Thursday, March 29, 2012

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Book Jacket

It's the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School.  There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all.  He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn't let them get away with much...until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything--and everyone.

Rob Buyea's engaging first novel features seven narrators, each with a unique story, and each with a different perspective on what makes their teacher so special.


I have a feeling this is a book that will inspire teachers to be more like Mr. Terupt and makes the rest of us wish we'd had a Mr. Terupt at some point in our schooling.

The set up of this book, with each chapter narrated by a different kid, took some getting used to (seven different voices is a lot!).  Buyea nails some of the kids' voices, while others seem like a stereotype rather than authentic.  However, as the book goes on, the chapters flow more easily, and Buyea does a great job of characterizing the kids differently and quickly.

The real magic of this book is how so many lessons are crammed in, and quite believably, too.  These fifth graders learn that everyone has their own secrets and hurts; they learn to love and learn from special needs kids; they learn forgiveness and tough love; they learn how to cope with guilt and how to learn from mistakes; they learn that prayer can make tough times a little easier; they learn that when someone in your life is special, you should make sure that person knows how you feel.

I loved these kids, especially Danielle, Jeffrey, and Jessica.  I kind of hope there's a sequel, detailing their sixth grade year, though I hope it is less dramatic than this one.  For their sakes.

Five out of five free days.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Emma by Kaoru Mori

Book Jacket

An upstairs gentleman and a downstairs servant share a secret love.

The saga begins.  In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid.  When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined.  But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions.


I'm a big fan of star-crossed lovers.  Especially when they are star-crossed across class lines (which is why I shipped Cybil/Branson so hard in Downton Abbey, though sadly, they didn't get the development or screen time that I thought they deserved). 

I should have loved Emma.  But it was simply too unbelievable for me to appreciate. 

Let's start with the good:  the artwork!  I adore Mori's artistry.  I could have ignored the words and simply looked at the pictures and been quite happy.  I also liked Emma's boss, William's old governess.  She was sparky and great, with hints at a very sad backstory.

However, this was not enough to make me fall in love.  I just can't get over the fact that tons of guys--high born and low born--are falling all over themselves in order to win the hand of Emma.  I'm sorry, but isn't this 19th-century England?  Wouldn't most men ignore a maid?  And if they thought she was beautiful, wouldn't they either be disgusted with themselves or just take advantage of her in a thouroughly non-romantic way? 

Why was it so easy for them to fall in love?  And also, was that love?  I mean, they had a conversation, and kept running into each other around town.  But I saw no sparkage.  Maybe this is developed further in later volumes, but I don't think I'll stick around to find out.

Three out of five elephants.

Release Date:  September 2006
Reading Level: Grade 5+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

Book Jacket

A time that changed the world.  A time that changed Franny's life.

Franny Chapman just wants some peace.  But that's hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head.  Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things.  Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall.

It's 1962, and it seems that the whole country is living in fear.  When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse.  Franny doesn't know how to deal with what's going on in the world--no more than she knows how to deal with what's going on with her family and friends.  But somehow she's got to make it through.

Featuring a captivating story interspersed with footage from 1962, award-winning author Deborah Wiles has created a documentary novel that will put you right alongside Franny as she navigates a dangerous time in both her history and our history.  It is an experience you will never forget.


Throughout my school experience, every World or American History class I took inevitably ran out of time somewhere around the end of WWII.  I therefore have very little knowledge about the 1950s-1980s.  Wiles has accomplished what so many history teachers strive to create: an exciting, immersive look at a pivotal time in world history.

The Cuban Missile Crisis.  Previously, I learned more about this stressful time in X-Men: First Class than anywhere else.  I now have a much fuller, and less mutant-centric, understanding of what went down.  Wiles intercuts her story of a young girl's coming-of-age with lots and lots of interviews, speeches, advertisements, sports announcements, quotes, pictures of celebrities, and Duck and Cover atomic bomb warnings.  As a result, I felt like I sank into the time period very easily.

Franny is a great character, embarrassed by her family, worried about her friendships, unsure of her cute neighbor, and terrified that an atomic bomb might drop on her school at any moment.  I was impressed with how Wiles wrote a very personal story about a little girl while world-building the 1960s so easily at the same time.  This was a very informative, very entertaining read.

Five out of five Bert the Turtles.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Book Jacket

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane.  The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.

And then, one day, he was lost.

