Monday, December 31, 2012

Mrs. Noodlekugel

Mrs. Noodlekugel
by Daniel Pinkwater
Illustrated by Adam Stower
80 pages

Nick and Maxine just moved into a new apartment.  One day, Nick has Maxine come to his room to see his discovery: a small house surrounded by apartment buildings, with its own little yard.  When they tell their parents, they tell Nick and Maxine not to go there, so of course, they do.

What they find there is bizarre and fun- a little old lady, a talking cat and mice that help them make cookies.  Mrs. Noodlekugel's house has a little fun, magic and excitement!

So, I read this because a couple of my fellow librarians recommended it to me.  I had lots of fun with it, but there were a couple things that bugged me.

First of all- good things.  Yay for a simple chapter book that is not the Magic Tree House series!  It was cute, fun and should keep the kid's attention. While it has a simple plot line, there are enough challenging words that it isn't boring.  This would be a great early chapter book for young readers.

Okay, now to the things that bugged me.  Whether on purpose or not, it kind of talked down to the kids in places.  I don't think they are going to get that mice on cookie dough is not good, but Nick and Maxine talk about it.  In places where contractions could have been used, they weren't.  This especially bugged me when it was when one of the kids was speaking.  What kid says "I did not" instead of "I didn't"?

Anyways, overall view- I will probably still recommend it to kids.  The details that bugged me won't bother the kids (but they might the parents!) and the kids will have fun with this.  Looks like it is the beginning of a series, so lots more fun will be had!  Fun book, just a couple details that disagreed with me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wonder Show

Wonder Show
by Hannah Barnaby
288 pages
Middle School+

Another entry for the YALSA 2013 Best of the Best Challenge!

Portia loves stories.  As she sits in the evening, she listens to her relatives talking and retelling their stories.  But one by one, each of them leaves, until there is only her father and her aunt.  And then even her father leaves.  Left in her aunt's care, she eventually ends up at The Home, a place for wayward girls.

Unable to stand the stifling Home and the memories of her dead friend, she runs away, taking a red bicycle and riding off to join the circus.  There she meets the freaks, the strange people that make up the Wonder Show, the side tent to the regular circus.  Here, the worst thing in the world is to be normal.  Portia is waiting there, just to hide from the people that want to take her back to The Home.

As Portia starts travelling with circus, she gets to know the freaks a little more, and learn their stories.  She makes new friends, learns to stand on her own.  When the men finally find her to take her back to The Home, she has to start writing her own story.

So, if you can't tell by my other posts, I'm not huge on historical fiction, but I LOVED this book.  While very different than my normal materials, it was a great read, and I really enjoyed it.

One of the things I loved about this book is Portia.  She's a little sassy, but you can see behind the sassy she is just trying to survive.  She has been torn from everything she knows and set on her own.  The stories give her a way to cope with this, and help her understand what is going on around her.  She definitely grows in confidence and in compassion throughout this book.

I also really like that although they talk about "freaks" in this book, you get to see the other side of them- what makes them human.  The narration style occasional jumps to the perspective of one of the characters, which helps you get a view inside their heads.  You get one from each of the "freaks," including each of the conjoined twins, and this helps you see that they are fairly normal people, with their own concerns and worries.  This would be a good book to study perceived differences versus reality.

Overall, great book.  The story line, while not incredibly fast, has lots of detail and fun little twists.  Readers can sympathize with Portia and her feelings of abandonment.  The chapters are fairly short and move quickly.  I would recommend to middle school age and older, because of interest and one scene involved the twins.  Good book, I enjoyed it a lot!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Lou! #1- Secret Diary

Lou! #1- Secret Diary
by Julien Neel
48 pages
Late Elementary+

Lou lives with her mom and a stray cat in their apartment in the city.  Not your typical 12-year-old, Lou designs her own clothes, hates playing with dolls, and her homework sends her to shrink.  At least she has a friend and a secret diary to pour her heart out.

When she starts noticing the boy across the street, things start getting complicated in life.  Then a cute guy her mom's age moves in down the hall.  On top of everything else, she has to deal with not only her own love life, but her mom's as well.

