Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett K. Krosoczka

The Lunch Lady is back! And this time, she's battling...librarians? Weird things are happening around the library, and the Lunch Lady is determined to get to the bottom of it! I think I liked this one even more than Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. There's groany puns (usually on peoples' names) and clever writing (the high school librarian prefers to be called a "media specialist"). Lunch Lady (and her sidekick, Betty) are two awesome female characters who can kick butt and serve lunch - all in the same day.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Boom! by Mark Haddon
The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Into the Forest by Anthony Browne

A young boy wakes up one morning to find his father gone; his mom doesn't know when he's going back. After he sadly wanders around their home, his mother decides to send him to his grandmother's house with a basket of food. She warns him not to take the path into the forest, but it's the quicker way, and he doesn't want to be away from home in case his father comes back. As he wanders through the forest, he finds a number of other kids who all have stories of their own. Unnerved, he picks up the pace, but when he gets to his grandmother's house, he finds something completely unexpected.

This is a sad, strange book. The sadness just radiated off the page, leaving me unsettled after reading it (even though it has what would be considered to be a positive ending) (that still left me with some unanswered questions). The cover captured my attendion: Is his shadow a rabbit? Is that a frog behind the tree? Why is the forest gray? What is that on the right side? The illustrations inside provide many opportunities for eagle-eyed readers to pick out objects from many other folk and fairy tales (a pumpkin and a slipper, a spinning wheel, a cottage made of candy). I was blown away by the skill that these illustrations demand (particularly the spread with Goldilocks, but really all of the pages). While I found it to be a sad tale, for children who are coping with anxiety and dark situations the promise of a happy ending might be just what they're looking for.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney
Me and You by Anthony Browne
The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Wolves by Emily Gravett

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

David Pepin loved his wife. He also loved fantasizing about her death. When his wife dies - from eating a peanut and then having a severe allergic reaction (that was known to her) - the police discover that he was writing a novel based on their marriage that incorporated a number of these fantasies. He becomes their prime suspect as they sift through his lies, her lies, and their odd behaviour. But nothing is as simple as it seems, and the two detectives involved also must confront demons from their past (and present) in order to make sense of this very strange case.

I was expecting this book to be a straightforward mystery/thriller/drama, about a man suspected of murdering his wife. I was not prepared for what it actually was, which was not only the life of David Pepin, but also the fictional (within the story) life of David Pepin, his wife, Detective Hastroll, and Detective Sheppard (who is the Sam Sheppard, accused of killing his wife and inspiration for The Fugitive), and a hit man named Mobius. It's twisty, confusing, and rewards patience and close reading. The women in these stories don't come off that well, as it's told from primarily male perspectives, and that makes it stand out against the "marriage is a ticket to happily-ever-after" line that so many other stories hold up. I finished the novel and I was confused, but it made me want to read more about Sam Sheppard and watch more Hitchcock movies.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Unless by Carol Shields
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan
The Wrong Man by James Neff

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's a Book by Lane Smith

A monkey has a new book, but his friend is curious about it. What is this thing, exactly? Where do you plug it in? Can you use it to get on the internet? Can you play games? Text? Tweet? No, the monkey replies, it's a book. You read it, because it's a book. His friend is confused, but then won over...sort of.

This book has really caught on with people, especially defenders of 'old-school' ink and paper books. It feeds in to peoples' fears that kids, especially, are growing up without an awareness of what books are and how to use them. Is this a kid's book? Kind of. The pictures are big and fun, the story easy to follow, and I think kids would get the humour of confusing a book with something electronic. Then there's the end of the book, the punch line, really, where the Monkey turns to his donkey friend and says (spoiler alert), "It's a book, Jackass." So then it becomes something a bit different. I've seen it promoted both as a kids' book and as an adult humour book, and I think it's both of these things, which is why there's this level of conflict about it.

