Thursday, March 31, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight: The Crogan Adventures

The Crogan's Adventures series by Chris Schweizer

Each of the three books in this series approaches a different moral concept, like loyalty or vengeance, and uses an historical tale to illustrate it. The stories start with a modern family having some sort of dilemma. The father tells a story from his family history with a broader example of the same issue. The first two books are less polished, but by book 3, Crogan's Loyalty, Schweizer's work truly shines. Book 3 explores the various loyalties that influence a person: loyalty to family, to government, to ideals. Sometimes these loyalties conflict with one another, the focus of this plot. 
In all three books, no simple conclusions are drawn. There are no easy answers provided, just concepts to consider. The exaggerated, cartoony nature of the illustrations balances out the more serious nature of the story, providing light-hearted moments. All told, these are entertaining and informative stories with a contemplative heart. A great supplement to historical curriculum as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nonfiction book review - Faster, Higher, Smarter

Faster, Higher, Smarter by Simon Shapiro

This book works on two fronts. First, it appeals to sports-minded kids. As they are reading about feats of athleticism, they are seeing real life applications of science. Secondly, it appeals to science-minded kids, showing them that sports are more than just brute force. Books like this one bridge the divide between "brains" and "brawn" and everything in between. An admirable intent and the dynamic writing style in this one really succeeds. Even I, being inclined to neither science nor sports, enjoyed this one. Nicely done.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book review - Far Out Fairy Tales

Title: Far Out Fairy Tales
Author: Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton
Genre: fantasy/sci-fi/graphic novel
Similar books: Fairy-Tale Comics edited by Chris Duffy
                     Babymouse by Jennifer Holm

Summary (provided by publisher): What do you get when classic fairy tales are twisted about, turned inside out, and reworked for the graphic novel format? Far Out Fairy Tales! Discover what Snow White would be like if she were raised by robots. Find out how Cinderella's story plays out when she walks the path of the ninja. Play along when three billy goats named Gruff get stuck inside a video game. Chase down the Big Bad Wolf with the help of a superpowered Red Riding Hood! Each fairy tale revision holds true to the spirit of the original while adding a modern twist to the classic tales we know and love. Experience fairy tales like never before in this innovative series of full-color comic books for kids!

My opinion: There is certainly no shortage of fairy tale retellings these days. This collection appeals to a rather young audience, mostly those just beginning to read independently. The settings in each story are unique, though the plots themselves are relatively standard. Motivations change slightly as well as resolutions, but at heart readers will recognize the pathways of these stories. The art is detailed and dynamic. It's a novelty but nothing groundbreaking. Very young readers will enjoy this, as plot familiarity will lend confidence. Older readers will be entertained by it once or twice and move on.

More information: Far Out Fairy Tales releases April 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGaley.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A quick skirt

Last week I set myself a goal to make a new skirt for Easter Sunday. Ideally, I wanted to buy a plain skirt at the thrift store that I would then embellish. Unfortunately, I didn't find such a skirt. What I did find was this sundress.

I'm not really a sundress sort of person and this dress is rather on the short side. But, with the sleeves removed just above the smocking, it became the perfect length for a skirt. I added an iron-on rhinestone embellishment. The skirt had two small stains but those were easily covered with some decorations. I figured birds fit in nicely with the tree I had already added.

The best way to add these birds would have been to embroider them. But this skirt is a jersey knit and you really need a stabilizer to embroider on a knit and I had no stabilizer on hand. These birds were drawn with fabric markers. In future, I'll probably redo them with embroidery.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book review - The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author: Melissa Keil
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Save Me, Kurt Cobain by Jenny Manzer
                     You Were Here by Cori McCarthy
nice, a little slow

Summary (provided by publisher): Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. The only problem is shes overlooked a few teeny details. Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared. And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails. Even her latest comic book creation is misbehaving. Also, the world might be ending-- which is proving to be awkward. As doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Albas life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, its the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems. 

My opinion: There are some things I really like about this book. Alba is very comfortable with her body and her personality. She and her friends don't worry about what people think of them. In fact, they might be a little too self-assured and Keil asserts their individuality a bit too strongly. And they are preternaturally talented as a group. In spite of these mildly unrealistic elements, they have very real concerns. They struggle with future planning. They want more but don't always know how to get it. Or, in Alba's case, don't even know what they want. And they don't necessarily come to any real conclusions. The plot is somewhat predictable and moves a little slowly. Given that it centers around a potential apocalypse (which is a nice parallel to the major life change that is looming for the characters) there isn't a great deal of drama. Not a good choice if you're looking for a thrilling read but nicely introspective.

