Monday, October 31, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, etc. - a review

Trick or Treat! 
Which is it?  Well, Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums is a treat of a book that's full of tricks!
 Read on ...

Stewart, Trenton Lee. 2011. The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums. New York: Little Brown.

A message from Mr. Benedict:

... I urge you to put on your thinking cap (or if you are already wearing your thinking cap, to adjust it so that it sits most comfortably on your head), for with the aid - indeed, the considerable contribution -- of the Society members themselves, as well as a few of my associates, I have compiled the manual you now hold in your hands: a compressed and highly portable collection of mental challenges.  May you find them rewarding!

Puzzles, enigmas, and conundrums! A perfect companion book for the remarkable children who share in the adventures of The Mysterious Benedict Society.  It's a wonder that Trenton Lee Stewart didn't think of this earlier!

This new book of puzzles and riddles of all varieties, offers something for MBS fans as well as those who are unfamiliar with the books.  The book includes  quotes from the novels and character studies of each one of the members, as well as a Table of Contents, Hints, and Useful Resources. Great fun!  But a warning - it's not easy!  I found myself checking the hints more than once. I didn't attempt all of the trials (there are many), but all appear to require an answer to complete the final challenge.  There are hours of entertainment contained in this little volume, illustrated by Diana Sudyka, and printed on glossy paper.

If you haven't read any of The Mysterious Benedict Society books, check out this link to my review of the very first book in the series, and be sure to check out The Mysterious Benedict website.

A new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (a prequel), is due out in April.  Read an excerpt here, or read the excerpt contained in the final pages of The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Jean Little Library.  Check it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paying it forward - The Liebster Award

I has an award!
 (If you're not familiar with the "I has a ..." craze, you're not spending enough time with teenagers)

Surprise, surprise!  Yesterday, I was given The Liebster Award by Nicki of Dog Ear. The Liebster Award was designed to call attention to blogs with fewer than 200 followers - under-appreciated blogs, you might say.

If you are fortunate enough to be recognized by one of your fellow bloggers with The Liebster Award, your "obligations" are simple:

  • Acknowledge your award by linking back to the blog that chose you.
  • Pay it forward by highlighting your own 5 favorite under-appreciated blogs.
  • Leave each of them a comment advising them of the award.
  • Display your award proudly.
(or something like that anyway)

So, which blogs do I feel are under-appreciated?

  • NC Teacher Stuff - I truly enjoy Jeff's thoughtful postings with an educational focus.  If I were a teacher, I wouldn't miss a day of his blog! 
  • The Fourth Musketeer - With a heavy emphasis on historical fiction and more YA than I typically read, Margo's blog helps me fill in my gaps, keeping me up-to-date. Interesting and well-written,  Margo of The Fourth Musketeer is also my co-collaborator on ...
  • KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month - Yes, I am a member of this blog but I don't feel badly in pointing it out. It is a labor of love, highlighting children's books that focus on women's history.  We're on hiatus now, but will gear up later this year to offer thirty days of stellar postings by authors and bloggers in celebration of Women's History Month 2012. 
  • Pink Me - depending on what stats you're counting, Pink Me may cross the 200 threshold, but it's a blog worth pointing out. She's also on my judging panel for Cybils, Nonfiction Picture Books. Pink Me's always keeping it real - and I appreciate that. 
and finally,
  • Thanks back to Dog Ear, whose author is a voracious reader and reviewer, offering me a place to go when I find myself without a YA recommendation - especially something dystopian, romantic, or angsty - my readers advisory shortcomings. (I can't help it if I'm a nonfiction fan!)

So there you  have it!  The Liebster Award.  Enjoy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising - a review

Riordan, Rick and Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson. The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising. (Book #11) 2011. Read by David Pittu. Scholastic Audio.  (6 hrs 18 min)

Can a book be both a prequel and a sequel?  Yes, if it's Vespers Rising.

In four separate books (hence the four authors), Vespers Rising offers a view to the past and the origins of the Cahill Family secret in Gideon Cahill (early 1500s) , a look at the activities of Madeleine Cahill and the formation of the family's secretive fifth branch, a glimpse of young Grace Cahill, patriarch of the modern Cahill Family, and finally, back to Dan and Amy Cahill, their cat Saladdin, and au pair, Nellie.  Dan and Amy have completed the clue hunt and are safely back in Boston, but their adventures are far from over!

