Tuesday, December 1, 2015

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEWS: Old School by Jeff Kinney/Hilo by Judd Winick


In the latest installment of the phenomenally bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, author-illustrator Jeff Kinney brings the series back to its roots, as Greg starts a new school year and faces a challenge he never could've imagined.


I confess, I am not really the best audience for these books. I find Greg rather obnoxious, which is typical of some teenagers, so I shouldn't be too surprised. But I did find myself empathizing more with Greg in this one as he heads off to an electronics-free camp with some of his schoolmates in order to avoid his father after a car disaster.  At this camp, Greg and his bunkmates get themselves in trouble by using sweat to fill the water bucket (which is then used for showers, ewww), leaving their dirty clothes everywhere, and generally making a mess.  But the ultimate hijinks occur when Greg's dad shows up to take the place of Rowley's dad who had to go home.  Various other disasters occur that Greg has to deal with.  While I winced at some of the gross body humor, I laughed at some of the references being 'old school' because I remember some of those things.  Kids are bound to love this one as much as they have all the others.  Kinney just seems to understand what being human is all about and the power of Murphy's law. 


Introducing HILO—a funny, action-packed, full-color new middle-grade graphic novel series that Bone creator Jeff Smith calls “delightful.”

D.J. and his friend Gina are totally normal kids. But that was before a mysterious boy came crashing down from the sky! Hilo doesn’t know where he came from, or what he’s doing on Earth. (Or why going to school in only your underwear is a bad idea!) . . . But what if Hilo wasn’t the only thing to fall to our planet? Can the trio unlock the secrets of his past? Can Hilo survive a day at school? And are D.J. and Gina ready to save the world?

HILO is Calvin and Hobbes meets Big Nate and is just right for fans of Bone and comic books as well as laugh-out-loud school adventures like Jedi Academy and Wimpy Kid!


Cool alien boy with superpowers? Check!  Great friendships? Check!  Explosions and mayhem? Check! Winick has created a delightful new hero, flaws and all.  I found Hilo's attempts to adjust to earth life quite funny (he thinks Aaaah! is a greeting and uses it as such which caused me to snicker every time he does it).  D.J.'s efforts to help this unusual boy by providing clothes, food, and a place to sleep are commendable as well as stressful.  The renewing of D.J.'s friendship with Gina adds depth to the story since both kids have changed a bit since they last saw each other.  D.J.'s growing confidence in himself and that he is good at something also adds nicely to the story line.  The art is bright and colorful and very eye-catching.  I very much think that children will love this beginning to a new series and I myself look forward to reading future volumes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Welcome to Mars by Buzz Aldrin


Space is still the final frontier and Mars continues to make news and attract generations of young people. In this fascinating book, hero-astronaut Buzz Aldrin challenges curious kids to think about Mars as not just a faraway red planet but as a possible future home for Earthlings!

What will your new home be like? How will you get there? What will you eat for breakfast? Find out what life might be like far, far from Earth as you navigate your way through this fun and fascinating book. What kid wouldn't want to blast off with him on this (literary) journey!


While I am not interested in going to Mars myself, the ideas is certainly an intriguing one.  This book by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin addresses what it is likely to take to get there and survive there on a long term basis.  Aldrin points out about where science is now in terms of getting there (rockets, supplies, etc). and then shares what it will probably take to allow people to live there.  I found that fascinating and very intimidating.  Those who go will have to depend on people from earth to keep them supplied with certain things, but will be on their own if certain things go wrong.  The activities included in the book add a fun touch to the content in terms of helping young readers understand some of the challenging concepts that are presented.  I also found the comparisons to the conditions on earth to be completely fascinating.  This is a great book for young readers who dream of going to Mars or helping the process.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NONFICTION MONDAY: Lincoln's Spymaster by Samantha Seiple


From Samantha Seiple, the award winning author of Ghosts in the Fog, comes the first book for young adults to tell the story of Allan Pinkerton, America's first private eye.

Lincoln's Spymaster tells the dangerous and action-packed adventures of Allan Pinkerton, America's first private eye and Lincoln's most trusted spymaster.

Pinkerton was just a poor immigrant barrel-maker in Illinois when he stumbled across his first case just miles from his home. His reputation grew and people began approaching Pinkerton with their cases, leading him to open the first-of-its-kind private detective agency. Pinkerton assembled a team of undercover agents, and together they caught train robbers, counterfeiters, and other outlaws. Soon these outlaws, including Jesse James, became their nemeses. Danger didn't stop the agency! The team even uncovered and stopped an assassination plot against president-elect Abraham Lincoln! Seeing firsthand the value of Pinkerton's service, Lincoln funded Pinkerton's spy network, a precursor to the Secret Service. Allan Pinkerton is known as the father of modern day espionage, and this is the first book for young adults to tell his story!


