Friday, April 29, 2011

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 5 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There, she discovers just how wealthy the six members are and how different the rich are from everybody else....

Haruhi's top ranking falls and she is in jeopardy of losing her scholarship at Ouran.  Each member of the Host Club scrambles to become her tutor, but Haruhi picks a female student, Ayame, to help her.  Haruhi's time is now spent with Ayame, who can't stand Tamaki.  Can Tamaki charm his way into Ayame's good graces so the Host Club can spend time with their favorite member?


Hurray!  In this volume, I finally got some backup for my Haruhi/Hikaru shipping.  He freaks out after meeting an old friend of hers, because he is new to this having-a-friend-other-than-my-twin thing, and he's insecure about his role in Haruhi's life.  What else to do but have Kaoru set them up on a date?  NOTHING ELSE WILL DO.  Even though they go out of the way to make sure the readers know this is not romantic (why oh why is Tamaki the hero?  I don't want him to end up with Haruhi) I will just imagine whatever I please.

The same story actually helped me realize why I like Hikaru so much more than Tamaki.  Throughought the date, Hikaru and Haruhi are rude and awkward.  Tamaki stalks them with the rest of the club, and he laments, "What kind of date is this?  There's no trace of chivalry here!"  And that, Tamaki, is why you suck.  He sets up these extravagant experiences and tells girls exactly what they want to hear.  But it's all an act.  He isn't himself, and he leads girls to believe something that isn't true.

Hikaru, on the other hand, is painfully honest.  When he's annoyed, everyone knows it.  When he cares for someone, he shows it honestly, without flair.  That's the kind of romance I can get behind.  For that three-part arc alone, I've giving volume 5:

Five out of five almost shared ice cream cones.

Release Date:  March 2006
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently part of Dunlap Library's collection.

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 4 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There she discovers just how wealthy the six members are and how different the rich are from everybody else....

Curious about Haruhi's standard of living, the Host Club members barge into her personal life by paying her a visit at home.  While the guys do their utmost to be polite, everything they do seems to backfire, especially for poor Tamaki!  On top of it all, he trips and lands on top of Haruhi--just in time for her cross-dressing farther to catch them in a compromising position...


*eyeroll* These book jackets.  They leave so much out, and make this series seems so ridiculous.  Although, yes, it very much is ridiculous a majority of the time.  I like the exploration of rich vs. poor, but it's the wonky characters that really make me love Ouran High School Host Club.

For instance, one part of this volume is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, which serves no purpose other than to entertain.  I am so okay with that, because entertain it does.  I especially loved the exploration of how the story would work with the twins as Alice, or Tamaki as Alice, or Haruhi as Alice.  I actually loled when Haruhi's Alice watches Hunny disappear down the rabbit hole, then goes back to her book as the narration says, "Because Alice was hardly ever curious, she would never follow a rabbit thoughtlessly."  So true.  Haruhi, I adore you.

There's also a hilarious story about Hunny getting a cavity and the chaos that ensues when he is denied sweets.  Oh my word, I just love all of these characters so much.  Except for Tamaki.  His drama queen habits grate on my nerves.  But everyone else is completely cuddle-worthy, even if some of them would put ice down my back if I tried.

Four out of five newspaper interviews.

Release Date:  January 2006
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet a part of Dunlap's collection.

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins

Book Jacket

When it comes to wild animals, everyone knows that there are certain things you just don't do.  It's clearly a bad idea to tease a tiger, pull a python's tail, or bother a black widow spider.  But do you know how dangerous it can be to pet a platypus, collect a cone shell, or touch a tang fish?  Some creatures have developed unusual ways of protecting themselves or catching prey, and this can make them unexpectedly hazardous to your health.

In this dynamic and fascinating picture book by Steve Jenkins, you'll find out what you should never do if you encounter one of these surprisingly dangerous animals.


I love animals.  If I ever met a cheetah, I would risk life and limb to pet it, because deep down, I believe it would love me.  I mention that only to spell out my nature naivete, because Never Smile at a Monkey definitely made steps towards curing me.

Of the seventeen animals featured in this book, I only knew that hippos were dangerous.  Everything else was, in my mind, mostly harmless.  How wrong I was!  Some of the defense mechanisms literally made my jaw drop, like the fact that a kangaroo can balance on its tail to deliver a kick so powerful it can cave in a man's chest.  Egads.

If I ever encounter a wild animal, I will now be much more cautious.  Unless it's a cheetah.  I do really want to pet a cheetah.

Oh, and the pictures are all kinds of awesome. 

Five out of five poisonous barbs.

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

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Book Jacket

Sitting tall in the saddle, with a wide-brimmed hat and twin Colt pistols on his belt, Bass Reeves seemed bigger than life.  Outlaws feared him.  As a peace-officer, he was cunning and fearless.  When a lawbreaker heard Bass Reeves had his warrant, he knew it was the end of the trail, because Bass always got his man, dead or alive.  He achieved all this in spite of whites who didn't like the notion of a black lawman.

Born into slavery in 1838, Bass had a hard and violent life, but he also had a strong sense of right and wrong that others admired.  When Judge Isaac Parker tried to bring law and order to the lawless Indian Territory, he chose Bass to be a deputy U.S. marshal.  Bass would quickly prove a smart choice.

For three decades, Bass was the most feared and respected lawman in the territories.  He made more than 3,000 arrest, and though he was a crack shot and a quick draw, he killed only fourteen men in the line of duty. 

The story of Bass Reeves is the story of a remarkable African American and a remarkable hero of the Old West.


I've never been overawed by the Wild West, but even so, this book was fascinating.  If that is your thing, then you will probably love a look at one of the coolest Western characters.  And it is true!

This is an excellent book that covers each period of Reeve's life in a page or two.  The author also uses Western slang throughout the story, so this reads much more like entertainment than a dry history lesson.

I was most impressed with Reeve's moral center.  He was so committed to justice that he put his own son in jail.  He caught 3,000 criminals, but he only killed 14.  That is INCREDIBLE.  And throughout his decades of service as a U.S. Marshal, he was never injured.  What the what?  This guy was awesome.

I'm calling it now: let's have a Bass Reeves movie, please!

Four out of five quick draws.

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Book Jacket

What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every newborn has become a ticking time bomb--males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty.  In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege.  Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape--to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom.  Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments.  With the help of Gabriel, a servant she is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.


I was so looking forward to Wither.  The cover is beautiful, and a dystopian book exploring the ramifications of genetic engineering and forced polygamous marriages sounds like all kinds of cool.  But just about everything fell short of awesome.  No, it fell short of good. 

The ideas were all interesting, but nothing was fleshed out realistically.  I like my urban fantasy and dystopian to be so well thought out that I actually believe a little bit that it could be real.  Not so this time.  The foundational idea--that curing all diseases produced a super generation that in turn produced a dying generation makes no sense.  Why do girls live to age 20 but boys live to age 25?  There's absolutely no explanation.  And that's without even questioning why they die young at all.

