Childrens book reviews by StorySnoops, judge a book by more than its cover, serving fresh scoops of new books for you every day
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Archive for November, 2010

You never forget your first…mystery!

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I will never forget the book that got me hooked on mysteries. When I was probably 12 years old, I read a book called The Ninth Guest and I remember it vividly. I loved that book! I am sure that it is out of print now, but I remember how gripping it was, that I couldn’t put it down, and that I was dying to know whodunnit. I wonder if I can get my hands on that book and give it a re-read, just to see what I think of it now, 30 years later!!

After The Ninth Guest, I read every Agatha Christie novel (And Then There Were None was my favorite!), tried a few Sherlock Holmes (was not a big fan), read The Maltese Falcon, and moved on to more contemporary mysteries. I have read everyone from Lawrence Block and Ed McBain to Lawrence Sanders, Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly. Nothing I love better than a good mystery that I cannot figure out until the very end.

In reading for this website I have been pleasantly surprised to get my hands on more than a few great mysteries for tweens and teens. Most recently I read The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk, which I did not realize was a murder mystery until (surprise!), a main character plummets to his death! This was a fantastic first novel featuring a deaf 16-year old male character and it was written with wit and sarcasm and provided great insight into the hearing-impaired issues of a hearing impaired kid trying to make it in a mainstream high school.  Not only was it a fun mystery, keeping the reader guessing as to who killed the star quarterback, but it had so much more to it than that.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Reality Check by Peter Abrahams, the 2010 winner of the Edgar Award for young adult literature. This book was every bit as good as any of the mysteries I have read that were intended for adults. Peter also writes for the younger crowd, and I have just ventured into the Echo Falls Mysteries he writes and I am most entertained.

For those in the younger set, there are so many fun  choices: The Red Blazer Girls, The London Eye Mystery, The Name of This Book is Secret. For those slightly older: All Unquiet Things, Bad Kitty, Saving Zoe.

I urge you to get some age appropriate mysteries in the hands of your youngsters, as they just may enjoy a life-long love affair with this genre. What type of mystery will be the one that hooks your reader? A humorous, silly and fun one? A “keep you up all night”, scary and suspenseful one? A sports mystery? Who knows? Give it a try, see what happens!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Check out all the books in our mystery genre, or our Edgar winners here!

What’s on your nightstand?

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

A bit off topic, but as I sit amongst the turkey leftovers and think about what I’m going to do with 6 lbs of extra mashed potatoes, I have to say that I am quite happy in the aftermath of Thanksgiving.  This is my favorite holiday, and I’m in no hurry to be finished with it just yet.  Come Monday, I’ll be ready to move on, but for now I’m enjoying the down time.

It’s a rainy Saturday and there is nothing better than curling up with a (hopefully!) good book.  But if you are reading this blog, I suspect you already know that and I am simply preaching to the choir!  I decided to take a little tour around my house today for a quick status check of what my family is reading.

First up, almost 13 (going on 17!) year old daughter: She has finally been swayed by my enthusiasm for Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and picked it up.  I couldn’t be more pleased, but she admits that she’s having some trouble getting sucked in so far.  She is more of a realistic fiction kind of gal, and doesn’t know anything about WWI yet, so it may take her a bit longer to embrace the sci-fi Darwinist and Clanker conflict, and appreciate Westerfeld’s creative twist on the real-life war.  I hope that when she gets to know protagonist Deryn a bit better, and sees what a brave, adventure-seeking gal she is, she’ll be hooked, just like I was.  I know several boys who have loved this book, and I can’t wait to see what a girl thinks.

Next up, 10 year old son: Like the whirling dervish that he is, he is working on three books simultaneously.  He’s got The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, Call of the Wild by Jack London and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney going.  Talk about variety!  There will be no pigeon-holing of this kid, I guess!  He is clearly not finished with his fascination with all things Greek god-related.  While I was driving on a recent field trip, it was apparent from the talk in the car that this book is the latest “water cooler chat” fodder for the fifth grade set, boys and girls alike.  They had character discussions, plot theories and series recaps flying for a solid hour.  And out of respect for the one kid in the car who hadn’t read it, there was not a single spoiler.  I loved it.  As for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this was a hot order at our recent book fair, and he’s plowing through it at the speed of light.

The classic Call of the Wild is his “at school” book, which he plans to do his next book report on. He remembered it from a few years back when the family listened to it on CD during a road trip.  We all loved it then, and he’s now developing his own appreciation for it reading it on his own.  Imagine my pleasure when he spotted this at the library, remembered that car ride and said, “Hey, I want to read this!”  (Note to self: sometimes they ARE paying attention!) His enthusiasm is infectious and it’s next up on my reading list as well.

