Monday, August 28, 2017



Real stories. Real teens. Real crimes.

A group of teens traffic drugs between Mexico and California in this start to the brand-new Simon True series.

It’s 1971 in Coronado, a small southern California beach town. For seventeen year-old Eddie Otero, a skilled waterman and avid surfer, life is simple. Then a buddy makes him an offer: Swim an illicit package across the border from Mexico. The intense workout is dangerous. Thrilling. Lucrative. And the beginning of a small business.

When the young entrepreneurs involve their former high school Spanish teacher, the smuggling adventure grows into a $100 million dollar global operation.

Soon they become fugitives. Living on the edge, they vow to return to their normal lives — right after one last run…


I've developed a interest in true crime stories so I was curious when this one was sent to me by the publisher.  This particular book revolves around the efforts of a group of teenagers and young adults who became drug smugglers.  Eddie Otero and Lance Weber started out small, with Eddie swimming packages of drugs from Mexico to the beaches just off their home town of Coronado, California.  At first Eddie does it mostly for the thrill, but as the money starts coming in they start recruiting others, including a former teacher, Louis Villar.  Villar uses his charm and language skills to quickly take over the operation.  Throughout the 1970, the group known as the Coronado company grows in both the amount of drugs smuggled and the amount of money coming in.  But excessive spending, hubris, and carelessness, eventually lead the Company into serious trouble and those involved are forced to decide just what they are willing to do stay above water.

Nichols has created a fascinating account of a group of people using their talents to make money without consideration for the effect their actions have on anyone else.  Millions of dollars are made and spent while tons of drugs are turned lose on the American public.  But as with most things in life, there are consequences to the choices being made.  The book covers a couple of decades of choices, made by the smugglers and the DEA agents hunting them.  The story of the Coronado Company is a compelling look at choices, accountability, friendship (or the lack thereof), and hubris as well as greed.

In terms of content, the book is definitely high school and above because of the following content: drugs and drinking (there is lots of this, although it isn't described in detail, the author focuses on the actions of the smugglers rather than their debauchery), sex and promiscuous behavior is mentioned throughout the story (Lou Villar is rather a ladies man) but not graphically described, and there is quite a bit of swearing and profanity.


The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives 


One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.


There are events in life that become gateways to the future in major ways. The fire that occurred on the 57 bus on November 4, 2013.  Two young people's lives would never be the same as a result of the decision that was made.  I appreciated the way that Slater gives a brief overview of the event before digging into the lives of Sasha and Richard (last names not shared in order to provide privacy).  By the time the author circles back to the fire and the consequences I felt like I knew and cared about both Sasha and Richard.  This depth gives the fire more meaning and makes it all the more tragic. Not only do we as readers follow the experiences of both Sasha, the one who got burned, but also Richard the one who committed the crime, but we see the event through the eyes of the media, the courts, and family and friends of both Sasha and Richard.  The author gives a nice background into Sasha's agender identity as well as a brief introduction to different sexual and gender identities, which was helpful in understanding Sasha (who the world tends to see as a young man) and why the skirt Sasha wore became a target of Richard and his two friends.

I found the story of Sasha and Richard and what happened to them (and where they are up to the publication of the book) rather compelling. The short chapters make this a good book for YA reluctant readers.  I think one of the most powerful aspects of the book is the author's ability to share both Sasha's experiences and Richard's.  It makes it hard to completely condemn Richard for a moment of sheer stupidity as he gives in to peer pressure as well as the unfairness of his two friends never getting charged, even though Richard wouldn't have done what he did without them egging him on.  The court system and its strengths and weaknesses play an important role in the story as does forgiveness, redemption, and second chances.  The nature of the story means that rough language, and mature content relating to gender, sexuality, and bullying all come into play, making this book most appropriate for high school and up.


Real stories. Real teens. Real crimes.

A backyard brawl turned media circus filled with gang accusations turns a small, quiet town upside down in this second book in the new Simon True series.

On May 22, 1995 at 7 p.m. sixteen-year-old Jimmy Farris and seventeen-year-old Mike McLoren were working out outside Mike’s backyard fort. Four boys hopped the fence, and a fight broke out inside the dark fort made of two-by-four planks and tarps. Within minutes, both Mike and Jimmy had been stabbed. Jimmy died a short time later.

