Thursday, April 30, 2015

Picture books for everyone

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

This is a great book for encouraging individuality. Mr. Plumbean (is that a great name or what) lives on a street where ever house is the same. When a passing seagull spills orange paint (which no one knows why it is carrying) on his house, Plumbean repaints it with wild colors and pictures. The neighbors pressure him to conform leading the the book's refrain: "My house is me and I am it. My house is here I like to be and it looks like all my dreams." In addition to the awesome lesson, the text is peppered with such amazing phrasing as the above quote. It has a simple elegance that really speaks to me. The illustrations are rough and quirky. I've found that some kids don't relate to Pinkwater's illustration style. Luckily, this book is easily adapted to a felt board. I've presented it thus several times and it generally will received.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin
When Joe's mom and her boyfriend Dean fly off on an unexpected vacation, Joe is left behind. A week to himself, even though he's forbidden to tell anyone about it, promises to be an adventure and a welcome break from the gruff Dean. As the week passes, though, things start to spiral out of control.

The concept of this book sounds like every young teen's dream: a total lack of supervision. Joe's voice is strong and his story is pretty compelling so far.
What did you recently finish reading?
Bomb by Sarah Mussi
Genesis just wants to get over her boyfriend, Naz. So she agrees to a blind date. That moment changes everything. When she wakes up, she's in a dark room and a strange vest is strapped to her body. A voice speaks to her through a device glued into her ear, telling her that she's wearing a bomb and if she doesn't do exactly as she is told it will detonate. Gen has just become and unwilling pawn of the Brightness.

Bomb is a fast paced thriller that takes on love, loyalty, terrorism, and governmental policy. It's a book that will keep you reading every spare minute.
What do you think you will read next?
What Remains by Helene Dunbar
A story of massive life changes and overwhelming grief.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book review - Undertow

Title: Undertow
Author: Michael Buckley
Genre: dystopia
Similar Books: Alienated by Melissa Landers
                     The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
pretty cool, if a little predictable

Summary: Lyric Walker's life used to be predictable. Until the day that the Alpha arrived on Coney Island and the whole world changed. 30,000 ocean dwelling warriors now occupy the beach and a small group of Alpha teens are about to start attending Lyric's school and it's turning Coney Island into a powder keg. When Lyric is manipulated into helping the Alpha prince, Fathom, assimilate it might be the spark that sets things off. Some people want the Alpha gone - no matter the cost.

My opinion: I love books that bring important ideas to the forefront of our minds. This one suggests that our notion of American society being very accepting is flawed, that faced with a large group of physically superior beings we would react with fear and violence rather than open arms. While the plot follows a rather predictable path, the pacing is spot on. Plus, the setting and people are fantastically described. ItThe characters have depth and development. There is plenty of action and a solid romantic element for those so inclined. This is the first in a series, a fact that becomes abundantly clear when you reach the end, so bear that in mind when you consider reading this one if waiting for a second volume will be problematic for you (as it sometimes is for me). 

More information: Undertow releases May 5th.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, April 27, 2015

More Star Wars penguins

Back in October, I shared some finger puppet designs with you. Included was this guy:
Pretty funny as a penguin I am, hmm.
Yoda penguin was designed by, and then made for, my nephew. We decided that Yoda needed a crew. Which lead to these 4 puppets.

Up next: Chewbacca. Not sure how that's going to work but it must happen.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book review - Material Girls

Title: Material Girls
Author: Elaine Dimopoulos
Genre: dystopian fiction
Similar books: Feed by M T Anderson
                     So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld
pretty attention-grabbing
Summary: In Marla and Ivy's world teens are at the top of the heap. At age 12 a handful of kids get "tapped", selected for careers in the creative industries. Tapped teens design video games, become musicians, and decide what clothes will be produced. When Marla loses her position in a fashion label's court, relegated to drafting in the basement, and a new pop star threatens to take Ivy's place, both girls begin to question the system that they've always believed in whole-heartedly. A new "eco-chic" trend binds the girls together and might just have the power to tear their world apart.