There's also been a trailer for the book that kind of went viral, which has added to the discussion around the book. If you animate a story and put it online, what does that mean for the content? Can you promote books online, while still trumpeting their off-line abilities? What even is a book anymore? Fun, important stuff.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein
Have I Got a Book for You by Melanie Watt
The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
Madam President by Lane Smith
Read It, Don't Eat It! by Ian Schoenherr

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Boom! by Mark Haddon

Jimbo's life is pretty simple. He loves jam and cheese sandwiches. He has a good friend to hang out with. But not everything is so easy. He tries to avoid his sister, who's dating a scary thug with a motorcycle. His father has lost his job and is kind of lost. He's worried that his teachers are going to send him off to a new school for troublemakers. That's why he and his best friend Charlie decide to plant a walkie-talkie in the teacher's lounge - to overhear them talking about Jimbo. But what they really hear doesn't make any sense at all, and when they try to unravel what it means, they quickly fall into a world full of great danger.

In my ignorance, I really only knew Mark Haddon as an adult author (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Spot of Bother). He's actually written a number of books for kids, though, including 1992's Gridzbi Spudvetch! which, with some revisions and updates, was reissued as Boom! I love the tone of this book. Jimbo treats everything he comes across (whether the making of a cheese sandwich or uncovering an intergalactic plot) with a sharp seriousness. It's a very funny book (particularly the scenes in outer space) with twists and turns. I read it very quickly because I wanted to see where everything was heading.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett K. Krosoczka
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Gridzbi Spudvetch! by Mark Haddon
Stuck on Earth by David Klass

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

White. Black. Blue. Edna is so sick of seeing only white, black, and blue. The snow around her is white. The sky is black. The water that she swims in is blue. She knows there's something more out there, and she's determined to find something colourful to share with her other penguin friends. Just as in Antoinette Portis' books Not a Box and Not a Stick, A Penguin Story is a celebration of imagination and creativity. It's also a visually striking book done mostly in black, white, and blue, with only (spoiler alert!) a few colour touches near the end. This is a great story to share with creative children, as well as a neat book to give to older kids who might feel like they see things differently than other kids.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Red, Red, Red by Valeri Gorbachev
Pink! by Lynne Rickards
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

What do Lunch Ladies do when they're not serving lunch? Probably something not too exciting. They definitely don't fight crime, they don't have secret crime-fighting gadgets, and they don't take on armies of robots, do they? Wrong! As Jarret J. Krosoczka's graphic novel shows, this Lunch Lady doesn't just serve up lunch - she also serves up justice! When a suspicious new substitute teacher shows up, the Lunch Lady is on the case, and she won't rest until she gets to the bottom of everything!

I loved the art and humour in this book. The drawings reminded me of 1990s ABC Saturday morning cartoons, so there was a nice nostalgic element for me, but they weren't dated - they still looked fresh and exciting. Amy Poehler is attached to star in a big screen adaptation of the books, and this excites me so much. Maybe it was because I knew this going in, but I could definitely hear her saying some of the Lunch Lady's lines. I think it's a great fit, and I can't wait to see how it turns out - and I can't wait to read the next book in the series (it has librarians!).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Babymouse #1: Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Punk Farm by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Cafeteria Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dark Song by Gail Giles

Ames led the life that other people dreamed about. Her father had a high-paying, powerful job; her mother decorated a perfect house. She attended a top private school and had everything she could ever want. Her family could drop everything and fly (at a moment's notice) to Alaska to watch the Northern Lights. She was close with her parents and never kept anything from them. Life was like a fairy tale...and then it all came crashing down. Her father lost his job and they ran through their savings. Despite his assurances that everything will be alright, Ames learns the dark truth behind how he lost his job and why he can't find a new one. Betrayed and hurt, Ames feels lost and acts out. The family is forced to leave their perfect life behind and start a new one in Texas. There, Ames meets a guy who seems to understand how frustrated she is, how terribly her parents are treating her. She trusts him and confides in him, and she promises she won't leave him. But she has no idea how dangerous he can be...