And maybe I missed something, but how is polygamous marriages the answer to everything?  I get the need to reproduce quickly, and so the idea of 13-year-old brides didn't really squick me (though the book seemed to think it should).  It's been done before when life expectancies were short, so it seemed natural that it would again be the case.  But why polygamy?  And COME ON, if there's polygamy for the sake of reproducing, why did Rhine not reproduce??  No matter how nice Linden is, that was absolutely ridiculous.  They were married, for goodness' sake.

Also, why kill the girls who aren't chosen as brides?  I'm sorry, stupid much?  I get that the story needed to be dramatic and stuff, but no.  That is just wastefulness.  And if the smarter alternative is prostitution or at least a different forced marriage, then shouldn't the characters that hate such things at least consider the idea that death is a better option?  Apparently not.

Okay, and there's the whole love story anyway.  DeStefano wavered somewhere around a love triangle, but it was so poorly executed.  We're supposed to hate Linden at first, but even before we find out why she should like him, Rhine is feeling sorry for him!  NO.  Commit to your feelings, Rhine, and don't meta over them.  And Gabriel?  Big waste of space.  I didn't need him in the story at all, and he wasn't given enough page coverage for me to begrudgingly care for him either.  Their love was too fast with no basis other than "do you hate it here too?  yeah?  okay, let's have a forbidden love affair!"

And then there's Vaughn, Linden's dad.  He's supposed to be this horrible guy, but a lot of the time I agreed with him.  Sure, maybe secrets aren't the smartest thing toward earning people's trust, but the experiments he did in the basement made all kinds of sense to me.  Maybe that comes from rooming with two pre-med students in college, but dissecting corpses doesn't squick me.  Especially when the world's population is dying out crazy fast.  I'm going to go ahead and say that some organ searching is in order there.  However, I will say that Vaughn did some truly awful things.  No doubt about that.  But the research?  I'm sorry, why are they doubting that he's working on an antidote?  Way to give up all hope, Rhine.

So much potential.  All wasted.  The ending was anti-climactic.  I might read the next in the series out of morbid curiosity, so here's hoping all these shortfallings have unexpected explanations.  Or I might just have another rant review on my hands.

Whaa?  Wither got 4 1/2 stars on amazon?  Did I miss something??

Two out of five holographic pools.

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

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Wither:

Simply Stacie

Earth Day Make & Take

I'll be honest.  I love recyclable craft days because I don't have to plan anything.  I simply scour my closet for excess crafty type things, set them up, and let the kids do all the work.  But even though the simplicity is nice for my brain, I also love it because these kids come up with some truly fantastic creations.  With boxes, paper, and oddball objects, they made Easter cards, box stages, and some things too awesome to be labeled. 
And bonus, we did this for Earth Day, and of course one of the Rs is "reuse."  What better way to reuse something useless than to make it into a work of art?  No better way, I'm sure.

Pictures below the cut!  You're going to want to look, because some of them are the most adorable things to ever adorable.

LEGO Construction Club

The month of LEGO animals finished strong with the 4-6 grade group (plus some younger siblings).  I love suggesting a theme, then seeing how the kids either 1) follow it exactly, 2) tweak it to their liking, or 3) ignore it completely.  In the name of creativity, however, I don't actually care at all.  This week we had another zoo, a bird, and a stingray cage.

Pictures below the cut!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

Can Little Mouse get ready in time?  There is a lot to do before Little Mouse is ready to go visit the barn.  Will he master all the intricacies of getting dressed, from snaps and buttons to Velcro and tail holes?

Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Smith and his determined Little Mouse charmingly animate all the smallest pleasures of this daily task.


Eh.  I get that dressing can be an important and proud achievement of little kids.  I appreciate the fantastic drawings.  But this book did nothing for me.  The joke at the end wasn't very funny, and a whole book revolving around the process of putting on clothes?  That's fine, but not exactly Monarch-nominated-worthy.

Two out of five tail holes.

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

Invisible Girl by Mary Hanlon Stone

Book Jacket

When poor Boston girl Stephanie is abandoned by her abusive mother and taken in by Annie's wealthy Los Angeles family, she feels anything by at ahome.  Her dark complexion and shabby clothes don't fit in with the golden-hued world of blonds and extravagance.  These are girls who seem to live life on fast-forward, while Stephanie is stuck on pause.  Yet when a new rival moves to town, threatening Annie's queen-bee status, Stephanie finds herself taking sides in a battle she never even knew existed.

Brilliant newcomer Mary Hanlon Stone delivers a compulsively readable insider's view of growing up in a world where money and privilege aren't always what glitters.


This is a hard book to read.  Stephanie's life is far too painful for any 14-year-old to bear, from the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, to the neglect of her father, to the fickle and brutal world of middle school.  She is caught in this netherworld of stunted maturity (she reads Nancy Drew to escape and uses vocabulary words as a defense mechanism) and far too knowledgable of the world (she knows how to dress provacatively and the effects of alcohol).

It looks like Stephanie has been saved when she moves to California to live with a seemingly healthy and wealthy family.  But underneath their privilege is a whole different kind of viciousness.  Her new friends are truly horrible, and the games that are played in order to be popular are eerily similar to those I experienced in middle and high school (though thankfully not nearly so bad).

The story does end on a note of hope, but I wanted more!  I wanted to see how Stephanie would deal with the return to Boston, how she would grow up, what her future would look like.  I came to really care for her, and I wanted to know whether or not her future would be okay.  The ability to elicit that level of curiosity and concern is a pretty fantastic feat of Stone's. 

Four out of five Warrior Words.

Release Date:  May 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL STO

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Invisible Girl:

Frenetic Reader
Not Acting My Age

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins

Book Jacket

In this dazzling new collection, his first in three years, Collins explores boyhood, jazz, love, the passage of time, and, of course, writing--themes familiar to Collins's fans but made new here.  Gorgeous, funny, and deeply empathetic, Billy Collins' poetry is a window through which we see our lives as if for the first time.


I don't read poetry often, but when the mood strikes, I am very easily mesmerized.  A poet's ability to condense a complex emotion or event into a perfect string of words astounds me, like Collin's meditation on time described as, "questions about the past and his tall, evasive sister, the future."  GUH.

I love Billy Collins because he is, well, easy to read.  I can get into classic poetry, but let's be honest, I don't always like to stretch my brain muscles with old English or iambic pentameter.  Collins writes in free verse, and he writes like we speak, albiet with more beauty.  Still, this was not my favorite collection of Collins' poetry.  Though not the best, there were some really fantastic poems that I loved, including: 


Some like the mountains, some like the seashore,
Jean-Paul Belmondo says
to the camera in the opening scene.

Some like to sleep face up,
some like to sleep on their stomachs,
I am thinking here in bed--

some take the shape of murder victims
flat on their backs all night,
others float face down on the dark waters.

Then there are those like me
who prefer to sleep on their sides,
knees brought up to the chest,

head resting on a crooked arm
and a soft fist touching the chin,
which is the way I would like to be buried,

curled up in a coffin
in a fresh pair of cotton pajamas,
a down pillow under my weighty head.

After a lifetime of watchfulness
and nervous vigilance,
I will be more than ready for sleep,

so never mind the dark suit,
the ridiculous tie
and the pale limp hands crossed on the chest.

