Saturday, March 31, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About Everything You Need to Know About by Daniel Tatarsky

Have you ever thought you needed to brush up on your knowledge of the solar system? Or maybe on the functions of the human body? Sure, many people have those thoughts, but the idea of flipping through a text book (or skimming a wikipedia article) can seem a bit boring. That's where Everything You Need to Know About Everything You Need to Know About comes in. In one neat volume, these colourful pages are packed with facts and figures and helpful visual representations. Need to settle an argument or just wanting to improve your knowledge? This is the book for you!

I was more than a bit skeptical when I started reading this book. In my life I've had so many books about general knowledge foisted on me that I've grown tired of them. I was so happy to find out that this book easily stands out from others. The key is the pictures. Not just illustrating the concepts, they give a visual representation of things like showing religions by number of followers. Reading this on a black-and-white Kobo didn't do it justice, but in print or on a tablet the colours and pictures will be quite vivid and easy to follow. Plus, I learned stuff! (I'd never heard of 'umami' before!) This book is equally at home in a young student's bedroom or on an adult's reference shelf and can easily be enjoyed by both - including those who are wary of general knowledge books.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Thunder Bay Press.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Everything You Need to Know About Everything You Need to Know About the Universe by Chris Cooper
Dan Dare: The Biography by Daniel Tatarsky
I Before E (Except After C) by Susan Randol

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lou! #1: Secret Diary by Julien Neel

Secret diaries aren't rare in literature; everyone from Charlotte Bronte to Laura Palmer seems to have one. But Lou's secret diary is something different, because Lou herself is a little different. She lives in a messy apartment with her mom (she's never known her father) and has a big, terrible, wonderful, at times debilitating crush on a guy named Tristan. She's trying to set her mom up with the new guy who moved in across the hall while balancing school, friendship, fashion design and video games.

Lou is a spunky, spirited character who I found to be completely engaging. Her energy jumps right off of the page. One of my favourite pages was of Lou running home in the rain only to jump in the shower when she got home. There were no words, just movement. This is my first time reading about Lou; I had no idea of her popularity in France or that this book was a translation of a French work until after I'd started reading. It did take a little while to get used to the rhythm of the story; there was something about it that seemed unfamiliar to me. Maybe it is the difference between an English and a French approach to comics? I haven't read enough French comics (or enough translations) to say anything conclusive. It seemed like it took awhile to get used to the rhythm, but Lou! is only 48 pages long, and I had a feel for it by the end, so maybe it didn't take as long as I thought. The first book, Secret Diary, is being published at the same time as a second book, Summertime Blues, so keep an eye out for both titles.

Here's a cartoon version of Lou that introduces all of the main characters:

 Here's Julien Neel's blog (it's in French).

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books (Graphic Universe).

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Lou! #2: Summertime Blues by Julien Neel
Laser Ninja by Julien Neel
Owly: The Way Home and Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alien Investigation by Kelly Milner Halls

Aliens are a staple of science fiction books and movies, but they don't really exist...right? There are many people all over the world who firmly convinced about the existence of UFOs and aliens. Alien Investigation traces accounts of unidentified flying objects from the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. What's the truth about UFOs and aliens? You might be surprised.

As someone who watched a lot of X-Files growing up (and last summer, when I re-watched the series), I'm really excited to see books like this for a middle grade audience. It's a great age, where kids are thinking critically but also open to exploring fantastical concepts. Alien Investigation summarizes a lot of the historical evidence and reports about UFOs and aliens. The question is not 'will this book convince skeptics about the existence of UFOs?' (Would any book convince skeptics about the existence of UFOs?) Instead, a better question is 'what kind of information will readers find in this book, and how valid is it?' Intensely researched and brimming with eyewitness accounts, news reports, and expert opinions, this book presents a lot of information in an accessible way that can spark or flame an interest in the supernatural. It's a great addition to any library's non-fiction section.

Check out Kelly Milner Halls' website - lots of cool stuff!

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Publishing. Alien Investigation is scheduled to be published on April 1, 2012.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
In Search of Sasquatch by Kelly Milner Halls
Aliens by Judith Herbst
Alien Abductions by Justin Erickson

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting Hatchlings by Bridget Héos with illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch

Are you a crocodilian parent-to-be? Congratulations! You're expecting a hatchling! Wait - make that several hatchlings. The next few months will be a busy time. There are eggs to lay, nests to make, and predators to ward off. And once the babies arrive they'll be so small that they'll completely depend on you for protection. But don't worry - within two years they'll be off on their own. You're about to embark on a wonderful journey of parenthood!

After previously reading about kangaroo parents and parents of larvae, I knew that I was in for a treat with What to Expect When You're Expecting Hatchlings. Baby alligators and crocodiles weren't something I'd ever given a lot of though about before, so I had a lot to learn. This third book has the same tongue-in-cheek humour of the other two, and the illustrations seem zany and down-to-earth at the same time (they have a healthy streak of realism mixed with a large dose of anthropomorphism). This book is a great fit for classrooms, school/public libraries, and the personal shelves of kids who have a curiosity about the natural world.

