The Year of Billy Miller is the story of Billy’s second grade year; his interactions with his teacher, his sister and his parents. Even though this is a longer book, it is still geared towards those beginning readers in second and third grade. The language is simple and easy to read and the stories are relatable to younger readers. I liked Billy and his family and thought all the stories were nice, realistic tales.
The Doctor: Donna, come on, think: Earth, there must have been some sort of warning. Was there anything happening back in your day, like… electrical storms, freak weather, patterns in the… sky?
Donna Noble: Well, how should I know? Um, no. I don’t- I don’t think so. No.
The Doctor: [disappointed] Oh, OK, nevermind.
Donna Noble: Although, there were the bees disappearing.
The Doctor: [dismissive] The bees disappearing.
The Doctor: [sarcastic] The *bees* disappearing.
The Doctor: [revelational] The bees disappearing!
Of course the bees are disappearing, any fan of Dr. Who knows that. In fact it is true that honeybees at least have been disappearing. Colonies have collapsed and scientists have been trying to work out why. They have explored changing habitats, overwork, diet, mites, fungus, pesticides, and cell phones. Luckily cell phones have been cleared, but the others have all been found to contribute to colony declines. I didn’t realize how important bees were to our way of life. They are the main pollinators for not just flowers but many of the foods we rely on. This book is a wake up call to the role bees play in our lives and what we should do to protect them.
I couldn’t put this book down; I didn’t want to put it down. Leon Leyson captured my attention and held it throughout his entire story. We learn a lot about the Holocaust and what happened during those years, but I haven’t ever really read an autobiography about it. Leon Leyson was just a young boy when Germany invaded Poland. He and his family lived in Krakow and quickly began to feel the effects of the Nazi machine. Because his father had a job, most of his family was protected, but they were never really safe. His father worked for Oskar Schindler at his enamel factor and was one of the first on “the list”. Leon, his mother and his brother David also had their names added to the list. Unfortunately, two of his brothers did not; one fled to the country and one was rounded up during one of the ghetto cleansings. His sister worked for another factory and was protected until the end. Being on Schindler’s list did not necessarily mean full protection however. The family was still subjected to the ghetto and the guards who terrorized it. They were also all sent to concentration camps during the move from Krakow to Brunnlitz. This is a very compelling story of one family’s survival during the atrocities of WWII. Leon didn’t die horribly like so many others during that time. He survived, moved to America and became a teacher. It wasn’t until the release of Schindler’s List that he started to speak about his experiences. Leon Leyson was the youngest person on the list, but he was not the only one. Oskar Schindler’s bravery and dedication to saving his Jews was amazing. Reading this book made me want to learn more about Schindler (beyond what I remember from the movie!).
Andi, Quinn, Frederick and Dylan are all sucked from their lives and into another world. It is a world where fairy tales are real. They are assisted/kidnapped by a mysterious Mr. Jackson who is reluctant to turn them over to his boss. The four must figure out why they are in this world and what role they need to play. It turns out each of their grandparents escaped from Elorium many years ago and they are back to finish the abandoned tales.
I really enjoy fractured fairy tales and this one didn’t disappoint. The girls’ tales were easy to figure out. Andi had a magical cloak and shoes, Quinn’s hair grows at an alarming rate. The boys were a little more difficult and less obvious. I liked the mystery of the story and the open-ended ending that allows for more tales.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Marc Aronson takes a look at the history of Israel and what it means to be Jewish in Israel. This is not a straight-forward historical book, but a personal soul-searching by the author. He does a lot of back and forth between the ideal Israel and the actual Israel. He also compares Israel to America and American Jews to Israeli Jews. Even though he does touch on some controversial topics in this book, it is still more of a personal journey about why Aronson does not live in Israel and what he wishes it was. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be and was a little difficult to read. Aronson never really comes to any conclusions, just back and forth on the topics he discusses.
Moxie Fleece is looking forward to “the best summer ever” with her best friend Ollie. They will be starting different high schools in the fall and this is the last chance they will have to spend a lot of time together. One morning she opens the door, thinking it is her mother, and finds a red-head woman who tells Moxie that Sully Cupcakes wants his stuff back or else. Moxie’s grandpa, Grumps, used to be in the business. He would hide stuff for local criminals. Grumps has Alzheimer’s now and lives in a nursing home. He has his good days and his bad days, but he still won’t talk to Moxie about Sully Cupcakes. Moxie has 14 days to figure out what Grumps hid and where he hid it. Moxie and Ollie set off on a geo-chaching, mystery tour. They discover that Sully Cupcakes stole 12 items from the Sally Gardner Museum and Grumps hid them around Boston in places where he was working. Their hunt takes them to the State House, Trinity Church and the Green Monster itself (Fenway Park). The red-head dogs their steps all the way, but Moxie is determined to find the art and make sure her family stays safe.
I really enjoyed this mystery. Moxie and Ollie are smart and resourceful and adventurous. Sure there were times when I really wanted them to be a little smarter and tell an adult what was going on, but that would have ruined the story. I enjoyed the fact that the mystery was based on a true crime. The Sally Gardner Museum was really robbed in March 1990, but the art has never been found. I also really enjoyed Moxie’s relationship with Grumps. I thought the depiction of Alzheimer’s was really well done and realistic. This is definitely a book I would recommend to kids.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Terry Pratchett has always been one of my favorites. I have read almost everything he has written. Dodger, like Nation, is a stand alone novel filled with detail, humor and insight. Pratchett is best when he is conveying a message. His books are never heavy-handed, but they do get his point across in a humorous and ironic way, which I completely enjoy.
Dodger is a young tosher, who scours the sewers looking for things that have been dropped or washed away. He is not a thief, but has no problem taking advantage of something just sitting there. He lives with Solomon, a Jewish jeweler, and Onan, a very smelly dog. One night he sees a young woman in danger and rescues her from a couple of thugs. He also meets Charlie Dickens and John Mayhew who help him find a place for young “Simplicity”. Dodger, despite himself, becomes entangled in Simplicity’s web and sets out to save her permanently. He uses his wits and street smarts to solve the mystery of Simplicity and make sure she is free in the future. He has run ins with Sweeney Todd, Robert Peel and many others along the way. And despite himself he becomes something of a hero.
I loved listening to this book. Stephen Briggs does an excellent job bringing not only Dodger to life, but London as well. Pratchett’s words and Brigg’s voice make everything seem tangible. You can smell the stink of the sewers and see the hardships of the poor in Victorian London. There was just something that sucked you into the life of Dodger and didn’t want to let you go. I worry about what is going to happen once Pratchett is too sick to write anymore. Will anyone be able to fill the void? He has such a unique voice and perspective that I don’t think he can be replaced.
Mickey Price is an inventive, smart orphan living in Florida. Trace Daniels is a go-kart champion who just happens to be a girl. Jonah Jones is a brilliant scientist. They are all kids who are going to be someone someday. They just didn’t think it would be so soon. Our three heroes plus a few others are all recruited by NASA to attend a space camp. They are trained just like the astronauts. While at camp they learn that there is a secret space program on the moon; one that is not going to be in the history books. Between Apollo and the shuttle, Pleurinium, a super powerful magnet, has been discovered on the moon and NASA is trying to mine it before the Russians get there. The only problem is that it makes adults sick, so they need kids under 12 to shut off the nuclear reactor before the moon is toast.
If you think this is outrageous you would be correct. The whole book is filled with mysterious men in gold sunglasses, daring adventures and danger. Mickey and his friends must work together once they get to the moon to make sure they all make it back. The story is interrupted by scenes of Mickey telling his children the story while on a campout. In some ways it interrupts the flow, but in others it enhances the believability of the tale. It is brilliant and funny and a truly wild ride. The cover is horrible, but hopefully that won’t turn kids away from this fun book.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Owen and Russ have always been the only twins around. Even though they don’t look alike or act alike or like the same things, they are still the twins. Then the Matthews twins move to town. They are everything Owen and Russ are not. They are identical in every way: they dress alike, look alike, have the same interests and even finish each others sentences. They are completely ensink on the basketball court where they are dominating the team. Owen is very jealous that he is not the star player anymore and that his friends/teammates are idolizing the twins. Russ isn’t really happy about it either, but he is more willing to give them a chance.
I almost didn’t finish this one. Just seemed so clunky and hard to read. Maybe if I had read the first book in the series I would have been more invested, but I didn’t. So I thought Owen was a real jerk and completely unlikeable. I thought the storyline was totally improbable and the Matthews twins almost impossible. The conflict did seem real if overblown, but the reactions of the kids was just kind of crazy. I also thought the ending was too hurried and perfect. Not really a book I would recommend.
The history of the zombie apocalypse told through a series of interviews with survivors, politicians, soldiers, and others. This is not the zombie war up close and personal; it is recollections told years after the hostilities have calmed down. We learn how the outbreak started, what the first responses were and how each country handled the great panic and cleanup. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. I didn’t feel like I was getting a complete picture of the World War Z. I thought the beginning was pretty fragmented and a little hard to follow. But then I got into the story and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to learn more about what happened and how the people handled it. I loved that we got a picture of the entire world and how different groups handled things differently. My quibble is that I didn’t feel like things were adequately explained. It seemed like there were some geopolitical changes in the world that must have happened before the war and we are just supposed to know what they were. I also think I would have liked less broad and more specific information. As much as I love stand alone books it seems like there was so much information that this book would have benefited from being a duo or trilogy.
**UPDATE** I watched the movie and then I thought…Did I miss something? Is this about the same thing? Other than the zombies it really didn’t seem to be from the book. So I thought I should reread the book to see if I was wrong. I wasn’t really. I think they just took the idea of the book and made the movie. Not that it was a bad movie. It was a fun, zombie flick. So this time around I listened to the book on audio. Didn’t really change my opinion of the book. Still had the same strengths and weaknesses. I did really enjoy the huge cast they had narrating. I kept looking at the list and trying to place who the person was. I think I got more out of it reading it though.
The Baldwin sisters are in trouble. Ellie has turned three birds into humans and now they can’t find them. They enlist the help of Fortuna Dalliance, a young neighbor, to help them. Fortuna sets off on an adventure with Martin, the boy who was once a bird, to find his brother. She comes to really like Martin and doesn’t want him to turn back into a bird. There is also the matter of the third bird/man, evil Arrakis the owl who was tormenting the brothers and the whole reason Ellie took such drastic measures. This book is filled with magic, witches, birds of all shapes and sizes and flying. Martin and his brother teach Fortuna and her friend Peter to fly, which deepens Fortuna’s hesitation in turning Martin back to a bird. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I don’t think it is as charming or fantastical as it needed to be. Sure Martin and Fortuna are fun characters, but the book seemed to take itself just a little bit too seriously for the nature of the story. I wish it was more fun and a little less serious.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Sugar is something we take for granted. It is always available at the store. It isn’t very expensive. We can add it to anything we want and it is in a lot of what we eat. And there are alternatives to regular brown or white sugar. This was not always the case. Sugar was an unknown until around a thousand years ago. However, once people got a taste of it they wanted more. It started out as a spice added to foods like any other spice, but then it separated itself from others and became a sweetener. As the demand for sugar grew, production also had to grow. Huge sugar plantations sprouted up throughout the Caribbean and South America. Millions of slaves were brought from Africa to work in the brutal plantations. More slaves actually than were brought to America. Sugar was a time sensitive crop the required back-breaking labor, hot fires, and lots of slaves.
This book starts with the stories of how Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos were connected to sugar and how they decided to write this book. Then we go into the history of sugar and the sugar/slavery connections. Next we see how sugar helped shape the world and abolish slavery. France, England, America, the Caribbean, India, Africa, Asia: slavery and sugar helped mold these places into what they are today. Slavery was abolished in many countries because of the sugar slaves. Gandhi started his peaceful resistance movement because of sugar slaves. It is amazing how many connections you can draw throughout history and the world all because of sugar. Aronson and Budhos did an excellent job highlighting these connection and writing a very readable nonfiction book.
Poor Rump. His mother died before giving him his full name. He has always been stuck with half a name and no destiny. He lives with his grandma in The Village on the Mountain. The villagers look for gold in the mines to send to the King (King Barf!). All of their rations come through the fat, greedy miller Oswald. This is a land where names have power, magic exists and pixies and gnomes are everywhere. Rump discovers his mothers old spinning wheel and discovers he can spin straw into gold. The magic comes at a price and soon he finds himself in the power of the miller. When the king comes looking for the new gold, the Miller claims his daughter spun it knowing that Rump would help her. Rump goes to the Kingdom and does help Opal, but at a huge cost. Because of the magic Rump can not give the gold away, he has to receive something for it. He is unable to bargain, he must accept any trade offered to him. When Opal offers her first born child Rump despairs but he has to accept. He runs away to Yonder to find his mother’s family and to hopefully break the bargain. Alas, it is not to be. Rump has to find his true name in order to overcome the magical curse and be free.
I love fractured fairy tales. There is just something so enchanting about taking a story we all know and turning it on its head. The tales of Rumpelstiltskin are really not that detailed in explaining why things happen. Liesl Shurtliff simply fills in Rumps backstory for us. She explains his actions and those of the other characters in the story. The Miller becomes the true villain in this tale and Rump is simply a boy who has to find his destiny. I loved all the fantastical characters like the pixies who are attracted to gold, the gnomes who are messengers and the trolls who don’t eat people! I thought this was a thoroughly creative and imaginative story and I loved it.
In the future Earth has twice been attacked by the Buggers. Humanity has managed to defeat the invading forces, but they want to be prepared for the next round. To that end, all children are given electronic monitors when they are toddlers to determine if they are right for Battle School. Ender Wiggin is the third in his family to be monitored. His parents were allowed to have a third child because the first two were so promising. Peter and Valentine were both deemed unacceptable for Battle School, but they are both extremely intelligent and driven children. Six year old Ender is deemed the hope for humanities future and sent into space to learn all he can. Things are no better for him in Battle School then they were on Earth. His teachers isolate him so they can bring out the brilliant military mind they know he has. Ender is brilliant and thinks outside the box. He excels in Battle School despite everything his teachers do to him, but he never really makes friends. At age eleven he is sent to Command School to learn to control the fleets that will attack the Buggers. His old mates from Battle School are there with him. Together they go through simulates they believe are preparing them for the war, but in reality they are fighting the war.
I wanted to reread this book before the movie came out. I am interested to see how they recreate some of the more important moments in this saga. I am also wondering what they are going to do with all the nudity, since the kids spend half the book naked. Will the movie do this book justice? We will have to see.
I think Ender’s Game is definitely Card’s best work. The rest of the series gets a bit bogged down, but this one is brilliant. I love books about smart kids who buck the system. Ender may be younger than most but he is clearly the best there is and truly the hope for humanity. This is a brutal novel that really doesn’t pull any punches. The set up of Battle School causes rivalries and hatred and without adult supervision these can lead to violence. I really enjoyed Ender’s creativity and imagination when he is faced with everything they throw at him. I think the one off point of this book was the Valentine/Peter storyline. It does set up things for the rest of the series, but it pulls you out of Ender’s story when you really want to be focusing on it. For as brilliant as he is militarily, Ender is a very sensitive kid and it will break your heart to see how he is broken down.
Cleo Barry is seventeen and living in Portland. Her parents died when she was young in a terrible carriage accident. Her brother Jackson and his wife Lucy became her guardians. Jackson and Lucy are away on holiday, leaving Cleo safely at her school. Then the Spanish Influenza comes to Portland. Theaters, churches and schools are all closed. Cleo decides she doesn’t want to stay at school and goes home to her empty house believing Jackson or the housekeeper will be back any day. She sees an advertisement asking for volunteers for the Red Cross and decides to be useful. Cleo volunteers and starts going door to door looking for the sick and the dying. She is exposed to things she has never seen before and she makes great new friends. The few days turn to weeks as Jackson and Lucy are unable to come home. Even though the work is horrible and taxing, Cleo sticks with it day after day. Even after she sees friends die from the flu, she still doesn’t quit. She meets a young man, Edmund, a doctor in training who was injured in Europe. They learn to depend on each other and come to be more than friends.
This was an excellent book. Lucier did a great job researching the Spanish Flu and what happened in Portland when it struck. I thought Cleo was a great heroine. She isn’t always strong, but she always goes on. Even when it is disgusting or heartbreaking, she works through it goes back to work. This was a very fast read and I never really wanted to put it down.
I received this book from Netgalley.
She is a natural born cynic. He is an unassuming squirrel. Together they are magical superheroes. If you are going to be a superhero you must be prepared for Holy unanticipated occurrences! Especially those from The Criminal Element. If you consult Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, you will be prepared for anything. Although it might not prepare you for the Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000x which you can use to vacuum your yard, and it just might give super powers to a squirrel. Said squirrel, now known as Ulysses, becomes Flora’s best friend. He loves to write poetry, throw cats down hallways and he is always hungry (giant donuts!). Of course a superhero must have an arch-nemesis and Ulysses’s is Flora’s mom who wants to hit him on the head with a shovel.
Holy Bagumba was this book fun to read. The cast of characters alone is worthy of admiration. Of course we have Flora and Ulysses, but there is also Tootie Tinkham, owner of the vacuum cleaner, and her nephew William Spiver, who is temporarily blind. We also meet Flora’s dad, George Buckman, and Dr. Meescham from Blundermeecen where there might be trolls. I loved the language: sepulchral gloom, treacle, euphemistically: all words not usually found in children’s books. I also really enjoyed the comic panels that are scattered throughout the book. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy a book about a super squirrel as much as I did, but I found I couldn’t put it down.
Mammoths, mastodons and elephants are all cousins. They all appeared around the same time, but for some reason 10,000 years ago mammoths and mastadons went extinct. Scientists don’t know why they disappeared. The two leading theories are global warming or over hunting by humans. It is hoped that by studying mammoths and mastodons and why they went extinct a way can be found to help elephants who are endangered. This is a very informative, interesting and well-researched read.
Posey is nervous about starting first grade. Her mom won’t walk her to her classroom; she will get dropped off in the “kiss and go” lane. She will have to walk down the long, blue hallway to her classroom by herself. She won’t be able to wear her favorite pink tutu. Everything turns out ok when Posey meets her teacher and she decides on a first grade parade in your favorite clothes for the first day of school. I think this is a great beginning chapter book. Posey deals with issues that other kids definitely have to deal with. She is spunky, but acts just like a real kid.
Whistle in the Dark is the story of Clem, a 13-year-old boy in the Ozarks of Missouri, he is a good student and likes to read and write. Unfortunately, he is going to quit school and go to work in the mines. His pap and grampy were both miners and Clem is forced to follow in their footsteps. The family needs the money from another income because Grampy is sick with miners consumption and sister Esther has epilepsy and lots of hospital bills. It is 1925 and the mine is the only game in town for employment. Clem hates being underground; he wishes he could stay in school. The one shining point of his life is his dog Pal. Clem has always wanted a dog and Pal just appeared one day after his birthday. On his days off Clem and Pal explore the area and spend time with Lindy. Lindy is the daughter of a moonshiner, she has a horrible scar on her face and the other kids make fun of her. Clem and Lindy develop a deep friendship that just grows with time.
Whistle in the Dark is a pretty decent historical fiction book for kids. It describes a life many kids today have no knowledge of. It is unheard of that you would leave school and start working at 13 today. I really enjoyed his friendship with Lindy and how that had the potential to develop into something more. I think it was Esther who really made the story. As sick as she was, she was always positive and brought light into Clem’s dark life. There is definitely a happy-ever-after quality to the end of this book. Things work out wonderfully for everyone; maybe a little unbelievable but works for kids books.
Ty has problems. He is not the center of attention in his family anymore. Baby Meggie is taking all of mom’s time and Ty is feeling left out. Life at school isn’t any better. His best friend is in the hospital with cancer and he has to hang out with other kids. Ty wanders off on a field trip and ends up taking a baby penguin home from the aquarium. His older sister come to the rescue and mom agrees to spend more time with him. There needs to be more beginning chapter books for boys, but I am not sure this is the best one. I didn’t find Ty all that likeable or realistic. I did think the home life problems with the new baby were pretty typical though. The penguin was just silly and crazy. Kids might enjoy this one but it definitely wasn’t one of my favorites.