Friday, August 28, 2009

The Potato Chip Puzzles

Berlin, Eric. 2009. The Potato Chip Puzzles. New York: Putnam.

Just a quick review -

The Potato Chip Puzzles is the second book about Winston Breen, a junior high school student with a penchant for puzzles. I did not read the first book, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, but it had no bearing on this current mystery.
In The Potato Chip Puzzles, an eccentric potato chip tycoon has designed a contest for local schools. Each participating school enters a team to solve a series of ingenious puzzles spread across town. Winston Breen, along with his teacher and two friends, Jake and Mal, race through town solving intricate word, numeric and logic puzzles in their quest to be the first team to finish and claim the $50,000.00 prize. The puzzles are difficult, and a saboteur threatens to make them dangerous as well.

This a great choice for reluctant readers, boys (all of the main characters are male), and fans of puzzles and mysteries. Readers are easily drawn into this story with the opportunity to solve all of the puzzles and the mystery as well. A chapter of additional puzzles and an answer key conclude this fast-paced mystery.

Visit The Puzzling World of Winston Breen website for games, puzzles and more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Garden State Book Award Nominees

As usual, the categories are Fiction, Non-fiction, and Easy Reader (the subject of my earlier rant)

There are a lot of great books this year! One that I did not review, but it is a favorite of mine is Mo Willem's, There is a Bird on Your Head, part of the Elephant and Piggie series. I love them!
A few of the nominees that I've reviewed


Great books - all of them!


Funke, Cornelia. 2008. Inkdeath (The Inkword Trilogy Book 3). Read by Allan Corduner. Listening Library. 19hours, 45 minutes.

After spending almost 44 hours in my car with Mo, Meggie, Dustfinger, and all the other wonderful characters in the Inkworld Trilogy, I find that they've left a big hole to fill. It's been a long time since a series or trilogy has captured my interest in the same way. The story is rich and compelling with a constantly twisting and shifting plot.

Inkdeath is a much bleaker and darker book than its predecessors, and Orpheus (who plays a large role) may be the greatest villain of the trilogy. My daughter and I agree that he's the villain that you love to hate!

My only disappointment in the final book was the narration by Allan Corduner. The first book's narrator Lynne Redgrave was fine. Inkspell's Brendan Fraser was fantastic - just the right amount of quiet mystery to his voice. Unfortunately, I found Allan Corduner's voice to be too nasal and cynical. Even Farid, who had been one of my favorite characters, comes off as a whining complainer in Corduner's rendition. If I hadn't already become attached to the characters, his reading style may have been enough to put me off. Skip the audio version for this book.
Still, the Inkworld Trilogy is a unique story with a gripping plot. Love, envy, uncertainty, hatred - Funke leaves no aspect of human nature untouched as the characters come to terms with themselves and the very nature of the Inkworld. Whether predordained or self-determined, all will find their destiny in Inkdeath.

There are plenty of rumors that Inkspell will become a movie, but I haven't been able to confirm it. New Line Cinema apparently owns the filming rights, but there's no news yet on a second installment, and of course, there's the awkward question of how Orpheus can be added since Inkheart, the movie, ended with Dustfinger safely back in the Inkworld.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An open rap to the publishers of "easy readers"

I just finished taking a great ALSC online class, Reading Instruction and Children's Books, taught by Kate Todd.

While I learned a lot about reading and "leveling" methods, I also learned that librarians across the country are frustrated with the publishers of "easy reader" books. Not only do they use widely different methods of classifying the "level" of each book, they neglect to tell us which method they use (Lexile, Flesch-Kincaid, whim?)!

Why is one publisher's Level 1 book so different from another's? I vented my frustration in this open rap to the the publishers of easy readers...

An open rap to easy reader publishers

Librarians –
we’re a scientific bunch.
We need more to go on
than just a hunch.

We help children find books.
Some use the 5-finger rule.
We help teachers and parents
and we work with school.

“This Level 2 is too easy?
Well, this one’s just right!
Here’s another Level 2 -
Too hard! Not quite.”

Is it Lexile? Is it ATOS?
Is it Flesch-Kincaid?
Please don’t keep us guessing,
‘cause we need your aid!

Tell us how the books are leveled
all across these lands,
and we’ll make sure they end up
in just the right hands!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The True Meaning of Smekday

Rex, Adam. 2007. The True Meaning of Smekday. New York: Disney Hyperion.

Gratuity (her mother didn't realize that it meant "tip") had a homework assignment,
Write an essay titled

What is the Smekday holiday? How has it changed in the year since the aliens left?
The winning essay will "be buried with the National Time Capsule, which will be uncovered one hundred years from now."

Fast forward to 2114 and read Gratuity (Tip) Tucci's essay (both the official and extended versions) and find out what happened when the Boov invaded the Earth, or Smekland, as they prefer to call it.
Tip falls in with a renegade Boov, who goes by the name of J.Lo. Together (with her cat, Pig) they go in search of her mother, who has been relocated with the other humans to Florida (No, scratch that, Arizona), in a floating car called Slushious.

Despite the language barrier,

I awoke in the afternoon to find a note from J.Lo saying he'd gone ahead to Vicki's to eat soap. Actually, it just said "JLO(BiKi5OP," but I thought that was pretty good.
J.Lo's interesting method of explanations,

Let us say , after televisions are invented, that there is only then a few channels. Three or four. We will call them, A, G, Semicolon, and Pointy.
and the great technological differences between the two,

I scattered J.Lo's tools around the car, searching for some kind of rope, or something that could be used like a rope. I should have paid more attention to anything that looked like a pencil sharpener made of lemon Jell-O that, when cranked, would spit out superstrong yarn that smelled like ginger ale. I only mention this because J.Lo really did have such a thing. He told me so later,
Tip and J.Lo are a formidable duo. But can they save the Earth? And who are they saving it from?

The True Meaning of Smekday is laugh-out-loud funny, but more than just humor - it offers a fresh look at war, politics, race and of course, alien relations. Irresistibly funny!
Don't take my word for it - Here's 10 reasons to read The True Meaning of Smekday!
Just released in paperback.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remember Me,: Tomah Joseph's Gift to Franklin Roosevelt

Soctomah, Donald and Jean Flahive. 2009. Remember Me: Tomah Joseph's Gift to Franklin Roosevelt. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.
(Reviewed from a galley proof supplied by Tilbury House through LibraryThing)

The inspiration for Remember Me: Tomah Joseph's Gift to Franklin Roosevelt is a birchbark canoe (see photo) given by a Passamaquoddy Elder, Tomah Joseph to the future president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt.

Although the relationship between young Franklin and Tomah Joseph is imagined by the authors, Remember Me (Mikwid Hamin) is based in fact. Franklin's family did spend summers at Campobello Island in Maine and Franklin did receive the canoe from Tomah Joseph.

In the course of their time spent together, Franklin learns about canoeing, but more importantly, Tomah Joseph teaches Franklin about Passamaquoddy culture - their beliefs, their art, their history, their lifestyle. Franklin is an avid learner and Tomah Joseph is a willing teacher.

Watercolor and pen illustrations in soft, natural colors depict Tomah Joseph and Franklin Roosevelt in a variety of outdoor scenes, as they enjoy nature and each other's company. A page of etchings shows a map of the area, and the book's final pages show a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt as president and a depiction of Tomah Joseph and selections of his artwork.

Remember Me fills in an area of history that seldom appears in children's literature. While it hints at stories of "the Old Time," the story takes place long after the Europeans and later Americans first came into contact with America's native people. Rather than telling the story of "the Old Time" or the many wrongs committed against the Passamaquody, Remember Me focuses on a different aspect of history. A formal tribal chief, and an artist, Tomah Joseph chose to stay in his native lands and interact with the new settlers. In addition to creating baskets and birchbark etchings, he worked as a hunting and fishing guide. In this way, he was able to interact with the settlers and share with them his love and knowledge of nature as well as the culture of his clan.

According to the story, Tomah Joseph recognized young Franklin Roosevelt's potential as an influential leader and, as Tomah Joseph aged and Roosevelt became a young man, Tomah Joseph encouraged him, "Mikwid hamin, Franklin. Always remember me."

This book would be particularly appropriate for classroom use. Unique, informative, and written by a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe.

The publisher's website offers link to many useful links for educators and those interested in further exploration of this story.
Photo of Franklin in the canoe made by Tomah Joseph is from the official website of the the Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission .

Chronicles of Narnia

A final post on the classic books in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, now that I've listened to each of them...

I recently finished The Silver Chair, read by Jeremy Northam, which by the way, was my least favorite book in the series (the foreshadowing is way too obvious in this one) and The Last Battle, read by Patrick Stewart (think Star Trek).

Taken as a whole, The Chronicles of Narnia is an epic adventure, a children's classic, and a thinly-veiled nod to the Christian faith. Some of the individual books stand well on their own, particularly The Horse and His Boy (my personal favorite, read superbly by Alex Jennings), and to a lesser degree, Prince Caspian, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

It was sometimes distracting, sometimes disappointing, and sometimes refreshing to hear each book read by a different actor. Alex Jennings and Michael York (of Austin Powers fame!) were my favorite narrators, each providing rich characterizations for the story's many characters.
All the books should be easily available from your public library in either CD or digital download

Thursday, August 6, 2009


McGhee, Alison and Pascal Lemaitre. 2009. Always. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Told through the voice of the family dog, this is a touching story of love and loyalty. A small book, with softly-colored, double-spread illustrations and minimal text,

I will halt the avalanche.
I will ambush enemies.
Always, I will keep the castle safe.
this is a book brimming with love.

If you love dogs, or have a dog that loves you, read this book!

The Jersey Devil

Redmond, Shirley Raye. 2009. The Jersey Devil. Detroit: Gale.
ISBN:978 0 7377 4407 1
The Jersey Devil once terrorized the large area spanning across New Jersey's Pine Barrens from the Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia, frightening residents and killing pets and livestock. In 1909, schools and businesses in the area were closed, and posses were formed to hunt down the mysterious creature, said to have been born in 1735.
What New Jersey student can resist the legend of the Jersey Devil? This book, part of the Monsters series, will help kids sort fact from fiction, offering facts to keep the legend alive, balanced with facts to foster a healthy dose of skepticism.
Quoting from period sources, and offering documented eyewitness accounts (including those by Napoleon Bonaparte's brother and a 1951 sighting by a boy in Gibbstown), Raye offers whatever factual information is available. She balances these accounts with possible explanations (could it be a giant sand crane?), and known hoaxes.
Fun facts are also included. New Jersey's NHL team is named after the Jersey Devil, the devil appears in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and there are several Devil-inspired foods - the Jersey Devil sundae (with Devil's food cake, of course!) and the Jersey Devil cocktail.
This is a perfect book for younger students to develop research skills. The Jersey Devil offers a balanced view accompanied by Notes, Glossary, For Further Exploration, Index, and Picture Credits. Great for young NJ researchers and others interested in our most famous cryptid.
Note: The accompanying image is not the cover art, but rather, an image that appeared in a January 1909 issue of the Philadelphia Bulletin during the heart of the Jersey Devil terror of the same year.

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 ...