Reading this book was very enlightening.  Having read quite a bit about the Civil War, I'd heard of Allan Pinkerton, but after reading this it's clear that what I knew before was only the tip of the iceberg.  Seiple provides a fascinating account of Pinkerton's move into the detective business and the impact he had on the new field.  I had no idea that Pinkerton also helped start the secret service in his efforts to protect both Lincoln and other high profile officials including General McClellan.  The man's determination and skill made him a formidable investigator and as a result there were numerous attempts on his life.  But it never stopped him from continuing his work.  I loved reading about his emphasis on honor and his hiring women to do work that many would have considered inappropriate.  I found the last half of the book particularly compelling as I read about the attempts on Pinkerton's life and his agency's working to capture several famous outlaw gangs including the James-Younger gang.  This is the kind of narrative nonfiction that works so well with the common core and it's a fascinating read that middle grade and YA readers may very well pick up on their own as well.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Scary School #3 & #4 by Derek the Ghost


In The Northern Frights, the third book in the spooky Scary School series, Charles “New Kid” Nukid and his friends, including Lattie, a girl ninja, must fight an epic battle with an ice dragon to save their school. But first they must survive going to Scream Academy as exchange students. And that may be hard, because the Academy has an abominable snowman for a principal, a Headless Horseman as one of the teachers, and the students are yetis, trolls, and ogres!

Will Charles survive to make an ancient prophecy come to pass and save everyone? The illustrated Scary School trilogy by Derek the Ghost, with its mix of humor, scares, and adventure, is a perfect pick for middle-grade readers of the Wayside School series and the Zach Files books.


There aren't a lot of 'scary' books out there that are more funny than scary.  This third book in the series revolves around Charles Nukid and some friends from Scary School heading out on an exchange trip with another monster school called Scream Academy.  Unfortunately for Charles, their visit revolves around an old prophecy involving a human boy facing off with an evil dragon.  But for Charles who constantly obsesses about following the rules the thought of facing a dragon makes him want to run away, plus just surviving the school itself seems impossible.  The snide comments by the 'author', Derek the Ghost add to the snarky feel of the book.  Lots of monsterly fun that works well for young readers who prefer a little less scary with their scary reads.


After defeating the fearsome Ice Dragon, the students of Scary School were in full celebration mode with an awesome parade leading up to the Dance of Destiny. But when a bearodactyl snatches Charles Nukid and flies him to Monster Kingdom, his friends have to figure out a way to rescue him before he's served as lunch to one of the kingdom's horrifying creatures. Little do his friends know that he's actually been taken there to be crowned the next monster king after defeating King Zog in battle. But no sooner is he crowned than he is challenged by Turlock the Troll. While trying to avoid getting crushed by Turlock's crew, one of them breaks the Zombie Control Lever, which was keeping all the zombies of the world good and not ravenous for brains. Charles's friends arrive in the nick of time after barely surviving a zombie attack at Scary School. Reunited, they now have to find the one unicorn in existence whose magic is powerful enough to turn all the zombies back to good before every monster and human alike are turned into the mindless brain-eating dead.


Disaster strikes when Charles Nukid gets kidnapped by a bearodactyl and carried off to become the king of the monsters (much to his dismay).  The problem gets bigger when he is challenged for the throne and the unicorn horn keeping the zombies under control gets destroyed.  Feeling responsible, Charles sets off with Dr. Dragonbreath and his friend Penny to find a new unicorn horn.  Meanwhile, the others at Scary School are forced to deal with the zombies trying to eat their brains.  But things get worse instead of better with more and more characters turning into zombies and Charles having a falling out with his friends.  Can a solution be found or will the whole world be zombified?

Despite the editorial issues (the book needed more editing, I found a lot of mistakes in it), the fun voice that is Derek the Ghost carries the day once again.  I think the thing that I enjoy most about the Scary School stories is that they aren't overly predictable, there always seems to be some surprises jumping out at the reader, which makes for a lot of humor and unexpected events.  A fun and final addition to the series.

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK: The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony Diterlizzi


Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France-but at no fixed address. When Flea fl neurs passed Diva's courtyard one day, their lives were forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.