Lower me down in my slumber,
tucked into myself
like the oldest fetus on earth,

and while the cows look over the stone wall
of the cemetery, let me rest here
in my earthly little bedroom,

my lashes glazed with ice,
the roots of trees inching nearer,
and no dreams to frighten me anymore.

Three out of five monkeys on a mantel.

Release Date:  October 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet a part of Dunlap's collection.

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Trouble with Poetry:

Blogging for a Good Book
The Bluestocking Society

Fruits Basket Vol. 2 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

A family with an ancient curse...and the girl who will change their lives forever.

Ever since Tohru Honda discovered the Zodiac secret of the Sohma clan, her eyes have been opened to a world of magic and wonder.  But with such a great secret comes great responsibility.  When her best friends Hana-chan and Uo-chan come to the Sohma house for a sleepover, Tohru has her work cut out for her keeping the "Cat" in the bag and the "Dog" on a leash.


Why do manga book jackets only reveal the plot of the first chapter?  Strange, and a bit unfortunate for my blog's purposes, because much bigger and awesomer things happen in volume 2 than a mere sleepover.

The first volume was mostly light-hearted and sitcomy.  The second volume is still very much a comedy, but there are hints of darkness as Akito, the head of the family, is slowly revealed.  The curse is not just fun and games--it's an actually curse.  Hatori's story is explored in this volume, and while I found it more moving in the anime (I actually cried, and that's the episode that had me hooked), it's still a very beautiful and depressing story in the manga. 

This volume also includes one of my all-time favorite ideas of....all time.  Tohru, ever the optimist, hopes that Kyo and Yuki will see their own good qualities instead of being jealous of each other.  She likens it to rice balls that look plain on the front but have a bit of fruit in the back.  Maybe we also have good qualities stuck to our back--others can see them, but we cannot.  If we would just tell each other about those hidden qualities, maybe everyone would be a little happier and more confident. 

This volume has fun and an undercurrent of drama to come. 

Four out of five hearts of snow.

Release Date:  April 2004
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC TAK

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Fruits Basket Vol. 2:

All-Consuming Books
The Koolaid Mom

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

Book Jacket

Disguised as a boy, Alanna of Trebond becomes a squire--to none other than the prince of the realm.  But Prince Jonathan is much more to Alanna; he is her ally, her best friend, and one of the few who knows that she's really a girl.  Now it will take all of Alanna's awesome skill, strength, and growing magical powers to protect him from the mysterious evil sorcerer who is bent on his destruction--and hers!

Here continues the story of Alanna, a young woman bound for glory who is willing to fight against enormous odds for what she believes in.


I don't think this one lived up to the awesomeness of Alanna: The First Adventure.  I love that Pierce is liberal with time--the first two books make up eight years of Alanna's life.  Its refreshing to breeze through a story, stopping only for momentous occasions.  But I thought In the Hand of the Goddess went a bit too fast.

Sarah Rees Brennan has a trilogy theory in which the second book is always the make out book.  So what if Pierce's series is technically four, and not three?  The second book definitely brought the making out.  And more.  Which was weird because I wasn't expecting such grown up behavior when last book she was only 12.  And that is why I felt this book went too quickly.  1)  I want to experience book romances, and I like when they are drawn out and enjoyed.  This one skipped most of the good stuff.  2)  We never really get to see Alanna mature.  She just suddenly is.  So the fact that she is now sleeping with people was kind of jarring.

In Pierce's defense, I've read an interview in which she said she included that plot point because it was historically accurate.  And yeah, I'm sure that sex was not made into this magical thing back then the way it is now.  So.  I don't know what my thoughts are, exactly.

BUT.  How funny is it that Jonathan basically echoed my thoughts at the end of Book 1.  "Obvs we are meant to be together, Alanna!"  Cuz they are.  It's all over the books, and I foresee that they are going to be the awesomest ruling couple in all of Tortall.

Okay, but then there's another thing I don't like.  Both of her friends who know she's a girl immediately love her.  What?  First, does that mean they were a little bit attracted to her when they thought she was a boy?  This never bothers them?  We don't get to see them process it?  And anyway, I know that Alanna is pretty much the coolest girl to ever ride around on a horse with a cat on her shoulder, but come on.  Two awesome boys fighting over you?  Pierce, YOU ARE ONLY BREAKING MY HEART, because I empathize with the loser of all love triangles far too strongly.

Enough of that.  In the Hand of the Goddess gets us from Alanna as a Squire to Alanna as a Knight, and I am super excited to see how that plays out, even if the interim wasn't super fantastic.  And yay for Alanna's identity coming out not being a big deal.  She proved she was cool enough that it didn't matter whether she was a girl or not.  Kudos to the royalty for realizing it.

Three out of five talking cats.

Release Date:  1984
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL PIE

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of In the Hand of the Goddess:

The Thirteenth Chime
The Story Girl

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 3 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There she discovers just how wealthy the six members are and how different the rich are from everybody else....

It's summer break, and the Host Club crew head to the beach, dragging our reluctant heroine with them.  When Haruhi stands up to some local bullies and gets tossed into the ocean, Tamaki, the Host Club King, rescues her.  But afterward, he's so mad that he won't speak to her until she apologizes.  Trouble is, Haruhi can't figure out what she should be sorry for!


Manga are so great because they are bite-sized stories that can be finished in an hour or two.  And they have pictures!  Everything is better with pictures.  Seriously, can you imagine Jane Eyre with pictures?  I can, and it's awesome.

The Ouran High School Host Club series gets better and better with each volume.  Now that each character has been introduced, the stories can develop them and give them motivations and quirks.  Haruhi is a fabulous protagonist because she is apathetic toward everything.  Nothing fazes her.  She doesn't mind dressing up like a boy, she doesn't mind bugs, she doesn't mind the wacky adventures she keeps getting thrust into.  But what makes her so fantastic is how she has slowly grown to like the guys in the Club.  She rolls her eyes and makes fun of them, but she's starting to care for them and do the crazy things they ask of her just to make them happy.

I've already mentioned my love for the twins.  They get even more page time in this volume, and I think Kaoru and Hikaru are developing more distinct personalities.  Tamaki is still mostly annoying, but every once in a while he drops the dramatic persona and is really a kind guy.  Hunny and Mori are absolutely hysterical, and I love them together.  Kyoya is mysterious and possibly dangerous, and I want more of him in the next volume.

I am aware that Haruhi is all kinds of tokenism, but...I don't care?  Does that make me horrible?  All I know is that if I were in her position, with six guys falling all over me and trying to make me happy, I would be very okay with my situation.

I would love to find out more about Japanese culture.  This series is very okay with gender bending and queer life, which is not at all how I imagine Japan.  Either this series is over the top (which I know it is) and satirical, or maybe the Japanese are generally more tolerant.  Don't know, but it is interesting and often funny, as everything tends to be in a comedic manga.

Four out of five tidepool catastrophes.

Release Date:  November 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently part of Dunlap Library's collection.