While neighbors knew that the fort was a local hangout where drugs were available, the prosecution depicted the four defendants as gang members, and the crime as gang related. The accusations created a media circus, and added fuel to the growing belief that this affluent, safe, all-white neighborhood was in danger of a full-blown gang war.

Four boys stood trial. All four boys faced life sentences. Why? Because of California’s Felony Murder Rule. The law states that “a death is considered first degree murder when it is commissioned during one of the following felonies: Arson, Rape, Carjacking, Robbery, Burglary, Mayhem, Kidnapping.” In other words, if you—or somebody you are with—intends to commit a felony, and somebody accidentally dies in the process, all parties can be tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, even if nobody had any intention of committing a murder.

What really happened that day? Was it a case of robbery gone wrong? Gang activity? Or was it something else?


I haven't had much contact with the United States Justice System and after reading this book, I am sincerely grateful. Justice isn't always just.  After the fight between six teenagers ends with one boy dead, the lives of everyone involved change forever.  As the author does a great job of showing, the intentions of the four boys who came to see stab victims Mike McLoren and Jimmy Farris are widely assumed to be that of robbery and murder.  The author goes through the series of events that occurred that day in May 1995 from the perspectives of both Mike McLoren and his friend, Jimmy, and the four boys who came to Mike's fort for drugs.  A major part of the debate that arose once the four boys were charged was did they come to buy marijuana or steal it.  If they came to buy, Jimmy's death looked like manslaughter, which would have had the four boys out of prison in 5-12 years.  If the incident was viewed as a robbery (which is how the prosecution saw it), the death became a murder, which could mean life in prison or even death.

A case like this results in a lot of strong emotions coming out and as a reader I felt some of those emotions.  The grief of Jimmy's family that lead them to condemn the four boys (Micah, Jason, Tony, and Brandon) and their driver (Chris) completely.  The sorrow of the boy's families as they watched their loved ones face complete condemnation and the assumptions and wrong information that went with it.  The major irritation I felt as the judge and jury took the word of an untrustworthy witness who'd changed his version of events over and over (Mike McLoren).  The anger I felt at the whole incident being connected to gang activity that scared the jury into requesting police protection, even though there was no proof of actual gang involvement.  A judge who showed no mercy, who let the verdict stand despite evidence of jury misconduct.

I found this to be both a fascinating book to read and a hard book to read.  To read about the tragic consequences of young people using drugs and alcohol about broke my heart.  To read about the awful punishment that the five boys received and to feel that it was not just punishment for what amounted to an accident in the heat of the moment in which all six boys participated.  What the book does supremely well though is demonstrate the power of seemingly small, insignificant choices and the power they have to change one's life forever.  One inch more or less and the knife would have missed Jimmy's heart and Jimmy Farris would still be alive, and four boys wouldn't be sitting in jail with little to no chance of every being free again. 

Note: Content wise it's pretty much what you would expect: swearing, teenage drinking and drug use, brief reference to sex, and the brief violence that lead to Jimmy Farris's death. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham


When best friends are not forever . . .

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it's worth the journey.


Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors.  I've read most of what she's written.  I was definitely intrigued when I heard about this graphic novel based on her own childhood memories.  It's not entirely memoir as Shannon herself explains in the back of the book.  After all, human memory is certainly fallible and no two people experience the same situation in exactly the same way.  Plus, she's changed a lot of names.  But it's clear that the emotion behind the story is real. It certainly felt real to me, maybe because I could relate to some of the struggles that young Shannon has making, keeping, and losing friendships.  Friendship can be a tricky thing, especially when clicks get involved as they so often do in elementary/middle school.  

When Shannon's dear friend, Adrienne, becomes part of "The Group", she tags along, hoping that she isn't going to lose her one and only friend.  And she doesn't, not exactly, but she's not fully welcomed into "The Group" either.  As Shannon's relationships with her friends fluctuate, she struggles with the unkindness that occurs as well as her own anxieties and frequent illnesses.  In addition to her confusion about her friends, she struggles to get along with her older sister, Wendy.  Shannon's dream of being a writer slowly develops as she works hard to figure out how to handle her relationship difficulties.

