Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Book Jacket

Twelve-year-old Eon has been in training for years.  His intensive study of Dragon Magic, based on East Asian astrology, involves two kinds of skills: sword-work and magical aptitude.  He and his master hope that he will be chosen as a Dragoneye--an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune.

But Eon has a dangerous secret.  He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a boy for the chance to become a Dragoneye.  Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; if anyone discovers she has been hiding in plain sight, her death is assured.

When Eon's secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a deadly struggle for the Imperial throne.  Eon must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic...and her life.



I almost always love stories of hidden identities, of pretending to be something you're not to go against social convention.  What makes Eon stand out above the rest is the way Goodman plays with the psychological issues inherent in hiding your identity.  How deeply do you hide yourself?  Should you fully embrace your mask, or should you always remember who you truly are, or can you be a little bit of both?

Since this is a hidden identity where Eona the girl pretends to be Eon the boy, there is also so much fun gender bendiness!  There are eunuchs, and men born with women's souls, and girls pretending to be boys, and men taking Sun powder (i.e. steroids) to enhance their power.  But none of these things are overwhelmingly preachy.  They exist, and there are consequences, and the reader is left to make what they will of the characters.

Personally, I adored Ryko and Lady Dela.  They win all the awards for best supporting characters.  Eon is complicated and forceful and not at all perfect, which makes her a brilliant protagonist.  As her foil, Ido is brilliantly power-mad, terrifying and genuinely creepy.  The rest of the cast fills out very nicely, and I liked nearly everyone, which made it so sad when people started to die.

Which is another thing I love about this book.  Goodman isn't afraid to kill her characters for the sake of a great and dramatic story.

Finally, what makes me truly adore Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is this.  Even though it sounds like just another girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy plot, it does something unusual.  Eona isn't only awesome like a boy, capable of fighting and swaggering telling people who's boss.  She learns to do those things.  But her real power comes from her femininity.  It isn't until she embraces her feminine side that she can really kick butt.  Girls have worth and power when being feminine. Thank you, Goodman, for the reminder to society.

Five out of five red folios.

Release Date:  December 2008
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL GOO

Bone: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

Fone and Smiley Bone try to return a rat creature cub to the mountains, where they meet yet another adversary: the sly and might mountain lion, Rock Jaw.


This is a bit of a break in the overarching story.  There's no Thorn or the village in the valley.  Instead, we get a lot of Fone and Smiley, a bunch of adorable baby orphaned animals, some almost good rat creatures, and a bit more mythology development!  While it wasn't knock-my-socks off good, it was definitely a great chapter of the story.

I'm constantly surprised at how Smith manages to make this series for both children and adults.  There are funny jokes and sight gags, and there are discussions about good and evil and power.  Something for everyone!

Four out of five racoons named Roderick.

Release Date:  January 2007
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI


Because New Years is so near, our theme this week was "What do you most want to be invented in 2012?"  There was a snack bar, a car, video game car, and....a zombie protection yard.  HAHAHA.  I suppose 2012 is the end of the world, right?  Could be from zombies.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

Book Jacket

Beware the hare!

Is he or isn't he a vampire?

Before it's too late, Harold the dog and Chester the cat must find out the truth about the newest pet in the Monroe household--a suspicious-looking bunny with unusual habits...and fangs!


So before vampires hit is big time, there were...vampire rabbits?  That's almost as bad as the sparkly kind (or as great?  take your pick).  Granted, the story as told by Harold the dog was cute.  And I loved Chester the cat, avid reader, frequent journier into the wacky imagination, and super into pop psychology (maybe I identified with him a little). 

But a book on the dangers of a bunny?  Who sucks vegetables dry?  HAHAHAHA. 

I guess I'm especially laughing because I remember being a kid and seeing this book on the shelves.  I was too scared to read it then.  And for nothing, I find out!  I think it's not supposed to be scary?  Although, really, that cover is terrifying.  Rabbits with red eyes leering over a carrot can never be good.

Three out of five white zucchinis.

Release Date:  August 1996
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  BLUESTEM

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Book Jacket

I am a beast.

A beast.  Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright--a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore.  I am a monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales?  No way.  The place is New York City.  The time is now.  It's no deformity, no disease.  And I'll stay this way forever--ruined--unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me.  Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night?  I'll tell you.  I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life.  And then, I'll tell you who I became perfectly...beastly.


This book was doomed from the start.  I adore the Disney movie that inspired it, and I hated the movie that was made from it.  I figured the book would land somewhere between the two, and it did.  Unfortunately, it was much nearer the hating than the adoring.

I'm all for modern adaptations of fairy tales, and there were some moments that really worked.  Scorning the witch at a school dance made sense, and holing up in a mansion in Brooklyn will make all subsequent trips to NYC very entertaining.  "Do you think a beast lives in that house?  Or maybe that one?  Oh, definitely THAT one!"

However, the bad outweighed the good for me.  In Beauty and the Beast, I rooted for the romance because neither of them wanted it.  They fell in love despite bad first impressions and horrible circumstances.  But in Beastly, Adrian (Kyle changes his name after the transformation) kidnaps Lindy (the Belle of this story) for the sole purpose of falling in love and making her love him.  I'm sorry, but...I don't think true love works that way?  I didn't buy it, at least.

And Kyle/Adrian rubbed me the wrong way whether he was a narcissistic human jerk or an emo beast.  He wants to impress Lindy by appearing smart, but then decides to "let her" be the smart one.  What!?  No.  She could beat his intellectual hide any day; she does not need anyone to "let" her be smart. 

That's a small point, but it sums up my biggest problem with this adaptation.  Even when at his best, Kyle/Adrian is always thinking about himself.  He never really seems to learn selflessness, and because of that, I don't believe that his love for Lindy is pure, and I doubt that it can last in a fairy tale happily ever after way, no matter what the book wants me to think.

Two out of five green houses.

Release Date:  October 2007
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  LINCOLN

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Graham Cracker Houses

For me at least, winter means gorging on way too much candy.  It also means staying indoors more often.  I can only assume that the first person to make a graham cracker house (or gingerbread house) felt the same way.

I promise it's not laziness, but I love to do crafts where I simply provide materials and let the kids get as creative as possible.  That's what I did today for our graham cracker houses, and I was not disappointed.  Once they got the walls to stay up, they got busy decorating or, in one case, building a graham cracker outhouse.

Pictures below the cut.

Bone: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

The forces of evil are growing stronger.  But could our heroes' worst enemy be Phoney Bone himself?


Ooo, this was a good one!  Lots of background mythology and lots of action.  Thorn's hidden past, and how she deals with the consequences of her real identity was really good--she doesn't immediately jump into the role of hero, but when it counts, she is there for her friends.  Gran'ma Ben is still overwhelmingly awesome even though she was absent for a large part of the book.

There's so much depth to this series.  The good guys aren't always good.  And the villains have hierarchy after hierarchy!  The rat monsters serve the hooded guy who serves the locust horde, which I assume will be dealt with more in the future.  And they are not naturally evil--who knew a baby rat monster would be so completely adorable?

