Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Book Jacket

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader.  But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth.  What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached(!).  And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.  Raina's story takes us from middle school to high school, where she discovers her artistic voice, finds out what true friendship really means, and where she can finally...smile.


Ah, adolescence.  I have no desire to ever think of you in any way other than hilarious graphic novels.  Suddenly the awkward physical appearances and awkward social situations are less horrific and more hysterical!  I so admire Telgemeier for recounting her autobiography in such an entertaining format.

I know this was not supposed to be educational, necessarily, but I was really impressed with the level of dental care available!  I had to go through braces, but Raina takes teeth arrangement to a whole new level.  She knocks out her two front teeth, then gets braces to slowly move the rest of her top teeth toward the center.  She has to correct a crossbite and an overbite.  And after so much rearrangement, she has to have gum surgery to repair the damage.  GAG.  I can't even imagine going through so much pain for over four years!  Raina is a superhero.

I also like the subtle way Telgemeier portrayed friendship.  The friends that Raina grew up with were catty, and more willing to put someone down than build them up.  Luckily, Raina become confident enough to call them out on their insulting behavior, and soon makes friends with far more awesome people. 

Five out of five orthodontists.

Release Date: February 2010
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC TEL

PlayAround Shakespeare

Bradley University was gracious enough to offer us the talent of five of their theater students.  They performed a humorous one-hour sprint through five of Shakespeare's most famous plays.  There were tears, there was laughter, there was a good time had by all. 

More pictures below the cut.

Angry Birds Live

I have discovered maybe the best program ever!  Angry Birds Live.  Five teens showed up to make their own yarn angry birds (hint: they fly much better when stuffed with coins), then team up to create and/or demolish obstacles of cardboard, cups, and of course, green pigs.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Peak by Roland Smith

Book Jacket

This is it, I told myself.  Fifteen more handholds and I've topped it.

I reached up for the next seam and encountered a little snag.  Well, a big snag really...

My right ear and cheek were frozen to the wall.

To reach the top you must have resolve, muscles, skill, and...


Mine was anchored to that wall like a bolt, and a portion of it stayed there when I gathered enough resolve to tear it loose.  Now I was mad, which was exactly what I needed to finish the climb.

Cursing with every vertical lunge, I stopped about four feet below the edge, tempted to tag this monster with the blood running down my neck.  But instead I took the mountain stencil out of my pack (cheating, I know, but you have to have two hands to do it freehand), slapped it on the wall, and filled it with blue spray paint.

This is when the helicopter came up behind me and nearly blew me off the wall.

"You are under arrest!" an amplified voice shouted above the deafening rotors.


I never knew I was interested in mountain climbing, but apparently I am!  Or rather, Smith has made me so.  His story of Peak, a 14-year-old who climbs skyscrapers for fun (is this real!?  is it even possible!?), is arrested and has to move to Nepal to live with the world-famous mountain climber father he barely knows.  He then proceeds to befriend a Tibetan teen, psychologically grapple with a Chinese policeman, and learn to climb Mt. Everest!

It was fascinating.  I had no idea the preparation involved.  You can't just climb the mountain straight up--you climb to a camp, then hike back down.  You rest low for several days, letting your red blood cells get more oxygenated (I think?), before hiking back up.  The whole process takes weeks!  That is some serious devotion.

On top of that commitment, there's the constant deaths of people attempting to summit the mountain.  The scene where Peak nears the top was chilling, as he stops counting corpses after the fifth one.  It is too high up there for helicopters to fly and retreive bodies, so anyone who dies about 26,000 feet will stay there forever.

I learned a lot.  I honestly didn't know what to expect from the ending.  And the family relationships were very compelling--Peak and his father work through some issues without ever devolving into sentimental silliness.  Also, Zopa is one of the coolest people I've ever read about.  I might attempt to climb Mt. Everest just to experience life with the close-mouthed monk/expert mountain climber.

Four out of five oxygen tanks.

