Three, thanks to my conference friend Linda, I had already knew that Mother Goose was buried in Boston. We visited her grave when we attended ALA Midwinter together in January of 2010. I thought I had a photo, but cannot find one. Google it and you will find plenty.

Upon opening the book to the front end-pages, I did a double-take because I thought the someone had drawn and written in the book! "Impossible," I thought. Not only is there a figure scribbled in to appear to be smelling the painted flowers, but there is writing near the top. 

Turns out, it is the dedications! The delight continues with the page turn where the reader is asked, "Who is Mother Goose?" Turns out, there was an Elizabeth Foster who married an old widower named Isaac Goose in 1692 in Boston. She was step-mother to his ten children and they went on to have four of their own. Certainly, I wouldn't know what to do with so many children. However, the nursery rhyme about the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe is not attributed to Mother Goose. 

There is a story in rhyme set in red type near the top of the verso pages that tells Elizabeth's and Jacob's story. This is juxtaposed with nursery rhymes that might have reflected what might've been their chaotic life. Humorous spot art fills in the rest of the page space.

I love this curious book but will admit to wondering who the audience is? I despair sometimes when I realize that many of my students seem to be unaware of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Last year, I read a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to my sixth graders and there was a reference to "sugar and spice and everything nice" in the back matter. I asked my students what the rest of the rhyme was and they had a hard time coming up with it. Such a sad moment for me. Certainly, a dedicated primary school teacher might build a unit around it. Kudos, if they have the time with all the pressure to move kids along quickly. 

I was sad to find there was no back matter to offer context. 

Still, I was entertained and intrigued; especially by the rear end pages. I noted the space and flipped the back flap to find a final delightful joke which will be lost in any library copy as the flaps are taped down.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Fact Friday: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan

Image: Peachtree Publishers
Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan. Illustrated by Tom Gonzalez. unpgd. Peachtree Publishing Company, August, 2016. 9781561459124. (Own.)

Sometimes, a book is so enduring or important that it needs to be read multiple times. Sometimes, it is for a happy occasion, such as my yearly read aloud of The Polar Express, Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins, or Casey at the Bat. In this case, it's for a more somber occasion. I shared this with my classes this week.

The steel that was removed from the rubble of Ground Zero was claimed by a variety of institutions. In the town that I live in, an Eagle Scout created a memorial next to one of our fire houses using two beams. In the town that I work in, a marble slab faces east and there is a hole in it that allows the rays of sun at 8:42 AM on September 11 to pour through to land on a bit of steel from the towers. 

In Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, Janet Nolan succinctly relates the story about a huge beam that was transported to a shipyard in Louisiana, melted down and molded into a bow that was meant for the USS New York. That journey was not without tragedy as Hurricane Katrina left many of the shipbuilders homeless. 

This is a gut-wrenching story that is stunningly illustrated by Tom Gonzalez. His oversize, double-page watercolor illustrations grab the eye and don't let go. Readers will linger over each spread. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

#tbt: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Image: Penguin Random House

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. 200 p. Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House Children's Books, July, 2009. 9780385737425. (Own.)

#tbt celebrates the tenth anniversary of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This time travel novel is set in New York City in the late 1970s. It published in the summer of 2009 and won the 2010 Newbery Medal as well as hitting the NYT Bestseller list and many "Best Books" lists. She drew from memories of her own childhood growing up in New York City to write this novel. Stead was also influenced by her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. The story follows Miranda through her sixth grade year and explores themes of independence and friendship.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Image: Macmillan
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. 448 p. First Second/ Macmillan, March 17, 2020. 9781626720794.

