Friday, October 31, 2014

Animorphs The Invasion by K.A. Applegate for the Classic MG Read along with the Midnight Garden

Harriet the Spy readalong
October's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was the first three books in the Animorphs series.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.  

So book One begins with The Invasion in which we are introduced to Rachel, Jake, Marco, Tobias and Cassie, with Jake providing the narration to the story (Book Two is told from Rachel's POV, but I am only going to summarize the first book). The five friends like to hangout after school and on the particular day the story begins they are getting ready to walk home.  To save time, they decide to cut through a construction site where they see lights in the sky and a spaceship lands with an alien inside.  The alien communicates with them telepathically saying he is an Andalite and is here to warn them that Earth is being invaded.  He is dying, but gives them powers to use in fighting back the invaders. These powers allow them to touch any animal, absorb its DNA and transform/"morph" into that animal.  They unfortunately are not the only ones who can morph, the leader of the aliens invading, Visser Three also has this ability. However, Visser Three's abilities are much stronger, because he has been canvasing the universe and can morph into creatures far more dangerous.  

I picked up the first two Scholastic versions of these books and each one has its own flipbook at the bottom of the page showing one of the characters morphing into an animal.  The stories are a fairly quick read averaging under 200 pages, but don't let the length fool you.  There is a lot going on within the pages and the pacing is very well done.   I like Jake's description of Cassie from book one.."Cassie is quieter than Rachel, more peaceful, like she always understands everything on some different, more mystical level."  This is a very well thought out science fiction series.  With everything from how they morph, even down to what happens to their clothing when they morph.  I also liked the detailed descriptions of the process of moving from human to animal and then the transformation back.  I enjoyed seeing what kind of animals they chose to morph into and how they used that animals abilities to help them.  The morph into a lizard was very entertaining and I also enjoyed when Rachel morphed into a cat. There was lots of humor interjected, but also lots of danger.  When Rachel tries to morph into a mouse, I really got a sense of her fear.  Plus when they start fighting the creatures and Vesser Three, it comes off very realistic.  I have to admit that I really didn't like the idea of these squirmy things that crawl into your ear and take control of your mind, it's the thing of nightmares or the Wrath of Kahn movie.  Yet, a very very appropriate read for Halloween. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Few Smaller Reviews for Cybils Middle Grade Fiction

So, I've been busily reading for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction and I have a few nominee's to highlight...As you can see from the covers a few fit right in with #WeNeedDiverseBooks

18222727The Year of the Fortune Cookie (Anna Wang series #3) 

Anna 's former teacher, Mrs. Sylvester is going to China to pick up her adopted daughter and has invited Anna to come along. Going to China will mean that she will miss a few weeks of school, but Anna thinks that it will be the perfect time to work on her "Who Am I?" project.  While in China, Anna hopes she can visit the orphanage her sister Kaylee was adopted from and at the same time learn more about her Chinese heritage and the culture.


Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan

Cousins Willow and Delia have decided that wearing pink dresses for their Aunt's wedding just won't work.  They plan to impress her with their cooking skills and get out of being flower girls.  Yet, all their efforts in the kitchen only seem to make the new caterer Mrs. Cat more upset.  When Cat has an emergency with the wedding cake, can the cousins step in to help?  Included are eight recipes to make the foods mentioned in the story.   

17845805Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

Sister's Ava and Pip are very different, Ava is sociable and likes to write in her journal,  Pip likes to keep to herself and is shy. But, Ava really looks up to her older sister.   When new girl, Bea, throws a party on the same day as Pip's birthday celebration, Ava lets out her frustration in a story she writes for a school contest. Ava never expected her entry called "Queen Bee" to be published, or that Bea would figure out that she was talking about her.  Bea confronts Ava and she is left to explain that she was upset about the birthday party mix up and that she was just trying to stick up for her sister.  Bea isn't as upset about it as everyone else and together the two come up with a plan to help Pip overcome her shyness.   The book is told in a diary format which includes palindromes, word play, and alliterations.  A detailed list of  the palindromes appearing in the book are also included.  

