Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, Harcourt Children's Books in Sep. 2007
Author: Gennifer Choldenko

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Ms. Choldenko's book, No Passengers Beyond This Point (my review). I had requested the book, but the author included another book along with that, If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. She explained that this latter book might fit well with my goal of promoting diversity, multiculturalism and acceptance.

I planned to hold off and wait, but this is a uniquely compelling book. I have to admit, it took me a little longer to get into the story, which is told in alternating chapters by two 7th graders.

Kirsten is white and struggles with her weight, her parents who fight almost constantly, her little sister who needs her support but drives her crazy, and the other girls at the exclusive Mountain School who vacillate between friendship and cruelty.

Walk is black and is starting at Mountain School for the first time due to a scholarship, after attending a rough public school where he had good friends but few opportunities. His mother, Sylvia, is a single mother trying to cope and help Walk avoid the dangers she sees everywhere.

Kirsten and Walk don't have much in common besides being in 7th grade at Mountain School and being two of the best students in the class. Even that is starting to slip away for Kirsten when they are thrown together and Kirsten discovers a secret that shakes them both to the core.

This book has an intensely personal feel which will draw kids in. Both main characters are struggling to find a place and identity with school, friends and parents who alternate between helping them and hurting them. Adolescent hormones swirl around as an undercurrent, but the strongest currents are those of finding one's place. I appreciated greatly that the parents were fully developed and complex.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Amy Hodgepodge - All Mixed Up!

All Mixed Up! (Amy Hodgepodge, No. 1)

Amy Hodgepodge - All Mixed Up!, Grosset & Dunlap, May 2008
Authors: Kim Wayans, Kevin Knotts
Illustrator: Soo Jeong

Amy Hodges is starting 4th grade, and is very nervous. She has always been homeschooled, but has asked her parents if she can go to a real school. After her first day, she is not sure whether she made a good decision. Some people aren't very nice, and Amy isn't sure whether she really fits in. When the mean girls say she looks weird, she worries that she won't ever fit in because she is a mix of Korean, Japanese, white and black.

Cupcake Giveaway Update

Oh my gosh! My nephew from Thailand, Henry, was here doing college visits, and I completely forgot to do the drawing. I am so sorry. Somebody throw in a drum roll, please.

It's Raining Cupcakes


The signed paperback copy of It's Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder goes to...

  Vivien!

Thank you to everybody for entering and for your patience with my absentmindedness. In the future, do not hesitate to nudge me if I appear to have fallen asleep.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2nd Crusader's Challenge - Norman Needs a Nudge

For our second Crusader's Challenge, Rachael has posed the following task:
Write a flash fiction story (in any format) in 100 words or less, excluding the title. Begin the story with the words, "The goldfish bowl teetered" These four words will be included in the word count.
Here is my entry, and it is a children's story of a fantasy nature, so I guess it is in my genre:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Sharing - A Wish and a Prayer

A Wish and a Prayer

From now until June, I am teaching my preschool Sunday School class again, so I thought I'd do an occasional post called Sunday Sharing. In each post, I'll share a book with you that I plan to share with my class. After class, I'll update the post to talk about how the kids reacted to the book, sharing their reactions with you.

A Wish and a Prayer, published by 4RV Publishing in June 2010
Author: Beth Bence Reinke
Illustrator: Ginger Nielson

Some of you may remember that back in January, my very first review was of another book by Beth Bence Reinke, In My Bath, an absolute delight of a book. In A Wish and a Prayer, Beth Bence Reinke has again teamed up with Ginger Nielson, who provides lovely illustrations for this story of a young boy, Jason, whose pet parakeet, Sonny, escapes through an open window.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: It's Raining Cupcakes (signed copy to give away)


It's Raining Cupcakes

It's Raining Cupcakes, published by Aladdin/Scholastic March 2010
Author: Lisa Schroeder

Isabel is twelve and lives in the small town of Willow, Oregon. In fact, she's never been anywhere but Oregon, though she longs to travel the world like her Aunt Christy, who is a flight attendant and sends Isabel postcards from all over. Meanwhile, her parents are more interested in turning an old laundromat into a cupcake store, which sounds pretty cool, but not as good as traveling.

When Isabel hears about a baking contest for kids where the finalists get to go to New York City, she sets her mind to creating the perfect recipe. Then her best friend, Sophie, who is practically perfect, also decides to enter the contest. Even worse, her mother thinks Isabel should enter a cupcake recipe because it would be good publicity for the shop, but Isabel isn't sure that's a good idea.

