Monday, September 23, 2013

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci


Theodora is a perfectly normal duck. She may swim with a teacup balanced on her head and stay north when the rest of the ducks fly south for the winter, but there's nothing so odd about that. Chad, on the other hand, is one strange bird. Theodora quite likes him, but she can't overlook his odd habits. It's a good thing Chad has a normal friend like Theodora to set a good example for him. But who exactly is the odd duck here? Theodora may not like the answer. Sara Varon (Robot Dreams) teams up with Cecil Castellucci (Grandma's Gloves) for a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming examination of the perils and pleasures of friendship.


I was a little bit surprised at how much I enjoyed this book.  I thought the illustrations were darling with lots of humorous details.  The characters were oddly endearing with their various quirks. I found the story a refreshing take on the often told friendship tale.  Theodora is really uncertain about Chad when he first moves in next door, he does everything so strangely, and yet when she discovers that he too loves looking at the stars, she realizes that she's found a kindred spirit.  When they overhear someone referring to an 'odd duck' they each assume it was a reference to the other and they have a fight, because neither considers his/herself odd.  But as Theodora thinks about it she realizes that some of her habits are a bit  unusual and that she misses Chad.  I liked the way the characters took time to think about the problem before deciding that it was okay to be odd and that they liked being friends. Not only a cute story but a great theme involving accepting differences and solving problems. I think children will find the story amusing and enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 20, 2013

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Spirit Animals #1: Wild Born by Brandon Mull


Four children separated by vast distances all undergo the same ritual, watched by cloaked strangers. Four flashes of light erupt, and from them emerge the unmistakable shapes of incredible beasts - a wolf, a leopard, a panda, a falcon. Suddenly the paths of these children - and the world - have been changed for ever. Enter the world of Erdas, where every child who comes of age must discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both. A dark force has risen from distant and long-forgotten lands, and has begun an onslaught that will ravage the world. Now the fate of Erdas has fallen on the shoulders of four young strangers ...and on you.


Brandon Mull resides in a happy little valley near the mouth of a canyon with his wife and three children. He spent two years living in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile where he learned Spanish and juggling. He once won a pudding eating contest in the park behind his grandma’s house, earning a gold medal. Brandon is the author of the New York Times bestselling Fablehaven series and The Candy Shop War.

Online Game

I really enjoyed Wild Born (Spirit Animals #1). It moves at a quick pace, getting to the meat of the story within a few pages with a surprising depth considering the shortness of the book. The four main characters are fun to get to know, each one with their strengths and weaknesses. 

Conor, who comes from a sheep-herding family is shocked when he bonds with a wolf.  He is even further stunned when he discovers that it isn't just a wolf, but Briggan, a Great Beast, who'd fallen in battle long before.  But when he finds out that he is needed to help defend his country his lack of confidence doesn't stop him from doing the right thing.

Akebe, who bonds instantly with Uzara, the leopard, finds herself far from home, training for what she doesn't know.  Her hunting instincts allow her to quickly develop a close relationship with the leopard, which is good because she finds herself fighting for her life on a regular basis. But her loyalties are immediately put to the test when she comes face to face with the other three and their spirit animals, and discovers they are fighting for the side she thought was the enemy.

Meilin has trained as a fighter most of her life and is stunned when her city is invaded and she is forced to flee with Jhi, her giant panda spirit animal.  But her fighting spirit seems to be at odds with the gentle creature she is bonded with and it causes her great frustration. More concerned with getting the animal to obey her commands, will she be able to let go of her demands long enough to establish a bond?

Rollan ends up in jail while trying to obtain medicine for another sick orphan.  When Essix, the falcon, shows up, he suddenly finds himself of great interest to a variety of people, both good and bad.  Suspicious of their motives, Rollan struggles to decide what he should do or if he should get involved at all.  In addition, his falcon doesn't seem to be connecting to him at all.

A fun series for younger middle grade fantasy readers, Mull has once again crafted a fascinating world based on Earth. A series I can comfortably recommend to both general and reluctant readers.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Safari Journal by Hudson Talbott


Twelve-year-old Carey Monroe has no idea what he's in for when his wacky aunt Elaine drags him along on an African safari. Soon after arriving in Kenya, Carey meets a Maasai man and his son, who open Carey's eyes to the ways of their people and the beauty of the African landscape and wildlife. Their adventures turn suspenseful when they encounter an international poaching ring that trades illegally in rhino horns and elephant tusks.

Explore the world of the Maasai people at Carey's side by reading his journal, filled with his vivid accounts, photographs, and illustrations. Hudson Talbott has created an exciting, informative safari story that will fascinate readers of all ages.

An author's note provides cultural context for Carey's adventures.


I really enjoyed this book. It's fairly short but there is a lot of detail included. The story revolves around Carey Monroe who is on safari ("journey") with his Aunt Elaine. Not only does he get to see and experience the wildlife of Kenja but he also stumbles upon a poaching scheme as well. I loved the combination of journey entries and art and actual photographs, it made the book seem like a real scrapbook type story.  I enjoyed reading about the different animals as well as the Maasai. The Maasai are a fascinating people who are having to adapt to a changing world.  I appreciated the way the author portrayed this and the challenges of changing ideas that have been around for hundreds even thousands of years. And yet, in the long-term, only local involvement will save the animals. The author does a good job of sharing this message without it being heavy-handed or pushy. A great read for animal-loving readers and those fascinated, as I am, by other cultures.

Monday, September 16, 2013

CYBILS Judges announced and I'm one of them! Squee!

The Cybils judges were announced today and I am delighted to announce that I have the privilege of being one of them.  I am a judge for Round 1 of the Middle Grade Fiction.  Here are the others for Middle Grade Fiction:

2013 Middle Grade Fiction Judges

First Round

Second Round

Check here for the list of judges of the other categories.

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Curse of the Broomstaff by Tyler Whitesides

Middle Grade Fantasy


A secret society of Janitors with wizard-like powers continue their battle, and now, the stakes are even higher.

The Bureau of Educational Maintenance is after Alan Zumbro and this time they mean business—deadly business. Spencer, Daisy, and their little team of rebels must find the source of all magical Glop and destroy it before it can destroy the world as we know it. No small task with the BEM and their monster toxites at their heels. It’s a wild and dangerous ride as they follow the trail of clues all the way to the hiding place of the mysterious aurans: guardians of a secret landfill. What they discover there will change the way Spencer sees himself, not to mention the fate of the rebels.


Tyler Whitesides worked as a janitor at an elementary school to put himself through college. He graduated from Utah State University with a degree in music. In addition to writing novels, Tyler is an avid composer and arranger of instrumental music. He and his wife, Connie, who teaches third grade, live in northern Utah.


Whitesides has done it again. Curse of the Broomstaff is another creative, delightful read with plenty of excitement and new characters.  The way the author takes janitorial supplies and turns them into different types of tools makes for fun reading.  Windex turns things into glass, orange cleaning spray heals, and the razorblade that turns into a sword are just a few of the new items seen in book 3.  Bernard Weizmann makes an appearance as a garbologist, someone who reads trash the way a dog reads scents with his nose. And who would have expected a garbage truck as a getaway vehicle. With enough fight scenes to satisfy even the most demanding reader, the book moves at a brisk pace as Spencer and his father, Walter, Daisy, Penny, and Bernard set off to locate the other Aurans and hopefully discover the source of all Glop.  It turns out that Toxites (which suck up children's brainwaves) come directly from Glop and if the source can be destroyed maybe Toxites can be too.  But what will happen if the Aurans don't want the Glop destroyed? And can Spencer and the others take on the new extension toxites and their riders, called Pluggers? A wonderful addition to the series, sure to be popular where middle grade fantasy is enjoyed.

OTHER BOOKS in the series

Janitors, Book 1

No one takes Spencer Zumbro seriously when he tried to warn his classmates about the mysterious things prowling the halls and classrooms of Welcher Elementary School. But when he sees Marv, the janitor, going after one of the creatures with a vacuum, he knows he's not the only one who can see them.

With the help of his new friends, Daisy, Spencer has to find out what the janitors know. The children's search uncovers the magic taking place behind the scenes of their seemingly ordinary school, where a battle is being waged for the minds of the students. Who can be trusted – and can Spencer and Daisy protect their school and possibly the world?

Janitors, Book 2: Secrets of New Forest Academy

No one takes Spencer Zumbro seriously when he tries to warn his classmates about the mysterious things prowling the halls and classrooms of Welcher Elementary School. But when he sees Marv, the janitor, going after one of the creatures with a vacuum, he knows he's not the only one who can see them. With the help of his new friend, Daisy, Spencer has to find out what the janitors know. The children's search uncovers the magic taking place behind the scenes of their seemingly ordinary school, where a battle is being waged for the minds of the students. Who can be trusted – and can Spencer and Daisy protect their school and possibly the world?


Book 1:  $0.99
Book 2:  $1.99
Book 3:  $7.99

MMGM/BLOG TOUR/GIVEAWAY: Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills


Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who's known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he's not the person she assumed he would be--and that the lines between good and bad aren't as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.


Claudia Mills is the author of How Oliver Olson Changed the World7 x 9 = Trouble!Being Teddy Roosevelt, and many other books for children. She was born in New York City in 1954. She received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College, her master's degree from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. She also received an M.L.S. degree from the University of Maryland, with a concentration in children's literature. She worked as an editorial assistant at Four Winds Press (Scholastic), then as an editor at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland 1980 to 1989. Since 1991 she has taught philosophy, first as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, then as an assistant professor and now as an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has two children, Christopher and Gregory, and one cat named Snickers.

To learn more, visit her website:


Zero Tolerance addresses a concern that I have long had about zero tolerance policies in schools. That concern revolves around the rigidity of that term.  The fact is accidents happen and innocent mistakes occur. Claudia Mills takes a look at this issue.  When Sierra Shepard opens her lunch bag one day, she quickly realizes that she has her mother's lunch and there is a small knife included for cutting the apple.  When she turns in the knife, she is shocked to find herself suspended and well on her way to expulsion. 

What I liked: I appreciated how Sierra changes through the story and realizes that people are more than just their grades and reputations.  She also learns how to be less selfish and accept life's imperfections.  The inclusion of Luke Bishop, the "troublemaker" was a nice touch, allowing the reader to see how characters who are quite different can become friends when they look beyond the surface.  The power of the media and 'saving face' are also clearly demonstrated here. I also appreciated how Sierra tries to do the right thing in regard to Mr. Besser after messing up with Ms. Lin. 

What I didn't like: In-school suspension is supposed to allow students to keep up with their school work while being away from the other students.  In this book, it is portrayed as free time, the students aren't given anything to do, they just sit there. And there is not a teacher there to supervise. Also, when Sierra really does something wrong, the principal lets her off because she's already up for expulsion. All she has to do is apologize. 

All in all, a thought-provoking read that is well worth talking about.

GUEST POST:  It Takes a Writing Group by Claudia Mills

Even though every writer needs to face the blank page or the blank computer screen alone, writing a book is for me a highly collaborate endeavor.

For most of my career I have been part of a writing group: a group of fellow writers who band together to help one another write the best books possible. When I lived in Maryland I was a member of the Soup Group. We met every other Tuesday for lunch and ate, yes delicious home-made soup (the cream of cashew was the best) and home-made bread. As we sipped our soup and broke our bread, we critiqued our manuscripts, leaving at the end of two hours with full bellies and improved stories.

When I moved to Colorado two decades ago, the first thing I did was to contact fellow members of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) who lived near me in Boulder. One invited to visit her writing group, and I’ve been a member of that group ever since.

In the beginning our group was made up entirely of children’s book authors, some published, most unpublished. Over our years together, we have developed in all different kinds of directions, and all of us have been published now. Some of us still write children’s books; others write mysteries for grown-ups, women’s fiction, science fiction, and nonfiction books about Colorado history for adults and children alike.

Here we are at our annual retreat, the last weekend in August, up in the Rocky Mountains in Silverthorne. Pictured from left to right: Marie DesJardin, Claudia Mills, Phyllis Perry, Leslie O’Kane, Elizabeth Wrenn, Mary Peace Finley, Ann Whitehead Nagda.

Over the years we’ve worked out various rules to structure our biweekly Monday night meetings. We share manuscripts in the order that people arrive: a great way to ensure promptness! We bring hard copies of the manuscripts to pass around and read them in silence, scribbling voluminous critical comments as well as marking the all-important smiley faces that let us know when we’ve done something right. When we give our critiques, we try to begin with comments that are positive, but we focus on those crucial critical comments that make the difference between publishable and unpublishable work. We critique in a clockwise order, beginning with the person to the left of the author. No one speaks twice until everyone has spoken at least once—a lovely mechanism to ensure that all voices are heard.

Sometimes the comments sting. Sometimes I go home and tell my husband, “Remind me never to go to THAT writing group again!” But in the end, I always listen. How can a writer not listen to her readers? I revise from my friends’ comments, and the book gets better. And better. And better.

When I shared the manuscript for Zero Tolerance, a chapter at a time, the group’s comments helped me navigate the delicate balancing act of making Sierra somewhat self-righteous about her “perfect student” status at the beginning of the book, but still fundamentally likeable (I hope!). I had to make her a character readers could root for and care about, but someone who still had room to grow and change. My writer friends helped me streamline the story: originally I had Sierra writing not one but two emails from the school secretary’s computer, as she serves her time in suspension. They helped me pick up the pace during scenes that dragged and to slow it down when scenes felt rushed.

I was on a panel recently with an author who mentioned that he had revised one passage in his recent novel 88 times. The audience gasped. 

I couldn’t resist asking him: “Are you in a writing group?” 

“Oh, no,” he said. “I wouldn’t find that helpful.” 

“Well,” I replied, “a writing group would have saved you eighty of those eighty-eight revisions!”

For me, it takes a writing group to raise a book.


1 print copy of Zero Tolerance
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ENDS 9/23/2013

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PICTURE BOOK BLOG TOUR: The Not Even Once Club by Wendy Watson Nelson


The Not Even Once Club is an adorable and appealing way to engage children in a story that will help them choose for themselves to keep the commandments and to never break them. Not even once.
Children will meet Tyler, an energetic boy who is excited to make new friends in his Primary class. They have invited Tyler to join their special club, but first he has to pass the test and keep the club promise.
With illustrations from bestselling illustrator Brandon Dorman, The Not Even Once Club is a fun and engaging way for parents to help teach their children the importance of keeping the commandments. Included in the back of the book are additional teaching helps for parents and leaders.
Click here to download your free "Not Even Once" Discussion Questions.
Click here to download your free "Not Even Once" Certificate.
Wendy Watson Nelson holds a Ph.D. in family therapy and gerontology. Prior to her marriage to Elder Russell M. Nelson, she was a professor of marriage and family therapy for twenty-five years. Sister Nelson has served as a stake Relief Society president, stake Primary president, and chaired the BYUWomen’s Conference. Currently, she is an institute instructor and visiting teacher. Sister Nelson was born in Raymond, Alberta, Canada, to Leonard David and Laura Byrde McLean Watson. For a complete list of Sister Nelson’s books and CDs, visit


Brandon Dorman is the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Wizard. He graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he studied fine art and illustration. He and his wife, Emily, have three children and live in Washington, where he enjoys working as a freelance illustrator. His work has appeared in children’s books and on numerous covers, including Pingo, The Candy Shop War, and the Fablehaven series. See more of Brandon Dorman’s artwork at


A cute, beautifully illustrated book about the importance of obeying God's commandments. The book refers to specific LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon) beliefs so some background might be needed for those who aren't members. Tyler has joined a new Primary class and has been invited to join a club called the Not Even Once club.  This club is made up of children who have committed to 'not even once' try coffee, tea, alcohol, pornography, lie, cheat, steal, or dress immodestly. The story follows Tyler's entry into the club and 'passing' the test.  There is also a page at the back of the book for parents to help them discuss things with their children.  I also appreciated the mention of repentance since after all we all make mistakes. The illustrations are typical gorgeous Brandon Dorman. There's a reason he is one of my favorite illustrators.

NOTE: I have seen many reviews of this book that are negative because the authors think that the story leaves out any room for mistakes.  Here is my take on that topic.

I understand where the other reviews are coming from. After all, all people make mistakes, but does that mean we shouldn't try to keep God's commandments as well as we can? Yes, the Atonement is there because we need it and the forgiveness and sanctification that it offers.  But the Atonement also helps us keep the covenants we make at baptism and other times, helping us seek to keep the commandments. How is the promise these kids make any different than the covenants made at baptism and in the temple? Are these kids likely to reject each other completely if one of them messes up? I don't think so. Such promises/covenants help us to remember what God has commanded us to do. These are commandments, not requests, and the Lord doesn't include exceptions. He doesn't say, keep the commandments except when you can't.  Instead He makes a way for us to try again, to 'pass the test' the next time, to change through the Atonement with the Savior's help. As for nobody being able to do any of the mentioned things 'not even once' do we want to teach our children that it's okay to do any of those things mentioned in the book, 'just once?' I don't think so, those things generally have negative consequences and our children will be better off if they avoid them.

Please keep in mind that I'm not trying to offend anyone here. But I hate to see a good book so thoroughly condemned. The book could make for some great conversations between parents and children about obedience and consequences and repentance.



Monday, September 9, 2013

AUDIO BOOK BLOG TOUR: Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard by


Move over Percy Jackson. Find out what everybody is talking about!

If you loved Harry Potter, if you couldn't get enough of Percy Jackson, if you're wondering what to read after The Mark of Athena -- from bestselling author Lars Guignard comes the kids' magic fantasy adventure... GHOST LEOPARD.

Zoe and Zak are lost in exotic India, where gods and magic still exist. Before they can find their way home, they just have to do one little thing...

...Save a mythical creature from an ancient evil that wants to rule the world.

When Zoe Guire goes along on her mom's business trip to India, things get very weird, very quickly. An elephant god speaks to her from the bottom of a swimming pool... She and her classmate Zak get locked in a trunk and shipped off to a strange city near the foothills of the Himalayas... and a crazy snake charmer tells them they've been chosen to protect a mythical creature called the Ghost Leopard from an ancient evil that wants to take over the world.

As they travel deeper into the majestic mountains known as the Realm of the Gods, things get even weirder. If she and Zak want to make it back to their parents, they're going to have to tap into powers they never knew existed.

Because if they don't, things will never be the same for any of us ever again.

Book can be found at: Audible iTunes | Amazon  | GoodReads

Ghost Leopard Audiobook Blog Tour special:

To celebrate the audiobook release, the ebook version of Ghost Leopard will be available ON SALE for $0.99 (regular price $4.99) from September 9 to September 20. Please click here to order.


Lars Guignard is a former film and television writer and a graduate of both McGill University and the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. His debut thriller novel, Lethal Circuit, has been an amazon top 100 Technothriller since its release.

Guignard has wanted to write Indian stories for kids ever since he attended a boarding school in the majestic Himalayas. The time he spent in the “school above the clouds” affected him profoundly, and once he returned home to North America he was struck by the lack of children’s stories from India available in our culture. Since India is such an incredible country, he decided to write a series of action adventure books for young adults about India to introduce young readers to this magical, mystical land. So if you’re looking for a great book adventure for kids, try Ghost Leopard today!


Website | Twitter | Facebook


A fun book read by a great narrator.  It was surprisingly easy to see Carlson as 11-year-old Zoey.  She also does a nice job with doing different voices for the other characters as well.  That makes it easier to know who is speaking.  And I absolutely loved the setting and how it was presented in the story.  India is a fascinating place, but there aren't a lot of children's books set there and the one's that are are mostly historical fiction.  So it was fun to listen to a fantasy, adventure story set in India that while a lot of things were made up the culture shines through so well.

Zoey is very appealing heroine with mostly good sense, who has to put up with Zak's curiosity and impulsiveness. Yet she has her own reasons for getting involved with 'rhino butt' and his map and a leopard who had never been photographed.  When the kid's parents have to leave and the kids are left in the care of a rent-a-nanny, things really start to happen, especially when the kids end up stuck in a trunk being flown, who knows where. And what's this about a ghost leopard, and how on earth are two kids supposed to save a mythical creature in a foreign land? Read/listen to the book and find out! Highly recommended.


3 winners will receive Zoe & Zak and the Ghost Leopard as an audiobook, paperback or ebook
It is open worldwide.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Janitors 2: Secrets of New Forest Academy by Tyler Whitesides


Spencer stood up, anxiously scanning the library for movement. Instinctively, his hand reached into his backpack to grip a small Ziploc bag of magical vacuum dust. Spencer turned a slow circle, eyes flicking from bookshelf to bookshelf. The students were showing all the signs—so where were the Toxites?
Now more than ever, Spencer, Daisy, and even Dez must fight to save schools everywhere. Toxites, the small creatures that love to feed on the brain waves of students, are just the beginning of their troubles.
The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) is after Spencer, and the Rebels hope to sneak him to safety within the walls of an elite private school. But danger follows Spencer and his friends, testing their loyalty and trust as well as their Toxite-fighting skills. Can they hold out long enough to discover the true secret of New Forest Academy and what it means to the future of education?


Tyler Whitesides worked as a janitor at a middle school to put himself through college. It was there that he discovered the many secrets and mysteries that can be hidden in a dusty school. Tyler graduated from Utah State University with a degree in music. He enjoys spending time in the mountains, cooking on the barbecue, and vacuuming. Tyler lives in Logan, Utah, with his wife, Connie, a third-grade teacher. Janitors is his first novel.


I love middle grade fiction and this book is a good example of why.  I think the thing I especially enjoy about this series is the creative ways that the author uses items that in real life are seen as dull and ordinary, like vacuums, brooms, and electricity.  I mean, the use of a dumpster as a prison. What a great idea. I'm surprised no one ever thought of that before. I think my favorite ordinary thing turned magical was the tool belts that allowed brooms to shrink to a management size with lots of additional storage pockets.  Hmm. I also liked the use of toilet plungers to make heavy objects light enough to move (think SUV and bus). 

In addition, I really like the characters, flaws and all. Spencer, who is obsessed with neatness and cleanliness, is the perfect main character.  His father disappeared two years ago and he recently discovered that his father was also involved with Toxites and battling the BEM.  His best friend, Daisy, is a sweet, but tough girl who tends to be rather gullible but is very loyal and determined. Dez makes an interesting contribution in this book.  He's definitely a bully, but at the same time, there are moments when I almost liked him and I definitely felt bad about his unfortunate home life with a drunken father.

There is enough action and adventure to satisfy even the most demanding middle grade reader.  I can safely promise that I have never read fight scenes quite like these. New villains and unexpected assistance add to the enjoyment of the book. I can heartily recommend this book to middle grade fantasy lovers.


Dez Rylie belched. It wasn’t a long belch by his standards, but it was certainly enough to get him in trouble again. It would have been nothing new in Mrs. Natcher’s classroom. But this was the library, a sanctuary of research and silence.

Well, usually. Today was different, and not just because it was a Friday.

“That’s enough!”

Spencer blinked the sleepiness out of his eyes and shook his head. Had the librarian just shouted?

“It’s over!” Sure enough, Mr. Fields, the balding librarian, was losing his cool. And rightfully so.

Spencer’s sixth-grade classmates were behaving ridiculously. Several students were slouched hopelessly at the study tables, books abandoned and research topics forgotten. They stared at the librarian, lazily chewing gum like they didn’t care a thing about consequences. Other kids wandered between bookshelves, laughing and smiling, happily distracted from their work. A few students were sound asleep, drooling on expensive library books.

“I’m not going to deal with this behavior anymore. Your teacher’s coming to fetch you! Gather your things.” He shooed the students with the backs of his hands.

Spencer used his knuckles to rub the sleepiness from his eyes. When he opened them again, he noticed that the seat next to him was empty. Where was Daisy? Spencer glanced around the library and spotted the girl a few bookshelves away. Daisy was on her hands and knees in front of the picture books—laughing.

Oh, no. Something was very wrong.

Spencer had fallen asleep during research and Daisy was hopelessly distracted. That could only mean one thing…

Spencer stood up, anxiously scanning the library for movement. Instinctively, his hand reached into his backpack to grip a small Ziploc bag of vacuum dust. Spencer turned a slow circle, eyes flicking from bookshelf to bookshelf. The students were showing all the signs—so where were the Toxites?

The library door opened, and the air seemed to grow old and stuffy with Mrs. Natcher’s arrival. One look at her unruly class sent a new streak of gray through her tightly pinned hair bun.

“Class!” she called in her usual manner. “Class! You will be silent in three, two, one.” Mrs. Natcher clapped her hands, but this usual method did little against the potent breath of the Toxites that pervaded the library.

Spencer yawned big enough to make his eyes water. Then, with blurry vision, he saw a flash of movement. Spencer blinked away the tears to see a pale, slimy creature leap from the History section and land on a nearby table. Half a dozen kids were staring in that direction, but the monster scuttled invisibly across their notebooks.

Spencer snapped the seal on his Ziploc bag and pinched out a bit of vacuum dust. If the creature turned toward him, Spencer would have to stop it, no matter how crazy he might look throwing vac dust at invisible monsters.

Across the table, Dez stood up, his backpack gaping open like a dirty mouth. Before Spencer could move, the yellow, lizard-like creature leapt into the backpack’s dark opening. Dez casually picked up his notebook, the pages discolored and crinkly from an old apple juice spill, and dropped it into his pack. With another belch, he zipped his backpack and turned.

Of all the kids in the class, Dez was probably the least affected by Toxite breath. The rich brain waves that the Toxites enjoyed didn’t often come wafting out of Dez’s head. The creatures mostly left him alone, saving their potent anti-learning breath for other, more sincere students. But, affected or not, Dez was about to unknowingly transport a Grime back to the classroom.

Dez was wandering halfheartedly toward the doorway where Mrs. Natcher stood with her nose turned up at her class. Spencer gritted his teeth and stepped into Dez’s path, eyes locked on the big kid’s backpack.

“What are you staring at, Doofus?” Dez asked. “Never seen a backpack before?”

Spencer glanced sideways at Daisy, but she was too far away and much too distracted to help. The slimy Grimes were toughest on Daisy. Their distracting breath didn’t bother Spencer much at all, but seeing Daisy like that reminded him why he couldn’t let Dez get past. If the backpack made it into Mrs. Natcher’s classroom, then the Toxite would emerge. Spencer and Daisy had worked too hard to keep their classroom Toxite-free. And Dez was about to spoil it by giving this creature a free ride.

“Listen, Dez,” Spencer said, “you’ve got to leave your backpack here.”

“Huh?” Dez pulled a face. Then he narrowed his eyes. “You trying to steal from me? I’ll break your fingers if you touch my Empty 3 Player.”

“Your what?”

“My Empty 3 Player. Don’t you ever listen to music?”

Spencer rolled his eyes. “This isn’t about your mp3, Dez. Just leave your backpack here.”

“Why don’t you make me?” Dez smirked.

Spencer took a deep breath and gripped his vac dust even harder. He was losing time. Mrs. Natcher and the librarian were rounding up the students one by one. It wouldn’t be long before they got to Dez.

Spencer stepped away, letting the bully think he’d won another fight. Dez threw back his head and started laughing. It was an obnoxious, fake laugh, and Dez dragged it out so long that it lost any intimidation effect he might have been hoping for.

Just as Dez stepped forward, Spencer flicked his right hand, releasing the pinch of vacuum dust. With a sound like a suctioning vacuum, the backpack jerked out of Dez’s hands and hit the floor.

“Hey!” Dez swung a fist, but Spencer jumped back and retreated across the library, fighting waves of Toxite fatigue along the way.

Dez stooped to retrieve his backpack. He pulled on the shoulder straps, but the backpack was suctioned tightly to the floor, rattling slightly.

“Huh?” Dez grunted and pulled harder.

A few bookshelves away, Spencer grabbed Daisy by the shoulders and yanked the girl to her feet. “We’ve got trouble, Daisy.”

“Hi, Spencer!” Daisy said, like she was meeting him for the first time. “There’s a really funny piece of carpet right here, did you see it?” She chuckled. “Oh, it makes me laugh.”

“Snap out of it, Daisy! There are Toxites in here. Lots of them! I can’t seem to find them, but they’re affecting everyone.”

Spencer glanced back at Dez. The bully had managed to get the backpack off the floor for a moment, but the suction pulled it down again.

“Dez has one in his backpack,” Spencer said. “If we don’t stop him, he’ll take it back to the classroom!”

Daisy squinted. Spencer could tell she was fighting against the distracting Toxite breath. She glanced over at Dez. The sight of the bully with the backpack managed to break through her distractions.

“The suction won’t last,” Daisy said. “Maybe we could … Hey! What’s that over there?”

Spencer’s shoulders slumped as Daisy trudged away to inspect another patch of carpet. But there was no time to go after her. Mrs. Natcher was making a beeline right for the spot where Dez was thrashing with the backpack.

“Dezmond Rylie! What on earth are you doing to that poor backpack?” the teacher called.

Spencer backed against the wall, a sudden yawn overtaking him. Why not give up? He was out of options anyway. Why not lie down and take a rest? After all, he was exhausted.

Spencer leaned heavily against the wall. He was just sliding down to the comfort of the carpet when a gray lump fell from a bookshelf and landed in a quivering heap at his feet.

It was another Toxite: a Filth this time. This was the most dangerous type of Toxite for Spencer. Being close to the spiky dust gophers always made him sluggish and tired. But this particular Filth was suctioned to the floor, gopher teeth chattering and sharp quills clicking.

The Filth’s breath was instantly stolen away by the puff of vacuum dust holding it down. But who had thrown the blast? The sleepiness vanished, and, with renewed energy, Spencer looked up. Daisy stood a few feet away, a sandwich bag of vac dust in her hand.

“Get up, sleepyhead,” Daisy said. Somehow she had managed to stave off the distracting Grime breath—at least momentarily. “We’ve got to stop Dez.”

Spencer jumped up. Dez and Mrs. Natcher were conversing. At their feet, the backpack lay still. Spencer could tell that the suction had worn off. Any minute now, Dez would pick it up and take it back to infest the classroom.

How could Spencer possibly get Dez to leave his backpack in the library? Spencer leaned against the wall and felt the answer right at his fingertips.

“Careful,” Daisy said. “That’s the fire alarm.”

Spencer nodded grimly. Then, with sweaty hands, he pulled down on the red handle.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins


Comical and original, this vivacious picture book from the creator of Maisy features a lovable new character — and a novelty element that’s a hole lot of fun.

Today my daddy said to me,
"It’s time you learned to peck a tree."

Little woodpecker has just learned to peck. Yippee! He’s having so much fun that he peck-peck-pecks right through a door and has a go at everything on the other side, from the hat to the mat, the racket to the jacket, the teddy bear to a book called Jane Eyre. Children will be drawn to the young bird’s exuberance at learning a new skill — and ready to snuggle along at day’s end for a night of sweet dreams.


Anyone who works or lives with young children will appreciate the humor of this book. When young children first learn to do something they do it over and over and over again, which is exactly what happens in this book.  I think young children will find this book very enjoyable, especially pointing out the 'holes' that the young bird pecks in the pages. Finally, the young bird exhausts himself and heads home.  I had to laugh at this just because I can see an exhausted parent following a young child around hoping they will eventually tire of what they are doing. Lucy Cousins just seems to have a firm grip on how young children think and act making her books a great resource for parents.

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