Publisher synopsis: In his latest graphic novel, Dragon Hoops, New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it's all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

I just love Yang's graphic novels and cannot wait for this one!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Teen Tuesday: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Image: HarperCollins Publishers
The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~12 hours. Narrated by Rebecca Soler. Balzer + Bray/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2019. 9780062938640. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen. Seventeen-year-old Emma Saylor Payne barely remembers her mother, who died when she was ten. While she has a good relationship with her dentist father, he's tightlipped about her mother except to acknowledge her addictions and how they contributed to their marriage failing as well as her death. It also probably contributes to her tendency toward anxiety and perfect behavior. Otherwise, she knows nothing and none of the relatives on her mother's side. All that changes when her father remarries and his plans for Emma to stay with a friend for the three weeks of their honeymoon fall through. She is sent to North Lake to stay with her grandmother and her extended family. 

North Lake is a resort community divided by class—a rich country club resort on one side of the lake and more modest hotels on the other. Emma's mom came from the poorer side. Emma's dad from the other. Her relatives are all strangers to her, but they seem to know all about her and definitely know a ton about her mom.

As with any Sarah Dessen book, the pace is quite leisurely and the reader really gets to know the characters. Her heroines tend to be exceedingly self-deprecating, nice, anxious and over-analytical. In other words, at once relatable and annoying. She and her characters are like that perfect friend you have that occasionally drives you to mad, jealous, petty tirades that ultimately make you feel guilty because they are just so nice. My teen self would've eaten this up and asked for more. My old-as-dirt self gets a bit impatient. Still, teen fans of Dessen's will eat this breezy, leisurely novel up and ask for more.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Middle Grade Monday and Review: Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi

Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi. Illustrated by Corinna Luyken. 240 p. Candlewick Press, October 1, 2019. 9780763694937. (Review of arc courtesy of publicist.)

Middle Grade Monday features Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi. Eleven-year-old Penny Rose is new to town. She might've won a couple of science competitions, but making new friends is not her strong suit. She prefers to hole up in a shed in her backyard building robots. She also keeps a "conversation" notebook to help her interact with her peers. She may be on the autism spectrum. This is not explicitly stated. She is very observant. The methodical and logical way she allows the blossoming of a friendship with equally quirky Lark is so endearing! Lark is an outlier as well. Her passion is birds and all things birding. But she brings a unique perspective to Penny Rose's interest in her robots. You see, Penny Rose has created some unique robots from spare parts. Each one has a different personality and Lark helps to encourage their talents. 

Still, Penny Rose is not quite confident in this new friendship and when she receives notes stating that a secret science club is interested in her joining, her commitment to her friendship with Lark wavers. 

Oh my. This book! This book! Not only is it a sweet story of fledgling friendship, but, science! Whoa! Science! Penny Rose does not equate an interest in science with popularity and so, her mind is blown when she learns about who belongs to the secret science club. Can she keep her two worlds separate?

Black and white illustrations add to the interest. Spot on dialog, enticing intrigue, and an unabashed love of science make this friendship novel stand out. Engaging, humorous, suspenseful, this is one to hand to a multitude of readers. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review:
Image: Candlewick Press
Mother Goose of Pudding Lane: a small tall tale by Chris Raschka. Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. unpgd. Candlewick Press, September 10, 2019. 9789763675233.

Publisher synopsis: We all love to hear Mother Goose rhymes and riddles. But did you know that there was a real Mother Goose who lived in Boston more than three hundred years ago? In 1692, Elizabeth Foster married a widower with ten children. His name was Isaac Goose, and after they married, Elizabeth became Mother Goose. She and Isaac had four more children together, and to help her care for such a big and boisterous family, Mother Goose sang songs and lullabies and made up rhymes and poems. Her nursery rhymes and stories were published at a print shop on Pudding Lane in Boston, though no copies of her book exist today. In a book featuring some of Mother Goose’s best-loved works, Vladimir Radunsky’s bright and humorous illustrations and Chris Raschka’s rhyming poems tell the little-known story of the Goose children, Isaac, and Elizabeth herself — the Mother Goose of Pudding Lane.

Image: Penguin Random House
Nessie Quest by Melissa Savage. 342 p. Crown Books for Young Readers/ Random House Children's Books, January 14, 2020. 9780525645689.

