Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer

Book Jacket

There are two sides to every story, from the princess and the frong, to the beauty and the beast, to Sleeping Beauty and that charming prince.

Now, in a unique collection of reversible verse, classic fairy tales are turned on their heads.  Literally.  Read these clever poems from top to bottom.  Then reverse the lines nad read from bottom to top to give these well-loved stories a delicious new spin.

Witty, irreverent, and exquisitely illustrated, this unique collection holds a cheeky mirror up to language and fairy tales, and renews the magic of both.


I remember the first time I saw a poem reversed--with a new and completely opposite meaning!  I thought it was magic and could only happen once.  Turns out Singer has written a whole book of them!  I love fairy tales, and I love creativity, so of course this was right up my alley.

First, the dual-pictures that accompany each set of poems are absolutely stunning!  Worth it just for those.

On to the poems.  I'll admit that a couple of them didn't strike me as all too impressive.  But the majority were very good.  It's fun to see a classic fairy tale from opposing perspectives, and the snarkiness that ususally accompanies this was wonderful.  I especially liked "Longing for Beauty" and "The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince."  Because I don't think you can really appreciate the coolness of this poetry form without experiencing it, I'll let you read the latter here.

Hacking through briars,
looking for love--
the prince at work.
But I have to be
out in the world.
It's no fun being
in a fairy tale.

In a fairy tale
it's no fun being
out in the world,
never sleeping.
But I have to be
the prince at work,
looking for love,
hacking through briars.

Four out of five doubtful ducklings.

Release Date:  March 2010
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Book Jacket

The Empyrean is the only home fifteen-year-old Waverly has ever known.  Part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space, she and her boyfriend Kieran, will be pioneers of New Earth.  Waverly knows she must marry young in order to have children who can carry on the mission, and Kieran, the handsome captain-to-be, has everything Waverly could want in a husband.  Everyone is sure he's the best choice.  Still, there's a part of Waverly that wants more from life than marriage, and she is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

Suddenly, Waverly's dreams are interrupted by the inconceivable--a violent betrayal by the Empyrean's sister ship, the New Horizon.  The New Horizon's leaders are desperate to populate the new planet first, and will do anything to get what they need: young girls.  In one pivotal moment, Waverly and Kieran are separated, and they find themselves at the helms of dangerous missions, where every move has potentially devastating consequences, and decisions of the heart may lead to disaster.


This book is one of the craziest I've read recently, and I mean that in the best way possible!  Glow is sci-fi lite, which is my favorite kind.  By that I mean the setting is space and the technology is advanced, but the mechanics of how the future works are not the point of the story.  People are! 

And wow, the people that make up the passengers and crew of Empyrean and New Horizon.  Ryan doesn't shy away from digging into her characters and letting both their nobility and their skeeziness shine through.  She made me sad when a child-beating, sexual predator died!  How is that possible?

The thing I loved most about this story is it's delving into religion.  At first glance, it seems like all religion is evil, an opiate to the masses and a cloak for nefarious deeds.  But.  I believe Ryan is doing something more subtle and more awesome.  In the characters of Pastor Anne and Paster Kieran, I believe we are seeing the difference between using religion as a weapon and using religion as a means of giving hope.  Yes, any time one person has control over a large group of people, there is the potential for corruption and evil.  But it doesn't have to be that way!  I can't wait to see how more of this plays out in the sequel.

I haven't even gotten to the characters!  I loved Kieran.  He is a quintessential good boy.  I would totally have him for my captain even though he's only sixteen.  And Seth.  *shudder*  I don't know if a character has ever made me so genuinely disturbed.  I never know what to expect from him!  He's a damaged, angry young man, for sure.  But I he only out for himself?  Does he honestly believe his horrible actions are for the best?  I can't tell!

And Waverly.  Oh, Waverly.  You basically experience everything awful that could ever happen.  Through her story, Ryan explores sexism and the idea of women=uteruses.  (This book covers a lot of ground!  It's so impressive!)  Waverly is a strong young woman who fights against lies, who is willing to undergo massive injury, physical and emotional, in order to save others.  I love her.

Five out of five grav bags.

Release Date:  September 2011
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL RYA

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Book Jacket

No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by...and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape...and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.


It is impossible not to compare Inside Out & Back Again to last year's Caudill nominee All the Broken Pieces.  They are both novels in verse centered around a Vietnamese child living in America after the war forced them from their home.

The main difference is this: while we got Matt's memories of life in Vietnam, we never actually saw him live there.  Inside Out & Back Again begins in Vietnam.  Ha loves her country, her holidays, her family, her papaya tree.  The war is an ever-present reality, but it does not make her love her country less.  We then travel with her out of Vietnam to Alabama.  Even there, Ha is very much a Vietnamese girl. 

I loved seeing her struggle with the English language (it really is ridiculous) and sassily tell her Cowboy that horses say "hee hee" rather than "neigh."  I felt for her when she burned with humiliation as her classmates applauded her ability to say the alphabet when in Vietnam she could do fractions and purify water. 

Bullying is a big theme here.  I hope that books like these will show the complete stupidity and heartlessness of mocking someone from another country.  Or course they are different.  They grew up in different place.  It is my hope that someday differences will be celebrated, and we can learn from cultures other than our own.

I loved Ha's story.  It is heartbreaking and hopeful.  The story could best be summarized in Ha's own words: "Not the same, but not bad."

Four out of five papaya slices.

Release Date:  February 2011
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

39 Clues: The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis

Book Jacket

There's only one rule in the race to find the 39 Clues hidden around the world: TRUST NO ONE.  But when the hunt leades fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, to Japan, their only chance to find the third Clue seems to lie with their unreliable uncle, Alistair Oh.  Will they be foolish enough to make an alliance?  With a Clue on the line, Amy and Dan might not have a choice.  But in the Cahill family, trusting your relatives can get you killed...


