Thursday, June 21, 2007

Duck and Goose
by Tad Hills

Duck and Goose find an egg, or so they think. They argue about whether the egg will hatch a duck or goose, and also as to who should care for the egg. Ultimately they decide they can share parental duties, only to realize that the egg is actually a ball.

Kids seemed to like this one.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rex Zero and the End of the World
by Tim Wynne Jones

Rex is facing a difficult summer, moving to a new town where he doesn't know any kids and won't likely meet many potential friends until school starts in September. It's also 1962, and there's a lot of tall about bomb shelters. The Cold War is on and Canadians are well aware of the threats around the world. At the local park Rex encounters two mysteries: a seemingly crazy man asserting that the world is about to end, and a dark creature that others think is a missing zoo animal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

by Emily Gravett

Rabbit goes to the library and checks out a book about wolves. His nose firmly in the book, Rabbit doesn't see what's around him until it might be too late.

I like this book very much! The design concept is clever and well executed. The pictures are neat, and the spare nonfictionish text is well distributed through the book. That being said, it may be a bit too subtle for some littlekid readers and listeners.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Street Pharm
by Alison Van Diepen

Tyrone Johnson is the drug dealing king of Brooklyn. And he's a 17 year old high school student. He inherited his convict father's business, partner, and reputation. Taking his philosophy from the Art of War, Ty thinks he's in control of his destiny.

Kicked out of his last high school, Tyrone finds himself trying to keep his rep a secret from a girl at his new school. When a new dealer tries to get in on his turf, Ty struggles to save his girl and family from the violence that is part of his life, while also trying to keep it secret.

The author description left a bad taste in my life before I started the book, referencing her three and a half years working in "one of New York City's most dangerous high schools". The book is over the top in a lot of ways, including Tyrone's quick attempt to redeem himself. Despite these misgivings, I am fairly confident that this would be very popular with teen readers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Edwardo: the horriblest boy in the whole wide world
by John Burningham

Edwardo starts the book described in various terrible ways, descriptions that are justified by the illustrations. Of course, he's also misunderstood. In his case, when he's misunderstood, this leads to positive changes. Nice, quite English seeming. As indeed Mr. Burningham is. Perhaps he's more familiar to me than name recognition suggests.

The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber
by Lauren Meehling and Laura Moser

Mimi Schulman follows her newly separated father to New York City. He is back in the city searching to rekindle his fame as a photographer. Mimi is coming back to her onetime best friend Sam, and a new, unusual school, the elite Baldwin School in Brooklyn Heights.

Mimi soon finds that fame looks a lot less preppy at the Baldwin School than it did in Texas. She also finds herself locked into a bet with Sam as to whether she can infiltrate the inner circle of the most popular girls at Baldwin--a diverse group of girls united more by their exclusivity than anything else. So there's a lot of wasted teen behavior going on--partying, substance experimenting, cheating... there's also family shames and secret altruism.

Mimi's bet with Sam spirals out of her control as Sam takes her diary public, leading to all kinds of social ramifications.

A book like this could really only be written by two authors.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

by Jacqueline Woodson

Frannie's sixth grade class changes when "Jesus boy" comes from across the highway and becomes the only white boy in her class. Frannie's been fixated on the idea of hope after reading an Emily Dickinson poem in class, and somehow Jesus boy gets tied into this ideal. Maintaining this hope sometimes is difficult as Frannie reflects on the way that girls treat her deaf brother, and as she thinks about her mother's miscarriages.