Publisher synopsis: Fans of Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe and Melissa Savage’s own Lemons will devour this voice-driven novel packed with humor and heart about two friends who head off on an adventure to find the Loch Ness Monster.

Ada Ru finally thought her parents were going to agree to a Fitzhugh family vacation in Disney World the summer before sixth grade, until her father announces he’s taking a teaching position in Scotland, and moving the family there for the entire summer. 

Ada Ru is anything but happy. She doesn’t like their new home, she hates haggis, and she certainly doesn’t like the idea that she will be away from her best friend all summer. To top it all off, there is said to be a monster in the lake near their house! 

That’s when she meets Hamish Bean Timmy, Hammy Bean for short, captain of the Nessie Quest Monster Chaser boat tour. He knows everything there is to know about the fabled Loch Ness Monster and Scotland. But as the two unlikely friends embark on an epic adventure to spot the lake monster, they end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined.

Purchased: Nothing!

If you leave a comment, I will definitely stop by and try to comment back - unless commenters have to sign onto Discus or Wordpress or FB or anything that makes commenting difficult and gives my data to miners. But, I will definitely check your stack!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fact Friday: Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Image: Norton Young Readers

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. 208 p. Norton Young Readers/ W.W. Norton & Company, September 10, 2019. 9781324003601. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Happy book birthday next week to Free Lunch!

Fact Friday features Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. This debut is Ogle's memoir of his sixth grade year. Eleven-year-old Rex likes school. It gets him away from his mom and her boyfriend who have explosive fights and tend to discipline Rex with their fists. He is especially looking forward to starting sixth grade. All that changes when his mother announces that Rex is now on the "free lunch" program. He can take the stares his Good Will clothing elicits, but the daily humiliation of announcing to the cafeteria cashier, who is hard of hearing, that he's getting a free lunch infuriates him. Then, his friends drift away because Rex's mom won't sign the permission slip allowing him to try out for football. They all make the team, leaving him the odd guy out. On top of all that, his language arts teacher seems to hate him. He doesn't want to act out but he's sick of being poor and he's afraid of the instability at home. 

Back matter consists of an author's note, an author Q & A, a discussion guide as well as a writing guide(!) and resources for families in crisis. 

Rex's voice is instantly relatable. His home life is horrific and yet, there are flashes of normalcy and even love. How Rex can even learn while dealing with the chaos is testament to his strength.  Moments of humor and Rex's obvious love for his baby brother ease the tension. This powerful memoir depicts a family in crisis, one resilient child and is unforgetable. Free Lunch belongs in every school, classroom and public library. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

#tbt: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Image: Penguin

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. 320 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010. (Own)

#tbt is another student recommendation. Sixth grader, Esther, recommends Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. Mockingbird  was published in 2010 and won the 2010 National Book Award as well as many state awards.

Ten-year-old Caitlin has Aspergers and tends to see the world rigidly in black and white. She's odd and is aware that her classmates see her as "weird." Her brother, Devon, was her shelter. Now Devon is dead—killed with a teacher and another student in a school shooting—and Caitlin is adrift. Through Caitlin's first-person narration, readers see the world through her eyes and can't help but be impressed by her resiliency. Mockingbird is a great book to develop empathy. If you like emotionally intense books, this one's for you. While you're at it, check out some of the author's other titles like The Absolute Value of Mike or Seeing Red!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: The Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Image: HarperCollins Publishers
The Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland. 336 p. Balzer + Bray, February 2, 2020. 

Publisher synopsis: After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

I was totally riveted by Dread Nation and absolutely cannot wait to revisit this world.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Teen Tuesday: The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Image: Penguin
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. 320 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons/ Penguin Young Readers, June, 2019. 9780525514022. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Teen Tuesday features The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. This powerful and timely debut tells the story of two sisters who are seeking asylum in the United States because they fear for their lives after their father disappears and their brother is murdered back in El Salvador. The two have walked for days and weeks, enduring harsh conditions; but they have been caught. Seventeen-year-old Marisol fears that her plea for asylum will not be granted and flees the detention center with her sister, Gabi. They are picked up by a government agent and offered a deal to stay in the U.S. Marisol can become a "grief keeper," an experimental conduit for grief or trauma in exchange for asylum. 