Learn more about Bridget Héos at her website

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
What to Expect When You're Expecting Joeys by Bridget Héos
What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae by Bridget Héos
Alligators and Crocodiles by Gail Gibbons

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Invitation by Diane Hoh

Cass throws the hottest party of the year and only the hottest kids in towns are invited. This year her parents are out of town, she has a brand new sauna, and an awesome band is going to be playing. But to make sure it's a party that no one forgets, she also has something special planned...something different. Sarah and her four friends were surprised to receive invitations; they aren't in Cass's group of friends at all. Sarah doesn't really want to attend, but her friends convince her to go. It will be a night that none of them ever forget.

(Some spoilers below.)

The Invitation starts off a bit slowly as it introduces characters and sets up the plot, but once the story got going I didn't want to put it down. Some elements were predictable (of course Sarah and her friends weren't invited because Cass was trying to be friendly), but trying to figure out who was behind the creepy turn of events made for a nice suspenseful mystery. Who was the real target? Several of the guests had people from their past who might have been the culprit. I didn't know that this was an older book until I was finished reading it (it looks like it was originally published in 1991), but that accounts for some of the questions/observations that I had while reading the book (for example, why don't these kids call each other on cell phones? And I think something that is described as a huge source of shame in the book is something that, while still illegal, would be less of a big deal now). Still, even with those time differences, this is a creepy, suspenseful mystery for kids who like to read books that might scare them just a little bit.

(The eBook file that I was reading had a number of spelling/typographical errors, but it was also clearly marked as an uncorrected proof, so I do hope that that gets addressed before it's released.)

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Open Road Media.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Silent Scream by Diane Hoh
Virus by Diane Hoh
The Accident by Diane Hoh

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kasher in the Rye by Moshe Kasher

The book subtitle pretty much sums it up: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. Born to deaf parents, Moshe Kasher's life was different from the norm from the start. After they divorced, his parents went in very different ways. His mother (Kasher's primary custodial parent) became a student with a strong feminist streak that manifested through bashing her ex-husband at every opportunity. His father threw himself into his Judaism and eventually married into the Satmars, a Chassidic sect. Before he was five, people were already trying to figure out what was 'wrong' with him, and in what might be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, Kasher later turned to drugs, alcohol, and crime. This is the story of how a kid with a seventh-grade education and a very smart mouth navigated the dark hole that he went down - and how he got back out.

Kasher in the Rye is more than just an awesome title with a clever cover. It's a very funny, very honest, very compelling memoir. In writing about his early life, Kasher points out the factors that had an impact on his life without getting bogged down in assigning blame. The candor with which he writes gives this book an authenticity and it made me root for this messed up boy who was doing such terrible things. There's a part of me that would love a counterpoint memoir from his brother, not because I want to disprove anything in this book or poke holes in it, but I am just so genuinely curious about what things were like from his brother's perspective. Some of the scenes just scream cinematic potential  (the secret intervention from an interpreter, the discovery of a deaf kid at one of his schools), which again speaks to the pictures that Kasher is able to paint with words. I want more from him and his point of view - there is his comedy, of course, but I'm also greedy enough to want more books from him.

Find out more information about him at his website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Teen Angst? Naaah by Ned Vizzini
We All Fall Down by Nic Sheff

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Oddfellow's Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin

Delia is a very quiet little girl; she never says anything and never talks to others. She's just moved into a very different place: Oddfellow's Orphanage. It's home to a unique group of students, teachers, and animals. Delia isn't sure how she's going to fit in with all of these people (and animals), but slowly she realizes that she's found a new kind of family who accept her just as she is.

Thinking about booktalking this book, it would almost be impossible not to sound like SNL's Stefon. This book has everything: an albino child with braids, a family of dancing bears, a well-dressed hedgehog who likes to eat, courses in cryptozoology, a boy with an onion for a head, bear-drawn carriages, a tattooed girl, Haircut Day (it's that day where twice a year the headmaster announces that everyone is going to get a haircut). There's whimsy and oddity and a sweetness. It also has a streak of sadness running though it (the children are orphans and have faced tragedy and loss), and this grounds the book from being too over-the-top and spinning off into a endless circle of cuteness. Information about the orphanage and its inhabitants is parceled out slowly over the course of the book, often coming between the chapters. The episodic nature of the story is great for readers who are still getting used to longer chapter books, and any fans of Martin's art will find lots to pore over. I'm excited to see more from this author and illustrator, so I hope she has another book coming out soon.

Find out more about Emily Winfield Martin at her website. She also has a shop that features art from and inspired by the book.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House Children's Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Black Apple's Paper Doll Primer by Emily Winfield Martin
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
The Girl Who Circumvented Fairlyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Saturday, March 24, 2012

S.A.V.E. Squad #1: Dog Daze by Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Damp Wright

Aneta's life has gone through a lot of changes lately. She was recently adopted and is still adjusting to having a mom and a family. She's terrified that if she's not good enough, she will be sent back to the orphanage. Her English isn't strong and she's very shy and quiet, which makes it hard to make friends. Then she ends up working with three other girls on a community fundraiser project for Founder's Day. She has nothing in common with the other girls and they're having a really hard time coming up with a great idea. Then they find an abandoned Basset Hound, and they get the idea to have a dog-themed fundraiser. But their rival group is determined to sabotage Aneta and her friends, and Aneta is having a hard time convincing her mom that she should adopt the Basset Hound. How is Aneta going to make sure that everything works out in the end?

For such a small book, there sure is a lot going on. Aneta's struggle with her new life comes through in really interesting ways. When the story starts, she's called Annette by her mother but comes to the realization that she wants to be called Aneta, her birth name. She's still getting used to the idea of being a "Jasper" and thinks that she has to mold herself into someone that she isn't in order to get to be able to stay with her mother. Even the way she refers to her mother, as Mom, is a small point that illustrated the distance Aneta was putting between herself and the idea that she had a 'forever home.' She would say things like "I have to talk to Mom before I can do that," as if the woman's name was Mom and rarely possessive phrases like "my mom." I was a bit surprised to see a very dark scene involving the discovery of the Basset Hound, later named Wink - someone attempted to kill him by throwing him into a lake. This was a very fast way to set up the 'bad guy' as a truly terrible villain - who else would want to kill a dog? The mystery of discovering the identity of the attempted dog murderer had an almost Scooby Doo-like quality about it; I almost expected the person to exclaim that they would have gotten away if not for those meddling kids. Religion and church life are threads that run through the book, tying the plot together, and at several times the girls talk about being Christians. Parents and kids who are looking for a series featuring strong girls and cute animals wrapped up in an overtly Christian message should definitely keep an eye out for this series.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Barbour Publishing.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
S.A.V.E. Squad #2: The Great Cat Caper by Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Wright
What a Pair #1: Double Trouble by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Gabby's Stick-To-It Day by Sheila Walsh

Friday, March 23, 2012

Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

1985 is a pretty terrible year for Apron. As if it wasn't bad enough that her mother died, her father has taken up with her mom's nurse - who's now pregnant. Her father has retreated into his academic life, leaving Apron alone with the woman who hates her. Apron's friends are growing distant and her grandmother can only help so much, and she might even have to give away her pet guinea pig. The only bright spot in her life is Jesus - not the actual Jesus, but the guy who played Jesus in a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar. His name is Mike, and his aunt lives next door to Apron's family. As Apron gets to know Mike, she learns about what a great guy he is and spends time helping out Mike and his boyfriend Chad with their flower shop. But even this happiness comes with dark clouds, because Apron learns about other people's homophobia and Chad keeps getting sicker and sicker.

I could tell when reading it that this was a story that meant a lot to its author. All books, yes, mean a lot to their authors, but this story seems like it is deeply connected to Jennifer Gooch Hummer. You don't start writing this book because you think it's going to be a fun story. And yet, saying that somehow sells it short. Parts of Girl Unmoored are very dark and sad, but it's not defined by despair. Apron in particular is a fascinating character. Her process of dealing with her grief and frustration mixed with the more conventional transitions of growing up allow for her to be a character all her own. The entire book takes place over a span of a few months, showing how quickly one's life can change.  Spoiler alert: get some Kleenex along with this book, because by the last few chapters I was definitely needing some.

Learn lots more about Girl Unmoored and Jennifer Gooch Hummer at her website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Fiction Studio Books.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Bummer Summer by Ann M. Martin
Positively by Courtney Sheinmel
Same-Sex Marriage by Tricia Andryszewski

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal

This is not the summer that Sirena wanted. Her parents are divorcing, her best friend is away at camp, and she's been sent off to spend the summer with her aunt. Sure, her aunt lives near a beautiful beach, but her house is haunted, and there's not much to do. Then Sirena catches a glimpse of the lifeguard who works on the beach...and she can't get him out of her mind. He's not like an ordinary guy; there's something different about him, and Sirena is determined to figure out what it is.

I'll be honest: one of the reasons that I was drawn to reading this book was because of the cover. White sand beach, beautiful blue water, and a very fit half-naked man? I imagine that it will make for an eye-catching display in stores. But now to what's on the inside. One of the things that Deborah Blumenthal really nailed was the self-absorption of a teenager. Sirena is quite wrapped up in her own drama (and at the beginning of the book I thought that she was much younger than in her late teens because of the lack of perspective she was showing about her parents' divorce). Her emotions change in an instant, she can be reckless, and she doesn't always think about the consequences of her actions. Themes of healing, spirituality and the supernatural give this book a deeper grounding than being just a light teen beach read, and that could resonate with readers who are looking for something with a bit more going on.

Learn more about author Deborah Blumenthal at her website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company; the eBook is being published by Open Road Media.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
Fat Camp by Deborah Blumenthal
What Men Want by Deborah Blumenthal

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ghostbusters Volume 1 by Erik Burnham, Dan Shoening, Luis Antonio Delgado and Tristan Jones

It's widely known that when there's a ghost on the loose, the best people to call are the Ghostbusters. But things have been a little strange lately. Ray's had a terrifying dream - or is it a premonition? - and Dr. Spengler wants to delve inside his brain. Meanwhile, Winston and Venkman are investigating a ghostly encounter in an apartment complex...but they're not prepared for what they find. At the same time, the very existence of the Ghostbusters is under threat...if the four men can manage to get out alive. This volume is probably best appreciated by knowledgeable fans of the series. I've seen Ghostbusters,  but only the first movie, and I had some trouble knowing who was who and what was going on. The plot moves along quickly and the illustration is creepy and, when the story calls for it, satisfyingly disgusting. I had to read it through a few times before I got a sense of what was happening, which I don't think the target audience will have to do, but it seems like a fun and suspenseful story for fans of the franchise.