Release Date:  May 2007
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bone: Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith


Book Jacket

It's a full-fledged war as Briar, the rat creatures, and the Pawan army storm the city of Atheia where the Bones, Thorn, and Gran'ma Ben are up in arms to defend the royal city.  When Thorn hears a voice urging her to seek the Crown of Horns, Thorn and Fone Bone embark on another dangerous journey as they race to find the one thing that may save them all.


Several people told me they were disappointed with the end of the Bone series, and....I don't know why?  Maybe I had sererely lowered expectations, but I really liked it!  We got to see all our favorite, or not so favorite, characters one more time.  The battles felt realistically scary--I worried for most of our main character's safety at one time or another.  I thought some people were goners, but they survived, and I thought some people survived, but they did not.

All the big bads get what's coming to them, in ways that were sometimes surprising.  The dragons come back in a big way, and Kingdok is a sad chariacture of his former evilness (and he knows it).  Briar remains super creepy, and that whole scene had me on pins and needles.

The story ends quite nicely, explaining what everyone will go on to do.  I won't reveal who survived or where people end up, but I have to spoil one:  Bartleby!  He lives!  Just...you know, if anyone else was concerned about the most adorable rat creature in the world.  He's okay, and still awesome.

This series takes graphic novels up a notch.  The characters are all fully-developed, with conflicting motivations and worldviews.  The drawings bring the story to life just as much as the dialogue.  In just nine short installments, Jeff Smith creates a wonderful world with an established mythology and epic confrontation. 

I loved it.

Five out of five quiches.

Release Date:  January 2009
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI


Only three boys showed up for LEGO Club today, but they are some of the most creative and talented kids I've had the pleasure of watching play with LEGOs.  I had decided the theme could be Star Wars, and one boy made the biggest, most epic spaceship in the galaxy.  The other two had apparently talked before, and they wanted to make an obstacle course a la Wipeout.  They spent a long time integrating polar bears, water cannons, and green glame into the most impossible course I've ever seen.  After they showed me how it worked, they put several LEGO men through it, sending them flying and gleefully narrating the events as John Anderson, John Henson, and Jill Wagner.

Pictures below the cut!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Swindle by Gordon Korman

Book Jacket

Griffin Bing is on his way to a million dollars...until a mean collector named S. Wendell Palamino (a.k.a. Swindle) tricks him out of a rare Babe Ruth baseball card.  Now Griffin must put together a team of friends (and one or two enemies) to get it back.

There are many things standing in their way--a menacing guard dog, a high-tech security system, a very secret hiding place, and the fact that none of them can drive.  But Griffin is a Man With a Plan, and even if some things go way beyond his control, he's not going to let his fortune go without a fight.


Wow.  I never expected to read an adventurous thieving caper that manages to teach that stealing is never okay without lessening the extremely entertaining story based on stealing.  Is that a mouthful?  Basically, Swindle is Ocean's Eleven with morals.  The kids want to steal something, and justify to themselves why it's not wrong.  I was worried throughout, because, well, no, stealing is still wrong.  But by the end Korman had covered all his moral bases without once being unfunny or on a high horse.

Griffin and Ben are a great pair of friends.  I liked how they were always there for each other, no matter how crazy the situation got.  The other kids that helped out with the big break-in were well developed and pretty awesome.  Logan the wannabe actor was my particular favorite.

The story moves quickly, and it builds into this ever more chaotic adventure that became really hilarious by the time everything started falling apart.  Korman surprised me several times along the way, and I learned both how to break into a house and how stealing is wrong.  Managing to pull off both those lessons means I give Swindle a

Five out of five rare trading cards.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Book Jacket

Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family--and the terrible secret--he left behind.  Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

By turns harrowing, dreamlike, sad, and triumphant, this searing debut novel, written in lucid verse, reveals an unforgettable perspective on the lasting impact of war and the healing power of love.


All the Broken Pieces has great superficial similarities to The Girl Who Threw Butterflies--an outside tries to sort through their personal demons while playing baseball.  But while Butterflies failed to emotionally connect with me, Broken Pieces blew me away.

I'm not much a fan of books told through poetry, but my prejudice has been rocked.  Matt tells his story in very easily-read free verse, and the simplicity and starkness of the lines really highlight his emotion and make the story more poignant.

