Sunday, July 31, 2011

Obama: The Historic Election of America's 44th President by Agnieska Biskup and Seitu Hayden

In 2004, Barack Obama captured national attention when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In 2008, he appeared at the DNC again - this time to accept the party's nomination for their presidential candidate. Where did Barack Obama come from, and how did he rise to this important position? Find out all of the details in this book that captures all of the exciting moments from the 2008 presidential race.

In many ways it feels like we just had the 2008 election, but the 2012 election is already gearing up, and there have been lots of other books written about Barack Obama. I enjoyed this book; it was detailed but kept the story moving well. I think the graphic novel/comic style is appealing and a fitting way to tell the story of a presidential race that was dominated by images. The book is pretty fairly balanced and in my opinion doesn't take cheap shots at any of the other politicians who are also featured in its pages (at the end of the book I see there is a Sarah Palin book listed; I'd like to read that one as well). The back of the book also has a glossary of terms and books and websites for further reading.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley provided by Capstone Publishing. It's official publication date is August 1, 2011.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes
Yes We Can: A Biography of President Barack Obama by Garen Eileen Thomas
Hope! by Eric Stevens
Malia and Sasha Obama by Jennifer M. Besel

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Babysitter Murders by Janet Ruth Young

By all accounts, Dani is a pretty normal high school student. She gets good grades, sings in the chorus, and is a star tennis player. She also does a lot of babysitting. But lately Dani's been having some strange thoughts. She wonders what it would be like to reach out and grab a teacher in a very personal spot. After her best friend confides in her, she feels like she might scream gay slurs at the top of her lungs. And most troubling of all, she can't stop thinking about harming the little boy that she babysits for. She's worried that one day she'll act on these thoughts and she doesn't know what to do. But when she finally starts asking for help...that's when things get dangerous.

There's a nice ambiguity in the title. Does it refer to someone who is murdering babysitters? Or does it refer to a babysitter who murders? (I also love the picture on the cover). I found the first part of the book to be a touch slow (Dani has a lot of bad thoughts and reactions to these bad thoughts), but once she told the boy's mother about what she saw, I couldn't put it down. It was sickening to watch how practically the entire community turned against Dani, to see how her name and identity were leaked through online articles and blogs. They called her a 'potential killer' and advocated for violence against her. The subject matter may put some people off reading the book, but I found it to be a very interesting look at the power of public opinion, mass hysteria, and mental health.

Check out Janet Ruth Young's website.

I received a review copy through the Simon and Schuster Galley Grab program.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Opposite of Music by Janet Ruth Young
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Unthinkable by Shirley Duke

Friday, July 29, 2011

Karen's Little Sister by Ann M. Martin

In Karen's Little Sister, Karen's little sister (Emily Michelle) has been experiencing earaches. It's not fun for Emily Michelle and everyone at the "big house" (Karen's dad's house) is worried about her. But Karen's worry is mixed with annoyance and frustration, because everyone is paying attention to Emily and no one is paying attention to Karen. Meanwhile, Karen's mom and step-father agree that she can have a pet, and then she finds an injured baby bird. She cares for him, names him 'Magic Tastee' (after two of her favourite things, magic tricks and Mr. Tastee the ice cream man), and decides he's her pet. But why does everyone keep asking what she'll do when he flies away?

I describe my Murder, She Wrote books as comfort food, but The Baby-Sitters Club books are more like a Pizza Hut buffet lunch: deliciously cheesy, something you do every now and then, and it's not always as good as you remember it (but sometimes it's better) (although, I own a full set of BSC books and have a good deal of the Little Sister books, so I guess it's also like having a pizza buffet in my living room). Among Baby-Sitters Club fans, Karen doesn't always get a lot of love. I started out reading the Little Sister series before graduating to the regular series, though, so I'll always have a fondness for Karen and her Data-like resistance of contractions.


I think this might be the first appearance of Emily Michelle in the Little Sister books (she was adopted by Karen's father, Watson, and Kristy's mother, Elizabeth, in BSC #24). I'm not surprised that Karen has a hard time dealing with the appearance of a new sister. She's used to being her father's only daughter, and maybe even more than that, she's used to having a pretty large spotlight in which to be the centre of attention. At one point she says that she wants to go back to her other house (her mom's house) because she doesn't have a sister there, which is an interesting thing to say. She doesn't have a physical sister living there, of course, but how does she think of Emily when she's not around her? Has she really understood Emily to be her father's daughter? Am I officially thinking too much about the BSC universe?

On a different note, according to BSC #24, Emily's full name is Emily Michelle Thomas Brewer. Is that a little strange? I get that the 'Thomas' comes from Elizabeth's side, and it's her other kids' last name, and this child now shares a name with everyone on both sides of her family. BUT it was her previous married name (and as far as I know, she now goes by Brewer). So essentially, she's named her child with her second husband after her first husband. I'm not married, I've never been divorced and remarried, and I've never had and/or named a child. But is this common? I suppose it became her name as soon as she changed it...but still? And now I've definitely thought too much about this family.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Karen's Witch by Ann M. Martin
It's Not Fair by Anita Harper
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
Kristy and the Mother's Day Surprise by Ann M. Martin
Bye-bye, Baby! by Richard T. Morris

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Populazzi by Elise Allen

Cara's social reputation was sealed the day she had a urine-related mishap in kindergarten. No matter what else happened, everyone at school saw her as that same little girl. Then her family moves to a new school district and she has the chance to reinvent herself. Guided by phone calls with her best friend Claudia, a scholar of all things popular, Cara is determined to climb the ladder of high school life and emerge as Supreme Populazzi - the most popular girl in school.