More information: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl releases to the American market April 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pick 6: New Kids

Moving to a new town or a new school is a classic set-up for a youth novel, and with good reason. Finding yourself in a new situation, adjusting to new schedules and a new peer group; these are a solid framework for addressing personal and family issues. Here are six books published in the last six months that feature kids who recently moved to new towns as a primary character.

6 New books with kids new to town:

1. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

2. Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan by Sheila Agnew

3. Thicker Than Water by Brigid Kemmerer

4. Crystal Cadets by Anne Toole and Katie O'Neil

5. Sanctuary Bay by Laura J Burns and Melinda Metz

6. The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Last of the Giants

Last of the Giants by Jeff Campbell

An absolutely fascinating read. Campbell explains the science of extinction and population development as well as the affects of human society on animal populations. Threats, preservation efforts, historical context, it's all here wrapped up in a  personable and engaging narrative. The subject and language are somewhat complex at times so this book won't appeal to everyone. A little bit of reading diligence pays off though with this book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book review - The Wooden Prince

Title: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince
Author: John Claude Bemis
Genre: fantasy/retelling
Similar books: The Peddler's Road by Matthew Cody
                     Stravaganza by Mary Hoffman
Interesting but not my favorite

Summary (provided by publisher): The automa Pinocchio has always been duty-bound to serve in the floating palace of Venice's emperor. So when Pinocchio finds himself locked in a trunk and delivered to a new master-a wanted criminal and alchemist named Geppetto-he is curious about everything around him. But most curious is the way Pinocchio seems to be changing from a wooden servant into a living, human boy. Before Geppetto and Pinocchio can uncover the mystery surrounding the automa's transformation, Pinocchio is stolen away. Determined to find Geppetto again, Pinocchio begins a harrowing journey across the Empire, where danger in the form of half-beast outlaws and winged airmen abounds for a lost automa.
Meanwhile, Princess Lazuli, the daughter of the ruler of a magical kingdom called Abaton, is also on a quest through the emperor's territory. Her father, Prester John, has been captured by the Venetian Empire, and Lazuli is desperate to rescue him. With the emperor's airmen closing in fast, Lazuli learns the only hope for saving her father-and her beloved home-lies in Pinocchio and Geppetto. In a masterful reimagining of Pinocchio, John Claude Bemis weaves an enchanting, thrilling adventure for middle-grade readers in the first installment in the Out of Abaton duology.

My Opinion: This is an intriguing twist on the Pinocchio story. If one is familiar with the original book rather than the Disney movie, one will recognize many of the individual elements in this book. Not ho  they are put together, though. Not their purposes or motivations. Mostly just the characters and general locations. Pinocchio does end up a part of a puppet show,  though even this serves an entirely different purpose in this novel. Even Pinocchio has different motivations. In the original story Pinocchio is learning what it  means to be real, to be human. Both good and bad. He learns selfishness, pleasure, and self-sacrifice. This is the point of the original book. Bemis' Pinocchio is naturally virtuous. He always makes the right choice, or at least the wrong choice for the right reason. 
Out of Abaton features a fascinatingly complex world but a less pleasing plot. Not a book for the casual reader.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, March 21, 2016


At our fall craft fair, we had several requests for magnets. So, in getting ready for the spring fair it only seemed natural to include some magnets. We only had a few weeks to get ready so here are the designs I came up with. In future I might expand this to a larger variety.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Book review - The Girl in the Well is Me

Title: The Girl in the Well is Me
Author: Karen Rivers
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: How to Fly with Broken Wings by Jane Elson
                     Into the Forest by Louis Nowra
interesting, but gives me pause

Summary(provided by publisher): Newcomer Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into a club whose members have no intention of letting her join. Now Kammie's trapped in the dark, growing increasingly claustrophobic, and waiting to be rescued—or possibly not.
As hours pass, the reality of Kammie's predicament mixes with her memories of the highlights and lowlights of her life so far, including the reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to run out of oxygen, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.

My opinion: This is not the first book I've read with a surrealist, disjointed narration. Those other books, though, are written with a teen audience in mind. This book is clearly meant for a younger middle grade audience, an age where you're only just starting to analyze books, interpret symbolism, explore more complex cause and effect. Half of the plot of this book borders on hallucination, al a 128 Hours but with a kid. That's a seriously hard sell. The intent is good, with Kammie examining what led her to this place and what choices she could make differently in the future. In execution it is ambitious but impractical.

Advance Reader Copy provided by  NetGalley.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Picture books for everyone

Never Insult a Killer Zucchini by Elana Azose and Brandon Amancio

This book reads like a hybrid of an alphabet book and a graphic novel. Each entry is well supported by a humorous illustration. It could just be viewed as an odd alphabet novelty were it not for the glossary. The final pages briefly explain the real science behind each project that the protagonist and his zucchini encounter at the science fair. Older kids and parents will get a chuckle out of this book and younger kids will be entertained by the illustrations. A great choice for a family of science geeks.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Book review - Holding Court

Title: Holding Court
Author: K.C. Held
Genre: mystery
Similar books: Sight by Juliet Madison
                     17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Good, not great

Summary (provided by publisher): Sixteen-year-old Jules Verity knows exactly what's in store at her new job at castle-turned-dinner-theater Tudor Times. Some extra cash, wearing a fancy-pants dress, and plenty of time to secretly drool over the ever-so-tasty-and completely unavailable-Grayson Chandler. Except that it's not quite what she imagined.
For one, the costume Jules has to wear is awful. Then there's the dead body she finds that just kind of...well, disappears. Oh, and there's the small issue of Jules and her episodes of what her best friend calls "Psychic Tourette's Syndrome"-spontaneous and uncontrollable outbursts of seemingly absurd prophecies.
The only bright side? This whole dead body thing seems to have gotten Grayson's attention. Except that the more Jules investigates, the more she discovers that Grayson's interest might not be as courtly as she thought. In fact, it's starting to look suspicious...

My opinion: There are two elements to this book I really enjoy: Jules' job and her psychic manifestations. That twist on the medieval times/historical reenactment job is pretty entertaining. Clever. And I love the psychic blurt thing. Like a Greek seer, unable to control her gift. I'm a fan of double edged abilities in books like this. Now the book does suffer from some believably issues and is not particularly complex. Still, the mystery is solid if not mind blowing. An entertaining read, just not something that would hold up to multiple reads.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book review - The Serpent King

Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre
                     Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone
good luck keeping your emotions in check

Summary (provided by publisher): Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father's extreme faith and very public fall from grace.
He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

My opinion: Fantastic. A vivid depiction of teens on the verge of a major life change. These kids are your quintessential outsiders, too odd to fit in with their peers in small-town America. I was prepared to be annoyed with this book. Intentional outsiders can get a little too much play in novels. They tend to be overly strong and defiant. While Lydia fits this description, Travis is more oblivious and Dil is incredibly damaged. Their personality traits become more intense as the novel progresses, almost as if they are desperately trying to hold on to themselves with the prospect of major life change looming. The writing itself is elegant, artistic. Zentner consistently chooses the best possible words, an archaic and artistic vocabulary. Now, this writing style can border on self-importance and arrogance, but the sentences are so well put together that I'm inclined to forgive a handful of unnecessary SAT words. And be prepared. The last quarter of this book nearly had me in tears. Like, full-on sobbing. This is a book from which it can be difficult to disentangle yourself.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Books on screen

The Smurfs and the Magic Flute
The original Smurfs books, and especially this first story, are surprisingly different from the cartoon of the 80's. In fact, the Smurfs are secondary characters in this story which focuses on Johan and Peewit (renamed John and William in the British dub of the film). For the most part, the film follows the plot of the book fairly closely. A few scenes are combined or altered to improve the flow of the movie and a couple of songs are added (probably to pad the movie length a little). These songs serve little purpose in terms of the plot and one of them (about the Smurfs' personalities) was so irritating I could barely stand to listen to it. The humor and story-telling style are more reflective of the comics than of the cartoon. Strictly speaking, this movie is strong representation of the original book. As a movie, it's not exactly the most entertaining though. If you're a real Smurf fan, give this one a watch. Everyone else could probably skip it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book review - Tru and Nelle

Title: Tru & Nelle
Author: G. Neri
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books: Young Houdini by Simon Nicholson
                     My Near Death Adventures(99% True) by Alison DeCamp
charming, but audience specific

Summary (provided by publisher): Long before they became famous writers, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) were childhood friends in Monroeville, Alabama. This fictionalized account of their time together opens at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Tru is seven and Nelle is six. They love playing pirates, but they like playing Sherlock and Watson-style detectives the most. It's their pursuit of a case of drugstore theft that lands the daring duo in real trouble. Humor and heartache intermingle in this lively look at two budding writers in the 1930s South. 

