Thursday, May 17, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Stink: Hamlet and Cheese/Claude on the Big Screen/The Lost Stone


Hie thee to Shakespeare camp with Stink to learn fake sword-fighting, spout silly curses, and prithee try to escape a kiss . . . BLUCK!

It's spring break, and Stink is faced with a difficult choice: hang out at home with his sister, Judy, or become a Shakespeare Sprite with his friend Sophie of the Elves. Hanged be! When Sophie tells Stink that there will be swordplay and cursing at Shakespeare camp, his choice is made. But wait! How now? The eager young thespian hadn't counted on Riley Rottenberger being a Sprite, too. And he positively had not counted on being the only boy! Fie upon't!


I'm not a huge fan of introducing Shakespeare to children.  I had a hard enough time with it in high school.  But McDonald does a great job of making Shakespearean drama seem fun and exciting with sword-fighting and insulting going on.  Stink is eager to participate when his friend Sophie tells him about the swords and the insulting that will be occurring at Shakespeare camp.  He isn't so excited when he discovers that not only is he the only boy, but his rival Riley Rottenberger is attending.  But as things get going and he learns about acting, and costumes, he enjoys himself enough to forget about those things.  Except when Riley tells him that he's going to be getting a kiss before the week is over.  Once again, Megan McDonald has written a winning story about Stink and his everyday troubles and still makes it feel fresh and new.


Claude is no ordinary dog he leads an extraordinary life! When Claude spots a film crew on Waggy Avenue, he and Sir Bobblysock cant wait to help behind the scenes. But when the movie loses its stars, the pals are launched onto the big screen!


I kinda liked the first Claude book I read, but the ones I've read since then I haven't enjoyed as much.  While Claude and his friend Bobblysock are enjoyable enough, the story here made me role my eyes at the stereotypes.  The gorgeous blonde heroine who can't help but show her cleavage helplessly waits for the handsome, foolish hero to come rescue her from the big, dark, dangerous gorilla.  Claude's clumsy attempts to help the show and the impending disaster that the reader senses is coming are the only things that save the book from being downright boring.  That's not to say the book isn't going to find readers.  Some young readers might enjoy the silliness enough to put up with the foolishness.  Readers who've enjoyed the other Claude books will probably enjoy it.  But I found myself rolling my eyes throughout.


Welcome to the Kingdom of Wrenly—a new chapter book series full of fantasy and adventure.

Meet Lucas, the eight year-old prince, and Clara, the daughter of the queen's seamstress. Lucas is an only child who longs to make friends and go on adventures. Clara knows the kingdom well, so she and Lucas team up and explore the lands of Wrenly!

In The Lost Stone, Lucas and Clara search for Queen Tasha's missing emerald. On their exciting adventure, they travel to all the main attractions of Wrenly: Primlox (the island of fairies), Burth (the island of trolls), Crestwood (the island of dragons), Hobsgrove (the island of wizards), and the beautiful Mermaid's Cove. King Caleb has promised to reward the person who finds the precious stone, and Lucas and Clara are determined to search the entire kingdom until they find it!

With easy-to-read language and illustrations on almost every page, The Kingdom of Wrenly chapter books are perfect for beginning readers.


The Lost Stone is a cute read for young fantasy lovers who aren't ready for the older stuff yet.  This is the first book in a series of adventures that follows the exploits of Prince Lucas and his best friend, Clara.  In this book, Lucas sneaks out of the castle disguised as a village boy so he can attend the local school and hopefully make a real friend.  But he is quickly discovered and returned to the palace.  Luckily for him, his parents understand his desire for a friend and they allow him to be friends again with Clara.  After his mother loses an emerald that she values, Lucas and Clara set out to find it.  The illustrations are cute and help move the story along.  The text reads smoothly and well, especially for readers new to chapter books.  A fun series that I plan to get for my library.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Gorillas Up Close by Christena Nippert-Eng


Stunning photographs, an eye-catching design, and complete with anecdotes and facts, Urban Gorillas explores the lives of two resident troops of gorillas at the Lincoln Park Zoo. With histories and biographical details for each ape, this book immerses readers in the gorillas' individual personalities while also presenting a fascinating window into their daily routines and care, touching on zoo habitat design and gorilla conservation.


 This is what narrative nonfiction ought to be:  fascinating, beautifully documented, with gorgeous illustrations, maps, and captions.  It's clear a lot of work went into this book.  Hours of observation, interviews, and photograph taking were used to document the lives of these gorillas.  I wasn't too surprised to read in the author's note that the book began as a college class project.  I enjoyed reading about Kwan and the other gorillas, their lives and their behavior.  I learned a lot about gorillas reading this book.  I also found the information about how the gorillas are cared for interesting too.  I've long believed that wild animals belong in the wild, but I'm also aware that with so many species endangered, the work that zoos do is important.  And this book confirmed for me the tremendously important work that zookeepers and researchers do to keep their animals happy while advocating for their wild relatives.  All in all a wonderfully informative, and beautifully designed book.

Monday, May 14, 2018

MMGM: The Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz


Elliot Eisner isn't exactly excited about starting at a brand-new school in a brand-new town; he'd much rather stay at home and read a book. But things take an unexpected turn when he finds out his weird new teacher, Professor Fauna, has planned a field trip for Elliot's very first day. Along with a new friend--brave, outspoken Uchenna Devereaux--Elliot gets caught up in a secret group of adventurers, The Unicorn Rescue Society, whose goal is to protect and defend the world's mythical creatures. Together with Professor Fauna, Elliot and Uchenna must help rescue a Jersey Devil from a duo of conniving, greedy billionaires, the Schmoke Brothers.