I was initially quite skeptical when I saw that this story had a lot of rules about high school popularity (something I'm not always into), but this book hit the ground running and it wasn't long before I could hardly put it down. This is simply a well-written book. There are so many smaller details that I really appreciated, like how Elise Allen had Cara talking slightly differently depending on who she was hanging out with (most obviously with the Populazzi). Cara was, at times, painfully naive, but never in an unbelieveable way. She was a very real character who was sometimes slow to learn the consequences of her actions. And even while making bad decision after bad decision, I still wanted her to come out of this with some peace and happiness.

(Spoilers below)
One of the parts that I can't stop thinking about is how Cara's parents (her mom, stepfather, and eventually her biological dad) acted. Midway through the novel, her stepfather basically disowned her because she had been lying about her new emo-lifestyle (changing into new clothes after leaving the house, wearing lots of makeup, charging all of this to her emergency credit card). I get that he feels betrayed, lied to, and that he doesn't know who she is, but he went immediately to essentially cutting her out of his life. Then her mother blamed her for their marriage problems. I was glad that another character told Cara how wrong this was, because I thought maybe I was missing something. And whether it was genuine or not, neither parent seemed to be open to Cara changing or growing in the least; they wanted her to stay exactly in the box that they've placed her in. And while not in the story as much, Cara's father was also exhibiting questionable behaviour. Who gives a keg to a teen throwing a party and doesn't expect people to get drunk? If you don't want a wild party at your place, don't fuel it with a keg! But don't get me wrong - I'm drawn into the complicated characters who exhibit these behaviours and don't see it as a fault of the book or the author. Parents in teen novels are so often completely good or bad with no shades of gray, and this book practically lives in the gray.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

See more at Elise Allen's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
Elixir by Hilary Duff
All the Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Addie on the Inside by James Howe

Everyone thinks they know who Addie is. They've created these opinions based on what they can see: what she looks like, what she wears, how she acts in class, who's she's friends with. But does anyone know the real Addie? Her friends, her family, her boyfriend? Can any of them understand who she is on the inside?

Verse novels work so well at showing the inside thoughts and concerns of characters. Do people think in prose or verse? Maybe a bit of both, which is what Addie on the Inside has. It's a strong look at a strong female character who is just starting to think about who she is and what she wants her life to be. She struggles with the pressures of high school, dating, and friendships while wanting to stay true to herself. This book can definitely stand on its own (this was my first introduction to Addie), but I think readers of The Misfits and Totally Joe might understand more of the references than I did.

I read an advance review copy courtesy of the Simon & Schuster Galley Grab.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Misfits by James Howe
Totally Joe by James Howe
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Troublemaker by Andrew Clements

Clay Hensley is known for two things: being good at art and getting in trouble. The principal has a file on him that's as thick as a brick. His latest prank involved drawing a picture of a donkey that looks just like the principal. Clay thinks it's fun to get into trouble and then try to talk himself out of it. Clay's brother, Mitch, though, is worried about Clay; Mitch just got out jail, and he's worried about the road that Clay's going down. Is it too late for Clay to change his path - and does he even want to?

In a lesser writer, this book could come across as preachy or too heavily message-y. Andrew Clements, though, has such a talent for creating characters who are three-dimensional and placing them in such a realistic school environment. Clay doesn't magically change overnight and suddenly become a 'better person.' Similarly, the adults aren't all good (or all bad) but have flaws as well as their positive characteristics. Will this be as popular as some of Clements other titles? Time will tell, but it's definitely worth a look.

See more at Simon and Schuster's website.

I got an advanced copy from the Simon & Schuster Galley Grab.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Frindle by Andrew Clements
No Talking by Andrew Clements
It's a Book by Lane Smith
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
The Lemonade Crime by Jacqueline Davies

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Cats of Mrs. Calamari by John Stadler

Mrs. Calamari and her cats have moved into a lovely new apartment. Everything is perfect - until her landlord Mr. Gangplank announces that starting on Sunday there will no cats allowed in the building! Does Mrs. Calamari have a plan, or will this turn into a catastrophe?

On a scale of things that are adorable, cats in disguise are pretty darn cute. I love the interplay between the text and the illustrations; there are lots of things going on in this book. For example, at one point Mr. Gangplank says that his dog, Potato, does not like cats. This is an excellent chance for caregivers and children to look at the illustration and see if that's true (Potato is smiling as the cats climb and play all over him). There are lots of two-page spreads that show off the cats and their personalities. And (spoiler alert), it has a happy ending.

I read a review copy from NetGalley.

See more at Star Bright Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Catilda by John Stadler
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
Cats' Night Out by Caroline Stutson
Where's Walrus by Stephen Savage

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright

Carlos has a dream: to be Carrlos Duarte, makeup artist to the stars. He's wanted to be a makeup artist for as long as he can remember. His best friend Angie has a great idea: why not apply to work at one of the makeup counters at Macy's. Carlos is thrilled and nervous; he's sure that he's ready for this big break, but are other people ready for him?