This book reminds me once again just what I love so much about Mo Willems' books.  And combining him with Tony DiTerlizzi is a genius idea.  I fell in love with Diva and Flea immediately.  Sweet, shy Diva lives in an apartment complex where she spends each day in the courtyard watching life pass her by.  Flea, on the other hand is a flaneur, or someone who wanders just looking at the world around them, a streetwise cat.  When Diva and Flea meet they have much to teach each other both about friendship and about enjoying the world around them.  Willems and DiTerlizzi have perfectly captured the beauty in friendship, the joys and frustrations, and how much easier it is to step out of one's comfort zone when one is not alone.  A beautiful story perfect for sharing at school or at home with gorgeous illustrations.  I especially enjoyed the double spreads that are included at key moments, driving home the sweet parts of the story.  I highly recommend this winning story for all libraries and homes, this is a must have.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

BLOG TOUR: The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


The grumpiest fish in children’s literature is back with another case of “the dreary wearies.”

This time, Mr. Fish, star of The New York Times bestselling Pout-Pout Fish series, is down in the dumps over holiday shopping. With a message for readers of all ages, The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish finds Mr. Fish so consumed with finding that perfect gift for each of his friends that he forgets the true meaning of the holidays:

“A gift should be big,
And a gift should be bright.
And a gift should be perfect— Guaranteed to bring delight.
And a gift should have meaning,
Plus a bit of bling-zing,
So I’ll shop till I drop
For each just-right thing.” !

When Mr. Fish—with his signature Pout-Pout Fish frown—comes up empty-handed, Miss Shimmer intervenes with a plan to make homemade gifts. He soon learns that it’s not about busting the budget or gifting the season’s hottest item, but giving from the heart. Together they experience the joy that comes from giving and sharing—the merriest gifts of all.

Written by former bookseller and librarian Deborah Diesen with illustrations by veteran children's artist Dan Hanna, The Pout-Pout Fish was a 2008 Time Magazine “Top Ten Children’s Book.” Since then, Mr. Fish has won over the hearts of millions of young readers as he Goes to School, faces the Big-Big Dark, learns to Smile, discovers how to Dream, and plays Hide-and-Seek. Today there are more than 2.5 million Pout-Pout Fish books in print.

AMAZON                               BARNES & NOBLE                           INDIEBOUND


I find myself fully able to relate to Mr. Fish in his efforts to find the perfect gifts for his friends.  I often have trouble with that myself.  But the message here is very true, true gifts gain meaning when given with the heart. The delightful illustrations add plenty of cuteness and cheer for the holiday season.  The creative gifts on the shelves in the illustrations make for fun perusing.  I like the idea of truly giving of oneself to oneself being the best gift of all.  A great holiday read for school or for home.


Deborah Diesen (www.deborahdiesen.com) grew up in Midland, Michigan, and started writing poems at a young age. She has worked as a bookseller and a librarian, and now works for a small nonprofit organization, but her greatest joy comes from writing for children. She lives with her family in Grand Ledge, Michigan.

Dan Hanna (www.danhanna.com) has over ten years experience in the animation industry, and his work has appeared on BBC America and the Cartoon Network. He lives in Oxnard, California.


How long have you been illustrating the Pout-Pout Fish books? What inspired your depiction of the main character, Mr. Fish?

I started illustrating the first book in early 2007 and so it's been about 8 or 9 years now.  About 15 years ago I was scuba diving in Fiji.  There was a huge rusting hulk of a shipwreck about 80 feet down.  At the end of a pole extending above the deck was a small metal basket.  Resting in that basket was a pudgy fish about the size of my fist.  I swam up and looked right into his eyes and he looked right back with a deep, gloomy frown.  Years later, when I received the manuscript for The Pout-Pout Fish, that memory bubbled up.  I realized, at that moment, that Mr. Fish was an actual fish, living on the other side of the world, 80 feet down on a shipwreck.

When there’s a new Pout-Pout story to illustrate, how do you collaborate with author Deborah Diesen?

It may seem odd but I don't communicate with Debbie regarding the illustrations.  I work with are the Editor (Janine O'Malley) and Art Director (Roberta Pressel).  When I initially receive a manuscript I'm given complete freedom to break it down into pages and to illustrate it however I think best.  After I complete the first dummy (a mock-up of the book) I send it to Janine and Roberta.  That begins a long series of feedback and changes until we get to a version that we're all happy with.  At that point I begin the final art that will eventually be delivered to make the book.

The items in the shop and the gifts Mr. Fish imagines in this story are so detailed and quirky. How did you come up with them?   

Did you have a specific inspiration?For the imagined gifts, I drew on my own experience as a kid where I would dream up magnificent presents for my family and friends.  Eventually, as with Mr. Fish, I would have to confront reality and drastically scale back my plans. The shop items are based on all the goofy stuff you can find on the shelves of some of the more interesting gift shops.