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hoboes' camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the streets of Memphis.  And along the way, we are shown a true miracle--that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.


DiCamillo has written a truly beautiful story.  I don't know how she managed to make Edward fully a china rabbit with a believably human soul.  She doesn't anthromorphize him--he cannot move or blink or talk.  But he is an old soul, one which can teach us a lot about life and love.

There's a very fairy tale feeling to this story, with the winding adventures and various people Edward runs into.  And of course the whole theme of the book is set in motion with Grandma Pellegrina's story about a princess who does not love anyone, and is subsequently turned into a warthog. 

Edward begins in much the same way, selfish and vain.  It is only when he loses the person he loves, endures awful circumstances, and finds new people to love, that he understands what the story is really about.  But I really like that the story doesn't end with Edward realizing he can love.  He also loses person after person who takes him in and cares for him.  Eventually, he shuts down, unwilling to open his heart to anyone else.  Which is just, well, so accurate.  Though of course that is not how the story ends.

DiCamillo's writing is gorgeous, as are the pictures that appear every few chapters.  This book is a treat.

Five out of five patchwork dolls.

Release Date:  February 2006
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Book Jacket

Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator.  This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors--but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations.  Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy.  In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans.  If only they could leave their work at the office.  To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman.

Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry, Izzy walks an indistiguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee.  Duties include: completing assignments from the bosses, aka Mom and Dad (preferably without scrutiny); appeasing her chronically perfect lawyer brother (often under duress); setting an example for her fourteen-year-old sister, Rae (who's become addicted to "recreational surveillance"); and tracking down her uncle (who randomly disappears on benders dubbed "Lost Weekends").  But when Izzy's parents hire Rae to follow her (for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of Izzy's new boyfriend), Izzy snaps and decides that the only way she will ever be normal is if she gets out of the family business.  But there's a hitch: she must take one last job before they'll let her go--a fifteen-year-old, ice-cold missing person case.  She accepts, only to experience a disappearance far closer to home, which becomes the most important case of her life.


This is one of the most entertaining books I've read in long time!  The pace is cracking, the writing is witty and unexpected and hilarious.  I enjoyed every single page written about this delightfully dysfunctional family.

I have long been a bit in love with private investigators, though mostly that love was expressed through my adoration of Veronica Mars.  There's something so intriguing about PIs, who work above and below and through the law in order to find and unveil people's secrets.  It is maybe the most morally grey job that I can think of?  At the moment.

Each member of the Spellman family is well-developed, made awesome and annoying in their own unique ways.  I have a special fondness for Rae, and especially her relationship with Isabel.  They are so brutally honest with each other, and every time Izzy handily throws Rae across the room, you know they love each other.  This is that kind of book.

I highly recommend The Spellman Files to anyone who enjoys humor.  Yeah, I'm being that broad.  Read it!

Five out of five smashed headlights.

Release Date: March 2007
Reading Level: Grade 10+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka

Book Jacket

A touching, character-rich vision of an intriguing new world.

Far in the future, humankind has evacuated the earth in order to preserve it.  Humans now reside in a gigantic structure that forms a ring around the earth, 35 kilometers up in the sky.  The society of the ring is highly stratified: the higher the floor, the greater the status.  Mitsu, the lowly son of a window washer, has just graduated junior high.  When his father disappears and is assumed dead, Mitsu must take on his father's occupation.  As he struggles with the transition to working life, Mitsu's job treats him to an outsider's view into the living-room dioramas of the Saturn Apartments.


I love the idea and setting of this graphic novel series.  It makes sense to me that in a future where Earth is uninhabitable, we would build something nearby rather than risk everything by shooting off into space.  And having the hero of our story be a spacesuit window washer?  Genius.  Even in the fancy future, mundane chores still have to be done.

Except window washing in space is anything but mundane.  Nevermind the occasional high winds that might try to kill you.  The real interest comes from looking down into the apartments of the windows you are watching.  Each chapter roughly focuses on one person in the Saturn Apartments, and reveals a bit about their story.

My favorite was undoubtedly the girl who lives on the surface of the ring, repairing holes with her spacesuited cat.  There are other touching stories of love, loss, and faith in humanity. 

Despite the sweetness of the stories, and the humor often portrayed through illustrations, I didn't love this book.  I never felt like I connected to Mitsu, and a lot of the time there just wasn't enough action for my personal preference.  Maybe when I'm in the mood for a slower paced story, I'll come back to the adventures in the Saturn Apartments.