I was interested in this book first because of the title. I knew I wasn't going to get anything that I'd read before. Carlos was an incredibly engaging narrator, but not always a reliable narrator. I liked that; it added to his personality and gave me more clues as to his point of view. The story felt like a little dip into one period of Carlos' life. Some books feel like this is the character's only story worth telling. With Carlos, though, I could tell that he'd been through a lot in the past and that while he was on his way to maybe being Carrlos, famous makeup artist, he would be going through a lot in the future. It (minor spoiler alert) ends in a good place for Carlos, but I definitely don't have a sense of "and he lived happily ever after." (end minor spoiler alert) If anything, I think this book showed how good and bad things can happen at the same time. I think that Carlos is a character that people will really respond to: he knows who he is and acts and dresses how he wants. He's not blind to how society sees him, but he tries not to let it affect who and how he is.

I received a review copy through the Simon & Schuster Galley Grab program.

See more at Bil Wright's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi
Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual by Bobbi Brown
Fabulous by Simone Bryant

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Paige hasn't had the easiest time since her family moved to New York. She misses her friends back in Virginia and is struggling with her relationship with her parents. She wants to be more than she is...but doesn't quite trust herself to start. Buying a sketchbook is the first step; putting herself out there is the second step. Following her artist grandmother's rules has results that she could not have anticipated. Is this the start of a new Paige Turner - or just a slightly different one?

This title is a great example of why you can't judge a book by its cover. Don't get me wrong - I loved the cover and it was the reason why I picked it up. But I was expecting some light, Disney-esque coming of age story. Page by Paige does show an artist coming of age (and she does have Little Mermaid-esque hair), but it's much more layered than what I was expecting. The pages that showed Paige's frustrations were unusual and honest. The illustration showing her mom wearing a happy face mask was one of the scariest pictures I've ever seen. Not everything was dark, though; her relationship with a writer-friend was sweet and tender. I also really liked the moment between Paige and a friend where they talked about how their lives had become Paige-centric; it resonated as such a slice of life moment (and how often in books does a secondary character indicate they're not happy with being a secondary character?) I cared about Paige and wanted her to be happy; this was a very satisfying coming of age story, and I want to see a lot more books from Laura Lee Gulledge.

See more from Laura Lee Gulledge at This Illustrated Life
and more about the book here. And don't miss this interview with her.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sometimes It Happens by Lauren Barnholdt

When Hannah's boyfriend dumps her on the last day of school, she's pretty sure that that means the summer is going to suck. Her suspicions are confirmed when she Ryan, her ex, hooks up with another girl at a party that night. Hannah is devastated and turns to her best friend, Ava, for help. But only a few days later, Ava breaks the news that she's leaving to work at a camp for the summer. Before she leaves, she asks her boyfriend, Noah, to look out for Hannah. Hannah gets a job at the diner where Noah works, and before long the two of them are getting close. Really close. Too close?

Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. The chapters alternate between Hannah starting her senior year of high school and recounting what happened the past summer. At first it was a bit confusing; with so many characters talking about 'the summer,' I wondered if maybe this was a second book in a series and I had missed the first one (this is happening to me a lot since I started getting books through Galley Grab and NetGalley). But once I got used to the format, it just kind of clicked for me. I liked the conversations that Hannah and Noah had about Ava, pointing out that we often know people from only one perspective, and other people see them in other ways. Hannah definitely makes mistakes and doesn't always do the right thing, but I was engaged by her as a character, and wanted to see how everything was resolved. I think this title will have appeal for teen readers.

See more at Lauren Barnholdt's website.

I received an advance review copy through Simon and Schuster's Galley Grab.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Two Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt
Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Twelve Dancing Princesses by Brigette Barrager

Every morning twelve princesses wake up to find that they are completely exhausted. They drag around the palace all day unable to keep their eyes open. Curiously, their shoes are also worn down. The King is perplexed; what is going on with his daughters? He challenged all of the best minds in the kingdom to find out what's happening to the princesses. The palace cobbler thinks he might have an idea what's going on. Will he be able to save the princesses?

I was a huge fan of Brigette's artwork on Etsy. I'm pretty sure I loved it even before I saw the ShelfTalker post on her (linked below), but that doesn't really matter. I have a lot of her prints and I've given many sets of the Librarian Paper Dolls as gifts. So I was really looking forward to seeing her version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It's just a lovely book. Her style is retro and modern at the same time and perfectly suited to a book like this, where there are lots of flowers dresses and facial expressions. I can't wait to see more of her books as they come out.

Here's Brigette's blog.

Here's the blog post from PW's ShelfTalker: Please Would Someone Do a Book with Brigette Barrager? It has a ton of examples of Brigette's artwork.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hansel and Gretel by Cynthia Rylant
Alice in Wonderland by Jon Scieszka and Mary Blair
Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant and Mary Blair
The Weather Report with Sam Sparks by Alison Inches and Brigette Barrager
Cheer: Confessions of a Cheerleader: Pyramid of One by Zoe Evans and Brigette Barrager

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clean by Amy Reed

Christopher is addicted to meth, but his mom is addicted to denial. Eva used painkillers and marijuana to deal with the death of her mother. Jacob used alcohol to deal with his anger until he was involved in a terrible accident. Kelly used cocaine and alcohol to deal with her life. Olivia is convinced that she has nothing in common with the other four. She's not addicted to drugs. She just needs to be perfect. Perfect weight, perfect grades, perfect life. In order to start to healing, though, she will need to acknowledge the truth about what brought her to rehab. In order for all of them to move forward, they will have to be honest with themselves and each other.