First, I have to say how much I love this cover. The image of the flower is so strikingly powerful that I found myself looking at it every time I picked the book up or set it down. Dark Song is really almost two stories, and that's how the book is divided. The first half breaks down Ames' so-called perfect life in Colorado, and the second half details the danger that she meets in Texas. This was another book where I got so frustrated with the parents. Faced with losing everything, her parents retreat into themselves, and Ames acts out in frustration. Her parents yell at her, call her names, and treat her like a servant rather than a daughter. Yes, she's spoiled and naive, but her parents are the ones who raised her like that! But rather than actively parent her, they just go on hating each other and freezing everyone out. I know there are a lot of great parents in YA books, and great teen/parent relationships, but I just seem to have hit a run of books with parents that frustrate me. Marc, too, is terrifying, so I guess it makes sense that Ames' feelings of betrayal from her parents have to be so strong to make Marc seem enticing. Dark Song is not an easy read, but once the action starts, it just pulses toward the end.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Poor Mallory! by Ann M. Martin
The Blonde of the Joke by Bennett Madison
Right Behind You by Gail Giles
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Monday, September 20, 2010

Payback Time by Carl Deuker

Daniel True is better known by the nickname 'Mitch' - short for the Michelin Man. Mitch has spent years covering current events for his high school paper, but in his senior year the new editor puts him on sports. Paired up with Kimi, a photographer that Mitch kind of has a crush on, he's expecting it to be a boring year: basic sports puff pieces, lots of press given to the staring player, nothing too exciting. But when he sees Angel, a new kid at school, showing off some skills, he wonders why the coach doesn't start this potential star. Digging deeper, he can't find any information on Angel - it's like he never existed before Mitch met him. The coach won't let Mitch interview Angel, the city newspaper won't run anything about him, and Angel himself wants Mitch to get lost. Mitch is sure that he's sitting on top of a big story, a story that could get his name out there, so he sets out to get to the bottom of it - even if it means getting in over his head.

Payback Time is a gripping mystery/thriller/sports novel that has enough in it to satisfy fans of any elements. I barely knew any of the football talk, but it didn't matter, because it was both about football and not about football. Mitch was a compelling protagonist. I wanted him to succeed, at his weight-loss and his story, because there was a quality about him that made me root for him. Payback Time reminded me of Gentlemen, where a preposterous idea seems to become a bit more probable, and then it's seen as a reality, in this case because Mitch really wants to believe that he can be an investigative journalist and he can uncover a big story. He grows over the course of the novel and is a different person by the end, but the arc is believable and nicely grounded.

See more about the book at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Gentlemen by Michael Northrop
Gym Candy by Carl Deuker
Love, Football, and Other Contact Sports by Alden R. Carter

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters by Jef Czekaj

Julie has her "What I did on my summer vacation" report all ready to go. It all started when she met up with her Grampa, an internationally - well, actually, a galactically known shark hunter. Through a series of adventures and misadventures they chase the largest shark in the world (also known as Stephen) through the ocean, the desert, the arctic, and even into outer space. Along the way they meet up with some helpful sea monkeys, cat shark hunters, some rapping sea castaways, and Julie's Grandmother, who has some tricks of her own up her sleeve. It's one summer that Julie definitely won't forget!

There's such a nice ridiculousness about this book. It's almost like Jef Czekaj was throwing darts at a wall full of plot points to see what would happen next (and events include a dance-off, a shark hunter convention, walking the plank, and stand-up comedy), but at the same time he clearly has such control over the story. It's often silly but always smart with clever puns and wordplay and visual jokes. This is such a great example of a story that parents and kids can read together, because it will work for both the child and the adult.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hip & Hop, Don't Stop by Jef Czekaj
The Biggest Bear in the World: As Told By Grandpa Kingsford by Julie Teel
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
Meanwhile by Jules Feiffer

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Playing it Cool by Joaquin Dorfman

Sebastian's whole life is built around playing it cool. He's the go-to guy for everyone, no matter what problem they have. He can arrange secret abortions without the girl's pro-life mother finding out; he can talk a suicidal brother off the roof. He can even set you up with the girl of your dreams, get you a new wardrobe, and get you in to the hottest restaurant in town. He's used to solving problems for other people. Now his best friend Jeremy has a problem: he's just found out that his father isn't really his father. In order to find out more about his real father, Jeremy and Sebastian go to visit him - and switch places, so that Sebastian can find out more and Jeremy won't get so involved. But while playing the role of his son, Sebastian starts to feel very connected to the man himself. Could this man also be Sebastian's long-lost father? And how can Sebastian maintain his coolness when everything starts falling apart?

