Friday, August 3, 2012

A Girl Named Disaster

A Girl Named Disaster
By Nancy Farmer

My husband and I are going to Mozambique with a missionary organization. We're very excited. In preparation for our trip, this book was recommended to us. Had I seen it before in our library? Yes. Had I recognized that the book was set in Mozambique? No. (Had I heard much about Mozambique before this trip? No.) This book was recommended to us because it offers a detailed insight into the Mozambican worldview and rural culture.I was impressed with the amount of research Nancy Farmer put into this book! I learned so much about Mozambique and yet I didn't feel that the facts watered down the story at all.

This is a survival story. Nhamo, a preteen girl, (whose name means 'disaster') flees her village and an arranged marriage to an old abusive man, wanting to travel to Zimbabwe where her father lives. She takes a dug-out boat along a river into a giant lake, Cahora Bassa, where she is stranded on an island with a community of baboons and various other wild animals.

I felt immersed in the Mozambican mindset while reading the book. (Of course, I haven't been to Mozambique yet, so what do I really know?) I was horrifically intrigued by some of the foods Nhamo ate. I learned a lot about the ways baboons interact with each other. I learned a lot about different religions found in Mozambique. Most interesting of all to me was trying to understand how Nhamo's family could be living in huts eating termites while just a few hundred miles away other people are living in electrically-wired cement homes eating bread with margarine. I can't imagine what it must feel like to walk over a border into an entirely different lifestyle with unimaginable conveniences.

Overall I loved A Girl Named Disaster and am recommending it to friends and family!

Visit Nancy Farmer online

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Fun (and varied) Back-to-School Reads!

Olivia and the Best Teacher Ever
Adapted by Ilanit Oliver
Illustrated by Shane L. Johnson

Olivia's teacher, Mrs. Hoggenmuller, is competing for the Teacher of the Year award. The winner of the award gets her picture up on all the school buses for that year! A judge, Mrs. Stern, comes to observe the class and decide whether Mrs. Hoggenmuller is worthy of the award. Olivia and her friends decide that they are going to do all in their power to show that their teacher should be Teacher of the Year. Despite all their efforts, when the class frog lands on Mrs. Stern's head, Mrs. Stern leaves in a huff, promising that Mrs. Hoggenmuller will not be the recipient of the award.

I always feel a bit skeptical of books that are adapted from a well-known and loved character. Ian Falconer's Olivia books are lovely. Though Olivia and the Best Teacher Ever pales in comparison to the original Olivia stories, children who have fallen in love with this creative pig will also enjoy this story.


Dora Goes to School
Adapted by Leslie Valdes
Illustrated by Robert Roper

Children who love Dora the Explorer will enjoy this little story! Dora is on her way to her first day of school when she meets up with la maestra Beatriz, whose bike has gotten a flat tire! How will Dora, Boots and Maestra Beatriz get to school on time? Children will enjoy following along on Dora's map to see the exciting route taken to get to school on time. The bright, colorful pictures will appeal to young readers as well.


Marco Goes to School
By Roz Chast

I was pretty excited about this book when I opened it up. Marco is a little red bird whose mother happens to be a human. He is bored. Bored with his sandbox, bored with the TV, bored with doing laundry. Marco's mom tells him that he's going to be starting school. When Marco goes to school, he makes a new friend and gets to experience classroom life.

Though some of the humor was fun and a little quirky, and though the illustrations were fun, I was a little disappointed with the book. The story felt disjointed in places, and at one point I started at an illustration and the text underneath for a while, trying to figure out its connection to the story. I was also disappointed that the teacher and learning in the school environment were so poorly portrayed. Pretty much all the teacher says is, "Blah, blah, blah," and Marco is constantly tuning her out in favor of his much more interesting fantasies. Maybe worth a read, but not my favorite!


One of a Kind
By Ariel S. Winter
Illustrated by David Hitch
One of a Kind in an imaginative story about a little boy named Lysander who is the only only child attending a school for twins. He feels left out and alone until the school's yearly event Twindividuation, which is a series of events 'meant to encourage individuality.' In each of the events of Twindividuation, Lysander excels. Whether it's singing a solo or the one-man relay, or choosing a flavor of ice cream without twin consultation. Lysander learns that, though being an individual can sometimes be lonely, sometimes being an individual has its benefits too. Very cute! Check it out!


Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World
By Susan Hughes

Off to Class is one of my new favorite back-to-school reads. Simply put, this book tells the story of a wide variety of schools from around the world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the chapters don't cover the prosaic subjects like 'desks,' and 'writing utensils.' The author addresses some of these differences, but via different avenues. Many things prevent children from attending schools: weather, distance, financing. I was amazed to discover all of the creative ways those barriers are being overcome throughout the world to allow children to get the education they need! This book, written for middle-grade readers, does a nice job of mixing text and pictures, personal anecdotes and facts. I highly recommend Off to Class!

*These books were sent for review purposes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The House on Tradd Street

The House on Tradd Street
By Karen White 

I'm woefully behind on book reviews. Even though I've been spending a lot of time reading about Mozambique and studying Portuguese in a vain attempt to master some of the language before we go, I'm still managing to find time to read.

I am not, however, finding much time to review what I read!

The House on Tradd Street was our book club book for June. (We just had our July book discussion, which shows just how far behind I am.) I procrastinated for a while on starting the book, because I knew it was a ghost story. Sometimes I handle ghost stories well, but recently my tolerance for anything remotely creepy or stressful has been quite low.

Anyway, when I did start reading, I managed to finish pretty quickly. I was drawn right in! This is a story set in South Carolina about a realtor named Melanie who can see and talk to ghosts. Because of this, she abhors old houses, which are ripe with restless spirits. However, she inherits an old house from a man she's met once. She and her friend Jack are drawn (willingly or not) into solving the mystery of the malevolent spirit and the woman pushing a swing, day and night, in the garden.

I've never been to South Carolina, but even now, a month after reading the book, I can conjure up vivid pictures of restored mansions and their white picket fences. I was incredibly impressed with the way Karen White was able to describe her setting and characters in ways that made them all feel very, very real. The main character, Melanie, reminded me very much of a woman who comes into the library where I work occasionally. The first time I saw this woman after I was finished reading the book, I was tempted to ask her about her ghost-hunting! Karen White also did an excellent job of introducing me to architecture and restoration techniques without bogging me down. Kudos to her! Erik Larson's descriptions of architecture did not capture my attention in the same way. Stay tuned for my review of The Devil in the White City.)

Over all, an engaging read. Some of the ghost run-ins were a little hokey (but not too bad). I was a little disappointed that White's editor didn't catch that the May Clinic is in Rochester, Minnesota, instead of Rochester, New York. But I'm full of grace. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel!

Visit Karen White online

Monday, July 9, 2012

Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners
By Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byer is a good girl, always has been, and the label is more firmly attached because she lives in a small town, where the kids she went to grade school with are the kids she is now in high school with. Lacey Anne's dad is the children's pastor at their church, and she and her friends are involved in all church activities. Lacey has a very clear idea of what right and wrong are. Right and wrong are even more firmly established by her church's yearly outreach, Hell House, in which the teens act out various sin-filled situations and the consequences in order to shake people into a 'decision for Christ.' But within a few short months, Lacey Anne's black and white world is going to be rocked to its core.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Even though I found myself bugging my eyes out over the Hell House outreach event (because I'm not sure a Hell House fits very well into what I consider Christianity to be-- maybe it's that it reminds me more of the prophets and less of Jesus), I found myself identifying with Lacey Anne. I remember when my world was defined in black and white, when my parents never made mistakes, and when choosing the right thing was always an easy choice. The author did an excellent job of depicting the turbulent years for a teen in which the world gets a little wider and a little more confusing. Even through the confusion, Lacey Anne makes amends with her parents, begins to make decisions for herself, and learns to balance judgement with love.

This is an excellent book that I'm excited to read and discuss with our online teen book club!

Visit Melissa Walker online

Help! A Vampire's Coming!

Help! A Vampire's Coming!
By Abby Klein 

For our 1st-2nd grade book club this summer, we're going to be reading this fun little story (amid other activities geared toward that squirmy age group). I sat down with it and a hot cup of tea this morning and stood up about 15 minutes later with a smile on my face.

Freddy is afraid to go to sleep. He has started waking up with horrible nightmares about a vampire who chases him and tries to drink his blood. He doesn't want to tell his parents. Instead, from his friends, he gets advice to sprinkle garlic (in his mom's kitchen he finds garlic powder) around his room and to nail his window shut. When his dad discovers the nailed window, the truth comes out. Freddy's dad and sister Suzie help Freddy train his stuffed animals to be Dream Police and bash any dream bad guys. It works! Freddy can finally get a decent night of sleep.

This is a fun book for kids learning to read. There's enough action and conversation that kids will be entertained. Kids will also learn some good ways to handle nightmares. I appreciate that this book teaches kids that talking to their parents about things that upset them is both helpful and important. I also appreciated the projects and advice in the back of the book for kids to deal with their bad dreams.

Visit Abby Klein at Scholastic

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
By William Joyce
Illustrated by Joe Bluhme

This book is absolutely delightful. It's another book about books to help children love books, and I must say, it's working for me! Morris Lessmore loves words, stories, and books. Every day he writes in his own book. I love the wording, so I'm just going to share it with you: "His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for."

One day a storm comes and blows everything he knows, even the words in his book, into chaos. Morris Lessmore starts wandering. He meets a lovely lady who lends him her favorite book. The book leads Morris Lessmore to an amazing building that looks and acts very much like a library. Morris Lessmore spends his life among the books, reading and caring for them and sharing them with others. Every night after all his reading was done, Morris Lessmore writes in his own book.

On the day that he fills in the very last page of his own book, he knows it's time for him to move on. The books notice that Morris Lessmore has left something behind: his book. Just then, a little girl comes into the building. She settles down to read the Morris Lessmore's book, and the story ends as it began... "with the opening of a book."

Pardon me in advance for raving. I love this story. I love the author's use of words like 'happenstance,' and 'squadron.' I love the illustrations. Some of them made me chuckle. The illustrator did an excellent job of portraying Morris Lessmore's emotions! I also love that this book not only promotes a love of reading but a love of writing as well. After all, what good is reading if you don't do anything with it? Morris Lessmore spent his whole life with books, but he left something of value behind when he was gone. I don't necessarily think that everyone needs to write, but I love the idea of giving back. Over all The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a lovely book that I look forward to sharing with children.

I'd also like to brag up another, older, book by William Joyce. George Shrinks was one of my very favorite books when I was little (yes, it is that old). In the book, George wakes up one morning to find that he has shrunk. I love the pictures in this book, but I love the imaginative aspect of it as well. Little kids will love (if I am any indication) imagining what their life would be like if they were down-sized. The hushed magical wording that I enjoyed while reading about Morris Lessmore is also present in this older book.

Check them both out!


"Happy, Healthy Ajay!" and "Freda Stops a Bully"

Happy, Healthy Ajay!
By Stuart J. Murphy
Ajay wants to be fast like his friends Freda and Percy and strong like his daddy. In this book, with the help of his parents and his friends, he learns that in order to be healthy (which doesn't necessarily translate to fast and strong but is a good way to start) he should eat healthy meals, play for exercise, drink lots of water, eat healthy snacks, and stay active. Though the reader doesn't learn exactly what foods are healthy, one good example is given. Some good examples of ways to be active are also given. Though the small size of this book would make it difficult to use as a read-aloud for a group, this book is an excellent way to begin discussions with one's own children on ways to be healthy. What a fun way to learn how to be healthy!


Freda Stops a Bully
By Stuart J. Murphy

Freda loves her bright pink shoes. Unfortunately, these shoes make her noticeable and an easy target for a bully at her school. After a few days of being called 'Funny Feet' by the bully, Freda has had enough. Her mom and friends make a few wise suggestions for Freda: Don't listen, walk away, get help, and say stop.When Freda finally confronts the bully with a loud "Stop it!" the bully learns that his joke isn't very funny. to anyone but him. With bullying on the rise and with the sometimes tragic consequences of bullying, this book is a great way to introduce young kids to tools they can use to confront bullies in their school. Easy read but also informative and helpful!

*These books were sent for review purposes.