Even though the narrative traveled back and forth among the five teens, I feel like I got to know Christopher and Kelly the most, followed by Olivia and Jason, and then Eva. Eva had a third-person style of talking that effectively distanced herself from the other teens, but also distanced herself from me as a reader. I liked how these teens were presented as being so complicated; there was no easy answer for them to be 'cured.' Even if they are able to stay away from drugs and alcohol, they have a lot of things to work through: self-image, self-worth, parental relationships, ideas about the future, sexuality. I can see this being a strong book with teens who are looking for titles about people who face and deal with challenges in life.

See more at Amy Reed's website.

I read a review copy from Simon and Schuster's Galley Grab program.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Beautiful by Amy Reed
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Purge: Rehab Diaries by Nicole Johns

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Jane loves animals. She has a stuffed chimpanzee named Jubilee who is her constant companion. She watches as the squirrels run around the trees outside. She learns all about birds, spiders, and plants. She’s very curious about nature and respects the natural world. Jane loves to dream about one day living in Africa, living with and studying the animals around her. And Jane, who grows up to be Dr. Jane Goodall, will one day watch her dreams come true.

I can’t remember ever being so impressed with the art direction of a book. It’s not just the illustrations, which are lovely. It’s how the book is put together. The browns and greens and muted colours evoke ideas of the natural world. The way that Jane’s world slowly morphs from her backyard into Africa is reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are. The cover cleverly has Jane’s picture included in the middle of a jungle scene, but she’s not actually in the jungle – it’s like a picture of her has been affixed to the background, as if she’s wishing herself there. And, the final picture on the last page of the book fits in so well that rather than being jarring (which it had the potential to be), I can’t think of a better way for this book to end. Some of Jane Goodall’s own childhood drawings and writings are included, and the level of detail and the precision in the drawings is remarkable. Rounding out the visuals are older prints of animals and wildlife similar to what Jane Goodall might have seen when she was growing up. The text, while taking a backseat to the illustration, is also strong. Do not miss this book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:

With Love by Jane Goodall
The Watcher by Jeanette Winter
Art by Patrick McDonnell
Jane Goodall: A Twentieth Century Life by Sudipta Barhan-Quallen
My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder

April Bowers can’t believe her luck when she’s paired with Brittany in gym class. Sure, Brittany doesn’t recognize her and thinks she’s new, but that doesn’t matter to April. Before long, she’s eating lunch with Brittany and her friends and learning the secret rules of popularity. In order to belong, April must swear an oath to the Lipstick Laws. Some of it makes sense, like don’t double cross your friends, or date their exes. Other rules are harder to follow, like the ones about fashion, weight maintenance, and doing everything for the good of the group. When a misunderstanding has Brittany spreading rumours about April, April realizes just how terrible Brittany really is. Afraid that her social life is over, she discovers that there are other people out there just like her – girls that have been backstabbed by Brittany. Together these Lipstick Lawbreakers are determined to teach Brittany a lesson!

Books like this make me feel old, because all I wanted to do was sit April down and give her some advice. I’m officially the old person in these stories. Beyond that, though, I never really clicked with April as a character. She was really quick to jump over to Brittany and ideas of popularity, betraying herself in the process. But even more than that, though, was I never really saw why I should like her. She’s mean to the guy who has a crush on her (like 'Saved by the Bell' Lisa/Screech mean), and when she does decide to go out with him, she turns him into someone else (despite everything she went through with Brittany). Her ‘aha’ redemption moment at the end never felt quite earned, and she basically gets everything she wanted, anyway. I like the idea of girls who’ve been bullied by someone like Brittany banding together and being there for each other, but I felt there was too much focus on revenge. I did like many of the supporting characters, though, particularly the ones who had more shades of gray to them. This is Amy Holder's debut novel, and I'm definitely intrigued to see more.

See more at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Check out Amy Holder's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

I read a review copy from NetGalley but The Lipstick Laws is out in stores now.

Read it with:
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow
The Karma Club by Jessica Brody

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross

Clementine is a triplet, but she’s always been an outsider. Her two other sisters are identical to each other – identical twins in a set of triplets. She looks differently than they do. Even their names (Olivia, Odette, and Clementine) set them apart. But she’s had most of her life to deal with that; it’s something else that’s causing family drama. Her father – their father – is missing and doesn’t want to be found. Only one of the girls knows where he is, and she’s very reluctant to tell. With the truth comes spilling out, decades of lies and betrayal will come with it.

I was immediately intrigued by the concept of triplets with two identical sisters and one fraternal sister. How could she not struggle her identity at least in some way? Clementine’s life, though, was also defined by so many other people: her father, her college boyfriend, her mother, her best friend. The chapters alternated between the current drama in Clementine’s family and memories of her life from childhood to the present. Information was parceled out in bits, just as the fictional characters parceled out their own stories. I really liked this book. I finished it in one sitting because I had to know what happened next. I expected it to be a story about one person – Clementine – but instead I think it’s more a story of a family at the point where they stop being a single family and start being many separate linked families.

I received a review copy from the Simon and Schuster Galley Grab.

See more at Gwendolen Gross' website and don't miss The Other Sister's website and the information at Simon & Schuster.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross
The Adults by Alison Espach
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Girls by Lori Lansens

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Except If by Jim Averbeck

An egg is not a baby bird. But a baby bird can hatch out of an egg, except if it's a snake instead. And that snake will slither along the ground, except if it's a lizard, it has legs to walk on. And so this story unfolds with twists and turns around every corner. Do you think you know what comes next? You might...except if things go in an unexpected direction.

Except If is a book that will get children's imaginations flowing. Kids who are used to straightforward storytelling will instead find a story that zigs and zags all over the place. I did wonder if it would be confusing for kids, and I suppose it still could be, but each of the exceptions is so logically presented that when you're reading it, it seems to make perfect sense. The layout of the book and the repeating refrain of "except if" will also help readers to know when a transition is coming. The book also uses the endpapers in subtle ways; I didn't realize that the smudgey black mark on the right hand side of the front cover was the egg cracking until after I was rereading the book. I love it when authors, illustrators, and publishers use endpapers in fun ways.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck and Tricia Tusa
Perfect Square by Michael Hall
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Friday, July 15, 2011

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

Period. Aunt Flo. The Curse. There are lots of different ways to talk about menstruation, and just as many ways to not talk about it. Menstruation is big business, yet the word 'period' wasn't said on TV until 1985. Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation takes a look at menstruation from biological, historical, economic, social, and cultural perspectives, casting a new light on one of the world's oldest taboos.

There is a ton of information packed into this book. Some of it reads like something you'd come across in Women's Studies 101, but it's way more fun than any of my text books ever were. Straightforward, accessible writing is accompanied by lots of pictures, images, and advertisements (and for most of it, if I wasn't seeing it, I wouldn't be believing it). As someone who has, from time to time, thought about buying "Modess...because" advertising prints to hang as art (near my bathroom, naturally), I knew I would likely enjoy this book. It got me thinking about a lot of things: why are periods still so taboo, even when talking with my closest friends? when's the last time I saw a femcare ad happening in a bathroom? where and how did I get my own thoughts about my period? why do so few historical accounts talk about menstruation? There are a ton of wonderful tidbits to glean from this book: Lysol's connection to menstruation, the period vaccuum, the tampon/pad wars, water and advertisements, cultural and religious approaches to menstruation. If you've ever been curious about any aspect of menstruation, this book is an excellent place to start. Read it, and then share it.

Find it at IndieBound.

Check out Flow: The Book's website.

Read it with:
Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation by Elizabeth Arveda Kissling
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World by Judy Grahn

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Otto's Orange Day by Jay Lynch and Frank Cammuso

Otto loves the color orange. He loves it so much that when a genie gives him the opportunity to make a wish, he knows just what to wish for: everything should be orange! At first everything seems awesome, but then Otto starts realizing that maybe not everything should be orange after all... I love TOON books. They're fun, clever, and have such great humour. Otto's Orange Day is no exception. Divided into three chapters, it's a good choice for readers who are making the jump from reading together to reading on their own. The storyline of 'be careful what you wish for' isn't new, but I love how Otto handles it, and I admit that I was surprised by how the ending was resolved. Definitely check this (and other TOON books) out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith
Benny and Penny in the Big No No by Geoffrey Hayes
Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso
Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever by Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch
Be Careful What You Wish For by R.L. Stein

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

Katie doesn't know what it's like to fit in. People look at her funny; she makes them feel uneasy. She doesn't mean to, but every now and then she forgets to use her hands to turn pages in books or to set the table. She can move objects with her mind. Plus, people are unnerved by her silver eyes. She used to live with her grandmother, but her grandmother died recently, and now she lives with her mother in an apartment complex. Some neighbours are suspicious of her, but for the most part, things are going pretty well. Then two things happen that have the power to change everything: a mysterious man shows up asking lots of questions about Katie, and she discovers that there might be other kids out there just like her...

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking "they just don't write books like this anymore." Are there anything out there right now like the Apple Paperbacks? I can't really put my finger on what it is about the book. Katie is a smart girl and a good character. She's not always 100% likeable but I found her to be very sympathetic. You can see that she's dealing with what she feels is her mother's abandonment and the fear that her mom will turn on her just like other people have. She's worried about being framed for things that she didn't do while being scared about what she has the potential to do. Underneath that is the not-so-fiction science fiction of drugs that affected children before they were born - this book was published only a generation after Thalidomide was taken off the market. As much as I loved the awesomely retro cover on the library book that I read, I'm glad that it's been reissued with an updated cover (seen above).

I'm pretty sure I found out about this book at A Fuse #8 Production, but I'm not sure when. Here's one of the more recent posts that mention the book.

See Jezebel's take on the book, too.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Don't Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts
A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Underpants Zoo by Brian Sendelbach

Come one, come all to the new zoo in town! Sure, you may have been to a zoo before, but I can guarantee you’ve never been to a zoo like this one! What’s so special about this new zoo? This zoo is The Underpants Zoo and all of the animals wear underpants! The lions have royal underwear befitting their status as kings of the jungle. Leopards wear underwear with spots, and zebras wear underwear with…stars! (Did you think I was going to say stripes?) Hippos, crocodiles, monkeys…they all wear underwear, just like us! Come on down to The Underpants Zoo and see these wild animals (and their wild underpants) for yourself.

In the hands of another author/illustrator, this could have been a wasted opportunity, but Brian Sendelbach keeps the jokes flowing and the underwear in crowd-pleasingly bright colours. Yes, it may be a one-note joke, but it’s a one-note joke about animals in underwear, so it definitely has an audience. My favourites were the sloths in their comfortable underpants and the octopus wearing four pairs at once, and when I got to the dolphins…well, I'll let you discover that one on your own. I loved the attention to detail in the pictures (a “U.Z.” on a pair of underpants, the penguin eating a popsicle, the characters who appeared in the background of some pictures but didn’t get their own pages, hinting at a depth of animals in the other parts of the zoo). If you know a young reader who loves animals or underpants, try this book on for size.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo by Ayun Halliday and Dan Santat
Bear in Underwear
by Todd H. Doodler
Dinosaurs Love Underwear
by Claire Freedman
By Adam Rex
Dear Zoo
by Rod Campbell

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dead Indeed by M. R. Hodgkin

All of New York's publishing world has turned out to the celebration at the New York Public Library - a new children's book award is set to be announced. It might not have the prestige of the Caldecott or the Newbery, but with a $5000 cheque attached to it, it's certainly attracted the attention of the book industry. Before long, however, the winner will be found dead on a couch in his publishers' offices. Little things had been going wrong at Brewin Books - missing papers, destroyed illustrations - but has someone escalated to murder? Everyone is a suspect, and many people had a motive for wanting the illustrator dead. Will the murderer be discovered before he - or she - strikes again?

I loved all of the bookishness of this book. The opening scene set in the New York Public Library, the discussions about Caldecotts and Newberys, dealing with the slush pile of manuscripts - in many ways this is a perfect mystery for librarians, book sellers, and anyone in publishing. And therein lies the problem (too strong? the issue, then) of books that are so clearly from another time. Several passages reveal attitudes and vocabulary about race that was quite shocking to me. Additionally, there was a casual sexism that just ran through the workplace scenes, even though there were many women in leadership positions (and the author is a woman). There's also a smallish subplot about one of the authors who is harassing one of the women, but it turns out okay, because it's true love after all. Of course, it's important to recognize works in their proper context, and I'm not saying to never read things that have any difficult content, but how do you recommend that someone read this? I guess with caveats like the ones I've just written. It's interesting to think about, especially given the books (Little House on the Prairie comes to mind) that live in public libraries.

See more at A Fuse #8 Production and Collecting Children's Books. That's where I first learned about this book, and I knew I had to read it. A few short weeks later, through the magic of interlibrary loans, I had it in my hands.

Read it with:
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
Student Body by M. R. Hodgkin
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Maureen is not a fan of middle school. She doesn't really have any friends, and she'd rather eat cupcakes than have gym glass. She's definitely not one of the ThreePees - the girls who are pretty, perfect, and popular. She's always stayed kind of under the radar, though...until the day when she sacrifices herself to save Allergy Alice from a ThreePee-led peanut attack. Then Maureen decides that enough is enough. Reluctantly she joins up with Alice and "Beanpole" Barbara to beat the ThreePees at their own game: the 8th grade talent show.

(Spoilers below)

I spent a lot of time while reading this book not knowing quite what to make of it. Maureen is a difficult narrator. How important is it for a reader to like the narrator? I really disliked her (as much as I can like an imaginary thirteen year old) for the first 100 pages of the book. But she never completely lost me, I guess, because I kept reading. And even though I'm still not a fan of hers as a person, I did end up sympathizing with her, especially when she was angry and frustrated and went off her diet in a cupcake spree. I think I might enjoy a second book about these girls more than this first one, because there (hopefully) would be less of Maureen being mean to the other two girls, and more time spent getting to know Alice and Barbara a bit better.

(Also, on another note, are we back to featuring socks on covers?)

I read a review copy provided through NetGalley from Disney.

See more about the book at The Nerd Girls World.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
Amigas: A Formal Affair by Veronica Chambers
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton

Taylor is 14 years old - and has built a Farnsworth fusor. Garrett has figured out how to make a solar-powered generator to heat his entire house. BB contracted leprosy and now studies the science behind the disease. These are just three of the teenaged scientists profiled in Science Fair Season. Far beyond the world of paper-mache volcanoes, these teens are making discoveries that attract international attention - and millions of dollars in prize money and patents. All of this competition comes to a head at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: the Super Bowl of science competitions. Join Judy Dutton as she goes behind the scenes and shares all of the stories, dramas, and discoveries during science fair season.

I thought I would like it, and I ended up loving it. It's got a ton of crossover potential (adult/teen, fiction readers/nonfiction readers, science fans/non-science fans). The science parts were accessible for people like me who have very little science backgrounds; I don't need to know the ins and outs of what the kids were doing, just that they were doing it. I think my favourite stories were of Kelydra , the Erin Brockovich-esque scientist who didn't just try to show how dangerous chemicals were but also came up with a better way to fix them, and Kayla, who used music and repetition to help teach concepts to children with Autism. All of the stories and students were just so great, though, that at one point I summed it up with 'I just want everybody to win everything.'