My opinion: For a reader familiar with Capote and Lee, the events of this book are expected but too charming to become tiresome. I was entertained at every turn. The problem is, this book skews young. Content-wise, it's middle grade. The major characters, though, are early elementary. And 5-7th graders aren't likely to be familiar with either author. That's going to make this book a really tough sell, especially as there isn't enough depth to the secondary characters to up the appeal. Frankly, I expect the largest audience for this book to be adults looking for a quick read.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Wooden Spoon Puppets

I am a big fan of wooden spoon puppets. With a very simple shape you have a great deal of room to play with details. These are the designs I came up with for the craft fair. Given a short time frame, I wasn't able to put in as many details as I had hoped. I may be able to upgrade them in future.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book review - Gorilla Tactics

Title: Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions: Gorilla Tactics
Author: Sheila Grau
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Fairy Tale Reform School series by Jen Calonita
                     Goblins by Philip Reeve
Excellent Read

Summary (provided by publisher): The second book in this hilarious, illustrated series cracks the imaginative world of minions wide open, and we meet the other schools and Evil Overlords that surround Dr. Critchlore's. Runt Higgins needs answers, fast. Someone cursed him to die on his sixteenth birthday, but no one seems to know who cursed him or why. Runt decides he must find the Great Library, where all true knowledge is hidden. Unfortunately, the only people who know the location of the Great Library are a covert network of librarian-spies who'd rather die than give up the Library's secrets. And when one of Runt's professors is attacked, it soon becomes clear that others are also out to find the Library at any cost. Meanwhile, Runt's not the only one whose days are numbered. To save the floundering school from an inevitable sale, Dr. Critchlore takes some desperate measures. His master plan to save the school: a fashion show.

My opinion: Sometimes the second book in a series flounders. That is certainly not the case here. This is a solid, entertaining read. There's a decent recap of the events in the last book, enough to serve as a reminder if it's been a while since you read it but not so much as to become an annoyance if it hasn't. This book focuses on it's own plot while also building on the larger series plot, that of Runt trying to identify his origins. Characters are solidly portrayed with a little development. The book is infused with enough humor to keep it from becoming overly bleak or melodramatic. While foreshadowing in this volume seems to be hinting at some developments that don't thrill me, as it stands now this is a series I'll continue to eagerly recommend.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Astronaut Academy

Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman

Initially, Astronaut Academy was the webcomic Astronaut Elementary. This is reflected in episodic style of the book. Connections between each episode are barely present at times, making this book easy to read in fits and starts. In fact, that's how I recommend reading it, each episode read and absorbed on it's own. Mull each over for a bit before moving on. Some are not very deep, more humorous than thought-provoking. We have scenes of dinosaur racing, school rivalries, the love of toys or snack foods. Then there are the hearts. Roman's portrayal of love, crushes, and heartbreak really sets this book apart. In the world of Astronaut Academy, when you love someone you literally give them one of your hearts. If they love you in return, they also give you heart, leaving each person with a complete collection of hearts. If many people love you, you may have an abundance of hearts and love. If your love is not returned, you are stretched thin, left slightly empty. And worst, if your heart is broken, it never fits right again. I've read those scenes repeatedly and it never fails to have impact. While certainly quirky, Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity and it's sequel Re-Entry remain some of my favorites are definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Helen Thayer's Arctic Adventure

Helen Thayer's Arctic Adventure by Sally Isaacs

This is a pretty cool story for kids. A great sense of adventure and danger but enough distance to keep it from being overly frightening.\. The level of detail is just about perfect for elementary age readers. The images weren't as polished as I might have liked but the subject appeal makes up for that somewhat. This wouldn't be the first non-fiction book I'd recommend, but given the right circumstances I could imagine directing a kid to it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Book review - The Maypop Kidnapping

Title: The Maypop Kidnapping
Author: C. M. Surrisi
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
                     Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Summary(provided by publisher):A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd's teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn't shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it's a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn't believe her, but Quinnie's going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.
Quinnie's investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine's messiest places. On the way, she'll have help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they'll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who've been pigging out on lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie's hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger .

My Opinion: The first thing to note is that the intended audience for this novel is middle grade. I'd go so far as to say young middle grade. Therefore, some simplicity in the plot and predictability are not unexpected. As a mystery, it follows investigative procedure fairly well. Quinnie looks at suspects, explores motives, and hunts for evidence. There is equal focus given to the mystery and exploring relationships, both with her mother and the new girl next door. This personalizes the story and gives the reader more to reflect upon. I could see this working well as a book club selection as there is plenty to discuss.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley