Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dragon Tales

Dragons seem to be a big deal on the book shelves these days. So here are two quick reviews of books for your kids to enjoy.

"How to Train your Dragon: How to Steal a Dragon's Sword"
By Cressida Cowell
For Ages 8 - 14
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his dragon, Toothless star in the very entertaining ninth adventure of the "How to Train your Dragon" series. A dragon rebellion, featuring Tonguetwisters and Vampire Ghouldeaths that are attacking the Archipelago. Can Hiccup save the day? To do so, he’ll have to outwit a witch, beat his arch nemesis and with one sword battle an angry horde of dragons. 
What’s good: Compelling action and adventure and that will keep even reluctant readers enthralled.
            What’s bad: After nine books some of the content seems predictable.

"Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy"
By Tui T. Sutherland
For Ages 8 - 12
Fans of the “Warriors” series should find “Dragonet Prophecy” series equally entertaining. Follow this diverse world of dragons as they try to avert war. The action is plentiful, as is the adventure. They always seem to go hand-in-hand. The dragons show all the traits of humans – selflessness, bravery, anger, rage and more. Kids will be able to relate to the dragons and eagerly read their continuing tales as the series progresses. 
What’s good: Interesting characters and plenty of adventure.
          What’s bad: Dark, moody and possibly too violent for younger readers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Week Until Election Day

I know the storm is on everyone's mind as well it should be. We're all concerned for the people affected by Sandy. That said, we're one week away from electing the president of the United States. So I'm going to review one more picture book on the presidential election.

"Grace for President"
By Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated bu LeUyen Pham
For Ages 5 – 8
        Why can't a girl be president? Grace sets out to prove that they can as she runs for class president and learns all about campaigning. Rated 3.5 (politics, election, elementary school)  

When Grace’s teacher unrolls a large poster of the American presidents, Grace is shocked to learn that there are no girls on it. After sitting and thinking at her desk, Grace finally makes the announcement that she will be president one day. This spurs her teacher to organize an election. Each student in her class represents a state and can cast the allotted number of electoral votes for that state. Grace’s opponent turns out to be a very smart and popular boy who has shrewdly studied the electoral map and knows that boys hold a higher vote total. Then the campaign begins and Grace pulls out all the stops. She gives stump speeches, hands out cupcakes and even begins fulfilling campaign promises before the election. Does it all pay off? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Since this book is about politics you might wonder about agendas or bias. I’m sure you can find some if you look. Maybe it’s the name of the elementary school – Woodrow Wilson Elementary, the fact that it’s a popular white boy running against an African American girl, or possibly that the book only discusses the electoral college and not the popular vote. It’s sad that we adults think in those terms. We end up missing the real take away from the story. If you believe in yourself, don’t take anything for granted, don’t expect anything to be given to you, and work hard for what you want, you can accomplish anything in the United States of America.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Every Vote Counts

Since we just finished the vice presidential debate and are awaiting the second presidential debate of 2012 I will get back to the promised reviews of election inspired stories. I hope you're not too sick of seeing election stuff yet.

"Amelia Bedelia's First Vote"
By Herman Parish
Illustrated by Lynne Avril
For Ages 4 - 8
      Every day school is an adventure. When you add in a lesson on voting things can turn from adventuresome to exciting. And when Amelia Bedelia is in the mix, silly and unpredictable become the best way to describe the situation. Rated 3.5 (election, elementary school, humor for young and early readers)
     The excitement of voting day is a little much for Amelia. When asked to deliver a note to the principle, Amelia runs through the halls. Everyone knows you should never run in the halls. But Amelia was running and she crashed right into the principal.
     While in the nurses office she has a great idea and can help but tell her principal. He should let the students vote on the school's rules. So Amelia's class spend and entire period thinking up suggestions, including: ice cream sandwiches for lunch, a class trip to the circus, a fish tank in every room and homework-free Wednesdays. The last one was Amelia's suggestion.Thanks to a sick student everyone gets to learn about absentee ballots and the "swing vote." Since Amelia takes everything at face value, discussions of run-offs and swing votes conjure up plenty of humor and fun for young readers in this pleasant, if uninspiring, introduction to voting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Keep My Column in Lowcountry Parent Magazine

My book review column currently runs in several publications -- Lowcountry Parent, Palmetto Parent, Upstate Parent, KC Parent, and Post and Courier Newspaper. Many of these publication run periodic editorial surveys to see what their readers are reading and what they would like to read.

