Friday, July 31, 2015

Book review - School for Sidekicks

Title: School for Sidekicks
Author: Kelly McCullough
Genre: sci-fi/superhero
Similar books: Hero by Mike Lupica
                     Hero Worship by Christopher Long

Summary: Evan has always dreamed of being a superhero but no matter how many times he checks, he never seems to develop any powers. Not until he takes a trip to a local amusement park and has a strange experience with one of the attractions. Then, on a class trip to a museum, he has an encounter with a villain that turns out, surprisingly, in his favor. The next thing he knows he's been swept off to a secret school for meta-humans, known to the students as the School for Sidekicks. Apprenticed to a has-been hero, Evan soon discovers that being a superhero is far more complicated than he ever dreamed.

My Opinion: Modern books about superheroes are doing a great job of exploring the very nature of being "super" (or as this books calls it "meta"). This particular novel really explores heroes and villains, pointing out the necessity and sacrifice of both and providing a larger design for both sides of the dichotomy. I also appreciated the way this novel points out the inherent danger to non-powered humans simply because powered humans exist. There is only the beginning of exploration of character in this novel but given how it ended this is clearly the first in a series and I presume that the characters will develop further in future books. 

More information: School for Sidekicks releases August 4.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pick 6: music

Have you ever noticed that characters in novels tend to have the same hobbies. They're either athletes, aspiring writers, or musicians. For this list, I gathered titles where being a musician plays an important role in the plot. So, here are six books published in the last six months that in some way feature musicians. Most of these titles are teen oriented but #3 is more of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid read-alike.

6 new books about musicians

1. Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding

2. The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

3. Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) by Liz Pichon

4. The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters by M J Beaufrand

5. Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally

6. Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Jars of Hope

Title: Jars of Hope
Author: Jennifer Roy

We need to hear more stories like this one, more stories of everyday people who did extraordinarily dangerous things simply because it is the right thing to do. This one is particularly suited to upper elementary kids with simple vocabulary and sentence structure. Each page has a short paragraph of text supported by a full page illustration. Books like this one are great to use when you first introduce young children to the history of the Holocaust. While it is horrific, that horror can be somewhat balanced by stories of bravery and kindness and renewed faith in humanity.

More information: Jars of Hope releases August 1.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book review - Piper Green and the Fairy Tree

Title: Piper Green and the Fairy Tree
        Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Good Luck
Author: Ellen Potter
Genre: realistic fiction, very mild fantasy
Similar books: Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker
                     Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

Summary: In the first book, we meet Piper Green, a second grader living on an island off the coast of Maine. The island is so small that elementary students take a boat to school every day. Older kids, like Piper's brother, board on the mainland. It's the first year that her brother has lived away from home and Piper misses him desperately. So much so that she's determined to wear his earmuffs every day, much to the consternation of her parents and her teacher.
Book two finds Piper experiencing a string of good luck. Her friend Jacob thinks it might be too much good luck. Sure enough, a new student in their class seems to have introduced a trend of bad luck that just seems to get worse every minute. Piper decides to set the world back on a positive path with the help of the fairy tree.

My Opinion: These really are cute little books. For their brief length, they have a decent amount of characterization. Quirky, funny, and meaningful. The characters are, at times, bizarre but in a way that is more charming than distancing. The simple vocabulary is accessible to young readers without talking down to them. The already fun stories are only improved by the cartoon style illustrations that highlight the supplement the text.

More information: The first two books in the Piper Green series release August 4.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, July 27, 2015

Puppet plans

Ever since I got started making puppets with kids, I've taken more notice of how professional puppets work. This also means that I've been known to sketch out plans for elaborate puppets. This particular puppet is inspired by a character from the Team Starkid show Starship. The rod that extends out the back of his head is bent, allowing it to hook into the puppeteers belt (or it can be held like a regular puppet rod) and the rods from his feet attach to the puppeteers shoes, allowing him to walk with a halfway natural gait. If I ever manage to make this guy he'll stand about waist high in his natural, knees bent, pose. Of course at the moment, he's well beyond my skill level.

Someday, frog man. Someday.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book review - The Doublecross

Title: The Doublecross: and Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy
Author: Jackson Pearce
Genre: thriller
Similar books: School for S.P.I.E.S. #1 Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale
                     NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society by Michael Buckley
a pretty fun read

Summary: The Sub Rosa Society is all Hale has ever known. His parents have been SRS spies his entire life. Hale and his sister are training to become junior agents and it's all Hale has ever wanted. Of course, he's not your stereotypical spy. Unathletic, he has to work twice as hard as his fellow trainees. Then his parents disappear on a mission and SRS says they can't be rescued. It's up to Hale to infiltrate enemy headquarters and bring his parents home.
My Opinion: Hale is a great protagonist. Not only is he somewhat of a non-traditional hero (his mother calls him big-boned, the bullies call him fat), it's not luck or even his body type that allows him to succeed. It's a combination of his unique perspective and sheer determination. Simply put, Hale tries harder. He knows he can't compete physically so he finds his own work-arounds. While the plot is somewhat predictable, the quirky characters and great pacing make up for that weakness. The appeal factor is pretty high for middle grade readers.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: an African tale  by John Steptoe