My opinion: This turned out to be an excellent, thought provoking read. The base plot is not particularly ground breaking; for the first 3/4 it follows the same direction as most dystopian fiction, that of discovering and defying a system that one once believed in. The ending, though, makes it stand out from the crowd. Not only does Dimopoulos point out the flaws in the fashion industry and our image obsessed culture she also does not pave and easy road for her revolutionaries. While the fashion angle won't appeal to many readers, it's worth a read for those with an eye towards social justice and mindful consumption.

More information: Material Girls releases May 5th.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Books on screen

How I Live Now

When I started watching movie adaptations with an eye for differences I began to notice certain key signs that an adaptation would be disappointing. Things like drastic changes in character dynamics, which was the first thing I noticed about this movie. The book How I Live Now introduces us to Daisy, a displaced fifteen year old with an eating disorder and her cousins: typical 17 year old Osbert, 15 year old twins Edmund and Isaac (who seldom speaks but has a way with animals), and the pixie-like 8 year old Piper. The farm is an idyllic place and Daisy quickly becomes part of their lives. The movie removes Osbert entirely, makes Isaac younger, and introduces a neighbor named Joe who spends time with the children. Edmund takes on most of Isaac's personality traits, leaving the two younger kids much more average. They are annoying and insensitive. In the long run these changes might not typically matter but in this case they change the entire tone of the movie. The book takes this almost magical place with these mystical children and tears it apart with war. In spit of the changes, they go on living and find a new normal, hence the title. The movie is far darker, focusing instead on dangers and how their lives fall apart. Even that idyllic beginning is harshened with the farm a dump, Daisy angry and combative, and the neighbor boy abused. 
Taken on it's own, this isn't a bad movie. But for the viewer who is at all familiar with the book this adaptation with be disappointing more than anything else.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone
Before the accident, Trevor knew what to expect from life. Football, parties, and music. One bad choice takes it all away from him and leaves him with a traumatic brain injury and scrambling to find a new "normal." When good girl Everly is assigned as his tutor, he thinks she's a stuck-up miss perfect. He can't know that Everly is struggling with a secret that has destroyed her own sense of normal.
What did you recently finish reading?
Undertow by Michael Buckley
Lyric Walker's life used to be predictable. Until the day that the Alpha arrived on Coney Island and the whole world changed. 30,000 ocean dwelling warriors now occupy the beach and a small group of Alpha teens are about to start attending Lyric's school and it's turning Coney Island into a powder keg. When Lyric is manipulated into helping the Alpha prince, Fathom, assimilate it might be the spark that sets things off. Some people want the Alpha gone - no matter the cost.

Undertow is similar to a lot of alien stories that you read. You have this entirely foreign culture suddenly thrust upon human society. Unsure of the intent of these strangers, novelty soon turns to fear and aggression. It points out the human tendency  towards discrimination, but follows a relatively predictable plot. Interesting but not what I'd consider a high priority read. 
What do you think you will read next?
The Worst Class Trip Every by Dave Barry
I loved Barry's Peter and the Starcatchers series and look forward to reading his take on a field trip misadventure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book review - Life Unaware

Title: Life Unaware
Author: Cole Gibsen
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Gone Too Far by Natalie Richards
                    The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre
Nice, if a little unbelievable

Summary: Regan is used to being on top: cheerleader, student council candidate, one of the social elite. It all falls apart in an instant when someone prints out texts and messages where she insulted, gossiped, and flat out lied about many of her classmates and posted them all over school Now Regan is a pariah, avoided by even her best friend. With all the problems at school and pressure from her highly achieving mother, Regan is falling apart.

My opinion: I have mixed feeling about this book. On the one hand, it is trying to achieve some lofty goals. It's a teen romance that is also making a point about bullying, social pressure (including pressure from parents), and destigmatizing mental illness. On the other hand, the plot is highly idealized. We're meant to believe that a video made by a couple of students has the ability to change every single student in the school. I don't deny that if more kids spoke up, things might be different in schools. It's the global change from a single video that I object to. It's a nice idea but hard to believe. In the end, I figure this is a good choice for a "fun" read or maybe to introduce a discussion of forms of bullying and prevention.