Matt has blocked out his harrowing life as a Vietnamese kid during the war, but when he meets a bunch of American veterans and also is confronted with ugly hate crimes at school, he has to come to terms with his past so that he can truly live in the present.  I am fascinated by adopted kids, about the psychology of having two families.  Even more so a boy who is quickly transferred from a life of poverty and war to a life of wealth and security.  The culture whiplash! 

All the Broken Pieces sympathizes with Matt without grossly pitying him.  It manages to show the horror of the Vietnam War without villainizing either the American or Vietnamese sides.  It portrays the intricacies of bullying with understanding but without ever justifying the hate.

I adored this book.  It is a very quick read, but one that will stick with you for a long time.

Five out of five musical scales.

Release Date:  April 2009
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Grounded by Kate Klise

Book Jacket

After her brother, sister, and father die in a plane crash, Daralynn Oakland receives 237 dolls from well-wishers, resulting in her new nickname: Dolly.  And she doesn't even like dolls!  Dolly would much rather go fishing--not that she's allowed to go anywhere on her own after the accident.  As she sees it, her whole life has turned terrible, and there's nothing she can do about it.

But when her angry, grieving mother's new job as a hair stylist at the local funeral home is threatened by the new crematorium, Dolly decides it's time to take action.  She suggests throwing Living Funerals--a chance to attend your own funeral and hear all the nice things people say while you're still alive to thank them.

Will Dolly's new plan put the 'fun' back into funeral and save a dying business?

In her most affecting novel yet, acclaimed author Kate Klise seamlessly depicts a rich fabric of humor, heartbreak, and healing.


Who knew it was possible to write a book about funerals, cremations, con men, and the death of family members....and make it heart-warming?  Klise brilliantly uses the depths of emotion to bring out the heights, and shows the beauty and meaning that comes with the life moments we'd rather not acknowledge.

Daralynn is a great protagonist.  She is too young to know how to deal with such overwhelming grief, and her shut-off mother doesn't help her process the change.  Her aunt Josie is a fantastic larger-than-life character, nicely balanced by the understated Uncle Waldo.  The family is completed by the dementia-addled Mamaw, who steals Daralynn's dolls to feed and care for them.

This is a small town bursting with vivid characters, and Klise does a great job of never letting that overshadow the main point--that life goes on, and that when we care for each other, we can endure the heartaches that inevitably come with life.

Five out of five horse-drawn carriages.

Release Date:  November 2010
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J KLI

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane

Book Jacket

For an eighth grader, Molly Williams has more than her fair share of problems.  Her father has just died in a mysterious car accident, and her mother has become a withdrawn, quiet version of herself--a mother who orders takeout instead of cooking, and who reads shopping catalogs instead of talking to her daughter.

Molly doesn't want to be seen as Miss Difficulty Overcome; she wants to make herself known to the kids at school for something other than her father's death.  So she decides to join the baseball team.  The boys' baseball team.  Her father taught her how to throw a knuckleball, and Molly hopes it's enough to impress her coaches as well as her new teammates.

Over the course of one baseball season, Molly must figure out how to redifine her relationship to things she loves, loved, and might love: her mother, her brilliant best friend Celia, her father, her enigmatic and artistic teammate Lonnie, and of course, baseball.

Mick Cochrane delivers an emotionally affecting and gently humorous story that is as surprising and magical as a knuckleball.


What is with all the baseball-themed Caudill books?  I can handle one.  I'm willing to stretch my interests.  But this is the third I've read, and I simply can't care anymore.  I appreciate that Molly is all in love with the sport--the clothes, the feel of a glove, the incredibly beautiful and impossible to predict butterfly pitch....but the awe translated to snoozing for me.

Sports make my brain turn off.  I cannot understand their appeal.

The central premise was not the only thing I disliked, unfortunately.  Molly's narration seemed to mature--she very well might have felt the things she did, but she expressed them far too eloquently.  I like when books about kids sound like kids talk and understand.  Celia was too well-formed of a feminist.  Lonnie was too understanding for a boy with a crush.  Molly was too articulate.