LeUyen Pham does a phenomenal job illustrating Shannon's experiences.  Not only does each person shine through in personality and appearance but Pham uses her own imagination to show the imaginative play that Shannon so enjoyed with her friends (I loved how Shannon always imagined her self as a strong female superhero of sorts, this so reminded me of the games I loved to play as a kid).  In addition, demonstrating in a sometimes amusing, but often sad way the challenging relationship that Shannon had with her sister, Wendy is sometimes depicted as a giant, rather intimidating bear.  

This is a book that is bound to be loved just like Rain Telgemeier's Smile and Sisters, simply because young readers will be able to relate to it so well.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: 100 Things to be When You Grow Up/Ultimate Explorer Guide by National Geographic Kids


Who says adults can't have fun? This book explores 100 of the coolest, wackiest, and most amazing jobs and careers out there, from astronaut to zookeeper, ice cream taster to game maker.

Jam-packed with inspiration, hands-on projects, advice from National Geographic explorers, interviews with experts, weird-but-true facts, and more, this new book in the popular -100 Things- series is a great way to get kids thinking creatively about career paths and excited about their futures!


What an utterly delightful book!  I loved the way that the author presented each of the 100 careers in this book.  With National Geographic's typical gorgeous photographs and bright, fun, appealing design, each of 100 different careers are presented.  The book is not intended to offer detailed descriptions, but merely a brief introduction to the possibilities that exist.  Including brief suggestions for ways to explore one's interests (called Inspiration Station), the book focuses on primarily unusual careers such as astronaut, party planner, tree house builder, professional line waiter, and snake milker. This book is bound to be enjoyed by young readers who are curious about the world around them and what the possibilities are for their future.  I especially enjoyed the brief interviews with people who currently work in some of the jobs presented. It's especially interesting to see what led these folks to the careers they work in.


National Geographic has inspired generations of explorers. Now it's your turn! Learn what it takes to be a real-life explorer in this fun and action-packed guide to discovering the world around us. Unearth ancient mummies and lost treasures, encounter wild animals and learn how to protect their habitats, and shoot for the stars with the latest technologies in space travel. Amazing stories, fantastic photos, and hands-on-activities inspire curious kids to start discovering on land, air, and sea. Profiles feature National Geographic explorers of all kinds: paleontologists, biologists, photographers, artists, writers, activists, conservationists, and more. Kids are inspired to follow their passions into careers and introduced to the first steps to take to achieve their dream.


Providing interviews with explorers, experiments, and descriptions of a variety of jobs related to exploration, National Geographic's Ultimate Explorer Guide presents a great overview of exploration.  The book covers topics related to land, sea and sky.  Each section contains basic information about exploration as well as about jobs related to it such as marine biology, volcanology, and geology.  Fun factoids are shared related to different animals and features of each environment.  The experiments give the reader a chance to see what aspects of exploration he/she might enjoy the most.  I myself especially enjoyed the interviews with current explorers and finding out what they do in their jobs.  This makes a great browsing book for young readers fascinated by the world in which we live.

Monday, August 21, 2017

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Duck and Hippo, Lost and Found by Jonathan London


Duck and Hippo have a picnic and a new adventure!

Duck and Hippo invite their friends Turtle, Elephant, and Pig to a picnic at their favorite pond. Yippee! It’s time to dance and sing, swim and eat. Everyone brings goodies to share…except Hippo. He didn’t bring ANYTHING. So Hippo sets off into the forest to find some berries. But he is gone a long time, and Duck begins to worry that Hippo is lost. What should his friends do to find him? Join Duck and Hippo on another fun adventure!


