Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sequoyah Set Two

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Fun book based on The Reluctant Dragon. Kenny loves to read, and is always off in his own little world, without really having any good friends. Then one day a friendly dragon shows up practically in his back yard. And wouldn't you know? The dragon loves to read too, and knows all sorts of stories and fun things. They get to be best friends, and everything is going great. But then the rest of the town finds out about the dragon, and they are scared. They want to kill the dragon - and it's up to Kenny to save him. What Kenny and his family come up with is funny and just right for this sort of book. Most kids will like this book. It is lighthearted and not gory or violent, and very easy to get into and enjoy.

My opinion: This book was so fun to read! Kenny and the dragon both pull your sympathies right in, and you find yourself rooting for a happy ending for all. Loved that it was based on The Reluctant Dragon.

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Gil Goodson must win the Gollywhopper games! His father was fired from the Gollywhopper company after being falsely accused of stealing. Gil thinks winning the games is the only way to redeem family pride. Along the way you will find puzzles, challenges, fantastic toy rooms and fantastic rooms designed like jungles, dollhouses, pirate islands, etc. There is also cheating, racing, new friendships, and old frienships renewed. How could you go wrong with all those ingredients?

My opinion: The underlying issue this book dealt with - a family moving on with life after a false accusation almost ruined their lives - stayed with me. While I was reading the book, I was caught up in the excitement of the games, trying to figure out the answers as he did, and did not even notice this family struggle so much. I would recommend this book to kids of most ages, for fun, and to get the deeper point of family bonds even in hard times. Overall, really enjoyed reading this one, it was one of my favorites, but probably not THE favorite.

Eleven by Patricia Giff

Sam is a boy who lives with his grandfather Mack. They love to do woodworking together, and have great neighbors who are like family. But there seems to be a mystery in Sam's life. Sam is frightened by the number eleven. He also keeps having strange dreams about a boat and a cat. Then he finds a newspaper article in the attic that causes him to doubt everything he knows, even whether Mack is actually his grandfather. He and a friend set out on a search to find the truth, and eventually must confront Mack for the rest of the answers.

My opinion: Eleven was well written. The mystery just got deeper and deeper throughout, keeping you guessing, then slowly revealed itself at just the right pace. For some reason I was thinking this was the Hahn book, and kept expecting a ghost/supernatural story, but it's totally not! That's what I get for getting my authors mixed up. Despite that, I really liked it.

All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Travis and Corey are pranksters. They are spending the story with their grandmother, and decide to scare the guests at her bed and breakfast with a little ghost fun. But the ghost fun backfires, stirring up real ghosts. Some of the ghosts are just pesky - the bad little boys - but one is cruel. And determined to have her way, even from the grave. Now Travis and Corey have to clean up the mess they created - without being scared away themselves.

My opinion: I'm not a huge fan of ghost stories, but this was a good book for someone who does like them. I'm waffling on this one. Part of me really enjoyed it, part of me is saying it's 'just another Hahn ghost story.' Yawn. If your kid is thirsty for ghosts, he/she will love this one too!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sequoyah Children's Books

Most of my children and young adult reading recently has been from the Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award Masterlists. This month I will briefly review a few from the children's masterlist. I will try to do this each month until they have all been covered. To view the complete list, visit the Sequoyah website. Shockingly, I have actually enjoyed every book I have read on the children's list so far. Usually I only like one or two of them, so this year I havebeen pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, that will make it harder to pick a favorite.

The 100 Year Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

This is the first book in a series "The Sherlock Files". It was a fast paced realistic fiction book. A brother and sister have recently moved to London, where they discover they are the direct decentants of the famous Sherlock Holmes. They are inducted into a secret club of mystery solvers, and given a notebook of all Holmes' unsolved mysteries. They decide to try to solve one, the case of a missing painting. Children will identify well with this book, since all the "stunts" and adventures are quite believable. This book would be fun for boys or girls about eight to twelve years old. The mystery is well intwined to the plot, and the reader is given enough clues they might be able to figure out the "who-done-it" about the same time as the children in the book.

My opinion: Liked this book a lot, will probably get online and order the sequel from the library. Not too cutesy, but not too dramatic either.

The Trouble with Rules by Leslie Bulion

Fourth grade is tough on a boy / girl friendship between Nadine and Nick. The unofficial rule is girls and boys can't be friends, but this pair are best friends. They try to ignore each other at school and only play in the evenings, but it is becoming a strain to not get hurt. Then a new girl moves into their class, and breaks all the rules. In the process, Nadine, who always follows the rules, gets in trouble for a series of events not actually her fault, and she and Nick fall out of sorts. Can it really work out for the rules to be broken? Can Nick and Nadine maintain their friendship, and even inclue another friend? This book handles an awkward stage in life quite well. It addresses some typical problems of growing up without seeming like a preachy, this is how to handle growing up, sort of book. The focus actually stays with the plot and captures the emotions as well. This book seems to be written more for girls, but most boys would probably enjoy it also.

My opinion: One of the few "adolecent pains" books I actually enjoyed reading. The plot was so interesting, I didn't even get annoyed at it being about growing pains. That said, I don't think it was my favorite.

Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills and Frills by Julie Cummins

Women Daredevils is a nonfiction book about women in the early part of the twentieth century who performed daring stunts. It includes some one time stunters, but mostly women who did daring things for a living. Included are parachuters, horseback riders, stunt drivers, a woman who went over Niagra falls in a barrell, and a few others. It has nice illustrations for each woman, with about a page to two pages of information. The writing style is easy and the vocabulary appropriate for the target audience of about eight to twelve years old.

My opinion: This book seemed just a little too long for a children's non-fiction book, but I am spoiled, so it may actually have been just right. The choice of women daredevils was occasionally repetitive, for instance, their were several who did similar airplane stunts. I think I would have preferred more variety. Over all though, the book was very well written, easy to read, and was very interesting.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Girl Who Could Fly & The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

Both of these books were engaging, lively reads. They were, however, eerily similar, so I am going to review them both at the same time.

This book did a great job getting you involved in the mystery from the start. The author has a great writing style drawing you into the first person plot. The story is told from the perspective of Franny, who is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary young sister named Zoe. Zoe is recruited to attend Allbright Academy, a boarding school for rising stars. Being loyal to a fault, she refuses to go unless her older sister and twin brother are also invited to attend.

Once there, Franny and some newfound friends uncover a sinister plot. The students are changing into "Perfect robot-people"

Why? How? For What Reason? The truth is startling, scary, and exciting, and the kids have their hands full collecting evidence to bring the instigators to justice.

The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy is technically a realistic fiction. The children recruited to the Academy are very talented, but in realistic ways. One is a scientist, another a poet, and Zoe has an extremely magnetic personality. The method of behavior modification used to change them into "perfect robot people" is probably not actually avialible yet, but it is not unreasonable to think it will be in the not-to-distant future. The actions taken by the students to rectify the situation are brave and require wit and talent - but entirely believable. Even the perspective of the narrator is completely realistic. This realism draws you in from the start and keeps you interest throughout.

There are many similarities between these two books. Both have talented children who are taken to a special boarding school. There they are tangled up in secret plots involving food laced with behavior modifying compounds. They must plan daring rebellions against the adults in charge (in one case escape, the other exposure and arrest). Then at the end the school is rebuilt to actually serve the noble, impressive purposes they said they were serving.

This was a great book. I really loved reading it, and am (not so) secretly hoping the author will write a sequel.

Piper can fly. When the world finds out about it, her parents are immediately contacted by a special "boarding school" offering to help her and claiming to be a perfect fit for her unique situation. When Piper arrives, she finds a place full of interesting, unique things and people - all with special talents. But the talents are disappearing. Again the students must ask - Why? How? To what end?

The truth is horrifying, but the children are trapped with no escape in the middle of nowhere. How will they gain their freedom? They must band together, with two very unlikely leaders, and use all their considerable talents. Even flying.

The ending is fun a climatic, with plenty of openings for a sequel - keep your fingers crossed!

I would recommend both of these books to any confident reader. There are some challenging concepts in each book - child manipulation, behavior modification, adults abusing their power, etc. They are not written to emphasize these points, most children won't notice this through the plot unless it is pointed out to them. They are exciting with plenty of action and intrigue.


Read both books and compare. Discuss how books with similar plots can turn out to be totally different books, even different genres, when the details are changed. Explore the differences between realistic fiction and fantasy / science fiction. Discuss how a realistic fiction book can have science and even futuristic things in it, and a science fiction book can seem quite realistic.

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy is on the 2011 Sequoyah Masterlist. If you live in Oklahoma you can count this toward one of the three books you must read from the list and then vote on your favorite. Anyone could use this as an opening into book awards. How are book awards decided? What types of awards are there? Does your state have an award chosen by children? Have the students read any books with awards? Did they like the book?

These books could spark interesting discussions on behavior modification, abuse of power, and manipulation, advances in science, as well as the thought that advancement can be good and bad at the same time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? A Fast, Clear, and Fun Explanation of the Economics You Need For Success in Your Career, Business, and Investments

Wow! This book is amazing. My own humble opinion is: Everyone in America should read this book!

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? Is all about money. Where does money come from? How do we know how much it is worth? Why is there inflation? Is inflation bad, good, neutral, a necessary evil? What is the best economic system for a healthy country? If you think you can’t understand economics, think again. This book explains basic economic concepts in a simple, clear, easy to understand way. It is entertaining to read, catches and holds you attention.

I would recommend this book for all ages. Children under about seven might not grasp the concepts presented, and those with a reading level below 3rd or 4th grade might need help reading it (or have it read to them). All voters should read this book! It is a great educational or pleasure read.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Buzz Buzz Baby

This is Cadence's favorite book. We read it over, and over, and over again - straight through, which is amazing since most books only last about two pages before they get chunked.

Buzz Buzz Baby is full of all the things babies love: real pictures of babies, bright illustrations of all their favorite things, flaps, and lots of fun sounds to make! Each page starts with a sound to make and a photo of a baby, then you open the flap and it has a picture of what makes that sound. So much fun!

Unfortunately this book seems rather hard to find. I would recommend it if you can find it, otherwise look for books of the same style - that have sounds to imitate, pictures of babies, bright, simple illustrations, flaps and textures, etc. Books of this type are great for babies and toddlers of all ages, but they seem to enjoy them to the very fullest when they are about 12-24 months old.

Pla-Dough Shapes - Since the illustrations almost look as if they are made from clay, it would be easy for an older baby or toddler to make some of the basic shapes. Try the bee, or the car for the easiest ones. A younger baby will enjoy squishing the dough while watching you make the pictures. When you are done, compare them to the book. Point to the picture and say "bee" then say, "We made a bee too! See?" and point to your creation.

Signing Fun - This is Cadence's favorite part. We do a lot of signing in our house, and we almost always sign the objects hiding under the flap as we read. Now as soon as we turn the page Cadence will start trying to sign the word or make the sound for that page - it's been great entertainment for us! If you don't know the signs, this is a great website to see videos of each sign. Signing Savvy
We usually do "Bee" "Train" "Duck" "Car" and "Dog" (instead of puppy). Sometimes we also do "Baby".

Sock Puppets - These don't have to be fancy. If your baby is older, they could add eyes or use a marker to color the sock. If they are younger, they will really enjoy playing with a puppet you have made, or watching you use the puppet during the story. The duck is especially easy - just add eyes and foam pieces for a beak - baby will get the point.

Matching Shapes - Trace and cut out some of the shapes in the book. If you want to focus on just one shape, there is a circle on every page. Otherwise, look for things like the triangles in the dogs ears, the square train window, the heart bee wings... Look at each page. Give baby the shape that goes on that page, and see if they can match it up and put it on top of the picture. You may have to modify this by age. Cadence can put it on the shape if you point to where it goes, but she can't find it on her own. An older child might enjoy choosing which shape goes on the page instead of being handed one shape per page.

While You're Reading -
Point to different parts of the picture and tell what they are. "There's a train. That's the window. See the baby?"
Count objects on the page. "One, two wheels on the car!"
Point out different colors.
Talk about the babies in the picture. "Look, that baby is wearing the same color as you. Oh! This baby looks really happy! See, the baby in the picture is looking at the train too!"

and of course... Make the sounds for each object and encourage your baby to have fun and try it too!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Escape Under the Forever Sky

This book is exciting and fun. It was inspired by the true story of a young Ethiopian girl who was sheltered by lions overnight while running away from kidnappers. Note: This is not a true story, the similarities end there, the incident is simply what inspired the author to write this book.

An ambassadors young daughter is kidnapped while living in Ethiopia. She manages to escape and has quite an adventure getting home. Her hero is Jane Goodall and her contemporaries, and she uses her knowledge of wildlife to survive in the wilds.

This book has something for everyone. Encounters with lion and monkeys for the animal lover, intrigue and danger for the mystery minded, action and bad guys for the adventurer, history and politics for the curious and intellectual.

I would recommend this book for everyone, but especially for children about 9-14, with a prime audience being preteen girls.

This book has tons of teaching opportunities. It would be great with a unit study, to incorporate literature in your lessons, or to ease familiarity with the following topics:

Scientific Method
Jane Goodall
Animal Science
Animals of Africa
Habitats and Animal Behaviors
Leakey's Angels
Foreign Diseases
Water Treatment

Geography / Humanities / Social Studies / Government / History:
Water Supplies

Story Origins