Friday, March 30, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye


What if there was a wizard in your hometown who offered his services to anyone in need? What if you were scared because your scientist parents had been kidnapped and you couldn't tell the police?

What if you stumbled across a classified ad in your local newspaper that read, "Wizard for Hire. Call 555-SPEL"? Would you call?

Fourteen-year-old Ozzy is desperate to find his parents, but he's not so sure about the ad....He's read about wizards in books like Harry Potter, but they couldn't actually exist in the world today, could they?

Enter Labryinth, aka "Rin," who dresses the part. Sort of. His bathrobe and high-top tennis shoes seem unorthodox. At least Rin acts like a wizard, but Ozzy has his doubts. Do real wizards write notes on their shoes and eat breakfast for every meal? Most of all, Ozzy just wants to know if Rin can cast any magic spells.

With the help of a robotic-talking raven invented by Ozzy's father, a kind and curious girl at school who decides to help Ozzy, and, of course, a self-proclaimed wizard who may or may not have a magical wand, Ozzy begins an unforgettable quest that will lead him closer to the answers he seeks about his missing parents.


I thought going in that this was going to be much more fantastical than it ended up being.  In fact, it may be up for debate whether there is even any magic in this book which is odd considering the title.  But the author leaves it up to the reader to decide whether to believe Rin is really a wizard or not.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure myself.  Rin is definitely an eccentric character, calling himself a wizard, running around in half a robe and a sorcerer's hat, along with his sneakers and jeans.  He loves breakfast for every meal and delights in quoting profound sayings that don't always make sense.  Ozzy, the main character, wonders himself whether Rin is a real wizard or not, but he is desperate enough for help to take whatever he can get.  Although he does have moments of regret, flipping cars, anyone? 

At the age of 7, Ozzy was left alone in a cabin in the woods when his parents get kidnapped by a bunch of men in green.  Thanks to his parent's preparations, Ozzy has enough food to live on while he figures out his next step.  For the next seven years, Ozzy survives on his own in the cabin in the woods, seeing few people.  He reads the books his parents had and searches the house for clues.  One day after an unexpected discovery, Ozzy learns more about his parents while simultaneously finding a friend, a mechanical bird named Clark.  It's when Ozzy and Clark meet that things start to pick up.  In fact, most of the best parts of the book involve Clark who is both fierce in his defense of Ozzy, and sincere in his interest in things made of metal, dumpsters, anyone?

Ozzy meets Sigi after sneaking into the local school for a few weeks (I had a hard time buying this, working at a school myself, but young readers won't).  Sigi is the only student in the whole school who is friendly to Ozzy and he remembers her from an encounter he had on the beach which is what inspired him to leave the woods in the first place.  Sigi, along with Clark, and Rin help Ozzy as he searches for his parents having multiple adventures involving cars, police chases, and an unexpected relative.

All in all this is a rather unusual book about magic, family, and persistence that takes the reader on quite the ride.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY: I am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie


Kiely knows she is famous! The paparazzi (her parents) follow her every move, documenting with cameras. It’s exhausting being famous, but someone has to do it! She even gets to perform a big song at her grandfather’s birthday. When she messes it up, she’s worried she’s lost her audience forever, but it turns out that no one is as loyal as her fans who love her.


Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie are sisters. Tara previously owned a kids’ toy and book store in Atlanta. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and three sons. Becky was a casting producer for reality TV shows, including NBC’s America’s Got Talent, ABC’s Extreme Makeover, and E!’s The Simple Life in Los Angeles. She now lives in Chicago. To learn more about Tara and Becky, and to download an activity kit, visit or on Twitter: @t_luebbe and @b_cattie. Instagram: @taraluebbe.

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff is the acclaimed illustrator of A Day with Parkinson's by A. Hultquist. She lives in Amsterdam with her family.


"Move over, Eloise, Fancy Nancy, and Olivia.Tongue-in-cheek and humorous, this commentary that's spot-on for kids growing up in a digital age, will entertain children while giving their parents some apt food for thought." —Kirkus Reviews


This adorable book is about a little girl and her status within her family.  Indeed she is famous judging by the number of photographs and videos taken.  The little girl performs her singing and dancing routines regularly and she even has paparazzi (her mom and dad) following her around.  But as most starts discover, things don't always go the way they're planned.  And when things go wrong at her Grandpa's birthday party and she fears she'll never perform again, she learns that true fans don't desert you when things go wrong.  The little girl here is adorable and her fashion sense reminds me of Fancy Nancy.  The behaviors depicted in the story are reminiscent of so many little kids who love to show off and perform, along with their doting parents and relatives.  The bright colorful illustrations are the perfect complement to this sweet story.



One lucky winner will receive a copy of I AM FAMOUS (U.S. addresses), courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway!  Thanks!

Monday, March 26, 2018

NONFICTION MONDAY: 59 Hours by Johnny Kovatch


Real stories. Real teens. Real consequences.

An innocent teen becomes a hostage stuck in the middle of a dangerous drug-fueled feud in this third book in the chilling Simon True series.

On Sunday, August 6, 2000, fifteen-year-old Nick Markowitz was grabbed off the street on the orders of a local drug dealer named Jesse James Hollywood. Nick was taken as collateral because his brother Ben owed Jesse money. He was an innocent victim who became a pawn in an increasingly high-stakes feud between the two that ended with Nick’s brutal murder.

A dozen or more people saw Nick over the course of the next fifty-nine hours, but no one stepped forward to say anything. No one thought to report the crime to the police. Some of them were scared of Hollywood, while others simply didn’t want to get involved.

When the news of Nick’s murder finally broke, they all had to confront what they’d done—or hadn’t done. As for Hollywood, he ordered the hit, but he wasn’t actually there when the murder took place. And once the story came to light, he immediately disappeared and remained a fugitive on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for nearly six years before his eventual capture.


I find these true crime stories both fascinating and heartbreaking all at once.  Especially in this series from Simon Pulse.  All the stories in this series focus on the actions of teenagers/young adults.  These stories show in rather powerful ways the consequences of the choices we make about who we hang out with and what we do.  In this case, the victim was kidnapped not because of something he did, but because of his brother's actions and the impulses of a group of drug-dealing and drug-taking young men.  

The hardest thing about reading this story is that I knew going in how things were going to turn out.  Yet as I read the book there were numerous occasions when the situation could have been changed by one or more of the individuals who came in contact with Nick and his kidnappers.  Yet for a variety of reasons, fear, reluctance to get involved, and ignorance among them, nobody did anything to change things, not even Nick himself, who believed he was helping his brother by going along with things.  

The author tracks the case from the issues that triggered it (Nick's brother's feud with Jesse James Hollywood) to the murder itself followed by the hunt for Hollywood as a fugitive all the way through his trial and conviction.  The author took the time to interview all those involved who would talk to him as well as consulting numerous articles as well as trial transcripts.  Hearing quotes and comments from some of those who were involved were especially powerful.  The parents' heartbreak came through loud and clear.

Please keep in mind that because of the subject matter this book isn't going to be appropriate for all young readers.  There is plenty of bad language, violence, and talk of drugs and other illegal activity.

Friday, March 16, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Hamster Princess by Ursula Vernon


Sleeping Beauty gets a feisty, furry twist in this hilarious new comic series from the creator of Dragonbreath.

Harriet Hamsterbone is not your typical princess. She may be quite stunning in the rodent realm (you'll have to trust her on this one), but she is not so great at trailing around the palace looking ethereal or sighing a lot. She finds the royal life rather . . . dull. One day, though, Harriet's parents tell her of the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel when she's twelve and fall into a deep sleep. For Harriet, this is most wonderful news: It means she's invincible until she's twelve! After all, no good curse goes to waste. And so begins a grand life of adventure with her trusty riding quail, Mumfrey...until her twelfth birthday arrives and the curse manifests in a most unexpected way.

Perfect for fans of Babymouse and Chris Colfer's Land of Stories, this laugh-out-loud new comic hybrid series will turn everything you thought you knew about princesses on its head.


Vernon's new series has girl power to the nth degree.  Young Harriet Hamsterbone is a princess with a curse.  At her birth an evil fairy that wasn't invited to the baby's christening curses her to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall asleep for all her days.  Well, this doesn't disturb Harriet as much as it should because she believes that it has made her invincible (the curse can't occur if she's dead before then can it?).  This is thrilling to young Harriet because it means she can do the things she wants to do such as slay dragons and cliff jump.  When the day of the curse arrives, so does the evil fairy, but Harriet has no intention of taking the curse lying down and she fights back.  Things go awry and Harriet ends up as the only one awake while the rest of the castle sleeps within a nasty hedge of thorns.  Now it's up to Harriet to find a way to break her own curse.  Between the snide/sly comments mixed in with the amusing illustrations, Vernon has created another winning series.  These fractured fairy tales make for some fun reading.


Princess Harriet is nobody’s hamster damsel in distress! Book two of this series for Babymouse and Princess in Black fans is filled with even more action and twisted fairy tale fun
Princess Harriet has absolutely no interest in brushing her hair, singing duets with woodland animals, or any other typical princess activities. So when a fairy tells a very bored Harriet about twelve mice princesses who are cursed to dance all night long, she happily accepts the quest and sets off with a poncho of invisibility and her trusty battle quail. But when she arrives at the Mouse Kingdom, she discovers there's more to the curse than meets the eye, and trying to help is dangerous business . . . even for a tough princess like Harriet.

From the creator of Dragonbreath, comes a laugh-out-loud funny new comic-hybrid series, bursting with girl power and furry fairy tale retellings.


Harriet Hamsterbone is not a princess that needs rescuing.  In fact, she prefers to do the rescuing.  But she isn't real excited about the opportunity a shrew fairy presents to her, at least not at first.  She's been questing long enough to know all the tricks.  But when she hears about the twelve princesses cursed to dance all night who are locked in their father's castle during the day, she determines that she really should help.  But things get complicated when she meets the king, the highly-obsessively-organized king, and realizes the princesses are in more trouble than she thought.  With the help of the stable boy/Prince Wilbur, her battle quail, and the invisibility cape the fairy gave her, she sets off to help the princesses break their curse, and hopefully help her own descendants in the process. Vernon has written another amusing fractured fairy tale with plenty of action, snide comments, and villains getting their just desserts.


Rapunzel gets a rodent twist in book three of the critically acclaimed and uproariously funny series that’s perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse.

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone does not like sitting around at home. How’s a princess supposed to have any fun when her parents are constantly reminding her to be careful and act princessly? So when her pal Prince Wilbur needs help finding a stolen hydra egg, Harriet happily takes up the quest.  The thief’s trail leads them to a wicked witch and a tall tower, occupied by a rat whose tail has more to it than meets the eye!

The third book in the award-winning comic hybrid Hamster Princess series will make you look at rodents, royalty, and fairy tales in a whole new light.


Princess Harriet is up to her old tricks in this amusing take on the tale of Rapunzel.  Harriet is called to help her friend Prince Wilbur when his friend hydra's egg gets stolen.  Naturally, Harriet is prepared to swing her sword and cause plenty of mayhem.  But she isn't quite prepared to end up in a land of such nice, nice creatures.  And a tower without a door, a young rat with a tremendously long tail, and a nasty witch all present quite a challenge for the young adventurous.  But with the help of Wilbur and her battle quail, Mumphrey, Harriet is quite sure that success is possible.  Another winning fractured fairy tale in Vernon's repertoire, this series continues to delight with the mix of humor and adventure. 


A magical beanstalk leads to a GIANT surprise in book four of the series that s chock-full of girl power and perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse.

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone doesn't go looking for trouble. She prefers to think of it as looking for adventure. But when she climbs to the top of an enormous beanstalk and sneaks into the castle at the top, Harriet finds plenty of both. The castle is home to one very poetically challenged giant rabbit with two unusual prisoners a girl who is half harp, half hamster, and an extremely large goose. This calls for a heroic rescue, and Harriet is just the hamster for the job. 

The fourth installment of the critically acclaimed Hamster Princess series turns the story of Jack and the Beanstalk upside down, with plenty of laughs along the way."


Princess Harriet finds herself in trouble again when her battle quail, Mumphrey, inadvertently eats a magic bean.  After a night of tummy troubles for the quail, Harriet awakens to find an enormous beanstalk in the middle of her campsite.  Naturally, she has to climb it.  At the top she discovers a castle (more of a cabin really).  Inside is a harpster who desperately wants to be rescued.  And Harriet can't bring herself to say no.  This leads to some real trouble as Harriet attempts to steal a giant's stinky shoelace, unchain the harpster, free Mumphrey, and convince a goose that lays eggs when panicked to follow her to freedom.  With plenty of daring-do and amusing illustrations, Vernon continues to provide young readers with lots to enjoy. 


A funny, feminist twist on the Cinderella fairy tale for fans of fractured fairy tales

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is not the kind of princess who enjoys fancy dresses or extravagant parties. Cliff-diving, fractions, and whacking people with swords are more her thing. So when she's forced to attend a boring ball in honor of a visiting ambassador, Harriet is less than thrilled--until a bewitchingly beautiful stranger arrives. Who is she? And where did she come from? The mystery leads to a not-so-wicked stepsister, an incontinent lizard, and a fairy's spell that's really more of a curse. Luckily, Harriet knows a thing or two about curses...

Smart, funny, and filled with swashbuckling adventure, book five in the critically acclaimed Hamster Princess series is a hilariously re-told fairy tale for the modern age.


In a version of Cinderella turned on its head, Princess Harriet sets out to help Ella (who she names Whiskerella when they first meet) get out of an unwanted fairy's spell.  Harriet isn't thrilled to be at the ball in the first place, but when she spots Whiskerella, she's intrigued by this unknown beautiful hamster.  She wants to know why Whiskerella slips in dances with all the princes and then slips out in her glass slippers.  She also finds it odd that Whiskerella's quail and coach driver behave rather strangely.  With the help of her friend, Wilbur, Harriet determines to find out what is going on with their strange visitor.  And naturally, she finds herself up to her chin in trouble.  I found myself laughing out loud at a number of parts in this story.  I found this book in the series to be funnier than the others for some reason.  Maybe it's because the story of Cinderella is such a well-known one that to see it turned on its head like this is just hilarious.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW with GIVEAWAY: The Boo-Boos That Changed the World by Barry Wittenstein


Did you know Band-Aids were invented by accident?! And that they weren't mass-produced until the Boy Scouts gave their seal of approval?

1920s cotton buyer Earle Dickson worked for Johnson & Johnson and had a klutzy wife who often cut herself. The son of a doctor, Earle set out to create an easier way for her to bandage her injuries. Band-Aids were born, but Earle's bosses at the pharmaceutical giant weren't convinced, and it wasn't until the Boy Scouts of America tested Earle's prototype that this ubiquitous household staple was made available to the public. Soon Band-Aids were selling like hotcakes, and the rest is boo-boo history.


Barry Wittenstein has always been involved with writing, from contributing to his high school and college newspapers, to writing and performing poetry on stage in San Francisco, songwriting, sports writing, and now picture books.

He has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now an elementary-school substitute teacher and children's author.

Barry particularly likes nonfiction, and profiling mostly unknown people and events whose stories have never been told in children’s literature. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. He lives in New York City. To learn more, visit his website: or on Twitter: @bwittbooks

Listen to the podcast interview!


★”Appealingly designed and illustrated, an engaging, fun story about the inspiration and inventor of that essential staple of home first aid.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A funny and illuminating nonfiction entry that will hold particular appeal for aspiring inventors and future medical professionals.”—School Library Journal

I always find it interesting to find out the stories behind inventions that I take for granted every day.  The Band-Aid is one such invention.  Wittenstein does a nice job of explaining where the idea for the product came from and I can relate, I'm a bit of a klutz too.  It's nice to know where a product that I use on an almost daily basis came from. I also appreciated the fact that the product wasn't really popular at first.  It took a while for society to get used to the product and the product went through several versions before what we now know as the Band-Aid took it's present form.  The brilliant idea of giving some away free to the Boy Scouts was an interesting tidbit as well.  This is the sort of book that can help children understand that the things we use come from somewhere.  The book could also be a great inspiration in helping children develop their own inventions.  The timeline and additional information at the end is helpful in providing addition context.  It's also appreciated when the author explains that some of the dialogue is fictionalized to provide a sense of immediacy in the book.
One lucky winner will receive a copy of THE BOO-BOOS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD  (U.S. addresses).
One lucky commenter will win a copy of this book.  Just tell me what one of your favorite invention stories is.  Thanks!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Axolotl/Deadly Mine/Welcome to the Coral Reef/Ghastly Gothic Mansions


What's that odd-looking salamander that never leaves the water? It's an axolotl! Beginning readers will learn all about these strange yet wonderful creatures in this delightful title. They will also learn basic information about axolotls, including what they eat and the story behind their long, feathery gills. Each 24-page book features controlled text with age-appropriate vocabulary and simple sentence construction. The lively text, colorful design, and eye-catching photos are sure to capture the interest of emergent readers.


Bearport does such a nice job with these short nonfiction books.  With gorgeous photos balancing out the straight-forward text, young readers can focus on the the information in the book rather than the book itself. Axolotl's are a kind of salamander that looks a lot like a fish.  Since they use gills rather than lungs like many amphibians they are completely water-bound.   Using large glossy photographs of the different colors and habits of the axolotl the author gives the reader a fabulous introduction to a rather unusual animal.  The book includes a glossary, index, and places to look for more information.  I especially appreciated the pronunciation help because I had no idea how to say the animals name going in.  This is a fun book that young animal lovers are bound to enjoy.


What is a coral reef actually made of? What microscopic creatures take shelter in the coral and become its food? Which coral reef resident has stinging tentacles? And which huge creature visits the reef to have its dead skin and parasites nibbled away by a fishy clean-up crew? Packed with facts, core-curriculum information, and fantastic photographs that support the text, this title takes readers on a mini safari around a coral reef. Like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, readers will discover how the living things that make this habitat their home depend on each other and their environment for survival.


This gorgeous book about coral reefs makes for an interesting read, but the real winner is the amazing illustrations that give the reader a glimpse into a fascinating animal habitat.  With coral being a living creature it makes sense that coral reefs are always growing.  The problem is that they are being destroyed much faster than they can be built.  And the incredible biodiversity found among coral reefs is astounding and irreplaceable.  This book takes a look at several of the elements that make up this special ecosystem. The book covers what coral is, what are sea anemones, how birds, turtles, and whales make use of the coral reef environment.  A food web diagram, glossary, index, as well as additional resources are also included. 

by Kevin Blake
Bearport, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68402-222-9
Source: publisher for review
Ages 6-9
Picture book nonfiction
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


In 1963, Les Skramstad came home after a hard day's work at the local mill and mine in Libby, Montana. His wife kissed him at the door and his kids playfully grabbed his legs. They didn't mind that he was covered in powdery brown dust. Little did Les and his family know that the dust was deadly. Deadly Mine: Libby, Montana traces the tragic story of a small mining town that eventually became poisoned by a deadly mineral called asbestos. Fascinating photos of the actual events, maps, and fact boxes enrich the compelling text. The personal and heart-breaking story will grip and inspire young readers.


This book presents the shocking story of a town brought to it's knees by the very thing that helped make it possible.  Mining is a dangerous profession, but when miners carry home a poisonous dust, mining becomes deadly for everyone.  Not only is the story eye-opening but it carries a powerful reminder of the importance of environmental stewardship.  The company that came to own the mine did nothing about the poisoning of the whole town, even after they knew about it.  The book documents the discovery and use of the mine followed by information about the discovery of its dangers and the efforts now underway to help clean up the mess.  Unfortunately, those exposed will continue to deal with the nasty aftereffects of this environmental disaster.  This is an important story that makes for a quick and easy read but leaves the reader wondering about the future of the human race.


The glowing moon peeks from behind a massive stone house. The front door slowly creaks open. A feeling of gloom swells from inside the home. There's an ear-splitting shriek! What horror has overtaken this ghastly gothic mansion? In the 11 gothic mansions in this book, you will explore a mansion lit up by phantom fires, the stately site of a brutal double murder, a cliff-side castle where the ghost of a girl lingers, a house filled with human remains, and many other spooky sites. 


Eleven mansions and their ghostly stories are presented in this rather fascinating book.  A photograph of each location along with a brief description of the events that supposedly happened their give the reader just enough information to make him/her wonder about their reality. This is the sort of book that young readers who want to be scared and who prefer nonfiction books enjoy.  The book is nicely designed and works well for reluctant readers.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK: Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick & David Serlin


Who is Baby Monkey?

He is a baby.

He is a monkey.

He has a job.

He is Baby Monkey, Private Eye!

Lost jewels?

Missing pizza?

Stolen spaceship?

Baby Monkey can help...

if he can put on his pants!

Baby Monkey's adventures come to life in a blend of picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel.


Brian Selznick's done it again.  But this time, he's revolutionized the early chapter book genre.  While the book has 192 pages making it seem like a full length chapter book.  The text is actually pretty sparse.  This makes the illustrations the star of the show, which is awesome when the illustrator is as fabulous as Selznick.  Our main character here is a baby monkey who solves crimes.  In each of the five chapters in the book, Baby Monkey solves a crime. He gathers clues, he takes notes, and sets out to catch the culprit, but first he has to put on his pants.  Unfortunately, Baby Monkey struggles to figure out how to put on his pants creating a running gag throughout the story.  The pattern set in the first three chapters makes the changes in chapters four and five stand out all the more.  And the detailed black and white illustrations work perfectly to highlight Baby Monkey's office and exploits with just enough splashes of red to catch the eye.  In addition to all this though is the changes Selznick makes in Baby Monkey's office for each new case.  The art on the walls and the bust on the desk change to fit the subject of the case (opera, circus, space, etc.).  Thankfully, Selznick has a key at the end of the book documenting all the changes and where they came from.  Interestingly there is also an index and a bibliography (documenting the books Baby Monkey is reading in each office scene)--I also suspect that these books are all made up.  All in all Selznick and Serlin have created an adorable book that young readers who want a larger book are bound to enjoy both carrying around and reading.

Monday, March 5, 2018

MMGM: The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis


Newbery Medalist Christopher Paul Curtis brings his trademark humor and heart to the story of a boy struggling to do right in the face of history's cruelest evils.

Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His dad just died, the share crops are dry, and the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, Cap’n Buck, says Charlie’s dad owed him a lot of money. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal to repay his father’s debt by accompanying Cap’n Buck to Detroit in pursuit of some folks who have stolen from him. It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie . . . until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers that they escaped slavery years ago and have been living free. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move—and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.


One of the things I've always loved about Christopher Paul Curtis's books is the way he brings his characters to life.  Before I was two chapters into the book, Little Charlie was feeling awfully real to me.  The use of dialect though challenging to read at first added to the vision in my mind of a large-in-stature, but rather naive in experience, twelve-year-old boy.  But as Little Charlie faces the loss of his father, the loss of his home, and being forced into working with a man he's heard nothing but evil about, his naivety gets left behind.  Although not as fast as I wanted it to.  One of the things that happens to me when I really start to care about a character, is that I want to talk to them and give them advice.  That's impossible of course, but it makes the book all the more compelling as I fly through the pages wanting to know what happens next.  Charlie's experiences traveling with Cap'n Buck slowly open his eyes to the true purposes of their trip and he's forced to decide just what he's going to do about it.  As with all of Curtis's books, this one leaves the reader thinking about his/her own journey and the choices we make along the way.  And frankly the book is a powerful reminder of just what great evil exists in the form of slavery.  There were a few things that were harder to read, but being historical couldn't be left out if the story was to be as potent as it had the power to be.  Curtis has written another powerful tale of a young man forced to grow into manhood too soon.  I'd definitely put this on my favorites list.  This is also bound to be a book strongly in contention for the Newbery Medal in a year's time. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Children of Exile/Children of Refuge by Margaret Peterson Haddix


For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.

And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?


I'm not sure what I expected when I picked up this book, but it wasn't what I got.  Haddix has long been known for her science fiction/fantasy/dystopia books.  But at first this read like a realistic fiction with Rosi and her little brother, Bobo, being returned to their biological parents.  The whole idea of the Freds was rather unusual, but I just assumed that they were people who had taken the children to protect them or something.  But I sympathized with Rosi and the other children a great deal.  After all they were having to give up pretty much everything familiar to return to a place they didn't remember in the slightest.

Once the children are on the plane, it becomes clear that something isn't right.  And after the plane lands and is swarmed by rude, obnoxious people, I could tell that something was dreadfully wrong with this place.  Rosi tries desperately to hold on to the things the Freds had taught her but these new living arrangements with people Rosi can't at first even refer to as her mother and father test everything she thought she knew.  Survival just may require more of Rosi and the other children than they can give.

Haddix throws some pretty big twists into the book changing the way that Rosi and the other characters see things as well as the reader's view point.  I admit I didn't enjoy this book as much as I have other ones that Haddix has written.  But middle grade readers looking for a new twist on the dystopia tale may very well like this one.


After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!

Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in the Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?


In this second book of the Children of Exile series, the point of view shifts from Rosi, who told of her experiences in the first book, to Edwy, Rosi's frenemy.  After discovering a shocking secret in their new hometown, Rosi and Edwy get separated.  Each is left to deal with the upheaval in their lives alone.  In this book, Edwy gets sent away from the town that he and the other children were originally left in, and sent across the border into Refuge City.  Once there he finds himself living with a brother and a sister he didn't know he had while struggling to make sense of he past and present.  While he likes some things about his new life, he can't help but remember the things the Freds taught him.  And Rosi.  He can't seem to forget her.  But she's trapped back in what he now knows as Cursed Town and he's in Refuge City.  What can he possibly do to help her?  Like many second books, this one continues to increase the tension of the series as Edwy and Rosi struggle to find their place in there new circumstances.  And like many second books, this one ends on a cliffhanger, which makes sense as there is to be a third book.  I found myself getting much more involved in this book than the first one.  Maybe because now I know the characters and the problems they face better.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Detention of Doom/Hilo #3: Waking the Monsters/ Wedgie & Gizmo/Superfail


When Lex Luthor's family company, Lexcorp(TM), invites kids from all over the country to attend an honors ceremony, Clark Kent is happy to participate. That is, until his award trophy creates a portal to another dimension and sucks him in! Lucky for Clark, his old friends Bruce and Diana along with newer friends Barry (The Flash(TM)) and Ollie (Green Arrow(TM)) are on the case! They'll have to travel to an alternate dimension to free their friend from Lex Luthor's grasp (and the worst detention ever) in this all-new adventure from Eisner Award winner Dustin Nguyen and Eisner Award nominee Derek Fridolfs.


Having enjoyed the first two books in this series, I was eager to pick up the third book, Detention of Doom.  The book was fun as were the first two, although I found myself a bit confused in places.  I guess that's not too surprising in a book where the sometimes seems unfinished.  But in a superhero book with a lot of fantasy elements the strange and the confusing is to be expected.  Bruce Wayne was once again the most entertaining of the group, with Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) a close second.  Bruce's serious, dark personality shines through, sometimes in rather amusing ways.  I enjoyed reading about how Bruce's skills helped save the day when the others lost their superpowers in the Phantom Zone.  The role of Bizarro was more important than I thought it would be.  A fun series for young superhero fanatics.


DJ and Gina are TOTALLY ordinary kids. But Hilo isn't! Has Hilo finally met his match? Not if D.J. and Gina can help it! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! Mega Robot Monsters are suddenly waking up all over and they're TOO BIG and TOO STRONG for Hilo to fight on his own! Luckily, he doesn't have to! He has GINA and some brand new SUPER POWERS on his side! Being heroes can be super fun-but it can also be SUPER dangerous! And the closer Hilo and Gina get to saving their world from the monsters--the closer Hilo gets to the dark secret of his past. Does he really want to know? Do WE?!


Another delightful entry in the HiLo series by Judd Winick.  I found myself laughing a number of times throughout the book.  HiLo, his sister Izzy, D.J., and Gina make a fabulous group of characters who are set on thwarting Razorwark's plan to destroy humankind.  But HiLo still doesn't remember everything from his past and Izzy is worried that if he remembers everything too soon it will hurt him and be too difficult to accept.  But when large animal robots start erupting from the earth, it's up to HiLo, Izzy, D.J., and Gina to stop the robots from destroying nearby cities.  With an awesome set of armor (created by the amazing Izzy who can make almost anything), HiLo sets out to stop these mega robots.  But it soon becomes clear that HiLo may not be able to handle it all himself (with the others as backup at the house).  Gina continues to practice her magical skills in an effort to help.  Unfortunately, the army's efforts to figure out the robots doesn't help matters any and before long, HiLo is left having to make a difficult choice.  I love this series, the graphics are great, the characters are great, and there's lots of humor to lighten things up.


When a bouncy, barky dog and an evil genius guinea pig move into the same house, the laughs are nonstop! Wedgie is so excited, he can’t stop barking. He LOVES having new siblings and friends to protect. He LOVES guinea pigs like Gizmo! He also LOVES treats!

But Gizmo does not want to share his loyal human servant with a rump-sniffing beast! He does not want to live in a pink Barbie Playhouse. Or to be kissed and hugged by the girl human. Gizmo is an evil genius. He wants to take over the world and make all humans feel his wrath. But first he must destroy his archenemy, Wedgie, once and for all!


When authors share more than one character perspective in a book it can be challenging to make them sound different enough to feel real.  Selfors has done an absolutely superb job with this book.  Gizmo, the guinea pig trying to conquer the world, and Super Wedgie, the dog trying to save the world, have very unique, and amusing voices.  The families that Gizmo and Wedgie come from have just blended and Gizmo is having a hard time with it.  He has to find a new 'evil lair' and his human 'servant' Elliot isn't the one caring for him anymore.  Wedgie on the other hand is thrilled with the new people and eager to bury bones, eat cereal off the floor, and avoid the vet.  The book is light and funny, and the illustrations add to the fun wonderfully. 


Laser vision isn't so hot when you're cross-eyed, and supersonic flight's a real downer when motion sickness keeps you grounded.

Twelve-year-old Marshall Preston is a Defective--a person with superhuman abilities that are restricted by some very human setbacks. While other kids are recruited to superhero teams, Marshall's stuck in seventh grade with a kid who can run at super speed but can't turn a corner, another with a radioactive peanut allergy that turns him into a swollen Hulk, and a telepath who reads everyone's thoughts out loud.

Defectives like Marshall aren't exactly superhero material, but when he uncovers a plot to destroy one of the greatest superhero teams of all time, Marshall and his less-than-super friends set out to prove that just because you're defective doesn't mean you can't save the day.


I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would.  I liked the concept with the so-called defective kids learning how to work around there weaknesses to still save the day.  All the puking was unpleasant, however, and the stereotypical librarian made me roll my eyes.  The twist at the end was interesting, although I suspect a lot of young readers might figure it out, I didn't though. The colored illustrations are bound to be appealing.  I suspect that this will be popular among the Wimpy Kid loving readers.  The theme here is pretty good as well, about not giving up on doing the right thing, even when no one listens to you.

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