Monday, February 29, 2016

Craft foam menagerie

I signed up to do a craft fair soon and then realized that a large percentage of what I usually take to fairs is Christmas themed. Preparing for this next craft fair has taken an extra dose of creativity. 

Remembering how much I enjoyed making my Harry Potter puppet, I thought a few animal puppets made in the same manner might be a good idea.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Book review - The Genius factor: How to Capture an Invisible Cat

Title: How to Capture and Invisible Cat
Author: Paul Tobin
Genre: sci-fi/humor
Similar books: How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me from Robots, Traitors, and Missy the Cruel by Jennifer Brown
                     Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
quirky and entertaining
Summary (provided by publisher): Every Friday the 13th, 6th grade genius and inventor extraordinaire Nate Bannister does three not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. This time, he taught a caterpillar math, mailed a love letter, and super-sized his cat Proton before turning him invisible.
As Nate and his new (well, only) friend Delphine race to stop Proton from crushing everyone and everything in town, they come face-to-face with Sir Jakob Maculte (the twenty-seventh lord of Mayberry Castle and leader of the nefarious Red Death Tea Society). Known for its criminal activity, killer tactics, and impressive tea brewing skills, the Red Death Tea Society will do anything to get in their way.
Nate and Delphine must pull out every mind-blowing gadget, half-perfected invention, and unproven but theoretically sound strategy they've got up their sleeves in order to survive to see Saturday the 14th!
Eisner winner Paul Tobin's extraordinarily madcap middle grade debut features black and white illustrations from film talent Thierry Lafontaine and is the first of five novels in the series.

My opinion: First of all, the plot of this novel is entirely ridiculous. A study in the absurd. What redeems it is the fact that it knows it is absurd. Tobin plays with the plot, escalating the ridiculous to the point that it becomes humorous instead of tiresome and unbelievable. It's almost a spoof while maintaining a (mostly) logical plot. This is not the best book you'll ever read. It relies a little too heavily on coincidence and toilet humor for my taste. Some will find the odd narration style, the unusual phrasing and occasional repetition annoying rather than humorous. Not for everyone but hose who enjoy the quirky and offbeat will likely get a kick out of this one.

More information: How to Capture and Invisible Cat releases March 1.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pick 6: STEM

With the focus on STEM education these days, it's no surprise that this is beginning to be reflected in kids' fiction. Sci-fi books are taking a harder look at the science on which they base their plots. Even realistic fiction is including more focus on science. Here are six books published in the last six months that support STEM education.

6 New STEM novels

1. Oscar and the Amazing Gravity Repellent by Tina L. Peterson

2. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

3. Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang

4. Life at the Speed of Us by Heather Sappenfield

5. High School Horror: Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker

6. Never Insult a Killer Zucchini by Elana Azose

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Tooth by Tooth

Tooth by Tooth by Sara Levine

Before reading this book, I expected one of two things: either a comparison of tooth types or some examples of animals of with unusual dentition. The reality is a nice blend of these ideas. Levine takes us through the purpose of each type of tooth and what various combinations of them mean in regards to what the animals eat. Most tooth grouping get multiple examples (not just beavers with large incisors, but mice, hamsters, and more). A nice introduction for kids interested in animals. 

And as a side note, can I just say how much it entertains me that the illustrator goes by the name T.S. Spookytooth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book review - Heart or Mind

Title: Heart or Mind
Author: Patrick Jones
Genre: romance/retelling
Similar books: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian
                     Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper
More troubling than enjoyable

Summary (provided by publisher): Do the crime, do the time behind bars. But once you've been in, it can be tough to stay out.
Tension between African Americans and Somalis at Rodney's high school erupts into a food fight that turns into a riot. In the midst of the violence, Rodney helps a Somali classmate to safety. Soon Rodney and Jawahir fall for each other. Against the pleas of their families and friends, they can't help but follow their hearts.
As groups on both sides of the fight harbor lingering resentment, Rodney and Jawahir are caught in the middle. Rodney is determined to avoid trouble, having served a previous stint at the County Home School. But in a world where hate seems to rule, can Rodney and Jawahir keep their flame of love alive? Or will their relationship ignite a fire that destroys all in its path?  

My opinion: Romeo and Juliet gets retold all the time. Once you recognize that base story, you know where the current plot is going. I really thought Jones was going to head in a more positive direction for a while there, once Rodney's friends begin to accept his relationship with Jawari. And the ending of this book is actually far more depressing than the original story. Shakespeare's characters die because of a misunderstanding and their deaths are displayed as a tragedy that brings understanding to their families. In Jones' story, they actually try to unite their groups in life and when they can't see a way to live peacefully in their community decide there is nowhere they will be accepted and so decide to kill themselves. Perhaps we're meant to view this as romantic. I found it heartless and short-sighted. I had some real problems with some of the plot points. The principal's plan to unite the school through a school dance? Jawari's decision to throw away her religious conviction (in spite of being portrayed as quite devout previously) for love, even going so far as to state explicitly "love was more important than her religion"? I find that very hard to believe. And the time frame is too brief. This level of devotion would be far more believable over a period of months rather than days.