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be "twisty." I admit that, as someone who likes to guess where the story is going, it 'got' me a few times. Dorman did a good job in setting up Sebastian's controlled life so that I could feel it when it starts to run out of control. It's a nice book on the idea of "you can't con a con," as Sebastian finds out the price of the way he lives his life and how he views people. As the walls he's built around himself start to come down, he shows a sad vulnerability that he's been trying to hide and not deal with. The plot seems a bit implausible at times (in much the same way that the movie "Brick" does), but most of the issues were addressed head-on in the book, which went a long way to my willing to suspend belief for the rest.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Dishes by Rich Wallace
Trading Faces by Julia DeVillers
Burning City by Ariel and Joaquin Dorfman

Friday, September 17, 2010

I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio

Achilles is tired of eating bananas. What he would really like to eat is a child! A nice child is exactly what he wants. His mother tries to tempt him with bananas, but he refuses. His father tries to get him to eat some sausage, but he doesn't want any of that. Not even chocolate cake can get him to stop wanting to eat a child. Then, by the shore of the river, he sees a child! But it doesn't go quite the way he was hoping it would...

My favourite part of this book was (spoiler warning), the end. Instead of the crocodile and the child becoming friends, she humiliates him by calling him small and cute, and he goes away determined to eat lots of bananas so that he can get bigger and one day eat a child after all. It was definitely not the ending I was expecting! The illustrations are also very nicely done, with special attention paid to the changing colours of the sky. It's a bit of an odd book, but I enjoyed it, and it might be a good one for sharing with picky eaters.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Crocodiles Are the Best Animals of All by Sean Taylor
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
Brontorina by James Howe
When Stella Was Very, Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu by Charise Mericle Harper

Grace has just learned that her best friend Mimi has a big secret: soon Mimi is going to have a little sister! Grace and Mimi are both thrilled at the idea of there being a new little girl to play with. They think it's perfect timing when a little girl named Lily moves into the neighbourhood and they get jobs as mother's helpers. But when Lily likes Grace - and only Grace - Mimi starts to worry about her little sister not liking her, either. Mimi starts acting weird and not like herself. How can Grace bring Lily and Mimi together, calm Mimi's fears, and put everything back to normal?

I admit it; I thought this was going to be a book about ballet. It's not. The "Terrible Tutu" is Grace's nickname for Lily, who is always wearing a different-coloured tutu. I hadn't read any of the previous "Just Grace" books, and while I might have had a deeper reading experience if I had, I still enjoyed this book very much. I found that Grace is that perfect mixture of free-spirited creative child without being too annoying or cloying. I liked the little sketches and illustrations that were interspersed throughout the text; they reminded me somewhat of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, where the book couldn't stand on the pictures alone but together with the text they made a nice combination.

Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu will be published in January, 2011. I read a review eBook from NetGalley.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper
Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Judy Moody by Megan McDonald
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hip & Hop, Don't Stop by Jef Czekaj

Hop chooses his words carefully; he raps slowly. Hip spits out words lightning-fast, dazzling people with his speed. Both big hip hop fans and artists, they meet at a rap competition. Fast doesn't win, and neither does slow. But by working together, they learn how powerful their collaboration can be. In this new version of the tortoise and the hare, hip hop takes centre stage. There's lots of in-jokes in the background images, most of them playing on the names of rap superstars. There's a lot of cleverness in the wordplay and design, and the illustrations have lots of stuff to engage children. Whether you're a hip hop fan, and Aesop fan, or just looking for a fun children's book, this one is worth checking out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hip Hop Dog by Chris Raschka
The Tortoise and the Hare by Janet Stevens
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
The Message by Felicia Pride
Grandpa and Julie: Shark Hunters by Jef Czekaj