More information: Life Unaware releases April 28.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Making a puppet show on a short time frame

Next week I'll be helping my nephew (nearly 12 and crazy creative) perform a puppet show version of David and Goliath. We spent about 2 hours this weekend getting ready. This is what we came up with for puppets.

Goliath is made from a puppet that my nephew already owned. This particular puppet has replaceable features so he selected the angriest eyes. Add a viking helmet and beard that he had from Halloween a couple of years ago and a sort of bronze colored fabric for armor and Goliath becomes a pretty menacing figure.

We made David from scratch. He's a basic sock puppet with felt eyes, a card stock nose, and a cardboard circle in his mouth for stability. Fabric scraps and a little bit of extra sock form his clothing and arms. For David's hair we found some hair left over from a doll making project that had become quite matted. It wasn't any good for dolls anymore but looks pretty good on David's head.

Jesse is what is frequently referred to as a glove puppet. His body is a simple shape made from t-shirt. His head is a large plastic Easter egg covered in the toe of a sock. Like David, his eyes are made from felt and his nose from card stock. Some scraps of furry fleece serve as his beard and eye brows. 

There will also be two other puppets. We were able to borrow a glove puppet king to serve as King Saul. Additionally, we'll have a double sided stick puppet for the crowd: cheering on one side and frightened on the other.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Book review - The Murk

Title: The Murk
Author: Robert Lettrick
Genre: horror
Similar books: The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe by Dan Poblocki
                     Frenzy by Robert Lettrick
creeptastically informative
Summary: Legend has it that a flower which can cure any disease grows somewhere deep in the Okefenokee Swamp. The last person to hunt for it vanished more than a century ago, the only survivor of the expedition a young guide who emerged from the swamp with tales of a terrifying evil. This flower is Piper's only chance to save her little sister and keep a promise she made years ago.

My opinion: The Murk begins with a reference to Lettrick's previous novel, Frenzy, but it's not particularly necessary to have read that book to understand and enjoy this one. For a horror novel, this book is surprisingly education. There are loads of botany facts and plenty of information about swamp habitats and the creature that live there deftly woven into the plot. While the writing can be a little over the top emotionally and occasionally somewhat graphic in its violence, I feel like those weak points are balanced out by the educational aspects.

More information: The Murk releases April 21st.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: MAUS

NOTE: Usually I post these spotlights on Thursdays, but today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and this seemed like an appropriate way to mark the occasion.
MAUS by Art Spiegelman

MAUS was the very first graphic novel I ever read, discovered by chance when I was browsing books about the Holocaust at my high school library. I don't believe it would  be hyperbole to say that that chance discovery changed my life. 

This is the story of Art Spiegelman's father, a Holocuast survivor. Book 1 takes us  from Vladek's life in prewar Germany, through the Nazis' rise to power, to the moment when he arrives at Auschwitz. Book 2 navigates his time in the camps to the end of the war and his eventual emigrationn to the US. For me, MAUS was an entirely singular experience. I'd read a great deal about the Holocaust so none of the abuses Spiegelman describes were entirely surprising. What made it shocking was the visuals (which shy away from nothing) and the close emotional tie to the story. Its not a beautiful book or overly sentimental. Art spends as much time frustrated with his father as he does sympathizing. The drawings have a rough sort of quality, almost like woodcuts, but that harsh style suits the harshness of the story.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book review - Only Ever Yours

Title: Only Every Yours
Author: Louise O'Neill
Genre: dystopia
Similar books: Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch
                     Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Summary: Ever since climate change decimated the population girls have not been born naturally. Instead, they are created in a lab, bred for beauty and pleasure, and raised to perfectly please their men. Best friends Freida and Isabel have been dreaming their entire lives of the day when they will become companions. As their final year at school comes to a close, the pressure to be perfect mounts. only a select few girls will become companions. The rest are destined to be concubines or chastities. Will Freida and Isabel achieve their dream or will the pressure become too much.

