Thursday, July 22, 2010


Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka with Francesco Sedita. Ill. Shane Prigmore. (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

This is the first volume in a smoking new series from the superfunny writer Jon Scieszka (Time Warp Trio series, Stinky Cheeseman, etc., etc.). Loaded with wacky pictures and sight effects (like sound effects but for your eyes!), the book introduces the reader to Michael K. who has just moved to Brooklyn, New York, and is starting at a new school--P.S. 858. Wouldn't you know that he'd be stuck sitting with the other new kids--and he's sure these two will doom him to the bottom of the social ladder in a nanosecond. They seem to speak in advertising jingles! Worse, they say they're from outer space and must recruit 3,140,001 kids to be SPHDZ or the earth will "turn off," whatever that means. Michael K. tries to ditch them, but instead gets sucked into their wild antics. Meanwhile, a klutzy agent from the top-secret AAA (Anti-Alien Agency) is literally knocking himself out as he attempts to locate the aliens that are being reported...but all he sees are these kids!

Quick and easy read for ages 6 & up. Great for reluctant readers! Companion websites, too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Anything but Normal

Anything but Normal by Melody Carlson (Grand Rapids, MI: Revel, 2010).

17-year-old Sophie Ramsay wishes she'd never seen Dylan Morris, let alone allow herself to be fooled into breaking her purity pledge. And at a summer church camp, of all places. Now she's pregnant and not sure what to do about it. First she ignores it, but eventually she has to fess up and tell her family and friends. As she repairs her relationships, including that with God, she feels her growing not just out but up.

Great teen read that deals realistically with difficult issue. Language, sexual situations. Ages 13 & up.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick (NY: Blue Sky Press, 2009).

In this engaging historical novel set during American Civil War, Homer P. Figg follows his underage brother from their meager home in Pine Swamp, Maine, to the Battle of Gettysburg. Their mean uncle Squinton Leach has sold his Harold, illegally, into Union Army and Homer just can't bear to be without his brother. Their parents are both dead, and Harold has always taken care of Homer. Homer tries to be truthful, but fanciful tales have a way of popping into his head and out of his mouth. He shows both great humor and great courage as he faces con men, stern military officers, and even the horrors of war.

Newbery Honor Book. Great for ages 9-12.

The Not-So-Great Depression

The Not-So-Great Depression, in which the economy crashes, my mom goes broke, my sister's plans are ruined, my dad grows vegetables, and I do not get a hamster by Amy Goldman Koss (NY: Roaring Book Press, 2010).

9th grade Jacki is irrepressibly optimistic and cheerful. All sorts of bad things are going on in her life, but she remains upbeat and positive. She's the ultimate glass half full, silver lining, lemonade girl. Her mom says she's like her dad, and her sister Brooke calls her "Miss Sweetie Pants Happy Face." Mom and Brooke are Type As, so they're both pretty upset about financial issues, but Jacki sees the bright side--no private school next year--great, she'll be at the public school with the cute guy she likes. Have to move away and downsize? Fine, move to the area where her best friend lives. Broken ankle? Awesome--no more track team or piano lessons! Quick fun read for ages 11 & up.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Purge by Sarah Darer Littman (NY: Scholastic, 2009).

Sixteen-year-old Janie detests vomiting, but she's firmly in the Barfer camp, as opposed to the Starvers, at Golden Slopes, the treatment facility for eating disorders. After causing a scene at her perfect stepsister's wedding, Janie has been shuttled here for the summer to get fixed. Not that she wants to get fixed or even thinks she needs fixing. She's fine, really. She likes writing in her journal and she can lie with the best of them to her psychiatrist. She just wants to get back home, where she can pee in peace. And puke, of course.

In spite of her resolve, Janie is forced to face some hard truths. Eating disorders can kill people. One of the Starvers actually dies--practically right in front of Janie. Talking about her feelings and learning strategies for coping, without purging, can be useful. Dealing with conflicts works better than burying them. Don't assume that the story in your head is the truth since it could be just that: a story in your head.

Littman spins a vivid tale of a teen's struggle with a common eating disorder. Janie's relationships with her family, friends, caregivers, and fellow inmates are well developed and realistic. Highly recommended for teens, ages 12 & up.

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto

Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper (NY: Balzer + Bray, 2010).

Talk about a bad day. Seth's girlfriend dumps him--at Applebee's--and he sees his dad out on what seems to be a date at the same time. Big surprise that he gets fired for being late when he finally makes it back to work at the mall french fry kiosk. Seth takes his wallowing public, albeit anonymously, in a podcast he calls his Love Manifesto. He wants to get to the bottom of this thing called love and he figures other people will want to come along for the ride. He likes the irony, too--his mom hosts a radio show that caters to romantics who call in for special dedications of favorite love songs. He also gets a job at the pro shop of his country club. Better--his best friend Dmitri gets hired, too, and Dmitri's sister Audrey is working food service for the summer as well.

In spite of the tired golf jokes, this is a funny novel, well worth reading. Seth plays the hapless male quite well, and Dmitri is hilarious. You can imagine how long the pod cast remains anonymous. Sex and language, of course. Recommended for teens, 13 & up.

Falling In

Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell (NY: Atheneum, 2010).

How would you like to open a closet door expecting to find a mouse and instead fall into another world? That's what happens to Isabelle Bean. She's surprisingly nonplussed. She'd been hearing a buzz all morning as she'd ignored the monotony that is sixth grade. She believes she's different from other kids, so she doesn't care that she has no friends, though she wonders what it would be like. She doesn't care at all when she gets sent to the office for not paying attention in class, and that's where she opens the door to another world.

In this place, the children believe there's a witch that systematically travels around eating children. To avoid the witch, the children must journey to camps by themselves and stay there until the dangerous time has passed. This is what Hen, a girl who has gotten separated from her group, tells Isabelle somewhat cautiously when they meet in the woods. Those red boots Isabelle is wearing? They're like a sign that screams "I'm a witch!" to Hen, who nonetheless follows Isabelle on a road that Isabelle hopes will lead to the very witch who is eating children!

Excellent fantasy adventure for younger readers, ages 8-12. Odd authorial interruptions may disconcert some, but they're easily ignored.

Wild Things

Wild Things by Clay Carmichael (Honesdale, PA: Front Street, 2009).

Fiercely independent Zoe trusts no one, and with good reason. Largely neglected by her mentally ill mother, Zoe has grown up for eleven years without much guidance, other than that provided by her mother's lackluster bunch of boyfriends. Then, when her mother dies, Zoe ends up with an uncle she's never heard of, the half-brother of a dead father she never knew. Henry Royster may be a famous cardiologist and metal sculptor, but he's a match for Zoe in terms of stubborn independence. Zoe resists connections at first, except with the largely feral cat that lives on Henry's property in rural North Carolina. Exploring the land, she happens upon an abandoned cabin that holds a secret. No spoilers here, but this is a great read about finding family and love in unexpected ways and places. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Scones and Sensibility

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland (NY: Egmont, 2010).

Entranced by the romantic world of Pride & Prejudice, 12-year-old Polly Madassa sets out to find happy endings for many of the people in her life. She uses her summer job of delivering pastries for the family bakery to spy out potentials matches which she then nurtures with romantic suggestions--and chocolate danishes! Polly soon learns certain enduring truths about the bumps along the road to true love and has to force a dose of realism into her romantic daydreams.

This is a fun, engaging read for girls, ages 8-12.

Big Nate in a Class by Himself

Big Nate in a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce (NY: Harper, 2010).

Yes, it's blatant imitation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but Peirce's book is a fun read and worth handing to reluctant readers who need that extra push to try a book. Big Nate is superconfident and expects greatness in his life, so he's always surprised when he gets less than stellar outcomes for his efforts. When a fortune cookie indicates that "today you will surpass all others," he's sure he'll be a millionaire--or maybe something better. Little does he consider that "surpass" can go two ways, and while his day certainly spins wildly out of control in hilarious directions as he tries repeatedly to fulfill the cookie's prophecy, he has to admit he does surpass everyone in the end!

Super drawings and goofy situations makes this a great read for boys and girls, ages 8 & up.

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes

The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes by Kelly Easton (NY: Wendy Lamb, 2009).

10-year-old Liberty Aimes leads a fairly harsh life. Nominally homeschooled, she cooks, cleans, and does anything else her evil father, appropriately named Mal, orders her to do, including digging up bricks! Meanwhile her obese mother sits on the couch, eats, watches stupid TV shows, and gets heavier day after day. Despite all of this, Liberty is a happy, hopeful sprite of a girl. She manages to escape one day with the help of a magical potion she finds in her father's basement laboratory and plans to locate the Sullivan School, a fancy boarding school where she believes she will lead a blissful existence. Of course, the road to Sullivan is paved with many funny adventures, and the story lives up to its title.

Even though it has a happy ending, the first few chapters are so grimly oppressive that sensitive youngsters may find it frightening. Recommended for grades 3-5 (ages 8-10).