Though the pink, confectionery cover makes it appear as nothing more than a light, fluffy read, the book covers some interesting territory as Isabel's mother struggles with her own confidence and anxieties. Though it is somewhat unusual for a middle grade book to deal with both Isabel and her mother's search for the strength to follow their dreams, the messages are not heavy handed. As you might hope, things end happily, if not fully resolved. Isabel learns valuable lessons about her mother, her practically-perfect friend, and her own ability to think about other people's dreams as well as her own.

I would recommend this book for middle grade and young tween girls. Isabel and Sophie are great fun, and I wouldn't mind reading more about them in another book.

Four stars out of five.

I have a paperback copy of It's Raining Cupcakes, kindly signed and sent to me by the author. If you would like it, leave a comment and make sure you are following this blog. I'll choose a winner on Friday, so don't delay.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: No Passengers Beyond This Point

No Passengers Beyond This Point

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again, my sixth week of this great idea started by Shannon Whitney Messenger. This week, I am pleased to talk about a book that I think may become a classic, No Passengers Beyond This Point by Geniifer Choldenko.

When I was quite young, probably second or third grade, I read The Phantom Tollbooth for the first time. Frankly, I was a bit creeped out, but the story was captivating, and I wound up reading it several more times during my childhood. Mind-twisting and scary, humorous but disturbing, the book spoke to me in some odd way.

That's the kind of book No Passengers Beyond This Point is. Crazy and scary and captivating, it is like a cross between The Phantom Tollbooth and Neil Gaiman's Coraline (the book, as I've never seen the movie).

Friday, March 11, 2011

2011 Kiddo Award Winners

James Patterson's ReadKiddoRead.com announced the first annual Kiddo Awards: books picked as the very best books of the year for getting kids absolutely addicted to reading.

In the first stage of the award selection, the ReadKiddoRead board, children's book reviewers, librarians, authors, and others picked a short-list of forty books which they felt met the criterion. Then, the public was given a chance to winnow that selection down to four, one for each age group. Their mandate:
What makes a book a Kiddo winner? These are the books that kids find unputdownable. These are kids' favorites, and keep them reading. The books that are guaranteed to make your kiddos readers for life.
Below are the winners. In a separate page, I'll list all winners and the runners-up (because once these kiddos have read the winner, they'll need more to read).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

The Girl Who Could Fly

The Girl Who Could Fly, published by Square Fish/Macmillan in Feb. 2011
Author: Victoria Forester

The Girl Who Could Fly is a good book, but it doesn't make me happy to say that. Some books only aim for good, and if they attain that, everyone is happy. I wanted to love this book, and it had the potential, but it fell short over and over. Lots of kids will read and like this book, but the words that kept running through my head were those of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront:
I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, published by Scholastic in Jan. 2011
Author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang

It is seldom that I read a book where the voice of the main character is so crystal clear and perfect that I completely forget there must be an author involved. Lucy is a short, Chinese girl who loves basketball. She looks forward to a perfect 6th grade year, finally out from under the shadow of her beautiful older sister who is off to college. Lucy has a room of her own for the first time, and looks forward to decorating it the way she wants.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Math Doesn't Suck


Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail


It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again, my fifth week of this great idea started by Shannon Whitney Messenger. This week, I'm doing something a little different. While there are many, many wonderful fiction books for middle graders, there are also some very important and worthwhile, even marvelous, non-fiction books.

Danica McKellar is an actress (I will forever think of her as Winnie on The Wonder Years), but she is also a very smart lady. She has written a series of fabulous books about math. Now, I can hear a few of you cringing out there.

What's marvelous about math?

The answer is, there's a lot that is marvelous about math, but a lot of girls don't think so. (Some boys, too, but this post is for the girls.) In fact, a lot of girls are not only scared of math, they think that liking math is bad. Not cool. Not attractive to boys.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Drumroll please - winners for MG book giveaway

My first giveaway features two books I have recently reviewed. I used Virtual Dice on Writing.com to make the selections, as I didn't have a hat handy.

Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer12-year-old Matt Lively is obsessed with trying to somehow stretch time to make summer last indefinitely. Convinced he is living the ideal time of life-in Missouri,1950, between the 7th and 8th grade-he longs to experience extraordinary adventures before he is forced to confront high school, and eventually, boring adulthood. Along with his best friends, Rob Linehart and Wally Carter, Matt begins the summer with pranks, problems and fun. A mysterious and ominous tramp, Thatcher, accosts Matt and Rob and tells them things he should have no way of knowing. As Thatcher captures the boys' attention, he invites them back in time to save a life or two and recover a treasure, but mostly to change history in a way that will preserve The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn for posterity. Join Matt, Rob and Wally on their time-traveling adventure of self-discovery.

Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer donated by Pill Hill Press

...and the winner is: Shannon O'Donnell


Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles #1: The Brimstone KeyA brand new adventure starring The Grey Griffins! Max---the leader Natalia---the brains Ernie---the changeling Harley---the muscle A year ago, the Grey Griffins were just regular kids from Avalon, Minnesota. That was before they learned about the existence of evil fairies, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. Now they are monster-hunters, celebrated heroes, and allies to the legendary Templar knights---but even heroes have to go to school. When the Griffins enroll at Iron Bridge Academy, a school to train young recruits in the fight against the forces of evil, they find themselves at the center of a whole new adventure.

Review copy of The Clockwork Chronicles #1: The Brimstone Key sent by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

...and the winner is: Joanne Fritz


I will contact the winners today to arrange shipment. Thank you to everybody who entered. This was fun, so I'm sure I'll do it again soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker

The Liar Society

The Liar Society, Sourcebooks Fire in March 2011
Authors: Lisa & Laura Roecker

With pink hair and way too many freckles, Kate might be mistaken for an ordinary, happy-go-lucky teenager, but there is nothing ordinary about her. Ordinary teenagers don't get emails from dead friends. Ordinary teenagers don't pit themselves against secret societies. Ordinary teenagers can make it through a tennis match without running off the court and chasing phantoms.
Kate is not ordinary, but she is a heck of a lot of fun, at least when she isn't struggling with the death of her best friend. Dr. Prozac thinks she needs to put it all behind her, but Kate doesn't think it's over. Not by a long shot.

The Liar Society is one of those unique books that fall through the cracks in the bookstore genres. Part mystery, part thriller, part romance, it lives a life of its own that will sweep readers in and carry them along for the ride. Kate is a real teen living in an unreal situation, and you find yourself cheering for her even when she does the most stupid things. (No, Kate, don't get in the car! No, Kate, don't go there alone!, No, Kate, no!)

For those who think in S.A.T. terms, Kate is to Nancy Drew as You are to Barbie. Complex, fun and willful, she loves her full-fat Mocha Frappes and can't decide between the ultra-geeky Seth who has adored her since birth and the edgy Liam who seems torn between her and her arch-nemesis. Decisions, decisions.

There will be some who feel like the ending is neither neatly solved nor cleanly happily-ever-after, but it is still satisfying. It feels real in a way that only a slightly paranoid teen book can. I, for one, look forward to more books by the Roecker sisters, and a chance to find out what Kate gets up to next. I strongly recommend The Liar Society for teens and young adults, as well as parents who want to join in the fun. (Parental note: There is some drinking and implied sexual activity)

Five Stars!

More about The Liar Society on Amazon.com
More about The Liar Society on Amazon.co.uk (not available yet)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

WIP Before Wednesday - HC SVNT DRACONES

Last week I was in Germany presenting on various technical topics, so my Writer's Crusade posts were all I could manage. Now, back in Shaker Heights, Ohio with the sun shining in the window and trying (unsuccessfully) to convince me it is warm out there, I am back to my WIP.

My wife is an excellent proof reader with a real eye for misused grammar, typos and repeated words, but I have never really let her (or begged her to) read my rough drafts before. She usually sees a story long after my writing partners have picked it apart. This time, I decided to ask her to read it in its rough form. Partly, I think I wanted her to know how much polishing goes into it before she usually sees it.

Given my wife's intelligence and sheer competence, it should not surprise me that she could immediately identify a structural issue with my troll story.

"You need a map," she said. "Oh, and a timeline."

I hemmed and hawed, but of course she is right. I have an entire adventure with only the haziest idea of location or time. I have virtually no sense of perspective, but even a rough map with woods over here and the river over there, Mount Dreadful in the distance and the all-important HC SVNT DRACONES labeled could only serve to make the progress of our fearless (when not trembling) trolls. (I can't tell you how happy it makes me that the HC SVNT DRACONES, Here be dragons, is really on my map.)

With two books of adventures written, I know some geographical issues that need to work for the second book even though they aren't important for the first. Unfortunately, I have forests where there need to be rocky plains, a stream where one couldn't be. In short, I have a mess.

If you are looking for me this bright, sunny and miserably cold Tuesday, you will probably find me holed up in my office, trying to figure out how to move a river or make it flow uphill. With any luck, I can tackle the time line later this afternoon.