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad

Sweet Little Lies picks up five days after L.A. Candy left off. Jane Roberts, the star of L.A. Candy and would-be America's Sweetheart, was outed as having cheated on her boyfriend with his best friend. Pictures of the two of them ended up in the tabloids and ignited a media circus. Jane has turned to her new friend and co-star Madison for help, unaware that Madison is the one who orchestrated the photographs. Her friendship with Madison has driven a wedge between her and her long-time best friend Scarlett, who is fed up with the show and all that goes with it. With the cameras still rolling, will Jane ever find out the truth about Madison? Will Madison stay one step ahead of the anonymous tipster who threatens to share her deepest secrets? And will Scarlett figure out how to balance her TV life and her real life - and her friendship with Jane?

One of the thrills of reading these books is to think "So...did that happen in real life?" While "Jane Roberts" doesn't always match up 100% with Lauren Conrad, there are so many similarities, especially around the 'scandalous pictures' storyline (in real life, it was rumours of a sex tape - that was allegedly announced by Spencer Pratt, her then-friend Heidi's then-boyfriend). In trying to make her likeable, Jane comes off as a bit dim at times, especially when it comes to boys or the media. Scarlett grows as a character but even she makes questionable decisions for the sake of the plot. The end sets up the storyline for a third book, likely to be centred on Madison and her past.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad
Skin Deep by Taryn Bell
Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell
The Carries Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Molly and Michael have had a lot of chances recently. Their mother just remarried a new man, and they have a new stepsister, Heather. Heather seems to hate them, and their stepfather doesn't think they can do anything right. Then their parents decided to move them out of the city and into a renovated old church in a rural area. There's a graveyard behind the church, and an abandoned falling-down building, and Molly thinks the whole area is really spooky. But that's nothing compared to how Heather is acting. Is she just an unhappy child, or is there something else going on?

Ghosts are creepy, and child ghosts are even scarier. Part of what made this book so scary to me was that no one was believing Molly and everyone was blaming her for things that she didn't do, even though there really was a supernatural culprit. I had a similar reaction to The Dollhouse Murders. Maybe this is why I had a childhood fear of being sent to jail for something that I didn't do (that, and watching Murder She Wrote, Matlock, and lots of other murder mystery shows). And I've never been a parent, so I don't really know a lot about parenting, but the parents in this book seem a little off. Their children aren't getting along, they're unhappy at moving to a new place, and the parents...avoid it all by locking themselves away for their own work. It doesn't seem like the best idea to me. Maybe the father would have noticed that his daughter was practically possessed by an evil spirit if he'd just spent some time with her.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Dollhouse Murders by Betsy Ren Wright
All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn
The Steps by Rachel Cohn

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fabulous by Simone Bryant

The Pacesetters are the hottest girls at Pace Academy, one of New York's most elite private schools. In a school filled with celebrity offspring, heiresses, and hot rising stars, three girls stand out. Starr is the daughter of a top record producer/mogul and a former singer, and she is determined to have the birthday party to end all birthday parties - even if she doesn't have a date to bring to it. Marisol's dad is a high-ranked baseball player, but her parents have been having problems lately and she's wondering if his lavish lifestyle is to blame. Dionne is new to the Pace world and is funded by her dad's music career, but no one knows that she still lives in a working-class neighbourhood - or that her father might be overextending himself financially. With all of this drama going on, it looks like it's going to be a very eventful year at Pace Academy.