Jonathan London has written more than one hundred children’s books, including the bestselling Froggy series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. He is the author of the popular Duck and Hippo series, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. Many of his books explore nature, among them Flamingo Sunset, illustrated by Kristina Rodanas, and Little Penguin: The Emperor of Antarctica, illustrated by Julie Olson. He is also author of the Aaron’s Wilderness middle-grade series, illustrated by his son Sean London. Jonathan lives in Graton, California. Learn more online at

Andrew Joyner is an illustrator, author, and cartoonist based in South Australia. He has illustrated a number of picture books, and he wrote and illustrated a chapter book series about a warthog named Boris. He is the illustrator of the popular Duck and Hippo series, written by Jonathan London. He has also illustrated for newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, and Rolling Stone magazine, among others. Learn more online at


Jonathan London has written another delightful story about friendship.  As Duck and Hippo and their friends, Elephant, Pig, and Turtle prepare to celebrate the end of summer, Hippo leaves to find something to contribute to the picnic.  When Hippo doesn't come back, his friends go looking for him.  As it gets darker, Hippo's friends get scared that they won't be able to find him.  The illustrations are expressive and adorable. There is also a line that is repeated throughout the story that makes for a fun opportunity for children to respond as the story is read.  London and Joyner have created a great follow-up to the original Duck and Hippo in a Rainstorm that shines as a read a loud.

There’s more fun with Duck and Hippo in the free downloadable activity pages:


Two Lions is offering a set of the Duck and Hippo books--DUCK AND HIPPO IN THE RAINSTORM and DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND--to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses).

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: The World's Greatest Adventure Machine by Frank Cole


An adventure novel about four lucky kids and a mysterious, but thrilling ride for fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Jurassic Park!

CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World's Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.

There's Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There's Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika's wealthy grandfather isn't too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he'll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius.

The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own.

Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!

Barnes and Noble


Unfortunately, with getting ready for school next week, I haven't finished this book yet.  However, what I have read, I've enjoyed.  The four kids are introduced in fantastic ways, leaving me eager to see what will happen when the four join forces.  And I'm eager to find out how the adventure machine works.  More soon.


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August 17: Peggy Urry, Literary Time Out Rorie
August 18: Why Not? Because I Said So, Literary Time Out Tarah

EARLY READER REVIEWS: Duck, Duck, Porcupine!/My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories by Salina Yoon


Big Duck likes to boss around her younger brother, Little Duck, and she fancies herself the leader of their trio--when joined by their gentle friend Porcupine. Little Duck doesn't speak yet, but through his expressions and his actions, he shows that he has a better grasp on any situation than his older sister. Told entirely through dialogue and visual storytelling with subtle humor throughout, Little Duck ends up getting the trio out of whatever jam they are in.


Every since I discovered the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems, I've been keeping my eyes open for books with similar qualities.  Qualities such as delightful, expressive illustrations, short, funny stories, and great characters.  I'm delighted to say that I have found such a series in this new series by Salina Yoon.  I love the bright, colorful illustrations, they are very eye-catching and appealing.  The characters make me smile and even laugh.  And I have no doubt that young listeners/readers will love the fact that Little Duck is the one with all the good sense (in the first story, Little Duck is the only one who notices the dark clouds moving in as Big Duck and Porcupine plan a picnic).  Each book has three short stories in it.  In this first volume, the first story revolves around a planned picnic that goes wrong when rain clouds move in; the second story involves Big Duck trying desperately to remember something while Little Duck does his best to remind her what it is she's forgotten; and story three involves a camping trip that Big Duck makes way to complicated.


Loud and in-charge Big Duck, quiet and clever Little Duck, and friendly and gentle Porcupine return in another delightful trio of stories. First, Big Duck and Porcupine are so busy building her lemonade stand that they forget one very important ingredient. Next, when Porcupine and Little Duck make a new friend Big Duck feels left out. Can they find a way to include everyone? And lastly, after Big Duck gets her kite stuck in a tree, Little Duck's smart suggestion will save the day! These three friends may be different, but they always find a way to have lots of fun.


In this second volume of the Duck, Duck, Porcupine! series, there are three new stories about the three friends.  First, Big Duck's kite gets stuck in a tree and the three friends have to find a way to get it unstuck (the results are hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud while reading this one).  The second story introduces the idea of making new friends when Big Duck has a hard time accepting Porcupine's new friend, Bee, until she makes a new friend, but Little Duck isn't so sure about the creature that wants to be his new friend.  And story three involves a childhood ritual, the lemonade stand where Little Duck saves the day.  This book is funny and a sweet ode to the ups and downs of friendship and putting up with each other's weaknesses.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MMGM: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya


Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela's restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo's apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn't notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.