I found this book to be very funny and light-hearted. Lou goes through several things that a normal 12-year-old would face, plus some more!  Her lazy mom loves her, her cat thinks she is strange, and her friend rolls her eyes at everything, but still hangs out with her.  I love that her mom is addicted to video games!

I would give this to girls much more than boys.  I would probably start in late elementary aged, through middle school.  Lots of fun, and very cute!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
by Deborah Hopkinson
304 pages
Middle School+

Another review for the YALSA Best of the Best 2013 Challenge!

This non-fiction account of the sinking of the Titanic is related using journals and letters from the survivors of the crash.  Starting with a description of the ship, it covers many details of the voyage and experiences from the passengers.  It covers what it felt like to be on the maiden tip of the Titanic, when they realized they had hit the iceberg, and how they felt as they realized the ship was going down.

Yay! Another non-fiction book!  I actually really liked this one.  I was scared of having scenes from the movie running through my head as I read, but there was such a wide range of photographs in the book, that never became an issue.  I really liked all the photographs so the reader could see what things had looked like before it sank.

Another thing I really liked about this book was the neutral stance it took on situation.  Many people have been very emphatic about how there wasn't enough lifeboats, and rant on about it.  This book presented facts, including the regulations that the Titanic was required to follow, a statement of what was available that night, and the results of the tragedy.  I rarely picked up any hints of judgment about it, or any other controversial issues.  While it mentions what the reactions of other people were, this book is more about presenting facts about the story than taking a stand on an issue.

I also really enjoyed getting the perspective of several different types of people from the Titanic.  We have letters and records from first, second and third class passengers, crew members, and more.  In addition to that, the last sixty pages are bibliography, facts, charts, and ways to find out more.  This book was well researched, well organized, and a great resource to finding more information.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book!  The narrative flowed very well, especially for a non-fiction book, plus it stayed impartial to the facts.  It presented facts, including reactions of people from that time period, rather than trying to pass judgment about what happened.  It highlighted individual stories, giving the narrative a very personal feel, rather than just a presentation of facts.  Read this book!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Summer I Learned to Fly

The Summer I Learned to Fly
By Dana Reinhardt
224 pages
Middle School+

Drew Robin Solo is expecting to spend the summer at her mom's cheese shop, helping clean, cut cheese and make pasta with the wonderful Nick Drummond, the laid-back surfer that works for her mom.  She also has her pet rat Hum to watch over and her dead dad's book of lists to pore over.   While not the most exciting of plans, to Drew, it's life and perfection.

One night, Drew realizes that Hum is missing from his usual spot in her backpack. While frantically looking for Hum, she meets a boy, Emmett, behind the cheese shop.  He sits, feeding Hum the rat pieces of leftover cheese and talking to him. Drew talks with him, and noticies he has a small scratch on his check. As they talk, they start find more in common than they realize. 

This begins Drew's most amazing summer, full of adventure, new friends, worries and carefree afternoons.  But, can she find out what Emmett is really doing in her town?  And what's up with the silver car and what does it have to do with Drew's mom?  And above all, can this little girl really learn how to fly?

So, this was simply amazing.  I'm usually not big into realistic fiction (if you couldn't tell), but I had the hardest time putting this down to do other things.  The story telling is excellent, Drew's voice coming through strong and clear.  It's simple enough that late elementary kids would enjoy it as well, but I'm setting it for middle school more just for age interest.  The things that Drew thinks and feels, I think middle school kids will enjoy more than the younger ones.

This book is all about Drew discovering not only the world around her, but also discovering truths about herself as well.  She has to change, make decisions, break out of her shell, and sacrifice things that she holds dear.  There was a spot near the end that she had to sacrifice something very near and dear to her in order to accomplish something else.  That moment almost broke my heart.  I think the reader really starts feeling for Drew, understanding her perdicaments, and inwardly urges her to go forth into this new teritory she faces.

Another huge theme in this book is perception versus reality, with truth tied in there as well.  Drew has always seen things one way, and when Emmett arrives, he completely changes some of those perceptions.  He really opens her eyes to not only the "real" world, but also to the amazing possibilities that she could never see for herself. 