All of that added up to an unbelievable story.  A girl played on the boys' baseball team and a family learned to continue living after the unexpected death of a beloved family member.  That could have been a great story--but it wasn't.

Two out of five knuckleballs.

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

Radical Together by David Platt

Book Jacket

In Radical, David Platt's plea for Christians to take back their faith from the American dream resonated with readers everywhere, and the book quickly became a New York Times bestseller.  Now in Radical Together, the author broadens his call, challenging us to unite around a gospel-centered vision.

How, he asks, might such a vision reshape our priorities as the body of Christ?  How might well-intentioned Christians actually prevent God's people from accomplishing God's purpose?  And, how can we best unleash the people of God in the church to carry out the purpose of God in the world?

Writing to everyone who desires to make an impact for God's glory--whether you are an involved member, a leader, or a pastor--Dr. Platt shares six foundational ideas that fuel radical obedience among Christians in the church.  With compelling Bible teaching and inspiring stories from around the world, he will help you apply the revolutionary claims and commands of Christ to your community of faith in fresh, practical ways.


If I had designed this book, I would have either shaped the entire book as a boot (impractical) or made the cover art into a boot kicking a butt (potentially offensive?).  That's why I don't design book covers!  But the point stands--Platt's passion for giving our all to God is a kick in the pants to lazy Christians, of which I label myself.

It's so easy to become consumed with the idea that I should do what is best for me--pursue the job I want, live where I will be most happy, interact with the people who feed my ego.  But that selfish attitude is exactly the opposite of how I should act as a follower of Christ.  Jesus said we are to die to ourselves.  Platt encourages his readers to do just that--die to our desires and focus every bit of our life around what God wants.

I would recommend Platt's first book Radical more than this.  Radical Together is a more specific book, and while it is excellent, it builds on the lessons taught in his first book.  Together, they are incredibly encouraging, in that way where you feel awful but want to do better.

Five out of five black mambas.

Release Date:  April 2011
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of our collection.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Book Jacket

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis.  But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.


In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green taught me that there are books that you want to shout about from the rooftops, demanding that the whole world be made aware of its brilliance.  There are other books that you love too intensely, that you can't bear to share for fear that sharing it will break the spell it has on you.

This is both.  I want everyone to experience the haunting beauty and hilarious tragedy that is Hazel's story.  But it's hard to talk about why I love it so much.  This a book that, within ten pages, had crept inside my heart.  It's a story about a girl with cancer.  It's a story about a girl falling in love with a boy.

But it's so much more.  The Fault in Our Stars is a philosophical book.  It says that even though the world often deals us sucky hands, there is also beauty in the pain.  The pain does not make the beauty any deeper or more meaningful, but neither does the pain wash the beauty away.  Hazel and Gus are two kids who have had to grow up way too fast by staring their own deaths in the ever-nearing face.  They feel panic and joy, and they fear for how their tragedy is affecting the people they love.  But they don't let fear of the future cloud their present, not too much.

I loved watching Hazel and Augustus fall in love.  They flirt with words, which is my favorite kind of attraction.  I loved that Hazel's parents were a huge part of her life, that although she sometimes got annoyed at their hovering, she appreciated what they sacrificed for her and loved them deeply.  I loved seeing the kids with cancer bond and joke about their pain, and I loved realizing that we are all broken in different ways, whether it's cancer or pride or fear.  But there are still friendships to enjoy, love to give yourself to, and day after day to wake up and live.


Six out of five fake novels (that I want to be real) within a novel.

Release Date:  January 1012
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL GRE


We did the ninja theme with the younger kids this week.  Although they spent a huge amount of time discovering pink LEGO pieces and chasing each other around screaming, "PIIINK!" like it was the boogie man, by the end of the hour they'd put together some cool stuff.  Including a ninja snack bar for aliens.  Hahaha!  Love.

Pictures below the cut.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Animal Heroes: True Rescue Stories by Sandra Markle

Book Jacket

Animals, both wild and domestic, have become heroes when they've come to the rescue of humans.  In these heartwarming, true stories, Sandra Markle shows how dogs, cats, cows, monkeys, and even dolphins use their normal senses or special training to help people in trouble or in need all over the world.