(Note: this post is based on the first issue of the volume, not the entire volume. I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of IDW Publishing. )

For fun, here's the trailer for the original Ghostbusters movie:

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Ghostbusters: The Other Side by Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, and Drew Geraci
The Real Ghostbusters: Which Witch is Which? by Dan Abnett and Anthony Williams
Ghostbusters by Nathan Johnson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Michael Recycle and the Tree Top Cops by Ellie Patterson and Alexandra Colombo

Michael Recycle, Environmental Super Hero, is ready for a vacation. But where will he and his trusty sidekick, Tin Can Stan, go on holiday? They decide on a beautiful Redwood forest but quickly discover a terrible foe: deforestation! Fashion queens Celine and Delphine are chopping down the forest to make paper for their magazines. It's up to Michael Recycle to show them the error of their ways and save the trees!

Environmental picture books for kids have really found an audience in the last several years as parents and teachers are looking for fun ways to get messages about social responsibility out early. I was afraid that a book with a character named "Michael Recycle" would be a bit too much of  a 'lesson' for me, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Yes, Michael Recycle is passionate about treating the earth with respect and saving the environment, but there's also humour in the text and illustrations that softens the message without diluting it. I did pause a bit at the idea of magazine paper being the thing to fight against (shouldn't the publishing world stick together?) but was pleased to see how it was resolved (by promoting environmentally sound business practices).

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of IDW Publishing.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
Redwoods by Jason Chin
All the World by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

Monday, March 19, 2012

Miss Annie #2: Rooftop Cat by Frank Le Gall with illustration by Flore Balthazar

Miss Annie is excited with the new little door that allows her to go inside and outside as she pleases. Before long she is staying out all night and exploring the many rooftops around her house. That's where she spies a group of rival cats who have infiltrated the neighbourhood. Will Miss Annie and her friends be able to protect their homes?

This is an odd little book. Don't get me wrong - it's a fun book with beautiful art. Miss Annie is a great character: strong, a hint of mischief, inquisitive, loyal. But there were times when I felt that I was reading a comic or graphic novel for adults. There's a fair bit of attention paid to animal sexuality and the process of making babies - never really in so many words, but definitely present in comments and glances. (Spoiler alert) There's also a death of a main character, something that might be upsetting to young readers to see in a graphic novel about animals. And the text sometimes has the odd phrasing of a translation. But the art and the heart of the story (and the chance to see the world from Miss Annie's point of view) might make it a good choice for readers looking for a quiet story with a European sensibility.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Read it with:
Miss Annie #1: Freedom! by Frank Le Gall with illustration by Flore Balthazar
Lou! #1: Secret Diary by Julian Neel
Hamster and Cheese by Coleen AF Venable

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Catch by Rick Jasper

It was a one-in-a-million play known simply at "The Catch." Footage of the catch found its way to news programs, sports highlight shows, and YouTube. Suddenly Danny has fans cheering for him, people writing to him, and girls interested in him. A European businessman has a plan for Danny to wear the Ocelot brand of sports clothing; it's a deal that will make Danny a lot of money. But not everyone is happy for him. Are they just jealous of his success?

The Catch isn't just for sports fans, but I think that baseball fans will be the ones who gravitate towards the book. Danny is a likeable enough character who gets swept up into a messy situation; he's not perfect, but his actions are understandable. Readers who enjoy this book will want to check out the other books in the new 'Travel Team' series. The storyline, writing style, and length make this a solid choice for young readers who might not think of themselves as readers, while the page count will satisfy teachers who require books to be at least 100 pages long. This is a great pick for school, classroom, and public libraries.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Recruited by Suzanne Weyn
Plan B by Charnan Simon
Out of Control by Rick Jasper
Play Ball by Nunzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, and Jackie Lewis

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittinger and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

A young girl and her mother are moving into a new house. Her mom says it's going to be an adventure...but the girl thinks it's more like a disaster! The house is a mess, there's garbage everywhere, and the neighbours don't exactly seem friendly. The girl is ready to give up; even worse, her mom is losing her faith in having the house of her dreams. How can any good come out of this situation?

There's a lovely sense of ambiguity about the set-up of the book. It's not spelled out why the mother and daughter need to move; some ideas that came to my mind were divorce or a finance-based downsizing. Similarly, the little girl isn't given a name, and neither is her mom. By not being too specific, the reader can fill in their own ideas and personalize the story. I also loved the progression of the illustration and how the pictures changed from having a gray, washed out tone to being vibrant and colourful. The illustrations will appeal to kids who like realistic styles (some of the pictures almost look like photographs), but there's also a dreamy, misty quality that's unlike many picture books that I've seen. This could be a good choice for children who are going through changes in their lives and are looking for a bit of reassurance that things can still turn out okay.

Check out Jo S. Kittinger's website for more information about the author and Thomas Gonzalez's website for more information about the illustrator.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Peachtree Publishers.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Mooshka: A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
Rosa's Bus by Jo S. Kittinger

Friday, March 16, 2012

50 Underwear Questions: A Bare-All History by Tanya Lloyd Kyi with Illustrations by Ross Kinnaird

Underwear. Most people use it, but how many of us know anything about its history? Underwear didn't always look like what we use today. It's changed a lot over the decades and centuries, and so have ideas about modesty and coverage. Do you have any underwear questions? This bare-all history has all the answers you've been looking for!

