Friday, September 27, 2013

September Reads

How did your September go, reading wise? I got my hands on fantastic books! I'd love to tell you about them: 

Yay. I am loving The Critter Club series with each book I read.  Each book features a little drama involving a member of the Critter Club; this time, it's Ellie's turn to shine.  Ellie is quite the little actress, so she is delighted when she gets the lead in the school play! Her Critter Club friends are quite happy for her...but all Ellie seems to care about is the play.  All she wants to talk about is the play. She even forgets about Critter Club meetings!  It's affecting her friendship with the other Critter Club members; will Ellie realize that even though the play *is* a big deal, that it doesn't mean that she can neglect her friends and promises? Lessons are learned, hurts are forgiven, a star is born, and even more secrets are revealed about the mysterious benefactor of the Critter Club, Ms. Sullivan.  I hope Callie Barkley has many more adventures planned for the Critter Club; I'll be first in line to read them! 

Mac Barnett is the author of Extra Yarn, one of my beloved books from 2012 (and a Caldecott Honor title from that year, although the award goes to the illustrator).  Count the Monkeys is competing for the title of my favorite Barnett book.  I can't explain much without giving away the surprise (and funny) ending, but the narrator is desperately trying to count monkeys.  Unfortunately, irritants such as a cobra, bee swarms, and lumberjacks get in the way.  Not only is it awesomely funny with a great ending, but it's also a fine counting  (that's not babyish for children older than the toddler years; this is definitely for preschool and up) and interactive book.  


 I now totally get the fuss over Lisa McMann's books.  Her books didn't sound like my cup of tea, so I didn't pick one up until I needed a new YA read and saw this on the new books shelf.  Having read the reviews before I ordered it, I knew it was highly praised.  The premise of Crash may sound odd--a girl constantly sees a vision of an enormous crash involving her crush--but it is an addicting read.  Some thrillers are long on action and short on characterization, but readers will empathize with Jules's horror over her vision.  There's also a Romeo and Juliet romantic element (Jules and her crush are children of two rival pizzeria owners) and dashes of humor from time to time to break the tension.  Cannot wait to read the second book in the Visions series! For mature YA readers.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Duncan's colors are on strike.  They all have their various complaints: Red feels it works harder than the others, Yellow and Orange argue over which should be used to color the sun, Pink feels underused, and Peach feels naked without its paper covering.  The crayons register their displeasure through letters, which are hilarious to read.  Luckily, Duncan finds a creative (and colorful solution) that makes everyone happy.  Funny, clever, and creative: picture books aren't just for preschoolers!

Dino Wrestling

A cute book about wrestling? Right here, folks.  Dinosaurs compete in different wrestling styles, including Greco-Roman, sumo, and lucha libre.  Wrestling terms and the origins of the styles are a big part of the story, which is told in rhyme.  This is a charmer, and informative at the same time!

Golden Girl

I am quite fond of Dust Girl (first in the American Fairy Trilogy), so Golden Girl was high on my ever-expanding To Be Read (TBR) list. Since it's been some time since I've read Dust Girl, I appreciated that Sarah Zettel incorporated the important background elements into the beginning of Golden Girl (you need to read Dust Girl first, though). Callie and Jack, having escaped the dust bowl of Kansas, find themselves in glamorous 1930s Hollywood.  Still determined to find her missing mother, Callie and Jack are threatened once again by the rival fairy tribes.  Who in Hollywood is human--and who is fae?  The glitzy golden era of Hollywood, especially the child star element, is wonderfully recreated through Sarah Zettel's storytelling.  Book Three can't come fast enough!

Good Night, Sleep Tight 

I may have to plan another evening story time/pizza party just so I can use this book (we've had one for the past two summers).  Bonnie and Ben's parents are out enjoying a Friday night, so they are being cared for by their favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug.  Bonnie and Ben are settling in for the night, so Skinny Doug recites a classic bedtime saying his mother used to say, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!"  Bonnie and Ben love it so much that they want him to say it again, but he replies:

"Some other time," said Skinny Doug. 
"But I'll tell you another
I heard from my mother:"

This Little Piggy, Pat-A-Cake, It's Raining, It's Pouring.....the greatest hits of classic nursery rhymes and fingerplays are here.  This is a lovely and unique tribute to these rhymes; a great read aloud with witty illustrations.

Hero on a Bicycle

Shirley Hughes is legendary in the picture book world for her comforting and cozy stories, but she charts new territory in her first novel.  Taking place in Florence during World War II, Hughes brings to life the hardships and struggles faced by the Florentines when their city is overtaken by German troops. Paolo's secret nighttime bicycle rides provide some relief from the constant fear and stress that he faces on a daily basis; when his family reluctantly becomes part of the Italian partisan movement, he finds that owning a bike is his ticket into personally assisting the freedom movement.  There aren't many World War II novels for children set in Italy (Stones in Water features an Italian boy captured by Germans), so this is a welcome addition to our collection.  As this features a family on the front lines of the fighting between the partisans, Axis, and Allied forces, scenes involving death and destruction are truthfully yet sensitively depicted.  Hughes captures the reality of childhood and young adulthood arrested by war; it's deservedly earned several starred reviews and many other positive reviews.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song

Brian and Andrea Pinkney always create top-notch books, and Martin and Mahalia is no exception.  This tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahalia Jackson is beautifully rendered through tender words and illustrations.  This is a lovely addition to children's literature on the civil rights movement.