Woodson's writing is fine as always, although not a whole lot happens in this skinnyish chapter book. It's kind of a peculiar scene, on the one side of a 1970s Brooklyn highway, but the author sets it well. While the school is all black kids, a range of social classes are represented and the growing consciousness of the kids about this fact is well represented. There is also significant musing on religious themes, but that's not surprising with a character de facto named Jesus boy. A nice book but not so tightly gripping as Woodson's more prominent work.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Night Journeys
by Avi

Peter Yorke is orphaned; he and his inheritance, a horse named Jumper are adopted by the town's Justice of the Peace. This man, a Quaker, solemn in demeanor to the point of near silence, governs Peter's life. Peter longs for excitement and soon finds some: word is, indentured servants have run away and the landowner is offering a weighty reward for their return. Peter begs to be involved, not understanding his master's reluctance to participate. After getting his way, Peter manages to bungle his role in the pursuit. Despite his mistakes, Peter soon finds himself the first to find a runaway. He's surprised to learn that it's a girl younger than he is; this new development causes him to question his role in the pursuit.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Problem with Chickens
by Bruce McMillan
Illustrated with paintings by Gunnella

The old ladies of Iceland need eggs for their recipes, but the eggs are located on a cliff. They go to the city to buy chickens so that they will have eggs. Everything is fine until the chickens start imitating the ladies. The more the chickens are like the ladies, the fewer the eggs. Ladies don't lay eggs, after all. When the eggs stop, the ladies need to devise a plan to get the chickens to start acting like birds again.

This is a fun chicken story with nice odd paintings.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Room One
by Andrew Clements
illustrations by Chris Blair

Ted Hammond is the only sixth grader in Plattsford, Nebraska. His class meets in Room One; the only room that's used in his school. There are nine students in his class, and one teacher for every grade. With the teacher focused on preparing the eighth graders for high school and keeping the fourth graders in line, Ted gets to focus on what he likes for most of the school day.

Ted loves to read mysteries. He closes the book at exactly the middle point, writes down what he knows, and predicts who did it. Most of the time, Ted is right.

As he delivers everyone in Plattsford's newspapers, Ted thinks he knows everyone in the farm town of 108. But one morning, he sees a girl's face in the window of an abandoned house. Ted knows he has found a mystery; and he believes that he is just the person to solve the case.

This is a nice, fairly quick mystery that should appeal to many middle grade readers. While the one room school house is not a familiar experience for most readers, Clements sets the scene well and presents a likable, relatable character in Ted.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Piglet and Mama
by Margaret Wild
illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Piglet has lost her mother. She wanders around the farm, meeting many other animal mothers. They all offer to take care of Piglet and do fun activities, such as mud kicking or daisy chain making. Piglet keeps searching for her mother, refusing to go along with the other animals. At the end of the story, Piglet finds her mother and they have a fine time together, doing all the activities that Piglet had earlier rejected.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Wolf Who Cried Boy
by Bob Hartman
Illustrated by Tim Raglin

A young wolf dislikes his parents cooking; nothing tastes as good as boy, but boy is a rarity. The young wolf would rather eat snacks than dinner, so he ruins several night's dinners by distracting his parents from their cooking by falsely advertising the presence of boys. He brags about his trickery on the phone but is overheard by his parents. When a boy scout troop makes an appearance, the young wolf realizes that he has lost his opportunity to eat boy as his parents are unresponsive to his cries.

This is fun, even if you know what happens as soon as you read the title. It's not all that logical; as the chain of causation seems to go "we'd rather eat boy than our regular dinner, but since we can't eat boy, we'll eat snacks" and this is entirely satisfactory to the young wolf. Anyway, it seems like kids think they're smart for figuring out what's going to happen from the title, and kids like this book.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick

Hugo Cabret lives alone in a secret apartment in the Paris train station, keeping the clocks running while his uncle, the drunk/the station's clock maintainer, is missing. Hugo has inherited his family's fascination with machines and spends his free time trying to reconstruct an automaton, hoping to discover a secret message. His plans are complicated after he is caught shoplifting by a toy salesman at the station. Hugo soon finds himself in a web of more secrets, surprisingly connected to his own secrets.

This is a fat, dense novel, but the page layouts are well done, with lots of white space helping the story breathe. The illustrations are two page spreads, quite different from a paneled graphic novel/comic look. Several sequences suggest motion effectively and help pull the reader through the book. This is a book that needs to be seen to be appreciated, but I imagine that most kid readers seeing this book would be interested enough to make a go of it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart, with illustrations by Carson Ellis

Four gifted children, each with distinct talents but with a shared uncommon love of truth, are united after a series of tests administered by the very unusual Mr. Benedict and his assistants. Reynie Muldoon sees Mr. Benedict's opportunity as a chance to live with people who will appreciate his interest in learning. Kate Weatherall is a utility bucket toting acrobat eager for adventure. Sticky Washington has run away from his parents, whose only interest seems to be capitalizing on his incredible memory to profit from game show winnings. Constance Contraire, is a loud, obnoxious poet; but Mr. Benedict insists that she will play an important role in the team's mission. Their mission: to infiltrate the evil Mr. Curtain's island fortress and stop his plan of brainwashing the masses.

Reminiscent in many ways of Brainboy and the Deathmaster (Seidler), the story is sort of unwieldy and overlong, yet is satisfying overall. The tone in places recalls A Series of Unfortunate Events but the presence of an extra couple major characters lengthens the book considerably. The minor characters are less memorable, however, than in the Snicket books. Carson Ellis's illustrations for each chapter break up the almost 500 pages helpfully and nicely. I anticipate that this book will intimidate many kids, and Stewart's choices to expand rather than constrict the scope of the book does reduce the kid appeal. Those kids who are willing to take the challenge offered by The Mysterious Benedict Society will likely enjoy it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

by Barbara Lehman

This wordless book finds a lonely rich kid inside his fancy rich kid house. It's raining outside and he's sad, proving that being rich doesn't outweigh the weather. How do I know he's rich? He's wearing a tie and shorts around the house. And the suit of armor by the stairs.

Anyway, the rich kid finds a mysterious key which opens a trunk, which leads to another location. Where there are kids to befriend the rich kid.

Good wordless storytelling and nice pictures. Even kids who are not rich would probably like this book.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bad Boys Get Cookie!
by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Henry Cole

After kids get psyched up for Bad Boys, it's nice to know there's a follow up. This book mashes in the gingerbread man and Hansel and Gretel. Willy and Wally have a sweet tooth so they're all too happy to chase after missing Cookie. It has pretty much the same flaws as the first book ["brain ditto" again...argh] but is enjoyable in the same way. Kids like this one, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bad Boys
by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Henry Cole

Take the big bad wolf from Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf from The Three Little Pigs and you have two bad boys! Willy and Wally Wolf are hiding out..."on the lam." In this pun filled story, they lay low by hanging out with the [Little Bo] Peep Sheep. They think they've done a good job staying in character until they hear "bzzzzz"...

Kids like this book a lot. It's a great premise. The title is brilliant. But...Some of the humor will be lost on most kids (Meryl Sheep, "I knew the Peep Sheep, and you are no Peep Sheep"). Certain choices in diction ("brain ditto") are hard to read aloud without cringing.

This books shows a really great concept that is diminished somewhat by the telling. Still, kids really like it! And that makes me happy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Big Bad Wolf and Me
by Delphine Perret

On his way home from school, a boy mistakes the big bad wolf for a sick dog. The big bad wolf hasn't been scary in quite a while, and the boy takes it upon himself to remedy this situation.

This is quite a charming picture book. The layout doesn't lend itself to reading aloud to a group of kids, however. Fake chapters are a plus.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
by Wendy Mass

Almost teenaged Jeremy Fink receives an unlikely package one day...a complicated lock box from his dead father, engraved with "the meaning of life" across the top. Along with his neighbor and best friend Lizzie, Jeremy sets off to find the set of keys that will open the box and reveal the answer to the mysteries that Jeremy has discovered.

Jeremy's quest and the quirks of the characters carry the story through some overly weighty philosophical bits regarding life, how to live it, and what it means. The book echoes other recent works, such as The Schwa was Here (Schusterman), and not so recent works in its plot device of "wealthy old guy teaches kid a lesson". The quest itself is reminiscient of Ed Kennedy's situation in I am the Messenger (Zusak) but this story for younger readers comes across as more heavy handed and more serious without probing similar issues at a comparable level of depth.