I read a review copy at NetGalley. It was provided courtesy of Hyperion.

See more at Judy Dutton's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese
Letterati by Paul McCarthy
American Bee by James Maguire
How We Do It by Judy Dutton

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

When Eddie's father committed suicide, he left a giant hole in her life. Eddie's mother is barely functional; she rarely gets dressed and has trouble with her own grief, let alone Eddie's. Eddie's best friend tries to be there for her, but he won't tell her everything that he saw on the night that her father died, and that's driving a wedge between them. So when Eddie meets Culler Evans, a former student of her father's, she's desperate to make some kind of connection with him as a way to keep her father alive. But as she grows closer to Culler, she could also be coming closer to a very dangerous situation.

One of my favourite parts about Fall for Anything was that I had no idea just how dark it was going to get. There were so many possibilities and they were all so possible and it kept me hooked and guessing. I was terrified that Eddie was going to get hurt (emotionally, psychologically, physically) but I knew that she had to hit some sort of bottom before she got better. I love Courtney Summers' writing - if you haven't read anything by her, pick up one of her books (three so far - check out her website here). Also, on a non-content note, I love the feel of her books - the actual, physical books. Well done with that, St. Martin's Griffin.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Five Minutes More by Darlene Ryan
The Mitochondrial Curiosities of Marcels 1-19 by Jocelyn Brown

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

It isn't easy being in love with Hamlet. He's the Prince of Denmark and is followed everywhere by a security detail. He's also a romantic playboy who makes regular appearances in gossip columns. Ophelia has known Hamlet for as long as she can remember and is used to the realities of palace life (her father is one of the King's closest advisers). When she and Hamlet are together, everything feels right. That doesn't stop them from frequently breaking up. She and Hamlet might have a stormy relationship, but it works for them. Then his father dies, and everything starts to unravel. This isn't the story Ophelia told the police. This isn't the story she told the press. This is how it really happened.

In the first episode of The X Files, Mulder notes that Scully wrote her college thesis on 'Einstein's Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation' and says,"Now that's a credential, rewriting Einstein." Part of what I enjoyed about reading Falling for Hamlet was seeing where it crossed paths with the original play. Famous scenes like the "to be or not to be" soliloquy or Ophelia's grief-stricken flower scene are here but changed to fit the story. This is more than just a retelling with updated language; by focusing on Ophelia, it shifts the story away from Hamlet and the royals. They're still there, of course, because Ophelia's story intertwines with them. But this book prompts a lot of questions about Ophelia as a person/character. Why is she so defined by men? Who is she without Hamlet, her father, her brother, Horatio? How does understand sex and sexuality? What does she want out of life? These are interesting questions that come out of the original story and are given a new twist with the contemporary setting of Falling for Hamlet.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet by John Marsden
Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein
Romeo's Ex: Rosaline's Story by Lisa Fiedler

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

43 Old Cemetery Road: Till Death Do Us Bark

Seymour Hope, illustrator-in-residence at 43 Old Cemetery Road, is happy living with Ignatius B. Grumply and Olive C. Spense, but there's something missing in his life: a dog. When one follows him home one day, he's sure that it's a sign. But Mr. Grumply isn't sure that it's right to keep the dog, and Olive is more a cat person - or a cat ghost - than a dog ghost. The dog used to belong to Noah Breth, a wealthy old man who recently passed away. Mr. Breth's bickering children, Kitty and Kanine, have come back to town in search of his wealth. But Mr. Breth didn't make it easy for them, and to solve the mystery of where his money is, they'll have to figure out a series of limericks. Strange things are happening in Ghastly, Illinois, and Seymour is right in the middle of it.

I loved this book; it was funny and clever and had a good story. It unfolds through a series of letters and newspaper articles (characters even write each other when they live in the same house). I loved the formality of it; it's amazing how letters (not email, texting, or messaging) can make something feel old-fashioned. This was the first 43 Old Cemetery Road book that I've read, and even though it was #3 in the series, there was a great part at the beginning that got me all up to speed. I don't feel like I missed anything (I'm going to be checking out the first two, though). The cover art is striking in person (the colours don't come through as fully on a screen) and there are so many small details to uncover and appreciate. A great choice for fans of mysteries, ghosts, word play, or books written in letters.

I received an advance copy through NetGalley, but it's out in stores now.

See more at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You by Kate and M. Sarah Klise
43 Old Cemetery Road: Over My Dead Body by Kate and M. Sarah Klise
Grounded by Kate Klise
The Mummy, The Will, and The Crypt by John Bellairs

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I Wore by Jessica Quirk

What's the secret to looking great? According to Jessica Quirk, it's kind of like a recipe. Based on her popular blog What I Wore, this book shows how a closet full of staples (and a few show pieces) can blossom into a magnificent clothing collection. What I Wore is divided into four sections that match up with the four seasons. The advice is practical and there are lots of tips for people who are working from a limited budget. I think this could be a great gift or resource book for someone who is just starting their career or transitioning from college to the workforce. As someone who is decidedly plus-sized, I'm not sure how applicable all of the 'recipes' are to me, but there were a lot of great ideas about how to manage my closet and build a solid wardrobe.

See more at Random House.