Underwear is a topic of perennial fascination to children. It seems a bit naughty, but it's also so common. With a funny, easygoing narrative style mixed with humorous illustrations, this non-fiction title has lots of reader appeal. It charts how underwear went from simple (loincloths) to elaborate (corsets, long johns, petticoats) and back to simple again (thongs), and all of the points in between. It hints at underwear's connections to ideas of politics and gender and talks briefly about the role that economics and climates play, but much of that is glossed over in favour of keeping the timeline moving (a solid directional choice, given the intended audience for the book). For interested readers, a bibliography and a list of titles for further reading might help to explore some of these themes. Annick Press has a number of strong non-fiction titles for curious readers that are well worth checking out.

Check out her website for a glimpse into Tanya Lloyd Kyi's brain. Ross Kinnaird also has a blog where you can see more of his illustration.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Annick Press.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
50 Burning Questions: A Sizzling History of Fire by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
50 Poisonous Questions: A Book with Bite by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Bear in Underwear by Todd H. Doodler
The Revealing History of Underwear by Katie Daynes
Underwear: What We Wear Under There by Ruth Freeman Swain

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Zip It! by Jane Lindaman with illustrations by Nancy Carlson

Joe and his dad are ready to run some Saturday errands. But his dad's fly is open! Joe tries to warn his dad, but his dad just won't listen. Now it's getting embarrassing! Will Joe ever be able to get through to his dad?

This was a new spin for me on underwear humour; I'd never seen a book about an open fly before! But it's a topic that easily lends to a lot of funny and embarrassing situations. There was a little bit of suspension of disbelief required while reading it (it really took THAT long to tell his father about the zipper?) and I confess that it took me a while to get what was going on in the pictures (the zipper, the fly). Still, I think this book could easily find an audience among young readers who find the subject matter amusing as well as those who want to examine (or X-amine) the pictures a little more closely.

Check out Nancy Carlson's website.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
My Best Friend Moved Away by Nancy Carlson
Start Saving, Henry! by Nancy Carlson
Read Anything Good Lately? by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman
Bear in Underwear by Todd H. Doodler
The Underpants Zoo by Brian Sendelbach

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big Birthday by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Holly Clifton-Brown

Annabelle she doesn't want to have just any birthday party. She wants to have a birthday party that's completely unique and totally fun, so she decides to have it on the moon! But throwing a party on the moon turns out to be a bit trickier than she imagined, and no one's having any fun. What is Annabelle going to do?

(Spoiler alert! Spoilers below)

I was surprised by this story and how the plot developed. I wasn't expecting Annabelle, her family, and her friends to actually go to the moon for her party; I was thinking that the party would be on Earth (in her yard, maybe) but have a moon theme. But no, they totally went to the moon! Once they were there, logic started creeping back in: it's a long way to travel, if you're wearing a helmet you can't eat cake, there's moon dirt everywhere, you can't light the birthday candles. There was something a little sad about this story. Birthdays are such rare occasions that I hate to see one ruined (even if it is ruined by a trip to the moon). This reaction, I think, is also in part because I've read the first Annabelle book, Big Bouffant. In contrast to Big Bouffant, where creativity was celebrated, I almost felt like there was a message of 'don't try to be too original.' But I freely admit that I might be reading too much into that, because after all everyone seems to be happy on the way back from the moon (they're stargazing and looking at planets) and Annabelle is eagerly planning a super-special birthday for next year. Regardless, this is a lovely book. The rhyming text is effortless and unforced; it hums along with a fun voice. The illustrations are truly great at capturing the spirit of the story. I hope there's another book about Annabelle coming soon!

Check out Kate Hosford's website and Holly Clifton-Brown's blog and website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing).

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford
Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown
Moonshot by Brian Floca

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Don't Believe It, Archie! by Andrew Norriss

Strange things always tend to Archie. It's like he has some kind of bad luck curse. And not just things like tripping or getting lost - no, he tends to get mixed up with runaway pianos and kidnapping plots and super-gluing himself to a library. His new friend Cyd isn't quite sure what to make of him; she's never met anyone like him before! What kind of adventures will they have this week?

Reading this book is like an adventure in itself. There's always a question of "okay, how can he top that?!" as I was reading, because I couldn't even imagine the kinds of fixes that Archie would get into next. I loved resolution and how everything comes full circle in the final chapter. I loved reading Amelia Bedelia when I was young, and even though this book is completely different, it tends to have the same kind of hilarious ridiculousness that makes Amelia Bedelia so great. I was afraid that the chapter involving a hurt dog might teeter on being a little dark, but it stayed on the funny side of the fence. I can see this being a hit with boys and reluctant readers.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House and David Fickling Books.

Also check out Andrew Norriss' website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Aquila by Andrew Norriss
Big Nate in a Class By Himself by Lincoln Peirce

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Auggie was born with a severe cranial abormality. He's not going to describe it, because whatever you're thinking, it's probably not as bad as it really is. He's spent his entire life in and out of hospitals, ducking the stares and reactions of the general public. He's always been homeschooled by his mother, but now he has a chance to attend a private school that will help him develop as a student. Auggie reluctantly agrees to attend, setting in motion a course of events that will change not only his life but also the lives of his sister and his classmates.