Overall, great book!  Highly recommended to most kids.  While I didn't tag this if boys, I think the right boy will enjoy this as well as girls.  I would recommend this to ages 12 plus.  Read this!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95
by Phillip Hoose
160 pages
Middle School+

This is a finalist for the YALSA 2013 Award for the Excellence in Non-Fiction.  This review is part of their reading challenge!  Learn more about YALSA, the award, and the challenge here!

Moonbird is based on a small shorebird called a rufa red knot,  known by the number B95.  First seen in 1995, this bird has flown from the southern tip of South America to north of the Hudson Bay every year for 20 years.  Overall, he has flown to the moon and half-way back! 

This book traces a typical year in B95's journey.  We start in South America, where B95 has grown out his flight feathers.  There, he gorges himself on the mussel spat on the coastline, and eventually, feels the urge to go!  He flies through two days and nights to his next stop. And this in only the beginning.

Moonbird was a very interesting read.  The "story" is constantly supported with set in blocks of text with more information, pictures, and stories of people the author met while writing about B95.  The pictures are great, showing lots of different settings and views of the birds. Not only is this book a study of the bird itself, but also of some other connected species, such as the horseshoe crab. 

At first, this book seemed to be very heavy on the environmental protection.  While that remained an undercurrent through the entire book, it lightened enough that I became more interested in the book. The environmental theme is definitely still present, and a reason behind the writing of the book, but information about the bird's amazing journey was more emphasized.  I did like some of the features it had at the end, including resources (where he got his info), what we can do, a bibliography, and an index.

Occasionally, this book almost switched writing styles, from a presentation of facts or telling a story about people who are gathering the information, to something that "supposedly" happens.  This was most obvious during the chapter on the bird's stay in Canada.  Instead of presenting facts, or having someone there collecting information, it changed to telling a possible story about B95's parents, and what they may have been like.  This transition in styles bugged me, and I kept focusing on the "might have" and "possibly" instead of the facts.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book once I got into it.  The information was great and told in an organized manner.  I liked how the author told not only the story of B95, but also how it connects and interacts with the world around it.  The explanation of cause and effect (why the bird went where) was very well done.  I only wish that the environmental bias had been not as forceful and overt.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl
by Ben Hatke
192 pages
Late Elementary+

Zita and her friend Joseph are just playing when they find a meteorite in the bottom of a crater.  Inside the meteorite, they find something that looks like a switch.  Playing around, Zita presses the button, not expecting anything to happen.  When a portal opens, and Joseph is stolen through it, Zita has no choice but to follow through to try and save Joseph.

On the other side of the portal, Zita is in a different universe. She is in the middle of a city that is weird and strange.  All around her are creatures and machines completely unfamiliar to her.  How is she going to find her friend all alone in the middle of this strange city?

This was totally awesome!  I loved it!  Not only was the story line engaging and intriguing, the artwork is beautiful and vibrant.  Something that I look for in a graphic novel is fun artwork that tells the story as much as the words do.  When you can find just as much story telling in the artwork as you do the words, that makes a great graphic novel!

Also, the story line is very intriguing and sets up great possibilities for future books.  I know there is another one at least, and I'm certainly looking forward to reading it!  The way the story is told really helps the reader identify and sympathize with the characters in many different situations.  The story line is engaging, and I really wanted to find out how Zita would save the day!

Another thing I really loved is how Zita managed to develop relationships with multiple people/species/animals in this strange new land.  And she does it through being herself, not some artificial person.  Through her kindness and adventurous spirit, she finds lots of new friends to help her on her journey.  This is a great book about friendship and sacrifices made for friends.

Overall, great book, great pictures, great story!  I will recommend this as much as Amulet, or regular fiction books as well.  Boys and girls will enjoy this, and I will start recommending to late elementary kids. Lots of fun!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Unlocking the Spell

Unlocking the Spell: A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess
by E. D. Baker
272 pages

Annie is out on another quest, this time to save her sister's true love, Prince Beldegard.  He was turned into a bear by a dwarf, and they need to find that dwarf to release the spell. Annie, Beldegard, and Liam set off to discover where the dwarf may be.

