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