Medical experimentation can be an ethical slippery slope. Often test subjects are the least able to give informed consent and most likely driven by desperation—prisoners, poor people and those without power. Marisol is terrified of being sent back and hides the side effects of the transfer from the doctor and agent in charge. 

Through Marisol's careful, thoughtful narration, readers slowly learn her secrets as well as the secrets of Rey, the teenage daughter of a powerful DC businessman from whom Marisol must absorb traumatic grief. Tension is high in this genre-blender—part sci/fi, part thriller, part romance. Along the way, thoughtful readers might ponder issues of identity, governmental power, immigration policies, prejudice and institutional racism. Wholly engrossing and beautifully written, Marisol is a character who will linger long after you close the book.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Image: Candlewick Press
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. 400 p. Walker Books/ Candlewick Press, June, 2019. 9781536204988. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Labor Day Monday, TMS Readers! Today is my last day of summer vacation. I plan on finishing my 91st book today. If it rains, I might be able to squeeze in a 92nd.

Middle Grade Monday features a gorgeous MG graphic novel debut called Queen of the Sea, written and illustrated by Dylan Meconis. This rich and atmospheric tale takes place on a tiny island off the coast of Albion and is told by Margaret, an orphan, who is being raised by the nuns who live on the island. It's a work of fiction, but loosely based on the story of young Queen Elizabeth I. 

We learn of life on the wind-swept, mostly barren island. The inhabitants work hard and have contact with the outside world only twice a year, when a supply ship arrives. Occasionally, the ships arrive with new residents, as in the case of William and his mother; and, later, an unexpected ship with the arrival of a mysterious "prisoner." 

The art is luscious—pen and ink and earth toned watercolor. The paper is creamy and the book has some heft. There's a lot of dialogue to follow, which might require some rereading. Queen of the Sea is a thoughtful, suspenseful yet humorous tale that will stretch your graphic novel wings. Hand Queen of the Sea to your graphic novel fans as well as fans of historical fiction. Highly recommended! It's also getting a bit of well-deserved Newbery buzz.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taking Stock - August

Total Books: 40/252
Total Posts: 31
Total Reviews: 17

Debut: 8/11
Audio: 12/69
Picture Books: 5/90

The Good: Read A LOT! Reviewed a fair number. Getting a tad faster at writing them too.

The Bad: Nothing! It's all good!

The List:
213. Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler (8/1)(SLJ)(51)
214. Fever Year: the killer flu of 1918 by Don Brown (8/1)(52)
215. Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesday by Jon Stahl (8/2) (53)
216. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (8/3)(54)
217. Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell (8/3)*(55)
218. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (8/6)*(56)
219. Weirdo by Ahn Do (8/7)(57)
220. Weirdo 2 by Ahn Do (8/7)(58)
221. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (8/7)(59)
222. Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson (8/8)(60)
223. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus (8/10)(61)
224. Mr. Wolf's Class: Mystery Club by Aron Nels Steinke (8/11)(62)
225. Yay for Vacay by Flora Ahn (8/11)(63)
226. Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown (8/13)(64)
227. How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox (8/14)*(65)
228. Making Friends: back to the drawing board by Kristen Gudsnuk (8/15)(66)
229. Zen Happiness by Jon J. Muth (8/15)(66)
230. Will Giraffe Laugh? by Hilary Leung (8/15)(67)
231. I Need a Hug by Aaron Blabey (8/15)(68)
232. Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don't Eat Friends by Ame Dyckman (8/15)(69)
233. The Monster Hypothesis by Romily Bernard (8/16)(SLJ)(70)
234. Camp by Kayla Miller (8/16)(71)
235. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen (8/17)(72)
236. Glitch by Sarah Graley (8/18)(73) 
237. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi (8/19)(74)
238. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (8/21)*(75)
239. Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds by Scholastic (8/23)*(76)
240. Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith (8/24)(77)
241. Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (8/24)(78)
242. Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi (8/25)(79)

243. Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (8/26)*(80)
244. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson (8/26)*(81)
245. Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang (8/27)(82)
246. Roll with It by Jamie Sumner (8/27)*(83)
247. Allies by Alan Gratz (8/28)(84)
248. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf (8/29)(85)
249. Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (8/30)*(86)
250. Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (MG debut)(8/30)*(87)
251. Superman by Matt de la Peña (8/31)(88)
252. Wolfie Monster and the Big Bad Pizza Battle by Joey Ellis (8/31)(89)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Fact Friday: Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang

Image: Chronicle Books
Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang. 134p. Chronicle Books, August, 2016. 9781452135151. (Review of purchased copy.)

Yes, TMS Readers, this is the final Friday of our summer vacation. Enjoy the last few days of summer. Fact Friday features Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang. Bang happens to be one of my favorite author/ illustrators. You may have enjoyed some of her picture books. She won a Caldecott Honor three times—for When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry; Ten, Nine, Eight; and the brilliant, wordless, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher. 

Using accessible language, the story of Little Red Riding Hood and simple shapes, Bang helps the reader understand how artistic composition can evoke emotion. The square, slightly over-size format allows for plenty of white-space. It's uncluttered and helps readers focus. This is a book I will refer to often. If you are at all artistic, Picture This would be a great resource. 

Friday Memes: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Image: Simon & Schuster
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. 194 p. A Caitlyn Dlouhey Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, October 8, 2019. 9781481438285.

Publisher synopsis: Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.

First Line(s): 
THIS STORY was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky.
     But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the...good ones.
     With boogers.

Page 56: Had Stevie known that's what it would take to be one of Marcus's boys, he wouldn't have come yesterday. Or maybe he would have, but he would've said something. Would've stopped Marcus. Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't he stop it?

I absolutely adore Jason Reynold, the generous young man and the phenomenal writer that he is. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

#tbt: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Image: BOT
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Unabridged audiobook narrated by Meryl Streep and a full cast. BOT, October 29, 2019. 

Whenever I attend a large conference with an exhibit hall, I always find the BOT booth to check it. Until recently, they sold audiobooks for twenty dollars a pop and I would always buy five. I was disappointed at Annual to find none for sale, but browsed the display of upcoming titles. The booth manager pointed me at the title they are most excited for. This one. My reaction was not what they expected. I asked,"How can this book be better narrated than by E.B. White?"

One of my favorite and most enduring family memories is of our car ride to ski in Vermont some thirty years ago. Everyone in the car was completely entranced by White's performance and story. It was magical. We went on to listen to his narration of Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little. It seemed a bit sacrilegious to attempt to remake perfection.

Still, Meryl Streep is the narrator. Her performance of The Velveteen Rabbit was simply stunning. Just thinking about it right now and my eyes brim with tears. So lovely.

This #tbt post is also a combo. The book isn't releasing until October, so I could've put it in Waiting on Wednesday; but it's here on #tbt. 

Charlotte's Web was written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. It was published in 1952 and was named a Newbery Honor. Quick, what won the Newbery that year? This Honor book is a great example of how sometimes Newbery committees get things wrong. Charlotte's Web has endured. It was made into an animated musical starring Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte in 1973. In 2006, Dakota Fanning played Fern in a live-action release.  

You may notice that most cover images are linked back to the publisher of the work. Follow the link above to the BOT website and take a gander at the cast list. It is filled with many of my favorites. Generally, I don't love full-cast audio productions. It takes me awhile to get with the flow of constantly changing voices. I think full-cast productions turn the experience into something else—more play than narration. 

