Monday, January 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Babymouse #13: Cupcake Tycoon

Author/Illustrators:  Jennifer L. Holm, Matt Holm
Publisher: Random House (September 28, 2010)
Ages: 9 to 12 (independent readers as young as first grade will enjoy Babymouse)
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy

Description from GoodReads:
The word is out. Kids love Babymouse—star of the popular, award-winning, hilarious, PINK graphic-novel series showcasing the trials and tribulations of elementary school. The sassy mouse with attitude to spare has charmed her way into the hearts of kids, parents, and teachers everywhere! The series has won multiple Children’s Choice awards, and one title was the first graphic novel EVER to be named an ALA Notable Children’s Book.

It's champagne wishes and cupcake dreams for Babymouse in Cupcake Tycoon. The school library is having a fund-raiser, and Babymouse is determined to raise the most money and WIN the GRAND PRIZE! Or . . . er, to help the school! The competition is fierce, but Babymouse will stop at nothing to get what she wants, even if it means outselling every last kid in school . . . including her nefarious nemesis, Felicia Furrypaws. The claws are out and the race is on in this absolutely PRICELESS Babymouse!

Last week of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, I reviewed Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.  You can check out the review by clicking here.  I thought I would share with readers one of Jennifer's other creations - Babymouse.  Along with her brother Matt, this talented duo has created a graphic novel series that has middle graders wanting more.  

In the latest Babymouse installment - Cupcake Tycoon - we find our quirky and lovable protagonist raising funds for the school library.  Now we all understand that libraries need more funds and more books but of course in classic Babymouse style, she is sort of the reason why the library needs to raise money.  I won't give it away other than to say that her chronic (but enjoyable) daydreaming may be the cause of the problem.  Much to Babymouse's surprise the school fund-raiser is none other than CUPCAKES!!!  The student who sells the most cupcakes wins a surprise prize.  This sets in motion some friendly (and maybe not always friendly) competition between Babymouse and Felicia Furrypaws.  Will Felicia's well planned out and catchy sales campaign win or will Babymouse stumble upon just the right sales pitch?  Hilarity ensues and the reader is guaranteed to be a winner in the end.

I love Babymouse.  She is far from perfect.  Yet, she is someone that most children can relate with.  In Cupcake Tycoon, all of the regular characters are back, including that troublesome locker, her teacher who must wonder about all of her excuses, and the narrator.  Yes, the narrator that interacts with Babymouse and who often gives her a hard time.  Additionally, we get several glimpses at Babymouse's active fantasy life including Babymouse being the Lord of her own estate to an arm reaching down from heaven to whisk away a book to a daring adventure in Indiana Jones fashion.  

Though this is the 13th book in the Babymouse series, you don't necessarily need to read them in order.  And my guess is that many children don't.  They probably just grab the next book off of the shelf at the library.  However, consider yourself warned, if you do put a copy of Babymouse on your desk at school it will likely be taken/borrowed by the first student who spies it. 

Where on the web can you find more about Babymouse, Jennifer Holm, and Matt Holm:

Random House Official Babymouse Webpage: 

To download an official Babymouse Cupcake Recipe from the authors: 

On Facebook...I Heart Babymouse:!/group.php?gid=53572243216

Jennifer Holm's Babymouse Page: 

Matt Holm's Webpage: 

On Twitter:
Matt Holm can be found @mattholm
Jennifer Holm can be found @jenniholm

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Turtle in Paradise

Author:  Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Children (May 2010)
Grade Level: 4th to 7th
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Award: Newbery Honor 2011

Description from GoodReads:
Inspired by family stories, two-time Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.

Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of being at the ALA Youth Media Awards Press Conference where the Newbery Award & Honor winners were announced.  Up until the Newbery announcement, most of the books receiving recognition were ones that I was familiar with and many I had read.  And then the Newbery winners were announced.  I sat expectantly, wondering if one of my favorite middle grade books would take home the big prize.  Then the announcement was made.  I was perplexed.  There was one winner (MOON OVER MANIFEST) and four honor books.  I had read one (ONE CRAZY SUMMER), heard of two (MOON OVER MANIFEST & HEART OF A SAMURI), and wondered how I had missed the other two.  It appears that I wasn't the only one surprised by the Newbery Committee's selections.  Even my wonderfully stocked local indie bookstore seemed to be caught short without some of the award winners.  Fast forward two weeks later, I have now acquired all of the books that won and I am carefully reading through them.  However, I am going to share with you one of those "how had I missed this" books - TURTLE IN PARADISE.

Jennifer L. Holm, well known for her Babymouse series and a previous two-time Newbery Honor Winner,  takes a step back into her family history to create the story of 11 year old, Turtle living in Key West in 1935.  When I opened up the book, it was kind of late and I intended only to read a chapter or two to get a feel for the book; however, before I knew it, I had read over half the book.  From the first chapter in, Turtle captures your heart.  She is spunky and tells it like it is.  There are no stars in this young girl's eyes but as the reader you don't seem to mind because there is plenty of life and spirit in Turtle.  I found myself chuckling aloud at some of her comments.  When Turtle finds herself in Key West at the small home of her mother's sister (an aunt she has never met) surrounded by 3 boy cousins, and their dog, life is about to become more interesting. 

Holm does an amazing job creating both Turtle's voice, which the reader gets caught up in right from the first chapter, and her setting.  The heat and humidity of a Key West summer along with the depression era feel comes through in a huge way.  It seems that everyone in this part of Key West has a nickname (Beans, Kermit, Slow Poke, Pork Chop, etc.) and her cousins have a gang, but not your usual gang.  They are called the Diaper Gang because they have a secret formula for curing diaper rash and have created a business out of taking cranky babies out for a stroll. I do have to admit that this part conjured up for me old Little Rascal episodes where Spanky and the Gang had some scheme going on.  It does really make you realize how different life is now 75 years later.  Though if you are interested in knowing the secret ingredient in how to cure diaper rash, you just might want to give the book a read. 

Despite Turtle's initial reluctance to be on Curry Lane, she begins to come into her own and learns that maybe home and belonging doesn't have to resemble a Little Orphan Annie comic strip to have meaning.  I will have to say I was surprised at the ending.  Or maybe more precisely, how quickly the story ended.  Granted I am not a fan of books dragging on and on, but in this case, I wasn't ready to leave Turtle and her family and friends.  If I could have begged for a few more chapters, I would have.  Alas, I have to believe that Holm has her reason for ending it where she does.  The book does include some interesting pieces of history about the area and photographs from the author's family which add a beautiful touch to the book.

How I might use this at school:  I can already imagine this book as a wonderful read aloud with a group of 4th or 5th graders or in a book group discussion.  I would love to see the reaction of the students to Turtle and her cousins and their "adventures".  And it would be interesting to see what they think about the ending.  Children always have a way of surprising me with their insight and questions. 

It would also be interesting to see it as part of a Depression Era unit along with Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, and On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells - all very different books set in the same time period

For more information on Jennifer Holm, you can check out her website

You can also find her on twitter: @jenniholm

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here

Sunday, January 23, 2011

HarperCollins Presents: The Dark Days of Supernatural Contest

Brace yourself for the Dark Days ahead.
Paranormal thrillers. Supernatural romance. Otherworldly adventures.
Discover new books from acclaimed authors Ellen Schreiber, Claudia Gray,
and Kimberly Derting, as well as from debut authors Cynthia Hand and
Courtney Allison Moulton, on tour this winter.
Darkness falls this winter. Be prepared.
Here is your opportunity to win a copy of all 5 books being featured in this tour.  Click on the photostream to see the 5 books being featured.  For more information about The Dark Days of Supernatural Contest, please click here.

One winner will be selected out of all of the submitted entries.  This contest is only open to residents of the United States.  Please note that Harper Collins will be sending out the prize pack to the winner in March 2011 after the release of AFTERLIFE by Claudia Gray.  

The contest will run from Sunday, January 23rd to Sunday, January 30th at 11:59 p.m PST. 

All contestants must be 13 years older to enter and must complete the entry form below.  Though comments are nice and appreciated, adding personal information in the comment section will result in a comment being deleted. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dreaming of Books Giveway Hop!!!

This hop was organized by Kathy from I am a Reader, Not a Writer, and Martha from Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf.

Over 160 participating blogs are offering a book related giveaway and we are all linked up together so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another.  The hop runs from Friday, January 14th through Monday, January 17th.

I have selected to do a Book Award Themed Giveaway in honor of the ALA Youth Media Awards Announcements earlier in the week.

Giveaway #1 the Caldecott Award:

Description from GoodReads:
Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too! Every day he spends a little bit of time with each of his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and even reading bedtime stories to the owl. But when Amos is too sick to make it to the zoo, his animal friends decide it’s time they returned the favor.

Giveaway #2 the Newbery Award:

Description from GoodReads
he movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

Powerful in its simplicity and rich in historical detail, Clare Vanderpool’s debut is a gripping story of loss and redemption.

Giveaway #3 the Schneider Family YA Award:

Description from GoodReads
The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig. The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.
The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?
Piper can&#39t hear Dumb&#39s music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

I was especially thrilled that FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB won a Schneider Family Award.  Were there any books that you were cheering for that won? - Aly

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section, you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. PST on January 14th to 11:59 p.m. PST on January 17th.
3.  You must be a follower of this blog to enter.
4.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
5.  You must indicate at least two giveaways that you would like to enter.  There will be a total of 3 winners selected.
6.  If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail.  If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
8.  International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ALA MidWinter, Youth Media Awards, and Celebrating My Inner Book Geek

Two years ago, I accidentally outed myself as a book geek.  I had always been a book geek but I just usually kept it quite.  No need to reveal just how obsessed I could be about books.  If someone asked about a book, I would share and leave it at that.  Due to several life circumstances aligning themselves in a fateful way, I started exploring where I could find other book geeks. One thing led to another, and I recently found myself in San Diego, CA at the American Library Association's (ALA) MidWinter Meeting. 
I thought that having been a frequent attender at the L.A. Times Festival of Books would have prepared me for ALA but this was a very different concentration of bibliophiles.  Walking around the exhibit hall surrounded by publishers, vendors, books, lots of people, more books, authors, even more books, I was in heaven.  And what was so cool is that no one was wondering why you would spend hours looking at books, talking about books, or gushing about books to editors and publishers.

An Abrahms Rep with some of their Award Winners!!!

Here are some of my highlights:

* Meeting up with Twitter Pals such as Mr. Schu (@mrschureads), Shannon Messenger (@sw_messenger), Suzanne Santillan (@suesantillan),  Cindy Pon (@cindypon) and many, many more...
* Being invited to a special luncheon hosted by MacMillan Children's Publishing Group on behalf of Mary Pearson (if you haven't read Mary's books go out and do so immediately) - not only did I get to spend time with Mary but also some wonderful ALA folks like Teri Lesesne, Walter Mayes, Liz Burns among others
* Spending time with my book buds Alethea (@frootjoos) and Marianne (@penwallace)
* Hearing Mitali Perkins speak at the USBBY Presentation
* Chatting with author/illustrator Kathryn Otoshi - she signed a copy of ZERO & ONE for me
* Networking with Publishers, Sales Reps, Editors, and more
And of course....Attending the Press Conference for the ALA Youth Media Awards
Congratulations to Random House on some heavy medal winners!!!

I was a lucky receiver of a signed copy of JANIS JOPLIN by Ann Angel.  Winner of the YALSA Excellence in Non-fiction.

Speaking of the ALA Youth Media Award...

Congratulations to BINK & GOLLIE  for winning the Giesel Award.  A definite favorite of mine and listed on my End of the Year MG picks.

Congratulations to FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB for receiving the Schneider Family Award - YA Pick.  This was my top YA book of 2010.  (When this was announced, I nearly jumped out of my seat.)

Congratulations to THE PIRATE OF KINDERGARTEN for receiving a Schneider Family Award for Picture Book.  This was featured in my National Inclusive School's Week picks.

Congratulations to ONE CRAZY SUMMER - not only did it receive a Coretta Scott King Award Author Award but also a Newbery Honor Medal.  This was one of my choices for the Newbery. 

Congratulations to DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE - this beautiful book received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and a Caldecott Honor Medal.  I had listed this is my Caldecott predictions.

Congratulations to JIMI: SOUNDS LIKE A RAINBOW which received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator honor award.  Another book I really loved and featured on the blog.

Congratulations to THE DREAMER which received a Belpre Author Award.  I loved this book and had it on my Newbery list.

Congratulations to A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE which walked away with the prestigious Caldecott Medal.  If CHALK couldn't win, then I am thrilled that AMOS did.

Congratulations to MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool whose debut middle grade novel walked away with the big one - the Newbery Medal.  I wasn't expecting this but going to move it up to the top of my to-read pile.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

HarperCollins Presents: The Dark Days of Supernatural Tour

Brace yourself for the Dark Days ahead.
Paranormal thrillers. Supernatural romance. Otherworldly adventures.
Discover new books from acclaimed authors Ellen Schreiber, Claudia Gray,
and Kimberly Derting, as well as from debut authors Cynthia Hand and
Courtney Allison Moulton, on tour this winter.
Darkness falls this winter. Be prepared.

Once In A Full Moon by Ellen Schreiber
Release Date: 12/28/10

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Release Date: 1/4/11

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton
Release Date: 2/15/11

Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting
Release Date: 2/15/11

Afterlife by Claudia Gray
Release Date: 3/8/11

Become a fan at

Follow @pitchdarkbooks and use #DarkDays in your tweets

Check out the Trailer for The Dark Days of Supernatural Tour:

Friday, January 7, 2011

It's that time of the year - Newbery Predictions

On Monday, January 10, 2011, the American Library Association will announce all of their Youth Media Awards at their Midwinter Conference in San Diego.  Last year, the announcements were made from Boston and I woke up at 5 a.m. (on my day off) to listen to as they were reported as well as watch the Twitter feed.  I was thrilled to have read WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead prior to the announcement of it's selection as the Newbery Medal winner.  And I was shocked that I actually recognized the winner of the Caldecott Medal - Jerry Pinkey's THE LION & THE MOUSE.  However, I have to admit that I hadn't paid much attention to what might end up on the short list for the awards that year.

This year, I started paying attention to the buzz around mid-year as to what books might be considered.  As a result, I started reading several of these much discussed books.  And thanks to the Midwinter Conference being closer to home, I am hoping to be present for the Award's Press Conference.

Here are the five books that I expect to be walking away with the prestigious John Newbery Medal or one of the Newbery honor medals given "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
This coming of age, historical novel set in 1968 in San Francisco tells the story of Delphine and her sisters as they spend the summer with their mother who abandoned them 7 years earlier.  A powerful look at a time filled with protests and social turmoil through the eyes of a young girl. ONE CRAZY SUMMER is a beautiful story which I am excited to say recently received the Scott O'Dell Award for best historical fiction. 

 OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper
This touching story of a 10 year old with severe cerebral palsy who discovers her voice through the use of an assistive communication device is my personal favorite for an award.  I would be super thrilled if it received both a nod for a Newbery as well as a Schneider Family Award. 

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles
This seems to be the year for 1960's historical fiction.  Whereas, One Crazy Summer is looking at Civil Rights in San Francisco in 1968, Countdown is set in 1962 in Washington D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Countdown is told through the eyes of a 12 year old girl living in Washington, D.C. at the time.  It also is filled with amazing photos and media images from that time period.

THE DREAMER by Pamela Munoz Ryan
Told in a poetic and lyrical manner portrays a young boy (Neftali) who overcomes shyness and a harsh life under the rule of his father to become the widely known poet, Pablo Neruda. Though a fictional portrayal of Neruda's childhood, this book is filled with the poetry of one of the world's most famous poets.

MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine
This story of a young girl with Asperger's who after a tragic event must learn to deal with the loss of her brother and how to navigate her world has already been awarded a National Book Award for Young People.  As a result of the significant interest in this book, I expect that this will be a strong contender.    

For another peek at several of the books listed above, click here to check out Mr. Schu's, a K-5 Librarian, post on his Newbery Predictions. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's that time of year - Caldecott Predictions

On Monday, January 10, 2011, the American Library Association will announce all of their Youth Media Awards at their Midwinter Conference in San Diego.  Last year, the announcements were made from Boston and I woke up at 5 a.m. (on my day off) to listen to as they were reported as well as watch the Twitter feed.  I was thrilled to have read WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead prior to the announcement of it's selection as the Newbery Medal winner.  And I was shocked that I actually recognized the winner of the Caldecott Medal - Jerry Pinkey's THE LION & THE MOUSE.  However, I have to admit that I hadn't paid much attention to what might end up on the short list for the awards that year.

This year, I started paying attention to the buzz around mid-year as to what books might be considered.  As a result, I tried to read as many of the picture books being released this year and began choosing my favorites about a month ago.  And thanks to the Midwinter Conference being closer to home, I am hoping to be present for the Award's Press Conference.

Here are the five books that I expect to be in the running for the prestigious Randolph Caldecott Award or one of the Caldecott honor medals given "shall be awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States".

by Bill Thomson
This wordless picture book is simply amazing.  It was recently selected as a 2010 Cybils Finalist.  If you have read any of my recent blog posts, you'll know that I have a huge bias towards this story about 3 children who discover a bag of chalk.  I will continue to send it positive thoughts and good vibes for this book to be a winner. 

by Philip Christian Stead, Illustrated by Erin Stead
Initially, I could not find this book in any of my local books stores.  However, just the other day, I ran across this book and fell in love.  Well maybe not as much as I am in love with CHALK but still this beautiful, gentle story about a friendship between a man and various animals at the zoo ranks high on my list.  This book also made the list of finalists for a Cybils 2010 Award.

by David Wiesner
I love Wiesner's books.  There is something that is usually a tad different in each of his stories.  This story about Art - a talented artist and Max - well let's just say Max has his own thoughts about art - is entertaining on one level but can be used on so many other levels.  Wiesner has been a recipient of the Caldecott, and the Caldecott Honor medals in the past.

by Marla Frazee
Marla Frazee is not new to the world of the Caldecott Medals.  Last year, her book ALL THE WORLD, received an honor medal.  With classic Frazee illustrations, this story about an infant who directs the lives of his parents is a fun reminder to families just who is in charge.  

Written by Mo Willems, Pictures by Jon J. Muth
Many people are familiar with Mo Willems from his Pigeon stories or Elephant & Piggie stories which are filled with fun and humor.  In this story of a friendship between a dog and a frog, we get to see another side to Willems' writing.  Muth's illustrations were wonderful and I loved the one where the dog puts on a "froggy" smile.

So do you have a prediction about which 2010 picture book will walk away with a shiny gold medal?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

PoC Reading Challenge 2011

Though I try to read a lot of books, it is hard to participate in too many challenges.  I have limited myself to 3 challenges this year.  I posted about the Debut Author Challenge on November 21st.  You can click here to read about it.  I was going to stop there, but some friends pointed out the Books I Should Have Read Challenge.  You can read about this challenge here.  Now I was up to 2 challenges, but when I heard about the People of Color Reading Challenge and decided this would be my 3rd and final challenge for the year.  To read more about the challenge and to sign up, you can click here.

The People of Color (PoC) Reading Challenge is actually very near and dear to my heart.  I have worked in an urban setting for many years and 64% of the students at my school are Latino and another 16% are African American and another 10% are Caucasian and the final 10% are made up of a variety of racially diverse students.  It is important for me to find books that feature children of color as the main character and books that appropriately portray People of Color.  If I count picture books, I read over 40 books with People of Color represented in the pages of these books. 

This year, I intend to read at least 12 Middle Grade or YA books featuring PoC.  And I will continue to read a variety of picture books that represent the diversity that fills the halls of my school.  My students are diverse and so should the books that they read reflect them. 

Can I count on you to join in as well? - Aly

Sneaking Around GoodReads (1)

"Sneaking Around Goodreads" is a meme started by Mavie at The Bookologist that showcase of a book or two in which is found from Each book is talked about briefly, usually about the cover and the plot. Books posted on here are books that are on my wish-list and my 'i-want' list. All of the books are pre-released.

In searching for debut author releases for 2011, I came across these two books.

Author: Kendare Blake
Release Date: Tor, September 2011

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story. . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

Thoughts:   I like ghost stories and this one has an interesting twist which makes me ask "Why is he killing the dead? And why does she spare him?"  The cover is also cool.  Can't wait to read this one in the fall.

Author: Michelle Hodkin
Release Date: Simon & Schuster, September 27, 2011

Mara Dyer believes life can’t get any stranger than waking up in a
hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember
that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed. There is.

She definitely doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been
through, she can fall in love. She’s wrong.

Thoughts:  The cover of this book intrigues me.  Not sure how it fits into the story yet, and can't wait to find out. 

Book Review - Fury of the Phoenix

Author: Cindy Pon
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (March 29, 2011)
Reading Level: Young Adult, Also an excellent Crossover Book for Adults
Source: ARC for review from Publisher
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Cindy Pon’s debut novel Silver Phoenix was called “fluid and exhilarating” in a starred review from Booklist, and Meg Cabot called it “an addictive gem.” In this companion novel, seventeen-year-old Ai Ling—her powers stronger than ever—stows away aboard a cargo ship in order to protect devastatingly handsome Chen Yong during his quest to locate his father. Masquerading as brother and sister, Ai Ling and Chen Yong face demonic predators on the ocean voyage, but their biggest threat comes from the kingdom of the dead. Part supernatural page-turner, part love story, and altogether stirring, Fury of the Phoenix further heralds the arrival of Cindy Pon as a stellar author of paranormal romance and fantasy. 

**** Review containers spoilers for SILVER PHOENIX.****

My Review:   About a year ago, I discovered Cindy Pon's 2009 debut novel SILVER PHOENIX.  In Pon's first book, she created a vivid fantasy setting influenced heavily by China and Chinese mythology.  This was high fantasy that moved away from the typical Celtic/British fantasy tales.  In the first book, we are introduced to Ai-ling - an independent, strong-spirited teen who leaves home to find her father and to escape an unpleasant marriage arrangement.  Ai-ling has special gifts that she slowly discovers throughout the book.  We are also introduced to Li-Rong and Chen Yong - two brothers that accompany Ai-ling on her journey.  The book concludes with a confrontation between Ai-ling and Zhong Ye, a powerful dark sorcerer, who views Ai-ling as someone who can re-connect him with Silver Phoenix, his first love.

Since finishing SILVER PHOENIX, I have been wanting to read the sequel. It is always a good sign when I really want to read the sequel.  There are so many books that I read the first one and think "when I get to the next one, I get to it".   However, Pon created a world that I wanted to spend more time in and to discover what would happen to Ai-ling and Chen Yong.  

When I started FURY OF THE PHOENIX, I was fully expecting a similar story to SILVER PHOENIX.  This is not a negative reflection of what I expected from Pon's writing but rather, an expectation of most sequels which tend to be very similar in format offering very little that is new.  Of course, when the novel kicks off with Ai-ling attempting to illegally board a vessel in order to stow away and attempt to save Chen Yong's life, I wasn't surprised.  My thought - great way to kick off the start of this tale.  However, as I kept reading, something wasn't falling into place.  This book had a different feel to it.  

First, this book has two narrators.  The story shifts between Ai-ling's perspective and time to Zhong Ye's perspective from when he was a young Eunuch in the Emperor's Court.  Initially, I wondered about this choice.  Yet, I was soon wrapped up in Zhong Ye's early life and his relationship with Silver Phoenix and what led him to become the sorcerer that we came to see him as in SILVER PHOENIX.  

Second, the action is significantly different in this story.  As the journey unfolded, I found myself loving the back history that is revealed and how the past and present provide a mystery & love story that sucks the reader in. It was at this point where I had to literally make a mental shift.  Pon wasn't being predictable and safe.  She had deftly added an additional layer to the story that I really found intriguing. Rather than just a fantasy adventure, this delved into aspects of motivation, choice, consequences, forgiveness, love and redemption. Throughout the story, I kept trying to figure out how she was going to pull it all together and do so in a way that would be satisfying and provide a fitting ending to her series. And guess what...she did pull the whole story together and I loved the ending.

I so wish I could say much, much more but I don't want to spoil this especially since the book won't be out for another 3 months. If you loved SILVER PHOENIX, you'll love FURY OF THE PHOENIX

If you haven't read SILVER PHOENIX, why don't you go read it now so that you can be ready for the release of FURY OF THE PHOENIX in late March.  I am pre-ordering my copy of FURY now so that I will have a lovely hardcover to match my copy of SILVER PHOENIX.  And I just may have to go all fan-girl and track Cindy Pon down at a author event/signing to get it signed as well.  

For more information about Cindy Pon, check out her website   

or you can find her on twitter: @cindypon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review - Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Author: Lish McBride
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (October 12, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.
Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.  
With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?


My review:

Imagine living your life just thinking you are a regular guy?! Nothing special, maybe a little bit of an underachiever.  This is Sam.  He has dropped out of college, works at a hamburger joint (kind of funny considering he is a vegetarian), hangs out with his best friend from childhood, and concerned that he isn't going anywhere fast.  But then comes Douglas.  Literally overnight, Sam's life changes and so does the lives around him.  Douglas is apparently a necromancer for hire and doesn't like the idea of another necromancer sharing in any potential job opportunities.  It seems that being a necromancer can be quite profitable.  After a serious beating, and a very personal message, Douglas gives Sam a week to become his apprentice or lose his life.  

McBride manages to pull it all together in her debut offering.  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer has all the ingredients of a great book - a well-balance ensemble of characters, humor, a little romance (but not over doing it), and pacing that doesn't drag (I pretty much read this in one sitting and refused to go to bed until I finished it).  Sam is a likable; your every day sort of guy.  His friends are kind of eclectic.  There is Ramon (a childhood friend/like family), Frank (a bit of a dork, but dependable), and Brooke (fiesty & entertaining).  Even secondary characters such as Sam's mother (with her own secrets) and sister, or his neighbor - an on the go, 70-something granny (who has a more active social life than Sam) add rather than detract from the overall story. And well then there is an assortment of paranormal creatures (were-creatures, harbingers, witches, etc.) that Sam discovers on his quest to understand what a necromancer is and how he managed to not know about these unique abilities.  

For fans of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal stories, this will be an easy sell.  In my opinion, it is one of the best books within this category that I have read recently.  True there are some places that require suspending reality (like the immediate attraction between Sam & Brid - a cute shape-shifter- while they are stuck in a cage but then it was hot, & steamy in a fade to black kind of way) which I don't see as an issue.  This is after all a fantasy story.  However, when I finished it, I wanted more.  Sure, this was a complete book - no huge cliff-hanger ending, but readers can easily imagine this story continuing.  I can imagine and hope that this book will continue for at least several more installments.  So please somebody tell me that there will be a book 2 and a book 3?!

For fans that may not be prone to reading a good Urban Fantasy, I suggest giving this book a read through.  Hopefully, it will be a pleasant surprise.  If not, maybe you can have fun identifying all the songs that McBride uses as chapter titles.   

You can find out more about author Lish McBride on her website, click here.  Or you can follow her on twitter: @teamdamanation

Also take a moment to check out the Book Trailer for Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Monday, January 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Zora and Me

Authors: Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Publisher: Candlewick Press (October 12, 2010)
Grade Level: Grades 4th to 7th
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
When a young man’s body is found by the railroad tracks, the murder and its mysterious circumstances threaten the peace and security of a small Florida town. Zora believes she knows who killed Ivory, and she isn’t afraid to tell anyone who’ll listen.
Whether Zora is telling the truth or stretching it, she’s a riveting storyteller. Her latest tale is especially mesmerizing because it is so chillingly believable: a murderous shape-shifting gator-man — half man, half gator — prowls the marshes nearby, aching to satisfy his hunger for souls and beautiful voices. And Ivory’s voice? When Ivory sang, his voice was as warm as honey and twice as sweet.
Zora enlists her best friends, Carrie and Teddy, to help prove her theory. In their search for the truth, they stumble unwittingly into an ugly web of envy and lies, deceit and betrayal. Just as unexpectedly, the three friends become the key that unlocks the mystery and the unlikely saviors of Eatonville itself.
Best friend Carrie narrates this coming-of-age story set in the hometown of American author Zora Neale Hurston (1891 1960). Drawing on Hurston’s stories, novels, and life, debut novelists Victoria Bond and T.  R.  Simon create an utterly convincing echo of a literary giant in this, the only project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not written by Hurston herself.

In this debut novel, Bond and Simon work to capture the vibrant personality, colorful storytelling, and wandering spirit of a young Zora Neale Hurston.  The story takes place at the turn of the last century in the all black community of Eatonville, Florida where Hurston grew up.  Though many of the details of the story are based on actual details and facts taken from the time period as well as from Hurston's life, it should be noted that it is still a fictionalized account of the author's childhood.

At the beginning of the story, and through the eyes of Zora's best friend Carrie, we discover that a young man in the community was attacked by an alligator.  Zora uses this and other information to create a tale of a creature that is half man and half gator to explain some of what is happening in her town during this time.  As the reader is learning about Zora's natural penchant for elaborating on all that she sees and hears, the authors are also weaving a mystery about a Gator Man which Zora and her friends seek to solve.  

Bond & Simon doing an excellent job in bringing alive both the town and characters.  There is a strong sense of place and setting which provides the necessary background and understanding for some of Zora's desires.  Additionally, readers are given a solid portrayal of the issues of race and class during that time period as well.  

The story is interesting and would be an excellent read aloud for children in the grades 4 to 7. In addition to being an excellent introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, the writing provides opportunities for numerous questions and discussions.  

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books I Should Have Read In School But Didn't Challenge

With the arrival of the New Year comes new resolutions.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I intend to read more books that I somehow missed when I was a child or just overlooked for whatever reason or I read but don't remember anything about them.  Then of course today, a few of us started talking about Dana's Books I Should Have Read In School But...Didn't Challenge (you can read her post here).  Dana is an English Teacher and a blogger over at Much Madness is Divinest Sense.  She is challenging people to read anywhere from 2 to 12 or more of books that they never read in school and should have.

I am a little embarrassed to actually list these books and admit that I have never read them.  I hate admitting that I ignored some great books when I was a child.  However, as a child I read what I liked and ignored everything else which meant I read a ton of mysteries, fantasy fiction, and historical fiction, but not necessarily anything else.  And when I first started teaching, I focused primarily on picture books due to the grade levels that I was working with, which meant that there were even more wonderful books that I failed to read.  Glad I now have a way of encouraging myself to get back to these titles.

Here are the books that I hope to read as part of this challenge (listed in no particular order):

by E.L. Koningsburg

by Norton Juster

by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

by Louise Fitzhugh

by Wilson Rawls

by E. B. White

by Frank Gipson

by Scott O'Dell

by Jean Craighead George

by Sid Fleischman

by Avi

by Virginia Hamilton

Is there a book in elementary or secondary or even college that you now wish you read?  Why don't you consider joining in on the challenge? - Aly

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

As an educator, I always feel like I get 2 starts to the year.  One at the start of the school year and then at the traditional time of January 1st.  At the beginning of a school year, I set goals for what I hope I will be able to do as a school administrator as well as what I would like to see for my teachers and students.  My school goal this year was to create a reading community where every child would love books and reading.  After four years of watching children struggle with reading and state testing, I knew that if I could get them reading more and exposed to a greater variety of books that they would have more to draw from and be better overall students.

I am excited to say that as a school community, we are well on our way to becoming more of a reading community and I am very excited about all of the things we accomplished so far.  I will be writing some blog posts talking about what we are doing and how it is going over the next few months.

But January is the time that I think about personal resolutions.  And since this is a blog about books and reading, I want to share some goals related to reading.

Thanks to #book-a-day on Twitter, I managed to read around 380 books in 2010.  True many of them were picture books but there were also over 140 novels (MG/YA) on that list.  But I am going to stretch myself this year.  If I read a majority of the 380 books from June to December, then surely by starting in January I can reach a much higher number.  Here is what I am thinking:

Goal:  I have set a goal to at least double that number for 2011 or to read nearly 800 books (about 15 books a week).

Goal:  To read more non-fiction picture books particularly geared for grades 3 to 8.

Goal:  To read at least 12 non-fiction books related to professional growth and development.

Goal:  To read more early reader/chapter books.  I know that there must be more out there than Junie B. Jones or the Magic Tree House Series (no offense to either of those book series).  Yet, I don't feel like I have a good grasp of what is out there.

Goal:  To go back and either read or re-read older books that I have either never read or forgot about.  I love staying current but the nice thing about children's books is that there is a new group of children who haven't read one of those books that were published 5, 10, or more years ago.  Many are timeless and wonderful and should be pulled out and read.

In April, I branched out and started my blog.  It is still a work in progress but I want to see it take more shape.  How will I do this?

Goal:  To post more reviews of books that I am reading and how they are or could be used in the classroom.  

Goal:  Aim to blog/post at least 5 times per week.

Goal:  To develop some weekly or monthly features for the blog that will focus on books and the classroom.

I have truly enjoyed my on-line Professional Learning Community/Network (PLC/N) and don't plan to stop the interactions.  However, I would like to develop or participate in something more local or face to face. I am already on the Children's Literature Council of Southern California's Award Committee, but I think I need to branch out a little.  What will I do?

Goal: To research and identify local chapters of national organizations related to children and reading and determine the possibility of regular participation in one of these groups. 

I know that these goals are fluid and may change some over the year, and I can live with things shifting around.  However, I know that if I hadn't sat down two years ago and started to think about some changes I wanted for both the school and my life and then started to pursue those changes/goals I would never have discovered so many wonderful people and activities.

Here is to a Happy New Year to all and may this be the year that we conquer some of our fears or obstacles and see new growth and life in our lives. - Aly