Fruits Basket Vol. 1 by Natsuki Takaya

Book Jacket

A family with an ancient curse...And the girl who will change their lives forever...

Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home.  Now her ordinary high school life is turned upside down as she's introduced to the Sohma's world of magical curses and family secrets.  Discover for yourself the Secret of the Zodiac, and find out why Fruits Basket has won the hearts of readers the world over!


This is as good a time as any to explain how I got into manga.  I'd always been interested, because seriously, the artwork?  Phenomenally beautiful.  But I was afraid of the social stereotypes, so I never pursued it.  My junior year of college, a new girl moved into my dorm.  She was hugely into manga and anime, so under the pretense of getting to know her, I asked what I should start with.  She suggested Fruits Basket.

I watched the first couple episodes by myself.  My other two roommates walked through the living room and made fun of me.  But each time they passed by, they paused a little longer.  By the sixth episode, all four of us were crammed onto the couch, laughing hysterically at Kyo and sometimes crying at the unexpectedly emotional episodes.  We spent three nights avoiding homework so we could watch the entire season.  Then we watched it again a couple weeks later.

Obviously, this is good stuff.  I hadn't read the manga that inspired the show until just now.  It is fun to relive the stories I've already seen, but mostly I'm just really excited to get to the volumes that go further than the show.  I'm invested in these crazy characters, and I want more!

None of that tells you anything about the series.  You will have to read it yourself.  Or wait until I read volume 2, at which point I will need something new to talk about in my review.

Four out of five decorated eggs.

Release Date:  February 2004
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  GRAPHIC TAK

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Fruits Basket Vol. 1:

Girls Love Graphic Novels
Well Read Reviews

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka

Book Jacket

Have you ever:

Had your brother try to sell you your own shirt?

Made a list of all the bad words you know--for your teacher, who is a nun?

Believed one of those AMAZING! ads in the back of a comic book?

Broken your brother's collarbone playing football--four times?

Tied your little brother into his bed with your dad's ties?

Jon Scieszka has.  Which is probably why Jon's dad used to call him and his five brothers KNUCKLEHEADS.

Here is Jon's side of the story.  And here, at last, is the memoir that might answer some of the questions of how the heck does someone think up a story of a little man made of very smelly cheese.


The only book I've ever read of Scieszka's is The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.  If you have also read that children's classic, then you know Scieszka is hilarious.  Why I haven't read more of his books, I don't know.  But Knucklehead convinced me to do that asap.

This is the perfect book for young readers.  There are 38 chapters, but each one is only two or three pages.  Great for bite-sized reading.  Or, like me, you can devour the whole book at once, because it is hilarious!  Some of his childhood memories reminded me of my own misadventures growing up.  Others had my mouth dropping in amazement that he and his brothers didn't kill each other.

But despite the fact that the Scieszka boys must have given their parents premature gray hair, I am now sure that I want a whole bunch of boys whenever I have kids.  They are a handful, but they are more entertaining than any TV show.  So in a celebration of boyness, childhood, and family, go read Knucklehead.

Four out of five Slaughter Balls.

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

Book Jacket

There are many things that Annah would like to forget:   the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life.  But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Anna's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since.  Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her.  Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.

But Catcher has his own secrets.  Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider.  And now it's up to Annah--can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living?  Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?


The Dark and Hollow Places is a fantastic conclusion to its companion novels, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves.  I love that each of these books can stand on their own, but build on each other to tell a complete story.

Where to begin?  The title I guess, which turns out to be about the dark and hollow places inside us.  How brilliant is that?  Annah is the protagonist of this story (she is Gabry's, the protagonist of the second book, twin).  Annah has suffered a lot in her life, and as a result, she has shut herself off to emotion and love.  It was really kind of powerful, watching her let her sister into her life, learning to forgive Elias, and opening herself to romance with Catcher.

Let me stop there.  I have issues with romances involving twins.  It kind of squicks me out with someone likes one twin, then switches to the other.  Having that happen twice is... weird.  I mean, yeah, Annah and Gabry are totally different, but I know if I were one of them, I'd be weirded out that my boyfriend used to love my twin. 

HOWEVER.  Annah and Catcher totally bring the swoon.  Their attraction happens pretty quickly, but I'm guessing emotions are heightened when running away from plague rats (how much do I love that different places have different nicknames for zombies?  So much!).

But what I really love is how Carrie Ryan's girls are AWESOME.  She doesn't take the easy way out by giving them superpowers or kung fu mastery.  They are ordinary girls with ordinary upper body strength.  What makes them awesome is their attitude.  Annah never stops fighting, for her life or for the lives of those she loves.  Even when she is overpowered by men who are stronger than her, she doesn't give up.  She willingly sacrifices her health, her beauty, and her safety.  She stares death in the face, scared but brave.

Watching four broken characters desperately fight for a brighter future is something that everyone can (hopefully) relate to, even though we thankfully do not live in the zombie apocalypse.  This series is brilliant, devling into issues of the inevitability of death and the importance of hope.  Awesome.

Five out of five New York skylines.

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

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Dark and Hollow Places:

Electrifying Reviews

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 2 by Bisco Hatori

Book Jacket

In this screwball romantic comedy, Haruhi, a poor girl at a rich kids' school, is forced to repay an $80,000 debt by working for the school's swankiest, all-male club--as a boy!  There, she discovers just how wealthy (and gorgeous) the six members are and how different the rich are from everyone else...

The school-wide physical exam has thrown the members of the Host Club for a loop.  How can the doctor not discover that Haruhi is a girl?!  And once the female customers learn the truth, Haruhi can kiss her job goodbye.  But then life at the club will be unbearably boring if she leaves!  So the guys wrack their brains for a solution.


Normally I like my stories to have meaningful plots and consequences for actions.  But sometimes, if it's done well, I like comedies that just throw up their hands and say "Who cares about rules or logic?  Let's just have fun!" (FYI, this is how I feel about Glee.)  Ouran High School Host Club is definitely that.

A physical examination?  It will neatly be avoided.  A random pond of piranas at a resort?  Not a big deal.  Character left for Paris last issue?  We'll pretend that didn't happen so she can have her funny line.

What makes this okay, to me at least, is that the author is aware of the ludicrous and points it out by having her chracters break the fourth wall.  That changes it from poor writing to kind of hilarious.  There is a lot of that in this manga series, and that is why I keep reading it.

That and the twins, Hikaru and Kaoru.  They are mischievous pranksters, overly dramatic, and a little bit broken inside.  Obviously that makes them my favorite, and I ship Hikaru/Haruhi like nothing.  Or maybe I ship Kaoru/Haruhi....that is the trouble with twins.  Anyway, I most definitely don't ship Tamaki/Haruhi, because he creeps me out. 

Four out of five outlandish costumes.

Release Date:  September 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap. 

(Is there an audience at Dunlap for shojo manga aka girl manga?  I've bought some Fruits Basket and Vampire Knight, but they aren't being checked out very often.  Unless I get some feedback, I'll probably not buy Ouran High School Host Club or anything similar.  Which is sad, because I love it.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dogku by Andrew Clements

Book Jacket

A tale in haiku
of one adorable dog.
Let's find him a home.


So cleverly told
A story from stray to pet
Now I want a dog

But for reals, this is a cute story about a stray dog who is adopted into a new family.  The pictures are fantastic, and it is incredibly fun to read from the dog's point of view.  Who knew dogs think in haiku?  My favorite line(s) were "Mooch hates the school bus" when the kids leave the house, and a joyous "Mooch loves the school bus" when the kids arrive back at home.

Whether you want to get into the form of haiku with your kids (three lines, first with five syllables, second with seven, third with five again), this is a great story.

Five out of five staring matches.

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

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

Book Jacket

In this fantastical thriller, five young teens tapped as models for theme park "guides" find themselves pitted against Disney villains and witches that threaten both the future of Walt Disney World and the stability of the world outside its walls.

Using a cutting-edge technology called DHI--which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging--Finn Whitman, an Orlando teen, and four other kids are transformed into hologram projections that guide guests through the park.

The new technology turns out, however, to have unexpected effects that are both thrilling and scary.  Soon Finn finds himself transported in his DHI form into the Magic Kingdom at night.  Is it real?  Is he dreaming?

Finn's confusion only increases when he encounters Wayne, an elderly Imagineer who tells him that the park is in grave danger.  Led by the scheming witch, Maleficent, a mysterious group of characters called the Overtakers is plotting to destroy Disney's beloved realm, and maybe more.

This gripping high-tech tale will thrill every kid who has ever dreamed of sneaking into Walt Disney World after hours and wondered what happens at night, when the park is closed.


The idea behind this book is fantastic.  Kids who can be transported into their holographic bodies while they sleep?  Awesome.  Solving mysteries at Disney World?  Awesomer.

However, the writing didn't live up to the idea.  Some mysteries were too obvious, other plot twists came completely out of left field.  And it drove me nuts that these kids, who have personally experience weird magical/technological phenomena, are constantly doubtful of new craziness.  Why couldn't they just make the leap to believe that anything was possible?

I appreciated how the characters talked through every possible scenario, but a lot of the events felt forced.  Wayne is this old man who seems to know everything...but he refuses to help more than giving vague advice.  If this was really such a potential catastrophe, I think he would have been a lot more up front about the information he possessed.

Good idea, poor execution.  I'll just play Kingdom Hearts instead.

Two out of five pirates with lasers.

Release Date:  September 2005
Reading Level:  Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL PEA

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Kingdom Keepers:
Disney Fan Ramblings
Books and Other Thoughts

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Queste by Angie Sage

Queste big

Book Jacket

There's trouble at the Castle, and it's all because Merrin Meredith has returned with Darke plans for Septimus.  More trouble awaits Septimus and Jenna in the form of Tertius Fume, the ghost of the very first Chief Hermetic Scribe, who is determined to send Septimus on a deadly Queste.  But Septimus and Jenna have other plans--they are headed for the mysterious House of Foryx, a place where all Times meet and the place where they fervently hope they will be able to find Nicko and Snorri, who were trapped back in time in Physik.  But how will Septimus escape the Queste?

Queste, like all the books in the Septimus Heap series, is filled with nonstop action, humor, and fantastical adventure as Septimus continues his journey of Magykal self-discovery.


If you, like me, have read the first three Septimus Heap books and loved them, then you, like me, will likely read and love Queste, the fourth book in the series.  Once again Sage writes with hilarious wit and observation.  I am always amazed by how she includes all of her many characters into each books plot, bringing some new ones to the forefront. 

Queste sees a return to poor Merrin Meredith, formerly Septimus Heap, newly Daniel Hunter.  I kind of pity and dislike him all at the same time.  Beetle is far more important in this story, and his crush on Jenna was completely adorable and very true to 13-year-old love (or at least what I experienced). 

My one complaint is that it took awhile for Septimus and Jenna to enter the story.  I love them maybe the most, (oh, but Marcia is is Stanley the rat...) but anyway, I wanted more of them, and quicker!  Luckily once the Queste is underway, there is plenty of them both.  I especially liked seeing Septimus use the skills he learned in his shady and sad past.

If you love the Septimus Heap books, Queste will definitely not disappoint.

Four out of five moving projections.

Release Date:  April 2008
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL SAG

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Queste:

Thirst for Fiction

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Book Jacket

Alanna of Trebond is no ordinary girl--her dream is to become a knight.  So she disguises herself as a boy and begins training at the palace of King Roald.  Alanna quickly finds out that the road to knighthood is not an easy one, but her skills and stubbornness help her become friends with Prince Jonathan and his followers.  At the same time, Alanna makes an enemy of the prince's uncle, the overly charming Duke Roger.

Here begins Alanna's first adventure--one that will lead not only to the fulfillment of her dreams but to a magical destiny that will make her a legend.


This is another book that I kept hearing about as a favorite of some of the author's I follow.  But every time I looked at the cover, I just...couldn't.  Yes, I always judge a book by its cover.  But one day I pushed past the poor marketing and started reading.  I'm so glad I did! 

Alanna is fantastic.  She is stubborn to a fault, but often uses that stubbornness to achieve her goals, even when she is the wrong sex to do so.  Her twin brother Thom wants to be a sorcerer and Alanna wants to be a knight.  When their forgetful father sends them off to opposite training camps, what are they to do?  Forge papers saying they are twin boys and switch places, of course.

Alanna, now Alan, quickly excels as a knight's page, despite the unfortunate side effect of being a girl--less upper body strength.  She trains harder than everyone to overcome her biological setbacks, and is totally awesome in the process.  She befriends thieves, princes, and everyone in between (except for one bully). 

I love books with awesome girl characters, but I do not like token girls who are awesome just because.  Alanna fights to be the best, and therefore deserves the superiority she inevitably acquires.  And the gifts that she comes by naturally, such as her healing magic, are scary to her, and sometimes she messes up big time. 

I am completely won over.  Alanna rocks, and Tamora Pierce rocks.  This is definitely an author that has convinced me to read everything she has ever written.

Five out of five hidden identities.

Release Date:  1983
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL PIE

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Alanna: The First Adventure:

The Hub
On the Bookshelf

The End of Story Time

Today was the last week of story times until next fall.  I have done this for an entire year!  (Minus one because I was in Senegal.)  (Minus four months because it's not technically a year.)  STILL, this is a momentous occasion.  One boy in my toddler story time even brought me a tulip, so obviously this is big.

I remember being incredibly nervous the first time I stood in front of a group of children and their caretakers, then proceeded to entertain by reading stories, singing songs, and jumping around like an idiot.  I quickly learned to embrace looking stupid, and really, I think that is the key to being a children's librarian.

Some families have come every week, and I've loved getting to know the children and adults.  It's the moments after story time, when a kid shows me what book they are reading or sneakily grins at me through my window, that make me love my job. 

So even though I am greatly looking forward to the freedom of not planning weekly story times (too bad I am now planning a little thing called Summer Reading), I will miss the kids and their families!  If one calm day I burst into "If You're Happy and You Know It," please know, dear library patron, that I am not crazy.  I'm just nostalgic.


Our theme this month is still animals, though the 2nd and 3rd graders tweaked the idea a little and made zoos.  Not just any zoos, though.  These had attacking warriors and trapdoors to treasure chests along with the giraffes, giant whales, and Loch Ness Monsters.

If I were braver, they are definitely the sort of zoos I would want to experience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Treasure by Abigail

June 4, 1786

The cold, hard seas are bashing the old Neverland.  We are sailing to France to give Her Majesty the greatest treasure that ever sailed on the seas.  Our water is running low, and the men are constantly getting tortured for trying to even look at the greatest treasure to ever sail on the seas.

We expect to arrive at France tomorrow, but even I am wanting one look at the greatest treasure that ever sailed on the seas.  My curiosity has been taking over my loyalty little by little, and I plan to see the treasure tonight when I am keeping it away from everyone else.

As I walk down the dark and wailing steps and near the chest, I take out my sword and cut the top of the chest out.  My eyes glow and my curiosity is gone.  I see paper bound together, for it was the world's first books to go in Her Majesty's library!

Dear Maddline by Amber

Dear Maddline,

It was a dark and stormy night the day I went to my library.  It was kinda creepy cause the lights were flashing and everything.  So I had to return the book Frankenstein.  Well guess what, the library was fine right but then...So what are you doing this weekend?  I think I may come visit you.

Oh sorry, and then it started swaying back and forth...So what did you have for dinner?  Yeah, well then it grew an arm.  I am not kidding...So can you go to the movies Saturday?  Well, then it grew another arm...I think I may go see Soul Surfer.  Then it grew a leg.  I was so freaked out...What restaurant do you want to eat at?  Ok, then another leg...I think Johnny's would be nice.  AND it stood up and walked away, taking me with it.  So yeah, I really don't know where I am.  Cause I am still in the walking library.

Well, I will talk to you later.



The Message? by Allison

Dear Starla,

It was a dark peaceful night.  I was walking into Dunlap while texting, and I heard music.  It was VERY close.  I could feel the vibrations from it.  I look to the right, and I see the library, and all the windows had green, blue, purple, and pink lights glowing out of them.  I walked to the front door and opened it.  The music was great.  I ran to the food table after my three second tour of the place.

There was junk food of all kinds.  I started to dance.  I don't know ho wlong I danced, but I went for more food when my phone rang.  I went into the bathroom.  To my surprise it was quiet.  I answered my phone, and it was my mom.  She asked where I was and that is was 3:00 a.m.  I said I was at a friend's house and lost track of time.  I walked home with a text message from someone named Darlene...

The Bike by Madeline

Dear Diary,

Today is my birthday!  My mother took me first to Baker's Square for some chocolate chip pancakes.  Soooo yummy!  Then afterwards I went to Walmart to get my new bike which is sooo awesome.  It is neon green.  How PERFECT.  Then something happens!  Mr. Peters, my crazy old neighbor, took my bike and ran into the library.  I ran in after him, still dazed from when he came out of nowhere and nearly knocked me over as he pedaled off with it.

"Mr. Peters!" I yelled as I entered the library.

"SHHH!" the lady from behind the counter called.

Mr. Peters was out of sight completely.  In the distance I heard a deep voice calling my name.  "NORA!"  It seemed as though it was coming form the story room.  I ran in the room and twisted and turned, trying to find him.  Then suddenly the door slammed, the lights turned off, and the shades closed!  I saw a pair of eyes coming towards me.  I tried to scream but nothing came out.  I backed up against the wall, terribly frightened.

Suddenly, a hole opened up and I fell thousands of miles before I hit the bottom with a ginormous clash, and I awoke to the soft crying of my mother.  My eyes slowly opened to the bright world around me.

"Oh honey!"

"Mom?  What happened?"

"You fell off your new bike while we were riding and you fell six feet down a ravine before you stopped."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

Book Jacket

At first it seems that she's living the elusive New York City dream.  She's subletting an apartment with her best friend, Hope, working for a magazine that actually utilizes her psychology degree, and still deeply in love with Marcus Flutie, the charismatic addict-turned-Buddhist who first captivated her at sixteen.

Of course, reality is more complicated than dreamy cliches.  She and Hope share bunk beds in the "Cupcake"--the girlie pastel bedroom normally occupied by twelve-year-old twins.  Their Brooklyn neighborhood is better suited to "breeders," and she and Hope split the rent with their promiscuous high school pal, Manda, and her "genderqueer boifriend."  Freelancing for an obscure journal can't put a dent in Jessica's student loans, so she's eking out a living by babysitting her young niece and lamenting that she, unlike most of her friends, can't postpone adulthood by going back to school.

Yet it's the ever-changing relationship with Marcus that leaves her most unsettled.  At the ripe age of twenty-three, he's just starting his freshman year at Princeton University.  Is she ready to give up her imperfect yet invigorating post-college life just because her on-again/off-again soul mate asks her to...marry him?

Jessica has one week to respond to Marcus's perplexing marriage proposal.  During this time, she gains surprising wisdom from unexpected sources, including a popular talk show shrink, a drag queen named Royalle G. Biv, and yes, even her parents.  But the most shocking confession concerns two people she thought had nothing to hide: Hope and Marcus. 

Will this knowledge inspire Jessica to give up a world of late-night literary soirees, art openings, and downtown drunken karaoke to move back to New Jersey and be with the one man who's gripped her heart for years?  Jessica ponders this and other life choices with her signature snark and hyper-intense insight, making it the most tumultuous and memorable week of her twenty-something like.


Let's start with the good, shall we?  I am incredibly impressed that McCafferty can cover Jessica's entire three-and-a-half year college experience in one book (Charmed Thirds), then turn around and spend the fourth book in the series detailing just one week.  I liked seeing Jessica bond with her family, learning to relate to them as adults instead of seeing them only from a child's perspective.  And I loved getting to know Hope as an actual character instead of merely a pen pal.

But.  I think I have lost my infatuation with Jessica Darling.  She is still funny.  But I get so frustrated with her!  She is too snarky for her own good, I think.  Her pessimism and cynicism got to be too much for me.  I'd rather look at the world with hope, and Jessica is just a downer. 

The other thing I had a problem with was Marcus.  He is rarely in these books, yet we are supposed to love him and think him perfect.  Why?  He is not dependable or mature or willing to sacrifice his desires for hers.  But because we are in Jessica's head, all we see is infatuation.  And yet...I'm not even sure if we're supposed to root for them?  I don't even know.  There were so many romantic mixed signals, and maybe that is supposed to be realistic, but it was too unfocused for me to really get behind either opinion--wanting them to be together or wanting them to break up.

Since I had problems with both the protagonist and her love interest...I'm going to have to rate this one pretty low.  Although I'll admit right now that I have every intention of finishing this series and seeing how Jessica's story finishes.

Two out of five dysfunctional relationships.

Release Date:  August 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 10+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL MCC

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Fourth Comings:

Popgurls (spoilers)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury

Book Jacket

Dylan's Scout troop goes camping in Halape, a remote spot below the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The only thing wrong with the weekend on a beautiful , peaceful beach, is the presence of Louie, a tough older boy.  Louie and Dylan have corssed paths before and they just can't get along.