Trouble starts right away for the group.  They can't find the dwarf, run into more fairy tale characters, and have an unwelcome addition to their party.  Can they survive the even though "the way is long and fraught with danger"? And what will happen when they cross paths with evil witches and trolls?

So, this sequel to The Wide Awake Princess is, in my opinion, not as good as the original.  While the concept is similar, and still fun, the story telling and characters are not as engaging and entertaining as the first one.

One of my biggest gripes with this book was Annie's attitude in the first part of the book.  During the first book, Annie is working so hard to save her sister and her family. everything she does is for them. But, Annie is so annoyed and grumpy during this book.  To me, it seemed such a complete turn about from before.  And instead of identifying with Annie, I felted annoyed with her and it made it hard to get started in this book.

Plus, this book seems to start very abruptly.  It starts very shortly after the first book, but the transition seemed choppy and contributed to the switch of Annie attitude as well.  The story drops the reader right in, and it doesn't give much background before heading right into the story.

Overall, it was an okay book, but not as good as the first one.  It got better through the later part, and I enjoyed it more, but the first part really bogged me down. Alright, but not great.  Still, I will recommend the series to kids!  If read immediately after the first one, the abruptness might not be such a factor.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Binky the Space Cat

Binky The Space Cat
by Ashley Spires
64 pages

Binky is not just a cat.  He is a certified Space Cat!  This means that he chases aliens (bugs), builds rockets and plans to travel into outer space!  But when he realizes travelling into space means leaving his humans behind, can he do it?

So, Binky is so cute!  I just love him! Binky is smart, active, plus a cat. Who couldn't love that! 

This book, and the follow-ups have great illustrations and simple text, so they are great for beginning readers.  But, the humor is fun enough that older elementary kids will enjoy it too. 

Fun series!  I laughed at them a lot!  I will definitely recommend for boys and girls!

Friday, December 7, 2012

False Prince

False Prince
Jennifer A. Nielsen
352 pages
Late Elementary+

Sage is an orphan, stealing food on the street and pennies from pockets.  When he is bought from his orphanage by a nobleman and taken away from all he knows, everything changes. With two other boys, he is taken to a remote mansion and the lessons begin. Instead of his biggest care being where his next meal will come from, it's figuring out what this nobleman wants and how he can escape from him. 

Sage quickly figures out that he has not been taken to be a servant, but to imitate a missing prince whom everyone assumes is dead.  With the recent death of the rest of the royal family, this noble has the plot to be the master behind a puppet prince.  But first, the noble must teach Sage or the others to become the prince. 

Sage does not like this at all.  He wants to return to his previous life, and ignore all the politics.  But when failure means death, he must succeed.  While managing to rebel at every step, Sage still becomes the favored boy to play the prince.  But the more he discovers about this plot, the less he likes it and the nobleman. 

This was a great book!  It's been on my "to read" list for a while, and now that I finally got into it, wow!  While I predicted a little of what happened, there was a lot of "oh my goodness" moments as well.  The plot has a great balance of current events, foreshadowing and action.  Very fast paced and hard to put down.

One big issue brought up: telling the truth versus lying.  Lots of people lie in this book for various reasons.   Some excuse their lies away, so are embarrassed by them, while others hide their lies.  Very few people really take responsibility for their lies.  This looks like this is the first of a series and I can see some of these lies coming back to haunt not only the villains of the story but also the hero.

Overall, I will definitely recommend this book to a lot of people.  Will definitely appeal to boys and girls, and I am very interested to see how this is evolved into a series. I would probably start around 6th grade, mostly because of violence.  No bad language or anything else like that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brain Camp

Brain Camp
by Susan Kim and Laurence Klaven
Artwork by Faith Erin Hicks and Hilary Sycamore
160 pages
Middle School+

Jenna and Lucas are losers.  Neither of them have high expectations in life, except to get through it with as little trouble as possible.  Then, they are offered last minute slots in a prestigious "Brain Camp," guaranteed to make you smarter. 