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters is the story of two girls: one who values kindness and the other who values power. Their king calls all "worthy and beautiful" girls to be considered in his quest for a queen. On their journey to the king, Manyara time and again proves to be self-serving while Nyasha, faced with the same situations, is kind and generous. In essence, this is a simple story about the value of generosity and true beauty. What makes this a great choice for older kids is detail. The writing is elegant and atmospheric (consider this line: "Just as they entered through the great doors, the air was rent by piercing cries."). The illustrations are fantastically detailed, creating texture and nuance. It's a slightly more sophisticated fairy tale, a change of pace from the watered down tales to which kids have become accustomed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Non-fiction book review

Title: The Constitution of the United States of America: modern edition
Edited by Henry Bain

My library owns a hard cover edition of the Constitution for kids. It's incredibly over sized, in no way fits on a shelf, and rarely circulates. So this book already has the advantage of being a "normal" size. My favorite feature of this book, though, is the side by side glossary. It's nice not having to flip to the back when you don't know a word. I also appreciate the reorganization of it, grouping like concepts together, while also maintaining the original order in the second half for historical accuracy. While this isn't a book most kids will pick up for pleasure reading, it's a great resource likely to be picked up by homeschoolers or kids working on projects.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book review - Night of the Frankenfrogs

Title: The Creeps #1: Night of the Frankenfrogs
Author: Chris Schweizer
Genre: horror, mystery, graphic novel
Similar books: Chickenhare by Chris Grine
                     Cardboard by Doug TenNapel
odd but fun
Summary: The kids of Pumpkins County are used to seeing monsters. The only once who seem to care are the Creeps: Mitchell, Jarvis, Carol, and Rosario. Their efforts tend to get them in trouble but that won't stop them from trying. Someone has stolen the dissection frogs from the biology lab and they're beginning to show up as reanimated monsters. Their classmates don't care as long as it gets them out of classwork. It's up to the Creeps to track down the culprit and save the town.

My opinion: This book is like a cross between Goosebumps and Scooby Doo. Funny and creepy at turns, there is a level of real science backing up the oddness. Visually, it is reminiscent of Nickelodeon cartoons from the mid 90s. The cast of characters is broad and each kid's strength comes into play solving the mystery and stopping the monsters. While this book lacks the heart and complexity of Schweizer's Crogan series, its a fun read likely to appeal to young readers.

More information: Night of the Frankenfrogs releases August 11.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Great Owl Repaint Project part 2

Back in February, I told you about a collection of owls I'm repainting. (Check out my first owl, Clara, here). This weekend, I repainted another one.

The Before: 
This owl isn't awful, just a little dull. And I can't stand it's eyes.

The After:
I modeled the color and patterning of this one after an Eagle Owl

 This owl is the father of the family. His name is Leif.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book review - Saving Mr. Terupt

Title: Saving Mr. Terupt
Author: Rob Buyea
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills
                     The Landry News by Andrew Clements
Not my favorite
Summary: Peter, Jeffrey, Alexia, Anna, Danielle, Luke, and Jessica had two great years with Mr. Terupt as their teacher. Now they're moving up to junior high and facing new challenges. Some of these things threaten to tear their tight knit group apart. It looks like Mr. Terupt was the glue that held them together. When they discover Mr. Terupt is in danger, could it be the push they need to work together again?

My opinion: To be 100% frank, I find these books tiresome. I found several of the kid's voices inauthentic, more like adults trying to talk like kids than real kids (in particular, I'm thinking of Alexia, whose chapters over use the word "like" as a Valley Girl would). The plot is predictable with the occasional ridiculous plot twist. The ending is a prime example of deus ex machina, resolution coming from happenstance rather than the efforts of the characters. The series does have it's positive points. There's a wide range of character types coming from different kids of families. The sheer number of perspectives make for quick, if occasionally confusing, reading. And the kids in these books are encouraged to be aware of current events, local politics, and the like which can encourage readers to do the same. So, while I don't care for them, I understand why this series is popular with kids.

More information: Saving Mr. Terupt is the third in a series, preceded by Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terput Falls Again,
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Books on screen

The Boxcar Children

 I probably read this book a dozen times as a kid. It appeals to many for it's portrayal of kids who take care of themselves, much like My Side of the Mountain in that respect actually. I was both pleased and apprehensive when I discovered that it had been made into a movie. Plot wise, it's relatively true to the novel. A few things have been modernized (no references to things like dishes being girls' work, physical labor for boys) and the characters mostly remain together where Henry often does things separately and describes it to the others in the book. My bigger complaint about this movie is the visual quality. The animation is rough, blocky. The voices don't really sync to the mouth movements. It;s basically the definition of low budget. I found that distracting. So, a decent story but don't expect much visually. Worth a view if you have Netflix Streaming.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book review - Song of Summer

Title: Song of Summer
Author: Laura Lee Anderson
Genre: romance
Similar books: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
                     I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
better than I expected

Summary: Robin has always thought that her perfect man would have good taste in music. She's a folk musician and can't stand the thought of her boyfriend listening to pop music. Then Carter walks into the diner where she works. He's attractive, rich, kind, and a good tipper. He's also, she comes to realize, profoundly deaf. Carter never expected to have a hearing girlfriend. It's quite difficult for them to communicate. A hearing girl doesn't understand Deaf culture. Yet, when they meet, Robin and Carter forget all of their previous objections and expectations.

My Opinion: At it's heart, this isn't that unusual a scenario for a romance novel. Two different worlds come together. Can such different people find common ground...and love? I've seen several variations on this over the years, even in the vein of not being able to appreciate your loved one's passions. A few things make this book stand out. 1. Anderson gives us detailed description both of how it feels to create music and life as a deaf person. 2. The difference between deaf and Deaf. Often in a book or a movie a deaf person gets some miracle cure and is "fixed" or finds some way to appreciate the hearing world. Carter is very much a part of Deaf culture. He doesn't want to hear. Because of these two vastly different approaches to life we see Carter and Robin trying and ultimately struggling to fit in and understand one another's worlds. 3. (NOTE: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS) The ending. As expected, their differing views of the world lead to a vast misunderstanding and break-up. While both Carter and Robin have experiences that open their eyes both to how they've misunderstood one another and to some part of the world that is meaningful to them, they don't exactly reconcile. There is the idea that they might sometime in the future, but no promises. The ending is a little abrupt, but that mostly works in this context. 

More information: Song of Summer is available only as an e-book.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Three clay figures

Here are three little figures I've made from polymer clay in the past. All figures are no bigger than two inches tall. I think all of these figures were inspired by some image I'd seen elsewhere, probably a drawing or a photo. The alien in the middle was inspired by a little alien made from grapes and peas and such. The alien uses some translucent clay. The little hot dog fairy uses some glow clay on the wings and the wand.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book review - The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Title: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books: The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
                     Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
a great read

Summary: A whole world opened up to Callie when her grandfather taught her to explore nature scientifically. She desperately wants to continue her education in the sciences. The problem? Her mother has decided that at 13 Callie is ready to begin preparing for her coming out. Time to put aside exploring the outdoors for needlework, cooking, and fine manners. Things become more complicated when a storm devastates Galveston and a teen cousin comes to stay, occupying Callie's bed. Meanwhile, her younger brother Travis is secretly disobeying a parental ban on bringing home strays.

My opinion: I found the first book in this series at turns funny, educational, and poignant. I was captivated. I was, therefore, a little hesitant going into this one. While sequels can be wonderful, if done wrong they can shake the love you have built for the first volume. That certainly isn't the case here. This book maintains the tone of the first book. It takes the major plot focus (discovering science and gender inequality) and builds upon it with new stories (cousin Aggie and Travis's animals). Also, I learned a lot about natural science from these novels. If they inspire me to read more about science, how must they inspire children? Well worth the read.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Adventures in Cartooning

Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost

Kids enjoy this book for it's humorous story of a knight and horse on a mission to fight a dragon. As they read, they're also getting a solid introduction to comic book terminology and storytelling structure. From the role of panels and dialogue to plot structure, all of these basics of comic design are explained as a part of the story. The art style is very simple, making it easy to replicate as kids are wont to do. This also encourages those who aren't confident in their drawing ability to try anyway. there are actually 4 Adventures in Cartooning books (How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics, Activity Book, Christmas Special, and Characters in Action) as well as a recently released picture book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?
The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
For the past year Tess has spent all of her time covering up her grandfather's increasing lapses of memory. All it takes is one phone call from her guidance counselor to her older sister Ivy for the whole thing to come crashing down. Now her grandfather is in a care facility and Tess has to move in with her sister and start a new school in DC, far from the only home she's ever known in Montana. As Tess gains a reputation for fixing problems at school, she has no way of knowing she's following in Ivy's footsteps. Their two worlds are on a collision course.