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

18222557Lucy 's dad is a famous photographer who goes off on photo shoots pretty frequently. This time he is is in Arizona, leaving Lucy and her mom to set up their newest location at a lake house in New Hampshire. While Lucy's dad is gone, he's asked her to keep an eye out for photo scavenger hunt entrees for a contest that he is judging once he gets back. Lucy loves photography and “looking for the story” in the pictures she takes, just like her dad taught her. So, entering the contest may just be the way she can connect with him and show her dad just how good a photographer she really is. Nate is the boy who lives next door who quickly makes Lucy feel at home by the lake. Lucy invites him to help her complete her photography scavenger hunt and the two begin exploring the lake for the perfect shots. As the two hang out, Lucy starts to make plans to win the contest for Nate's grandmother. Lucy hopes that the money will be enough to take his grandmother on a pontoon ride around the lake so she can view her Loon's. This might just be the last summer that she can safely come down to the lake.

Lucy was very passionate about photography and I thought the photo scavenger hunt was a very creative idea. Each of the pictures were used to describe a word (sticky, skip, holding on, wonder etc.) with the added challenge to not just take a picture with that word, but to really look beyond just the word or phrase. Lucy thinks that she has the advantage, because she always looks for the “story in the shot.” I could see this being adapted in a classroom very easily. There was also a very good moral about the importance of living life and not trying to capture everything in pictures. Another aspect that I enjoyed about Half a Chance was the balance of Lucy and Nate's storyline. Lucy was concerned about her father being away and moving to a new town once again. While, Nate was trying to understand his grandmother's memory loss and make sure that she had the best summer possible. The two plot lines intertwined into a shared one that featured around Loon's that were living on a near by island and trying to capture a photo memory for Nick's grandmother. I thought the relationship that formed between Lucy and Nate was very sweet and enjoyed the honest portrayal of Dementia.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

20575434Rose Howard has three things that she likes, words, rules and numbers. Rose especially likes homophones, because her first name has one Rose (Rows). Rose is eleven and lives with her father in Hatford, New York. She attends elementary school, but has been held back because “no one is sure what to do with me in school.” Rose is a high-functioning autistic child with some repetitive and compulsive behaviors. She loves to add to her list of homophones, obsesses over prime numbers, the following of rules, as well as following a daily routine. Rose's main supports are her fifth-grade teacher, her classroom aide, her Uncle Weldon and most importantly is her dog Rain (Reign, Rein). Rain is the dog Rose's father found behind the Irish Pub that he frequents. He explains to Rose that the dog is a stray and now it's his gift to her. When a terrible storm hits their community, Rose is devastated to find that her dog is missing and very perplexed to find out that her dad let Rain outside during the storm without his collar. Rose develops a plan to try and find her dog, but when Rain shows up at a shelter with a microchip indicating her name is Olivia, Rose knows that the rules dictate that Rain isn't really hers. Rose is able to take the family of the dog's perspective and knows that she will have to let Rain go.

Having the story told by Rose really gives an accurate perspective of her thoughts and feelings. Who better to explain Asperger's syndrome, her school life and home life than Rose herself? Rose presents herself in such an honest, heartfelt way. She has so many positive qualities that get highlighted in her story. She defiantly shows a love for her dog and Uncle. Rose explains everything, like why she can't ride the bus anymore, why she has an aide sitting with her during class and at lunch, and why she counts prime numbers and has to sit in the hall until she calms down. Rose explains her need for routine, and how and why people need to follow the rules. So when Rain ends up in her class one day, and Rose begins to talk about Rain using some of the conversation starters that her aide has been teaching her, you root for her to be able to form connections with the other children. The way the story is written gives a fuller understanding of who Rose is strengths and weaknesses. She pulls at your heart strings, especially when she introduces her father, and how he treated her with a lack of patience and understanding.  Which makes his abusiveness that more troubling. Rose's Uncle was the one glimmer of hope in her life and I was so happy for the changes that occurred in Rose's home and school environment. Overall, a wonderful heartfelt story of a lovely girl and her beloved dog.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You've Done (Timmy Failure #2) by Stephan Pastis