I was so excited for this one because: Japan!  But that ended up not being as thrilling as I anticipated.  Which makes sense, when the thing I love most about Japan is its beauty.  That is probably not going to be the highlight of an action/adventure story.  However, I still loved this book because:  romance!

And the best kind, with shady motivations, betrayals, snobby boys, and sassy stuttering girls.  I am of course talking about Amy and Ian!  This is a long haul relationship, and I am 100% on board.  Any couple that is willing to kill the other is one I want to read about.  Possibly my romantic standards are a bit skewed.

Actually, all the best stuff in this book was relationship related.  Alistair remains one of my favorite characters.  The Holts redeemed themselves very slightly, but I still hope they don't last very long.  And the Cobras seemed pretty awesome until they revealed their true colors.  Again.  This book was all about temporary alliances, and I approve.  It was all very fun, and the ending was quite shocking. 

I'm definitely in this series til the end.

Four out of five alchemy symbols.

Release Date:  March 2009
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J39C B.3

Monday, February 27, 2012

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight

Book Jacket

Meet Frankie Pickle...the kid with the world's most amazing imagination!

It takes him on adventures.  It helps him save the day.  And sometimes it gets him into TROUBLE.

When Frankie's mom says he never has to clean his room again, he goes hog wild.  The more he plays, the bigger the mess grows, until it tumbles out of control!  Now Frankie must clean up his act, but will his imagination be enough to conquer the Closet of Doom?


I never thought I would read a book that would make me want to clean my room (yes, I am an adult who still puts off cleaning her room).  Frankie's story was delightful.  He is a bundle of energy, turning a grab for the last breakfast waffle into a temple run to capture a golden statue.  His imagination oftens runs away from him, for better or for worse.

In the case of his ever-accumulating piles of stuff, it is definitely for the worse.  His messy room eventually disgusts even him, and all on his own he cleans up.  The picture of his spotless room was inspirational.  As was the return of the Dryer Sheet Fairy.

This book was genuinely funny.  It was a sweet story of a family.  It was a great depiction of imagination.  The alternating prose and graphic novels styles will make it accessible to beginning readers.  I loved it!

Five out of five helpful dogs.

Release Date:  May 2009
Reading Level: Grade 2+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson

Book Jacket

En route to the Americas in 1609, Elizabeth Persons, a young servant girl, sees her blinding headache as an ominous sign.  Sure enough, a hurricane during the final leg of their journey tosses the ill-fated Sea Venture and its one hundred and fifty passengers and crew onto the dreaded shores of the Bermudas, the rumored home of evil spirits and dangerous natives.  In the months that pass--time marked by grave hardship, mutiny, adventure, danger...and a blossoming love between Elizabeth and the wrecked ship's young cook--she despairs of their ever being rescued.  But she finds hope and strength in a remarkable new friendship, forming a fast bond with the Sea Venture's historian, a poet traveling under the name of William Strachey.  But Will is more than he seems.  To many back home in England, he is known by a different name: Shakespeare.  And he sees in their great shared travails the makings of a magical, truly transcendent work of theater.


Ugh.  This was the exact opposite of my cup of tea.  In fact, I only finished it to prove that I could read something outside my normal boundaries.  I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, and definitely not stories that take their historical protagonists outside of real life's timeline (unless it's cracktastic fun).  And even less so when Shakespeare's genius is attributed to random people.  I'm sorry, but he did not crash land on an island in the Bermudas and get told the plot of The Tempest by a girl named Elizabeth/Miranda.

Alongside the central monstrosity, there is the mess that is Elizabeth/Miranda.  She has a truly tragic past, and real reasons for being neurotic in general and with romance in specific.  I wish they had explored that more fully instead of melting into a traditional romance plot.  I just can't believe a story that goes "I hate men for very believable and traumatizing reasons!  Even you!  Maybe not?  Okay, let's go all the way tonight!"

It doesn't help that Thomas was initially described as being two heads taller than a normal-sized man, so I kept picturing this giant with garbage-lid hands.  Their love scenes were therefore hilarious rather than tender.

The ending was supposed to be sad, but instead I gaped, because it was so obviously a plot device to get Elizabeth/Miranda where she next needed to be. 

This book was everything I hate. 

One out of five stars.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler

Book Jacket

It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives.  They've been best friends almost as long--up until last November, when everything changed.  Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh's family gets an American Online CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so Emma can install it on her new computer.  When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto Facebook...but Facebook hasn't been invented yet!

Josh and Emma are looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future.  Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates--it's all there.  But it's not what they expected.  And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change.  As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right--and wrong--in the present.


I loved this book!  The nostalgia was fantastic--reliving the cassette tapes, the dial-up, the giddy joy of holding six conversations on AIM at once.  I even shrieked a little bit from both happiness and horror when I was reminded that the internet used to mean your phone line was tied up.  1996 is less than 20 years ago, but in many ways, it seems an eternity past.  Crazy times.  But fun to relive!

I also loved the premise.  Two kids being shown their future, and having the power to control it!  What could go wrong?  Turns out, a lot of things.  Emma and Josh are great foils for each other; Emma is too controlling, and Josh is too laid back.  Throughout the story Emma has to learn to stop trying so hard to control her relationships, while Josh learns to step up and take risks, both of them opening themselves to hurt as well as hope.

Seeing Facebook through the eyes of someone who was just experiencing the internet for the first time was hilarious, and made me question some of the things I put out for the world to see.  Does anyone really care if I'm making macaroni and cheese?  Maybe my 1996-self does, actually.

The ending was lovely, though I wish we'd gotten a bit more.  For a book that gives two teenagers a glimpse into their future, I thought the whole thing was very believable.  I loved both protagonists, and I cheered for their presents and their futures.

Five out of five massive cell phones.