My opinion: I've read a great deal of dystopian fiction and it all seems to follow a similar path: protagonist recognizes an unjust system, either joins or starts a revolution, and overthrows the government or escapes to freedom. This book certainly bucks that trend with the idea that sometimes there is no way out and an attempt to revolt brings down judgement on your head. This book certainly isn't perfect. I found most of the writing to be kind of annoying. Freida was all over the place emotionally and so needy, constantly seeking even the shallowest of validation. That ending, though, makes me look at the entire thing in a new light.

More information: Only Ever Yours releases May 12.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I now have the most fun dishes

While browsing the internet for crafting inspiration I came across this tutorial for animal handled cups. If you've been reading my blog for very long you may remember the giraffe serving tray. These cups captured my imagination in a similar manner. In fact, when I went shopping for tumblers for this project, I found a 4 pack that is almost the exact same shade of green. Fortuitous.

The tutorial calls for super glue. I used E6000 instead, which I prefer as it doesn't cloud on plastic the way super glue can. E6000 takes much longer to set though, so if you decide to replicate this project you may want to stick with the super glue. Additionally, the cups in the tutorial are spray painted. I had intended to do the same but when I got the animals onto the cups I decided I liked how they looked in their original state. I might, sometime in the future, add some little embellishments but for now I like this look.

The zebra is my absolute favorite.
You might notice glue spots under the tails of most of the animals. I missed the tip in the tutorial about making sure the tails rest on the table to help counterbalance their excessive weight before you glue. As a result I ended up building what amounts to little stands out of hot glue to give the cup another point of contact with the table. They aren't particularly stable when empty but it doesn't take much water to have them sitting flat on the table again.

Don't you think they'll look awesome with my giraffe tray?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book review - Denton Little's Deathdate

Title: Denton Little's Deathdate
Author: Lance Rubin
Genre: humor/sci-fi
Similar books: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
                     Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Summary: In Denton's world, everyone knows the day they will die. For Denton, that day is tomorrow. While his classmates prepare for their prom, Denton is having his funeral and experiencing as much of life as he can. As these last minute experiences bring a lot of complication to his final days, the sudden appearance of a strange rash on his body and government agents asking strange questions add to the drama. As secrets are revealed, Denton has only hours to learn the truth.

My opinion: I rather liked most of this book and its ideas about the way people might behave if they knew what day they would die (though I'm not really sure how that's supposed to work. I can see how a blood test could predict heart disease, cancer, even a pregnancy complication, but a communicable disease or accident?). I liked the quirky, if somewhat shallow, characters. A lot of the final scenes threw me, though. These events were mostly properly foreshadowed, I just thought it went in an odd direction. Some of it felt sort of haphazard and the ending is very abrupt.

More information: Denton Little's Deathdate releases April 14th.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pick 6: murder mysteries

The world of fiction is full of mysteries and when those books are aimed at teens, they take on a decidedly murderous bent. Murder mysteries are full of intrigue and danger, making them rather thrilling to read. Here are six murder mysteries for teens published in the last six months.

6 new murder mysteries

1. When by Victoria Laurie

2. The Third Twin by C.J. Omololu

3. Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

4. Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus

5. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

6. Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Romy thought her date with the sheriff's son, Kellan, would be a dream come true. It turned out to be more of a nightmare. When she told the truth about him, people branded her a liar. She takes refuge in a job outside of town, trying to forget about Kellan. When a girl with ties to Kellan goes missing, Romy isn't sure she can remain silent anymore. No one believed her but can she let her silence harm other girls?

This is a very timely topic and I look forward to seeing how Summers treats such a sensitive issue.
What did you recently finish reading?
Eden West by Pete Hautman
Jacob has lived in Nodd since he was very small, working the land and waiting with the other Grace for the arrival of the Archangel Zerachiel and the apocalypse. He has always been content in Nodd - until he has a chance encounter with a neighbor, a Worldly girl named Lynna. Soon after a new family arrives in Nodd and a lone wolf begins wreaking havoc on their land. For the first time Jacob's belief in the Grace wavers.