But something isn't right at camp.  Everyone is getting smarter, but they're also getting super creepy as well.  The one friend that they find completely changes overnight.  The staff are super secretive, and there is a mysterious building on the edges of camp.  Why are kids sprouting feathers and what is with the nasty huge zits they are getting too?

I really liked that the main characters had issues, dealt with their issues, and moved on with life.  They were even able to used skills from their so-called "ill spent lives" to overcome some of the challenges they face.  I loved when they made a Segway-like vehicle out of a lawnmower! 

This was a really fun yet creepy book.  It has it all!  Mystery, love, aliens, and weird happenings.  I had a lot of fun reading it. Boys will love it, but girls will get it too.  Recommending to all!  Age is mostly for material and interest level.  Nothing really inappropriate.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Death Cloud

Death Cloud (Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins Series #1)

by Andrew Lane

336 pages
Middle School+

Fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is expecting his father to pick him up for the summer holidays when his summer is turned topsy turvy.  His father is going off with the army, his sister is sick and need complete peace, and his older brother has no time for him.  So instead of spending the summer at his home, he is sent to an uncle in the country, a tedious and unwelcome solution.  Sherlock is expecting this summer to be completely boring and uneventful.  

Instead, Sherlock is immediately embroiled in plot and intrigue.  Mysterious clouds that don't move naturally show up just after someone is killed. Strange men are moving boxes filled with clothing in secretive manner. And Sherlock isn't quite sure who to trust.  Sherlock must assemble all the puzzle pieces before he gets himself, and others, killed.  

While this book had a slow beginning, it later picked up the pace and was quite fun to read.  At first, Sherlock's character seemed flat and not quite what I expected from the great Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock showed little emotion beyond annoyance and let things happen to him, instead of being active.  Also, he seemed unable to make connections that readers expect Sherlock to be able to make.  Since the character is only fourteen years old, this might be understandable, especially since he is still learning all the skills that Sherlock needs in order to become the character of the Doyle novels.  But he seemed very weak and more like the typical teen, where the older Sherlock is NOT like the typical adult at all.  Eventually, he starts learning how to observe and make connections, and of course solves the mystery at great peril to his own life, but he took a lot of time to get there.  

Readers should not expect a novel exactly like the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels.  In addition to the noted differences above, the novel is much more modern in writing style; it reads like many other contemporary teen novels, not like a classic.  This can be a good introduction for teens to the Victorian mystery genre, but it is definitely different than the older novels.

Overall, I believe I will recommend this, especially for boys needed a mystery book.  Once I got past my expectations for the novel, I enjoyed it.  It was fun to see how Sherlock finally placed all the pieces together. There was plenty of action at the end to keep the reader's attention, plus several twists that kept me eager to read, after the slow beginning.  This novel is the first in a series.  The sequel is already out: Rebel Fire. I look forward to finding that book to!  I hope that since the background has been established, the story will pick up right away!

Quick note: This is one of the first books to be endorsed by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Many other series have been written to try to fill in the blanks of Holmes' life, but this is one of the first to be endorsed by Doyle's estate!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


by Kazu Kibuishi
96 pages

Copper and his dog Fred go on many adventures together.  While Copper is ever optimistic and adventurous, but Fred is more timid and conservative. From jumping over toadstools to flying planes, they go places and see lots of new things. 

This is a hard review to write, not because I didn't love it, but because each page is its own story.  Set up similarly to a Sunday comic, each comic is self-contained.  While there are some similar themes to many of the comics and reoccurring images, each also stands alone.  They do have a couple sets of short story sets that are really fun to read, but mostly single page stories.

Copper reminds me a lot of the Calvin and Hobbes comics.  Kids will enjoy it for the colors and quirkiness, but adults will love it for the deeper aspects.  The illustrations are beautiful, and there is a lot of deep meaning in them.  Easy to read, but gives the reader lots to think about.

I will definitely be recommending this for kids and teens of any age.  Very clean, but fun, and thought provoking.  You can even buy prints of some of the comics at:  Check it out!  Easy read and very enjoyable!