Lowcountry Parent magazine announced their editorial survey today. If you live in the Charleston, SC area, have family, friends or have Facebook friends who live there, please fill out the survey today. Be sure to give my book reviews high marks. Thank You.

Deadline to fill out the survey is Monday, Oct. 8.

New Computer. New Post.

I apologize for being away so long. My computer died recently. So after a quick but moving funeral and a proper mourning period I obtained a new computer. Now here I am with a backlog of reviews. I should be able to post several over the next week or so. 

Where did I leave off? Oh yes, with books about elections. Well I don't feel like talking about the election today so you'll have to wait a little longer for more picture books about the election. Today I want to talk about why dinosaurs went extinct.

Dinosaurs Love Underpants
By Claire Freedman
Illustrated by Ben Cort
For Ages 4 - 8
             Like ""Dinotrux" by Chris Gall, this picture book takes a lighthearted look at the life and times of dinosaurs and throws in some underpants humor. Rated 3.5 (humor, dinosaurs, fiction)
What really happened to the dinosaurs? You have probably heard the meteor impact theory. And you may be familiar with the global climate change idea. I don't think either of those theories are accurate. Believe it or not, underpants were the downfall of dinosaurs.
When cavemen decided they no longer wanted to be naked, one of them created underpants. Most likely something with an animal print or camouflaged with the surrounding vegetation. One or two polka dots might have slipped in as well. The cavemen were happy with their underpants, but the dinosaurs were not. They wanted all the underpants for themselves. Before long the dinosaurs stole, bit, ripped and tore until it was an all out underwear war.
Although the verse seems a little forced, the underpants scenario is quite funny and the illustrations do well to highlight the hilarity. Young readers will have giggle fits, especially young boys.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Red, White and Blue

Over the next couple weeks we will be inundated with political conventions. Then the real campaigning for the presidency begins and politics will take over all media. So over the next couple weeks I am going to highlight a few picture books about voting and running for president. We might as well have a little fun with it.

“Madam President”
By Lane Smith
For Ages 5- 10
     Text and visual comedy marry to deliver a steady dose of political satire even young elementary school children will enjoy in Lane Smith’s “Madame President.” Rated 4.5 (politics, humor, government)
     Katy explains the ins and outs of being the president with refreshing candor and behaves as if she is not going to become the president, but already is the president. At one point she attends the “state funeral” of a pet frog and turns an oral report into a press conference. Humorous attitude is plentiful in this romp such as when Katy wields her veto power over tuna casserole. One bit that stuck with me was the lyrics for “Hail to the Chief.” I love when they praise “her rad administration.
     Not unlike Smith’s “John, Paul, George and Ben,” this tale knows how to have fun with politics. So much so that it will make members of both major parties laugh… and their children too.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

I am currently reading "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again" with my boys. Expect a review when I am finished. Also expect to see a review of "Priscilla the Great: the Kiss of Life," by Sybil Nelson, from my 12-year-old son and myself in the next couple weeks. Until then here is a review of a picture book for pet lovers.

"The True Story of Ten Dogs: Stay"
By Michaela Muntean
Photography by K.C. Bailey and Steve Kazmierski
For Ages 4 – 8
            Learn about 10 rescue pups their owner as they put on a circus act that will have you smiling from ear-to-ear. Rated 4 (non-fiction, dogs, circus)
If you could capture the magic of the circus in a picture book you’d end up with "Stay." This fascinating tale tells the story of Luciano Anastasinia, a seventh-generation circus performer, and his loveable canine crew. Anastasinia rescues his pups from the pound and decides to learn a thing or two about them before deciding how to put an act together. He discovers that Penny is a cross-eyed bichon fries and Bowser is a kleptomaniacal beagle mix. Not a trainer, Anastasinia shows remarkable patience with his animal buddies and develops a true understanding of how to work with them. If you find something you like to do, work is fun. And that is how they put together a successful circus act.
The vivid photographs that illustrate "Stay" tell a wonderful story of understanding and love. When combined with playful text a fantasy trip to the big top develops with a tale about overcoming obstacles and second chances that even young readers can understand and enjoy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

100 Days that Changed the World... Kind of

What do you think about sequels to classic books, especially when they are not written by the original authors? "Peter Pan in Scarlet," the official sequel to J. M. Barrie's "Peter and Wendy," comes to mind. It was good, but not quite on the level of Barrie. I get too intrigued when I see a new sequel to a classic novel and can't keep myself from reading it. I recently finished the sequel to Jules Verne's, "Around the World in 80 Days." The review is below. I also picked up the sequel to Ian Fleming's, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." I plan to read that with my kids then review it here.