January LeVoy is Charlotte. Kirby Heyborne is Wilbur. MacLeod Andrews is Templeton! Other favorite narrators in the cast include Dion Graham, Lincoln Hoppe and Bahni Turpin. So yeah, I'll be setting aside my curmudgeonly prejudice and listening. I'm sure it will be lovely.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Image: Scholastic
Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab. City of Ghosts series #2. 304 p. Scholastic Inc., September 3, 2019. 9781338111040.

Publisher synopsis: Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.

She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass's parents are filming their TV show about the world's most haunted cities. Sure, it's fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there's true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.

When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger. And if Cass fails, the force she's unleashed could haunt the city forever.

Phew! Luckily, I don't have long to wait for this release!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Image: Listening Library
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~10 hours. Read by Sophie Amoss and Kirby Heyborne. Listening Library, January, 2019. 9781984829092. Review of audiobook borrowed from public library. Hard cover courtesy of publisher.)

Twins, Ellery and Ezra, move in with their grandmother while their mother is in rehab. They hardly know her or the town in which her mother grew up. Maybe it's because their mom is an actress and they live in L.A. or maybe it's because twenty years earlier, Ellery's mother was a homecoming queen and her twin went missing. Five years ago, a homecoming queen was murdered at a horror-themed amusement park. No one was ever charged. 

As homecoming approaches, threatening grafitti, spray-painted in blood red is popping up all over town accompanied by grotesque hanging dolls. Then, one of the homecoming queen nominees goes missing. Adding to the tension, is also the unsolved mystery surrounding the hit and run death of a popular science teacher. 

Echo Ridge keeps its secrets but everyone has opinions. Circumstantial evidence points to Malcolm, the kid brother of the prime suspect from five years ago. Ellery, whose addiction to true crime reality television shows makes her rather fluent in detective-speak, has her own list of suspects.

The present tense dual narration ratchets up the tension in this suspenseful thriller. Know that I don't like the thriller/ mystery genre but force myself to read them for my students who do. I enjoyed this one as well as the author's debut, One of Us is LyingWell placed red herrings, likable narrators and an atmospheric setting add to the enjoyment. 

The present tense worked. Mostly. There were a few moments when I was taken out of the story. Color me mostly riveted though a tad disappointed by a late reveal. 

Narrators Moss and Heyborne paced their performances perfectly. The audio was a real pleasure. I listened over two days of prolonged, mindless choring. 

One of Us is Lying is a favorite at my school. I'm sure Two Can Keep a Secret will keep fans happy. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Image: Scholastic
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. 290 p. Cassidy Blake series #1. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., August, 2018. 9781338111002. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Middle Grade Monday features City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab on this penultimate Monday of summer vacay. My fans of horror know that I'm am a scaredy cat when it comes to the genre. But this book is so consistently checked out and student after student have told me that I MUST read it, I put on my big-girl pants and finally got to it. Wowsers! So good!

Cassidy Blake's parents are famous writers and "ghost hunters." They are more interested in studying the history behind the stories and the people who believe than believers themselves though. They are totally unaware that their own daughter can "cross the veil" and that her best friend, Jacob is "corporeally challenged." Cass has had this ability since her near-drowning the previous year. Now, she and her parents are headed to Edinburgh to film a television show about their work and little do her parents know, there are ghost all around them in this 900 year old city.

This suspenseful page-turner teems with atmosphere and tension. Thank goodness there's a good bit of humor to relieve the suspense. Cassidy and Jacob charm as best buds. The Raven in Red terrifies. The setting is so vivid, I want to visit Edinburgh now. And, I can't wait for Cassidy's next adventure. Check in this Wednesday to find out more.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Fact Friday: Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds

Image: Scholastic
Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds. 208 p. Scholastic Inc., February, 2019. 9781338360813. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

It is the penultimate Friday of summer vacay and time for Fact Friday! If you love all things horses, then look no further than, Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds by Scholastic. It's larger format provides plenty of room for the spectacular, crisp color photos of over 150 horse and pony breeds. You will learn about horses in history; horse anatomy; the differences in breed types—hotbloods, warmbloods and western. There's a section devoted to ponies and miniature horses as well as information about caring for them. Perfect for browsing. This is a book you will return to again and again. Don't you want to stroke that cover? Glossary and index at the back. Gorgeous and happy making.