David Pittu continues as the narrator for the series, and as usual, does a stellar job in portraying a wide variety of characters with varying accents.  His voice will be as connected with The 39 Clues brand as Jim Dale's is to Harry Potter.
Listen to a sample here.

This book will answer many of the questions readers may have about the origin of the clue hunt, but its main purpose is to set the stage for the new series, Cahills vs. Vespers.  The first book in the series is The Medusa Plot, and is available now. Read an excerpt here.

Fans of the series will be thrilled with the new offerings.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Geronimo Stilton: Dinosaurs in Action

It's Nonfiction Monday.  So why am I featuring Geronimo Stilton, the "famouse" editor of "The Rodent's Gazette?"  Well, I just finished another great online ALSC course. Each participant was given the task of creating "club" based on a children's book series.  I chose the perennially popular Geronimo Stilton series. In researching ideas to use in my club, I discovered that the Scholastic Geronimo Stilton books are not the only Geronimo Stilton books.  There is a separate series published in graphic novel format by Papercutz.

Unlike the original Geronimo Stilton series, the Papercutz titles (I haven't read them all) are a blend of fact, fantasy and adventure, à la Magic Tree House. Following is a review of the 7th book in the series.

Stilton, Geronimo. 2011. Dinosaurs in Action. New York: Papercutz.

In the course of a slim, 50-page volume (equal in size to a typical beginning reader book), the reader is entertained by the adventures of Geronimo and his gang as they try to foil the plans of the dastardly Pirate Cats, while they are simultaneously educated in the classification and habits of dinosaurs in the Cretaceous Period. 
Both within the context of the dialogue,
Moldy Mozzarella! That's not a cloud.

It's a quezacoatlus!

It's enormous!

And looking for prey ...It's heading for us!


Look! It's going away.

Thank goodness ... I wouldn't have wanted to end up in its belly!

We were lucky! The quezacoatlus is the biggest flying animal that ever lived.
and in integrated panels that contain encyclopedia-style facts, the reader learns about each dinosaur featured in the story, as well as information on flowers, plants and prehistory in general. In keeping with the style of the original Geronimo Stilton series, the fonts in the dialogue bubbles are often varied in size, style or color.

Here's a page from the first book in the series (note the fact panel, bottom right):
 The Discovery of America ©Papercutz
The bottom line?  Geronimo Stilton definitely attracts reluctant readers.  The graphic novel format may attract even the most reluctant of reluctant readers.  Additionally, they're a source of facts that can be used to invoke interest in a topic (science, history, etc.), or a tool for teaching kids the ability to discern fact from fiction. 

Is it fact?  Is it fiction? Neither.  It's faction, and it's fun!

Reading Guides and Games for the several Geronimo Stilton graphic novels are available here.

You can find all eight titles in the graphic novel series, reading guides, previews and more on Papercutz' Geronimo Stilton pages.

For all things Geronimo Stilton related (TV, books, graphic novels), the official Geronimo Stilton website is here.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is at Apples with Many Seeds.  Stop by.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waiting for the Magic

MacLachlan, Patricia. 2011. Waiting for the Magic. New York: Atheneum.

Fifth-grader, William's, father doesn't like dogs. When Papa deserts the family, going off "to write," one summer morning, Mama loads William and 4-year-old Elinor into the car and heads for the local animal shelter.
"What kind of dog are we getting? I asked.
"Whatever they have," said Mama.
"Can we get a cat?" asked Elinor from the back.
"Yes," said Mama.
For a moment I thought about asking for a horse, but I didn't think Mama's mood about animals would last that long.
At the shelter, Mama makes another impulsive decision,

"We'll take them all," Mama said crisply,

the protective Bryn, high-energy Bitty, peaceful Grace, friendly Neo and Lulu, the very patient cat. It is Elinor who first understands the nature of their new pets.  She waves her toy magic wand above them, and they sit patiently, orderly, and they talk - but only Elinor can hear them, because the only
ones who know magic are:
The young
The old
The brave
The honest
The joyful

What will it take for the rest of the family, including Papa, to "know the magic?" It will take love and bravery and honesty and time.

Waiting for the Magic is a short (143 pages) chapter book peppered with simple and attractive penciled sketches by Amy June Bates, perfect for young readers, ages 9-12.  It has some similarities with Kate Feiffer's delightful book, The Problem with the Puddles. Both feature endearing, talking dogs as fully developed characters.

Though Waiting for the Magic is told in William's voice, the dogs often interrupt,

He misses his father.

Yes, he does.

Can you move over, Bitty?

The cat's there.

The cat's name is Lula, Bitty.  Lula.

Okay, Lula.
I know you like her. You ask her to move over.
Printed in italics and placed in the center of the page, readers will have no trouble distinguishing the canine dialogue, and will enjoy the dogs' sometimes silly and sometimes profound commentary.

Newbery winner Patricia MacLachlan's gentle treatment of a difficult topic is laced with humor, magic, and a happy ending.  An enjoyable read.

Read an excerpt here.

© Amy June Bates
This cover image is taken from Amy June Bates' website,
where it is just so precious, that it deserves a visit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beware the black bubblegum - a cautionary Halloween story

Many years ago, my town hired a professional storyteller to share spooky stories at the Halloween bonfire on the beach. She was magnificent, and my children still talk about her stories.  One in particular stuck in their minds, a story of  a piece of black bubblegum, a cautionary tale about a child who chances a piece of Halloween candy before it is checked by an adult, with alarming, if not terrifying, repercussions. 

In looking for stories to share with kids this year, I thought back to the black bubblegum story.  Knowing that storytellers do not necessarily share or write down their stories, I thought I would scour the web for any version I could find.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the original author of this oft-adapted story, formally known as "The Affair at 7 Rue de M — " was none other than John Steinbeck! 

Steinbeck tells of the terrifying "affair," in the classic style of Edgar Allen Poe's short mysteries,

     My child manfully tried to disengage the gum from his jaws. "It won't let me go," he sputtered.
     "Open up," I said and then inserting my fingers in his mouth I seized hold of the large lump of gum and after a struggle in which my fingers slipped again and again, managed to drag it forth and to deposit the ugly blob on my desk on top of a pile of white manuscript paper.
     For a moment it seemed to shudder there on the paper then with an easy slowness it began to undulate, to swell and recede with the exact motion of being chewed while my son and I regarded it with popping eyes.
     For a long time we watched it while I drove through my mind for some kind of explanation.  Either I was dreaming or some principle as yet unknown had taken its seat in the pulsing bubble gum on the desk.  I am not unintelligent.  While I considered the indecent thing, a hundred little thoughts and glimmerings of understanding raced through my brain.  At last I asked, "How long has it been chewing you?"
     "Since last night," he replied.
If you're looking for an unusual spooky story to share with older children this year, if you're a teacher looking for a fun way to illustrate writing styles, if you're a teacher focusing on Edgar Allen Poe or John Steinbeck, pull out this short story and have some frightful fun!

"The Affair at 7 Rue de M — " originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar (1955).  I found it in The Portable Steinbeck, Revised and Enlarged Edition (1971, Viking).

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water - a review

Fishman, Charles, 2011. The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. New York: Free Press.
I began reading this book in the same way that I read most books for review, carefully bookmarking various quotes, facts, and passages.  The sheer number of passages that I marked was astounding.  Here are just a few:
...every day, as a nation, just to flush our toilets, Americans use 5,700,000,000 gallons of water -- 5.7 billion gallons of clean drinking water down the toilet. ... more water than all the homes in the United Kingdom and Canada use each day for all their needs.

...not one of India's major cities provides twenty-four-hour-a-day water.

... People routinely make do without electricity; we improvise around having no working refrigerator, or microwave, or traffic lights.  But without routine water service, it is hard to imagine civilization proceeding. ... ... you can't call Dasani if your house catches on fire.

... In the fall of 2007, metropolitan Atlanta came within eighty-one days of running out of water.

... in January 2010, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, went without water for an entire week after a fourteen-day freezing spell fractured the city's water mains.

... Americans spent $21 billion on bottled water in 2009. ... As a nation, we spend $46 billion for a year's water, always on, whenever we need it. ... We spend about $29 billion a year maintaining our entire water system in the Unites States -- the drinking water treatment plants, the pump stations, the pipes in the ground, the wastewater treatment plants. ... So as a nation, we spend very nearly as much on water delivered in small crushable plastic bottles as we do on sustaining the entire water system of the country.

... Australia's water has disappeared, with stunning speed and almost unbelievable thoroughness.  In the last ten years, the rainfall that fills Australia's rivers, its reservoirs, and its aquifers has simply not come.  Australians refer to the last decade as the "Big Dry."

... That we couldn't detect the "dirt" ten years ago doesn't mean it wasn't there ... The tricky part is that the opposite is also true: The fact that we can detect the substances, their very presence in the water, doesn't mean they are harmful, or even significant.  Just because we suddenly realize there's stuff in the water we didn't was there before doesn't mean we have to take it out.  We actually don't know.  That is, we don't know how clean the water needs to be.

... how do you weigh a single farmer, and the food he raises that can feed 100,000 people in the city, against the water needs of those very same 100,000 people? And perhaps hardest of all, who decides?

The Big Thirst is not just a book of mind-blowing statistics.  It is a thoughtful consideration of the world's water situation, an insightful look at our relationship to water, and a thought-provoking conclusion about how our water woes could be solved. 

Fishman's view is a global one. He examines water woes in Australia where in the midst of drought they argue over the acceptability of using recycled wastewater, in Southern California, where recycled wastewater is routinely used but still cannot fill the gap in supply, in Las Vegas where water conservation has been spectacularly successful, in India where lack of a regular water supply has restricted the productive possibilities of an entire generation, and in Galveston where they know all too well the consequences of life without potable water.

We do not have a water shortage. 
Every drop of water that's here has seen the inside of a cloud, and the inside of a volcano, the inside of a maple leaf, and the inside of a dinosaur kidney, probably many times.
What we have is a profound quandary about what to do with the water we have.  The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water is a well-researched  book that places a weighty and sometimes philosophical problem into a context that is easily understood and entertaining to read. Its ten chapters can each have merit of their own, but together they pose a global question and propose a global shift in perspective. Read The Big Thirst and you will not ever look at water the same way again. Fascinating!

Extensive Notes and and exhaustive Index are testament to the deep thought that went into the making of The Big Thirst.

Interviews and reviews of The Big Thirst are on the book's website.

Nonfiction Monday is at Simply Science today. Nonfiction Monday is the weekly gathering of children's literature bloggers.  Once in a while, however, I do take time out for a great adult book.  This is one of those times.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Let's Look at Dinosaurs - a review for STEM Friday

STEM Friday is here today!
(Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.)
Please add your link below and thanks for stopping by!

Barry, Frances. 2011. Let’s Look at Dinosaurs: A Flip-the-Flap Book. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

This book may skew a bit younger than your average STEM Friday contribution (ages 3-7), but it caught my eye for several reasons. First, I thought it needed rescuing. A thick (and very appealing) cover with substantial pages containing large foldouts and flaps, necessitates a wide and somewhat fluid spine. Due to the slack in the spine, or perhaps a difficult trip through the delivery process, mine already had a slight tear in the spine upon arrival. Since it’s such a nice book, I rescued it, and added it to my storytime collection, rather than putting it on the shelf.

It’s a worthy addition to the storytime collection, whether it needs rescuing or not. Many books about dinosaurs for the very young fall into one of two categories – too difficult or unrealistic. Let’s Look at Dinosaurs (567.9) strikes a perfect balance. The attractive collage art is both realistic and inviting. A wide book, its double-spread illustrations help convey the size of dinosaurs, though sadly, they are not in proportion to one another except on the front and end papers. Flaps are used for varying purposes: a 3D effect for the flying Pterodactylus, a neck extension for the huge Diplodocus, a pronounced frill for Triceratops. Each of the twelve dinosaurs represented has a foldout or pop-out component.
The artwork, however, is not the only draw for this book. Each dinosaur is listed by its name in large font, followed by a question,
I wonder why Anklyosaurus has a club at the end of his tail.

 The facing page contains a simple, large font answer,

It is made of solid bone; he uses it against attackers.

and strategically placed additional details in a smaller font, presumably for older readers,

Many dinosaurs had spikes and horns for protection against predators.

The final two spreads contain a very simple and concise explanation of fossils, and a cut out of dinosaur bones as seen in a museum.

Artwork and age-appropriate language and presentation make this a stellar introduction to dinosaurs.

Oh, one more thing – you’d better know your dinosaur pronunciations before reading this one aloud. You won’t find them here.
STEM Friday is looking for hosts for upcoming Fridays.  If you'd like to host, check out the STEM Friday site.
If you have difficulty using Inlinkz, please feel free to leave a comment and I'll add your post later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Picture book roundup - Twitter style

My calendar's packed. I just returned from a trip. I'm in the midst of a class. I'm presenting at a forum this week. But wait, four great new picture books are sitting on my table waiting to be reviewed!

What to do? Do it Twitter-style! Here they are in 140 characters or less:

  • Willy. De Kockere. 2011. Erdman. Celebrating the peculiarities that make Willy the elephant special. Monty Python-esque art, a perfect foil to a quirky tale. Love it!

  • Train Trip. Caswell. 2011.Hyperion. Cheerful and rhyming, a boy and a train bond during a trip. “Special treat. “Come on in!” “Sound the whistle?” Eager grin."

  • Little Owl’s Night. Srinivasan. 2011. Viking. An owl observes the night’s activities. Dark colors, cheery wide-eyed creatures. Simple and serene.

  • Shaggy Dogs, Waggy Dogs. Patricia Hubbell. 2011. Marshall Cavendish. Happy, rhyming, romping dogs. Dogs, dogs and more dogs! A storytime gem.

And one more of Willy, in case you didn't get enough!
©Copyright Carll Cneut
(Yikes! I forgot that MSWord doesn’t count spaces. Now I’ll have to be more clever!)

Friday, October 7, 2011


Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division
 Distinguished book publishing since 1832
Lyga, Barry. 2011. Mangaman. Illustrated by Colleen Doran. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
(Advance Reader Copy)

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a manga reader, but when I saw the premise of this young adult comic book, I dove right in!

Barry Lyga's concept is genius and Colleen Doran pulls it off perfectly!  Mangaman is not a manga book.  It's a traditional comic book into which Ryoko, a character from the manga world, lands when he accidentally falls through "the Rip," a portal between the manga world and the "real" world of Western-style comic books.

The only character drawn in typical 2-dimensional manga style, Ryoko's is painfully aware of his manga trappings - effeminate appearance, visual thoughts that float above his head (particularly embarrassing in high school),
Do you see that?
It's a head!
in the air!
"speed lines" that appear whenever he moves quickly, painfully poking nearby classmates (and later requiring "sweeping up" by the custodial staff), a habit of walking in the wrong direction,
I did it again, didn't I?
Left to Right.
Why can't I remember that?

and, especially telling, eyes that turn into hearts whenever Marissa Montaigne appears.

You could call this a parody of manga, but it's much more than that. If you're even remotely acquainted with manga comics, Mangaman is hysterical.  For the non-manga reader, this may be just what you need to finally "get it!"

(Right to Left, Why can't I remember that?)
Recommended for mature readers.

If you're having trouble accessing the video, you can see it at or Barry Lyga's website.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Easy readers ... are they getting deeper?

I'm blogging at ALSC today, but I hope you'll head over and join in the conversation about easy readers,

And oh yes, Go Phillies!

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Cybils time - nominate your favorite nonfiction title today!

Since today is Nonfiction Monday, I thought it a fine time to remind everyone that nominations are open for the 2011 Cybils. (Read more about the Cybils here.) 

If you're already aware, please pardon my reminder.

As bloggers, blog readers, and lovers of nonfiction, this is our chance to nominate our favorite books in a variety of categories; two are nonfiction:
  • Nonfiction for MG/YA
  • Nonfiction Picture Books
Please, nominate your favorite nonfiction title, and make sure it gets some first-round attention! I'm very excited to announce that I am a second round judge in the NFPB category.  I'm looking forward to seeing the list. This will give me a great opportunity to see titles that I may have missed, and to re-examine others.

The Cybils nomination form is here.  Be sure to read the new Eligibility Rules before nominating!
And hurry!  Nominations close on October 15th!  Spread the word!

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 ...