18007549Maury's Museum of World Records has is all wrong, Carl Kobalinski can't be the smartest person in the world. Self proclaimed world class detective Timmy has that title after all. To save the Museum's “reputation,” Timmy climbs on the statue of Carl to yank down the sign, and in so doing falls and breaks his leg. Timmy isn't held back at first, but when his business partner and main mode of transportation picks this time to quit, Timmy is left to depending on his Aunt Colander's help. When a school district wide contest is announced for the detective who can find who took the Superintendent's missing globe, Timmy is confident that he will win the 500 dollar prize. With the money, he can now open a new office in Peru. One problem though, Timmy misses the school deadline and now he'll have to figure out a new way to win.

I liked the character of Timmy, his over confidence in his detective skills were entertaining. Especially when he starts getting notes with hearts all over the envelope which he believes are from an “assassin.”  I also enjoyed Timmy's 1500 pound sidekick business partner, Total the polar bear. The ambiguity as to whether Total is real or imaginative makes the story fun to read.  I'm leaning toward imaginative, Timmy's mom never does directly address Total after all. The illustrations in these Timmy Failure books are done very well and I think they will resonate with 8 to 12 year old's who enjoy diary and comic book style stories.

Favorite Line: “I know that if I am to move forward like the professional that I am, I must first see the past with mature eyes. And that means acknowledging that others have caused all my problems and blaming them for it.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MG Realistic Fiction: The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer


From an early age, twelve-year-old Grace decided that her grandma was 
mean.  What other explanation can there be for why she kicked her mother out when she was pregnant with her? Grace and her mother have been moving around all of her life.  Stick pins on a map show all the locations that they've been to so far.  But, Grace thought that mom had finally found a home with Mrs. Greene and Lacey, at least it was starting to feel that way to her. However, mom got to pacing and said it was time to move again.  Grace doesn't stand for it and tells mom that she isn't going, leading mom to go for a walk and have a terrible accident by the river bank.  Grace is then told that she will be living with her grandmother, when all she wants to do is stay with Mrs. Greene and Lacey. Initially, Grace tries everything possible to make grandma send her back to Mrs. Greene, but grandma pays her no mind.  As Grace begins to explore the town and go to school, she see's signs that she thinks are clues left by her mother leading her home.  What she finds is possibility. 

The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a very beautiful and sad story.  The loss of a parent is a very emotional time and Grace has alot of changes to deal with very quickly. Grace is lost, trying to make sense of everything that has happened. She separates everything into the "before" and "after" of her mother's death, and she is struggling to hold onto those feelings and thoughts from before. Holczer approaches the subject with a great degree of sensitivity and the emotions and thoughts that Grace has seem appropriate given what little information that her mother gave her about her own past.  Holczer also does a remarkable job of rooting you in Grace's setting, giving you the feel of a small town where all are grieving right along with her.    I enjoyed the symbolism behind Grace's treasure hunt and how it was a means of helping her cope with her mothers death and find her home.  Even little things like how the spoons represented "utensil's of comfort."   An honest portrayal of the death of a parent and the emotions that follow presented with lots of heart and feeling.      

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blog Launch Tour: Andy Smithson: Disgrace of the Unicorn's Honor

Author L.R.W. Lee

LeeSince the age of eight, L.R.W. Lee wanted to write a children's book, but felt she did not have anything significant to share; she sought to change lives while entertaining.  A degree in Accounting did not provide riveting fodder for a best seller, so she waited.  Over a decade, she founded and grew a company, during which, she worked closely with a mentor from whom she learned uncommon thinking that changed her life.  After selling her business in early 2012, she had time to write and, more importantly, something significant to share.  L.R. W. Lee lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband, daughter and son.  
When asked by the author if I wanted to participate in the tour for her newest book Andy Smithson Disgrace of the Unicorn's Honor, I was thrilled.  After reading the first two books, I really wanted to return to the fantasy setting and wonderful characters that I've enjoyed reading about. 

For those not familiar with the series, I'll give a short recap.  Andy Smithson's Blast of the Dragons Fury introduced Imogenia, a ghost who is in the Afterlife.  Imogenia  had aspirations of being Queen, until her brother killed her and became King.  As a means of revenge, Imogenia placed a curse on her brother and the people of Oomaldee.  The curse lasted for 500 years, until Imogenia's parents decided that the curse should end.  The King was allowed to find a descendant (Andy) to end the curse, but he could not reveal himself or directly help in anyway.  Andy embarked on a quest to collect the first ingredient needed to end the curse.   Venom of the Serpent's Cunning takes place nine months later. Imogenia has joined forces with Abbadon, someone who is evil and wants to take over the country. Using dark magic,  Abaddon was able to steal the Stone of Athanasia, the very stone that has allowed the King and his wizard to stay immortal.  Andy is once again on a quest to find the next ingredient to end the curse, but now he must also recover the stone. Be sure to check out my reviews of  Book One Andy Smithson Blast of the Dragon's Fury.   and Book Two Andy Smithson Venom of the Serpent's Cunning

Paperback, 252 pages
Published :  October 13th 2014 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Format:  In exchange for an honest review, an ebook ARC was received from the author for review.  
"Andy discovers more than he bargained for when his parents reveal his mom's past. With a new appreciation for his history, he returns to the land of Oomaldee to collect the next ingredient to break the Curse plaguing the land--the horn of a unicorn. Not unexpectedly, as he and his company embark upon their quest, they face stiff opposition from the evil King Abaddon, a foreign enemy who seeks to conquer that world. The battle with sword, while intense, pales in comparison to his conflicted heart, when a voice tempts Andy to surrender the unicorn horn in exchange for a promise to preserve his mom when he breaks the curse. Desperate to save her, he falls for the lie and puts in jeopardy his ability to end the curse." (Synopsis from Goodreads)

The eBook  Amazon 
The paperback is also available at Amazon 

The third book in the Andy Smithson series contains plenty of action, and a difficult challenge for Andy.  A tough predicament making the choice to break a curse or preserving the mom he loves. I found myself missing Andy's inneru, the voice that speaks to him and usually gives him sound advice.   Disgrace of the Unicorn's Honor expands the world and Lee introduces some new mythical creatures that help Andy and his friends on their journey.  Other creatures Andy meets in the heat of battle, like trolls and giants.  But, Andy is always learning from each interaction and adventure he has.  In each book, Lee weaves all these wonderful principles into her story.  Principles like responsibility, diligence and dignity, in such a way that enriches the story and doesn't come off as preachy or educational.   I've really enjoyed following Andy as he learns more about his families past and journey's to locate the ingredients he needs to help stop the curse.   The plot keeps getting better and better and I'm always left wondering how he will get out of the danger he gets into next.  I have loved following this series from the beginning.  It has just the right blend of adventure, magical creatures, strong friendships, mystery and humor.  As always, Lee leaves me wanting to read the next book in the series (Andy Smithson: Resurrection of the Phoenix's Grace). Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until she finishes writing it.  

Thank you L.R.W. Lee at for introducing me to this wonderful series and having me on the tour!  Check out all the other tour stops: 

Clean Indie Reads - Book Launch Spotlight
Emblazoners - Book Launch Highlight
Dragon Writers Collective - Book Launch Spotlight
Home School Book Review - Book Review by Wayne Walker

SilverTill's Shelfari - Book Review by Bill Tillman
Beach Bound Books - Book Spotlight by Stacie Thies
Carpinello's Writing Pages - Book Spotlight by Cheryl Carpinello
Ask David - Book Spotlight

This Kid Reviews Books Blog - Book Review by Erik Weibel (Erik is 13)
Independent Author Network - Book Spotlight

Kickin Books - Book Review by Bert Edens
Cassandra Lost in Books - Book Review by Cassandra Loskot

I am a Reader - Book Spotlight by Inspired Kathy
Mcswainandbeck - Book Spotlight

Rena Writes - Book Review by Rena Marthaler (Rena is 10)
Fantasy Fun with Kirstin - Book Spotlight by Kirstin Pulioff
Book Review by Hannah Mills