What do you think will be the ultimate fate of your work?

Five billion years from now, when our sun has blown up and the Earth is a smoldering chunk of charcoal, humanity will hopefully have escaped to another planet.  Perhaps, packed away in one of the zillions of moving boxes will be an old, dusty copy of "The Pout-Pout Fish".  Maybe then, some remnant of my wandering soul will smile as a genetically enhanced child stumbles across it and cracks open its ancient spine.

Book Tour Schedule

Author Deborah Diesen

November 14, 3pm - Square Books, Oxford, MS
November 16, 3:30pm - Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
November 18, 4pm - Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, FL
November 19, 7pm - Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA
November 20, 4pm - Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

Illustrator Dan Hanna

November 15, 11am - WORD Books, Jersey City, NJ
November 16, 4pm - Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY
November 17, 4:30pm - Towne Book Center & Cafe, Collegeville, PA
November 18, 4:30pm - Cover to Cover, Columbus, OH
November 19, 4:30pm - Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest, IL
November 21, 12pm - Anderson’s Book Shop, Naperville, IL
November 21, 2pm - Anderson’s Book Shop, La Grange, IL

Learn more at www.poutpoutfish.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

SERIES THURSDAY: Oliver Moon by Sue Mongredien




For young readers who enjoy fantasy stories involving witches, wizards, and magic potions and mishaps, the Oliver Moon series makes for a great introduction to that world.  I would especially recommend this series for young readers who want to read Harry Potter but aren't ready for it yet.  Oliver Moon is a young wizard who lives with his parents and little sister, Witch Baby.  And like Harry he has to use his ingenuity to solve various problems, some of which are of his own making. In the books seen above, Oliver has to deal with pranks around the house, training a dragon for a parade, trying to 'retrain' his parents into a proper wizard and witch, as well as dealing with a duel with a competitive fellow student and his own birthday party.  There is lots to enjoy here with plenty of fun black and white illustrations to break up the text and amusing fantasy details.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: The Great MOnkey Rescue by Sandra Markle


Golden lion tamarins are found only in Brazilian forests. These small, remarkable monkeys once had plenty of space to roam and claim family territories. But years of deforestation caused their numbers to shrink. They were in serious danger of becoming extinct.

To help, scientists studied the animals in zoo settings. But they faced several mysteries. Why weren't golden lion tamarins reproducing in zoos? If scientists reintroduced zoo-raised tamarins to the wild, would those monkeys survive? And how could scientists give tamarins enough forest area for the population to grow? Find out how scientists and concerned citizens worked together to give golden lion tamarins a hopeful future.


Sandra Markle has done it again.  She's written a book that tells a fascinating story of science in action.  I really enjoyed learning about the Golden Lion Tamarin and the efforts that are going into saving the species.  It's remarkable to me the dedication that people show towards other creatures on this earth. I also appreciated the beautiful photographs, maps, diagrams, and other helpful text features that helped demonstrate the size of the problem and the challenges that those trying to solve the problem are facing. The book is not only informative but beautifully designed and easy to read.  A fabulous addition to any library collection.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK REVIEW: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale


Inconvenient monster alarms, a sparkly array of princess guests, and spot-on slapstick pacing make for a party readers will celebrate.

Today is Princess Magnolia’s birthday party, and she wants everything to be perfect. But just as her guests are arriving . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! Princess Magnolia runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! She rushes to the goat pasture, defeats the monster, and returns to the castle before her guests discover her secret. But every time Princess Magnolia is about to open her presents, the monster alarm rings again. And every time she rushes back—an inside-out dress here, a missing shoe there—it gets harder to keep the other princesses from being suspicious. Don’t those monsters understand that now is not a good time for an attack?


I'll start by saying that this is one of my all time favorite early chapter book series and all libraries that serve young readers should have it.  Not only is Princess Magnolia the perfect blend of beautiful, kind, sparkly princess but she's also rough and tough when she needs to be.  After all, those monsters don't seem to speak any other language, although hysterics seems to have an impact as well.  Princess Magnolia does her best to be in two places at the same time (her birthday party and the goat field) but things just get harder and harder until finally she just loses it.  I think anyone whose been pushed too far can relate to Magnolia's frustration, adult or child.  I've also found when reading this out loud (which is an utterly delightful experience, especially if you use varying tones) that girls and boys love this equally.  And why not, it's got enough princess frills to satisfy the softest heart and enough fighting and action to satisfy the adventurous heart. Highly recommended.

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