I'm always on the lookout for fantasy/speculative books for middle grade readers that aren't really long and difficult.  Not all readers are ready or able to take on Harry Potter or The Lightning Thief.  So I was really interested when I heard about this series.  And it didn't disappoint.  With a couple of fun, but quite different characters combined with an unusual mentor and a delightful mythological creature at the heart of things, The Creature of the Pines works well for younger readers.  The story is intriguing from the first when Elliot climbs on the school bus for the field trip on his first day of school and meets Uchenna Devereaux.  She's the only person who looks remotely friendly, but her tendency to play musical instruments in the air is a little off putting.  But their friendship is really cemented when they venture into the Pine Barrens with their class and stumble across a young Jersey Devil, the last thing they expected to find.  And they certainly didn't intend to take the creature on the bus with them or accidentally turn in loose in the middle of the city.  Professor Fauna seems to be the only one who can help, but he's a bit unusual himself and downright terrifying at times.  This book makes for a fun read for reluctant readers who need some humor mixed in with their excitement and love the idea of magical creatures existing all around us.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Inventors at No. 8 by A.M. Morgen


Brimming with mystery and treasure, this action-packed tale sends a boy in need of luck and girl in need of a friend on an adventure that will change their lives forever. Meet George, the third Lord of Devonshire and the unluckiest boy in London. Why is George so unlucky? First, he's an orphan. Second, unless he sells everything, he's about to lose his house. So when his family's last heirloom, a priceless map to the Star of Victory (a unique gem said to bring its owner success in any battle) is stolen by a nefarious group of criminals, George knows that there is no one less lucky-or more alone-than he is.

That is until Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace, bursts into his life. She promises to help George recover his family legacy, and is determined to find her own father along the way--all in a flying machine she built herself. Joined by a mischievous orangutan and the long-lost son of an infamous pirate, Ada and George take off on a cross-continent journey through the skies that will change their lives, and perhaps the world, forever.


An entertaining book so far.  Unfortunately, this time of year is so busy I haven't had time to finish it, but I've enjoyed reading about George and Ada.  The beginning of the story which recites all the unfortunate deaths associated with George, Lord Devonshire the Third.  This makes for an intriguing beginning.  And a girl hidden away in the house across the street who happens to have a mechanical bird that attacks a thief escaping from George's house with the only valuable thing he owns definitely raises questions needing answers.


A.M. Morgen comes from a long line of engineers and researchers but chose to pursue literature over the laboratory. To her family's surprise, she has managed to make a decent living as an editor with her English degree. In her spare time, A.M. enjoys taking long walks in the forest, trying out new hobbies (then abandoning them), and complaining about her mean cat. Despite what you may think, A.M. is not a morning person.


4 Quest Worthy Real-Life Magical Objects 

Some of the oldest stories in the world are about journeys to find a mythological object. These objects were so special that people were willing to die or kill to get them. I’m sure you could name a few of those things right now: The Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, and Aladdin’s lamp.

Unfortunately, most of the mythological objects in stories have been lost to history, if they ever existed in the first place. But, did you know, that not all mystical objects are legendary? Some of them are real! Maybe you don’t believe that an object can have magical powers, but to some, there are divine symbols in this world that are worth starting wars to protect.

In my novel, Inventors at No. 8, the characters follow a treasure map to find a legendary object called the Star of Victory. The Star is valuable not only because it’s a beautiful gemstone, but also because its owner will be victorious in any battle. Coming up with the backstory for the Star was a lot of fun. It was also very challenging! I needed to create a treasure worthy of an epic quest, so I took inspiration from some real-life objects. Who knows…maybe one of them will inspire you!

Spear of Destiny

The Spear of Destiny is also called the Holy Lance or the Holy Spear. It is supposed to be the tip of the spear that the soldier Longinus used to stab Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. One of these spearheads (there are at least four!) became part of the Imperial Regalia of the Holy Roman Emperor in the 10th century.

According to legend, whoever owned the Spear of Destiny would be able to conquer the world. However, if the Spear was ever dropped or lost, its owner would immediately die. Some of its famous owners/victims have been Charlemagne, Constantine I, and Adolf Hitler. You can visit the Spear of Destiny at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.

Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is a very large blue diamond that was originally part of an even larger diamond called the Tavernier Blue or French Blue. The jewel was first bought by King Louis XIV in 1669 and was owned by the French royal family until 1792 when King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed by guillotine. The stone then ended up in the hands of the Hope Family in England then made its way to America. At some point, the diamond gained the reputation for bringing bad luck to whoever owned it, although the majority of its owners kept their heads. You can visit the Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.

The Three Sacred Treasures of Japan

The Imperial Regalia of the emperors of Japan consists of three objects: a sword, a mirror, and a jewel. The objects were symbols of virtue and were owned by the ancestors of the first Japanese emperor. Later, they became part of the enthronement ceremony for all Japanese rulers from 690 CE to the present day. Owning the Three Sacred Treasures gives political legitimacy to whatever faction possesses it. Because these objects are so sacred, they’ve never been photographed, and they are closely guarded by the current government.

Stone of Destiny 

The Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone or Coronation Stone) isn’t much to look at. It’s a rectangular block of stone with two metal rings attached to the top. Despite its unassuming appearance, it’s a very important object. Ever since Edward I took the stone from Scotland in 1296, it’s been used in coronation ceremonies to symbolize Britain’s dominance over Scotland. According to legend, the stone would groan whenever a true ruler sat upon it. In 1996, the stone was finally returned to Scotland by the government with the promise that it could still be used in any future coronations. You can visit the Stone of Destiny in Scotland at Edinburgh Castle.

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