Brooke Blogs - Book Review by Brooke Bumgardner
The Pitkin Family - Book Review by Jennifer Pitkin

Log Cabin Library - Book Review by Brenda

KY Bunnies - Book Spotlight by Suzie
Pragmatic Mom - Book Spotlight by Mia Wenjen

Bookworm Lisa - Book Spotlight

Radio Interview at The Good Word - Interview by Nick Galieti

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MG Historical Fiction: The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore

18594432Hazel Kaplansky is smart, inquisitive, relentless and would consider herself unique, certainly not odd, weird or boring.  Yet, having parents who run the graveyard situated behind your house doesn't really help with your image at school.  Hazel has always been a lover of a good mystery, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden being her sleuthing role models. Being observant is very important to her.  Hazel carries a journal that she calls her "mysteries notebook" around where she catalogs all of her questions. Lately, Hazel has been taking to following the grave digger, Mr. Paul Jones.  When she observes him locking a box in the shed, her initial hunch is that he must be a Russian spy.  Hazel is growing up during the McCarthy time period, where Russian spies were thought to be lurking in her town, so Hazel begins to become very suspicious of Mr. Jones's actions.  When a new boy named Samuel shows up in school, Hazel is so impressed with his intelligence that she believes he is just the person who can help her prove that Mr. Jones is a spy.    

I recall reading about the Cold War era and McCarthy from school.  I can't say that I've seen a Middle Grade book written about it until now.  It was interesting to follow the details from Hazel's perspective taking in what she heard people saying around her, and from the newspaper articles she was reading.  She was very adamant in her convictions, yet also jumped to a lot of conclusions.  Her stockpiling of canned goods in the mausoleum as a make shift bomb shelter was quite amusing.   Most of all, I really enjoyed the relationship that she forms with Samuel.  He was the logical, reasonable one who had a process to his thinking. He made Hazel question the assumptions that she made and really search to gather more facts.  They were an endearing team.  I also enjoyed how Hazel was able to help Samuel resolve some of the issues surrounding his father, it was touching to see how much his friendship really meant to her.   

Monday, October 20, 2014

MG Review Historical Fiction: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

18885674Every Sunday following church, the seven young ladies from Saint Etheldreda's School join their headmistress for a meal that they have prepared. On the day in question, the girls are serving veal to headmistress Constance Plackett and her younger brother, Mr. Aldous Godding.   While they will be enjoying bread with butter and baked beans. Suddenly, Mrs. Plackett drops dead, followed by her brother Aldous.  The young ladies suspect foul play and believe the two have been murdered. Concerned the headmistresses death will mean they will be sent home, they choose to band together and form the Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.  Upon Smooth Kitty's encouragement, they plan to dispose of the bodies in the vegetable bed.  As the young ladies put their plan in motion, neighbors begin to arrive for a surprise party orchestrated by the late Mrs. Plackett's brother.  The young ladies must ensure no one finds out about the headmistress and her brothers death, while uncovering who the murderer is.  

I very much enjoyed the Victorian setting of The Sisters of Prickwillow Place and the girls that resided within the house.   The use of an adjective to describe the personality of each of the young ladies (pocked, stout, dour, dear, disgraceful, dull, and smooth), was interesting and unique.  I'm not certain whether this helped me really get to know each of the girls better or not, but the cover image certainly did.  All the girls are likable and their friendship and support of each other is what drew me into the story.  As well as unraveling which of the list of suspects had the true motive. Interestingly, Smooth Kitty was one of the girls that stood out to me the most. Probably because she selects herself to make all the plans to dispose of the bodies.  But, she isn't the only one who takes part in their scheme.  Louise with her science experiments is able to gather some of the valuable clues.  And where would they be without Alice?  Yet it really is each of their individual personality traits when combined that helps them to find the murderer. A boarding school mystery filled with humor and a delightful cast of characters.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MG Historical Fiction: Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

18378823Mina Masako Tagawa lives in Seattle with her mother, father, brother and grandpa.  Home has always been a mixture of Japanese and American influences.  Grandpa grows his roses and dad is a newspaper writer,  everything was going well for them until the bombing of Pearl Harbor.   Afterwards, Mina's father was taken away and the rest of the family was relocated to Camp Harmony in Washington and then to Minidoka relocation camp in Idaho. Life in the internment camp presents challenges to the entire family.  

The story is told in verse and relates the families experiences in being separated and taken from their home and relocated.   Not only is the story a glimpse at one families life, but it includes views from three different generations.  Their views and ideas are presented through Mina's poems and letters that she writes to her friend back in Seattle, to her father while he is imprisoned and later on to her brother when he enlists.  In return, Mina receives letters back from them detailing their own experiences, so that a broader picture of the impact on the family is felt.  Dust of Eden also delves into the idea of what it means to be an American,  a question that is raised as a writing assignment in Mina's school.  Mina's brother Nick, believes it means joining the US military to prove his loyalty and devotion to the country.  Mina at first uncertain comes to her own conclusions that include that being American means that America is her home.   Included at the back of the book is an authors note providing more of the historical details of the Japanese American internment camps as well as the inspiration for the story.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

MG Review: The Ellie McDodle Diaries: Ellie For President by Ruth McNally Barshaw

20613463Ellie likes to Doodle in her sketch journal, she is such a wonderful doodler that her friends tell her that she should put her art on a blog.  They also start to make a a school magazine, that is until Ellie's art work of Principal Ping leaves them working for the school newspaper with a supervising teacher.   Being on the newspaper does have its advantages, especially when Ellie gets the scoop about class elections.  But now  that her friends are pushing her to run, does she have what it takes?

Ellie For President includes information about running for class elections, what it means to be a good candidate, fears about public speaking and how it's important to listen to your conscience.  Ellie has many flaws and is conflicted about running for office. She would rather spend her time on the school newspaper, but she also doesn't want to let her friends down.   She also struggles because the boy that she is crushing on is running for the election too.  How she resolves all of these seems to work.  The book is written in the form of a diary and given Ellie's passion for art,  there are many illustrations.  Barshaw includes step by step instructions to draw a bird or rabbit, how to make an origami butterfly, a flip book, and a  tri-fold butterfly note.  The Ellie McDoodle Diaries would appeal to eight to twelve year old MG readers that enjoy comic/diary style books. 

MG Review: Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build Yourself

17884063Robot Army Rampage is the second book in the Nick and Tesla series.  11-year-old Nick and Tesla's parents are in Uzbekistan under special orders from the government to study soybean irrigation.  In the mean time, they have been staying with their scientist loving, Uncle Newt in the town of Half Moon Bay in California.  Nick and Tesla easily fit in with Uncle Newt in the laboratory, often completing science experiments side by side.  In Robot Army Rampage, Nick and Tesla's friend Silas has an emergency.  Silas's dad has had a rare mint condition comic book that has gone missing from his shop. The family was planning on using the proceeds from its sale to save the business.  Silas and DeMarco think that Nick and Tesla will be able to help find the comic book, but then a series of robberies occurs that rattles the town.  Nick and Tesla pair up with their friends to try and solve the mystery of who is behind the robberies and get back the comic book in time to save Silas's family from losing everything they have.

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage was written by Pflugfelder and Hockensmith.   An award-winning elementary school science teacher and an author of a series of mystery books.  Using their backgrounds in science and mystery writing, they have developed a story that will inspire children to explore and create using text to real life projects.   Included within the body of the book are full page "blueprints" with directions and illustrations that show how to take things found at home or a local hobby store to construct a Wander bot, a Bottle bot and even a Robo-roach.   Robot Army Rampage provides  a nice mix of science, a mystery to solve and construction projects that are likely to intrigue nine to twelve year old's. 

I received an uncorrected review copy from the publisher for free via Edelweiss for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade Fiction.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

MG Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

17165924Vicky's mom doesn't seem to understand her or the love she has for her dogs.  Dad is the only one who understood, but now that he is gone Vicky has no one but her dogs and dog sledding. Vicky wants to ensure that her dogs are the team to beat this year for the White Wolf race, so despite her mom's refusal to take her, Vicky sets out on her sled toward Cook's dog yard to discuss his race leaders.   Vicky believes she is prepared, because dad gave her all his knowledge about dog sledding, living in winter conditions, trapping and what supplies to bring. Vicky gathers everything she needs and heads out hoping to make it to the yard before the snow starts to fall.  Despite everything, Vicky becomes lost, and then finds a snowmobile crashed into a tree with Chris bleeding from his wounds.   Chris thinks he knows the way he came, so Vicky follows his directions.  When the two get more hopelessly lost, it will take everything they and Vicky's dogs have to get them back to safety.  

Johnson's knowledge of dog sledding and life during the winter in Alaska are very evident,  everything from cold snow, to freezing hands and feet.  It's the perfect kind of book for a cold winter day, but reading from the comfort of your home.   Ice Dogs immersed me in this cold harsh environment from the get go with its gripping details of Vicky and Chris's encountering a wolf and then a moose.  I never knew that moose could be so mean.  The hardships these two face in trying to prevent hypothermia while trying to find a path back to safety, holds a readers attention to be sure.  When they finally have a few things go their way, your brought back to the reality that time is running out for them. It's easy to become vested in Chris, Vicky and her dogs, there is a desire for them to succeed.   Both Vicky and Chris learn from their experience of being in the wild.  Chris having just moved from Toronto learns that he has no idea about the wilds of Alaska.  He starts out initially having this charming attitude, but quickly realizes that his lack of knowledge is what landed him in his situation. He also comes to realize a respect for Vicky and her skills and wants to learn how he can better help her get them home.  Chris has a few skills of his own that he brings to the table, which end up surprising Vicky too.  Johnson does a remarkable job illustrating that despite the best preparation, there are many obstacles that even Vicky couldn't have foreseen.  Vicky has this inner strength that comes through during the story, but also a vulnerable side as she opens up to Chris about her father and her fears about not being able to find a way out.   Overall, a riveting survival story recommended for 10 and up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MG Review: Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen

18656193Eight year old Quinny has just moved from New York City to Whisper Valley, and she's eager to find a new friend.  Quinny is outgoing, has lots of ideas and is very talkative.  Hopper is just the opposite, but Quinny can't resist his eyes. Hopper thinks that Quinny's teeth and dimples are charming, the two seem to hit it off.  They become even closer while trying to catch Freya, a chicken who has been running loose since its owner moved away.  Summer is looking to be lots of fun for the two of them, that is until they have a misunderstanding when school notices come out and Hopper decides that they aren't friends anymore.  Quinny then runs into Victoria, sparkly, glittery, swishy pink wearing Victoria.   Victoria makes Quinny her new BFF and tries to teach her the rules of third grade. Girls and boys can't be friends, accessories and the right clothes are important.  Quinny slowly realizes that the only one that Victoria thinks about is herself, but will Quinny and Hopper find a way to mend their friendship?

Quinny and Hopper reminded me so much of Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. Alright, so maybe a younger version but still it was really cute.  Juli is the one who initiates the friendship in Flipped and Quinny's personality so reminded me of Juli's.  As in Flipped, the chapter's alternate the voices of Quinny and Hopper. They are very different from one another and this alternating voices allows their thoughts, feelings and views on a situation to shine.  So much so that you come to care about both of these main characters.    How they choose to describe each other is very cute and you really want their friendship to work out. Schanen accurately reflects the relationships that siblings may have.  Especially when Quinny and Hopper are seen bickering, giving "wet willies," teased by or have one of their siblings get them in trouble.  Most of all, I liked that Quinny kept her outgoing, boisterous personality and didn't give up on her friendship with Hopper just because Victoria thought she should.   The illustrations by Greg Swearingen are very well done, especially the facial expressions of the two children and add to the charm of the story.  Quinny and Hopper would appeal to children who enjoy books similar to Clemintine, and the Ramona series.