Sixth graders Logan and Benedict thought that their field trip to the math museum would be just another ordinary field trip...until they get zapped by a robot! Suddenly, they are unable to perform even the simplest math functions.  The only way to get their math memory back is to complete a series of math problems.  This is a funny and fun (and short) chapter book read; the lesson about the importance of math comes across without being too obvious and preachy.

Peck, Peck, Peck 

If you're only familiar with Lucy Cousins's Maisy picture books (which I love), then you are missing out on some creative and offbeat books!  Peck, Peck, Peck is sure to be loved by many young listeners;  it's narrated by a baby bird who has just discovered the joys of pecking everything around him/her, much to the pride of Daddy Bird.  Diecut holes scattered throughout the illustrations show us exactly where baby bird has been pecking (including the toilet, which will greatly amuse toddlers and preschoolers).  Ends with a sweet "awww" moment between Dad and baby bird.

Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters

Jane Yolen's dinosaur manners picture books are hugely popular, so I'm thrilled that she continues to be introduced to new generations.  Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters is perfect for her youngest fans.  Monsters are shown doing a variety of activities, from jumping rope to playing on the seesaw/teeter totter.  It's a darling celebration of outdoor play.  There's also a little teachable moment about apologizing, which is not preachy or out of place.  I may use this for a Halloween story time (as an alternative to pumpkins and stuff like that).

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way

I love learning about other cultures, and anything education-related automatically catches my interest, so I was optimistic about reading this eye-opening look at education in Finland, South Korea, and Poland, and how those systems compare to the United States.  Through the experiences of three American high-school students studying abroad, Amanda Ripley investigates the ins and outs of these three diverse societies, from the pressure-cooker atmosphere of South Korea, the rising success of Poland's educational system, and the intense training undergone by Finnish teachers.  Although Ripley points out the challenges faced in American education, she also focuses on innovative and successful schools in the States.

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke

I teared up a LOT while reading this book.  Either it was because I was laughing so hard at Rob Sheffield's take on Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, or any of Sheffield's other favorites, or it was because I was so moved by his grief following the sudden death of his young wife (which preceded his passion for karaoke).   If you want a hilarious and feel-good read, you need to read this (those who are sensitive to swearing should take note, though).  There is a lot of heart and passion for music (he is a contributor to Rolling Stone) and family in Sheffield's writing that is so refreshing and welcome to read in a sea of  horror-ridden memoirs.  As someone who unabashedly loves cheesy 80s music, which is a staple of Sheffield's karaoke repertoire, I adored this book.  As soon as I whittle down my stack of checked out books, I am grabbing Love is a Mix Tape.

Xander's Panda Party a panda fan, I adore this book. Xander (Linda Sue Park helpfully informs readers that it's pronounced "Zander") wants to throw a panda party.  Sadly, he's the only panda at the zoo. Never mind; he'll throw a party for all the zoo bears. Included among the invitees is koala bear, who regretfully informs panda that she is actually not a bear. Never mind; all the mammals will be invited.  But Rhino wants to know if his bird buddy can join in the fun.  Invitations are extended to mammals AND birds. But that STILL doesn't include everyone, until finally, zoo creatures one and all can come..including the human visitors to the zoo.  Not only is Xander planning a rocking party, but he also meets a lovely newcomer to the zoo.  Illustrations are fun and darling, the rhyme scheme works rather well, and facts about the animals are sprinkled throughout the story without making the story falter.  Linda Sue Park includes an afterword about panda conservation and other facts about the animals (including why she paired a rhino and a bird together).

Year of the Jungle 

Suzanne Collins's first picture book (she's the author of The Hunger Games and the Gregor the Overlander series) is an autobiographical one.  The unnamed narrator's father is sent to fight in Vietnam; at first, letters arrive on a regular basis, but they peter out.  When people find out that her dad is serving in Vietnam, they either act sad, worried, or angry.  Dad mixes up the children's birthdays, which is so unlike him.  When her father returns, he looks and acts a bit differently, but some things are back to normal, such as reading together.  Although this story is set during the Vietnam War, it reflects the reality that many military families face, no matter where the parent serves. This explains the upheaval faced by wartime families in a very child-appropriate manner.

Zack's Story

I LOVED this book.  It has humor without resorting to gross-out humor.  There's a refreshing lack of mean kid behavior and sassy put downs, but the conversations and behavior among the boys are believable for young readers. It's a terrific depiction of camp life, filled with days of swimming, hiking, and absolutely no screens.  It's multicultural without it being condescendingly obvious.  The friendship between the campers is genuine and contains the right amount of conflict to make it realistic.  Zack is a first time camper from the city, and quite unsure about how he's going to adjust to camp life.  Luckily, he soon discovers that it's a blast--but then, experiences an incident on a hike that jangles his self-confidence in his survival skills.  This is the first in the Boys Camp series, and I'm eager to read more!

Wow! What a great month for reading! Here's what I'm looking forward to reading in October, among other titles:

Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words

(Chaser has her own website. The site includes articles about Chaser, pictures, and videos of Dr. Pilley and Chaser working together, such as this one. You'll notice that Dr. Pilley commands Chaser from behind a curtain; I'm guessing that's so he doesn't inadvertently indicate the object he wants Chaser to select, a la Clever Hans. You'll also notice that Chaser is not robotically following commands; although she is an extraordinary representative of an extraordinary breed of dog, she still hesitates, gets distracted, and is reluctant at times to follow commands, which makes the video that much more interesting to watch.)

Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age 

(Here is the book's Facebook page, which includes interviews with author Mathew Klickstein.)

Jim Henson: The Biography

(Author Brian Jay Jones has kept a blog while researching and writing the book.)

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library (Warrenton, VA) 

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