What I’ve read lately. . .

Posted by amanda on Mar 23rd, 2011
Mar 23

I just finished the adult historical fiction book
Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin.
It is written from the perspective of Alice Liddell Hargreaves whose childhood friendship with Charles Dodgson prompted him to write the book that became Alice in Wonderland.

Small Persons with Wings by Ellen Booraem
Fairies are real, but they prefer not to be called that.
A book for middle grade and early teens, with a very spunky flawed heroine who has a rocky relationship with various small persons.

Zita Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
A graphic novel for 4th – 8th grade that could not be more zany, fun and perfectly pitched. To get a sense of Zita’s humor check out the webcomic.

Kitty’s House of Horrors and Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn
Bestselling series for adults about a late night D.J. who is a werewolf and finds herself ever in peril whether she’s embroiled in vampire politics or trying to help werewolf soldiers returned from Iraq before they kill anyone. Very fun, very fast reads.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Paranormal teen romance set in Victorian England with mechanical monsters.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt

Posted by amanda on Jan 22nd, 2011
Jan 22

It’s the best book about an escaped circus pig who takes a job as a nanny that I’ve ever read.
Really it’s one of the most fun books for middle graders I’ve come across.

Nanny Piggins is a charmingly magical character who is put in charge of the three Green children. Mr. Green who is the single parent of the household is miserly and the opposite of fun. Because he is so cheap, the only applicant for the job of nanny is an impeccably-dressed, chocolate-loving pig on the lamb. He accepts her because she offers to work cheaply. Nanny Piggins comes and takes the children on adventures from pie-eating contests to reforming thieves to hiding a dancing circus bear in a garden shed. The Green children experience the transformation of their lives by an exceptional nanny. Clearly the Mary Poppins parallel is there, but this is zanier though just as magical.

I think this has broad appeal for children in grades 3-5. Especially fans of humor.
239p., 2010.

The shortlists are OUT.

I am excited to see the nominees for Graphic Novels.
I have read some of them, but am placing some library holds on the rest right now.

I’ve also only read one of the middle grade Sci-Fi/Fantasy nominees, so there’s an excellent reading list for me to start 2011 off right.

Falling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Posted by amanda on Dec 20th, 2010
Dec 20

A girl (one Isabelle Bean in this case) who has always felt different opens a door into another world.
She discovers secrets about her family and changes the other world for the better. She becomes less lonely and learns about how friends and family are what truly matter.
It’s happened in other books.
It’s a simple quest of a discovery.

It’s also one of the best fantasies I’ve read lately. The author speaks directly to the reader like a friend. Well, like a slightly, older, wiser friend who is trying not to point out too harshly that you, the reader, really should be following along a bit faster.

While Isabelle would like to discover she is a changeling, she discovers she isn’t quite and the magic she longs for is more gentle than powerful. It’s one of those stories where the girl doesn’t quite get what she wants, but instead is gifted with what she needs.

I appreciated it as an adult with a child of my own, but think middle graders would enjoy the adventure and warmth of it just as much in their own way. Give to readers who love L’Engle and aren’t sure what to read next. 245p., 2010.

3 Middle Grade Zombie Books

Posted by amanda on Nov 10th, 2010
Nov 10

The Curse of Cuddles McGee by Emily Ecton
I love Ecton’s books. They are just the right mix of laugh-out-loud funny and creepy horror. In this one, a hamster named Cuddles has returned from the grave to exact his revenge. Ty and Arlie are best friends tasked with saving the town from undead rodent wrath. The pair are likable as all get-out and even the minor characters like Tina, Arlie’s fashion obsessed older sister, have their shining moments. Mr. Boots, Arlie’s family’s exhibitionist chihuahua, is a faithful and fearful sidekick to our heroes. This has all the appeal of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series with the addition of quality writing and an excellent humorous wit. 264p., 2008.

Zombie Chasers by John Kloeper
This had great zombie attack sequences. The cartoon illustrations of zombie mayhem were excellent. I loved the zombified bodyparts twisted into the numerals replacing the number in the chapter headings. The action was non-stop and peril present at every turn. My problem with this was that all the characters were superficial and you can say it’s hard to have meaningful connections to characters in zany whacked-out plots, but I found myself really attached to the protagonists of both the other books mentioned in this post. None of the characters in Zombie Chasers seemed to care for much except themselves, popularity, video games, and attractive members of the other sex – oh, and surviving the zombie onslaught. So, this is for readers who like the idea of zombie action and will let character development slide to get it. 205p., 2010.

Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie: My Rotten Life by David Lubar
Nathan’s been picked on and left out enough to feel that his feelings may be a liability. When he experiments with a potion designed to deaden his emotions, he finds it has deadened the rest of him. The zombification is spreading and he’s racing the clock to avoid permanent half-dead zombie status. Being a zombie does afford him some benefits. Feeling no pain means he can do enough pull-ups to help his school win a contest and be a school hero. Zombies also don’t sleep leaving him lots of time to improve his video game skills. And if you’re already half-dead it’s hard to worry about the school bully. This is the start of a series of books about Nathan. I enjoyed Nathan figuring out his how his zombie-ness worked with his friends. I enjoyed the bits with his thumb falling off and still being able to be moved by him despite being removed from his body. Zombie good times! 155p., 2009.

Cybils 2010!

Posted by amanda on Oct 20th, 2010
Oct 20

The nominations are in and I get to judge this year for Graphic Novels. I am very excited.

I am starting to read the nominees with the middle grade novels first since that’s a collection I maintain at my library.

And as if I didn’t have enough to read, I’d like to start on some Newbery possibilities. A cool coworker of mine has tagged a bunch of Mock Newbery listed books on goodreads.

Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger

Posted by amanda on Oct 20th, 2010
Oct 20

When Stanley buys Zombiekins from his witchy neighbor’s garage sale, she warns him to read “zee instructionz.” So, he promptly throws them away and begins to play with Zombiekins – a creepy-cute stuffy that is made of half bear and half bunny sewn together with a dangling eyeball. Zombiekins is left with other stuffed animals overnight and they are mysteriously ripped open and de-stuffed. Stanley has a great idea to take Zombiekins to school and soon his classmates have been zombified. Stanley and his friend, Miranda, hunt for the cure while the zombified students hunt them.

The text is great fun, but the illustrations on nearly every page make it that much better thanks to Aaron Blecha. I loved the scene of kinderzombies which is Bolger’s name for the kindgarten class that has become zombified. The image of the drooling kinderzombies surrounding the terrarium of nervous looking caterpillars – it just doesn’t get much better than that. It may just be that having a toddler has made me overdose on Elmo, but I got a big smile when “Schlemmo” who looks very Elmo was left with his arm falling off. Go, Zombiekins, go! Zombiekins also takes on the school bully and brings him down to size. While Zombiekins is a damage-causing trickster, he does not seem to be a malevolent creature. I was happy to see Zombiekins II: They Came from Under the Bed is in the works.

Give this to fans of Franny K. Stein and to Captain Underpants readers looking for a hilarious Halloween treat. 206p., 2010.

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Posted by amanda on Sep 22nd, 2010
Sep 22

Olive Dunwoody has moved into the old mansion on Linden Street. Her parents decided to keep the furnishings and paintings that came with the house. Olive finds spectacles that when worn allow her to walk into another world inside the house’s paintings. Soon she discovers the spectacles also allow spirits trapped in the paintings to escape. When it becomes clear that the previous occupants of the house are ready to get rid of Olive and her family for good, she enlists the unlikely help of the mansion’s guardian cats to keep the house from being overtaken by the shadows.

I thoroughly enjoyed this dark and creepy story of another sinister world right lurking underneath our own. It was lighter than Coraline, but had that same dread and independent, lonely girl heroine.

I like cats and so the talking cat trio were definitely a feature for me as a reader. I wouldn’t have minded more cat in the book and hope they return as the series continues. The comic relief of the cat who thought himself to be an errant knight grated just a bit despite being generally endearing.

Recommended for the middle grade fantasy reader who isn’t afraid of the things that are watching us from paintings in the hall.

This is the first in a planned series called The Books of Elsewhere. 256 p., 2010.

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

Fifth grader Abbie is one of a family of witches. Her father, a witch doctor (in the medical sense of treating witches with maladies), is trying to come up with a cure for the Witch Flu. Her brother Munch is a lovable menace who just barely has ahold of his magic enough not to turn his kindergarten teacher into a toad and constantly needs Abbie’s help. Her mother is trying to become a real estate agent and fit into the non-witch world. Abbie is just trying to make it through school while keeping her magic controlled and secret – even from her best friend Callie. When Abbie receives a new pet kitten from her dad, she does not know that the kitten is in fact a young Thomas Edison trapped in feline form by a witch planning to steal his fame. Tom proves to be a great friend to Abbie while her parents try to return him to his own timeline. Abbie worries about how lonely she will be when he leaves and she has no one outside her family with whom to share her magical secrets.

The great thing about this book is that magic is just part of the story. There’s Abbie’s everyday school woes. She is in the school play and deals with stage fright. She worries about being a good friend when she’s keeping so many secrets. She lies to her parents when she gets in trouble. She’s just an everyday witch trying to get things right. There’s also the history of Edison’s inventions. I love the passage where Tom keeps asking Abbie if various things he sees are technology or magic. Microwave is technology. Levitating yourself up to the second story is magic. But really how would Tom know which was which without Abbie’s say so?

I would give this one to readers who like The Tail of Emily Windsnap. Also, girls who tend to like realistic school fiction, but have been assigned a fantasy might find this one right up their alley. It is a strong fun 5th/6th grade read. 256p., 2010.

Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

I listened to this as an audiobook and it made one heckuva great listen. It was the right mix of action/adventure and gorgeous world building to make one get lost in the listening. If you’ve got a long car trip or a dull commute and you love fairies (not dainty, tea-party fairies, but fierce fairies who are trying to save the world), then this would be a great audiobook for you.

Magpie Windwitch travels the world outside the faerie realm with her band of crows hunting devils that humans seem free from their bottles more often than they should. When the Blackbringr is loosed and threatens the fairie homeland of Dreamdark, Magpie knows that this is no ordinary devil for it was sealed in its bottle by the Djinn King himself. How do you fight a great nothing filled with malicious intent? Magpie is stubborn enough to be the one to try. She will wake the Djinn King and shake the very roots of Dreamdark. She is small, but she is loud, proud and loved by loyal friends.

This book was as fiercely good as its heroine.

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