I recently took in a School Library Journal Book Buzz webcast, where I saw some of Harlequin's upcoming titles, and I realized that I'm not that familiar with Kimani Tru titles. I love private school/boarding school stories, so this one was a natural one for me to pick up. There was a lot of celebrity/designer name-dropping in this book, but given the world the book took place in, it made sense. The three girls had their own identities and while there was guy/relationship drama, there were also deeper problems for the girls that gave the book emotional weight. I'm looking forward to checking out the next Pace Academy title.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Gossip Girl by Cecily von Zigesar
Chasing Romeo by A.J. Byrd
Patterson Heights by Felicia Pride
Face Value by Taryn Bell
Step Up by Monica McKayhan

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Wind Blows Backward by Mary Downing Hahn

Lauren quietly slips through her high school classes, trying not to draw attention to herself. When people do notice her, it's usually to make fun of her squeaky voice or her good grades. Lauren and her best friend call Spencer the Prince of Jocks because he plays sports, gets good grades and dates beautiful girls. Lauren and Spencer used to be friends back in middle school - bonding over a love of science fiction - but since then they've barely even spoken. That's why Lauren is so shocked when Spencer does start paying attention to her again, but that shock turns to excitement and happiness when they start dating. But she soon learns that Spencer is hiding a troubled, reckless side of his personality and she starts worrying about Spencer's life - and her own.

This is the first non-ghost story of Mary Downing Hahn's that I read, and I was really glad that I didn't miss the supernatural stuff. Lauren sometimes seemed so naive and oblivious to the warning signs that Spencer was throwing up all over the place, but I had to keep reminding myself she was blinded by her first real emotional relationship. There's a lot of angst in this book and while some of the references (and the cover) reveal its early-90s publish date, the storyline is still one that would resonate with teens today.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters
Crash Into Me by Albert Borris

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brontorina by James Howe

Brontorina has a dream: she wants to be a dancer! She has her heart set on joining a ballet class, but the teacher isn't convinced. Brontorina is so tall that she hits her head on the ceiling, and she's so large that no one in the class will be able to lift her! Plus, she doesn't have any ballet shoes. But just when Brontorina thinks that all hope is lost, there just might be a chance for her to dance after all. I think I loved this book so much because I was a bit of a Brontorina when I was little, and it definitely had a long-lasting impact on me. With colourful but gently effective illustrations, Brontorina is a sweet story about not letting your body limit what you want to do and how important it is to follow your dreams. I think it's a great addition to the 'unlikely dancing animals' books that are already out there.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae
Cats Night Out by Caroline Stutson
Elephants Cannot Dance by Mo Willems
Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves
Cha-Cha Chimps by Julia Durango

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Wes Moore grew up in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s without a father in his life and went on to become a graduate of Johns Hopkins, was a Rhodes scholar, served in Afghanistan, and worked in the White House. Wes Moore grew up in Baltimore in the 1970s and 80s without a father in his life and dropped out of high school, worked in the drug trade, and ended up with a life sentence after being involved with an armed robbery that ended up claiming the life of an off-duty police officer. At the same time that the Baltimore Sun published a story about Wes Moore's Rhodes' scholarship, they were also running multiple stories about Wes Moore's involvement in the armed robbery. Struck by the coincidence, Wes Moore was determined to find about more about this other man who shared his name and his background - and to figure out how their lives had ended up so differently.

For a book that focuses on two characters both named "Wes Moore," it was remarkably easy to follow. Moore uses first-person narrative when talking about himself, and third person when talking about Wes. I could easily understand his desire to find out more about this person; there's some kind of thing that happens when you find someone who shares your name (and I think that's why so many people google their name or search for their name on Facebook). Who is this person? What have they done with our name? What life did they have? Moore's story is a sad one at times, a story of Baltimore and the Bronx in the 1970s and 1980s, a story where race and politics played large roles in determining possibilities, and where positive role models were difficult to find and even harder to live up to. This book is definitely worth checking out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Can't Stop, Won't Stop by Jeff Chang
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

Phoebe Rothschild (yes, of the Rothschild family) has happy when Mallory Tolliver started at her school; at last, she finally had a friend that she could be close to. Over the next few years, Phoebe and Mallory grow as close as sisters. Then Mallory's brother Ryland shows up and changes everything. Phoebe falls hard for Ryland, and the truth can no longer be concealed: they need Phoebe to pay a decades-old debt - a debt that can only be paid with her life.