As Wonder tells not only Auggie's story, it makes perfect sense that it's not only told in his voice. His sister, his classmates, and even his sister's boyfriend and ex-best-friend each get a chance narrating the story, although it does begin and end with Auggie. The narrative caught me because I was so willing to believe one interpretation of events, but it continually reminded me that there are multiple points of view and it's often difficult to know another person's motivation and the road that lead to their actions. (Although, having said that, the plot point of parents photoshopping Auggie out of the class picture is a reminder that children don't have a monopoly on childish, cruel behaviour.) I had to spend some time thinking about the ending of the book. When I first read it, I thought it was a bit too unlikely, a bit too neat (if a book with these characters and these storylines could ever be considered neat). But after thinking about it, I think it strikes a good balance between accurately reflecting something that would happen in the real world versus being too much or unearned. And ultimately, I think the fact that I wanted to think about the book meant that it made a big impression on me; I didn't just toss it aside after reading it because it stayed with me. This book has been getting major press and attention, and it's great to see mainstream media talking about books for young readers. Grab a copy for yourself to see what everyone's talking about.

Check out R.J. Palacio's website.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House/Alfred A. Knopf.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Steve Jobs by Nick Hunter

Apple. Mac. iPod. iPhone. iPad. Pixar. iTunes. These words have become common for many people in today's world. Thirty years ago, the way that people thought about computers, music, movies, and information was quite different. Many people have contributed to the changes in information technology, including Steve Jobs. Tracing Jobs' life and work from his early days until his last, this book from the Titans of Business series provides a close look at a man who challenged people to think differently.

When I first saw this title from Capstone, I wondered if it would really have an audience. It's written for students, but many of today's students have grown up with the internet, iPods and mp3 players, and personal computers. Would the story of a man involved with computers in the 1970s and 80s be of interest to them? Would the man behind things like iPods and iPads be seen as revolutionary in the same way that he was to so many adults? Once I started reading, though, I saw how narrow my view was. This is as much the story of computers and technology as it is a biography of Steve Jobs. Yes, the main details of his life are in here, but it's also a look at how technology has changed so much in a very short time. Steve Jobs and the Titans of Business series would be a strong addition to the non-fiction books in a classroom or library. Like many of Capstone's non-fiction titles, it could be a strong resource for students working on a project or for kids who want to read a biography or a tech title for pleasure.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and the Personal Computer by Donald B. Lemke
Bill and Melinda Gates by Sally Issacs
Inside the Olympics by Nick Hunter

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guy Langman: Crime Scene Procrastinator by Josh Berk

There are two big things going on in Guy Langman's life right now. The first is that his father recently passed away. It wasn't completely unexpected, given that his father was born during the Great Depression, but it's still not something that Guy was prepared for. There's a big hole in Guy's life, an absence that just emphasizes how much of a loss it really was. The other thing is that Guy and his best friend Anoop have recently joined the school Forensic team. Yeah, it might not be as up there as losing your father in the scheme of things, but it does seem to be having an ...interesting effect on Guy. It turns out he's a natural at gathering fingerprints! As the mysteries in his life seem to pile up, can he use his newfound scientific knowledge to make sense of it all?

I really enjoyed this book. Strangely, I read it before The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, which worked out great for me, because I had more Josh Berk to turn to. Guy at first seemed like many other YA male narrators (quippy, occasionally emotionally stunted, likes to make 'your mom' jokes), and I wasn't sure how much I could take. But then he won me over with his quirks, his struggle to deal with his grief, and his humour. There were also a number of strong supporting characters: his parents, his best friend, the other Forensic club members. (vague spoilers, but not really) I liked how the members of the Forensic team often had theories that sounded completely ridiculous, but they'd convince the others how plausible it was, only to find out ended up being completely ridiculous. There are some themes of 'things aren't always what they seem' that are woven throughout the story, relating to everything from people to crime scenes. I want to read more from Josh Berk, and I would like it as soon as possible, please.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House.

Find out more about Josh Berk at his website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Beat the Band by Don Calame

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mooshka: A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis

Karla's quilt, Mooshka, is a very special quilt. It not only keeps Karla warm, it also talks to her! It whispers words in her ear and tells her stories. But when Karla's baby sister moves into her room, the stories stop...and the baby is loud! What's Karla going to do?

The first time I read this book, I was so distracted (in a wonderful way) by the design and illustrations that I barely paid attention to the story. The quilted panels frame the pages as the stories behind the different fabrics are revealed. It's busy and active, but not overwhelming. Then, when the quilt stops talking, the pages change to a solid, dark background. It's jarring and unsettling and a great visual cue that something is not right. When Karla shares the quilt with her sister, though, the frames return and things are bright again. When I finally did read the text, I found a sweet story that celebrates family and family history. This is more than a 'new baby' story, but it can be a comforting story to encourage big brothers and big sisters to open their hearts to a new sibling.