I enjoyed this book for a bunch of reasons but I think the thing I liked the most is the sense of family that shines through so clearly.  Arturo makes for a great, sympathetic character as he struggles with a crush on a girl, a summer job, and the threat to his family's restaurant business.  Add to that his Abuela's illness, an introduction to poetry, and his best friends being away and Arturo has his hands full. Cartaya has written a story that's full of both humor and heart, giving the reader a glimpse into the ups and downs of one Cuban immigrant extended family. Some of my favorite parts though were the conversations that Arturo has with his best friends, Bren and Mop, they added humor to a book that could have taken itself too seriously.  And I found Arturo's struggles with Carmen, his first crush, to be easy to relate to, after all, who hasn't had an epic fail when it comes to relationships.  But thanks to his family, Arturo finds a way to deal with the challenges life deals him, even the chance that his family will lose their restaurant to a developer.  As Arturo and his family fight for their restaurant, they also fight for their family-based community at the same time.  The integration of the Spanish words and phrases, including the poetry works pretty well, although I would have done better if I'd known more Spanish, it's more than possible to read and enjoy this book without knowing any. Books like this one are important in meeting the needs of diverse students as well as opening student's eyes to different people and places.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

EARLY CHAPTER BOOKS: Fergus and Zeke/Sydney & Simon To the Moon!


Meet Fergus and Zeke a lovable classroom mouse and his streetwise buddy in a brand-new series perfect for early readers.

Fergus loves being the class pet in Miss Maxwell s classroom. He does everything the students do, until the teacher plans a field trip to the museum without Fergus! He doesn t want to miss the fun, so he stows away in a backpack and sets off for an adventure. When he arrives at the museum, Fergus finds it a little overwhelming huge and full of exciting things to see. Luckily, he meets a new friend, Zeke, who knows the ropes, and together they explore everything from moon rocks to butterflies to a giant dinosaur skeleton ("A playground!" says Zeke). But when the time comes for the bus to leave, Fergus is worried that he ll be left behind. Will he make it back to school to take his place as class pet once more?"


I am delighted to review this early reader by one of my favorite writers, Kate Messner.  There are numerous books out there involving classroom pets as main characters, which isn't surprising since it's a fun idea, one that children enjoy.  But it takes something new to make the idea fresh.  Messner's done a nice job here creating a likable character, Fergus, who wants to learn with the class, in a lot of ways, he reminds me of Betty Birney's Humphrey, but for younger readers.  Fergus sneaks off with the class to visit a museum where he tries to follow the rules given by the teacher (which as a teacher I appreciated).  But when he meets Zeke, who starts showing him around and encouraging him to break the rules, it's so exciting that Fergus can't help but slide down dinosaurs and climb on the moon rocks.  But he gets so distracted that he loses track of his class and starts to panic a bit when he realizes he has lost his class.  This is a fun early chapter book with cute characters and some STEM concepts slipped into the story.



The chance to meet astronaut Kris Kornfield is a dream come true for twins Sydney and Simon. But first they have to come up with the most creative project about the Earth’s moon. While Sydney’s work is all about the art, and Simon’s is all about the data, neither seems creative enough to win the prize. But when they put their heads to-gether, they incorporate S.T.E.A.M. thinking and come up with a winning idea. The third installment in the Sydney & Simon series, this kid-friendly story makes science concepts accessible and exciting.


S.T.E.A.M. concepts are becoming a major part of many school's curriculum.  And with good reason. Teaching children to combine subjects in thinking about problems helps them develop brain connections as well as integrating creativity.  In this third book in the Sydeny & Simon series, the Reynolds twins use their own S.T.E.A.M. skills to share the power in working together using science, technology, engineering, arts, and math to create something great.  This is clearly a book intended to teach but that doesn't make it less enjoyable, which is rare for a teaching book.  The darling illustrations compliment the fun word play and information in the text to create a story that's both fun and educational.  This would be a great book to use to introduce the S.T.E.A.M. ways of thinking and working to younger children, plus there are some great ideas for projects as well.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

MMGM: A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting by Joe Ballarini


The Last Kids on Earth meets Goosebumps in this hilarious new series about a secret society of babysitters who protect kids from the monsters that really do live under their beds!