Three out of five last whales.

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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

In Too Deep by Jude Watson

Book Jacket

Fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, head to the Land Down Under to discover what their own mother and father knew about the hunt for the 39 Clues.  But following in their parents' footsteps brings up lost memories for Amy so awful that she can't share then...even with Dan.  Haunted by the ghosts of their past, chased by deadly competitors, Dan and Amy can't see who is an enemy and who is a friend.  Their blindness leads to a terrible mistake...and the death of a hidden ally.


In the 6th book of the 39 Clues series, we get a lot of information!  The Cahill parents are fleshed out, and their cause of death is mostly revealed.  Irena gets a lot of page time, and the hints of her humanity take root in a very real way in this book.  AND we get more of Nellie, who has always been a little too good to be true.

Australia was fun to visit, but it wasn't my favorite location.  I mostly loved the descriptions of Aussies themselves, perpetually sunny and laidback.

We are also introduced to Isabel Kabra, possibly the most evil mother I've ever read about.  YIKES.  I would not want to cross her path, which is not great for Amy and Dan. 
The series is becoming far more wide-reaching, encompassing more than a simple "discover one clue per book" formula.  I like it!

Four out of five airplane pilots.

Release Date:  November 2009
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J39C

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Book Jacket

One of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, Dorothy Sayers pursued her goals whether or not what she wanted to do was ordinarily understood to be "feminine."  Sayers did not devote a great deal of time to talking or writing about feminism, but she did explicitly address the issue of women's role in society in the two classic essays collected here.

Central to Sayer's reflections is the conviction that both men and women are first of all human beings and must be regarded as essentially much more alike than different.  We are to be true not so much to our sex as to our humanity.  The proper role of both women and men, in her view, is to find work for which they are suited and to do it.

Though written several decades ago, these essays still offer in Sayer's piquant style a sensible and conciliatory approach to ongoing gender issues.


I have a new hero!  I ADORE Dorothy Sayers!  Her writing style reminds me of C. S. Lewis (which is the highest compliment I can bestoy upon an essayist).  She is factual, logical, and classy.  When making contentious points or calling out a group of people for being wrong, she is quite polite and never stoops to insults or meanness.  But that doesn't mean her comments don't have bite.  Her intelligence shines through every sentence, and her wit and humor make an interesting read entertaining as well.

Sayers argues that women are human beings just like men.  We ought not be looked down upon, nor should we be exalted.  We are intelligent, we are dumb, we are emotional, we are unfeeling.  Her desire is that everyone, women and men, should be able to do the work they are gifted at, whether it falls within traditional "feminine" or "masculine" gender roles.

All this from a Christian detective-novel-writer who died nearly sixty years ago.  I LOVE HER.  Expect to see many reviews of her books in the future.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote:

"Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were the first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.  They had never known a man like this Man--there never has been such another.  A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as 'The women, God help us!' or "The ladies, God bless them!'; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.  There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything 'funny' about woman's nature."

Five out of five ladies being awesome human beings.

Release Date:  1971
Reading Level: Grade 6+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Book Jacket

Even at night, the wrecks glowed with work.  The torch lights flickered, bobbing and moving.  Sledge noise rang across the water.  Comforting sounds of work and activity, the air tanged with the coal reek of smelters and the salt fresh breeze coming off the water.  It was beautiful.

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day.  But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.


I would have given up on this book in the first couple chapters if it hadn't been nominated for the Illinois Lincoln Award and had won the Printz Award.  I'm glad I stuck with it!  Ship Breaker is a great example of settling into a book--the poverty-striken world of the future was so foreign that it took several chapters for me to fully sink into the world and the story.  But that's necessary, because Bacigalupi has created an incredibly well-conceived future.  The language, the technology, the climate, the landscapes were so believable I almost thought the author was a time traveler.

On the surface, Ship Breaker is a fantastic adventure story about a boy with an abusive father, a dead end life, and a possibility for more.  Under that are a whole host of themes like nature vs. nurture, and how poverty affects a person's priorities and trust.  There's a lot going on, tunneling through barges, jumping on trains, and basically living a pirate life (that was my favorite part).

However.  I don't think I'll be reading the sequel.  Have you ever read a book that was good, but you weren't in love with?  I feel like I ought to be head over heels for Ship Breaker!  I can't think of why I don't love it.  It just didn't hit all my buttons, I guess.  But I still recommend it to others whole-heartedly!