I love animals.  Like, to the point that I can't go into a pet shop without petting the animals for sale for hours and debating whether I can afford another pet (I can't).  I avoid movies in which animals die like the plague.  So a book about animals saving the lives of their owners or even total strangers?  Is right up my alley.

I discovered that I'm a big fan of either the really ridiculous saves or the really mundane rescues.  For instance, this dog named Dakota would bark and nuge his owner before Mike blacked out from angina or heart attacks.  Consistently knew when the attacks would happen!  And that's not it.  Mike learned to lay down whenever Dakota freaked out like that, and then Dakota would lie on Mike's chest, warming him up and calming him with his steady doggy heartbeat.  I can't even!  That's adorable!  And HOW?

But then I also loved the story of 19-year-old dog Frisky and his 80-year-old owner George who survived Hurrican Katrina together.  Frisky was on an air mattress, and George kept it steady by treading water and holding on for hours while the house flooded nearly to the ceiling.  There was no dramatic rescue, but naturally, George got tired of treading water as the night dragged on.  Whenever George drifted off or was tempted to just give up and drown, Frisky would crawl over and lick his face.  Ack!  I have all the feelings!

Those are both dog stories, but there were awesome dolphins and cats and monkeys and even cows!  Integrated into the rescue stories were facts and explanations of the disasters or medical problems that were a part of the story.  I will study anything if adorable animals are involved, and Markle has that strategy in the bag.

Four out of five Winnies and Velvets (honorable mentions for my favorite animals).

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

Bone: Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

The Bone cousins, Gran'ma Ben, and Thorn reach the city of Atheia, where they prepare to battle the Lord of the Locusts.  Meanwhile, Thorn's visions are becoming more threatening and Phoney Bone is convinced Atheia is rich in gold, and he is determined to find it!


The penultimate chapter in an epic story of hidden royalty, a potential end-of-the-world crisis, and a little guy thrown into a situation too big for him to handle--except maybe he can!

Atheia is a pretty cool city, and finally the Bones unusual appearance, and everyone else's non-reaction to them, makes sense.  There are other crazy creatures in the Bone universe.  Bartleby and Smiley continue to be my favorite, and I continue to worry for Thorn's safety.  Phoney is starting to annoy me--his unceasing greed had better have a point, because it's getting old.

Also, I really want to have a rooftop secret hideout.  That is the coolest thing ever.

Four out of five gigantic bees.

Release Date:  August 2008
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

Monday, January 16, 2012

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

Book Jacket

Join Carter for his freshman year, where he'll search for sex, love, and acceptance anywhere he can find it.  In the process, he'll almost kill a trombone player, face off against his greatest nemesis, get caught up in a messy love triangle, suffer a lot of blood loss, narrowly escape death, run from the cops (not once, but twice), meet his match in the form of a curvy drill teamer, and surprise the hell out of everyone, including himself.


I have never been a 14-year-old boy, but when I was that age, I sure liked a bunch of them.  Oh man, now I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to bother.  If real teenage boys are as awful as Carter is, I would never have bothered with the crushes and the drama.

Carter is single-mindedly disgusting.  He and his friends want to get laid, and will do anything with anyone to get some.  Excuse me while I throw up.  There is massive slut-shaming and horrific portrayals of girls as basically walking sex objects. 

Maybe that is normal (I really really hope not).  A point could argued that the author is simply being realistic.  But there's also the issue that Carter makes some really bad decisions (like driving and crashing a car without a license, or running away from the cops) and is never punished for anything!  The cops are apparently too stupid to catch a kid who drove through lawns and plowed down a retaining wall?  And even though his dad catches him, Carter doesn't get in trouble simply because he accidentally insinuates that he might be gay, and that freaks his dad out so much that he forgets about the destroyed property?  WHAT?  I'm sorry, but that is all just awful.

Granted, a lot of this book is hilarious.  I died laughing at one of the most embarrassing first dates ever recorded.  But the fact that Carter consistently skeezed me out meant I mostly hated this book.  I can't for the life of me understand why this is nominated for the Lincoln award.  Carter grows too little, too late.  Not worth it.

