Monday, July 6, 2009

The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas

Fans of magical fantasy will enjoy Sarah Prineas’ The Magic Thief Series. In the first book we meet Conn (short for Connwaer), an orphaned street thief, who should have died when he stole his future master’s locus magicalus (a stone that wizards use to do spells.) In the first book Conn must rescue the city of Wellmet’s magic, which he does. However, all is not well and the magic is still in danger in book two: Lost. In book two we learn a little more about the magic itself. It is actually a living thinking entity that has “chosen” Conn. The locus magicalus is not just a stone for casting spells, it the means by which the magic talks to the wizards. In book one, after finally finding his locus magicalus, Conn loses it when it is destroyed in the battle to save the city. In book two, we learn Conn can talk with the magic through pyrotechnics – a practice frowned upon by the city’s magisters and one that eventually gets Conn exiled from Wellmet.

Fans of Harry Potter and Magyk will enjoy this series. I am anxiously awaiting book three to find out just wa the magic has in store for Conn.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Need by Carrie Jones

I chose to read this book because it appeared on a "Twilight" read-a-like list. While it does not have the same intensity as "Twilight", it is a very good read. There are definite similarities - were creatures (and not just wolves either), a young girl moves from a sunny climate to a cold and frosty one - snow rather than rain. But the book is also different from "Twilight". It's pixies, not vampires. These are not cute little Tinkerbell pixies either. In "Twilight" many of the townspeople are clueless about the true identity of the Cullens, but in this sleepy little town, there are probably more people who know the secret than don't know it. And Zara is by far a more confident and independent character than Bella. There is indeed a love story, but it's not the intense epic one found in "Twilight". Having read "Twilight" I was able to see some things coming in "Need". I don't think the clues would be that obvious for those who have not read "Twilight". Need has more of a here and now quality to it while I felt "Twilight" had more of a dream like quality. I thoroughly enjoyed both books, but be warned. Even though "Need" is definitely a "Twilight" read a like, don't read it expecting it to be a "Twilight" clone. It's not a knock off.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Humphrey's World

This series by Betty Birney, about a classroom pet, is a delightful read. Read these books and you'll look at your hamster in a whole new light. Humphrey is a great  role model. He cares about his human classmates. He wants to help them solve their problems. Kids will identify with his eagerness to have adventures, learn new things, and also with his fears - many of which they may share.  Even when Humphrey is afraid he shows great courage.  If you are looking for books to help with character education, this is a good series. Humphrey gets the messages across without being preachy about it.

Titles include:

The World According to Humphrey
Friendship According to Humphrey
Trouble According to Humphrey
Surprises According to Humphrey
Adventure According to Humphrey

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Freak The Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

This is an excellent book about friendship and about learning how everyone is not the same. Some have expressed concern over the violent nature of Max's father, but it is such a small portion of the book. And the emphasis of the story is not on how violent and criminal Killer Kane is, but rather on how Max does not have to be like his father, on how the friendship between Max and Kevin ("Freak") is so strong that Freak does not allow his small size to keep him from coming to his friend's rescue, and how with such a strong friendship the two boys are able to survive the cruel teasing of their classmates. The violent behavior shown in one small portion of the book is nothing compared to what children see on prime TV or in their own video games. While it is important to be aware of this content, it should not be a deterrent for sharing the book with students, especially those of a higher reading level.

If you want a good book to generate discussion about character traits, this is a good one.

I'm already on hold at the public library for the sequel "Max the Mighty."

What are you reading?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Over the past few years, though I’ve continued to look forward to the annual announcement of the Newbery winner, I have continually found myself disappointed. Those who know me have heard me rant about adults labeling certain children’s books as award worthy while most children couldn’t be paid to read those books. If a children’s book is one that children won’t read, is it really a children’s book.

This year’s Newbery was a pleasant surprise. It was not one I had heard of prior to the announcement. I had not read any of Neil Gaiman’s previous books, but his name was one with which I was familiar. When I started the book, I was skeptical. A children’s book that begins with the murder of almost an entire family just didn’t seem like a true children’s book. A child who lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts only he can see – again a little bit strange, to say the least.

However, Gaiman’s coming of age story about young Nobody Owens pulled me in and would not let go. At times, Nobody (Bod for short) seemed almost too good to be true. A boy that well behaved seemed almost beyond belief, but then he’d do something typically boyish and I’d realize despite his weird environment, he was just like many other young boys.