When middle schooler Kelly Ferguson’s Halloween plans switch from party-going to babysitting, she thinks the scariest part of her night will be the death of her social life. But then Baby Jacob gets kidnapped by the Boogeyman’s minions and Kelly learns there’s a whole lot more to childcare than free snacks and Netflix. Like chasing shadow monsters, drop-kicking Toadies, and mastering monster-fighting moves like the Naptime Headlock and Playground Punch.

Now, with the help of an ancient handbook and a secret society of butt-kicking babysitters, Kelly sets out to destroy the Boogeyman before he brings Jacob’s nightmares to life. But when the monsters’ trail leads to her school’s big Halloween bash, Kelly will have to prove she can save the world—without totally embarrassing herself in front of her friends.

Packed with black-and-white illustrations and insider secrets from the world of monster hunting, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is full of tricks, treats, and terrifying twists!


Eighth-grader Kelly has a goal: make enough money to go to a fancy summer camp.  She's getting close to her goal but after working several jobs that she hasn't enjoyed, she's looking for something new to help her earn money.  When her friend suggests babysitting, Kelly isn't really excited about the idea, she doesn't like kids after all.  But anything for camp, so she agrees, and within the day her new status is posted on social media.  But when a job for her mother's 'ice queen' boss comes up that night, Kelly is reluctant to give up the chance to go to a 'real' party where her crush will be.  But she shows up to  babysit young Jacob having no idea that her life will forever change when she discovers that monsters are real.  Jacob gets stolen by monsters and Kelly teams up with a group of monster fighting babysitters to get him back before the night is over.  But the Grand Guignol has big plans for Jacob, plans that may be more than Kelly and the babysitters can handle.

The story moves along at a brisk pace once the monsters make an appearance (which they do in the prologue).  The story is over the top, exactly like you would expect for a story about teenagers fighting monsters.  Included with the story are bits and pieces of a written record called "A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting" that the characters use to fight the monsters.  The illustrations do a fabulous job of adding to the overall creepiness of the book.  A fun book for kids who enjoy horror and monster stories.

I get requests from students all the time for scary books.  Of course, children like differing levels of the kind of scariness they enjoy.  Because of that I tend to recommend a variety of books and then inform them to put the book down if it's too much for them.  A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is a new book for me to recommend to students.  However, it's one that I would recommend with caveats, because I found it really creepy.  The action and adventure are pretty typical for this type of monster fighting story, that's not where I foresee some readers having problems.  The problem is that the big villain: the Grand Guignol, otherwise known as the Boogeyman, is really creepy, in fact I'd say that he pushes the book from scary to horror.  I do have readers who would enjoy this, but there are others who would not, so I'm adding this note to my review.

Friday, August 4, 2017

NONFICTION MONDAY: Lost in Outer Space/Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson

With the growth of the Common Core and the increased focus on the reading of nonfiction, it's become more important than ever for good nonfiction for children to be available.  And I have been delighted to see that such nonfiction is becoming more and more common.  One thing I've been looking for is chapter book nonfiction.  So much nonfiction for elementary age readers is less than 100 pages.  For young nonfiction readers this can make it hard to keep up with class requirements.  So I'm delighted to share my reviews of these two fabulous narrative nonfiction chapter books for upper elementary readers.



World War II, October 21, 1942. A B-17 bomber drones high over the Pacific Ocean, sending a desperate SOS into the air. The crew is carrying America's greatest living war hero on a secret mission deep into the battle zone. But the plane is lost, burning through its final gallons of fuel.

At 1:30 p.m., there is only one choice left: an emergency landing at sea. If the crew survives the impact, they will be left stranded without food or water hundreds of miles from civilization.

Eight men. Three inflatable rafts. Sixty-eight million square miles of ocean. What will it take to make it back alive?


