Friday, January 29, 2010

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

The Brixton Brothers, #1
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

I've been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and this has got to be my favorite. And I predict it won't be long before there are quite a few other readers who agree with me.

Steve Brixton absolutely loves the Bailey Brothers mysteries. He's read all of them and counts them as the best books ever. In fact, he's very carefully cut out the center of the pages of a Guinness Book of World Records in order to hide his top-secret notebook containing the 59 best books ever written. And all of those books are Bailey Brothers adventures.

But school interferes with reading, especially when his teacher assigns a report for weekend homework. Asked to draw a report topic out of a hat, Steve watches in horror as his best friend Dana draws the subject 'detectives' while he himself draws 'early American needlework'. Disappointed but resigned, he heads to the library to do some research, finding a book on quilting by someone named J. J. Beckley. Just as the librarian scans the book's barcode, the lights go out, an alarm sounds, and Steve watches in horror as black-clad figures come crashing through the door, windows, and skylight. As the men close in on him, Steve runs. Why are they after him? Is it really for the $3.45 in library fines he owes? Or is there something special about the quilting book he checked out? Steve has to use all of the detective skills he's read about in the Bailey Brother's books to solve this mystery.

If you are a fan of the Hardy Boys books, you'll recognize that author Mac Barnett has created a hilarious parody of those well-loved mysteries. Steve and buddy Dana, whom Steve likes to call his chum, try to solve the mystery surrounding the quilting book using tips from the Bailey Brothers detective handbook. But they learn the hard way that what happens on the printed page doesn't always happen quite so smoothly in real life. For example, when Steve tries to track down a Mr. Grabes at a dockside bar, he dons a sailor costume in the hopes of blending in with the other sailors. But these sailors wear jeans and t-shirts making Steve look out of place. The gig is up when Steve's fake mustache falls into his milk.

Situation after funny situation like this one propel the story forward to a surprising ending. Of course, if you're a Hardy Boys fan, you'll have been able to spot the real thief all along. But even if you do, don't give up on this one. On the last page, Steve says his next case is The Ghost Writer Secret, making me highly suspicious that this will not be the one and only Brixton Brothers book. If my deductions are correct, I can't wait for the next installment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Build Your Own Country

Written by Valerie Wyatt
Illustrated by Fred Rix
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Wouldn't it be awesome to be king or queen of your own country? You declare the eating of spinach be against the law or allow playing games on your Nintendo DS to count as homework. But how would your country make any money? And what would your national anthem be?

Take my advice - check out 'How to Build Your Own Country' and you'll find out all the answers to those questions and more. With colorful, eye-catching illustrations, 'How to Build Your Own Country' is a civics lesson on nation building. It gives very practical and understandable advice on how a nation goes about developing itself, from creating it's own flag and motto to how it populates itself, governs itself, and attracts businesses. With real examples, such as the Principality of Sealand (which I had never heard of and had to research), 'How to Build Your Own Country' is a great read even if you have no plans to start your own country!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Monday is Awards Day!

This coming Monday, January 18, the American Library Association will announce the winners of various children's and young adult literary prizes, including the Caldecot and Newbery awards. If you can't wait to hear who wins, tune in to watch a live presentation of the awards here. It's always fun to watch and hear which excellent books win awards and sad to think of the many wonderful books that seem to get overlooked. But that's what makes book sharing fun - the awards may generate the publicity but reading and sharing books with friends helps us find the hidden gems!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Extreme Animals:The Toughest Creatures on Earth

Written by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Did you know that wood frogs use sugar as a type of antifreeze? This lowers the point at which their bodies freeze to below zero, allowing them to survive in very cold temperatures.

How about this tidbit - bacteria that live near volcanoes are called thermophiles. They love temperatures that range from 176F to 230F. Now, we humans might like it hot but we sure can't stand that kind of heat!

'Extreme Animals' is full of interesting information about the creatures in the world around us that survive and even thrive in conditions too extreme for people, from Arctic cold to bottom-of-the-ocean heat plumes. Cartoon-like illustrations help emphasize the extremes found in the text. While the text is difficult for younger readers, it's certainly a book that could be read aloud to them. In fact, they'd find that the animals that survive in extreme climates in our world make reality TV show survivors look like wimpy kids!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors

Written by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Most enjoyed by poetry lovers of all ages

A poetry book about seasonal colors is perfect for this time of year. We've had our share of snow and bitter cold this winter. As beautiful as the landscape is blanketed by snow, a splash of color is what our eyes search for when it's sunny. Sometimes, it's hard to find. But after reading 'Red Sings from Treetops', I think it will be a little bit easier to spot those colors that are hiding right in front of us.

Beginning with the season of spring, Ms. Sidman describes colors and how they change with each season. White sounds like storms in spring but dazzles in the winter. Green is tired and dusty in fall but is the queen of summer. The imagery created by each color makes readers say 'Yes, that is the way pink is in winter' or 'Yellow really does grow wheels in fall as it goes off to school'. Ms. Sidman creates so many perfect word pictures with her poetry that I think even the youngest of readers or listeners will be able to relate to the text. And they'll delight in the illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. What joy they contain! Part collage and part painting on wood, they have a sort of spontaneity to them that perfectly reflects the poetry.

I've read 'Red Sings from Treetops' a number of times now and can't get enough of it. I'm glad it starts with the season of spring because it reminds me that despite the cold and snow, it will be here eventually. In the meantime, I can start watching for the colors that will tell me it's just around the corner.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let it Snow

Written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 2nd graders

We received this book in the library today and I debated about reading aloud to the 1st graders. It's really a Christmas book so it seemed a little after-the-fact since the holiday has passed. However, I decided to give it a go and read it anyway since it's such a great book about friendship. I'm glad I did; the 1st graders agreed that it's perfect for any time of year.

Toot and Puddle are the best of friends. Puddle knows that Toot loves hiking and maps and is very brave and daring. Toot knows that Puddle loves trees and cooking and is a true artist. In fact, they know each other so well, they're stumped for what to make each other for Christmas (no store-bought whatsits for these two). A snowy day, though, provides just the inspiration both need to create just the right gift for a very best friend.

This is such a warm, wonderful story that perfectly embodies the idea that the best gift giving is from the heart rather than a store. Despite the fact the story takes place at Christmas, it's a sentiment that can be put into play any time of the year. Toot and Puddle are such warm, caring friends that young readers will fall in love with them right away. There are many Toot and Puddle stories and unfortunately, this is the only one we have right now. But I'm adding some of their other titles to our 'must buy' list so we can enjoy more of their adventures together.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Secret of Zoom

Written by Lynne Jonell
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Christina Adnoid has been sheltered by her father since her mother's death in the Loompski Laboratories when Christina was four. The labs, owned by Leo Loompski, were created so the scientist could discover uses for zoom, a substance found in the rocks of the Starkian Mountain Range. But Leo has disappeared and the labs are now run by his nephew Lenny whose main goal is to win the Karnicky Medal no matter what the cost. Christina has only faint memories of her mother who had been helping Leo and was on the verge of a great discovery when she was blown to bits in a huge explosion. Now, even years later, Dr. Adnoid is overly cautious about keeping his daughter safe. Not allowed to go to school or play with other children, Christina spends hours watching them from a distance while trying to avoid difficult math lessons on her computer.

One day, during her daily hour of fresh air in the yard, Christina spots a young boy hauling garbage. He talks to her long enough to tell her that he's named Taft and is one of the orphans living in the Loompski Orphanage she can see from her bedroom window. Christina is intrigued by Taft and his story of a tunnel hidden in her house, a house that was built by Leo Loompski himself. When Christina discovers the tunnel, she's elated to find that it leads to the outside, directly in front of the orphanage. She watches in amazement as one by one the orphans are forced to sing. Those who sing on key are chosen to ride in the back of the garbage truck, never to be seen again. Christina spots Taft in the crowd, watches as he narrowly escapes the truck, then helps him back to her house. That's when she discovers that there is something mysterious going on with the orphans that involves the zoom and, could it be, perhaps, her mother?

School Library Journal listed 'The Secret of Zoom' as one of 2009's Best Books and they are right. I absolutely loved this book and can't wait to get it into the hands of readers looking for a great adventure story. My description of the book doesn't do it justice because there is so much more to it but I don't want to give too much away. Just let me say that 'The Secret of Zoom' is a page-turner. Christina is a great heroine who has to summon up courage she didn't know she had to help Taft and the orphans. Taft is a big-hearted boy who longs for a chance to go to school to learn the math Christina hates. The mystery of what zoom is and how it works propels the story forward, as does the discovery Christina makes about her mother. But I will stop here and ask that you take my word for it and check out 'The Secret of Zoom'. You'll find this a book you'll enjoy right from the first page.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Notes from the Dog

Written Gary Paulsen
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Finn is not what you'd call a popular guy. In fact, he's not exactly even the most social guy and he knows it. People make Finn uncomfortable so he's looking forward to a summer of avoiding them. His books, his dog Dylan, and his closest friend Matthew will make the summer just fine. But that's before he meets Johanna, the woman next door. She's been his new neighbor for a few weeks, caring for the house of vacationing professors. She's friendly, thin as a rail, bald, and battling cancer. When she asks Finn to help her plant a garden in his yard, his summer plans to only talk to 12 people are quickly derailed. As Finn and Matthew's friendship with Johanna grows, they watch her battle the effects of chemotherapy and learn of her goal to raise $10,000 for cancel research. When Johanna becomes too ill to compete in the cancer survivor's triathlon, Finn and Matthew agree to fill in for her and raise the money so her goal can be met. Of course, to do this, Finn will have to talk to a few more than 12 people. Will he be able to survive this summer?

Gary Paulsen is known to most of our students as the author of gripping survival stories and 'Notes from the Dog' can definitely be considered a survival story. This time, tho, the adversary is cancer and it's devastating effects not only on it's victims but those who love them. It's also a story of hope and change, as Finn and Matthew take on roles and responsibilities they normally would have avoided. While the story can have it's sad moments, Mr. Paulsen injects enough humor to keep it light and uplifting. The ending is somewhat open and I'll be curious to find out how readers interpret the conclusion. Don't miss the opportunity to read another great book by a master storyteller.