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

Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

Book Jacket

In the fourth volume of the critically acclaimed Underland Chronicles, Gregor is drawn ever deeper into a brewing crisis.  For generations, rats have fun the mice--or "nibblers"--out of whatever lands they've claimed, keeping them constantly on the move.  But not the mice are disappearing, and the young queen Luxa, who credits them with saving her life, is determined to find out why.

When Gregor joins her on a fact-finding mission, he's relieved that this time, at least, there's no prophecy on the line.  But when the true fate of the mice is revealed, it is something far more sinister than Gregor or Luxa have imagined--and it points the way to the final prophecy he has yet to fulfill.  Gregor's role as warrior and his abilities as a rager are put to the test in this suspenseful, action-packed penultimate installment of Suzanne Collins's thrilling Underland Chronicles.


One of the reasons I love fantasy is that by telling real-world stories in a fantasy-setting, emotions can run deeper or take us by surprise.  So it is with the fourth Gregor book, where we get tyrannical dictators and genocide.  This is unfortunately an all too common occurance in our past and present.  So common that often news of another genocide just becomes daily news.  But take it into the Underworld and play it out between rats and mice?  Suddenly I am a ball of emotion.  The key, of course, is to then take that emotion and drive to action from fantasy back into reality. 

Gregor is still awesomesauce.  In this book, his relationship with Luxa is fleshed out a bit.  Ah, young love!  With about a kajillion obstacles.  Which is just how I like my made-up romances.

I love Collins because of her unflinching look at war and peace.  Gregor is decidedly a pacifist....who is also a Rager (think best warrior x20).  He keeps getting into situations where he has to fight, but he hates it.  And he takes every moment possible to jump to peaceful resolutions, or realizes belatedly that talking might have been best.  There is no easy answer here.  As we head into the last book, a massive war is in the making.  The people and animals of Regalia can't just let the rats wipe everybody out, right?  That would be wrong.  But is violence also wrong? 

Collins never lets her readers fall into any easy belief, but rather challenges us to think deeply and painfully about what is right and wrong.  All the while telling a really entertaining adventure story.  That is skill indeed.

Four out of five nursery songs.

Release Date:  May 2007
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL COL

Thursday, February 23, 2012


The boys in the 3rd-5th grade LEGO Club have taken to building together.  I am a fan!  This week they constructed a fortress tower, complete with a dungeon, an airship, and a whole bunch of LEGO warriors to defend it.  I certainly wouldn't want to attack them.

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

Book Jacket

For twelve years, Joylin's life was just fine, thank you very much.  A rough game of basketball with the guys was all it took to put a smile on her dirt-smudged face.

But then, overnight, her body starts changing without her permission.  Suddenly boys are all she can think about.  Where did these crazy ideas, like trying on dresses and batting her eyes, come from?  Any why can't she stop thinking about Santiago?  Does he even know she exists?  Any day now, Joylin might become someone she doesn't even know...or like.

Then an accident takes more than just her breath away, and all the weirdness of life screams to a halt, as Joylin is reminded of what really matters and who her true friends are. 

Looking for love can be funny, embarrassing, and even downright yucky, and award-winning author Nikki Grimes captures it all brilliantly.


Oh man.  It was painful to relive adolesence through Joylin, and by painful, I mean hilarious and embarrassing.  I remember that confusion of "why am I doing this!?" and scoping out other girls to see what I should be like.  Grimes manages to deal with that huge teenage identity crisis in a concise novel in verse, and for that I am super impressed.

I absolutely adored Joylin's best friend KeeLee.  She is a precher's kid who gets it.  She knows she isn't perfect, and she wants to be seen as a person and not a label.  But she does rebel and try to be bad--she genuinely wants to talk to God and do right.  She is Joylin's beacon of hope, and their relationships strains were painful to watch because...KeeLee!  She should be in everyone's life!  I especially liked when she explains to Joylin that she tried wearing heels for herself, but Joylin was trying skirts for a boy.  And that makes all the difference.

Ironically, the biggest plot twist, with the accident that is mentioned at the very beginning, did nothing for me.  I don't even think it is really necessary.  Should have done without.

Ooo, but also I liked Joylin's family.  Caden seems like a really cool kid, and I would love for him to be my younger brother.  The pressures of their father felt real, but so did his slow appreciation of his kids for who they are. 

Four out of five navy blue outfits.

Release Date: September 2011
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently a part of our collection.

Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang

Book Jacket

Thaddeus doesn’t like his new sister (she’s not that smart— and she gets all the attention). He likes her even less when he discovers that she’s an inter-dimensional conduit for peace-loving aliens (who are totally lame—all they want to do is knit socks for the homeless and have sing-a-longs!). But what’s even worse is that no one will believe him about any of this! How is he ever going manage to grow up to become the President of Earth?


This was my least favorite of Yang's books.  There were some cute moments, but overall, it didn't leave me feeling like I'd learned anything about life the way his works usually do.

Things I liked:  the aliens!  They are adorable, and I am totally in favor of their planetary takeover.  The scene where they are mad at Thaddeus for tricking them, then immediately assure him that they forgive him was brilliant.  And I liked the fact that his sister really WAS an alien conduit.  That was the exact opposite of what I expected.  And Thaddeus's decision at the end was pretty touching.

However.  Thaddeus himself was my biggest dislike.  He is arrogant and dismissive of others.  And even though he learns to love his little sister....he still remains arrogant and dismissive.  There wasn't a whole lot of character development.

Three out of five space pods.

Release Date: April 2010
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not currently a part of our collection.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book Jacket

Jason Blake is an autistic twelve-year-old boy in a neurotypical world.  Most days, it's just a matter of time before something goes wrong.  But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across PhoenixBird, who posts stories to the same online site as he does.  Jason can be himself when he writes, and he thinks that PhoenixBird--her name is Rebecca--could be his first real friend.  As desperate as Jason is to meet her, he's terrified that if they do meet, Rebecca will only see his autism and not who Jason really is.  By acclaimed writer Nora Raleigh Baskin, this breathtaking depiction of an autistic boy's struggles--and a story for anyone who has ever worried about fitting in.


I really appreciate stories that get inside the heads of non-neurotypical people (see also, Marcelo in the Real World).  But I also wonder, how do the authors get this information?  A lot of her descriptions, of Jason feeling like his head is floating, and especially of his painfully logical interactions with others, feel very true.  But every once in a while Jason says he doesn't remember how he got to such a place or how something bad happened.  Maybe that is how autism works, but it seemed out of place when normally he over-processes every stimuli.

Okay, that was a whole lot of nitpicking.  Basically, this book is very good.  It's heartbreaking to see Jason lovingly describe his family members and show his love to them, but then watch his mother misinterpret what he is doing as disinterest.  His relationship online with Rebecca was agonizing, because just like Jason, the reader anticipates/dreads their inevitable meeting.  I was very pleased with what resulted, though.  Not too schmaltzy, not too pessimistic.

In the end, Jason realizes that he is fine the way he is.  He will always have to work harder at fitting in than neurotypicals.  But he accepts that and chooses to go on.

Also, he is a fabulous writer.  I kind of want Bennu's story to be a real book!  The part after the surgery when he is different but his face is the same!?  Oh my word, the emotion.  C'mon Baskin, write that story!

Four out of five Storyboard Conventions.

Release Date: March 2010
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  CAUDILL

39 Clues: One False Note by Gordon Korman

Book Jacket

The race is on to find 39 Clues that safeguard a great power, and fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, are shocked to find themselves in the lead.  The search seems to be taking them to Vienna, and they hold a coded piece of Mozart's sheet music that's key to finding the next Clue.  But tailed by a pack of power-hungry relatives, Amy and Dan can't see if they are sailing toward victory--or straight into a deadly trap.


My love for this series increased exponentially during the second installment.  I think the reason is--they left the United States!  The 39 Clues series has now turned into a travel and history adventure, which is basically my favorite thing ever.

I still find it unbelievable that two kids are winning against genius evil relatives, but it no longer bothers me so much.  There is so much else that is awesome!  Train trips through the Alps.  Learning about Mozart and his lesser known but equally skilled sister, Nannerl.  Racing through the canals of Venice.  And in the next book, they are headed toward Japan!  I am so there.

I admire the vision of the series--telling a huge adventure story while sneakily adding in a lot of history, science, music, and geography.  Readers learn things and have fun at the same time!  Brilliant.

Four out of five CD stores.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Book Jacket

Room 105--Miss Stretchberry

September 13

I don't want to
because boys
don't write poetry.

Girls do.

September 21

I tried.  Can't do it.
Brain's empty.

This is the story of Jack
who finds his voice
with the help of


A book written in poetry focusing on the death of a beloved dog (not much of a spoiler--that the dog died is super obvious from the beginning)?  I HATE IT.  I mean.  It's original, and it's cool how this kid grows in confidence and learns that poetry is for everybody.

But I hate books where animals die.  They are so sweet and innocent, and why would the focus of any book be about their death!?  I much prefer to stay in my naive wonderland where animals never die. 

So yes, this book is very well done.  I think people who are less of animal lovers (or less tender-hearted) than me would like it very much.

However, this is the exact opposite of the kind of book I like.  So.  Lower points.

Three out of five yellow pieces of paper.

Release Date: March 2003
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems

Book Jacket

Gerald is careful.  Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling.  Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.

Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

In We Are in a Book! Gerald and Piggie discover the joy of being read.  But what will happen when the book ends?!


When I started reading this book, I was completely thrown by Piggie's initial wink and "Thank you."  Had I missed something?  Were pages missing?  Had Willems gone mad?  But when I finished the story, I actually cooed "awww!" in understanding and appreciation. 

We Are in a Book! is all kinds of creative.  I'm a reader, so I spend a lot of brainspace worrying about and loving characters as if they are real people.  But I've never considered what it would be like if the characters realized they were part of a story.  Would they freak out?  Take advantage of the reader?  Get excited?

Turns out Gerald and Piggie do it all.  They even have an existential crisis when the realize that the book will end.  Dun dun duuun.  I was thoroughly entertained.  Willems is brilliant.

Five out of five bananas.

Release Date: September 2010
Reading Level: Ages 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: MONARCH

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang and Derk Kirk Kim

Book Jacket

Meet Duncan.  Charming and brave, he's the Princess's favorite--and he's on his way to winning the throne.  But lately, the walls of reality in Duncan's kingdom are wearing a little thin...

Meet Gran'pa Greenbax.  Nothing seems to satisfy this greedy old frog's longing for a pool full of gold--until, one day, a mysterious smile appears in the sky.  Has his chance at happiness come at last?

Meet Janet.  Her nine-to-five life takes a turn for the romantic when she learns in an email from a mysterious Nigerian prince that she has been chosen to liberate his family's vast fortune.  All he needs is her banking information.


Gene Luen Yang hits my buttons every time.  I was skeptial when I started reading The Eternal Smile--I don't tend to like collections of short stories, and also there were a lot of frogs.  But then there was twist!  And I was hooked.

Turns out all three stories, while remarkably different in content and drawing style, all revolve around reality and fantasy.  What makes this so fantastic is that each story tells a different take on the battle.  Is living in a fantasy world always harmful?  Always good?  Can living in a fantasy world teach you something valuable about the real world?

As an avid reader, movie watcher, TV absorber, I love escaping into fantasy.  Curling up in someone else's life and living their drama gives me joy.  And the only thing that keeps me from seeing myself as a lazy bum is the belief that you can learn from stories.  Watching someone else live through the ups and downs of life (whether in a realistic show like Parenthood or a fantastical possibility like The Hunger Games) can broaden our worldviews, increase our empathy, help us avoid mistakes, and encourage us to be heroes.

I loved The Eternal Smile for delving into this issue.  Each story started out kind of weird, but by the time it reached its conclusion, I was completely sold.

Four out of five pools of gold.

Release Date: April 2009
Reading Level: Ages 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer

Book Jacket

Vladimir Tod: Normal eighth-grade student?  Or powerful vampire?

Junior high really stinks for thirteen-year-old Vladimir Tod.  Bullies harass him, the principal is dogging him, and the girl he likes prefers his best friend.  Oh, and Vlad has a secret: His mother was human, but his father was a vampire.  With no idea of the extent of his powers and no one to teach him, Vlad struggles daily with his blood cravings and his enlarged fangs.  When a stranged substitute teacher begins to question him a little too closely, Vlad worries that his cover is about to be blown.  But then he realizes he has a much bigger problem: He's being hunted by a vampire killer who is closing!


The middle schoolers at my monthly book talks LOVE this series.  They convinced me to give it a try, and....I'm not blown away?  To be fair, this first book is mostly set up.  By the end, Vladimir is aware of a lot of things, and his new knowledge will probably mean for some more exciting sequels.  Not sure if I'll read them, but I assume they are better.

It might also be a case of vampire-overload.  I have pretty much killed myself on supernatural romances (except for Vampire Diaries, I love it).  I can appreciate that Vlad is a new take--half-human, half-vampire, successfully living a normal life with a friend who knows his secret.

My main problem was the plot.  Which is not a good main problem to have.  I was never very worried, and the twists were evident from miles away.  All in all, not super awesome.  If anyone has read the rest of the series, let me know if it's worth reading on!

Two out of five blood capsule sandwiches.

Release Date: August 2007
Reading Level: Ages 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL BRE

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Variant by Robison Wells

Book Jacket

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life. 

He was wrong.

Now he's trapped in a school that's surrounded by a razor-wire fence.  A school where video cameras monitor his every move.  Where there are no adults.  Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school's real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape--his only real hope for survival--may be impossible.


Wow.  I'd forgotten how good it feels to be completely in the grip of a novel, desperately turning pages to find out what happens next.  Variant is super compelling, pretty creepy, and fairly creative.

I love stories of school/prisons and of kids surviving without adults with what-is-going-on!? plots.  Benson is in the same position as us, creeped out by the weirdness but with no idea WHY.  And that is the biggest draw Variant offers.  Understandably, it is when we begin to get answers that the plot takes a turn for the worse.  In a novel like this, the reader's brain fires off idea after idea, trying to figure out what is going on.  And sometimes the actual reveal is a bit of a letdown after your own creativity.

Highlight for spoilers.  For instance, I LOVED Jane's reveal as an android.  I totally wasn't expecting it, and it upped the level of weird.  And I liked the end reveal that the school was made to test the androids (I assume testing them to make them more human?), not to test the humans.  However.  If that is the case, why all the rules and weirdness and killing?  Couldn't it be a regular school with real teachers?  The androids could join in, "move away" if malfunctioning, or simply graduate out.  There's no need for the prison setting.  There are so many other believable ways to test androids than to kidnap a bunch of kids.

My love for the surprises was about gone when I got to the last chapter.  And wouldn't you know, Wells pulled one over on me AGAIN and now I am newly intrigued and desperate for the sequel that won't come out until fall of 2012.

Four out of five security cameras.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lincoln Award Nominees: FINISHED

I did what I could.  It's not good to meet your goals the first time around, right?  That means you set them too low.  Yeah, that's going to be my reasoning for not reading all the Caudill and Lincoln nominated books.  Next year I'll finish them all!

Here are the Lincoln books I read who earned a five out of five rating:

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

I really enjoyed each of these three books, but the standout for me was Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan.  I loved Blake (and okay, my love for this book is influenced by our mutual adoration of Doctor Who) and his relationship dilemma.  He learned about love and friendship and life without ever straying into melodrama.  That deserves all the awards.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Jacket

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.


First, major props to the designer of this cover.  It is easily one of my favorite book covers ever. 

Stiefvater has an almost magical ability to explain away the squickiness of her book's romance to the smallest degree possible.  Falling in love with a wolf?  ...Kinda weird.  But she has a bit of wolf in her?  So it's okay?  Love at first sight is only a little bit creepy?

Whatever.  This is the sort of book where you have to throw out your romantic reservations and let yourself bask in the drama and angst.  How can they stay together when Sam is a werewolf!?  Add in some other werewolves with violent tendencies, and you've got a plot.

I did really like Stiefvater's take on werewolves.  Instead of the moon, temperature is what forces them to change form.  And each year the time they spend as a human decreases until they are a wolf always and forever.  Very clever.

I can see how a lot of people would really adore this series.  While I did enjoy it, I have to say it's just not my cup of tea (Earl Grey with cream and sugar).  Love at first sight is unbelievable to me at the best of times, and when one lover is a human and the other is wolf, my hesitation is increased a hundredfold.  Kudos to Stiefvater for making me care at all, really.

I won't be reading the next two books in the series, but this was a decent read.

Three out of five chocolate shops.

Release Date: August 2009
Reading Level: Ages 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL STI

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Book Jacket

As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts.  They were also each other's only friend.  So when Cameron disappeared without warning, Jennifer thought she'd lost the one person who would ever understand her.  Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed.  Known as Jenna, she is popular, happy, and dating--everything "Jennifer" couldn't be.  But she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend.

When Cameron suddenly reappears, they both are confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.


With a title like Sweethearts and a wonderfully simplistic cover of a heart-shaped cookie, I picked up this book for a light and fluffy romance.  That....was so not the case.  Because my expectations were so wrong, I think my opinion of the story is unjustly skewed toward the negative.  I'm going to try to be positive though, because if you know it's not a romance, then you will probably enjoy it much more!

What Sweethearts is, really, is an examination of those relationships that are more than friendship, more than romance, more than family.  Jenna had a fairly craptacular childhood, but she had BFF Cameron to make it bearable.  When he disappears, she reinvents herself and worries every single day that someone will reveal her past as a bullied nobody.  Then Cameron comes back, and her world goes crazy. 

I loved seeing the psychology of someone who desperately tries not to be herself.  I went through a bit of a personality makeover after high school, and I empathized with Jenna's desire to be something more, to resist old tendencies, to fear reverting back.  At the same time, there was a subtle thread of hope showing that despite her walled-off defenses, Jenna has learned to trust people a little.

Which is another thing I loved!  Steph is a fantastic best friend!  She was understanding, fiercely loyal to Jenna, and interested in knowing her mysterious friend more without pushing faster than Jenna could handle.  The rest of Jenna's friends were very real; sometimes annoying, sometimes hilarious, always teenagers.

I also really loved Jenna's mom and stepfather.  They had a wonderfully refreshing family atmosphere.  Jenna's mom was a failure in many ways, but she was believeably clueless about the ways she hurt Jenna.  Most of the time she truly thought she was acting in Jenna's best interest, and the Best Stepfather Ever sometimes had to step in and point out Jenna's side of things.  I adored the family stuff.

Okay, I've talked myself into a much higher rating.  But remember!  Not a traditional romance!  Do not read this if you're in the mood for fluff.  It's much deeper than that.

Four out of five hidden candy bars.

Release Date: February 2008
Reading Level: Ages 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL ZAR

Thursday, February 9, 2012

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Book Jacket

Three very different stories.  One simple desire.  To fit in.

Jin Wang starts at a new school where he's the only Chinese-American student.  When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn't want to be associated with an FOB like him.  Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he's in love with an all-American girl. 

Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls.  But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee's annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny's reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again.

The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines.  He's ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven.  But there's no place in heaven for a monkey.  Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other?  They're going to have to find a way--if they want to fix the disasters their lives have become.


This book!  I was skeptical when I found out a graphic novel won a Printz award (hello, prejudice), but I totally understand why now.  Gene Luen Yang, author of Level Up, has officially become an author that I want to follow through every publication.  His humor, art, and ability to weave a complex and emotional story is simply astounding.

I enjoyed Jin's story and the tale of the Monkey King, but every time Chin-Kee took a chapter, I was super uncomfortable (as was intended: he flagrantly inbodies every negative Asian stereotype ever believed).  But by the end, I was completely won over.  I believe there was even a moment when I gasped at the page, astounded and delighted by what Yang had done.

All three stories tell of someone who wants to escape themselves and be something more.  But the lesson they each must learn is to be comfortable and happy with who they are.  An admirable lesson for us all.

Five out of five transformer toys.

Release Date: September 2006
Reading Level: Ages 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC YAN


We did a dinosaur theme for the older kids too, but they finished with time to spare.  What else to do but construct the tallest, skinniest tower IN THE WORLD!?  Because they used the 2x2 blocks, it kept falling apart, but they managed to make it impressively tall.  Next time they hope to have a bigger support and make it even more awesome!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

Book Jacket

Newsweek called renowned minister Timoty Keller "a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God.  In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God.  Now, in The Prodigal God, he uses one of the best-known Christian parables to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation.

Taking his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity, Keller uncovers the essential message of Jesus, locked inside his most familiar parable.  Within that parable Jesus reveals God's prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic.  This book will challenge both the devout and skeptics to see Christianity in a whole new way.


The story of the prodigal son is one of the most popular of Jesus's parables.  But the usual accompanying sermon "No matter what you do, God is always waiting to welcome you back with open arms!" covers about....2% of the intended message.  I had no idea of this until I read Keller's book a couple years ago.  Then I forgot all that and relearned it this week upon rereading his awesome book.

Jesus is preaching not only to the self-seeking hedonistic "sinners".  There's a crowd of Pharisees listening to him too, and it is to them that the story is chiefly addressed.  The first son who runs away with his inheritance is only Part 1.  The crux of the story comes when the father lovingly confronts his elder son about his self-righteousness.  The elder son's response isn't given, meaning we have to answer for him from our on Pharisee hearts.

And that is what I got out of Keller's book.  I am so often an elder brother.  I look down on others (ironically, usually other elder brothers) and seek to control God's blessings by being so good he has to favor me.  Keller deconstructs all those prideful thoughts, then gives hope by describing God's extravagant grace in bringing all people to Jesus.

This short book packs a wallop, and I recommend it to everyone.

Five out of five best coats.

Release Date: October 2008
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not yet in Dunlap's collection.

Caudill Award Nominees: FINISHED

I'm calling it quits.  The 2013 Caudill books have been announced.  Even though the 2012 winner has not yet been announced, I can't commit to finishing the nominations.  That means I am 7 books short.  Oops.  But I will tell you my favorite regardless!  First, the books that I gave a five out of five rating to were:

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Oh man, this is really hard!  I am having a very difficult time choosing between Broken Pieces, Mountain, and Flygirl.  This decision is no easier because they are all incredibly different books!  Poetic alienation?  Asian mythology?  Racial history?  How can I possibly decide?

Aaaahhh, I'm going to go with All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg, because in addition to teaching me about the aftermath of the Vietnamese War and being really emtionally stirring, it also made me like books written in verse!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Book Jacket

New city. New friends.  New Paige?

When Paige's parents move her familly from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn't know where she fits in anymore.  At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations and experiments with her secret identity:  ARTIST.  With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family's expectations.  But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Laura Lee Gulledge's stunning art digs deep into the soul and exposes all the ups, downs, and sideways feelings of being a young adult on the edge of the rest of your life.