Four out of five Lucky Strikes.

Release Date:  May 2010
Reading Level: Grade 8+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: LINCOLN

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

Book Jacket

If this were a normal cover for a normal book, I would tell you that this book is fantastic!  Gripping!  (According to their covers, all books are fantastic and gripping.)  You'd meet the brave yound heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest.*  And you'd hear about how a mysterious box of vials, the Symphony of Smells, sends them on the trail of a magician who has vanished under strange (and stinky) circumstances.  If this were a normal book, I would brag about the hair-raising adventures that follow--about the brain-twisting riddles Cass and Max-Ernest solve and the nefarious villains they face.  But, sadly, I can't tell you about any of those things: they might make you want to read the book.

You see, not only is the name of this book secret, the story is, too.  For it concerns a secret--a big secret--that has been tormenting people like you for over...oh no!  Did I just mention the secret?  Then it's too late.

I'm afraid nothing will stop you now.  Open the book if you must.  But, please, tell no one.

With apologies, Pseud. Bosch

*Not their real names.


This book is so fun!  It's impossible for me not to compare the Secret series with the Unfortunate Event series:  both have hilariously witty narrators with stories of their own, both try to convince you not to read the book, both have over-the-top evil villains who just won't die, both have adult figures who don't seem to get what is really going on, and both have resourceful protagonists that save the day!  Or at least survive.

The one main difference is that the Secret series is a bit more fun, lighthearted, and friendly.  I adored the Unfortunate Events books, but I think I might like this series even more!

Cass is a survivalist, prepared for disaster at all times, even if nothing disastrous has ever occured.  Max-Ernest (his parents couldn't decide on one name, so they gave him two) has an unknown condition that causes him to talk and talk and talk, but he cannot seem to tell a joke.  The secondary characters are just as well-developed and quirky.  There's a boy with synesthesia (and the descriptions of it are beautiful and fascinating!), two fake-grandpas who collect old junk but never sell it, a mother who loves travel books but hates to travel, and an Italian magician with a tragic past.

But more than any of those awesome characters, I love the narrator!  He is sardonic, sneaky, and distinctly amoral.  He knows he shouldn't tell you this story, but he just wants to really badly!  He constantly subverts traditional storytelling.  And he's got a story of his own, which I'm dying to learn more about!

I know it is still nearly a year away, but it's going to take a lot for me to find a more deserving winner of the Bluestem award.

Five out of five cryptograms.

Release Date: October 2007
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel

Book Jacket

Former self-proclaimed Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject and his audience all too well.  After several years of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self-admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church as if God didn't exist.

To thousands of Christians and non-Christians across every town in the United States, the journey leading up to Groeschel's admission and the journey that follows--from his family and his upbringing, to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered--will look and sound like the story of their own lives.

Now the founding and senior pastor of the multicampus, pace-setting, Groeschel's personal walk toward an authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever.

Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest assessment and ask the question: Am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything were up to me?

Groeschel's frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.  This book is a classic in the making.


Reading the title, I pridefully assumed there wouldn't be much in this book that would apply to me.  Ouch.  I was, well, really wrong.  It's easy to say you're living a life that pleases God, but chapter after chapter, Groeschel showed me ways in which I was living life my own way.

For instance, "When You Believe in God but Aren't Sure He Loves You" and "When You Believe in God but Don't Think You Can Change" and "When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost."  Even now, reading those chapter titles, I think, "I'm not like that!"  Even though I just read those chapters and learned that yes, I am.

Pride runs deep.

Groeschel has written a really excellent book.  He is funny and self-deprecating.  Best of all, he has been there.  He isn't writing from some advanced condescending standpoint.  He knows what it's like to struggle with handing everything over to God.  But he's also worked at doing just that, and happily tells stories of how God has rewarded him for selflessness by deepening their relationship.

If you're a Christian and struggling with complacency, I highly recommend this book!

Five out of five lines in the sand.

Release Date: March 2010
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently in our library's collection.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred


Book Jacket

When a farm girl starts cooking, all the animals what to help.  The cow contributes milk, the hen offers eggs, and even the duck makes a special trip to the market.  While the pot is bubbling merrily on the stove, everyone dances and sings--but who is watching the cazuela?

This spicy tribute to the classic nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built" is a bilingual celebration of community and food.