"Around the World in 100 Days"

By Gary Blackwood

For Ages 10 - 13
If you like Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" you'll be happy to read Blackwood's sequel, "Around the World in 100 Days." Rated 4.5 (adventure, mild peril, historical fiction)

If Phileas Fogg was able to circle the globe in 80 days, why doe sit take his son harry 100 days? That is the question I was asking when I picked this book up. It is all quickly explained when Harry, like his father, gets himself into a bet involving a steam-powered automobile he and his best friend built. Now he has to try and travel the globe using nothing but his car. Of course he can use boats over the oceans so don't over think it. 

Harry and his crew face wildfires, sabotage, trains and kidnapping, but they keep steaming along. Both my 7-and 11-year-old sons couldn't put this adventure down once they started reading it. The adventure is fast and fun. The characters are well-developed and keep to Verne's styling, which is a nice touch. History is incorporated well and the plot keeps you guessing without teaching too much or getting bogged down in mysteries. I only wish Blackwood would have developed some of the adventures a little more. 

Blackwood is probably best know for his "The Shakespeare Stealer" series. But his fans and those of "Around the World in 80 Days" will thoroughly enjoy this sequel. I wonder if he'll write another sequel? Maybe around the world in 120 days.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Extreme Weather Palooza

The recent record heat wave has people talking about the "crazy weather" again. So let's review another book that is all about weird weather.

"Eye of the Storm"
By Kate Messner
For Ages 10 - 14
Politically-tinged storm and action adventure. Rated 2.5 (extreme storms, genius teens, peril)
We’re destroying the environment with internal combustion engines. The weather is getting crazy. Corporations are evil and the military can’t be trusted. And if you work too much you’re harming your children. If you believe at least a couple of these statements you’ll love "Eye of the Storm." However, if you think that these statements are political propaganda you’ll want to keep this book out of your children’s hands.

All political views aside, there are some serious problems with this story. "Eye of the Storm" is a tornado-driven adventure that follows 13-year-old Meg and her science summer camp comrades as they try to save the planet from an evil mastermind that wants to use tornadoes to control the world. It’s full of action – one storm after another – which adds excitement but the characters and plot are woefully thin. The science, which begins as a very interesting aspect of story, is quickly over-explained until the it's simply convoluted. 

I was not a fan and suggest that if you want a storm-driven story that delivers, try the "Storm Runner" series instead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Do You Like "The 39 Clues"?

Scholastic has a new series launching this August that should be tailor-made for fans of "The 39 Clues." Following the same formula of kids traveling around the world while bad guys try to stop them, "Infinity Ring" separates itself from "The 39 Clues" with a big twist. It's a time traveling adventure. Look for my column in Lowcountry Parent, Palmetto Parent, Upstate Parent, KC Parent or The Post and Courier newspaper for a full review. The column should appear in September at the latest. Until then, happy reading!

Monday, June 25, 2012

So Mysterious

I understand that you don't always have time to sit and read a thorough review , so I like to offer quick little reviews from time to time. 

"Vanishing Acts: A Maggie Brooklyn Mystery"
By Leslie Margolis
For Ages 8 - 12
A mysterious dog egger, a missing teen heartthrob, some quirky characters and little teen romance fill out this Maggie Brooklyn mystery. Rated 3 (mystery, romance, father/son relationship) 

The pacing is steady but the action is not what really keeps this story moving. It’s all about the relationships. Whether its Maggie’s budding romance or the relationship between a teen movie star and his father, the characters and dialogue are well-developed and honest.
What’s good: Great character development.
What’s bad: A glut of adolescent teen mysteries on the market.

"Sleuth or Dare: Partners in Crime"
By Kim Harrington
For Ages 8 - 12
If the "Nancy Drew Mysteries" were combined with "The Babysitter's Club" you would end up with something like "Sleuth or Dare." 
Rated 3 (mystery, school, mild scares)

Best friends Darcy and Norah create a fictional detective agency for a class project and things are great until a real client hires them for a missing person case. What do they do when a threat is left in a school locker? Can they stick with the case until they solve it? The mystery is fun and dangerous.
What’s good: Good character development and strong friendships.
What’s bad: The mystery is a little easy to solve


Friday, June 15, 2012

Storm Season

We've already had a tropical storm this year along the east coast of the U.S. And now that we are in hurricane season I am sure there will be plenty more to follow. So it is as good a time as any to read some books that revolve around storms. Roland Smith's "Storm Runners" Fills your Summer with Adventures and Excitement

“Storm Runners" (Series)
By Roland Smith
For Ages 9 – 12
     Roland Smith brings his signature intensity to these three books. Each is about 150 pages in length and you won’t want to put them down until you're finished. Notice: You have been warned! Rated 4.5 (adventure, peril, heroism)

     In “Storm Runners” we’re introduced to Chase Masters, a 13-year-old boy with survival smarts. His mother and sister were killed in a car accident and his father was struck by lightning. Soon after the lightning strike Chase and his father hit the road fixing people’s houses after big storms. They thought they had seen and prepared for everything until they run into "the hurricane of the century" in Florida. One disaster after another are hurled at Chase and two of his classmates, Nicole and Rashawn, as they struggle to survive the night and find their families.

     In the second book, "The Surge," our heroes have safely made it through the night and managed to make it to Nicole's family farm. Now they are facing entirely new dangers. Her family farm happens to be the winter home of the Rossi Brothers' Circus and the animals are loose. This includes the lions and a very nasty leopard. Flood waters are rising, the kids need to find higher ground and one of the circus elephants is about to give birth and cannot be moved. It's another nail biter.

     Roland pulls out all the stops in the final book, “Eruption.” The Rossi Brothers’ Circus has gone missing after an earthquake in Mexico and Chase is part of the rescue team headed south of the border to find them. This time the gang faces more circus animals on the loose, the eruption of Mount Popocatepetl, landslides and much more as they search for the circus and Nicole’s mother.

     The action and adventure offer non-stop excitement and peril. Even the most reluctant reader will have a difficult time taking a break. The teen characters are well developed and smart. Although these books may be most appealing to boys, there are strong female characters that will keep girls interested as well. The only real drawback is the big finale. It’s a little too far-fetched and neatly wrapped up. Most young readers won’t let the ending stop them from wishing there was another book in the series though. This is definitely a fun and enjoyable series for light summertime reading.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Vamp It Up

I have spent the last three weeks dealing with an awful case of poison ivy and poison sumac. Between scratches I was able to read a few books. So here is my first review back from the edge of itching insanity.

"The Vampire Stalker"
By Allison Van Diepen
For Ages 12 - 16
     Think "Twilight" meets "Inkheart." Vampires leap from the pages of a popular book series into modern day Chicago and adventure and mayhem ensue. Rated 3.75 (vampires, romance, violence) 
     Amy is a 17-year-old fan of the popular "Otherworld" books. She has become so infatuated with the sordid adventure series, that she has fallen in love with the main character, Alexander. He is a brooding and very handsome vampire hunter. When Alexander and his arch-nemesis Vigo unknowingly enter our world it doesn't take long for panic to take hold in the city. Amy befriends Alexander and helps him discover a way back to his world. But before he can go back they have to find Vigo and kill him.
     It's not a new idea -- bringing characters from the pages of a book to life -- but Van Diepen does a good job keeping the story lively and fun. Sure you have to suspend disbelief and that can be difficult at times. The fact that Amy's mother is so willing to let Alexander stay in their condo without any knowledge of who he is may be the hardest thing to believe. The teen relationships and dialogue are fairly accurate and entertaining. The action is sprinkled throughout to keep the tempo up. And when Amy's snotty younger sister is kidnapped by Vigo things get very intense.
     Unfortunately the whole book is a little too predictable, not that it will matter to most teen readers. The idea of overly romanticized vampires coming to life will appeal to many readers, especially young "Twilight" fans. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Wanna Rock!

American Idol ends tomorrow tonight and, I believe, that marks the end of the reality music competition shows for this season. Don't worry. Don't fret. I found a book that will bring the music to your house.