This book is fairly standard for a cult novel, plot-wise. Nothing too revolutionary but it's well written and worth the read.

What do you think you will read next?
Andreo's Race by Pam Withers
A tale of international intrigue, baby trafficking, and family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book review - Last of the Sandwalkers

Title: Last of the Sandwalkers
Author: Jay Hosler
Genre: graphic novel/adventure
Similar books: Crogan's Loyalty by Chris Schweizer
                     Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Summary: For generations the beetles have been satisfied to live quiet lives in their isolated village. Lucy, on the other hand, dreams of discovery. It takes some work but she convinces their leaders to allow her to lead a team of researchers into the desert where they will learn things that change the way they see the entire world.

My opinion: This book is a cool, sneaky way to teach some science. Much less obvious in its teaching than easy reader sci-fi, though also aimed at an older audience as it goes into more detail and brings some more complicated issues into play. I liked the combination of the adventure with message to observe and question. Plus, the art has the perfect combination of detail and cartoony style.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Selections from my puppet archive

Apparently my life was pretty busy this week because I didn't manage to finish any crafts. Instead, here are some projects I've done in the past.

Sock puppet rock star

T-rex marionette

Magician rod puppet

Monster pillow puppet

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review - The Ghastly McNastys

Title: The Ghastly McNastys: the Lost Treasure of Little Snoring
Author: Lyn Garnder
Genre: humor
Similar books: Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith
                     Mr. and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath
too much fun
Summary: The McNasty twins are the most despicable selfish pirates sailing the seas. When word gets out that there is a valuable treasure buried somewhere in the village of Little Snoring, the McNastys are determined to get their hands on it by any means necessary. It's up to Tat and Hetty, local kids who are also seeking the treasure, to protect their village and send the pirates packing.

My opinion: Talk about ridiculous fun. Like all the best absurd books it recognizes its absurdity and embraces that role. It is playful and exciting without a real sense of peril, making this an excellent read aloud for even young kids. Older readers will appreciate the author asides, things like a parrot that gets tossed off of one page only to land some forty pages later. And it has really fun place names - like the Big, Scary, Very Dark, Dense Forest Where No One In Their Right Mind Would Want To Go.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Larf by Ashley Spires

Larf is a fairly straightforward story about taking a chance and making a new friend. Two things broaden it's appeal
1.) It's about a Sasquatch. A vegetarian Sasquatch who wears a scarf, makes snarky comments about movies, and carries his pet bunny in a baby carrier.
2.) There are loads of little details to notice on each page. I've read this to 3rd graders and they love to find little hints about the plot.
The writing is clever, great details without becoming clumsy and cluttered. This book is a favorite among the youth department staff at my library and is a general hit with the kids who hear it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?
Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey
Genuine has just learned that she has the ability to fetch wishes for people, a skill her Gram warns her to only use to help other people. She quickly learns that wishes can really improve people's lives and she enjoys helping as many people as she can. Life finally begins to seem better, until she starts to encounter problems that wishes can't fix.

What I've read of this book so far reminds me of Savvy by Ingrid Law, a book that I really enjoyed.I look forward to finishing this book and seeing if that resemblance remains.
What did you recently finish reading?
Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding
Neither Riley nor Reid has ever been in a relationship so when they discover their bandmates in a compromising position, they make a pact to help each other out. They will record their interactions with the opposite sex in a notebook and give each other dating hints. As they go to increasingly great lengths to catch their crushes, the information in the notebook becomes more sensitive and their relationships with other people become more strained.

I don't think anyone could read that description and not predict disaster. It's a rather predictable plot built on a somewhat shaky foundation. Definitely not my favorite book this week.
What do you think you will read next?
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre
The description of this teen romance hints at some emotional complexity and painful pasts for the main characters.