Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

Mccaughrean, Geraldine. 2010. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. New York: Harper Collins.

Like all of us, Paul Roux is born to die, however, unlike most people, Paul Roux knows when he will die - on his fourteenth birthday.  Upon his birth, Paul's Aunt Mireille receives a message from Saint Constance.  Pepper will die at fourteen.  So, while other children are attending school, making friends, and preparing for adulthood, the young Paul is attending Mass, making daily penance and preparing for  Last Rites.  His resigned mother, Madame Roux, so often refers to him as "mon pauvre" my poor thing, that local children mistake his name for "poivre," or Pepper.  All of this is accepted, of course.  Saint Constance decreed it to be so.  Aunt Mireille reminds them so. It must be so.

But on his fourteenth birthday, Pepper suddenly realizes that he doesn't feel like going to his eternal rest. The saints will be looking for him.  But suppose they can't find Pepper Roux?

After all, "People see what they expect to see.  Don't they?"

Captain Roux? Yes, I am Captain Roux.
Here is a placard.  Yes, I am a protestor.
Do you work here? Yes, I am the meat slicer.
You've worked for a newspaper? Yes, I am Pepper Papier.
You are a delivery boy?  Yes, I am Konstantin Kruppe.
Good day, dear.  I am home.

And so, the doomed Pepper steps from one life into another, and another, and another.  And though Saint Constance is seeking to harvest him, Pepper's quick-thinking and earnestness keep him one step ahead of his judgement day.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is an exciting tale of adventure; some of the lives into which Pepper deposits himself are less than savory ones!  But Pepper is never dispirited, never bitter; and his various predicaments are often humorously improbable - he is by turns a grizzled sea captain, a grocer's boy, a reporter, a fugitive on the run, a hard-drinking husband, a soldier in the French Foreign Legion - all before his 15th birthday!

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux is also, improbably, a deep philosophical novel about faith, family, honesty, destiny and friendship.  Pepper's unlikely friend Duchesse, is a funny and colorful addition to the story - a strong and seaworthy steward, taken to dispensing valuable advice and wearing women's clothing.

A rousing and rollicking read that should be popular with kids and teens.  A book that begs to be read twice.  Move over Despereaux, here comes another French hero who will win reader's hearts!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Free nook e-book!

So, for me, it's finally possible! Thanks to my library's participation in ListenNJ (which may now need a new name!), I can borrow e-books for my nook! ListenNJ only recently added e-books, but my guess is that many libraries around the country will begin offering the same service.

I simply browsed my cooperative's available titles and chose one. Many others must have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of e-books also, because most titles were "waitlist" only.  However, I was able to snag a Magic Tree House book for testing purposes. 

With a free download of Adobe Digital Editions, I was able to quickly and easily download the title to my computer.  I plugged in my nook and "dragged and dropped" my download into my nook.  As easy as that!

As I've said before, I don't know if e-books will have a positive, negative, or negligible effect on public libraries.  I am, however, pleased that we (public libraries as a whole) are keeping abreast of current technology, offering customers what they want, and keeping our heads out of the sand.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Minimum Rage

After several weeks of helping students find books for their non-fiction school assignments, I was inspired to create this tongue-in-cheek poem for today's Non-Fiction Monday roundup.


"There's a minimum page requirement."
I start to tear my hair!
(Yes, I understand you have a reason.
It's not that I don't care.)

"I've got to read a bio." - Here it comes -
"It's got to be 150."
But the best nonfiction authors are,
at times, with words quite thrifty!

Peter Sis,  Jim Murphy, Demi,
and there's Russell Freedman too,
They tell more in half a page
than others can in two.

"But it needs two hundred pages!
It's for my school report."
Thank goodness for Sid Fleischman
but too bad for Rappaport.

Teachers, please, when it's non-fiction
consider taking less.
And if you need a reason
think "The Gettysburg Address."

Today's Non-Fiction Monday is hosted by Practically Paradise.  Stop there to read nonfiction book reviews and other nonfiction-related posts from the kidlit blogsosphere.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Whole Nother Story

Soup, Cuthbert Dr. 2009. A Whole Nother Story. New York: Bloomsbury.

How can one resist a book that sports a sock puppet named Steve on its cover?  A Whole Nother Story is a madcap chase involving the brilliant scientist, Mr. Cheeseman, his "three attractive, polite, relatively odor-free children," Pinky, their physic hairless dog, government agents (known only by their initials - Atich Dee and El Kyoo), international spies (including a chimpanzee with a fondness for pet fish), corporate villains, and of course, Steve.

The story is narrated by Dr. Cuthbert of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice, who, at various times, interrupts his narrative with unsolicited advice, such as his "generous advice on gift giving,"
All gifts are not created equal.  Historically speaking, there are good gifts and there are bad gifts.
Good gifts: A bottle of champagne, a box of fine Belgian chocolates, the Statue of Liberty.
Bad gifts: A bottle of shampoo, a box of fine Belgian matches, the Trojan Horse.
So, be it a new hat, a box of matches, or a giant wooden horse full of bloodthirsty Trojans, the thing you should remember above all else when giving someone a gift is to make certain that you are not giving him something that might provide nosy government agents with information as to your whereabouts.

Ethan Cheeseman, his sons Jough Smythe and Gerard LaFontaine, his daughter, Magenta-Jean Jurgenson, their dog Pinky, and Steve, the "snarky" sock puppet, are the owners of a nearly-operational time machine - the LVR.  Can they keep it away from their pursuers, decipher the missing launch code, and travel back in time to save the children's mother?  Perhaps they can, with a little help from a traveling circus and a cowboy poet.

A Whole Nother Story is a slapstick, sci-fi adventure for readers who appreciate truly silly humor.
(264 pages)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. (2010) Directed by Chris Columbus, Twentieth Century Fox.
Rated PG (for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language)

I went with three teenagers to see The Lightning Thief yesterday.  The theater was packed with young people, mostly boys. I have a few comments, but encourage you to stop here if you don't want to know how the movie compares to the book! 

First, let me say that we all enjoyed the film.  The special effects, acting, and pacing were great. I don't think that any viewers went away disappointed - that is, however, unless they were expecting strict adherence to Rick Riordan's novel.  Following are a few of the differences between the book and movie versions (in no particular order): the sequence of events at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis was deleted and replaced with an incident in Nashville, Tennesse. Annabeth is not a blonde and doesn't have a special baseball cap. Percy, not Gordon, wears the flying sneakers. The Ares cabin at Camp Half-Blood is never mentioned, and Percy's showdown with Ares in California is missing entirely. Also, as a New Jerseyan, I could not help but notice that Percy and company meet up with Medusa in Leeds, NJ (home of the famous New Jersey Devil). I don't recall the location in the book, but I'm sure that it was not Leeds, NJ.

A few modernizations to the story were added as well - in the Las Vegas casino, Grover struts to the groove of Lady Gaga, when crossing the River Styx, Grover complains about wasting money in a time of recession, Annabeth worries that Homeland Security will be looking for the group, and finally, Percy views Medusa in the reflection on his iPod Touch. None of these detract from the story, but may have the reverse effect of dating the movie as the years go by.

Overall, I thought the movie was great!  I'm looking forward to Rick Riordan's next series about life after Camp Half-Blood, and I hope to see Sea of Monsters on the big screen as well.

Enjoy the movie trailer!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Evolution and the Pelican

I have delayed posting reviews of Katherine Paterson's, The Day of the Pelican, and Jacqueline Kelly's, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, because I have mixed feelings about them both. I think they are well-written, thought-provoking books; however, I do question their "suggested reader" age ranges and their general appeal to children.

Paterson, Katherine. 2009. The Day of the Pelican. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

The Day of the Pelican (so named for an incident involving a drawing of a pelican that occurred on the day that Meli's life took a turn for the worse) is a historical fiction account of the flight of 11-year old Meli Lleshi's Kosovar Albanian family from the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign of terror.  Meli comes from a large, tight-knit extended family, however the focus of the book is primarily on Meli, her older brother Mehmet, and her parents.  After Mehmet is arrested, jailed, beaten and left for dead by the local police force, the Lleshis are forced to admit and react to the fact that they are no longer welcomed in their homeland.

This book is suggested by the publisher for grades 5-9.  I disagree.  The underlying reason for the Lleshi family's flight is the ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars.  Additionally, there is veiled reference (explained more fully in the author's notes following the story) to war crimes against women - both very heavy topics for 10-year old readers. Additionally, Meli's brother, Mehmet, who becomes, understandably, radicalized by his treatment at the hand of the Serbs, is a difficult character for young readers to embrace.  It is easy to dislike Mehmet for his headstrong and moody demeanor; and it will take an older, more experienced reader to comprehend the reality that makes Mehmet's character not only believable, but sadly commonplace.

Congratulations to Katherine Paterson on her appointment as the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. She follows in the esteemed footsteps of the first National Ambassador, Jon Scieszka.  "Read for Your Life" is the theme for Ms. Paterson's platform. She has her own website and a fan page on FB.

Kelly, Jacqueline. 2009. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. New York: MacMillan.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate takes place in rural Texas at the turn of the 20th century.  Eleven-year-old, Calpurnia is the only daughter in a family consisting of six brothers, Calpurnia, her parents, and Granddaddy.  The Tate's successful farm was established by Granddaddy, but he has since retired after serving in the Civil War, and has turned his attention to scientific endeavors - not the least of which is an attempt to create liquor from distilled pecans.  Calpurnia and Granddaddy develop a very close relationship based on Calpurnia's interest in the new and controversial book, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Each chapter begins with a passage from Darwin's book. The "evolution" in Kelly's novel refers not only to the evolutionary adaptations of Texas' native plants and insects, but also to Calpurnia herself, who evolves into a budding feminist, ready to challenge the societal expectations for women at the dawn of a new century.

Kelly's story is a mix of science, Darwinian Theory, family life, and a large helping of humor.  There is no crisis in the story, no action-packed turning point - just a warm, familial march to an unknown future.  Calpurnia is a delightfully funny and intelligent protagonist.

MacMillan's discussion guide for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate offers discussion questions and a list of words that may send young readers (hopefully) scurrying for a dictionary (ignominy, dragooned, desiccated, to name a few).  These words, however, weren't the ones that sent me to my online nook dictionary. I had to hunt up several archaic words, most of which did not appear in the nook dictionary. (Note to Barnes and Noble: Merriam-Webster would be nice.) This book's suggested age range is grades 4-7.  Although I am a proponent of challenging vocabulary for children, I think that the level of vocabulary difficulty combined with the scientific premise of the book may be off-putting for young readers.

Bottom line - recommend these books to thoughtful, older readers who enjoy history, science, and/or world cultures.  Readers who stick with these two titles will end up enlightened.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk

Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A whiff of pine, a hint of skunk: A forest of poems. (Ill. by Joan Rankin). New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Some are funny and succinct
as in the case of "Chipmunks, Inc."
Others - evocative and sublime,
"Eau de Forest," comes to mind.

In nature's palette it's illustrated,
funny yet beautiful, Highly Rated.

A delightful collection of mostly humorous, rhyming nature poems. From now on, no Thanksgiving craft session will be complete without a reading of "A Wild Turkey Comments on His Portrait." Priceless!

Another review of this great collection can be found at Bookends, a Booklist blog.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hurricane Katrina

Fradin, Judith Bloom and Dennis Brindell Fradin. 2010. Hurricane Katrina (Turning Points in U.S. History). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

Hurricane Katrina is part of the Turning Points in U.S. History collection by Marshall Cavendish, appropriate for Grades 3 and up. In simple language,
On the evening of August 25, Hurricane Katrina slammed into southeastern Florida near Miami.  With winds blowing at 80 miles (129 km) per hours, Katrina at this time was a Category One hurricane, the weakest kind.  It toppled trees, knocked down power lines, and flooded streets.  In all, Katrina killed sixteen people in Florida.  This was a bad situation, but Katrina was just getting started.
Hurricane Katrina provides a comprehensive look at one of our country's biggest disasters.  Six chapters outline the science of hurricanes, a chronology of events, the plight of those left behind, the aftermath of the disaster and lessons learned.  The facts are presented without politics or bias, but do include the controversy that followed the government's handling of the crisis.

Inset text boxes add context to the story, relating hurricane facts, hurricane history, and individual experiences - both positive and negative.  Numerous photos are included.  Completing the book are a Glossary, Timeline, Further Information pages, Bibliography and Index.

For an uplifting Hurricane Katrina story, read Two Bobbies: A true story of Hurricane Katrina, friendship, and survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery - a Junior Library Guild Selection.

You can check out all of today's Non-Fiction Monday posts at this week's host,

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 ...