"So You Want to Be a Rock Star"
By Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Kirstie Edmund
For Ages 4 - 10
Think rock 'n' roll camp in a book and you'll find the melody in no time. Rated 4.5 (rock 'n' roll, how to, music)
Are you ready to rock? Are your children inspired to bounce, sing and dance around the house by the pop stars from Disney and Nickelodeon? Then your budding rock stars will love this rollicking "how to" guide for air guitar, rock 'n' roll sneering and dressing for stardom. Definitely not for bedtime, Vernick's text encourages readers to get up strike a pose, singly loudly and prepare for a lot of fans. And anyone who has a TV show and a "you-ride"at an amusement park had better learn how to sign their autograph.
Edmund's highly graphic and retro illustrations complement the rambunctious text with a playful style that brings out the colorful qualities of rock 'n' roll. Parents and children can really let loose and have a good time with this refreshing tale... again and again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sweet Treat for Light Summer Reading

I have been reading a ton of books over the past month. Now I have to begin posting the reviews. That's always the difficult part. Deciding what to say and how to say it can be tricky when you want to say something good. But it's arduous when you feel you have to say something negative. Sometimes I get those feelings before I even read a book. This was one of those times.

"Confectionately Yours: Save the Cupcake!"
By Lisa Papademetriou
For Ages 9 - 13
If you have read "Finally" or "13 Gifts" by Wendy Mass, you'll enjoy the "Confectionately Yours" series by Lisa Papademetriou. Add a little celebrity chef into the mix and you'll get a zesty look at the life of a young teen girl. Rated 4.5 (cupcakes, friendship, divorce)
     I didn't know what to think when I picked this book up. It looked cute. Quite possibly the perfect book for a young teen girly-girl. Then I began reading and discovered a surprisingly layered story stuffed in the pages of this relatively short paperback book. Hayley is a young teen dealing with a divorce, a new house and a best friend that seems to be drifting away. Hayley, her sister and her mother move in with her grandmother until they can get back on their feet. In the meantime they help out around the grandmother's proper English tea room. Hayley has a knack for baking sumptuous cupcakes and sells her creations at her mother's shop. 
     Papademetriou crams a great deal of conflict into the very fast read. There's old friends who drift apart, new friends who come together, protests against the school board, a flourishing business, dad's girlfriend and your basic early teenage relationships. The dialogue is excellent and the pacing superb. Once you begin this sweet tale you never want to put it down. It doesn't hurt that Hayley's cupcake recipes are scattered throughout the book. I can't wait to try a few out.
     The fight to save bake sales at school is front an center in this story with several of the subplots sprouting from the actions surrounding the fight for sweet treats. Personally, though, my favorite part of "Save the Cupcake!" was the relationship between Hayley and her grandmother. 
     As a series I can only hope the rest of the "Confectionately Yours" books are as tasty to read as this one. .

Monday, April 23, 2012

"You Have to Stop This"

What do you think about pseudonyms? Mark Twain, Lemony Snicket, Richard Bachman and George Orwell are some pretty famous ones. How many of these author's real names can you remember? In children's books, pseudonyms have become a large part of the marketing. I recently read the last book in a series with a particularly creative pseudonym for the author. Enjoy the review.

“You Have to Stop This”
By Pseudonymous Bosch
For Ages 9 – 12
The fifth and final book of the “Secret” series finds our heroine Cass struggling to discover the secret and keep it a secret from her friends. Full of action, magic, mystery and a mummy. Rated 4.25 (mystery, action, peril)

If you’ve read the other four books in this series, you already know what to expect. If this is your first foray into this series, close this book and put it down. You need to read the others first.
“You Have to Stop This” begins quickly when Cass discovers an ancient Egyptian ring in the trunk of treasures left to her by her elfin ancestor. The discovery just happens to coincide with a world-class mummy exhibit opening in town. Coincidence? There is no such thing in these stories. When Cass accidentally breaks a finger off the prize attraction at the museum the chaos begins. It does not take long for Cass, Max-Ernest and Yo-Yoji to begin battling the invisible Lord Pharaoh. Both want to be the first to place the ring on the broken finger and discover the secret.

It’s a fast-paced, quirky, fun, mysterious, strange and entertaining adventure. Bosch does a good job of continuing the character development from the earlier books, inserting multiple plot twists and maintaining the battle of good versus evil without ever losing his touch of whimsy. Kids with imagination will love the final installment and wonder – is it really the end?