This is a great introduction to Mexican culture.  The bright colors make the pictures burst off the page.  The joy of dancing and singing makes me want to join in.  But mostly, this is a vocabulary book.  That sounds dull.  But I promise this is the most innovative way to teach another language that I've ever seen!

Each step of the process of making dinner is presented first in English.  "This is the pot that the farm maiden stirred."  On the next page, the second step is presented in English, followed by the first step again, this time in Spanish.  "This is the butter that went into the cazuela that the farm maiden stirred."

I admit, I had to flip back a page several times to remind myself what the Spanish words meant.  But by the end of the repititious song, I had mastered several new Spanish terms!  All while enjoying a sing-songy text and a funny story.  Pretty genius if you ask me.

Four out of five patos.

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

39 Clues: The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

Book Jacket

A strange telegram lures fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, deep into Russia and away from the only trustworthy adult they know.  Signed with the initials NRR, the telegram launches a race to uncover a treasure stolen by the Nazis and the truth behind the murder of the last Russian royal family.  All too soon, the treasure hunt starts to smell like a Lucian trap.  But the bait might just be irresistible...what will Amy and Dan risk to find out what really happened on the night their parents died?


While I'm not sure I believe Amy and Dan could fool a bunch of transportation officials into believing they are adults with fake IDs and wigs, it was fun to see them on their own without Nellie.  It's actually a bit alarming how little I missed Nellie, because I like her quite a lot!  I hope she won't be written out of more books, but if she is, the world won't end.

This time we got an alliance between the Cahills and the Holts!  I never would have expected to approve of that combination, but I'm actually starting to like the crazy regimented Holt clan.  The clues led everyone to Russia this time, which is one of those countries I never think about until I realize, "Yeah!  I really want to go there someday!"

We got history about the Romanovs, and while some of the fictional liberties they took with the story made me give the book my best side-eye, I mostly really enjoyed it.

And I've got to be honest.  These books are mostly fluff to me--fun adventures with chariactured characters that I read in between other books.  So I have to admit that one of my biggest draws in this series is the fleeting glimpes we get of Ian Kabra, and whether or not he will become good and love Amy for all her awesomeness.  I just love a boy who thinks, "I miss her.  It's too bad I have to send people to assassinate her now."

Four out of five amber rooms.

Release Date:  August 2009
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J 39C

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Book Jacket

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father's "Bunny Rabbit."
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks:
No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer.
Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society.
Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she's smarted than any of them.
When she knows Matthew is lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.


I've seen this title floating around as an awesome feminist novel for a long time, but I never got around to reading it until now.  Which is such a tragedy!  I should have been reading this book every day all day since it was published.

Seriously, Lockhart nails the story of a talented smart girl who wants more from a patriarchal life that seems to constantly put her in boxes labeled "adorable" and "pretty."  She has a major crush on a cute boy, and she enjoys wearing nail polish and going shopping.  But she also loves to create new words, sneak around the tunnels under school, and infiltrate all-boys clubs by posing as their leader.  This is the kind of feminine affirming, double-standards crushing book I can get behind 100%.

The whole story can be best summed up in Lockhart's description of girls looking in on boys' clubs.  You know the ones:  they are so shiny and playful and the world seems to orbit around them.  Frankie loves her boyfriend and his friends!  There's no problem there.  It's the fact that they exclude her simply for being a girl that causes the problem.  When faced with that situation, some girls turn away and happily make scones and lemonade while the boys play.  Some girls stand on the sidelines, cheering and oooing over the boys.  Some girls dive in, earning some respect for getting down and dirty, for becoming "one of the boys." 

Then there is Frankie.  She doesn't want to just join in.  She wants to be the leader, because she knows she could do it better.

I love my girl Frankie.  She's flawed, she toes the line toward illegal, but she fights passionately for the right to be treated as an awesome human being.

Such a good book, and I haven't even talked about the witty dialogue, the hiliarious pranks, and the swooniness of Matthew and (my favorite) Alpha.  But mostly, this book is all about Frankie.  She's fantastic.

Five out of five basset hounds.

Release Date: March 2008
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL LOC

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Book Jacket

"We are on a journey to a place called Wonderful."

That's the motto of the Malone family of Gary, Indiana.  Twelve-year-old Deza Malone is the smartest student in her class, told by her teachers that she's destined for a special path in life.  Her older brother, Jimmie, is no angel, but he can sing like one, and when he does, people stop to listen.