Two out of five ADD stutterers who are somehow wildly popular.

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

Bone: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

The Bones, Gran'ma Ben, Thorn, and their loyal rat creature cub venture on a journey through the mysterious ghost circles to Atheia, the old city of the royal family.  One wrong step could change the valley's fate forever...


This installment was mostly set up, positioning all the characters where they need to be as the series nears its end.  Despite the lack of big plot developments, a lot happened!  Bartleby returned, and he can talk now!  We also find out why the rat creatures don't have tails, which has always bothered me.  So glad for an explanation.  A bit more of the Bones past is revealed, and Phoney seems less conniving, while Smiley is still my favorite.

Thorn is a wild card now.  Every once in a while she seems secretly evil, but then things change and she seems healed, but then something else happens, and I don't know!  I honestly don't know how this is all going to end.  I hope she's not evil.  I did like, however, that Gran'ma Ben pointed out that she is more susceptible to evil because she's so powerful....I'm a big fan of stories that hearken to "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Or "With great power comes great responsibility."  Take your pick, I love the sentiment.

I adore this series, even when it gets genuinely creepy.  Those voices in the ghost circles!  Eaaaugh.  So good!

Four out of five peg legs.

Release Date:  February 2008
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Book Jacket

Saturated self-portrait: Blake, nice guy, class clown, always trying to get a laugh, not sure where to focus.

Contrast. Shannon, Blake’s GF. Total. Babe. Marissa, just a friend and fellow photographer. Shannon loves him; Marissa needs him. How is he supposed to frame them both in one shot?


I loved this book!  It was so refreshing to read a story about a teenage guy who is--normal.  He's funny, he can be smart, he thinks about girls a lot, he has interests and hobbies.  He tries to do the right thing, but doesn't always manage it.  He gets mad and confused and sad.  He has a believable relationship with his older brother, and his whole family is pretty awesome.

He is, in a word, a nice guy.  He's not damaged or broken or a loner. 

And, oh my word, he loves Doctor Who.  I threw up my hands and squeed every time he referenced the Slitheen or defended Rose Tyler or watched "Doomsday" when he felt really sad.  Squinch him!

Blake is wonderful, and story he is involved in is no less wonderful.  I so much appreciate that this is not a love triangle.  His relationships with these two girls are so different that simple explanations can't suffice to describe what goes on.  And the ending was completely not what I was expecting, but now that I've read it, I can't imagine it ending any other way.

Flash Burnout is a fantastic book about a guy navigating growing up with all the relationships and world-expanding that comes with new experiences.  I love Blake, and I think he's going to grow up just fine.  Especially with his hospital chaplain mother, medical examiner father, and football superstar brother.  (I really loved their family, can you tell?)

Five out of five companion posters.

Release Date:  October 2009
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN

Bone: Old Man's Cave by Jeff Smith

Book Jacket

The showdown between the Hooded One and the people of the valley begins.  Thorn and Phoney Bone seem to be at the center of the maelstrom.  Will they survive the Hooded One's sacrificial ceremony by the light of the blood moon?


Ooo, the plot is really taking off.  We got the answers to why Phoney Bone is so important and who the Hooded One is--and I liked both reveals!  And oh man, that ending.  I got chills of anticipation. 

That...is a really short review.  I guess all I need to say is that this was really good, and I can't wait to read the next one.  Everyone should be reading this series!  It is not only for 3rd grade boys, as I previously believed.

Five out of five tongues.

Release Date:  August 1999
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC SMI

LEGO Construction Club

At the last minute, I decided that this week's theme would be ninjas.  Surprisingly, a lot of the kids were not thrilled.  Doesn't everyone love ninjas?  Thankfully, I couple kids threw some ninja kicks and punches when I announced the theme, so it wasn't a total loss.