Just as in Impossible, Nancy Werlin takes a real-life reality and mixes it with fantasy and the fantastical. Extraordinary made me want to go learn about the Rothschild family. The manipulation of Phoebe was just horribly sad to read, because it doesn't really need to happen only in a fantasy book. Ryland might be using a 'glamour' on her, but the way in which he insults her, questions her, and completely isolates her could easily occur in a non-supernatural teen novel. The abusive relationship is never glamourized in any way, although Ryland's motivations do become clear and he - like many others - are shown to have shades of gray rather than being purely good or evil. As the book builds towards the end, there are a number of profound questions that Phoebe must deal with: Are we responsible for the actions of our ancestors? Should you sacrifice yourself it would save an entire race? If you don't, if you do nothing, how responsible are you for that race dying out? Can someone who is ordinary ever be extraordinary? What does being extraordinary mean in the context of human life? With all of these questions circling, I admit that I didn't know what Phoebe would choose, and that I didn't know what I wanted her to do.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The World's Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild by Niall Ferguson

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft

Everything in Jonathan's life has been messed up since his brother Telly died. He can't sleep. He barely eats. He's been skipping school, blowing off assignments, and slipping into a dark hole. He's been given one last chance; he could pass his junior year if he does two things: write the story of a dying World War II veteran, and perform the principal's favourite song at graduation. Jonathan doesn't feel like doing either of these things, but the people around him - the people who care about him - aren't about to give up on him.

Jonathan is in pain. Everything about him just screams that he is suffering. He tries to numb the pain through various over-the-counter products. His friends, the Thicks, see it, but aren't sure how to reach him (especially when Jonathan, in his grief and anger, doesn't want to be reached), and his mom is hurting in her own way. I was kind of worried when I started reading it because I didn't know a lot (really anything) about Eddie Vedder, but the novel filled me in on what I needed to know. I liked the way that information was parceled out over the course of the book, and that it came out in ways that made sense to the story. One thing that I really liked was (spoiler? maybe a spoiler warning) that romance and a romantic relationship was not central to this story. There was no magical love interest who came in and fixed everything and that was refreshing. (I would love to read more non-romance-based books that have a female protagonist as well.)

Adios, Nirvana will be released in October 2010.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
None Too Fragile: Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder by Martin Clarke
Metamorphosis: Junior Year by Betsy Franco

Monday, September 6, 2010

I Can Be Anything by Jerry Spinelli

It's one of the most frequently asked questions of children of all ages: what do you want to be when you grow up? This little boy has lots of possibilities: he could be, for instance, "a puddle stomper, apple chomper, mixing-bowl licker, tin-can kicker". This book is like a love letter to possibilities, the idea that you can be anything you want to be. The exuberance bounds off the page along with the little boy and his rabbit friend. The rhymes and illustrations make it a natural choice to share with children, but, as the cover points out, it's also good for children-at-heart who might be poised on the cusp of their own future.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Can Do Anything that's Everything All on My Own by Lauren Child
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss
Walk On! by Marla Frazee
Grow Up by Sandy Turner

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Appetite for Detention by Sloane Tanen

A cast of chicks brings to life this high school slice-of-life story from artist and author Sloane Tanen. Made from what looks like pompoms, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes, these chicks face problems like fitting in, relationship drama, and their appearance. At first I had a bit of trouble telling the characters apart, but it was remarkable how quickly their own individual personalities took over. I happened upon this book after seeing "Dinner for Schmucks" and its mouseterpieces, which contributed to my reading experiences.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl
Sock Monkey by Arne Svenson and Ron Warren
Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same by Sloane Tanen
Coco All Year Round by Sloane Tanen
The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child

Saturday, September 4, 2010

America's Next Top Model: Skin Deep by Taryn Bell

The America's Next Top Model series continues with Skin Deep, the third book in the series (I wasn't able to find the second book, but I was able to pick up the thread pretty quickly). The competition is narrowing down and heating up. Alexis is getting close to a hot male model. Lindsay decides to break the rules to restart her career. Chloe deals with her mother's interference and Shiva-Rose has distractions (in the form of a guy) from back home. Plus, the rivalry with another model almost reaches a boiling point. The competition all hinges on an historical shoot with vintage costumes - and this time, one of the girls will be eliminated from the competition.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Face Value by Taryn Bell
Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Zigesar
America's Next Top Model Fierce Guide to Life by J.E. Bright
The Interns: Fashionistas by Chloe Walsh
Poseur by Rachel Maude

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala

Rand (full name Miranda, formerly known as Mandy) always lived in her sister Xanda's shadow. Now, she lives in the shadow of Xanda's death. Her sister was wild, loud, and captivating; Rand is alone, scared, and unsure about her life and her future. She wants to go to an arts school; her parents want her to consider business. Her boyfriend Kamran has been spending an awful lot of time with her so-called best friend. And then there's that whole positive pregnancy test thing...

I've wanted to get my hands on this book ever since I first saw the cover. I know you can't judge a book by one, but there's something so hauntingly perfect about the cover. (In the end, I actually ended up getting this as an eBook for my new eReader, and the cover didn't come through as much!) Rand had so much pain: her sister's death and the subsequent banning of anything Xanda-related from her parents' house, her artistic frustrations, boyfriend trouble, best friend trouble, former best friend trouble, mom issues, and now pregnancy. It's overwhelming, but rooted in a very real, character-driven way. The ending seemed a little bit too-neatly wrapped up, there it hinted at future struggles, and I could understand why Rand would just want to view everything in as positive a light as possible. I was surprised to see that this was Holly Cupala's first novel; I can't wait to read more.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Zen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Snow Apples by Mary Razzell
I Am Not Emanuelle by Nadia Xerri-L
Would You by Marthe Jocelyn
Jumping Off Swings by Johanna Knowles

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Amy needs a bit of a break from her family. Her mother has been on her case about not looking after her sister, Luann, who needs constant supervision. Luckily, her Aunt Clare is in town, getting her grandparents' (Amy's great-grandparents') house ready to sell (it sat vacant for many years). While staying at Aunt Clare's, Amy discovers a dollhouse that is a mini-replica of the house itself. Soon Amy starts hearing strange noises and the dolls seem to move on their own. As she learns more about Aunt Clare's dark and tragic history, she knows that something dangerous is at work in the house and it's up to her to figure it out.

This is exactly the kind of book I was talking about in my recent post on Mary Downing Hahn. It's creepy, it's strange, and I would have eaten it up as a fifth-grader. (It's still creepy and strange, but I was reading it in a doctor's waiting room, so I think that took away a bit from the atmosphere). The adult characters are kind of puzzling: Amy's mom sees Amy more as a babysitter/Luann's constant companion than as a young girl in her own right, and Aunt Clare swings back and forth between impulsively wild, responsible adult, angry child, and just plain scary. Of course, if someone was coming to me with a story of dolls that moved on their own, I don't think I would believe them at first, either. Anyway, I'm glad I found this book. Don't miss the review at Bookshelves of Doom (it's what prompted me to seek out the book).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Ghost in the Family by Betty Ren Wright
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
The Name of the Game was Murder by Joan Lowery Nixon

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hamlet by John Marsden

Life has become too much for Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, to bear. His father recently passed away, and the body was barely in the ground before his mother married his father's brother. Now his father's ghost has appeared to Hamlet and informed Hamlet that he was murdered by Hamlet's uncle/step-father/new King, and that he will be never be at rest until the killer is caught. Hamlet decides to seek the truth about his father's death, and once he does, take vengeance on those who have wronged him.

In this prose adaptation of Shakespeare's well-known play, Hamlet's story is the same one that people have observed for centuries: Hamlet tries to avenge his father's death but is undone by hesitation and indecision. It's pretty much a straight-up story transfer, and I think that that is a smart idea, given how many high school students are assigned the play. Not that this is dumbed down - it has all of the complex storylines and wordplay. It does give attention to characters in a bit of a different light; I think Ophelia benefits the most from this, making her end even sadder.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney
Hamlet by Adam McKeown
Illyria by Elizabeth Hand