My own nightstand: I am reading the third book in the Amigas series, She’s Got Game, by Veronica Chambers.  I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in an ongoing series about planning quinceanera parties (really, how many different versions of this story line can you have?), but I am pleasantly surprised.  Each of the different books is told from a different character’s point of view and deals with their relationships outside of the party-planning.  While these books deal specifically with the celebration of the Latino culture, they send a great message to girls of any background about embracing their heritage with pride.  There are also excellent lessons about all of the girls’ dealings with the boys around them.  These girls have good values and insist on the same from the boys they date.

All in all, lots of good reading floating around in the house right now, and you couldn’t pick a better weekend for it.  My husband just stoked the fire, the rain is quietly hanging around, and I for one am happy to just settle in and read…

What’s on your family’s nightstands?

-Eden, StorySnoop

If you’re looking for books as gifts this holiday season, be sure to check out the StorySnoops Holiday Gift Lists: Books for Tweens (age 9-12), Books for Younger Teens (age 12-13), Books for Older Teens (age 14 and up), and Family Read-Alouds. We’ve put together our favorites in each age group to inspire your young reader to dive right in!

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a (book) match!

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

To be a StorySnoop, you have to love books.  Together, we’ve read more than nine hundred of them in the past eighteen months.  But there’s more to it than just loving to read.  Secretly, we each fancy ourselves matchmakers of sorts, gaining giddy satisfaction from facilitating a successful pairing between book and reader.

While I’m no longer the go-to person for my grown-up friends who want to get their hands on the next great read, I can’t seem to resist the urge to make book matches, even with a younger crowd.  Here are a few of my recent successes.

Book Match #1

The Reader:

•      Age – eleven

•      Gender – male

•      Type of reader – reluctant!

The Book:

Flush, by Carl Hiaasen

Brief Summary:

Noah’s dad gets real mad when he finds out that the owner of the Coral Queen casino boat is illegally flushing raw sewage into the marina basin and polluting nearby beaches. He is so mad that he sinks the boat and winds up in jail. When the Coral Queen is quickly repaired and back to business, sixteen-year-old Noah decides to take matters into his own hands. With the help of his sister, Abbey, and a few local characters, Noah formulates an ingenious plan to catch the polluters in the act.

The Result:

Success!  This book held the attention of a very picky reader from start to finish (all 272 pages!).  The main character is clever, savvy, and irreverent enough to be cool.  Bonus: the story is filled with valuable messages about caring for the environment and standing up for what you believe in.

Book Match #2

The Reader:

•      Age – nine

•      Gender – female

•      Type of reader – tween girl reading up

The Book:

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, by Ally Carter

Brief Summary:

Not your ordinary teenage girl, Cameron “the Chameleon” Morgan has a genius IQ, a CIA pedigree, and is a sophomore the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women – an elite boarding school for young spies. But Cammie’s genius IQ fails her when the subject is boys. Will Cammie be able stay true to herself when she starts dating a boy who is forbidden from learning the truth about her identity?

The Result:

Success!  This clever spy story about capable, independent girls was a huge hit with its tween reader, especially because the main characters are teen girls dealing with typical teen issues.  Bonus: this squeaky-clean read is filled with positive role models.

Book Match #3

The Reader:

•      Age – fourteen

•      Gender – female

•      Type of reader – voracious

The Book:

The Great Wide Sea, by M. H. Herlong

Brief Summary:

Three brothers are still mourning their mother’s tragic death when, without any warning, their father sells their home and announces that they are heading to the Bahamas for a year-long sailing trip. None of the boys wants to go, but they aren’t given a choice.  After their father disappears from the boat, the boys are faced with a fierce storm, a broken radio, and a missing emergency locator.  When the boat finally wrecks near a deserted island, they must fight for their survival against all odds.

The Result:

Success (kind of)!  The book was STOLEN from the intended reader by her mother, who devoured it.  It was then passed on to her father, who is reading it aloud to her eight-year-old brother.  The fourteen-year-old has yet to get her hands on the book, but I’m optimistic.  Bonus: family bonding.

What book matches have you made lately?

-Jen, StorySnoop

Harry Potter and the Ten Year Tradition

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Forgive me, but I’m a little weepy already.

I have blogged before and I am sure I will blog again about my love for Harry Potter. But this time, it’s sentimental.

When my oldest son was much younger, he was obsessed with all things Harry Potter. He read the books the minute they came out (12:01 A.M, first in line at the bookstore). We saw the movies (also sometimes at midnight). He wrote a report on J.K. Rowling, and dressed like Harry Potter for Halloween. When he started wearing glasses, it was an easy transition because people told him he looked like Harry Potter.