I really enjoyed Barnes's Naturals series and what little I've read of this one so far leads me to believe I'll feel the same about this one. I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

What did you recently finish reading?
Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson
Robin has always thought that her perfect man would have good taste in music. She's a folk musician and can't stand the thought of her boyfriend listening to pop music. Then Carter walks into the diner where she works. He's attractive, rich, kind, and a good tipper. He's also, she comes to realize, profoundly deaf. Carter never expected to have a hearing girlfriend. It's quite difficult for them to communicate. A hearing girl doesn't understand Deaf culture. Yet, when they meet, Robin and Carter forget all of their previous objections and expectations.

While the concept of this novel might be a little ridiculous, the execution is fantastic. Carter and Robin are both fully realized characters. The way their relationship plays out is unexpected. 

What do you think you'll read next?
Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr
A lot of the books I've been reading lately have been more in the teen romance vein. This dystopian action novel should be a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Book review - Jesse's Girl

Title: Jesse's Girl
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Genre: romance
Similar books: Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone
                     Paper or Plastic by  Vivi Barnes
Nice enough, if predictable

Summary: When Maya said she wanted to be a rock star when asked what she'd like to do for her school's Shadow Day, she figured she'd be sent to work at the radio station. She never expected to spend the day with country music superstar Jesse Scott. Jesse isn't at all what she expected, withdrawn and solitary rather than the party boy he's portrayed as in the media. Maya and Jesse don't think much of each other at first, but it's strange the difference a day can make.

My opinion: Like most romances, this book is rather predictable. Maya and Jesse hate each other initially, though this is mostly to mask their attraction. They, of course, give one another a chance, discover what they have in common, learn from each other, fall in love, push away, and eventually decide that being together is worth any cost. Love conquers all (cue mild eye roll). There is a level of reassurance to a plot like that, especially in the case of this novel. Maya is not rescued. If anything, it is Maya who does the rescuing. Overall, though, I found the plot somewhat tired. The music and fame are not unique enough to allow this novel to stand out from the crowd. It's a solid teen romance but not particularly memorable.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fandom ducks

Some time ago, a patron made a donation of craft supplies to our library. Among those supplies were some customizable rubber ducks. We've always wanted to use them for something but there have always been problems. Either we didn't have the right supplies to decorate them or we were getting the wrong group of kids (too young, too many, etc) for this to be an appropriate activity at a program. When we decided to do a Comic-con themed event for our teen summer reading program this year I knew we had a chance to use the ducks at last. While I've never been to a comic-con, I've read about them and know that "comic-con exclusive products" are a part of the draw. It was the work of a few days to design and paint these ducks, each representing a common fandom. For the most part, we simply painted the ducks, adding and subtracting nothing. The single exception is Jabba the Hutt in the final photo. For Jabba, we cut off the beak and closed off the resulting cavity with a little bit of hot glue.
Fandoms: Firefly, Star Wars, Avengers

Fandoms: Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Doctor Who

Fandoms: Harry Potter, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, Star Wars
All of the ducks were painted with acrylic paint and sealed with Mod Podge. NOTE: If you are experiencing high humidity (like we were when I painted these) Mod Podge is not likely to dry well. Your project will end up extremely sticky to the touch.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book review - The Six

Title: The Six
Author: Mark Alpert
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: BZRK by Michael Grant
                     Mindwar by Andrew Klavan
Scientifically strong

Summary: Ever since muscular dystrophy stole his mobility, Adam has filled his days with writing virtual reality games which allow him to run, jump, and play football like he used to. His father offers a more permanent solution: transfer his consciousness into digital information, allowing him to inhabit a robot body. This offer isn't entirely magnanimous. Adam and five other terminally ill teens will be expected to fight Sigma, an artificial intelligence gone rogue that threatens to dominate and destroy all humankind.

My opinion: Unlike some sci-fi with dubious technology, this novel lays out the science, purpose, and other potential usages of the technology. If you can believe such a technology possible, than the plot makes sense. It's very cinematic, with tight pacing and not much in the way of introspection. In fact, Adam and the others adjust surprisingly well to their new life as machines. In that aspect, the characterization is a bit weak. The characters don't particularly grow or change, but the use of technology is phenomenal. There are some spectacular scenes where Adam describes the sensations of moving his new robot body or of moving between objects as pure information. If you enjoy looking at the world from unique perspectives, this might be the book for you.

More information: The Six releases July 7.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pick 6: sci-fi

There are many levels of science fiction, from mostly realistic with some mild sci-fi elements to tales entirely set in a fictional world. While my personal tastes lean more towards the former, I try to read novels that fit all over the spectrum. Luckily, there are some really good sci-fi novels being written for young people these days. Here are six sci-fi novels, from beginning readers to teen novels, written in the last six months.

6 new sci-fi novels
1. Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes

2. Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger by Jon Scieszka

3. Denton Little's Death Date by Lance Rubin

4. Undertow by Michael Buckley

5. Dino Mike and the T-Rex Attack by Franco Aureliani

6. The Stellow Project by Shari Becker