See more at What I Wore: A Personal Style Blog.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
What I Wore Today by Korero Books
Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman
Nina Garcia's Look Book by Nina Garcia
Wear This, Toss That by Amy E. Goodman
Oh No She Didn't by Clinton Kelly

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Secret Spiral by Gillian Neimark

It's just an ordinary day for Flor Bernoulli. After spending a boring day at school, she heads to her favourite spot in Brooklyn: the Sky High Pie Shop. She likes the man who runs it, Dr. Pi, but when he starts talking about magic spirals and cosmic fire, she starts to worry that he's a little bit crazy. Then very strange things start happening and Flor might be the only one who can help Dr. Pi.

It's almost embarrassing to admit, but even with characters named Pi and Bernoulli it took me awhile to realize that this novel centred on mathematical principles. There's also a lot of wordplay (puns, rhymes, poems) going on (twin brothers, for example, are named Mr. Bit and Mr. It). I don't think you have to know a lot about the math behind it to follow the plot, which is good, because I'm not sure how much the target audience might know about pi, Bernoulli, and spirals. I liked the idea of having a book that has so math in it; I think I would have enjoyed the premise as a child and I think there are kids that it will appeal to. The book ends with a sharp cliffhanger (and there are also details introduced earlier in the story that aren't visited again in the book), so it's hard to know quite what to make of it on its own. Look for a second book to build on this one.

See more at Simon and Schuster.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I Want Your Moo by Marcella Bakur Weiner and Jill Neimark
The Unknowns by Benedict Carey
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Vampire School: Casketball Capers by Peter Bently and Chris Harrison

Lee Price really likes going to St. Orlok's Academy, because that's where they teach him all about being a vampire. Recently they've been learning how to turn into bats. It takes a bit of work, but Lee is starting to get the hang of it. There's also a big casketball game coming up against the Chaney Street Werewolves, but once the game starts it looks like not everyone is playing fairly. Can Lee come up with a plan before it's too late?

Vampire School looks like it's going to be a fun series that has appeal for both boys and girls. This first book combines the supernatural with sports, friendship, and (spoiler alert) fair play triumphing over cheaters. I knew I would enjoy it from the opening 'montage' of pictures that show Lee practicing being a vampire: fang flossing, bow tie tying, cloak swishing, and, my favourite, scary staring. I look forward to seeing more books in this series.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley.

See more at Albert Whitman & Company.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Little Vampire Goes to School by Joann Sfar
Vampire School: Ghoul Trip by Peter Bentley and Chris Harrison
Kylie Jean, Hoop Queen by Marci Peschke
Mermaid Mysteries: Rosa and the Water Pony by Katy Kit
Night School by Svetlana Chmakova

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mermaid Mysteries: Rosa and the Water Pony by Katy Kit and Tom Knight

Rosa and her friends are all excited about the upcoming carnival in Mermaid Bay. Anyone can enter to perform a spectacular display. Rosa, Jasmine, Melody, and Sula want to win the grand prize - a pearl necklace! They've even called themselves the Waterbabes and are planning to ride a Water Pony. Rosa's extra excited because her cousin, Coral, is visiting, and she's super-talented. But Rosa's feeling a bit jealous of Coral, and Myrtle and Muriel, two mermaids from school, are determined to sabotage the Waterbabes. Will Rosa be able to work things out, or will this show be over before things even start?

Mermaids are so hot right now. They're definitely having a pop culture moment, and that's why I picked this book up to read. Rosa and the Water Pony not only has mermaids, but it also has jewels, a horse, cute illustrations, and a nice story about friendship and working together. This definitely has the potential to be a big crowd pleaser. It was a little weak on the mystery side, but it's a short book, so that was okay. The end of the book also has a preview for another book, Jasmine and the Treasure Chest.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley provided by Albert Whitman & Company.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Karen's Mermaid by Ann M. Martin
Mermaid Mysteries: Jasmine and the Treasure Chest by Katy Kit
Dora Saves Mermaid Kingdom by Michael Teitelbaum

Friday, July 1, 2011

I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler

Tess knows exactly what she wants out of school. She wants to make the Honor Society, and to do that she needs excellent grades and a lot of volunteer hours. She wants to study art, so she'll have to build up an impressive portfolio to convince her parents that it's the right path for her. She's really different from her sister, Kristina - the beautiful, popular volleyball star. Then Kristina gets bone cancer, and suddenly everything is up in the air. They don't know how sick Kristina will get. They don't know if she'll lose her leg. They don't know if she'll live. How can Tess keep on living her life when Kristina's facing death?

It's always hard to be so enthusiastic about a book that has difficult subject matter, but there is so much great stuff in this book. Tess is a such a great character.. She feels guilt, frustration, anger, fear, and so much more. I was so involved with the book that when she got verbally slapped by one character, I felt stung. At some points it felt like there was a lot going on in the story and it was all quite dramatic, but I liked that - it reminded me that just because one person is dealing with something the world does not stop. I was a bit surprised by the ending, but it, too, emphasized the theme that the world does keep on turning. I can't wait for her next book, due out this fall.

(I've chosen this post for today because today is Canada Day, and I wanted to celebrate a Canadian author. Check out my other posts tagged as Canadian and then enjoy a butter tart or a beaver tail or poutine or something.)

Visit Janet Gurtler's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson