Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Chum by Adam Glendon Sidwell


Thirteen-year-old Levi Middleworth insists he's got a Destiny, even if half the internet's tried to bully it out of him with a viral video. When a Hollywood executive in a trim green suit invites Levi to star on a reality TV show aboard a hi-tech pirate ship, Levi thinks his Destiny's finally come a knockin' a bit of fame is exactly what he needs to finally make some friends his eighth grade year. But almost as soon as they set sail, the games aboard the ship turn savage, and he and his new bud Holly must do everything they can to find themselves some Chums little round-headed autonomous toys since failing to do so means getting thrown to the sharks. With the help of Levi's long-lost television hero and a tech-savvy pirate crew, Levi has to rethink his quest for fame in an attempt to save himself, his fellow contestants, and every human being on the beach from a feeding frenzy of grisly proportions.

Adam Glendon SidwellABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Goodreads)

In between books, Adam Glendon Sidwell uses the power of computers to make monsters, robots and zombies come to life for blockbuster movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong, Transformers and Tron. After spending countless hours in front of a keyboard meticulously adjusting tentacles, calibrating hydraulics, and brushing monkey fur, he is delighted at the prospect of modifying his creations with the flick of a few deftly placed adjectives. He's been eating food since age 7, so feels very qualified to write this book. He once showed a famous movie star where the bathroom was. Adam currently lives in Los Angeles, where he can't wait to fall into the sea.


Chum is a rather wacky adventure story involving a reality show, a ship, pirates, and sharks.  Levi ends up on board the Philanthropist, a ship that houses the reality show that he believes he is a part of.  Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more going on that what he originally believed and fame soon becomes the last thing on his mind.  I found this to be an entertaining story, I also found it difficult to accept that Levi and the other contestants would leap into something like this with so little effort to check it out.  I guess it's not surprising that a thirteen-year-old would do this, but the adults!?  And I guess it's not too much of a leap that Levi would accept the word of the director even though it's evident early on that the guy is not on the up and up.  But if you are willing to suspend belief for a while its a light fun read.  And middle graders tend to be more willing to let certain things go in pursuit of an interesting story and that definitely exists here.  I mean the combination of a contest, TV cameras, pirates, and sharks is mighty appealing.   And Levi is a sympathetic character as he tries to redeem himself from an embarrassing video that was posted on the internet.  Despite a few editorial errors the writing works and I think young readers will enjoy this book.

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Sharks and other sea creatures!


PBS’s successful animated show Wild Kratts joins the adventures of zoologists Chris and Martin Kratt as they travel to animal habitats around the globe. Along the way, they encounter incredible creatures while combining science education and fun. Boys and girls ages 4 to 6 will dive into this Step 2 Reader with the Kratt brothers as they activate their Creature Power Suits to swim with sharks, whales, and other wild sea creatures!


The Wild Kratts TV show is quite popular with many children and why not?  It's full of action and adventure, lots of cool animals, and the creature power suits that allow the brothers to become the animals they study.  This book and I'm assuming future books are based off these shows.  The illustrations appear to come right from the show itself (having seen the episodes this book is based on).  The information is interesting and accurate and since sharks and dolphins are always a popular topic the book is bound to be a hit.  From a library point of view it's hard to know how to categorize the book though, since it has both fictional and nonfictional elements to it, but wherever you put it, the kids are bound to love it.


Up close with the ocean's most fearsome and famous predator and the scientists who study them—just thirty miles from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge!

A few miles from San Francisco lives a population of the ocean's largest and most famous predators. Each fall, while the city's inhabitants dine on steaks, salads, and sandwiches, the great white sharks return to California's Farallon Islands to hunt their favorite meal: the seals that live on the island's rocky coasts. Massive, fast, and perfectly adapted to hunting after 11 million years of evolution, the great whites are among the planet's most fearsome, fascinating, and least understood animals.

In the fall of 2012, Katherine Roy visited the Farallons with the scientists who study the islands' shark population. She witnessed seal attacks, observed sharks being tagged in the wild, and got an up close look at the dramatic Farallons—a wildlife refuge that is strictly off-limits to all but the scientsts who work there. Neighborhood Sharks is an intimate portrait of the life cycle, biology, and habitat of the great white shark, based on the latest research and an up-close visit with these amazing animals.

Katherine RoyABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Goodreads profile)

Katherine Roy loves science, history, and big adventures, and is endlessly fascinated by the way things live. Neighborhood Sharks Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands is the first book that she has both written and illustrated. Katherine is also the illustrator of The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon series by S.S. Taylor and Buried Beneath Us by Anthony Aveni. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she currently lives in New York City. You can visit her website at to learn more about her work, her research, and about great white sharks.


Neighborhood Sharks is one of the most amazing nonfiction books I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot). The explosive cover illustration is stunning and will pull in any shark reader out there of any age. The author takes the time to not only tell the story of what a great white shark hunt is like, but she also details what makes them such incredible hunters, and what scientists are doing to try to understand and protect them better.  With millions of sharks being killed every year, the more we know about them and how they live, the more we can do about it.  I think the thing that amazed me the most about this book is the incredible detail in the illustrations.  The picture of the shark launching itself at a decoy seal is awe-inspiring to say the least. The illustrator also doesn't shy away from the brutality of a shark hunt showing the power of the hit, the blood in the water, and what it's like for the shark looking up at the seal from below. This book is bound to be a hit with any shark loving kid on the planet and a must have for libraries.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Murphy, Gold Rush Dog by Alison Hart


An action-packed and heartwarming story of a dog in gold rush-era Alaska

All Murphy wants is a home and a loving family. After escaping from his brutal and merciless owner, he is taken in by a young girl named Sally. She and her mother have just arrived in Nome, Alaska, intent on joining the other gold seekers and making a new life there, free from their wealthy but oppressive family in Seattle.

Yet even with Murphy at their side, Sally and Mama find living in the mining town harsh and forbidding. When it seems they may have to give up and return to Seattle, Sally and Murphy decide to strike out on their own, hoping to find gold and make a permanent home. But dangers await them - not only blizzards and grizzly bears, but also Murphy's original owner, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, whether it is an ill-gotten fortune or a valuable dog.


Alison Hart is the author of more than forty books for young readers, including Emma's RiverAnna's Blizzard, and the Racing to Freedom trilogy. Hart is a teacher at Blue Ridge Community College and lives in Virginia.
You can visit Alison Hart’s website here.
Author Photo
Michael G. Montgomery has illustrated numerous children's books. He attended Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia. Montgomery lives in Georgia.
You can visit Michael G. Montgomery’s website here.

Murphy, Gold Rush Dog is a great book for middle grade readers who enjoy historical dog stories. While the book is told by Murphy, he behaves just like a dog so there aren't any fantasy elements here. Murphy and Sally make a great pair with Sally's gumption leading them into plenty of danger, but Murphy's good sense and instincts helping them out again.  The details felt real and the author manages to cover many of the details that made life in the Alaskan gold fields so difficult and dangerous.  I appreciated the notes at the end explaining where those details came from and what elements of the story were real.  There is plenty of excitement for young readers with Murphy and Sally facing off with thieves, an avalanche, a bear, and a moose.  The bravery that Murphy and Sally exhibit in the face of difficult odds makes for an enjoyable read.


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Illustrations provided courtesy of Peachtree Publishing.



1 print copy of Murphy, Gold Rush Dog
US only

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

NONFICTION MONDAY: Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer


We can all be heroes. That’s the inspiring message of this lively, collectible picture book biography series from New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer. Kids always search for heroes, so we might as well have a say in it, Brad Meltzer realized, and so he envisioned this friendly, fun approach to biography for his own kids, and for yours. Each book tells the story of one of America’s icons in an entertaining, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers, those who aren’t quite ready for the Who Was series. Each book focuses on a particular character trait that made that role model heroic. For example, Abraham Lincoln always spoke up about fairness, and thus he led the country to abolish slavery. This book follows him from childhood to the presidency, including the Civil War and his legendary Gettysburg Address. This engaging series is the perfect way to bring American history to life for young children, and to inspire them to strive and dream.


Not only does this book have delightfully appealing illustrations but there is a remarkable amount of content for a book aimed at young children.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the picture it presented of one of our most influential presidents.  These books would be a great way to introduce biographies to young readers. There were even some stories about Lincoln that I hadn't heard before which is great considering how much I've read about the man.  The only thing I might have wished for is a bibliography or works cited at the end of the book, but considering the age the book is aimed at that's not too surprising.  Although, the author does acknowledge the help of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College.  And I recognized the several of the quotes used as words that Lincoln actually used. Overall, an informative and delightfully useful new series.

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4085-3
Picture Book Biography
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Rosa Parks dared to stand up for herself and other African Americans by staying seated, and as a result she helped end public bus segregation and launch the country’s Civil Rights Movement.


 I've long admired Rosa Parks and her courage in standing up for herself and others by sitting down.  What amazes me most about this new biography series for young readers is how in only a few words the author manages to convey the spirit of the person.  In this story of Rosa Parks the picture of a person determined to stand up for herself becomes very clear.  The author combines Rosa's story with a bit of the Civil Rights story as well, a great way to introduce the importance of standing up for the right to young readers.  A fabulous addition to a fabulous new series perfect for young readers.

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4085-3
Picture Book Biography
Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Amelia Earhart refused to accept no for an answer; she dared to do what no one had ever done before, and became the first woman to fly a plane all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. This book follows her from childhood to her first flying lessons and onward to her multi-record-breaking career as a pilot.


I have to say that the cartoon Amelia's cries of, "That was awesome!" made me laugh out loud, especially the excited look on her face.  This is a story of pursuing one's dreams despite the doubts of others.  The book does not go into her disappearance or some of the other things that happened in her life which is appropriate for the age group this is aimed at.  The inclusion of photographs at the end of the book makes the story all the more realistic.


Even when he was a kid, Albert Einstein did things his own way. He thought in pictures instead of words, and his special way of thinking helped him understand big ideas like the structure of music and why a compass always points north. Those ideas made him want to keep figuring out the secrets of the universe. Other people thought he was just a dreamer, but because of his curiosity, Einstein grew up to be one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known.


This book is as awesome as the other three but adds a couple of features that I am very happy to see.  First there is the inclusion of a bibliography.  Also the addition of a timeline is very useful for teachers and parents. The humorous jokes about the hair that Einstein was so well known for made me smile.  These books are sure-fire winners for parents, teachers, and especially young readers.  I especially liked the emphasis on the power of thinking and not being afraid to be different even when the world doesn't understand.  A great introduction to the power of biography in the lives of young readers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Claude on the Slopes by Alex T. Smith


In this latest adventure, on a winter's day, Claude goes from throwing snowballs and making snowmen to causing an all-out avalanche! In a stunning hardback edition for the first time.


After briefly considering careers in space travel, cookery, and being a rabbit, Alex T. Smith finally decided to become an illustrator. He graduated from Coventry University with a degree in illustration and won second place in the Macmillan Prize for Children's Illustration. He lives in England.

You can visit Alex T. Smith’s website here.


Another cute story about a fun loving dog and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock (who is in fact an actual sock), Claude on the Slopes takes the reader to a mountain resort where Claude and Sir Bobblysock experience a snowman building contest, sledding, and skiing.  Claude also learns the importance of safety and using an inside voice on the slopes, but will he be able to help when the worst actually occurs?  This is a humorous early reader series with only a few sentences per page accompanied by numerous exaggerated, cartoon-like illustrations. I especially love Claude's beret which reminds me distinctly of Mary Poppins' carpet bag--capable of carrying anything and everything that one could ever need.  A series that is bound to have numerous fans of all ages.


*All images are copyrighted and shown with permission of the publisher.




1 print copy of Claude on the Slopes
US only

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Monday, October 13, 2014

MIX N' MATCH MONDAY: Owls, Owls, and more Owls!

Here are some great books about owls both fiction and nonfiction. I've been working on a unit about owls for one of my classes and her are some of the fabulous books I found.


14612003Oola the Owl Who Lost her Hoot!
by Tim Bugird, illustrated by Clare Fennell
Make Believe Ideas, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78065-487-4
Picture Book

A delightful book about a young owl who lost her hoot after playing all night.  She goes out to find it and learns an important lesson about sharing.  The darling illustrations and cute writing make this ideal for reading out loud.


by Divya Srinivasan
Viking, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-01295-4
Picture Book

by Divya Srinivasan
Viking, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-670-01650-1
Picture Book

These two books go hand in hand since the main character is the same.  In fact they work together fabulously for a compare and contrast activity. The stories revolve around Little Owl and his experiences exploring the world around him, once at night and once during the day.


The True Story of Jackson the Owl
by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Sleeping Bear Press, 2001
Picture Book

A thoroughly fascinating story about the bond between a great horned owl and the family who rescued and raised him before returning him to the wild.  The gorgeous illustrations are the highlight here as the text is a bit word heavy for reading out loud.  But still a great story.

by Laura Marsh
National Geographic Kids, 2014
Early Reader Nonfiction

A beautiful book with lots of great information as well as incredible photographs of owls.  The inclusion of jokes, a glossary, and a table of contents make this a great resource. The book also includes interesting facts, a diagram and a variety of different types of owls.

by Gail Gibbons
Holiday House, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2014-8
Picture Book Nonfiction

Gail Gibbons once again manages to create a beautiful and informative book.  Her paintings are gorgeous and she includes fascinating information about owls.  A great addition to any library. Never ceases to amaze me how much information she manages to include in a short picture book.

Animal Predators series
by Sandra Markle
Lerner, 2004
ISBN; 978-1-57505-745-3
Picture Book Nonfiction

Sandra Markle is another great nonfiction writer who writes in such an appealing understandable way that it's hard not to love her books.  Plus the photographs are amazing.

Nocturnal Animals
by Mary R. Dunn
Capstone Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4296-7119-4
Picture Book Nonfiction

Capstone Press does an excellent job of creating nonfiction for the youngest readers.  With only a few sentences they convey a great deal of information that nicely complements the beautiful photographs.

MMGM: Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake


Bestselling and award-winning author, Sharon G. Flake, delivers a mystery set in the 1950s that eerily blends history, race, culture, and family.

Octobia May is girl filled with questions. Her heart condition makes her special - and, some folks would argue, gives this ten-year-old powers that make her a "wise soul." Thank goodness for Auntie, who convinces Octobia's parents to let her live in her boarding house that is filled with old folks. That's when trouble, and excitement, and wonder begin. Auntie is non-traditional. She's unmarried and has plans to purchase other boarding homes and hotels. At a time when children, and especially girls, are "seen, not heard," Auntie allows Octobia May the freedom and expression of an adult. When Octobia starts to question the folks in her world, an adventure and a mystery unfold that beg some troubling questions: Who is black and who is "passing" for white? What happens when a vibrant African American community must face its own racism?

And, perhaps most important: Do vampires really exist? In her most and probing novel yet, Sharon G. Flake takes us on a heart-pumping journey.


There were many things I liked about this book and a few things I did not.  On the positive side, I really enjoyed Octobia May and her friend Jonah.  Octobia May is a girl full of spunk and curiosity who relishes the freedom living with her aunt gives her after being smothered by her parents after nearly dying.  Unfortunately, she tends to misuse her freedom to spy on one of her aunt's boarders, Mr. Davenport and she drags her friend Jonah into her misadventures.  Her determination to prove Mr. Davenport is a vampire exasperates her aunt and everyone else around her.  And her neighbors highly disapprove of her behavior as it is 1953 and she is expected to behave with more decorum. But slowly she starts to realize that what she thought was going on isn't what is going on at all and she better figure things out in a hurry before she finds herself losing all her new found freedom.

I enjoyed the look at a time period I am not overly familiar with and what life was like for many African Americans.  The twist that Flake adds to the story is an intriguing one and one that I don't think most middle grade readers will have spent much time pondering.  Octobia May also finds herself confronting the whole 'don't rock the boat' ideology that many people find themselves sitting in as she listens to her aunt and others talk about changes that would like to see but who are unwilling for the most part to help seek those changes.

The problems I had with the book revolve around the style of writing and the occasional use of dialect.  At first I thought these were just errors but they kept happening so I then assumed that it was supposed to be a way of speaking, which I found a bit irritating. I have no idea how realistic this is for the time (1953) and place (African American community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) but it rubbed me the wrong way a bit.  Not enough to stop me from reading the book, but enough to make it a much less smooth read.

The use of present tense didn't really bother me as it works to keep the reader knowing only what Octobia May knows which adds tension.  But the short often incomplete sentences were sometimes hard to follow and I didn't always know who was talking or to whom.

Overall, the story was enjoyable with plenty of action and tension, great characters, and an interesting setting.  But the style and writing could have been smoother.

Friday, October 10, 2014

BZRK by Michael Grant GIVEAWAY (YA)

BZRK series by Michael Grant
Ages 14 and up

Trade Paperback
2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults


Set in the near future, BZRK is the story of a war for control of the human mind.  Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, have a goal:  to turn the world into their vision of utopia.  No wars, no conflict, no hunger.  And no free will.  Opposing them is a guerrilla group of teens, code name BZRK, who are fighting to protect the right to be messed up, to be human.  This is no ordinary war, though.  Weapons are deployed on the nano-level. The battleground is the human brain.  And there are no stalemates here:  It’s victory . . . or madness.

BZRK unfolds with hurricane force around core themes of conspiracy and mystery, insanity and changing realities, engagement and empowerment, and the larger impact of personal choice. Which side would you choose?  How far would you go to win?
 “With simmering pots of sexual tension, near-nonstop action, and the threat of howling madness or brain-melting doom around every corpuscular corner, Grant’s new series is off to a breathless, bombastic start.”—Booklist, starred review

Trade Paperback
VOYA Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror 2013


The entire BZRK cell--including Noah and Sadie--has been left in pieces after the last round of battle with the Armstrong Twins, conjoined brother who plot to rob mankind of its free will. Vincent's mind is shattered, and his memories hold dangerous secrets--secrets that Lear, BZRK's mysterious leader, will stop at nothing to protect.

Meanwhile, Bug Man has taken control of the President's brain, but playing with sanity is a dangerous game. The consequences can spiral way out of control, and the Armstrong Twins are not people Bug Man can afford to disappoint.

The nano is as terrifying, exhilarating, and unpredictable as ever. But the wall of secrets that surrounds it is cracking. What will it reveal? And once the dust has settled, who will be sane enough to find out?

 “The graphic descriptions of what the real and artificial creatures . . . Add in some discussable ideas on the ethics of human experimentation and a smart, simple explanation of the potential in nanotechnology . . . . Round out the experience with realistically unpredictable characters and blockbuster action sequences to complete this thoroughly enjoyable, incredibly disturbing story.”—VOYA, perfect 10 review

18710282BZRK APOCALYPSE          
On Sale: 10/14/2014      


Noah and Sadie have seen death, and it holds no fear for them. Madness does, though. And losing each other. But they will not sit back, helpless witnesses to an invisible apocalypse. The world is being destroyed from the inside out. It's time to take up the fight once more, in the streets and in the nano. And they'll give everything they have to stop the Armstrong Twins. But are the Twins the ultimate enemy? Nobody has ever known the identity of Lear, the shadowy leader of BZRK. Just who have they been fighting for? As madness spreads like a plague, one thing becomes terrifyingly clear: this was Lear's game all along. And Lear hasn't been playing fair.

 A great choice for readers with a strong stomach, an interest in the future of biomedical technology and the essential ethical debate, or anyone willing to embark on an unnerving, frighteningly plausible thrill ride all around the globe.”—VOYA, perfect 10 review


BZRK Trilogy (2 paperbacks and 1 hardback)
US only

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