That night an earthquake rocks the camp, generating a giant wave that rushes in, sweeping away everyone and everything in its path.  Dylan and Louis must team up on a dangerous resuce mission.  The next hours are an amazing story of survival and the true meaning of leadership.  More amazing still is that this story actually happened!


I'm not one of those people whose dream vacation spot is Hawaii.  It all seems too picturesque to me.  Night of the Howling Dogs brings the reality of Hawaii into sharp focus, even before the earthquake literally shakes things up.  I really enjoyed reading about cultural differences and barriers between native Hawaiians and the white families who moved to the island.  Salisbury also does a remarkable job bringing the feel of Hawaii to life--the heat, the bugs, the look of the landscape.  He brought some Hawaiian folklore and legends into the story as well, which was fascinating.

Once this background has been established, the story's adventure begins.  A severe earthquake hits the Boy Scouts' remote campground, trapping some under rocks, and the ocean sweeps inland, nearly drowning our protagonist.  With Japan's recent natural disaster in mind, this book takes on deeper meaning.  Which I guess it shouldn't need, because it is based on a real event.  I cannot imagine surviving such a horrible disaster, let alone being responsible for finding and saving everyone else.  Yet that's just what Dylan does, setting aside his rivalry with Louie to do so.

Four out of five eyeglasses on fishwire.

Release Date:  August 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not yet part of Dunlap's collection.

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Night of the Howling Dogs:

Reading Review

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Skype with Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

After reviewing 8th Grade Superzero, I got in touch with author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.  Her emails were always incredibly friendly, and she offered to skype with a book group if I wanted.  Of course I wanted to!  Together with my friend Jenna, who is a 5th grade teacher at Wilder Waite, we discussed the novel yesterday.  Four kids met at the library today to skype with Olugbemisola.  She was just as friendly in person as in her writing.

We had a list of questions prepared, and each of us took turns asking.  I was most interested to learn how 8th Grade Superzero was written.  She wrote three pages for an application, then left it alone for years.  She picked it back up and added two chapters, then once again left it alone for years.  Finally she finished the book in a whirlwind week.  I can't imagine!  That is dedication.
I had a blast talking to an author, and Olugbemisola herself was wonderfully enlightening and delightful.  If she lived closer to Dunlap, I would definitely want to be her friend.

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Book Jacket

Claire is sitting in homeroom.  Jasper is fast asleep.  Peter is waiting for Tower Records to open.

They don't really know each other.  Claire goes to school with Peter.  Peter met Jasper at a party, and they made plans to go out.

This is the everyday.  This is the before.

And then.

The world gets turned upside down.  Life gets turned inside out.  There is fear and there is grief and there is confusion and doubt.  It's a dark time, a tragic time. 

But there's more to it than that.

There's also love.  And kindness.  And a desire to make it through.

On 9/11, thousands of people died...but millions upon millions came together in ways they never would have imagined.

For Claire, Jasper, and Peter, life has been reshaped just when it was starting to take shape.  As their lives intersect and their feelings and experiences crystallize, there are new understandings, new friendships, and a new awareness of what really matters.

David Levithan has written a novel of loss and hope, grief and redemption.  Because even when tragedy occurs, love is indeed the higher law.


This is a book that will restart those "Where were you?" conversations.  I was in 8th grade on September 11, 2001.  I remember being in the locker room, hearing that people were dying in New York City.  A girl said Peoria was going to be bombed, because we were #5 on a terrorist's hit list due to Caterpillar.  I was too young to fully understand what had happened, but the moment was important, and it is a permanent memory.

However, this book spoke to me more as a story of any disaster, so if you don't remember 9/11, there is still plenty to learn from and share experiences with.  My sophomore year of college, a tornado hit my school, wiping out the majority of the dorms.  I was in a bathroom with 16 other girls when the wall beside us was ripped away, and I saw whole buildings lying in piles of rubble.  By the grace of God, no one was killed, but that experience affected me the way 9/11 affected Claire, Jasper, and Peter.

I appreciated and understood their differing reactions:  wanting to talk about it all the time, never wanting to hear about it ever again.  Realizing with a shock that a whole day had gone by without thinking about the event.  Trying to find meaning in the catastrophe, to move on to something better instead of wallowing in the pain. 

Love is the Higher Law covers their emotions and actions from 9/11 to its first anniversary.  I loved seeing these three characters grow, both individually and together.  I loved seeing them find joy in the love and compassion that was so prevalent for a while after.  And mostly I loved that these characters chose to learn to love all of humanity rather than take the easy way out full of hatred and revenge.

Five out of five U2 lyrics.

Release Date:  August 2009
Reading Level:  Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Love is the Higher Law:

College Candy
Frenetic Reader

K-1 LEGO Club

Since 26 kids showed up for the LEGO club last month, I divided the ages into K-1 and 2-3 next Wednesday.  With only the youngest kids, I was a lot more lenient about this month's theme.  Some made animals, some made piles of blood (to go with the shark), and some made machines that make animals.  Everyone was very chatty and often hilarious, and I had a blast listening to them and talking with them.

Pictures through the link!

Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile

Book Jacket

Meet Frankie and Sal, two boys who've done it all.  They've played every board game.  They've read every comic book.  They've painted a zillion pictures. 

What's left to do?

Just when it seems they will collapse from boredom, Sal gets a brilliant idea.  What about doing nothing?

But is it possible--can two boys do ten whole seconds of nothing?

Hold your breath and get ready for this laugh-out-loud romp created by feature film animator and debut picture-book artist Tony Fucile.


I remember having the "What do you want to do?"  "I dunno, what do you want to do?" conversation many a time with friends, but I don't think we ever decided to do nothing.  Probably that would have cured our boredom, if Sal and Frankie are an example to go by.

I loved this book because it proved that the imagination cannot be stopped by something as simple as doing nothing.  It's when we try to shut our brains off that the best ideas come into being, whether it's realizing King Kong is climbing up our side or pigeons are roosting on our head.

But the my favorite part of Let's Do Nothing is the illustrations.  Tony Fucile worked as an animator for Lion King, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and his expertise shows.  The pictures are effortlessly emotive.  I would probably use some of the pages for wall art.  Okay, maybe not, but I did love them a lot.

Five out of five overactive imaginations.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Book Jacket

"The Trunchbull" is no match for Matilda!  Who put superglue in Dad's hat?  Was it really a ghost that made Mom tear out of the house?  Matilda is a genius with idiot parents--and she's having a great time driving them crazy.  But at school things are different.  At school there's Miss Trunchbull, two hundred menacing pouds of kid-hating headmistress.  Get rid of the Trunchbull and Matilda would be a hero.  But that would take a superhuman genius, wouldn't it?


There is a reason Roald Dahl's books are kid's classics, and that reason is his combination of whimsy, dark humor, and kids being awesome (and awesomer than most of the adults).  Matilda is a fun read about a little girl and an older girl who grew up in horrible situations.  Through the littler one's genius and master pranks, they live together happily ever after. 