Though the book does begin with a cruel murder (the description is not graphic) and the boys is raised by ghosts and a pale guardian, “who is neither living nor dead,” it is not a scary story. Like many books that appeal to children, it is a story of the struggle between good and bad. The ghosts who look after Bod are rather like the house ghosts at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

I believe Audrey Niffenegger, author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife, says it very well: "It takes a graveyard to raise a child. My favorite thing about this book was watching Bod grow up in his fine crumbly graveyard with his dead and living friends. The Graveyard Book is another surprising and terrific book from Neil Gaiman.”

It’s about time we had a Newbery that both children and adults, but especially children can appreciate.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2009 Colorado Children's Book Awards

I frequently complain that the Newbery Award is often given to a book that a child would not willingly read. That’s why I like the Colorado Children’s Book Awards. The books are nominated by children and the winner is selected by children. This year my students will once again participate in the voting.

The 2009 Nominees are:

Junior Books
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Heat by Mike Lupica
Homework Machine by Dan Gutman
May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Peak by Roland Smith
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Picture Books
Bad Dog, Marley! by John Grogan
Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O'Connor
Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Move Over, Rover! by Karen Beaumont
Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend
Poor Puppy by Nick Bruel
Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett

Of the 20 books I’ve read all but Peak by Smith. I hope to have a chance to read it before the students vote. I’m almost glad I can’t vote. The only Junior Book I didn’t like was May Bird and the Ever After. I really had to force myself to finish the book. Not only was it confusing, it was a very slow read and somewhat scary for elementary students. The whole time I was reading it, I kept asking myself what child would read this book, much less the other books in the series. (Yes, it’s a series and the first book ends rather abruptly.) Then I reminded myself, that enough Colorado students liked the book enough to get it nominated. What do I know? If pressed to pick one of the Junior Books, I would most likely go with Clementine or No Talking – maybe The Homework Machine. However, based on my students’ reactions, I’m guessing that Diary of a Wimpy Kid will come out on top.
As for the picture books, I love the illustrations in Jan Brett’s Three Snow Bears and Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy. I’ll let you know what my students think.

In a couple of weeks, ALA will announce the Newbery and Caldecott Winners. I do not even have a clue about which book might be awarded the Newbery, but I’m hoping Kevin Henkes’ Old Bear will take home the Caldecott.

What books do you consider award winners?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Inkheart Series

Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath - all by Cornelia Funke

I love this series, though my relationship with it has been rather frustrating. I must admit when I first read Inkheart I was a little taken aback by how violent some of the characters were. I thought it was a little much for a children’s book. Obviously, this was before my time as a teen librarian and I was still thinking of the young innocent books written by Beverly Cleary. When Inkspell was released, I was thrilled – until I got to the end and realized that story still wasn’t finished. Somehow, I had missed that it was a trilogy. You would think knowing there was more to the story would have made such a bookworm as myself very happy. It just caught me by surprise. Then the American release of the final book, Inkdeath, was delayed and I seriously considered learning how to read German just so I could continue the story.

This is one of those stories that reaches out and pulls the reader in . . .

Actually, that’s just what happens in the story. Characters are read into and out of the story. In light of that you might not want to listen to the book on audio. Just imagine driving down the street listening to the story and all of a sudden in you are literally in a different world and who knows what happens to your car. What a talent to have – to have a voice that carries people away to other worlds. Still, my dream is to have the gift of weaving the tale that creates that world. Ok, I won’t start getting maudlin about my unrealized dreams of being a writer.

This series has everything that children and young adults enjoy in a fantasy: magical creatures, rogues with a heart of gold; good versus evil and plenty of adventure.

It takes a while to get into the final installment in this series. But it's worth it. What I like is that Funke did not take the easy way to get to the ending. And though I've never been talented enough to write a book (at least not since the 8th grade – yeah we’re back to that dream again), I think many authors must have the same challenge that Fenoglio experiences - a story that keeps trying to take over its own destiny. It’s that uncertainty about where the story is headed that keeps the reader on the edge of the seat. You’re hopeful about the ending, but you’re never quite sure. I won’t tell you – you have to read it for yourself.

And yes, the movie version of Inkheart will be released on January 23rd. Though I’ll probably regret it, I plan to be there in the theater with hundreds of eager young readers. I can’t help it. I want to see how my mind movie compares to the Hollywood version.