More information: Heart or Mind releases March 1.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 22, 2016

They are Groot

Some time ago, I won a solar dancing flower as a prize at a party. Flowers...aren't really my thing.
My first thought was to drop it off at Goodwill. Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and realized that if I pried the flower head and ladybugs off, it had potential to be a really awesome Groot.

The biggest challenge with this remake was the material for the head. It needed to be lightweight, so it can still dance, but easily sculpted. Ideally, I wanted to do this with materials I had on hand. I actually ended up making two heads: one of wax and the other of styrofoam. The wax head looked awesome, but no matter how much wax I carved off our out of the center of the head it remained too heavy, constantly pulling the body to one side. Styrofoam, while yielding a less smooth finished product, is light enough to allow for movement. I painted the head, stem, and leaves with acrylic paint, inserted some bead eyes, and finished it off with acrylic sealer. While not a perfect replica, I'm fairly happy with the finished product.
The wax head. It looks a lot better in person
I decided to keep both heads. Maybe I'll stick the wax one somewhere.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book review - The Sandwich Thief

Title: The Sandwich Thief
Author: Andre Marios
Genre: early chapter book/mystery
Similar books: The Magic Box by L. M. Falcone
                     The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb Rating:
kinda fun

Summary (provided by publisher): Marin loves the sandwiches his parents make for him—every day they're different and more delicious than the last. One morning, someone dares to steal his favorite sandwich: ham-cheddar-kale. Furious, Marin begins a fevered and famished investigation to unmask the thief. The days go by, the suspects multiply, and Marin's sandwiches continue to disappear. This droll, graphic caper is a funny school mystery exploring the high stakes of low blood sugar. The first in a series, the book's witty text and graphic illustrations make this funny school mystery perfect for early and advanced readers alike—and for anyone who's been the victim of lunchtime crime. 

My opinion: Positives for this one: It's a mystery for young kids that involves an actual crime, a genuine theft. Sure the stolen objects are sandwiches but its theft nonetheless. Little kid mysteries tend to fall into the missing object-misunderstanding vein. This is a nice change of pace. Marin makes a list of suspects and motivations, follows clues, and draws conclusions. Solid mystery elements. As a side benefit, it advocates the consumption of diverse "real" foods instead of the same-old-same-old processed fare. Negatives: the conclusion is odd. While having his mother create mysterious flavor balls to put in the trap sandwich makes it a non-imitatable stunt I can't help but wonder if there might have been a more believable solutions. Plenty of illustrations, though, supporting the text with a great range of facial expressions.

More information: The Sandwich Thief releases March 1.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Picture books for everyone

You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi

The illustration style of this book is highly stylized, some might say strange, but the content more than makes up for it. The beginning is phenomenal. The whimsical innocence of the child character is pretty funny. Young children will relate to his thought process; older ones will be as entertained by him as the adult reader. The ending is more melancholy, with the T-Rex letting go of his young charge. This may be confusing or unsettling for some young ones but a little reassurance from their adults will quickly allay any fears. Also, adult readers beware: be prepared to attempt pronunciation of (and probably have your pronuciation corrected by young dinosaur enthusiasts) Chilantaisaurus.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Ballpark Eats

Ballpark Eats by Katrina Jorgensen

I like that this book has a wide range of information: facts about the parks, the foods, and baseball in general. I found the assortment of recipes a little odd. Some are fully from scratch (pickles, poutine, steak sandwiches) while others were combinations of convenience foods easily assembled by kids with little assistance (sweet sushi, Boston cream pies). Like most kids' cookbooks, it's hard to imagine the average reader cooking much if anything from this book. But, the appeal factor is high and the facts make this a book that can be perused and explored often.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book review - The Trolls Will Feast

Title: The Creeps #2: The Trolls Will Feast
Author: Chris Schweizer
Genre: humor/horror/graphic novel
Similar books: Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle
                     Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
a fun adventure

Summary (provided by publisher): In Pumpkins County, monster attacks are a common enough occurrence, but when Jarvis is attacked by an invisible monster, the Creeps know they've found their next case. Through Mitchell's extensive monster expertise, the gang identifies the culprit: a Troll. Unfortunately, Trolls travel in packs. They hibernate together, and they feast on humans together. The tastiest type of human? Those who have been marinating in their own stress hormones. And there's an awful lot of stress to go around these days, what with the town's gossip site spewing out nonstop misinformation and alarmist messages. Could the Trolls be behind the county-wide breakdown in communication? With the town's anxiety levels soaring off the charts, it's up to the Creeps to find out—before the Trolls' big feast.
This hilarious graphic-novel series celebrates the power of underdogs and the importance of finding your tribe—even if your tribe is weird and just, well . . . creepy.

My opinion: When I read the first Creeps book last year, I was somewhat underwhelmed. While it was entertaining, it didn't blow me away as I had expected from a Chris Schweizer book. This book is much stronger. While still odd, it is more endearing. Perhaps that's because we are expecting something strange or because we are familiar with the characters so there is less emphasis on introduction. Either way, we have a quirky humorous horror plot with subtle messages about social media, bullying, and societal stress. There's certainly no sophomore slump here. If Schweizer continues on this arc, each successive book in the series should reach an increasing level of awesome.

More information: The Trolls Will Feast releases March 8.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 15, 2016

A few pages from my sketchbook

While I have a few crafts in progress, I've not finished anything since Christmas. Since I can't bring myself to post pictures of Christmas ornaments right now, I thought I'd share some sketchbook pages. Most of the contents are just doodles, though a few hold promise for future projects that just might make their way onto this blog at some point. For now, this is a small part of what my creative process looks like.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Book review - Behind the Canvas

Title: Behind the Canvas
Author: Diane Zahler
Genre: Adventure/fantasy
Similar books: The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton
                     Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
surprisingly intellectual

Summary (provided by publisher): There is a world behind the canvas. Past the flat fa├žade and the crackling paint is a realm where art lives, breathes, creates, and destroys.
Claudia Miravista loves art but only sees what is on the surface-until the Dutch boy Pim appears in the painting in her room. Pim has been trapped in the world behind the canvas for centuries by a power-hungry witch, and he now believes that Claudia is his only hope for escape. Fueled by the help of an ancient artist and some microwaveable magic, Claudia enters the wondrous and terrifying world behind the canvas, intent on destroying the witch's most cherished possession and setting her new friend free. But in that world nothing is quite as it appears on the surface. Not even friendship.

My opinion: This is a pretty solid adventure story with loads of art history facts, both incorporated directly into the text and added as footnotes. I like that the footnotes are both informative and entertaining, with a solid dose of humor. Readable and conversational instead of dry. I felt like the writing was a little bulky, perhaps overly descriptive at times. I was able to skim some passages without feeling like I was missing anything important (similar to when I read Chasing Vermeer). Not something you're going to read casually but for an middle grader who enjoys an intellectually challenging read this is a solid choice.

More information: Behind the Canvas releases February 23.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Books on screen

The Tale of Despereaux

I know that The Tale of Despereaux was an award winner and is beloved by thousands. It wasn't my favorite though. So I didn't have very high hopes going into the movie. Again, not a bad movie though it's not my cup of tea. More importantly, it's not the best representation of the book. Firstly, Despereaux is a very different character type on screen: brave and adventurous rather than the fearful shy mouse in the book. Another important characterization change is that of the antagonist, Roscuro. In the book, he is twisted by circumstance, conspiring to destroy the lives of royalty to suit his dark ideas. In the movie, he is more of an anti-hero, a wandering rat who causes accidental harm and seeks revenge on those who judge him unfairly. When you look at these changes along with a number of other, smaller changes, you can see that this all comes down to a difference of intent for the two mediums. The book is focused on characters overcoming their nature for the good of others, finding bravery when one is fearful, looking past the prejudice we are taught, and so on. The movie, on the other hand, looks at how others judge us and we must use our actions to help them see through their prejudices. In all, the book is stronger as it gives motivations and history to secondary and tertiary characters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book review - The Extincts

Title: The Extincts
Author: Veronica Cossanteli
Genre: Humor
Similar books: The Big Hairy Secret by Thomas Kingsley Troupe
                     Goblins by Phillip Reeve

Summary (provided by publisher): George is looking for a job in order to raise money for a new bike, so when he sees a help wanted ad for Wormestall Farm, he goes for it. Before long, he's embroiled in a madcap adventure involving creatures both (supposedly) extinct and (previously thought to be) mythological, a new friend (a girl!), and a maniacal taxidermist who wants the animals of Wormestall Farm in her own private collection . . . stuffed, of course.

My opinion: This book was a great deal of fun. Clever and just the right level of silly to be entertaining. Yet the comedic elements never become the main focus of the novel, that honor going instead to foiling an evil plot. The story is ridiculous, of course, but in an amusing way. It's very tongue-in-cheek. This is a great choice for fans of Roald Dahl and the NERDS series.
More information: The Extincts releases February 9.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A simple, yet entertaining, craft

In my new job, I work in a cubicle which has a corkboard on one wall. I bought some thumbtacks for my board, but plain old white tacks are really dull. I have plans to decorate them in a variety of ways, but to start out I glued a piece of craft foam to one of them. Given the general design of tacks, this arrangement seemed fairly obvious to me.

When I made my Pac-Man tack, my brother immediately asked me when I planned to make some cherries to go along with it. I figured I'd get to it eventually. The day after I put up my tacks, though, I arrived at work to discover this on my board:
I am impressed by my mystery co-worker.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book review - These Vicious Masks

Title: These Vicious Maks
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Genre: historical fiction/sci-fi
Similar books: The Diviners by Libba Bray
                     The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
not great, but not bad
Summary (provided by publisher): Evelyn has no interest in marriage and even the dashing Mr. Kent can’t make her want to live up to society’s expectations. She’d much rather assist her beloved sister Rose in achieving her radical dream of becoming a doctor. But everything changes the night she meets Sebastian Braddock – not only is the reclusive gentleman both vexing and annoyingly attractive, he’s also quite possibly mad, and his interest in Rose is galling. So when Evelyn wakes up to discover that Rose has disappeared, she immediately suspects Sebastian.

But then she discovers that Sebastian’s strange tales of special powers are actually true, and that Rose’s kidnappers have worse in mind for her than simply ruining her reputation. Surrounded by secrets, lies, and unprecedented danger, Evelyn has no choice but to trust Sebastian, yet she can’t help but worry that Sebastian’s secrets are the most dangerous of all… 

My opinion: I've read other historical fiction with fantastical elements like mental powers. For such novels to be truly successful, there needs to be a careful blend of historical elements and the fantastic, using the history to give the fantastic context and heavier impact. Unfortunately, in this novel, the balance is off. There's too much focus on Victorian propriety and match-making, not enough on the powers and conspiracy around them. While the historical elements are important, giving the plot and the characters context, they don't need to be the major focus of the novel. Evelyn is a great character, full of attitude and thoroughly fed-up with the society in which she lives. The other characters are less well-fleshed and the plot is a little murky. There's certainly room for growth, though, and future volumes could make the series as a whole quite strong.

More information: These Vicious Masks releases February 9.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight - Herobear and the Kid

Herobear and the Kid: The Inheritance by Mike Kunkel

Here's a graphic novel that is sure to appeal to kids and adults alike. Indeed, Kunkel actually addresses the adults in the audience. The opening narration for each issue appears to be an adult Tyler recalling childhood and its sense of wonder, belief, and magic in a way that is certainly more typical of an adult than any ten year old. ThHe magic and that recapturing of wonder along with the great details and sense of artistry will appeal to adults. The cartoon style and the fulfillment of every kid's desire to be a hero will draw in the young, not to mention the universal dilemmas of new schools, the bus, and bullies. The combination of a thrilling plot and fantastic detail make Herobear an all around excellent choice.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Science Stunts

Science Stunts by Jordan D. Brown

This is a great collection of cool science tricks. If you've spent much time looking at books of science tricks (or on Pinterest) many of these tricks will be familiar. Clear step-by-step instructions and excellent illustrations keep the experiments from seeming stale. From an educational standpoint, each experiment has an easily understood explanation of the science that makes it work. It's a great choice for individuals and libraries.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book review - The Bolds

Title: The Bolds
Author: Julian Clary
Genre: humor
Similar books: Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith
                     The Ghastly McNastys by Lyn Garner
very silly fun
Summary (provided by publisher): The Bolds live in an ordinary suburban house on an ordinary suburban street in London—but they are far from being an ordinary family...
Mrs. Bold makes unusual hats from egg boxes and chicken bones.
Mr. Bold is rather fond of scavenging in the neighbors' garbage cans.
Bobby is a cheeky little one, always running about and chewing on table legs.
And Betty likes to chase her brother and has a strange, cackling laugh.
Yes, they are far from being an ordinary family. But have you guessed their secret yet? 

My opinion: This is a truly bizarre book, but bizarre in a way that makes it a great deal of fun. It is the ultimate in silly with a perfect blend of the ludicrous and toilet humor. The illustrations really support the plot. Parents might not love this book but it should be a hit with the children. I personally enjoyed it more than I expected. Clary has an acute sense of comedic timing. A great choice for fans of offbeat humor.

More information: The Bolds releases March 1. 
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Custom gnome

My sister is a fan of lawn gnomes, so I've long considered the idea of customizing a gnome for her. I was lucky enough to find this one at a yard sale for a very reasonable price.
Personally, I find the original design somewhat creepy, what with his solid black eyes, bright red eyes, solid sky-blue suit, and odd gold boots. He had a high gloss finish so first I did some light sanding and covered the whole thing in a white base coat. I painted it with acrylic paints and finished it with an acrylic top coat.
 His eyes still aren't quite right but the light grey isn't nearly as bad as the black.