The Great Depression has hit Gary hard, and there are few jobs--especially for black men like Mr. Malone.  After their father leaves Gary to find work, Deza, Jimmie, and their mother set out in his wake, always holding out hope that they will catch up to him.  The pluck with which the endearing, sometimes comical Deza faces the twists and turns of the family's journey proves that she truly is the Mighty Miss Malone.

Newbery Award-winning author Christopher Paul Curtis has written a heart-wrenching, suspenseful new classic about one unforgettable family during the turbulent days of the Great Depression.


The Malones have easily become my favorite fictional family ever.  The love they have for each other pours through every page, whether they are telling stories, eating buggy oatmeal, or forging letters of recommendation.  They are not a perfect family, but they go through fights and life's difficulties together.  I'm not lying, I'm probably going to steal some of their mottos and habits whenever I have a family of my own.

Because I loved their family so much (each individual and as a unit), I was devastated by this book!  Most of the time, you know, good storytelling means needing conflict and obstacles.  I very much wanted that not to be the case here!  I would have been happy reading about Deza happily collecting A+s, Jimmie singing at ball games, Mother making presents out of nothing, and Father telling intricate happy stories.  That's all I wanted!  I didn't want bad things to happen to them!

But bad things did happen.  And I hated it.  But I loved the Malones all the more as they endured and fought and ultimately triumphed.

The ending makes everything they go through worthwhile, and I actually laughed a happy I-can't-believe-they-made-it laugh on the last page.  There is a happy ending fitting for a book that begins with "Once upon a time," but this is no fairy tale.  It's believable, and heartbreaking, and uplifting all at the same time. 

I can't recommend this enough!

Five out of five cavities.

Release Date: January 2012
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL CUR

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins

Book Jacket

Train.  Car.  Plane.  Boat.  Feet.  He'll get there.  Won't he?


This should have been a book I adored.  It's an ode to wandering, to finding friends in unlikely places, and to finding your way home despite incredible difficulties.  Ry is a teenaged boy on a train toward summer camp.  When he gets off the train to make a phone call, and the train leaves him behind, an adventure begins.  His parents are on vacation in the Caribbean, and his grandfather got temporary amnesia when he fell and hit his head.  No one can help Ry get home except for a possibly insane man named Del.

Sounds interesting, right?  It might have been, if Perkins hadn't written in a weirdly detached, stream-of-consciousness prose.  The story never felt immediate or dangerous; it was like looking at paintings in a sort of "oh, that happened...interesting" way.  I can't describe the style well, but it wasn't something I enjoyed.

Ry himself is not my kind of protagonist.  He never initiates anything until the last few pages of the book (when, unsurprisingly, I began to like him).  Events happen to him.  Bad things happen to him.  Other people make decisions around him.  Ry himself just kind of floats along in the current.  Which was, I think, the point of the book.  So really I guess I don't like the point of the book.

Someone undoubtedly thinks this is wonderful, since it was nominated for the 2013 Caudill award.  But I won't be voting for it.

Two out of five homemade airplanes.

Release Date: April 2010
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

Monday, March 12, 2012

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Book Jacket

Arthur knows how to paint.  He's ready to share his wisdom with Max, who has a lot to learn but can't wait to dive right in.

Their story begins here.  Is it about creating a work of art?  Or about an uproarious, eye-opening adventure?

Or both?

Art and Max will find out very soon.  And so will you.


Let's start by acknowledging that Wiesner's artwork is nothing short of phenomenal.  When his characters are regular desert dwellers, they are gorgeous.  But the real fun and creativity starts when Art is covered in paint, melted of color, and left a pencil-lined figure before being built back into a fully formed lizard once more.

Art & Max shows both sides of artistry.  Sometimes it's good to think outside the box.  Sometimes it's good to reign in your crazier ideas.  But no matter what you do, art--and fun--is possible!

I loved this book, but am I the only one to think that the page when Max is left standing in a tangle of lines that used to be Art is incredibly creepy?  Egads.  That's one for horror stories.  Thankfully it is all quickly made right. 

Five out of five paint splatters.

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

The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

Book Jacket

When Alex Patrick was assulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it.  This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body.  While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.

It isn't rape.  It isn't bullying.  It isn't hate speech.  A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat.  But how do you try a case with no obvious victim?  Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most--her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.

As Alex unravels the layers of deciet within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice threaten to reveal even more about herself.


I didn't think The Mockingbirds needed a sequel, but...I was wrong!  It did, and The Rivals delivers.  Some of my favorite parts involved watching Alex grow stronger by dealing with the aftermath of last year's date rape and the subsequent trial.  Some students (and teachers, pardon me while I throw up) blame Alex for what happened, so she has to deal with snide comments, sidelong looks, and shoves in the hallway. 

That sucks, and that's not all.  She also has to deal with her memories.  Could she have done more to avoid it?  Fight him off?  And will she ever enjoy time with her boyfriend without flashing back to that awful night?

Thank goodness Alex is one of the strongest, coolest girls I've ever read about.  She hurts, but she perseveres.  More than that, she turns her pain into a drive to help others.  Which is just what she does as the new leader of the Mockingbirds, trying to suss out a drug/cheating ring at her school.

I'll be honest.  That part (uh, the plot) wasn't what made this book awesome.  It did bring up some interesting questions, like how do you prosecute a group of people who are not hurting anyone in particular but everyone in general?  But law stuff is not my passion.  I love relationships.  I loved seeing Alex break and mend her friendships with T.S. and Maia.  I loved seeing her communicate honestly with her boyfriend Martin while they deal with disagreements and jealousy.  I loved seeing her learn to trust the faculty members who actually care more for their students than their national ranking.  And I loved seeing her relationship with her piano, how losing herself in music gave her peace and clarity.

Alex is an awesome role model, and while the Mockingbirds have some flaws, it is a great role model as well.  Bring on the teenage social justic vigilantes!

Five out of five Ravel pieces.

Release Date: February 2012
Reading Level: Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: YPL WHI

Thursday, March 8, 2012

LEGO Construction Club

This week the kids made traps, and...I am now a little afraid of them.  If they ever grow up to create secret lairs, I am not going to visit!  There were traps to cut off your arms, traps to blow you up, and traps put you in prison.  Also, one girl made a bunch of butterflies. 

Pictures below the cut!

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech

Book Jacket

Room 204--Miss Stretchberry

February 25

Today the fat black cat
up in the tree
by the bus stop
dropped a nut on my head
and when I yelled at it
that fat black cat said
in a

I hate that cat.

This is the story of
and cat.


I love cats, so of course I adored this book (not what you'd expect from the title, but people change).  The way Jack described their giddy playfulness and silliness was evocative, just like poems ought to be.  Skitter McSkitters sounds awesome.

It is extremely unlikely that Miss Stretchberry would move up to teach Jack again for another school year, and spend the whole year on poetry, but do I care?  Nope.  This time she teaches a bit more of the technical side of poetry, and it was cool to see Jack explore the worlds of alliteration, similes, and onomatopoeia.

The highlight of this book, though, is Jack's slow description of his mother.  His questions about hearing sounds, feeling sounds, and seeing sounds were simply wonderful.  Magic in word form.  Mostly because of these entries, I felt like Hate That Cat was a much better showing than Love That Dog.  Which makes sense, as he is now a year older and begins the story fiercely in love with poetry and the magic it can inspire.

Five out of five bowls of milk.

Release Date: February 2010
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently in our collection.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Familiars by Adam Epstein & Andrew Jacobson

Book Jacket

When Aldwyn, a young alley cat on the run, ducks into a mysterious pet shop, he doesn't expect his life to change.  But that's exactly what happens when Jack, a young wizard, picks Aldwyn to be his magical familiar.

Finally off the tough streets, Aldwyn thinks he's got it made.  He just has to convince the other familiars--the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert--that he's the telekinetic cat he claims to be.  But when Jack and two other wizards in training are captured by a terrible evil, it will take all of Aldwyn's street smarts, a few good friends, and a nose for adventure to save the day!


I picked up this book because a kid came into the library desperate for its sequel.  He was bouncing with excitement about this story, so naturally, it became the next Bluestem nominee on my list to read.  When I started The Familiars, I mentally groaned, because talking animals are not my favorite kind of book.  Fortunately, Epstein and Jacobson totally changed my mind!

This is a nice switch of perspective.  Readers of Harry Potter are familiar with the idea that wizards often have toads (Trevor!) or cats (Crookshanks!) as pets.  The Familiars makes them the heroes and sets them in a wonderfully realized fantasy world.  Honestly, the lowkey mentions of their fantastical world were my favorite parts, whether they were storm berries, lightning-made horses, or Scribius, the map-making pen.  So clever!

Sorry to keep on with the Harry Potter references, but surely I'm not the only one to see echoes of the Golden Trio?  Skylar the know-it-all bluejay who is dead useful but a bit annoying--Hermione in the early books.  Gilbert the comic relief tree frog who is mostly stupid but sometimes comes through in a pinch--definitely Ron.  And then we've got Aldwyn the cat, who is very resourceful, relies on street smarts more than intelligence, and constantly feels like he can't live up to others' expectations.  Yup, that's Harry.

Are the similarities deliberate or unintentional?  Like I care.  I loved the Trio in Harry Potter, and I love the trio in The Familiars.  Unlikely frienships that blossom in the face of danger and mutual dependency are always my favorite. 

This is a great fun book that looks at the unseens side of magic--the animals!

Four out of five Hydras of Mukrete.

Release Date: June 2011
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Monday, March 5, 2012

39 Clues: Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson

Book Jacket

Betrayed by their cousins, abandoned by their uncle, and with only the slimmest hint to guide them, fourteen-year-old Amy Cahill and her younger brother, Dan, rush off to Egypt on the hunt for 39 Clues that lead to a source of an unimaginable power.  But when they arrive, Amy and Dan get something completely unexpected--a message from their dead grandmother, Grace.  Did Grace set out to help the two orphans...or are Amy and Dan heading for the most devastating betrayal of all?


This time: Egypt!  I've had friends who were obsessed with Egyptian history, but sadly, I don't share their enthusiasm.  Still, Watson made the markets of Cairo sparkle with life, and I really really want to see the colorfully painted tomb of Nefertari.  Is that real?

This there were no Holts (who cares?) or Kabras (sob!), but we got a whole lot more Grace.  It was nice to see the Cahill kids grieve for their deceased grandmother.  They also dealt with doubting her love for them, and finding reassurance in the strangest places.

We also got a glimpse into Irina's motivations, and it turns out she's a far more sympathetic character than I would have imagined.  Yay for complicated villains!  Bai Oh is creepy, although I like how the clan divisions are made so obviously absurd in him.  If he supports the Ekaterinas more than anything ever, then I'm guessing the moral of the story will be for the different branches to work together.

Four out of five crocodiles.

Release Date:  June 2009
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: J 39C

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez

Book Jacket

When Migeul's Tia Lola come from the Dominican Republic to Vermont to help out his mami, Miguel is worried that his unusual aunt will make it even more difficult to make new friends.  It's been hard enough moving from New York City and leaving Papi behind.  Sometimes he wishes Tia Lola would go back to the island.

But then he wouldn't have the treats she's putting in his lunch box, which he's sure helped him make the baseball team.  And she really needs his help to learn English so she doesn't use all the words she knows at once: "One-way-caution-you're-welcome-thanks-for-asking."

So Miguel changes his wish to a new one, and he finally even figures out a clever way to make it come true.


This is a great book that deals with family relationships, dealing with divorce, struggling with moving, trying to make friends, and learning to be proud of yourself and your heritage.  That's a lot for one little book to cover, but Alvarez juggles all these themes very well. 

There is also a huge emphasis on Latin American culture, which was great!  I lived with a Cuban American girl in college, and her bombastic personality and tendencies to dance to loud reggaeton in our living room was brought back to mind while reading this book.  Tia Lola is a force to be reckoned with.  Her enthusiasm and love of life is evident, whether she's speaking Spanish or English.  She is an inspiration to us all to be ourselves, and to invite others into our happiness.

I'm a big fan of books that introduce Midwesterners to different cultures, and this one does that nicely.  It also plays to fears and doubts that we all have, making it great for any reader at any age.

Four out of five pinatas.

Release Date:  August 2002
Reading Level: Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: BLUESTEM

Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

Book Jacket

Stop in for a shave and a scare cut.


I love the easy way this book deals with monsters--there's no scare factor.  The vampires and hairy things and mummies are presented either matter-of-factly or comically. 

The nameless protagonist watches his father cut people's hair during the day.  One night a month, a bat named Vlad comes to his window and escorts him back to the shop for a night of cutting monster's hair.  They use rotting tonic and shamp-ewww.  It's all extremely adorable.

I think this book will go a long way in making kids less frightened of traditional horror creatures.  And it's also quite creative!  Frankenstien always gets the same haircut, Medusa likes to try new styles, and skeletons?  No one quite knows what to do for them.

Very enjoyable.

Four out of five festering lotions.

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