Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road

Klise, Kate. 2009. Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book One. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Here’s a new genre for you – “graphic epistolary mystery!” Not sure what that is? Fans of Kate Klise’s, Regarding the …, series will know and so you will you after reading this first in a new series, 43 Old Cemetery Road. Kate Klise and her sister, illustrator M. Sarah Klise, return to their signature format of illustrated, mystery novels written in the form of letters.

Similar to their previous collaborations, Regarding the Fountain, Regarding the Sink, and subsequent titles in that series, Dying to Meet You unfolds through a series of letters. This time, penned by a boy, a ghost, a real estate agent, a literary agent, a writer, and a lawyer, the letters seek to unravel the story of the peculiar circumstances regarding the old Victorian mansion at 43 Old Cemetery Road. Writer, Ignatius Grumply, has rented the mansion for the summer but is unaware that it is already inhabited by the young boy, Seymour Hope and a ghost, Olive C. Spence. Humor abounds in the simple black and white sketches, the characters’ names (Anita Sale, real estate agent, Fay Tality and her dog Mort), and of course, in the epistles,

"P.S. I recognize the name Olive C. Spence. Isn’t she the woman listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for receiving the most rejection slips in history? If memory serves, she wrote something called graphic epistolary mysteries – or some such unmarketable nonsense."

Sometimes profound,

"All I’m saying is that your life is a story, and that you are the main character
of that story. Is your story a comedy or a tragedy? Is it dull? Or is it a
compelling, spine-tingling drama? …each of us is the author of his or her own
life,...if you're telling me that you've changed, I'm pleased at your authorship."

but mostly light-hearted, the new 43 Cemetery Road series will appeal to 4th-6th graders, boys, and especially fans of the Regarding the… series.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Sword Thief

Lerangis, Peter. 2009. The Sword Thief. New York: Scholastic.

In The Sword Thief, the 3rd installment in the 39 Clues series, Dan and Amy Cahill race to Japan and Korea in search of the next clue; and alliances will be made and broken. Told in much the same fashion as the earlier books with two exceptions - Peter Lerangis adds a hint of romance (Can Ian Kabra actually be developing a more human side?) and most importantly, a sense of direction, a hint at where the clues may ultimately lead.

And…something I missed in Maze of Bones and One False Note that my book club group brought to my attention - there are clues hidden in the page numbers of each book! Have you figured them out yet?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Marino, Nan. 2009. Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me. New York: Roaring Brook.

(Advance Reader's Edition)

Set in the summer of 1969, in a fictional neighborhood of Massapequa Park, NY, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me is the story of young Tamara Ann Simpson, Muscle Man McGinty, the "squirrelly runt, ... lying snake, and ... pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old," and all the other colorful inhabitants of Ramble Street.

It's not only Muscle's Man's tall tales that have Tammy in a snit. Her best friend, Kebsie Grobsers, has moved away without a trace, and Kebsie's room in Mrs. Kutchner's foster home is being occupied by none other than that wormy liar, Douglas, "Muscle Man" McGinty! Tamara can't figure out why the other neighborhood kids are cutting Muscle Man so much slack! Does anyone really believe that he's training for the 1972 Munich Olympics? That Neil Armstrong is his uncle?!

A rough-and-tumble girl who would rather play kickball than read, Tammy is no stranger to trouble and is grounded as often as not. Her mother, Shirley, is obsessed with soap operas,

...a bunch of ladies are sitting in a hospital room, telling the
one in the bed that no one will notice her injury, even though
she is wrapped up like a mummy with bandages and gauze.

"Why do you think they're telling her that?" asks Shirley.

"Because they're the stupidest group of ladies
to walk the planet?"

It's probably wrong, but it's my best guess.

Her dad, Marshall, is obsessed with how early he has to get up to catch the train to work, working "for the man," as Tammy's college-aged brother puts it.

The Apollo 11 moon landing, the Vietnam War, the Miracle Mets, and Woodstock provide the backdrop for a story that is ultimately about Tammy, who finally learns to see past herself.

Nan Marino succeeds in creating a microcosm of the turbulent summer of 1969 within the confines of Ramble Street and its inhabitants.

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle is at times funny, at times touching, and always heartfelt. Kids will relate to Muscle Man's unflappable optimism and Tammy's candor (she can be a bit of a liar herself!)

"What are you doing up there?"

"Nothing, Daddy."

...I'm suddenly grateful that my parents are stair shouters
and not face yellers like Big Danny's mom and dad. For now,
my garage roof secret is safe.

Parents may enjoy reliving their own summer of '69.

In full disclosure, I must admit that I work in the same library system as the author; however, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting her yet.

Nan Marino's book is due out on May 12, 2009.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


2009 DisneyNature Rated G
I must confess that I'm not usually a fan of Disney movies, but it would be impossible to find fault with the Earth Day release of DisneyNature's Earth. Narrated by James Earl Jones, Earth is a visually stunning celebration of our planet's most unspoiled places and their inhabitants. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the windswept African desert to the lush and exotic tropical rain forest, Earth follows the awe-inspiring migrations and life-cycles of elephants, cranes, humpback whales, buffalo, polar bears and more.
Family-friendly, Earth illustrates the cycle of life primarily through the hunt and chase, rather than the capture of prey (with the exception of the Great White shark, which by its nature, cannot be depicted with restraint). Only the night-vision scenes of confrontations between elephants and lions might frighten the youngest viewers. I was pleased at the number of families attending the early evening showing. There were as many children as adult in the audience, perhaps more.
Three suggestions if you're planning to see Earth (and I hope you are!)
1. See it at a theater with digital projection - the grainy quality of film detracts from the cinematography.
2. Choose a late evening showing unless you are prepared (or heartened) by choruses of "Look, Mommy! A lion!" "Look, Mommy! It's a giraffe!"
3. Stay for the credits.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Every Soul a Star

Mass, Wendy. 2008. Every Soul a Star. New York: Little Brown.

Ally is bright, home-schooled, self-assured, and fascinated with astronomy. She lives with her family in a remote campground called Moon Shadow.

Bree is popular and beautiful. She’s definitely “A” list at her suburban school; and she knows exactly what she wants out of life.

Jack is artistic, a dreamer and a bit of loner. He attends the same school as Bree, but is definitely not on the “A” list. In fact, he just failed science.

Bree’s parents are scientists, Jack’s science teacher is a veteran eclipse chaser and tour director, and Ally’s family’s campground lies directly in the path of the upcoming total solar eclipse. The lives of Ally, Bree, and Jack are about to align as sure as surely as the moon and sun.

Written in the alternating first-person accounts of Ally, Jack, and Bree, Every Soul a Star recounts the confluence of life-changing events which bring the three teens together at Moon Shadow to view the total eclipse of the sun. While searching the skies for exoplanets and signs of life on other galaxies, the teens learn as much about themselves as they learn about the heavens.

Readers are lucky to occasionally find a book that truly ‘speaks’ to them. Wendy Mass’ book will speak to many teens – the popular, the artistic, the intelligent, the extroverted, the introverted, the analytic, and their many combinations. Every Soul a Star is a celebration of what makes each of us unique - and if we learn something about the cosmos in the process, so much the better!

Friday, April 17, 2009

National Poetry Month

It's National Poetry Month and there are so many new poetry books out there! Here's a few - some new, some old ...

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (2009 Jump at the Sun)

With only one line of verse per double-spread painting, this book is E.B. Lewis' visual interpretation of Langston Hughes' famous poem. Simply beautiful!

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian (2007 Harcourt)

Each double-spread entry in Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars is a whimsical, yet factual description of a planet or other member of the cosmos, accompanied by a whimsical, yet realistic painting. Take Venus for instance,

"Scalding-hot surface,
Nine hundred degrees.
Nothing can live there,
No creatures,
No trees.
Poisonous clouds
Of acid above.
Why was it name for
the goddess of love?"

The accompanying painting, done with "gouache, collage, and rubber stamps on primed brown paper bags," contains an appropriately colored Venus with landmarks, red hearts, the statue of Venus, and a small question mark.
Each painting is equally delightful, and many have cutouts, previewing previous or following pages.

Visually attractive, entertaining, and informative...what more can one possibly ask from a book of poetry?

OR, if you prefer a fantastical, fictional take on the cosmos, try former Children's Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky's new book, The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from Beyond the Solar System.

Last year's Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat (2008 Jabberwocky) is a treat because it includes a CD of poems read, in most cases, by their authors.

Also from last year, Birds on a Wire: A Renga 'Round the Town, by J. Patrick Lewis and Paul B. Janeczko (2008 Wordsong), an introduction to an ancient Japanese poetry form that isn't haiku, and because it requires a partner or two, is much more fun!

There's something for everyone in National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Gordon, Roderick and Brian Williams. 2008. Tunnels. New York: Chicken House (Scholastic).
ISBN: 9780439871778.

Tunnels, first published in the UK in 2007 is an international best-seller. Its 2009 sequel, Deeper, released in February, is already a New York Times Bestseller. The website is extensive and interactive.

Tunnels is a dystopian sci-fi thriller that takes place in an alternate world beneath the streets of London. Will Burrows, a fourteen-year-old loner, and his dad, Dr. Burrows, the curator of a run-down, second-rate museum share a passion for amateur archaeological digs. They spend their free time digging tunnels, uncovering Georgian artifacts, and even an old rail tunnel. Will’s sister and mother lead peculiar and mutually enabling lifestyles – Mrs. Burrows - listless and helpless, Rebecca – calm, cool and efficient. Will’s father becomes secretive when he discovers a strange group of men stalking the nearby neighborhoods and spends much time in his subterranean office. When Dr. Burrows mysteriously disappears, Will teams up with Chester, another teenage outsider, to discover what happened.

Will and Chester find themselves in grave danger when they stumble upon an eerie, dark, repressive and often violent underworld.

Tunnels is an omnipresent narrative, though most of the action is told from Will’s perspective. Its chapters are divided into three parts, Breaking Ground, The Colony, and The Eternal City. Tunnels gets off to a great start in Breaking Ground, fast-paced and intriguing. The Colony, a dark and depressing interlude, bogs down a bit, but the story picks up with plenty of danger and adventure in The Eternal City.

This is a long book, and although its dust jacket claims it to be “Potteresque,” Gordon and Williams do not have J.K. Rowling’s gift for writing a book in a series that can stand perfectly well on its own. Sci-fi and adventure fans should love Tunnels, but after 472 pages, I found myself wanting a bit more closure, however, the British flair of the book is a refreshing change. William’s black and white sketches add an appropriate eeriness to the tale.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Usborne Art Treasury

Dickens, Rosie. 2007. The Usborne Art Treasury. Tulsa, OK: EDC.
ISBN: 978079451452-5

Featuring a famous work by each of 22 different artists, this book is a fantastic resource for summer reading, art-themed projects! The artists include van Gogh, Monet, Degas and others, including an unknown African mask artist. Featured styles include paintings, collage art, woodblock prints, sculptures, masks and more. Each work of art is featured in a photo and accompanied by a description of the piece, biographical information on the artist, technical information about the piece, and a great project to do in the artist's style using simple items like cotton balls, plastic forks, etc. I will be using this book a LOT!

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...