Check out Julie Paschkis' website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Peachtree Publishers.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman
Here Comes Grandma by Janet Lord
Fat Cat by Margaret Read MacDonald

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shattered Hopes: Canada's Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games by Sheila Hurtig Robertson

In 1980, the United States announced that it would boycott the Olympic Games that were being held in Moscow as a protest against the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. It was soon announced that Canada would be joining the boycott. For the athletes who had been working towards this event for years, the decision was heartbreaking, hurtful, and devastating. Some athletes focused on attending the Olympics in 1984 (an event marked by a Soviet-led boycott of the US-hosted games), some continued on as coaches and advisers, while others left their sport altogether. Decades later, the emotions that the athletes, coaches, and officials left are still clearly evident as they look back at the Olympic dream that never was.

Since I became interested in learning about the Olympics, I have known about the 1980 and 1984 boycotts as facts on a page; I had not stopped to consider what it must have been like for the people at the time. Similarly, I had not thought of in terms of a Canadian context: the 1980 boycott followed the 1976 Montreal Olympics and came just before Calgary was announced as the host city for the 1988 games. It is almost impossible to imagine Canada not sending a team to the next winter Olympics after Vancouver; the momentum that comes from building a strong national team would completely disappear. The lack of communication (and clear communication) in 1980 is almost unthinkable today, too. And the timing - many of the Olympic qualifying events were held after the announcement of the boycott.  This analogy might strike some as going too far, but while reading many of the accounts, I couldn't help but think of a mother who gives birth to a baby that she knows has already died when hearing about the athletes who had to go through with the Olympic Trials after they knew there was not going to be an Olympic Team. The loss that many of them speak about strikes that deep. Even for those who had previously been at an Olympics (or would attend a later one), the experience of missing out on the 1980 games drastically changed the course of their sporting lives. It was fascinating to read the different interpretations of what had happened, each coloured by the individual's perspective and memory. The Olympic Team event in Toronto (a dinner and medal presentation for the athletes and coaches followed by a Gordon Lightfoot concert), for example, is remembered by different people as a nice gesture, as too little too late, an exclusive event not open to all athletes, and as a meaningful ceremony. The frustration that comes from now viewing the boycott as a meaningless gesture (particularly when other trade and sport sanctions were not invoked) makes the situation difficult to understand. In many of the interviews, it's clear that vague threats to boycott the 2008 Olympics were present in the minds of the athletes, but it is difficult to picture a boycott of the same magnitude now that the Olympics (and amateur sport in general) occupy a different place in the TV and economic world. The stories collected in this volume tell a story that has too long been silent. This is recommended reading for any fan of Canadian or Olympic sports.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Iguana Books.

See more about Shattered Hopes at Iguana Books

Read it with:
Inside the Olympics by Nick Hunter
Inside the Olympics by Richard Pound
Taking the Lead: Strategies and Solutions from Female Coaches by Sheila Hurtig Robertson

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bittersweet Summer by Anne Warren Smith

Katie Jordan isn't exactly looking forward to the summer. Her mom is singing on tour, so Katie never gets to see her.  Her best friend is going away for two whole weeks. Her neighbour, Claire, has a scheme going on involving their old teacher falling in love with Claire's dad. And now Katie's dad has said that the family might have to move away so that he can find a new job. Nothing is going the way it's supposed to! If the whole summer goes this way, it's going to be an awful summer.

I love the Katie Jordan books. She's such a great main character: confident and smart and struggling to make sense of life as she grows up. The way that she can quickly go from being as practical as a grown-up to childishly insisting on her own way is humourous and real. While I continue to think that Claire could benefit from some therapy, the fact that she's not all bad makes her a satisfying foil for Katie (a character who's not all good, not all the time). As with Turkey Monster Thanksgiving, there is a lot of thinking about what makes a family and how a family can still be whole when it's missing a member.

Check out Anne Warren's Smith's website.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company. 

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith
Tails of Spring Break by Anne Warren Smith
What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
Bummer Summer by Ann M. Martin

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gabby's Stick-To-It Day by Sheila Walsh

According to the Bible, children are watched over by angels. These angels help to keep them safe but also help them to live the best lives they can. Lately Gabby, one of God's little angels, has noticed something about Sophie, the little girl that she watches over. Sophie is a sweet girl, but she gives up on things too easily! Whenever something gets hard, Sophie just quits. Can Gabby do something to show Sophie how important perseverance is?It's not going to be easy, but Gabby isn't going to give up!

This book has the sweetness of the Precious Moments figurines that were so popular when I was growing up. Gabby is an engaging little angel, determined to take care of Sophie and help her to live a positive life. Sophie, too, is a likeable character. She seems goodhearted and genuine in wanting to help others; she just has a hard time following through when things get a bit tough or messy. It's hard to see this being a mainstream crossover success (in terms of being a bestseller), but I can easily see it resonating with parents looking for an explicitly Christian series to read together with their children.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Gabby, God's Little Angel by Sheila Walsh
The Donkey that No One Could Ride by Anthony DeStefano
Jesus: He Lived Among Us by R.F. Palavicini and Steve Cleary

Monday, March 5, 2012

It's a Big World, LIttle Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi and illustrated by Tim Bowers

Poppy is back! After becoming a figure skating star, she has been invited to the World Games in Paris, France! It's a big honour, and she's really excited - and also a bit nervous. But with her family supporting her, she's determined to have fun and do her best. Besides, it'll be a wonderful opportunity to make some new friends! As her best friend Emma said, "Everyone smiles in the same language."

I think I enjoyed this book more than the original Poppy story, Dream Big, Little Pig! Maybe it's because the background world is so developed; Poppy shares the spotlight with a number of other athletes from around the world. Maybe it's because the message is less on "I want to be a star!" and more on how great it is to make friends. As in the first book, Tim Bowers' illustrations are fun and light and make it seem like everyone is having the time of their lives. I was skeptical at first, but now I hope that there's going to be another Poppy book.

Learn more about Kristi Yamaguchi at her website. Tim Bowers has a website, too!

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi
Kristi Yamaguchi by Judy L. Hasday
Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian
A is for Axel by Kurt Browning
Babar's Celestville Games by Laurent de Brunhoff

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Zapato Power #4: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Miguel Benitez

Freddie Ramos is an ordinary kid who has a big secret: he has super speed! When he's wearing his superpowered zapatos (his shoes), no one can catch him. But lately he's been having some trouble getting his shoes to work - especially when they're covered with sticky purple bubble gum! He's traced the gum to a local bully - who also lives in his apartment complex AND is attending the same summer camp. Freddie has his attention occupied with wondering about the bully and trying to learn how to swim - and then his shoes go missing. Is the bully also a thief?

Freddie Ramos is such a fun series for beginning readers. It has a touch of the fantastic (the magical superpowered shoes) but is also grounded firmly in reality. Freddie attends summer camp during the day and makes crafts with popsicle sticks; his mom calls to check up upon him after camp but before she gets home; his father was a soldier who died fighting in a war. There are big lessons and concepts wrapped up in this story (you can't assume that someone is a thief, sometimes your conclusions are wrong) but it never feels like "I'm going to talk about the lesson of the story now." It's easy to see why this series is popular with both kids and adults.

Don't miss Jacqueline Jules' website for more information about this series and her other books.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Freddie Ramos Takes Off by Jacqueline Jules
Freddie Ramos Springs into Action by Jacqueline Jules
Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue by Jacqueline Jules
Zeke Meeks and the Putrid Puppet Pals by D.L. Green
Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Union by Jacqueline Jules

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I'm Not Tired Yet! by Marianne Richmond

Ralphie Mix, age six, has a problem. It's bedtime, and he's not tired yet. How can he be tired when there's a bug running around his room? Or a monster in his closet? There's just so much going on! It's up to his mom to settle him down and get him ready for bed... but Ralphie has a few more tricks up his sleeve!

It was impossible to resist this book once I saw the cover. There was just something about that stubborn face that sold me on this story. I really liked the writing style: the way some lines rhymed, the repetition of certain phrases, the playful-yet-sometimes exasperated relationship that Ralphie and his mom had. The book has colourful illustrations that seem cozy and dreamlike at the same time. The prolonged bedtime routine will be familiar for many parents, and children will find lots of fun animal-esque ways of showing affection that they can build into their own bedtimes.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Don't miss Marianne Richmond's website.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea
The Night Night Book by Marianne Richmond
If I Could Keep You Little by Marianne Richmond

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beep and Bah by James Burks

There always seems to be one sock without a partner, one sock left all alone. Most people just shrug and go about their day, but not Beep. He's determined to find the missing sock's owner (and the matching sock), so he sets off with his friend Bah on a journey across the country side. Maybe the sock belongs to the pig, or the chicken; maybe they'll find the owner just over that big hill...or down in that deep valley...or maybe even under water. No matter where they have to go or what they have to get through, Beep and Bah are on the case  and they won't quit until they reach the end of the road!

Is is an incredibly fun graphic novel for young readers. Beep, a take-charge robot, has personality to spare, while Bah, the monosyllabic mountain goat, is a perfect long-suffering sidekick. The animation world has provided some of today's most interesting illustrators and authors, including James Burks. I loved how vibrant the backgrounds were; they were so detailed and alive and almost seemed to have their own personalities. There's plenty of funny lines and visual jokes and it's easy to see this appealing to both girls and boys. This book is so strong that when I first read it on my Kobo, it was in black and white and still loved it. Definitely do not miss this book.

Don't miss James Burks' website.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Gabby and Gator by James Burks
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins
The Boys by Jeff Newman

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spotty, Stripy, Swirly: What Are Patterns? by Jane Brocket

Patterns are everywhere! There are patterns in nature and patterns in clothing; there are patterns on buildings and patterns in gardens. Patterns can be made up of lines or colours or shapes. They can be spotty, stripy, or swirly; they can be simple or complicated. Sometimes several different patterns can be combined together. How many patterns can you find?

This is a great book for young readers. The photographic pictures very clearly show how different patterns are found in many different places. It also does a really good job of showing how patterns exist for different reasons: for decoration, for order, for sorting, from the natural world. In addition to helping them understand more about the world, a book like this can jump-start a child's imagination; it's not hard to see a child reading this and then going exploring for patterns or including patterns in their own art.

Check out Jane Brocket's website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Publishing.

Find it at Amazon. 

Read it with:
Ruby, Violet, Lime: Looking for Color by Jane Brocket
Spiky, Slimy, Smooth: What is Texture? by Jane Brocket
Building Stories by Isabel Hill