Friday Memes: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Image: HarperCollins
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Skulduggery Pleasant series #1. 384 p. HarperCollins Publisher, May, 2018 (Re-issue). 978008248789.

Publisher synopsis: She's twelve. He's dead. But together they're going to save the world. Hopefully.

The iconic first book in the bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series.

Stephanie's uncle Gordon is a writer of horror fiction. But when he dies and leaves her his estate, Stephanie learns that while he may have written horror it certainly wasn't fiction. Pursued by evil forces, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source – the wisecracking skeleton of a dead sorcerer…

First Line: Gordon Edgley's sudden death came as a shock to everyone—not least himself.

Page 56: 
     "Sometimes. I try not to depend on magic these days, I try to get by on what's up here." He tapped his head.
    "There's empty space up there."
     "Well, yes," Skulduggery said irritably, "but you know what I mean."
     "What else can you do?"
     "With magic. Show me something."
     If Skulduggery had eyebrows, they would most likely be arched. "What, a living skeleton isn't enough for you? You want more?"

This was a reread for me and I reviewed it on Wednesday. But I just love the series and thought the excerpts particularly enticing/ intriguing. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Picture Book Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Image: Scholastic
Cicada by Shaun Tan. unpgd. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic Inc., January, 2019. 9781338298390. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

I can always count on Shaun Tan to cut close to the bone. Cicada stuns. In this picture book for older readers, Cicada is the ultimate company man. In clipped, terse sentences he tells of his seventeen years of loyalty and hard work, of staying late, of meticulous work, and heartbreakingly, of mistreatment by co-workers and bosses. Cicada is an outsider. He doesn't fit it and he knows it. Still, he goes about his work with dignity. When he retires, he receives nothing. He is just told to clean his desk while the boss looks on, presumably to make sure he doesn't steal anything. He has no home to go to and in one devastating illustration, he is shown heading up the stairs as he says, "It's time to say goodbye." 

The page turn reveals a wordless double-page spread of cicada standing on the roof ledge. See why this is a picture book for older readers? All is not lost though and the following wordless spreads allow the reader to let out the breath they were holding. 

Now, I have no great love for cicadas. Right now, as I sit on my deck writing this, I am nearly deafened by their "song." There is a carapace stuck to the screen of my deck door. I do give the buggers props though. Seventeen years of what, gestating (?) underground before emerging for the sole pursuit of mating and living for a scant few weeks of summer. That's determination.

Grey is the predominant color in these textured oil paintings. Cicada is bright green and wears a rumpled grey suit complete with ID badge. His cubicle is one of many in a grey-scape. This book draws you in while simultaneously repelling. You just can't look away. You might, as I did, realize you might not have been kind to Cicada were he your co-worker. He's ugly. He's odd. He talks funny. 

What a way into an introspective conversation with kids! There has been a clamor lately asking for lists of books to teach empathy. This one should be on it. Not to be missed. 

#tbt: Slob by Ellen Potter

Image: Penguin/ Philomel
Slob by Ellen Potter. 208 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Reader's Group, May, 2009. 9780399247057. (Own.)

It isn't often that I get to use this word, but happy penultimate Thursday of the summer, TMS Readers! Yes, we have one more Thursday of summer before I get to see your smiling faces! I also get to use the word penultimate four more times! 

Thanks to Samaaya for recommending Slob by Ellen Potter for #tbt. Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school and bullied about it, even by his gym teacher. Worse yet, someone is stealing the Oreos out of his lunch each day. Owen is also a genius inventor. He'd like to invent a television that shows the past as well as a device to catch his Oreo thief. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. While this is a sad book, it is also laugh-out-loud funny. Owen is a character you won't soon forget.