I have to admit I'm not fond of the magic eyeballs.  Despite Miss Honey's pat explanation (you weren't using your brain enough!), it seemed unnecessary.  I would have liked to see Matilda outsmart Miss Trunchbull on her own power, which I have no doubt she could have.

Still, the story is often hilarious, and library's come out on top, so I've got to be a fan of that.

Three out of five newts.

Release Date:  October 1988
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J DAH

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Matilda:

Between the Covers
Friendly Book Nook

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Book Jacket

Nya is going to the pond to fetch water for her family--there and back, twice.  She walks for eight hours every day.

Salva is walking away from his ruined village to find safety--if there is any safety in his war-torn homeland.  His journey across Africa to Ethiopia and then to Kenya and beyond will take many years.

Two young people...two stories.

One country: Sudan.

This mesmerizing dual narrative by Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park shows us that in a troubled country, determined survivors may find the future they are hoping for.


A Long Walk to Water is deceptively simple.  It is short and its words are direct and elementary.  But the story told within its pages will grip your heart.  The complexity of many African country's problems is laid out plainly.  War and corrupt governments and disease all stem from a lack of basic necessities: namely, water. 

When your only water source is miles away, all children cannot attend school to get the education they deserve.  When your only water source is limited, feuds and deadly battles are fought for the right not to die of thirst.  When your only water source is muddy and contaminated, diseases run rampant.  And when your only medical source is hundreds of miles away, people die.

The dual stories complement each other wonderfully, and despite all the bleak and horrific events, this book manages to end with an optimistic view of the future.  A future that we, you and I, can be a part of.  Building wells will not solve all of Africa's problems.  But it can do a lot to freeing up people's time and energy that they normally exert on simply surviving.

If you are interested in donating money to organizations that drill wells in Africa, these are two that I have supported in the past (Blood Water Mission and WorldVision).

Five out of five cups of water.

Release Date:  November 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL PAR

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of A Long Walk to Water:

Murdoch's Musings
Bookish Blather

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Book Jacket

Chase Masters and his father are storm runners racing across the country in pursuit of hurricans, tornadoes, and floods.  Anywhere bad weather strikes, they are not far behind.  Chase is learning more on the road than he ever would just sitting in a classroom.  But when the hurricane of the century hits, he will be tested in ways he never could have imagined.


I was lent this book by a teacher friend, and after reading it, I want to both hug and slap her.  Hug because obviously, it was really good.  But I also want to slap her because, despite her warning, the cliffhanger was super annoying!  Why make a 150 page book into a trilogy?  Just make it longer!  I will not mind!

My annoyance is only proof that Storm Runners is really good.  The effects of lightning striking people (other than death, which is less interesting and more sad) is truly fascinating, and I liked seeing Chase's father's new quirks.  Similarly, people who run into storms instead of out of them are also fascinating.  They are crazy and probably a little suicidal, but they are not short on the interesting.

But this book doesn't just deal with weather catastrophes.  There are circus animals (pregnant elephants!  pet monkeys!  potentially dangerous leopards!) and family strains and a couple subtle potential romances.  People rise to the occasion as heroes and collapse in fear and grief. 

The story ends in the eye of the storm, and I cannot wait to see what happens when the second half crashes into Chase, his new friends, and his father.  Will they be reunited?  Will everyone survive?  Will the leopard eat them all, or will an alligator get in on the action too?  Inquiring minds are desperate to know!

Four out of five bus crashes.

Release Date:  March 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL SMI

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of Storm Runners:

Random Chalk Talk

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld

Book Jacket

Bridget loves to draw, and she likes to wear a beret for inspiration.  So when her beloved hat blows away, Bridget searches for it high and low.  She files a Missing Beret Report.  She even considers other hats, but none of them feel quite right.  It's no use; without her beret, Bridget can't seem to draw.  How will she overcome her artist's block?


I like to write/draw/paint as a hobby, so I can completely relate to Bridget's artist's block.  However, I am a little jealous that a lemonade stand was all it took to get her back to creating.  Of course I'm also jealous of her adorably clever lemonade posters, which are knockoffs of Van Gogh and Uncle Sam.  There are nods to art throughout the book.  My favorite was the reference to her "permanent exhibit" (the refrigerator) and her "limited viewing" (in sidewalk chalk). 

This is a great book for kids and adults, reminding us that creativity isn't bound to any special hat or place or object.  Art can happen anywhere with anything!

Four out of five paintbrushes.

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

The Girl Who Was on Fire edited by Leah Wilson

Book Jacket

Burning for more of the Hunger Games?

Katniss Everdeen's adventures may have come to an end, but her story continues to blaze in the hearts of millions worldwide.

In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more.

-How does the way the Games affect the brain explain Haymitch's drinking, Annie's distraction, and Wiress' speech problems?
-What does the rebellion have in common with the War on Terror?
-Why isn't the answer to "Peeta or Gale?" as interesting as the question itself?
-What should Panem have learned from the fates of other hedonistic societies throughout history--and what can we?


There's almost no point in me telling you how awesome this book is.  If you love the Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy and like to analyze and think about your favorite stories, then you will also adore The Girl Who Was on Fire.  If you like to leave stories as they are without deeper thinking, then you might as well leave this one alone.

But me?  I loved getting back into the world of Panem.  I loved hearing about other people's love for the story and for Katniss.  I loved understanding how Collins' post-apocalyptic world is far more similar to our own than is comfortable.  I loved sharing in the joy of talking books with other people, even if this was definitely one-sided.

My favorite essays:  "Team Katniss,"  "Crime of Fashion,"  "The Inevitable Decline of Decadence," and "Community in the Face of Tyranny."

Five out of five fan essays.

Release Date:  April 2011
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by the Dunlap Library.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Book Jacket

In this award-winning page-turner, twelve-year-old orphan Homer runs away from Pine Swamp, Maine, to find his older brother who has been sold into the Union Army.  With laugh-out-loud humor, Homer outwits and outruns a colorful assortment of Civil War-era thieves, scallywags, and spies as he makes his way south, following clues that finally lead him to Gettysburg.  Even through a hail of gunfire, Homer never loses heart--but will he find his brother?  Or will it be too late?


I've never been hugely interested in the Civil War, but Homer has changed my mind.  Seeing the war from a twelve-year-old's perspective (as well as from the abolitionists, the slave catchers, and the everyday people he runs into) made the war far more relatable and devastating than any textbook could.

Homer is a fascinating boy, best summed up by Mrs. Bean, "Never thought a boy could be good and a liar, too.  But you are."  His lies are hilarious, and seeing people either fall for them or call him out on them is equally funny.  His stories are tall tales, life made more interesting and more epic.  I would love to hang out with him and hear him recount our adventures with a little extra flair.

Because we would definitely have adventures.  This kid is kidnapped, mistaken for a pigboy, and escapes in a hot air balloon.  He even manages to participate in the harrowing battle of Gettysburg.

I can definitely understand why Philbrick's book has been nominated for the Caudill award.  It's fantastic.

Five out of five bonds of brothers.

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

Don't believe me?  Check out these reviews of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg:

Civil War Novels
Challenging the Bookworm