World War II is a topic of perennial interest to me as are survival stories.  This book happens to be both. This is the story of a group of U.S. soldiers on assignment to deliver a special passenger to the Pacific theater.  While everything started normally, several things happened that lead to the crew and plane getting lost over the Pacific.  They did everything in their power to find the island they were supposed to land on, but despite contact with the island and numerous efforts to discover their location, the plane eventually ran out of fuel and had to be set down on the ocean.  Preparations for ditching the plane had been made, but in the rush to get out of the plane, most supplies, including all available drinking water and extra food were left behind on the plane.  Using photographs, quotes, and first hand accounts, the author takes the reader on a remarkable journey with the eight individuals who suffered on the ocean on tiny rafts for three weeks.  I appreciated the compelling story, but also the author's honesty.  As the circumstances worsened, the eight men did not get along which is not surprising considering the stress of the situation.  And even when they (all but one) survived they didn't all of a sudden have a close bond with each other.  Unfortunately, the special passenger was famous, but not known for his tact or kindness.  Eddie Rickenbacker rather bullied the others into surviving.  Was that the best method? I can't say, I wasn't there, but it's something to think about and it's something that the author brings up in his author's note at the end of the book..  I really appreciated the author's note because Olson explains the problems with writing accounts of historical events based on the flawed memories of participants.  This would be a great thing to share with students when discussing writing nonfiction.  Overall,, Olson has created a very readable, compelling account of a little known event.  He also does a nice job of placing the event in context of the numbers of men dying in the war at the time.


April 13, 1970: Two hundred thousand miles from Earth and counting, an explosion rips through Jim Lovell's spacecraft. The crippled ship hurtles toward the moon at three times the speed of sound, losing power and leaking oxygen into space.

Lovell and his crew were two days from the dream of a lifetime - walking on the surface of moon. Now, they will count themselves lucky to set foot on Earth again.

From "Houston, we've had a problem" to the final tense moments at Mission Control, Lost in Outer Space takes readers on the unbelievable journey of Apollo 13 and inside the minds of its famous and heroic astronauts. Complete with photographs of the crew and diagrams of the spacecraft, this is an up-close-and-personal look at one of the most thrilling survival stories of all time.


I've read other books about the Apollo 13 disaster as well as the movie so I had some background when I picked up this story.  Once again, Olson does a great job of telling the story.  It can be difficult sometimes telling a complicated story like this one in such a way that children can understand it.  The Apollo 13 disaster makes a fascinating, compelling account, but it can also be very technical.  It would have been easy to fall into that problem, but Olson does not, he explains things correctly without getting lost in technical jargon.  I also appreciated the inclusion of some of the experiences of Barbara Lovell, the eldest daughter of one of the three astronauts, this gives someone for the younger readers to especially connect with as they read.

The book begins with the beginning of the disaster then returns to introduce the astronauts, their families, and what lead up to the situation, including a brief introduction to the creation of NASA and the space program.  All of this is done quickly and doesn't bog down the story in the least.  I enjoyed reading this account of the events and the people involved.  I was left was admiration for the efforts of those involved.  It's clear that the astronauts made it back safely because of the efforts of these people.  At the same time, and the author points this out, while so many were waiting with baited breath to find out if the astronauts were going to make it back safely, conflict on a much larger scale continued to rage around the world (including the Vietnam War).  It's ironic to realize the way Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jim Swigert were turned into heroes for surviving the Apollo 13 disaster, while those who made it possible for them to return safely were not.  Society can be remarkably fickle about who it identifies as heroes.  In any case, this is a great narrative nonfiction book that middle grade nonfiction lovers are bound to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Strong as Sandow/Long-Armed Ludy/Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call


Little Friedrich Muller was a puny weakling who longed to be athletic and strong like the ancient Roman gladiators. He exercised and exercised. But he to no avail.

As a young man, he found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. Friedrich worked and worked. He changed his name to Eugen Sandow and he got bigger and stronger. Everyone wanted to become "as strong as Sandow."

Inspired by his own experiences body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about strength and exercise and made it a part of everyday life.

Backmatter includes more information about Sandow, suggestions for exercise, an author's note, and a bibliography.


One of the challenges of writing a picture biography is knowing how much to include and how much to leave out, simply because there isn't room for everything.  And as Don Tate discusses in his author's note at the end of the book, it becomes even more difficult when only a little it is known about the person and what is known is contradictory or exaggerated.  That's the challenge that Tate faced writing about Eugen Sandow (formerly Friedrich Muller).  To counteract the lack of knowledge, especially about Sandow's early years, Tate focuses on the most admirable part of the man's life: the importance of physical exercise and good health.  That doesn't mean he overlooks the problems or some of the uncomfortable aspects of Sandow's life (such as posing for art classes to help pay the bills and possible trickery during some of his shows).  I did appreciate the effort the author/illustrator made to not depict Sandow's full nude form, (even though it's clear that he did pose nude on more than one occasion).  I did enjoy reading about some of the competitions that Sandow competed in and his efforts to encourage people to get physically fit.  I also really liked the backmatter that Tate included about his own bodybuilding experiences and the controversy's that dogged Sandow's life.  This is a well-done picture book biography that would be great for teaching about the challenges of writing biographies as well as what leads certain author's to certain topics.

Picture book biography


Lucile “Ludy” Godbold was six feet tall and skinnier than a Carolina pine and an exceptional athlete. In her final year on the track team at Winthrop College in South Carolina, Ludy tried the shot put and she made that iron ball sail with her long, skinny arms. But when Ludy qualified for the first Women's Olympics in 1922, Ludy had no money to go.

Thanks to the help of her college and classmates, Ludy traveled to Paris and won the gold medal with more than a foot to spare. Hooray for Ludy!

Based on a true story about a little-known athlete and a unique event in women's sports history.


I really enjoyed this slightly fictionalized picture book biography of Lucile Godbold.  Not only is it beautifully written and illustrated but the style the author used makes the book excellent for reading out loud.  There is both humor and heart in this story of a woman who stepped up to become a champion with the help of her college classmates and instructors.  One thing that I especially liked it that when you look at Ludy, you would not immediately think 'great athlete' or 'future shot put champion'.  At six feet tall and "skinnier than a Carolina pine" Ludy worked hard to become a talented athlete.  I also enjoyed learning about the First Women's Olympics, something I'd never heard of before picking up this book.  The author and illustrator should be congratulated on the fine work they've done with this book, including the fun text, informative back notes, and great illustrations.


Well before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, Aleck (as his family called him) was a curious boy, interested in how and why he was able to hear the world all around him. His father was a speech therapist who invented the Visible Alphabet and his mother was hearing impaired, which only made Aleck even more fascinated by sound vibration and modes of communication.

Naturally inquisitive and inclined to test his knowledge, young Aleck was the perfect person to grow up in the Age of Invention. As a kid he toyed with sound vibrations and began a life of inventing.

This in-depth look at the life and inspiration of the brilliant man who invented the tele-phone is sure to fire up the imaginations of young readers who question why and how things work.

Driven by curiosity and an eagerness to help others, Aleck became a teacher for the deaf. His eventual invention of the telephone proved that he never stopped thinking big or experimenting with sound.

Backmatter includes more information about Bell's inventions, a timeline of his life, a bibliography, and sources for further learning.


I'm always amazed by how much I learn from reading children's books.  I knew that Bell created the telephone, that is what he is best known for after all, but I had no idea that he invented so many other things or that he'd been so involved with helping people who were deaf.  Fraser does a fabulous job with this book showing how the amazing things Bell did as an adult come from the inquisitive child that he'd been.  It's also clear that his family had a tremendous impact on his passion for sound and interest in helping people who were deaf (his mother was hard of hearing).  In addition to telling Aleck's story, the author also includes brief sidebars about important things related to the time in which Bell lived including pictures and information about the Age of Invention, the telegraph, two-handed communication, and the talking machine he created with his two brothers.  The illustrations are also delightful as a combination of animation and photographs creating beautiful collage art.  At the end of the book the author/illustrator includes additional information about other inventions that Bell worked on as well as a timeline and notes about her reasons for writing the book and illustrating it the way she did.  I especially loved the pictures of various phones in use since it's first creation, this would be a fun book to share with children to encourage curiosity and creative thinking.
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