Pictures below the cut.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One-Handed Catch by MJ Auch

Book Jacket

Not even losing his hand can keep Norm from trying out for the baseball team What would life be like with only one hand? That's exactly what eleven-year-old Norm finds out when he loses his left hand in an accident at his family's store. It's July 4, 1946. World War II has ended, and life is getting back to normal. But for Norm, the pressing question now is whether he will ever be able to play baseball again, or be an artist. It's up to Norm to find the strength to get beyond this roadblock and move on with his life. Set against the quickening pace of life after wartime constraints, this inspiring novel is about an optimist who overcomes his misfortune with discipline and humor--and fulfills his dreams in ways no one could have expected.
Norm is a fantastic kid.  I would adopt him, befriend him, whatever works best.  Despite loosing a hand--something which would validate a downward spiral of depression, I think we can all agree--he has so much optimism and ambition. 
The story isn't really about a boy who loses a hand.  It's about a boy living life, growing up and making friends, learning responsibility, and working for his dreams.  Doing it all one-handed is a challenge, but I love that it never defines him.  He creates art, enjoys eclairs, and complains about homework all the same. 
Norm and his family are really quite extraordinary.  The way the handle tragedy is believable and inspiring.  Maybe the fact that they live in the era of World War II makes them more used to amputations?  Or maybe they are just stronger than I am.  Probably both. 
Four out of five home runs.
Release Date:  September 2006
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

Book Jacket

You can learn a lot about life by observing another species.  That's what Humphrey was told when he was first brough to Room 26.  And boy, is it true!  In addition to his classroom escapades, each weekend this amazing hamster gets to sleep over with a different student.  Soon Humphrey learns to read, write, and even shoot rubber bands (only in self-defense).  Humphrey's life would be perfect, if only the teacher wasn't out to get him!


Hamsters can apparently fix any problem in the world.  Lonely and single?  Consult a hamster.  Family won't turn off the TV?  Get a hamster.  Your parents are too scared to practice English?  Make them talk to a hamster.  Your husband is ill and cranky?  Play with a hamster.

I'm pretty amazed at how convincing Humphrey is as a hamster narrator.  He can't actually talk to anyone, but he's a genius, and he sneaks around to make everyone's life better.  This is a great fluffy (hah) story about class pets and the power of companionship--as someone who loves pets, Humphrey won me over very quickly.

Four out of five locks-that-don't-lock.

Release Date:  May 2005
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Thursday, January 5, 2012

All Stations! Distress! by Don Brown

Book Jacket

All Stations!  Distress!  Titanic. 

It was past midnight.  The ship had come to a dead stop and sank down at the bow.  Distress rockets were fired skyward from her deck.  Steam shrieked as it escaped Titanic's boilers.  Passengers made their way to the uppermost lifeboat deck with their life belts strapped on.

Barely three hours later, the crippled Titanic would plunge more than two-and-a-half miles to the ocean floor, taking two-thirds of her passengers and crew with her and leaving seven hundred survivors adrift in lifeboats and rafts on an icy ocean.  It was April 15, 1912, and the luxurious giant ship, said to be unsinkable, had been destroyed on her maiden voyage by a collision with an iceberg.  This gripping account dramatizes the disaster in the words of the survivors and in watercolors that portray the chaos, desperation, and numerous individual dramas of a night remembered for the most infamous shipwreck in history.


I used to be completely obsessed with the Titanic, and this book does a brilliant job of detailing the horror and stupidity (not having enough lifeboats, not filling up the lifeboats they had) of one of the most tragic events of the last century without getting overly macabre.  I think this is a fantastic book for children interested in the Titanic for just that reason.

What makes the story of the unsinkable sinking so endlessly fascinating?  I suppose it is largely due to the hubris--is there a better story that illustrates "pride goes before a fall"?  And there are so many revealed social injustices, with poor people essentially barricaded to death while rich men and women fled in unfilled lifeboats.  Both courage and selfishness come out all the stronger in such overwhelming situations. 

All Stations! Distress! tells all of these stories. 

Five out of five distress rockets.

Release Date:  December 2008
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

Book Jacket

Thirteen-year-old Samuel lives with his parents on the edge of the wilderness in the British colony of Pennsylvania, a long way from the civilization of any town.  Samuel knows how to hunt and how to survive in the untamed forest that surrounds his home on the frontier, where it can take days for news to arrive.  There are rumors that American patriots have begun a bloody war against the English; to Samuel, the fighting in the cities and towns to the east seems far away.

Then the war comes to him.  In a savage attack by British soldiers and Iroquois, Samuel's parents are taken prisoner.  Samuel follows their trail, drawing on his forest skills, determined to find a way to rescue them.  Each day he confronts the enemy, and the unbelievable cruelty, tragedy, and horror of the war.  But he also discovers unexpected allies, men and women working secretly on behalf of the patriots.  And he learns that he must plunge deep into enemy territory to find his parents.  He must follow them all the way to the British headquarters in New York City.

Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy's struggle in the long and savage war that was the American Revolution--a war that changed people's lives in infinite ways, and whose outcome continues to reverberate throughout America today.


The strongsuit of this book is the outside-the-box information.  Stories of the American Revolution usually focus on big cities or famous events, and the bloodshed is minimal.  Woods Runner is the exact opposite.  I learned a lot about life in the frontier at that time, including that racoon meat is apparently delicious and guns are way more varied than I knew.

My biggest problem with the book is that although it does not shy away from the gritty aspects of war in most respects, it absolutely does in the main plot.  The reason why Samuel's father is captured instead of massacred is tenuous at best, and his mother's capture is even less likely.  Call me a cynic, I know.

I didn't think this was a great novel.  The non-fiction bits were the better parts.  I never really got invested in the story.

And anyway, I'm predisposed to be skeptical about American Revolution stories.  All I can focus on is how awful it is to fight both the people from whom you stole their land (Native Americans) and the people who currently own it (British).  I'm supposed to root for anyone in this mess?  Ugh.  America, not the best beginnings.  Is there ever a good beginning of a country that doesn't include violence and massacre?  Let me know, because I want to read about THAT.

Three out of five merchants who are also spies.

Release Date:  January 2010
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL


Twas the week after Christmas and all through the LEGO Club....kids were arguing about the existance of Santa Claus.  Since they weren't necessarily being mean to each other, I let them go at it.  They've got to figure it out someday.  I don't think any of them were budging in their beliefs anyway.

It was all very normal until this conversation happened, and I had to bite my hand to keep from busting out laughing:

Cynic:  Santa is completely imaginary!
Believer:  Then who brings you presents!?
Cynic:  It's one of those elves.  An elf brings you presents, not Santa, obviously.

Also, there was LEGO building.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt

Book Jacket

Building a house takes time and hard work.  But a home can be destroyed in one terrible moment--as Harper discovers when her dad and her beloved stepmother get a divorce.  Even worse, the divorce separates Harper from her stepsister, Tess.

It's time to escape.  Harper joins a volunteer program to build a house for a family in Tennessee who have lost their home in a tornado--not that she knows the first thing about construction.  Soon Harper is living in a funky motel and working long days with kids from all over the country.  She works alongside Teddy, the son of the family for whom the house is being built.  Their partnership promises to turn into a summer romance, complete with power tools.  For Harper, learning to trust and love Teddy isn't easy, but it could be the first step toward finding her way back home.

Award-winning Dana Reinhardt has written a rich and irresistible story; Harper's honest, sometimes sardonic voice makes this a novel that readers will take to heart.


I am automatically biased toward this book for several reasons:  while I went to school in Tennessee, my university was hit by a tornado, and we underwent major reconstruction for the next couple years. I also spent my high school summers going on construction mission trips such as World Changers, where I learned how to use tools and meet people from around the US.  I also, like Harper, was unprepared for the heat in Tennessee, and felt the need to make up a word to describe it (unlike her, I actually did:  swelterfuego.)

These similarities make me a bit hard on the book, though.  I wanted more description from Teddy about what it was like to survive a tornado.  I couldn't believe Linus's lax attitude about summer relationships. 

However, Harper's need to escape her crumbling family rang very true.  Sometimes we have to run away from our problems to see them with a better perspective.  I was glad that although it delves into a summer love plot, the heart of Harper's story remains with her estranged family members (and how they take steps toward rebuilding their home, see what I did there?).

Four out of five hammers.

Release Date:  May 2008
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN