Friday, March 8

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, Dial, 2012, 256 pp, ISBN: 0803736703
Recap:
As an infant who washed ashore in a hurricane, tied to a scrap from a billboard, Mo(ses) LeBeau surely does have luck on her side. (Even if all of that luck hasn't helped her find her Upstream Mother in the last eleven years)

But now Mo and her best friend Dale are going to need more than luck if they're going to solve a murder and bring Mo's adopted family home safe again!

Review:
Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky found it's way into my book bag via School Library Journal's Battle of the Books. The very first thing that grabbed my attention was Ms. Mo LeBeau herself. That girl is downright hilarious! I have a (bad?) habit of turning down pages when there's a line I want to remember, and I turned the first three corners down before realizing that Mo was going to make me laugh out loud, or at least crack a grin, on pretty near every page.

Everyone else in Tupelo Landing, NC is just as colorful a character, and the town itself reminded me of a more country-fied version of Stars Hollow -  everybody knows everybody else's business and, for the most part, they love each other just the same.

The plot of the story was where I got stuck. It was about a murder, but the writing was just so funny and cute that I never got that creepy murder feeling. In fact, for a long time I was sure that the murder was going to end up being a hoax. There's another serious plot line going on at the same time, regarding Dale's alcoholic, abusive father, but the reader never actually sees this firsthand until the very end, so again... I just wasn't getting the intense vibe that the story probably deserved. For me, the quick-witted, clever narration from 11-year-old Mo just never seemed to gel with the actual story she was telling.

But maybe that's part of the point? I mean, Mo was only 11, and she was 100% into solving the case with her Desperado Detective partner Dale, so maybe she was just telling the story as seriously as a 11-year-old is able to? Help me out here, book lovers! I know a number of you have read this one and loved it. What do you think I'm missing?

Recommendation:
Three Times Lucky would be perfect for middle grade readers (in this case, I'm picturing grades 4 - 6) who like to laugh and maybe even solve a mystery.

BOB Prediction:
Three Times Lucky goes up against Endangered in the first round, and if I were the judge... I would give it to Endangered, no question. 

Quotable Quotes:
- "Demons!" he gasped, pointing vaguely in my direction. I sighed. Dale's family is Baptist. - Mo

- I tried not to sound impressed. "You stole Mr. Jesse's boat?" He studied his fingernails. "I wouldn't say stole," he said. "But I did borrow it pretty strong." - Mo and Dale

Thursday, March 7

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012, 148 pp, ISBN: 0547443153
Recap:
Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950, not even a decade after the term "autism" had been coined for the very first time. As the spectrum disorder was still so new, very few people had any understanding of what that diagnosis meant - including Temple's own father, who called her "retarded" and wanted to send her away to a mental institution.

But that didn't slow Temple down for a second. Through the support and encouragement of her mother, and some truly stellar teachers, Temple went on to become an inventor, an activist, a college professor, and a source of real life inspiration for thousands around the world.

Review:
Book lovers, I hope you're still with me, because you've got to hear this... Sy Montgomery's book was at the bottom of my BOB list. I already knew a fair amount of Temple's story because my 6th graders had studied her when we were still in Baltimore. And after just finishing Titanic, I was itching for a novel to immerse myself in. But for some reason this title just kept rising to the top of my library bag. So I picked it up. And polished it off in less than 24 hours. Y'all, this book is excellent.

Temple Grandin's life is nothing short of remarkable. She didn't even speak until years later than her peers. As a child, she spent hours twirling in circles. Just the sound of a fan could cause her physical pain. But guess what? As of today, Temple has gone on to be a wildly successful adult, known around the world for her inventions that advance the humane treatment of animals. She is literally the only person ever to be honored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. Just think about that for a second. 

I read a lot of Temple's story in the car, and stopped at least every five minutes to feed my husband another fact about her incredible life. This is the kind of real life read that is just too good to keep to yourself - it needs to be shared.

And I will be the very first to admit that nonfiction can be a hard sell - especially to students! But the book designer, Cara Llewellyn, did a phenomenal job of creating a book that sells itself. Every single page features bright colors, contemporary fonts, and eye-catching illustrations and photographs. Temple Grandin is as much of a pleasure to look at as it is to actually read. 

Recommendation:
If you appreciate nonfiction and/or biographies, you're going to love this one. But even if you're a die-hard fiction fan, I would still whole-heartedly recommend that you give Temple Grandin a shot. 

BOB Prediction:
I'm one of Augustus and Hazel's biggest fans so it pains me a little to say this... but I can see Temple giving them a run for their money in the first round. There are few things more powerful than a story that is inspiring, engaging, and TRUE.

Quotable Quotes:
"That's right. I want you to count the moos." - Temple Grandin

"I must conquer my fears and not let them block my way." - Temple Grandin

Wednesday, March 6

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Flash Point, 2012, 272 pp, ISBN: 1596434872
Recap:
In December of 1938, a German chemist named Otto Hahn made a discovery that stunned scientists around the world: he discovered that atoms could, in fact, be split in half.

And while that may not have meant much at the time to most of the world's population, Hahn's discovery eventually became the foundation for the deadliest weapon that our world has ever known.

Bomb is the story of three countries in a race against time - a race to solve the mysteries of physics, a race to make history, a race to kill or be killed.

Review:
Whew, I feel like I just ran a race myself! Book lovers, I am telling you, that Steve Sheinkin had me on the edge of my seat from page 1! Am I a history buff? No. A science scholar? Oh, no. On any given day I'm more likely to be reading People.com than really anything history related. But I could not put this book down.

Thanks to Sheinkin's narrative style and the heaps of (true!) dialogue, Bomb reads very much like a novel. There are pages and pages of photographs, and my favorites were the scrapbook style photos at the beginning of each new section, highlighting the "major players" that the reader was about to meet. The sheer amount of different names could have proven daunting for a reader, but Bomb is written so skillfully that I never once felt overwhelmed or confused. Rather, I couldn't wait to see what the next chapter would hold.

I think one of the marks of a truly great read is when you frequently find yourself talking about it with others. In the past few days, I've managed to turn a number of conversations around toward Soviet spies, particle physics, secret science labs in the desert, and weapons of mass destruction. Seriously, can you tell I'm hooked on this book?

Recommendation:

If you are at all interested in World War II or in Science, Bomb is a must-read. And for the record, I'm not particularly interested in either of those subjects, but I still found Bomb completely fascinating. In the mood to expand your reading horizons? Pick up Bomb today.
(PS: Did I mention that Bomb won the Sibert Medal for nonfiction + was selected as a Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist??)

BOB Prediction:
Honestly book lovers, this one is just too close for me to call. I have a sincere love for Wonder. It's one of the best books I've read this year. BUT... Bomb is one of the best, most engaging pieces of nonfiction that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I do not envy judge Kenneth Oppel in this round!

Quotable Quotes:
- "When do we get as scared as we ought to?" - Leona Woods

- (on site at the Trinity test) "We were told to lie down on the sand, turn our faces away from the blast, and bury our heads in our arms. No one complied. We were determined to look the beast in the eye." - Edward Teller

- (in reference to the chill that settled over the jubilant crowd of physicists, following the successful test at Trinity) "It was the chill of knowing they had used something they loved - the study of physics - to build the deadliest weapon in human history." - Steve Sheinkin



Tuesday, March 5

When Was the Last Time...

...you forced yourself to expand your reading horizons?

As a teacher, I used to love coercing my students into reading a book that I just KNEW they would love. There were a few eager readers in every class, but for the most part, my kiddos were pretty resistant to independent reading time. Being the book lover I am, I refused to believe that it was possible for someone to actually not like reading - the unbeliever just hadn't been introduced to the right book yet! After they had been coaxed/compelled/bribed to expand their reading horizons a bit... I would venture to say that at least 95% of them became, at the very least, book likers. If you're a teacher or librarian, can you relate?
(awesome image here, text added via Ribbet)
BUT... what about US? You and me, the ones who already love to hunker down with a good book? How often are we willing to branch out and try a new genre? For me, the answer is not often. I'm pretty darn content with my often-dystopian-or-post-apocolyptic-sci-fi-fantasy-with-the-occasional-romance-thrown-in (did you know that was a genre?). And, lucky me, the YA book world has no shortage of novels that fit that description.

BUT... that also means I'm missing out on quite a lot of book loving goodness.

That's why every year I just can't wait for the excellence that is School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids Books. I know I've already talked about it here, but as I've been reading through this year's list of Contenders (have to finish before the 12th!) I've been struck over and over again by the amazing-ness that I would have missed had the BOB not forced me to try (many!) new things. Who would have thought I'd end up rather obsessed with a book about the atom bomb? Or bonobo apes? Or a woman who designs cow enclosures for a living?

So tell me book lovers, when was the last time you read out of your comfort zone? 

Monday, March 4

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion Book CH, 2012, 352 pp, ISBN: 1423152190
Recap:
Imagine yourself a prisoner of war. Your plane was shot down in Nazi occupied France. All of your clothes have been taken away. An iron rod has been tied to your back. You are tortured on a daily basis. How long would it take you to break?

And when you started talking, what story would you tell?

Review:
It took me two attempts to read Code Name Verity. Not because I couldn't get into the first time - quite the opposite in fact. My first attempt was the audiobook, read by the immensely talented Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell (although I didn't quite make it to Gaskell's portion). Christie was the voice of "Verity" and her gorgeous Scottish brogue made the book for me. I can still hear her spitting out "mein Hauptsturmf├╝hrer von Linden," and goodness knows I would have completely muddled up that pronunciation had I been reading all on my own. Christie did an absolutely brilliant job of nailing down each nuance and innuendo of Verity's story, all through the power of her voice.

Now, when I started reading/listening to Code Name Verity, I didn't know a single thing about the story except that it was generating a ton of positive buzz in the book world. **Possible spoiler alert: When Verity's section abruptly ended and Maddie's began, I was so upset that I immediately ejected the CD and took it straight back to the library. Why was Elizabeth Wein taking Verity away??? Bring her back!!!

Well, about a week later, I was burning up to know how the book ended. So I checked out the print version from the library - hence, my second attempt. And I actually just started fresh from the very beginning. Seriously, this story does not get old. And I picked up on so many more things on the second read-through! So, I would consider the second attempt a big success. When I got to Maddie's story again, I was ready. And then Maddie had to go and blow my mind. Verity wasn't gone by a long shot, and her story just took a very dramatic twist when it picked up with her best friend. Elizabeth Wein, I take back what I said before. You are a genius.

Recommendation:
If you love a mystery, if you appreciate historical fiction, if you get into a girl power story, if you are simply a human being who loves to read... do not pass up Code Name Verity

BOB Prediction:
Code Name Verity is going straight to the Big Kahuna Round. I will be pretty shocked if it doesn't win the whole thing.

Quotable Quotes:
"I have told the truth." - Verity
(If you've read it, doesn't this line still just give you the chills??)

Wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012, 320 pp, ISBN: 0375869026
Recap:
August Pullman doesn't look like anyone else. Born with a severe facial deformity that is still dramatic even after years of plastic surgery, Auggie tells readers "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

At the beginning of August's 5th grade year, he starts attending public school for the first time in his life. Not surprisingly, the transition is anything but easy.

But August's life is like real life - nothing can be all good or all bad, people will always surprise you, there is always hope.

Review:
Book lovers, I am woefully late to the party that is Wonder. Admittedly, I skipped it on purpose. I knew the gist of the story, and just didn't feel like being depressed. But it's one of the Contenders for the 2013 BOB so off to the library I went. Two nights ago I posted on my sister's facebook wall "Please give me some encouragement to start Wonder..." Within 30 minutes there was a LIST of different people telling me to read it immediately, and they all used lots of exclamation points. I couldn't avoid it any longer.

And I am kicking myself for waiting so long. Wonder is 100% about one boy's face, and how it affects the people around him. But you know what? It's also not really about his face at all. Wonder is about all of us. It's about how we choose to treat each other - how much effort we are willing to make to reach out, to love, to empathize with one another, whether we know each other or not. Wonder is about living life courageously, and with a sense of humor. It is about doing the right thing, not because we will be applauded or appreciated - but doing the right thing, even when others may laugh or turn their backs, simply because it is right.

As I read, I couldn't help but think of my son, Lincoln. He has the sweetest spirit and the kindest heart, and I just pray that his dad and I can help him to nurture and guard those qualities as he grows up. I hope that Lincoln grows up to be like Auggie, or Via, or Jack, or Summer. I never buy books, but there is no doubt that I will be adding a copy of Wonder to Linc's bookshelf.

One note about the format: I've read some reviews where the reader really didn't care for the way the narrators switched around to include a variety of different people in August's life. While I thought some choices were surprising (his sister's boyfriend for one), the changing narrators never once pulled me out of the story. In fact, I felt like they added so much more dimension. Because of the multiple first-person perspectives, we were able to witness a variety of personal transformations on a very intimate level. I loved that. But I just really wished Mr. Browne had had his own chapters; his precepts were one of my favorite parts of the book!

Recommendation:
Read it. Read it to your children. Read it in your book club. Read it with your students, or your spouse, or your best friend. Wonder is literally a must-read.

BOB Prediction:
Oh man, this is a tough one. A huge part of me wants to predict that Wonder will go all the way to the Big Kahuna Round. However... it's up against Bomb in the first round. Potentially life-changing fiction vs. absolutely brilliant nonfiction. This one is too close for me to call; I'd be happy either way!

Quotable Quotes:
"Shall we make a new rule of life... always try to be a little kinder than necessary." - J.M. Barrie

"Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world." - August Pullman

"If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God." - Mr. Tushman

Thursday, February 28

Liar & Spy

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Lamb Books, 2012, 192 pp, ISBN: 0385737432
Recap:
Things aren't going so hot for Georges (the "s" is silent). His dad just lost his job, forcing their family to move out of their house and into an apartment. His mom is working at the hospital almost 24 hours a day. And Dallas Llewellyn is doing everything he can to make Georges' life a nightmare at school.

But when Georges joins the Spy Club, things start to look up for the first time in months...

Review:
Rebecca Stead, my hat is off to you. When You Reach Me was pure genius. I laughed, I cried, you shocked me in the end. Liar and Spy followed almost the same trajectory. (Sidenote: Are you friends in real life with Esme Raji Codell? Because I just have a feeling you would love each other.)

Liar and Spy is really a very simple story, that pretty much every 4th, 5th, or 6th grader in America could relate to a some point: struggles at home + bullies at school = a very lonely time in life. It actually started a bit slowly for me, but quickly picked up with the introduction of characters like Safer, Candy (love!), and Bob English Who Draws. Although Liar and Spy lacked the time traveling magic of Stead's first novel, the resiliency and quirkiness of the Blue Team added their own special brand of magic.

And Rebecca Stead truly has a gift for the surprise ending. There are few things I love more than a story that is not predictable!

Recommendation:
I've already started recommending Liar and Spy to anyone (teachers, parents, actual kids!) who work with kiddos in the 4th - 6th grade group. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a book I will read with my own son one day. 
**Just for the record, I listened to Liar and Spy via audiobook, and while I still clearly enjoyed it, I think the reader will gain more from the print version - Bob English Who Draws (and creatively spells) would agree.

BOB Prediction:
Liar and Spy is up against Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz in the first round. Now y'all know I am a big fan of Georges, but Splendors and Glooms just might be my most highly anticipated read of the remaining Contenders. I'm going to have to get back to you after I read it...

Quotable Quotes:
"Boredom is what happens to people who have no control over their minds." - Safer

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