I loved watching Paige grow in confidence as she decided to share her notebook--her thoughts, desires, emotions--with first her friends and then her family.  She forced herself outside of her comfort zone, she purposefully did awesome artsy things for the community, and she was a consistently good friend.  All that, and she never once came across as fake or unrealistic.  I really liked Paige!

But the real greatness of this book is not its plot or characters:  it is the drawings.  Gulledge has a phenomenal talent for drawing the emotion rather than the literal scene.  For instance, when Paige decides to show her notebook to Gabe, she is shown handing him her heart.  Which is exactly what it feels like, to give something so intimate to someone else!  Later, Gabe returns the favor by giving Paige his heart (his notebook of stories).

Again and again I had to stop reading because the drawings were so perfect, whether it was the cold of NYC cutting into her or Paige pulling a brick wall around her shoulders as a blanket to keep the world out.  Gulledge is a genius.

Five out of five metaphors made real.

Release Date: May 2011
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: GRAPHIC GUL

Monday, February 6, 2012

Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor

Book Jacket

Aggie isn't expecting visitors at the Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smokey Mountains.  Since Harold died, she is all alone with her cat, Ugly, and keeping up with the bills and repairs has become next to impossible.  The pool is empty, the garden is overgrown, and not a soul has come to stay in nearly three months.  When she reluctantly places a For Sale ad in the newspaper, Aggie doesn't know that Kirby and his mom will need a room when their car breaks down on the way to Kirby's new reform school.  Or that Loretta and her parents will arrive in her dad's plumbing company van on a trip meant to honor the memory of Loretta's birth mother.  Or that Clyde Dover will answer the For Sale ad in such a hurry and move in with his daughter, Willow, looking for a brand-new life to replace the one that was factured when Willow's mom left.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that Aggie and her guests find just the friends they need at the shabby motel in the middle of nowhere.

In Barbara O'Connor's warmhearted novel, a cast of unforgettable characters learn that hope is sometimes discovered in the most unlikely places.


The alternating-narrator format has to be done extremely well in order to interest me, and unfortunately, Greetings from Nowhere didn't do it.  I think the book would have been much better if the whole thing was told from Aggie's point of view--we could have seen the kids through her eyes, watch her influence them and react to them.  And anyway, Aggie was the only character to really become real to me.  Her pain at losing her long-time husband was vibrant and hard to read about.

As for the others?  Kirby was supposed to be this horrible kid, but because the only evidence we saw of that (stealing a candy bar from a gas station) was childish, I never believed it.  Because we were in his head, we knew he just wanted to be valued and loved.  I couldn't for a moment believe he deserved to go to a reform school.

Loretta was sweet and peppy, dealing with an unexpected emotional event.  Willow was sad and depressed, dealing with an unexpected emotional event.  In the space of a few days, they become best friends!  Who will keep in contact despite living hours away from each other and only staying that the same motel together!  Whaaat?  That doesn't happen.

The crux of the book relies on the fact that we believe these four people have made a huge and enduring impact on each other.  I didn't see that.  Maybe Willow and Aggie pass that test, but no one else.  I just didn't care that these characters interacted and talked to each other, and I certainly didn't believe it mattered.  Except for Aggie.  She was awesome.

Two out of five pig latin phrases.

Release Date: March 2008
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

PAWS to Read

My favorite program returns!  The Peoria Humane Society came back to the library for another PAWS to Read program.  Once again, adorable little kids read to adorable little (and massive!) dogs.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Book Jacket

It is 1984, and fifteen-year-old Maya is on her way to India with her father.  She carries with her the ashes of her mother, who recently committed suicide, and arrives in Delhi on the eve of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination and one of the bloodiest riots in the country's history.

Maya is separated from her father and must rely upon the help of a young man she's just met--they mysterious, kindhearted Sandeep--if she is to stay alive and make it home.  But as her love for Sandeep begins to blossom, Maya will have to face the truth about her painful adolescence...if she's ever to imagine her future.


Maya experiences the worst thing a teenaged girl could imagine, AND the worst thing a daughter could imagine.  And that is before the book begins, and tragedy piles on top of tragedy.  Seriously, this girl!  She is born to a Sikh father and a Hindu mother, and she is raised in India.  She speaks three languages, but no matter where she goes--Canada or India--she doesn't fit in.

After the horrific riots in New Delhi, I am amazed that Maya finds the strength to keep living.  She endures and sees more than anyone ever should.  I have the utmost respect for her.  Sandeep is also wonderful.  At first childish and lusty, he grows by seeing Maya's pain.  He realizes there are greater things to live for, people to fight for, and his own mysterious past to discover and forgive.

I loved this book even though it tore my heart to shreds.  It isn't an easy book to read.  But its message of perseverance, forgiveness, and love--along with all the messy consequences when we fail--is worth the pain.

Four out of five marigold petals.

Release Date: March 2011
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL OST

The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey

Book Jacket

Philip Yancey has a way of confronting our most cherished but misguided notions about faith.  In The Bible Jesus Read, he challenges the perception that the New Testament is all that matters and the Old Testament isn't worth taking the time to read and understand.

Yancey admits that, like many Christians, he usually avoided the Old Testament.  After all, why bother with writings that can be so baffling, boring, even offensive to the modern mind?

But a surprising discovery awaited Yancey when he began to explore how the Old Testament related to his life today.  Those seemingly irrelevant Hebrew Scriptures took on a startling immediacy, portraying a passionate relationship between God and people against a backdrop of human experience.  Like nothing else, the Old Testament depicts the cries, the complaints, the deep, insistent questionings of the heart, the stuff of life we all must contend with.

With his candid, signature style, Yancey interacts with the Old Testament from the perspective of his own deeply personal journey.  From Moses, the amazing prince of Egypt, to the psalmists' turbulent emotions and the prophets' oddball rantings, Yancey paints a picture of Israel's God--and ours--that fills in the blanks of a solely New Testament vision of the Almighty.


I've become more partial to the Old Testament in recent years, but Yancey has made me fall head over heels in love.  The rawness of the ancient Hebrews crying out to God for answers, and the rawness of God crying out to his people to love Him and return to Him....those are emotions I can relate to.  There are no easy answers in the OT.  Stories are confusing and sometimes awful.  People rant and rave against God, then rejoice and praise Him in the next breath.  It seems nonsensical, and maybe it is.  But isn't life just the same?

My attitude toward God can drastically alter in the space of one sentence or one event or one discovery.  Sometimes I wonder if He really exists.  Sometimes I want to shout from the rooftops how good He is to me.  Sometimes I can't bother to care one way or the other.  All of that is also in the OT.

I particularly liked Yancey's close-up look at both Job and Ecclesiastes.  And I especially loved the last chapter that bridges the yearnings and questions of the OT with the answers found in the person of Jesus in the NT.  Why does suffering exist?  God never answers this.  Instead, He sent His son Jesus to live on earth, suffer for us and suffer with us, to show that God cares.  And really, I would rather know that God cares about me while I suffer than to know why suffering exists at all.

God is deeply interested in relationship.  I used to think this was a primarily NT idea.  Not at all!  God's presence and desire for intimacy with His people screams throughout the pages of the Bible.  I'm so grateful that Yancey made me aware.

Five out of five searching questions.

Release Date: August 1999
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently in Dunlap's library.

LEGO Construction Club

Dinosaurs!  This was probably the most exciting theme yet.  Kids built actual dinosaurs, dinosaur holding cells, and trucks designed to capture and transport dinosaurs.  Pictures below the cut!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bluestem Award Nominees: COMPLETED

My goal to read all the Illinois Award Nominated books is now 1/2 over!  With....barely any time left.  I very much doubt I will get all the Caudill and Lincoln books read.  But I will try!

The Bluestem category is fairly odd.  3rd-5th graders can be wildly immature or surprisingly deep.  The books nominated for the Bluestem award are similarly all over the place.  I tended to favor the more mature books, although some of the younger-slanted books impressed me as well.

These are the books that I gave a five out of five rating:

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
Adventures in Cartooning by James Sturm
All Stations!  Distress!  April 15, 1912: The Day the Titanic Sank by Don Brown
Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Swindle by Gordon Korman

These were all really great books, but I will be giving my vote to Rules by Cynthia Lord for telling an honest story about the uncomfortable truths of navigating friendships and families.

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

Book Jacket

The Sisters Grimm, Daphne and Sabrina, have been in foster homes ever since their parents' mysterious disappearance.  Now, they're living in Ferryport Landing with Granny Relda Grimm, who they thought died long ago! 

Strange things are happening at Granny's house, and some of the town's residents seem oddly familiar.  Then Granny tells the sisters they are ancestors of the famous Brothers Grimm and they must now take on the family's responsibility--they are the new fairy-tale detectives!  Their first case:  a giant is destroying the town and it might just have something to do with a boy named Jack and a certain famous beanstalk.


Full disclosure:  I tried to read this book over a year ago, but never finished it because it didn't grip my attention.  Then it was nominated for the Bluestem award, and I felt obligated to give it another chance.

I didn't dislike it as much as I first thought, but...I still wasn't won over.  Normally I am a huge fan of fairy tales, but this rendition fell flat.  I like my fairy tales full of whimsy and other-worldly charm.  The Fairy-Tale Detectives felt too immersed in real life without much of the whimsy I adore. (The movie Enchanted is my go-to example of how to do this right.)

Also, what exactly is Buckley's definition of a fairy tale?  Giants, Prince Charming, and the Three Little Pigs all fit my definition, but Ichabod Crane and Arthur?  I was confused when I saw them appear on page...aren't they more fictional characters (or fictional accounts of possible real people) rather than fairy tales?

I didn't think much of the book.  Puck was about the only redeeming character, and once again, what?  Fairy tale??  At least he was funny.

Two out of five jail breaks.

Release Date: August 2005
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Book Jacket

It's 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London.  Janie Scott feels uncertain in her strange new school until she meets Benjamin Burrows, the local apothecary's curiously defiant son, who dreams of becoming a spy.

Benjamin's father promises Janie a cure for homesickness, and it seems to work.  But Mr. Burrows is no ordinary apothecary, and he holds dangerous secrets.  When he disappears, Benjamin and Janie find themselves entrusted with his sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia.  And Russian spies are intent on getting their hands on it.

Discovering transformative elixirs they never imagined could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous quest to save the apothecary and prevent an impending nuclear disaster.

From award-winning author Maile Meloy comes a novel that sparkles with life and magic.  Breathtakingly illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, this is a story that will delight kids and return not-so-young readers to a world in which the extraordinary is possible.


This book was so enjoyable.  I love stories in which Americans move to awesome foreign countries (in this case, England), because I get to live vicariously through them.  I love stories that introduce me to new time periods.  The Apothecary is set seven years after WWII ended, and I was shocked to see how huge an impact the war had on England after all that time. And I absolutely adore books with individually distinct but all awesome characters discovering a wonderful fantastical world in the midst of raging adventure and daring exploits.

Turns out apothecaries are basically wizards.  With the right combination of materials, kids turn into birds, become invisible, or create a truth serum.  Meloy somehow managed to make this seem unbelievable, and then completely customary.  I like when magical/fantastical skills are equated with power--this person has extra power, so what are they going to do with it?  Like most great books, The Apothecary is full of people who have power and want to control the nations as well as our heroes who have power and want to use it for peace.

Janie is a wonderful main character, and I especially loved her parents.  Benjamin is adorable, and I really loved their slow-paced romance.  But I've got to admit, my favorite characters were no-nonsense Jin Lo and trickster Pip.  They stole every page they were on.

This book has it all: adventure, romance, history, life-or-death stakes.  It's fantastic.

Five out of five melted gold earrings.

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