Smith's artwork is consistently fantastic.  He does cartoons and realistic characters with equal skill.  I'm kind of really jealous.

Five out of five dreams?

Release Date:  August 2006
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  GRAPHIC SMI

Cartoons and Pajamas

With two days to go before Christmas, we had a morning of Christmas cartoons for kids and their caretakers.  Added bonus:  we all dressed in our pajamas!  Let me tell you, it is some kind of glorious to go to work in your pajamas.

We watched the popular and well-received How the Grinch Stole Christmas (my childhood favorite) and A Charlie Brown Christmas, and then the less well-received Mr. Magoo's A Christmas Carol.

I had a lot of fun though, and it was charming to see kids curled up in our oversized stuffed animals or snuggled under blankets.  I think I'll have to repeat this program, and soon!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

Book Jacket

Charlotte Parkhurst was raised in an orphanage for boys, which suited her just fine.  She didn't like playing with dolls, she could hold her own in a fight, and she loved to work in the stable.  Charlotte had a special way with horses and wanted to spend her life training and riding them on a ranch of her own.

The problem was, as a girl in the mid-1800s, Charlotte was expected to live a much different life--one without the freedoms she dreamed of.  But Charlotte was smart and determined, and she figured out a way to live her life the way she wanted.

Charlotte became an expert horse rider, a legendary stagecoach driver, and the first woman ever to vote.  And she did these things at a time when they were outlawed for women.  How?  With a plan so clever and so secret--almost no one figured it out.


This is one of those books geared toward younger readers that I really wish would be rewritten for adults.  Charlotte's semi-true story of escaping from an awful orphanage, pretending to be a boy, and generally being all-around awesome with horses was too hurried.  There were a lot of really interesting things going on, and I wish I could have heard more about them.

I particularly liked Charlotte's relationships with her kind men-friends, Vern and Ebenezer.  They saw her for her skills and virtues, not her sex or the stereotypes that flourished during the 1800s (and today, let's be honest).  The picture of the Wild West of that time seriously stirred up my wanderlust--pioneering into new land, every day an adventure.

Bonus factor:  Brian Selznick, illustrator of Hugo Cabret, drew several pictures for this book.  Naturally, they are awesome.

Four out of five eye patches.

Release Date:  September 1999
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  BLUESTEM


We had a couple new kids this week, thanks to school being out for Christmas break and most extracurricular activities being cancelled.  They were very good, making creative space ships, Arctic fortresses, and that lava dumping thing from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sign and Sing Story Time with Abbey Cook

It is impossible to speak two languages at the same time...unless you know American Sign Language!  I think that is super cool.  Abbey Cook is a fantastic sign language instructor and story time leader (look up Communication Junction if you want more information about what she does).  Today she brought stories of Santa Claus and Rudolph, taught us all some Christmas signs, and led us in singing with both our voices and our hands.

Under the cut are a couple pictures and a video of "Reindeer Pokey."

The Hobbit Trailer

If you couldn't tell by my habit reading a book every day or two, I'm...kind of into stories.  In fact, I get quite obsessed with the better ones.  Never have I been more obsessed than when I devoted four years of my life to the Lord of the Rings series (three years of movies, then another year waiting for the Return of the King extended edition DVD set).  I mean, I had LotR themed birthday parties.  I have a Frodo doll.  I bought books of LotR in different languages when I visited other countries.  I, um, even made a scrapbook of all the various LotR pictures and quotes and magazine articles I could find.

I'm a bit of a nerd.  Le surprise.

I still really love Tolkien's created world of Middle-earth, and have in fact just reread The Silmarillion and The Hobbit.  But I didn't expect the level of fangirling that would ensue when I 1) saw that The Hobbit's trailer was released and 2) watched it three times in a row, and then again when I woke up this morning.

IT LOOKS SO GOOD, YOU GUYS.  I didn't know whether Peter Jackson would go with a more child-like feel, or stick to the epicness of LotR.  Looks like we're gonna get both!  I loved the dwarves falling through the door, and then the plate tossing fun.  But there's also the deep singing that sent shivers down my spine, and glimpses of Narsil in Rivendell, and the trolls, and sweeping landscapes. 

And oh my gosh.  Bagginses....Precious....

The middle of December will always be Tolkien's.  I cannot wait for December 14th, to see the first half of Bilbo's journey!

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling


Book Jacket

Mindy Kaling has liven many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck-impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence "Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I'll shut up about it?"

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages).  If so, you've come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently place stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls.  Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door--not so much literally anywherein the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.


I am officially a fan of funny comedy writers and their self-deprecating and sneakily insightful autobiographies.  (See also: Tina Fey's Bossypants.)

Mindy Kaling is one of those celebrities that you think would make a great BFF.  And I'll be honest, after reading her book, I kind of feel like we are BFFs.  I just...doubt that she realizes it.  So much of Mindy's past echos mine--the nerdy tendencies, the late introduction to bikes and subsequent hatred of them, and of course, the awful huge glasses on a tiny child's face.

I loved her honesty about her weight, and how some people are jerks about anyone who is not stick-skinngy, but how the people who matter love you, duh.  Her insights into friendship, men, and working were always funny and scarily true.  I could basically quote the entire book here as evidence that you should read it, but....instead, you should just go read it for yourself!  You will laugh out loud at least twice.  That's a guarantee.

Five out of five pliests.

Release Date:  November 2011
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently in Dunlap's collection.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book Jacket

In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon.  Minli's mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense.  But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune.  She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.


I loved this book!  It is a gentle read, full of adventure and distinctly fairy tale-feeling.  The good kind of fairy tales, where virtues are rewarded and vices are punished, by the very nature of those vices and virtues.  For example, in order to get past a bunch of greedy monkeys, Minli tricks them into reaching through netting to steal her pot of rice.  Their paws can fit going in, but they are unable to withdraw their paws when full of rice.  Because they are greedy, they won't let go, and are thus trapped.  I love that!

Minli is a fantastic character, strong and full of faith.  I loved Dragon, her dragon friend.  Har har.  I loved how the story mostly follows Minli, but sometimes goes back to her parents, who undergo their own steady character arc.  I love the settings, the understated magic, the stories come to life, and the message at the end.

Five out of five goldfish.

Release Date: July 2009
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise

Book Jacket

The best-selling author Ignatius B. Grumply is moving into the Victorian mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road, hoping to find some peace and quiet so that he can crack a wicked case of writer's block.

But 43 Old Cemetery Road is already occupied--by an eleven-year-old boy named Seymour, his cat, Shadow, and an irritable ghost named Olive...and they have no intention of sharing!


I'm not usually a fan of epistolary books, but the letters and newspaper articles that make up Klise's book are charming and clever enough to move me past my prejudice.  I didn't think a ghost haunting could ever be so adorable, but when Olive feels bad about causing a chandelier to fall on Mr. Grumply and then convinces him to go on a date with her...well, this is not an ordinary book.

Seymour, the boy abandoned by his parents.  Olive, the ghost who steals and then returns library books.  Mr. Grumply, the author who hasn't written in 20 years.  Together they make up the strangest, and most delightful, found family.

Four out of five banging pianos.

Release Date: April 2009
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bone: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

Life in the valley isn't getting any easier for the Bones and their newfound friends.  Lucius, Smiley, and Phoney are attacked by the rat creatures and barely make it back to Lucius's tavern.  Then it doesn't take long before Phoney is back to his old tricks.

Back at the farm, Fone Bone and Thorn are troubled by strange dreams, and Gran'ma Ben's reaction is stranger still: She reveals long-kept secrets and unexpected dangers.  In fact, they may have to leave the farm forever.


Yay!  Hidden identities!  Mysterious dreams!  A repeated symbol!  Volume 3 had all the makings of the beginning of a really good mythology.  I'm officially excited to find out how this will all come together.

The fact that Fone Bone's favorite book is Moby Dick cracks me up, especially since he likes it to the point of dreaming about it.  Will more be made of this, or is it a nice way of telling readers that the classics can be beloved too?

I haven't talked a whole lot about the artwork that Smith does, but wow is it good.  Emotions are plain, and settings are beautiful.  Sun or rain looks equally believable.  I like when comic creators use the comic format to really heighten the story (I know, this should be the case in all comic books, but few actually jump out at as "of course this story ought to be told in comic format!")....Okay, I lost my sentence.  I liked the scene of Gran'ma Ben, Thorn, and Fone Bone hiding in the forest, the background dark in the rain.  Lightning strikes, illuminating dozens of rat creatures lurking behind them, searching.  Then the background goes dark again as teh lightning fades. 


Four out of five bartending bets.

Release Date: February 2006
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Book Jacket

Two Kentucky girls, Ivy June Mosley of Tunder Creek and Catherine Combs of Lexington, are participating in their schools' first-ever seventh-grade student exchange program.  Taking turns, each girl leaves home for two weeks to live and attend classes with the other, and each records her honest feelings about the experience in a journal.  For both of them, it's a chance to see how others live and to find out if what they've been told about each other's lifestyles and beliefs is true.

In some ways, the girls are worlds apart.  For starters, Ivy June lives up in the mountains with her grandparents, Mammaw and Papaw Mosley, because it's so crowded down at her parents' place.  The Mosleys use an outhouse, drive rickety old cars, and wear hand-me-downs.  Catherine lives with her close-knit family in a large, beautiful house with plenty of space for everyone.  She has her own room with two beds and is driven to school every day.

As the girls spend time in each other's neck of the woods, they find out that they've both been keeping secrets.  And when, without warning, Ivy June and Catherine both face the terror and helplessness of not knowing what's happening to their loved ones, they discover that they may be more alike than different.

Newbery Award winner Phyllis Reynolds Naylor invites readers into the lives of two Kentucky girls who learn together that to become true friends, they need only one thing in common: a belief in the power of faith and hope.


I know very little about living in the Appalachian mountains, so stepping into Ivy June's world was very enlightening.  I have to admit, I thought the book was set several decades ago until the plot went to Lexington and there were cell phones.  Turns out it's a modern-day book, and my wrong assumption says a lot about the living conditions of many families who live in the hollows of Kentucky.

This is the story of the clashing of cultures, and I really admired the subtle way Naylor dealt with stereotypes.  It felt very honest that both Ivy June and Catherine saw things they liked and disliked in the new environments they found themselves in.  At the same time, Naylor showed that a lot of times, things we consider bad about a certain culture (Ivy June's emotionally distant parents, for example) are not because they are worse people.  It's often because of the harsh living situations they find themselves in, or because they were raised that way, or because it's the only way they can manage to get through the day.  And it's not just Ivy June's family that has problems; as she so perceptively says, money creates its own problems.

My one qualm is that I would have liked to see how living in someone else's shoes changed the girls.  When Catherine went home, did she feel the need to shower less often?  Did she think twice before spending money on new clothes?  When Ivy June grew up, did she pursue a higher education?  Did she treat her children with attention and compliments?

We saw the two girls see a new side of life, and I assume they grew from it.  But I want to know for sure!

Four out of five racoons in the outhouse.

Release Date: June 2009
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

LEGO Constuction Club

As suggested by one of LEGO participants, this week's theme was "A Merry Brickmas."  As such, we had upgraded sleighs (teleportational plane-type creations), Santa's defenders, and my personal favorite, an elf cemetery.  HAHAHA.  Turns out those little guys aren't immortal, and hey, they need to be properly buried like anyone else.

Pictures below the cut!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monarch Award Nominees: COMPLETED

I made a pretty lofty goal this year:  to read all the Illinois Award Nominated books, which includes Monarch (grades K-3), Bluestem (grades 3-5), Caudill (grades 5-8), and Lincoln (grades 9-12). 

Today I completed 1/4 of my goal!  I've read all the Monarch books!  YAY! 

Please ignore the fact that the Monarch books are the picture books and are therefore the easiest section to finish and really should have been read months ago.  Ahem.

After going back through my reviews, these are the books that I gave a five out of five rating:

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins
Dogku by Andrew Clements
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
Imogene's Last Stand by Candace Fleming
Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile

And from those excellent five books, the one I will vote for is....Grace for President by Kelly DiPuccchio, for it's fantastic artwork, sneaky teaching, and empowering message!

The Mitten by Jim Aylesworth

Book Jacket

One day, while sledding in the snow, a little boy loses his red woolen mitten.

Meanwhile, a passing squirrel finds that the cozy mitten is the perfect place to warm his icy toes.  So he sque-e-e-ezes inside.  But the squirrel is not the only animal with that idea.  How many animals can fit inside the little boy's mitten?

Jim Aylesworth's fresh, spirited rendition of this favorite classic begs to be read aloud.  And Barbara McClintock's delightfully expressive animals bring the story to its rousing climax.  The youngest readers and listeners will be surprised and enchanted by this tale that is as heartwarming and delicious as a mug of hot cocoa.


I am usually quite willing and able to suspend disbelief while engaging with stories.  But for some reason, The Mitten was too ridiculous for me to handle.  My brain works in weird ways.

But really.  What kid loses a mitten and doesn't even realize it until he gets home?  Did he not feel that one hand was much colder than the other?  Does he have a rule about never looking at his hands while outdoors? 

And a squirrel, rabbit, fox, AND BEAR can fit in a child's mitten?  Ahem.  Let's say I accept that ludicrous premise.  But to then say that a tiny mouse is too much for the mitten to handle without exploding into yarny smithereens?  Nope, I don't like it.

Finally, those poor animals!  Their toes were cold, so they found a nice warm place to cuddle up with their friends and then....they just go their separate ways?  How will they stay warm now!?

This is a tragic story.  Nevermind the boy and his grandma who loves him.

Two out of five squirrel expressions.

Release Date: October 2009
Reading Level: Grade PreK+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Bone: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

Fone Bone and his cousins plan to return home after visiting the village of Barrelhaven with Thorn and Gran'ma Ben.  But Phoney Bone risks everything on one last get-rich-quick scheme for the town's annual Great Cow Race.  As usual, Phoney's plans go disastrously awry, and Boneville seems farther away than ever.

Meanwhile, ominous signs indicate that a war is brewing, and Fone Bone finds himself helping his friends defend their idyllic valley from a formidable enemy.


I didn't like this one so much.  It seemed to be merely reinforcing the characterizations we learned in the first book.  Gran'ma Ben is still awesome, Phoney Bone is still a greedy schemer, Smily Bone is still empty-headed, Fone Bone is still hopelessly in love with Thorn, and Thorn is still hopelessly unaware.

Also, why was Gran'ma Ben running in the cow race?  And if it's okay for non-cows to run, why did Smiley Bone dress up as a cow?  Couldn't he have run as himself?

Still, we did get a bit of interesting backstory for Thorn.  And those baby 'possums are the cutest things ever.

Three out of five shirtless honey sellers.

Release Date: August 2005
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Book Jacket

Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.


I have recommended this book to everyone I've seen in the past few days.  It was so good!  Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but I was blown away by Flygirl

Smith's writing voice immediately transports you to 1940s Louisiana.  Ida Mae is a fully developed, complicated character.  She wants to honor and respect her family, but what if doing so for part of her family means alienating the rest?  Is it worth hiding who you are if doing so gets you what you want?  Should people be judged on their skin color or sex, or should they be judged on their abilities and skills?

Ida Mae lived in a time where being a black girl was a one-two punch in the face.  She has limited options and is constantly confronted with prejudice and insults.  But she doesn't let that stop her from pursuing her dreams and trying to do what is right.  I loved her.

Five out of five B-29s.

Release Date: January 2009
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bone: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

After being run out of Boneville, the three Bone cousins--Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone--are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert.  One by one, they find their way into a deep, forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures.

Eventually, the cousins are reunited at a farmstead run by tough Gran'ma Ben and her spirited granddaughter, Thorn.  But little do the Bones know there are dark forces conspiring against them, and their adventures are only just beginning!


My 27-year-old brother recommended this graphic novel series to me, so I put aside my prejudice and gave them a try.  I'm so glad I did!  Jeff Smith has a wonderful sense of humor that comes out in both his words and his pictures.  The mix of realistic and absurd is acknowledged but then never dwelt upon, which I loved.  Eventually it becomes normal to see the white glob of Bone holding hands and mooning over the gorgeously drawn human Thorn.

I know many grade schoolers who adore this series, so I was surprised at how much the jokes can appeal to adults as well.  There are jabs at greedy polititians and winks at the readers for willfully suspending disbelief (I especially loved the blanket of falling snow).  Immediately after finishing the first book, I grabbed #2, #3, and #4 off the shelf.  I think that shows how much I wanted the story to continue, and now.

Four out of five mysterious maps.

Release Date: February 2005
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

Book Jacket

At the start, it must be understood that Hed was not a place that produced heroes.  The people of Hed were farmers.  Even the princes of Hed were farmers.  And Morgon was a prince of Hed.  But he was something more, too.  He was the best student the College of Riddle-Masters at Caithnard had ever had.  He had staked his life on a seven-hundred-year-old riddle game that everyone else had lost, and won.

Though Morgon tried to be a simple prince of Hed, the times nad his own destiny were against him.  For Morgon carried on his forehead three stars, which no one had ever been able to interpret.  There was a harp with the same three stars that only he could play.  There was a sword with stars that only he could wield, reluctant as he was to take it: the farmers of Hed were not warriors; a prince of Hed could not kill.

Most of all, though, it was the riddles about stars that drew him on.  What did they mean, the ones that linked the end of the age with a star-bearer?  Who were the legendary fiigures that suddenly seemed to surround him and lead him into adventures he did not want?  Morgon, Prince of Hed, Riddle-Master, did not want to know, and yet, it appeared, he had to find out.

This is the first of what will eventually be three books.  It is not a book for readers who like their stories neatly wrapped up in one short volume.  It is not a book for readers who like immediate answers to questions asked.  The story of Morgon only begins here; many questions are raised, but the answers must come later.


If you like the idea of epic fantasy but avoid the books because of their tendency to describe a scenic hill for three paragraphs, then McKillip's trilogy is for you.  I have gotten so used to skimming that her brevity caused me to reread several times.  She tells in one page what another author might take a whole chapter to do.

As such, her style is not for everyone.  I like a bit more explanation in my stories.  It wasn't until the 4th chapter that I really got invested, because she drops her readers in the middle of the mythology and plot and world-building without ever doing a bit of exposition.  If there could be some middle-ground between her sparse style and the usual verbosity, I would...really like that.

Style aside, McKillip can tell a good story.  I adore Morgon.  His identity crisis and fear of being someone special rang close to home for me.  It's a question we all can ask:  Would we rather pursue a "normal life" with a 9-5 job and house payments, or do we want to go out adventuring and bettering the world?  Morgon's crisis kind of inspired me.

There are shape-shifters, stone children, and bouts of amnesia.  I think that should be enough to convince everyone that it's an intriguing book?

Four out of five mute harps.

Release Date: August 1976
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Peoria Prairie Storytellers: Christmas Edition

Tis the season to tell stories of giving and selflessness...and red suited dwarf men who steal corn cakes and hog the covers. 
The best stories are unusual twists on a classic tale, and the Peoria Prairie Storytellers deliver.  I had only ever heard them do Halloween stories before, but they can do quaint and heartwarming just as well as creepy. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler

Book Jacket

King's family is missing, and he's been put in the p-o-u-n-d.  Why doesn't his beloved human, Kayla, come to get him?

When King is adopted by Connor and his mom, things get more confusing.  The new family calls him Buddy!

Then Connor disappears!

Buddy (aka King) has some big problems to solve.  Mystery fans and dog lovers will be swept up in Dori Butler's entertaining story about a smart, funny, loyal dog...and left eager for Buddy's next adventure.


A dog who solves mysteries sounds ridiculous, but Butler really pulls it off.  I, uh, actually didn't guess the real ending, in a book marketed to 1st graders.  Oops.  I was thinking as an adult, and assuming the creepiest and the worst.  That was not the case, thank goodness, or children would probably be traumatized.

That said, the book does deal with issues like kidnapping and dogs being put to sleep.  I was impressed how these issues had the necessary gravitas but also had a nice emotional buffer, since they were seen through a dog's eyes.

Buddy/King is a great protagonist.  His stream of consciousness is definitely dog (everything is his favorite food!) but not so overwhelming that it gets annoying.  He manages to solve mysteries without straying into any realm of "Really!?  A dog could do that?"

As far as being nominated for the Monarch award goes, I think it will suffer for being a chapter book.  While the rest are big picture books, The Case of the Lost Boy comes in at 123 pages.  It needs to be in a category between Monarch and Bluestem.

Four out of five nameless cats.

Release Date: March 2010
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH


Little boys are the weirdest things around, and I say that with a lot of affection.  They have this intense need to make every conversation involve the word "stinky."  They get super excited about alien LEGO men wearing cowboy hats.  They make LEGO clubs extremely interesting.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Book Jacket

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou.  She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color.  Who is she?  That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

From master storyteller and National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor comes a sweeping and gorgeously written modern fantasy about a forbidden love, an ancient and epic battle, and hope for a world remade.


This is hard to review, because it felt like two different books.  I devoured the first half, eagerly delving into both the exotic Czech locale and the exotic hints of Serephim and Chimaera culture.  It was fascinating and funny and a bit edgy.  Then....things got way more heavy-handed and dramatic, and I'm not sure if I liked it.

That's a problem, because I think the sequel will be much more of the otherwordly and less of the urban fantasy.

However.  There are many things I liked!  Remaking angel/demon mythology was really well done.  And a girl growing up with affectionate demon-like creatures is always going to be interesting.  The hints of who Karou is and how she came to be were laid out in tantalizing and believable bite-sized chunks. 

I even really like the second half epic fantasy stuff.  Forbidden love is fun.  A detailed other world is awesome. It just felt like such an abrupt change.  Like I was no longer reading the book I thought I was.  So I'm going to do something very weird and give the book two ratings.

Part one:  Five out of five sketchbooks.  Part two:  Three out of five masquerades.

Release Date: September 2011
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL TAY

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Jacket

Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who wanted to be left alone in quiet comfort.  But the wizard Gandalf came along with a band of homeless dwarves.  Soon Bilbo was drawn into their quest, facing evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders, and worse, unknown dangers.  Finally, it was Bilbo--alone and unaided--who had to confront the great dragon Smaug, the terror of an entire countryside...


YAY!  I just...really love Tolkien.  Rereading The Hobbit is like taking a warm bath.  I just want to snuggle into the story.  Yet despite its comfort factor, I am amazed that each time I read it, I draw more from the story, and love the characters in new ways.

Let's take Bilbo, hobbit hero and predecessor to future hobbit hero Frodo.  Bilbo likes eating and watching nature do its nature thing in Hobbiton.  When he is thrust into an adventure, he spends a good chunk of time bemoaning his state and wishing he were home.  But when push comes to shove, he realizes he can do far more than he ever imagined (or needed to be, home under The Hill).  The best part about Bilbo is that he takes his experiences and learns from them!  He does one thing awesome, so the next time something scary comes along, he is more confident.

Of course, it must help to have a ring that turns you invisible.


Gandalf is brilliant.  Thorin Oakenshield is nicely pompous, and prideful to a fault.  I adore Fili and Kili, and Dori is a friendly curmudgeon.  But Smaug!  I want a snarky dragon!  I mean, not really, because he would be snarky up until he ate me.  But.  His scenes are delicious (har har).

I cannot wait until The Hobbit becomes a movie next year.  I will be there at midnight with bells on (or maybe a cloak.  Or a ring.  Or a dragon!). 

Five out of five men of Dale.

Release Date: January 1966
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL TOL

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Otis by Loren Long

Book Jacket

Otis is a special tractor.  He loves his farm and farmer.  He particularly loves the little calf in the next stall, whom he purrs to sleep with his soft motor.  The two become great friends, romping in the fields, leaping bales of hay and playing ring-around-the-rosy by Mud Pond.

But when the big yellow tractor comes to the farm and replaces Otis, he is cast away to rust beind the barn--until the little calf gets stuck in Mud Pond.  Then there is only one tractor (and it's not big or yellow) who saves the day.  It's little Otis!

Artist Loren Long has crafted an unforgettable story--and a truly unforgettable character.


I have never in my life thought of a tractor as cute, but Long has changed all that.  Otis is adorable.  If I had to give a big blue ribbon to either him or the little calf, I...wouldn't know which to choose.  The artwork is amazing.

However, I just really dislike stories about inanimate objects being real, when the object is to make me feel bad about replacing them.  Sometimes tractors get old.  Sometimes playing with toys isn't fun anymore (I'm looking at you, Toy Story), and I don't want to be emotionally manipulated into thinking they have feelings.  So.  I can't love Otis, because he emotionally manipulated me.

However, I like stories about odd friendships, and I appreciated that Otis saved the little calf by helping her save herself.

Three out of five haybales.

Release Date: September 2009
Reading Level: Grade PreK+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Book Jacket

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life.  Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability.  She's spent years trying to teach David the rules from "a peach is not a funny-looking apple" to "keep your pants on in public"--in order to head off David's embarrassing behaviors.

But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the potential next door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

Filled with humor and warmth, Cynthia Lord's debut novel takes a candid and sensitive look at feeling different and finding acceptance--beyond the rules.


This book made me feel all the feelings.  Not in a gooey way.  Lord has a fantastic ability to write an "issue" book--relationships with handicapable people--with real honesty, humor, and poignancy.

I loved Catherine because she is equal parts loyal and defensive.  She felt like a real 12-year-old.  I loved the honesty of her relationship with every single character.  She loves her little brother, but is always looking for the next way he will embarrass her.  She loves her mom and dad, but resents that they pay more attention to David than to her, while simultaneously realizing they have to.  She desperately wants to be friends with Kris, but isn't willing to open up about the things she really cares about.  And she genuinely likes Jason, the boy in the wheelchair who uses picture words to talk, but she is uncomfortable with how other people see her when she is with him.

It's all very heartbreaking and uncomfortable--because I share those same incongruous emotions when it comes to handicapable people.  That's why books like Rules are so important, to remind the privileged and the healthy that everyone deserves respect, attention, and friendship.

Five out of five grape sodas.

Release Date: April 2006
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Physik by Angie Sage

Septimus goes back in time with Jenna, Nicko, Snorri, and Beetle to the time to save them.  Septimus is apprenticed to Marcellus Pye who is Princess Esmerelda's brother.  (Jenna is recognized as Esmerelda.)

Recommend to:  Everyone

Jiyoon (grade 3)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Drink Slay Love by Sarah Beth Durst

Book Jacket

Pearl is a sixteen-year-old vampire, fond of blood, allergic to sunlight, and mostly evil...until the night a sparkly unicorn stabs her through the heart with his horn.  Oops.

Her Family think she was attacked by a vampire hunter (because, obviously, unicorns don't exist) and they're shocked she survived.  They're even more shocked when Pearl discovers she can now withstand the sun.  But they quickly find a way to make use of her new talent.  The vampire king of New England has chosen Pearl's Family to host his feast.  If Pearl enrolls in high school, she can make lots of human friends and lure them to the king's feast--as the entrees.

The only problem?  Pearl's starting to feel the twinges of a conscience.  How can she serve up her new friends--especially the cute guy who makes her fangs ache--to be slaughtered?  Then again, she's definitely dead if she lets down her Family.  What's a sunlight-loving vamp to do?


With a title that mocks Eat Pray Love and is about a vampire being horned by a unicorn, I was really looking forward to a cracktastic fun read.  Unfortunately, the book was not as funny as I wanted it to be, but neither did it manage to be dramatic or the least bit suspenseful.

There were two things I liked:  Durst's description of Pearl being in the sunlight for the first time (she was born a vampire, not made, so it was the very first time for her).  It was beautiful and felt very real.  I also loved the idea of were-unicorns.

Unforutnately, I really want someone else to write a story about were-unicorns.  And that's never a good sign.

The characters never felt realistic.  Nearly all the high schooler's dialogue was so outrageously "witty" that I couldn't take them seriously.  Many plot threads had the potentail for drama but mostly fell through.  There were hints that vampires have consciences even without being staked by a unicorn, and that would have been fascinating to explore!  But less than twenty pages after explicitly mentioning this, the door to examining it was closed. 

I wanted a lot more out of this book than I got.

Two out of five bad proms.

Release Date: September 2011
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL DUR

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian

Book Jacket

Prepare to laugh out loud while reading this tell-all tale from a goldfish.  With his bowl to himself and his simple routine, Goldfish loves his life...until one day...When assorted intruders including a hyperactive bubbler, a grime-eating snail, a pair of amorous guppies, and a really crabby crab invade his personal space and bowl, Goldfish is put out, to say the least.  But time away from his new companions gives him a chance to rethink the pros and cons of a solitary life.  And discover what he's been missing.


Sometimes it's not that we don't like's just that we need space.  At least, that's what I took away from this book about the travails of a housepet.  Me and Goldfish, we understand each other.  Thankfully, though miffed that people keep taking over his home, Goldfish comes to appreciate them, disgusting though they might be.

The real fun of this book comes to those who have been fish owners.  The silly plants and bubble divers.  The gross but fascinating snails that clean the tank scum.  Guppies who seemingly multiply overnight.  And crabs, scuttling around unseen until they pinch you.  Fun stuff.

But not fun enough to make me want to own fish again.  Or to make me vote this as Monarch winner.

Three out of five fish faces.

Release Date: April 2010
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Percy Jackson isn't expecting freshman orientation to be any fun.  But when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears on campus, followed by demon cheerleaders, things quickly move from bad to worse.

In this latest installment of the blockbuster series, time is running out as war between the Olympians and the evil Titan lord Kronos draws near.  Even the safe haven of Camp Half-Blood grows more vulnerable by the minute as Kronos's army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders.  To stop the invasion, Percy and his demigod friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth--a sprawling underground world with stunning surprises at every turn.  Full of humor and heart-pounding action, this latest story promises to be their most thrilling adventure yet.


I love mazes and labyrinths.  I loved it in King's Quest, Final Fantasy 8, and Harry Potter 4.  I love fall corn mazes.  They fill me with dread and excitement.  There's something so quintessentially adventurous about willingly getting lost in order to find something. 

So Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson delving into an epic Labyrinth that spans the entire United States, filled with tricks and missteps and monsters--I'm in love!  It is no surprise that this is my favorite of the Percy Jackson series. 

This time around Nico has a larger, and darker, role.  He quickly became one of my favorite characters.  Rachel I'm not so in love with, though that is probably because of the way Percy's romance with Annabeth is complicated by her (and by Luke, and by Calypso....lots of love trials in this book).  I loved the appearances by some of the gods and goddesses.  When they are good, they break my heart.  When they are bad, I am gleefully entertained.

Five out of five blue hairbrushes.

Release Date: May 2008
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL RIO

A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker

Book Jacket

Bear does not like birthdays.  He doesn't like parties or balloons, cards or candles.  In fact, Bear does not like anything to do with birthdays at all.  He would much rather spend his birthday alone cleaning his house, but Mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed, has other ideas. 

The creators of A Visitor for Bear team up again for another comedy about the curmudeonly Bear and his eager friend, Mouse.


Who doesn't like birthdays?  Well, my roommate in college.  But despite knowing her, I still cannot fathom being unexcited about my birthday.  So a story about a bear who would rather clean his house than eat birthday cake and open presents!?  I can't relate.

It doesn't help that we are given no hints that Bear actually does want to celebrate his birthday (through words or pictures) until all of a sudden, he's sporting new roller skates, surrounded by balloons, and chowing down on chocolate cake.  Whoops, spoilers.  I didn't love it, although it's nice that a level book is a part of the Monarch nominees.

Two out of five mousey disguises.

Release Date: September 2009
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Panda Kindergarten by Joanne Ryder

Book Jacket

School is in session!  But this is no ordinary kindergarten class.  Meet sixteen young giant panda cubs at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda at the Wolong Nature Reserve.  The cubs are raised together from infancy in a protected setting, where they grow strong.  Under the watchful eyes of the scientists and workers, the cubs learn skills that will help prepare them to be released into the wild.

Follow a day in the life of the cubs with Joanne Ryder's spare and simple text and full-color photographs by Dr. Katherine Feng, Wolong's leading photographer.

These special cubs have captured the attention of people around the globe.  Thanks to dedicated staff and unique resources at Wolong, this threatened species now has a second chance.  Here is the true story of their incredible journey toward hope and survival.


Pandas are one of the animals that make me think, "But you are impossibly cute?  Are you really real?"  The photographs in this book have not assured me of their reality.  Many of them make me curl into myself and sigh, "Aaaawwww."

And sixteen of them?  Can't handle it.

I anticipate many kids, after reading Panda Kindergarten, will want to grow up and be a panda scientist.  Maybe some adults will want to change careers, too!  Their job is recorded as one of dedication, love, and lots of fun.

I do wish the book had dealt a bit about how growing up in the nursery differs from growing up in the wild.  It was mentioned that pandas often have twins, but will only take care of one.  At the nursery, workers make sure the second twin is well-cared for, but what happens in the wild?  I assume the worst, but I would like to know for sure!

Still, a very good, very cute book.  Now excuse me while I go cuddle with a panda stuffed animal.

Four out of five panda playgrounds.

Release Date: June 2009
Reading Level: Grade PreK+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  MONARCH

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

Book Jacket

In the form of warm, relaxed letters to a close friend, C.S. Lewis meditates on many puzzling questions concerning the intimate dialogue between man and God.  He considers practical and metaphyiscal aspects of prayer, such as when we pray and where.  He questions why we seek to inform God in our prayers if He is omniscient, whether there is an ideal form of prayer, and which of our many selves we show to God while praying.  The concluding letter contains provocative thoughts about "liberal Christians," the soul, and resurrection.


Lewis is the author I respect the most.  I genuinely love to read everything he wrote (excepting, perhaps, The Problem of Pain, which took me three tries to get through).  He can take the most complicated theological issues and make them completely understandable.  On the other hand, he takes things I assume are simple, and makes them very complicated.  I love him for both of these things.

In this book, which is really his side of a letter correspondence, Lewis talks about prayer.  I am not good at praying, and some of his suggestions were kind of awesome.  He discusses many of the issues with prayer--why even bother?  why is it so hard?  I loved every bit of it.  Lewis writes as if he is sitting in a comfy chair, chatting with you and cracking jokes. 

And maybe that's what I love about him most of all.  Throughout all situations and all theological discussions, he maintains a sense of humor, and a sense of humility.

Five out of five thinky thoughts.

Release Date: March 1973
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic

Book Jacket

Knock, knock, knock!

Someone's outisde the door...but who?

Meet Max--a duck for all seasons.


This was a cute enough story about a duck who takes over a household--much to everyone's chagrin.  But when he leaves, they realize how much they miss him, and welcome him back gladly the next winter.  Him, and the rest of his flock.

I liked the idea of a duck skipping migration because he wanted to experience winter.  I liked the adorableness of an animal-filled house.  And I loved the page where all the animals surround their owner as the words say, "Someone had to talk to Max.  But who?"  Very cute.

However, the story wasn't especially unique or wonderful.  I liked it, but I don't think it quite deserves to be nominated for the Monarch award.

Two out of five remote hoggers.

Release Date: January 2007
Reading Level: Grade K+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:MONARCH

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost

Book Jacket

Cartooning is what happens when you send your drawings on an adventure!

On this adventure, you'll meet an impatient knight, a cowardly horse, and a magical elf.  Our heroes are off to rescue a princess and slay a dragon...and they're learning to make comics along the way!

In Adventures in Cartooning, simple lessons in cartooning are woven into a rip-roaring story.

The only thing more fun than reading this comic will be making your own!!!


I love this book!  I used to like drawing comics, and I would have loved to have such a fun guide as this to inspire me.  The authors' ability to combine a really good tale (mysteries, candy-snatching dragons, magic beanstalks!) while teaching cartooning skills is kind of extraordinary.

The fact that they included a bit of artwork by a child who read their book was a very nice touch.  It showed that anyone really can be a cartoonist.  The only thing standing in the way of your creativity is your own self-doubt! 

Five out of five cowardly horses.

Release Date: March 2009
Reading Level: Grade 1+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Book Jacket

There's been a terrible mistake.  Wayside School was supposed to be built with thirty classrooms all next to each other in a row.  Instead, they built the classrooms one on top of each other...thirty stories tall!  (The builder said he was very sorry.)  That may be why all kinds of funny things happen at Wayside School...especially on the thirtieth floor.  You'll meet Mrs. Gorf, the meanest teacher of all; terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early; and John, who can read only upside-down--along with all the other kids in the mixed-up school that came out sideways.  But you'll never guess what's in store for Wayside School on Halloween!  Part of Louis Sachar's popular Wayside School series, this nutty story about the confused antics at Wayside School remains a classic for readers who like their books slightly...sideways.


I loved this book when I was in grade school.  Even when Sachar's imagination went far beyond mine, my confusion was always mingled with a good dose of giggling.  Hidden inside each off-the-wall story is a hint of truth, especially regarding the emotions of kids.  Who doesn't remember the seeming unfairness of punishments?  Or the helplessness when everyone is in on a joke but you?

Okay, but maybe I never found myself in a showdown with a dead rat wearing raincoats. 

Sachar's book is an excellent imagination booster, and obviously its appeal is lasting, since it has been nominated for the Bluestem award 26 years after it was published.

Four out of five green balls.

Release Date: August 1985
Reading Level: Ages 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book Jacket

The Silmarillion is J.R.R. Tolkien's tragic, operatic history of the First Age of Middle-Earth, essential background material for serious readers of the classic Lord of the Rings saga. Tolkien's work sets the standard for fantasy.  Beginning with the Music of the Ainur, The Silmarillion tells a tale of the Elder Days, when Elves and Men became estranged by the Dark Lord Morgoth's lust for the Silmarils, pure and powerful magic jewels. Even the love between a human warrior and the daughter of the Elven king cannot defeat Morgoth, but the War of Wrath finally brings down the Dark Lord. Peace reigns until the evil Sauron recovers the Rings of Power and sets the stage for the events told in the Lord of the Rings. This is epic fantasy at its finest.


I am a fan of the epic.  I want my drama to be high, my heroes to be admirable, and my villains to be despicable.  I love beauty and truth and (wow, I feel like I'm about to quote Moulin Rouge), and The Silmarillion has it in spades.

The first story is the creation of the world, and oh my word, it's beauty kills me.  When I read it, I feel like my eyes are wobbling back in forth with emotion, like an anime character.

And then Tolkien goes on to build this world where I want so badly to live, where there is peace and creativity.  But it doesn't last.  There is evil in the world, and slowly, throughout stories of heroes and villains and fate, it crumbles.  Kingdoms are overthrown.  My favorite characters are killed.  BAD THINGS HAPPEN.  And I get so crazy invested in Tolkien's world that it makes me unbearably sad.

I just want good things to stay, okay?

Anyway, The Silmarillion is crazy good.  The story of Beren and Luthien is one of the best.  If you like Lord of the Rings and can't get enough of Middle-earth, then this is the book for you.

Five out of five trees of Valinor.

Release Date: January 1985
Reading Level: Ages 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL TOL

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang

Book Jacket

 Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents' expectations.  His path is laid out for him: stay focused in high school, do well in college, go to medical school, become a gastroenterologist.  It may be hard work, but it isn't complicated...Until suddenly, it is.

Between his father's death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis is nowehere near where his family wanted him to be.  In fact, he's just been kicked out of college.

And that's when things get...weird.

Four adorable--and bossy--angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis's life.  And so Dennis finds himself herded back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenternology.  But nothing is ever what it seems when life, magic, and video games collide.

With deceptively simple, cute art by Thien Pham, and a magical-realist plot that keeps you guessing up until the last moment, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese.  Whimsical and deadly serious by turns, Level Up is the next step in a powerful tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.


This graphic novel is nearly flawless.  I say nearly, but....I can't actually think of a flaw.  Level Up is a serious reflection on the complications of love between parents and children, and it is a hilarious story in which angels bring coffee and statues change shape.  The humor is both subtle (or in the background of the panel) or in-your-face, like the disgusting assignments that must be done in the name of med school.

I loved this book.  Anyone who has ever felt parental pressure, or has wondering what to do with their life, or has an imagination, or simply appreciates a dose of whimsy with their reality, will love Level Up too.

Five out of five extra lifes.

Release Date: June 2011
Reading Level: Ages 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL YAN

Butterflies and Moths by Nic Bishop

Book Jacket

Butterflies shimmer as they glide through the air.  Moths are more secretive, flying at night.  But both grow up in an amazing way, transforming from wriggly caterpillars into beautiful winged insects.  See them up close in Nic Bishop's photographs!


I'm going to try something new--a live blog reading!  Here are my thoughts as I read Butterflies and Moths:

Butterflies belong in fairy tales, but they're real!  Hahaha, okay, cheese.

When I visited my friend in Mongolia, she told me she was afraid of butterflies.  I couldn't believe it, because well, Bishop says they belong in fairy tales and I kind of agree.  Turns out she was afraid of moths and didn't know the difference.  That made more sense, but I still kind of scoffed.  NO.  SHE WAS RIGHT.  Apparently there are some moths that feed on the tears of sleeping animals and others that drink blood!!  That is the scariest thing I've ever read.

Blergh.  Caterpillars are mostly gross.  I used to catch them and put them in buckets, now I am squeamish.  Growing up isn't all fun. 

Haha!  Caterpillars look so hilarious--OH MY GOSH it looks like a snake!  That is awesome!  Camoflauge defense for the win.

Monarchs are the mean girls of butterflies.  Even their caterpillars are pretty, but if you eat one, their poison will make you sick!  Like I said, they are mean girls.  Ooo, but I love the idea of caterpillars using ants as their bodyguards.  There's a story in there somewhere.

Wow!  Butterfly wings up close are phenomenal!  I am learning things!

It never stops being amazing and weird that caterpillars turn into butterflies.  Ridiculous.

Eurrrgh!  A praying mantis eating a butterfly!  I didn't want to see that.

Hahaha!  So the butterflies mating picture is kind of beautiful (and not sketchy, btw), but the description!  "{A male butterfly} may search along rivers and sunny trails, swooping on anything that looks like a female.  It might just be a falling leaf, or even a bumblebee.  It doesn't take much to confuse the male." 

Nic Bishop seems like an awesome guy.  His photographs are phenomenal, and his dedication (waiting years to take that creepy snake-caterpillar picture!) is mind-blowing.  Pretty cool book. 

Four out of five transformations.

Release Date: March 2009
Reading Level: Ages 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH


The older 3-5 graders anticipated that November's LEGO theme would be Thanksgiving.  When I told them it was, in fact, pirates, they asked if they could combine the two.  Thanksgiving Pirates?  Yes please!  Really, this simply resulted in pirate ships and pirate fights...over Thanksgiving food, such as one kid's red radioactive turkey.  I'll leave that to the pirates.

Pictures below the cut!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket

Book Two left off with Gregor reading the Prophecy of Blood: a prophecy that calls for Gregor and Boots to return to the Underland to help ward off a deadly plague.  But this time, Gregor's mother refuses to let him return to the Underland...until the rat Ripred assures the family that Gregor and Boots are just needed for a short meeting, which the crawlers will attend only if their "princess" Boots is present.  Gregor's mom finally relents, on the condition that she go with them.  The Underland plague is spreading, and when one of Gregor's family is stricken, he begins to understand his role in the Prophecy of Blood, and must summon all his power to end the biological warfare that threatens the warmblooded creatures of the Underland.  Fans of Suzanne Collins's acclaimed fantasy series will find more suspense and action than ever in this thrilling third saga.


After the epic bromance of Gregor and Ares....Ares becomes deathly ill and they cannot adventure together.  Sad.  Luckily, there is always Ripred to fill the empty space in my heart.  Gregor, his sister, and the snarky rat are off on another quest to save the Underland.  This time they are joined by two rats (I love how subtley Collins is dealing with, and healing, the animosity between the humans and the rats) and two mysterious jungle-dwelling humans!  I loved Hamnet and Hazard.  I love that the Underlanders are starting to lose their pride by learning the languages of the other Underland creatures.  The mental image I have of Hazard screeching in Lizard is pretty hilarious, I have to say.

The threat of a plague was nicely ominous.  There was a real sense of danger to the story.  The twist at the end was horrible and emotionally the best possible way.  I love that Collins' is willing to explore the heights, and often the depths, of humanity to tell a good story.

Four out of five rat-eating plants.

Release Date: July 2005
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL COL

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Book Jacket

The Myth:  Alice Liddel was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook.

The Truth:  Wonderland is real.  Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss's parents.  To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears.  But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated.  Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author, to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life.  Yet he gets the story all wrong.  Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.


I like Carroll's Alice in Wonderland all right, but it's not a book I rave over.  Beddor's reimagining of Alyss's story, though?  Yes, I will rave!  Here is a Wonderland with a plot, with drama and tragedy and the coolest ideas.  I actually almost believe that Wonderland is a real world, and that Alice Liddel was misunderstood.  It's that good.

My favorite part of Wonderland was the fact that imaginations are used as tools.  You can imagine things into being, and like my favorite fantasy stories, imagination can be used for either good or evil.  It's finding the right way to use your imagination that makes all the difference between Alyss and Redd.  That whole concept is summed up really excellently when Alyss goes into the maze;  I wanted to underline sections of the book, so enormous and beautiful was the truth Beddor dealt with.

There is an ending to the story, with the possibility for more.  I've just ordered the other two books in the trilogy for our library.  I have no idea where the story will lead, but, well, that's the fun of a wild imagination!  It can lead you anywhere.

Five out of five Crystal Continuums.

Release Date: September 2006
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Find the 39 Clues.  What would happen if you discovered that your family was one of the most powerful in human history?  What if you were told that the source of the family's power was hidden around the world, if the form of 39 Clues?  What if you were given a choice--take a million dollars and walk away...or get the first Clue?  If you're Amy and Dan Cahill, you take the Clue--and begin a very dangerous race.


This series (The 39 Clues) was recommended to me by one of the kids in our Monday Book Talk.  I listened to the audiobook over the course of a week, and while I loved Riordan's trademark adventure with hilarity, I think I'm a little too old for the series?  Wow, I never thought I'd say that.

The thing is, I can believe 11-year-olds fighting monsters and saving the world when they are demigods.  But just regular old kids?  Dan and Amy are a little too awesome.  Not to mention their pre-teen relatives, who have no problem attempting to kill their cousins.  What kind of family is this!?  Maybe that is part of the plot, since their family apparently secretly rules the world.  I keep expecting to be disappointed there, though.  Is the end going to be that the Cahills are really just...the entire human race?  Is their secret to being awesome that...I dunno, they have imagination?  Or that the process of getting to the final Clue has made them world travelers and world changers?

I just don't see how the end can live up to the set up.  But maybe it will!

Despite all this complaining, it was a very entertaining book.  Riordan captures kids very well (aside from the aforementioned superhuman abilities), and he frequently makes me laugh.  The puzzles were interesting.  The danger sometimes felt very real.  And I am always a fan of books that take me all over the world, so big points there.

Three out of five catacombs.

Release Date: September 2008
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J39C

Monday, October 31, 2011

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Percy is confused. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn't know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa tol him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn't ring and bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth.

Hazel is supposed to be dead. When she lived before, she didn't do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem - when the Voice took over he mother and commanded Hazel to use her "gift" for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn't say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wished she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

Frank is a klutz. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn't see it. He doesn't even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery - although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely - enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the "other" camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophecy of Seven.


Percy is back!  I'd forgotten how awesome he is.  My love for him made me a little peeved that the chapters switched narrators between him, Ruth, and Frank.  For about one chapter each, and then I fell in love with these new Roman demigods.

Ruth's past and her curse made her exactly tragic enough to be a daughter of Hades.  And Frank's slowly revealed history felt the most mythological of any character we've encountered so far.  I loved getting to know them, and I can't wait to read more about them (plus the other four demigods from Camp Half-Blood) in the series finale!

There seemed to be less "mythological character of the day" appearances in Son of Neptune.  Mostly the bad guys were creatures I was unfamiliar with.  However, I very much enjoyed Iris's store and her non-Hostess cupcakes.  And really, I didn't notice the lack of characters until the book was over, so maybe it wasn't such a big deal.

Excellent fast read.  It's great to have Percy back, and I can't wait for the conclusion.

Four out of five super fast horses.

Release Date:  October 2011
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL RIO