It was one of many things we did together and kind of became our thing.

My oldest is fifteen now, and alas, I have somehow become much less cool. He has traded his love of reading in for all things electronic, South Park, and Call of Duty. I am struggling to speak his language.

But Harry Potter remains our thing, the one tradition he’s kept and I cling to gratefully. When the last movie came out and we bought tickets to the midnight showing, other parents told me I was crazy. Are you kidding? Miss my requested once a year date? Never. No matter how many Diet Cokes it takes me to stay awake, I would’t miss it for the world.

Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Part I comes out on Friday, and we’ll be there for the midnight show. Wasn’t that nice of the movie people to break it into two movies for me? Part II comes out in June 2011. He’ll be sixteen by then. Ten years of Harry Potter. It’s been a good, long run.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop Friday–it’s Payback Time!

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

I don’t think I am exactly the audience author Carl Deuker had in mind when he wrote Payback Time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it just the same. This book is aimed at teen boys and involves journalism and football but if even a forty-something mom can’t put it down, well then that is some good writing!

I must admit that I am a football fan and enjoy everything about the game, so I really got into the play-by-play action in this story. The high school football games played throughout the season and the playoffs are exciting and gripping and leap off the page. Payback Time would translate really well into an action packed and suspenseful teen movie. Who would play Mitch?? Hmmm….

Much more than a sports book however, this story focuses on investigative journalism and the scandal that the main characters are trying to uncover. The story is one that unfolds as Mitch and his partner Kimi dig deep into the life of a new transfer student who isn’t exactly who he appears to be. His involvement on the football team is mysterious at best, and dangerous situations abound as the two get closer to the heart of the story.

A nice undercurrent to the story is the sensible and healthy approach to weigh loss that Mitch quietly takes. He begins to feel better about himself and to feel better physically. Making a true friend, calling upon courage and perseverance, and achieving a sense of belonging all add to the positive changes in this endearing character.

I recommend this book highly, to teen boys who are football fans, or to those who are simply looking for a compelling page-turner. Like I said, if I enjoyed the book this much, I can only imagine what the target audience will think of it!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Let’s talk sex in YA Lit!

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

There is something in the air tonight!  No idea if it’s a coincidence, but in my blog browsing this week, I came across three posts on the topic of sex in YA literature.  Yowsa!  Great topic on the heels of Banned Books Week since, as I’m sure nobody would be surprised to know, sexual content is the number one reason books are challenged.  This is a tricky one for me because I have a soon-to-be thirteen year old daughter who loves to read, and is just about to jump in to the world of YA literature with both feet.  Needless to say, the thought of explicit sex scenes (okay, sorry, let’s be real—right now, ANY sex scenes) in the books she reads makes me cringe and get all jittery.  But that is my own issue!

Sex is a reality for teens and young adults; whether they are doing it, wondering about it, or being forbidden from engaging in it—sex is there, like a big giant elephant in the room, and I cannot pretend it isn’t.  While it is not an author’s job to parent my children, it IS the job of an author to write the most honest version of their story that they can, with authentic and relatable characters. This authenticity, the fabric of good YA literature, has its origin in real teens all around us.  They come from every different value system imaginable, and their sexual experiences range from none at all to the full kit and kaboodle.  As such, all of these teens are fair game as inspiration for writers, as are their variety of experiences.  So whether I like it or not, sex has a place in YA books because it has a place (of some sort or other) in teenagers’ lives.

That being said, it is a fact for authors that adding sexual authenticity to their work is controversial.  If they choose to include such content, the marketability of their books becomes more limited. Book fairs, school libraries, book clubs, etc., may opt not to purchase their work.  Teachers may opt not to teach the book in class.  Judy Blume gave a talk recently about the difficult decision she had to make about including controversial material in Here’s To You, Rachel Robinson (to be fair, her dilemma was regarding language, not sex, but the same concept applies).  She was forced to choose between what she felt was the most honest portrayal of her character, and the various marketing outlets that she might be sacrificing by including something that a mainstream audience might find offensive. She is Judy Blume—we know which way she chose!

If I accept the fact that sex in YA books is inevitable (grumble) and honest, can I go one step further and just throw out a few thoughts about how I’d like to see it portrayed? Teens are looking for characters they can relate to or experiences they can learn from.  How about letting them know that it’s not always “romance novel” perfect and can frankly be quite awkward! Perhaps the author could also make sure to touch on the social and emotional issues and consequences that surround sex.  And above all, don’t make it gratuitous or use it as a vehicle to sell more books to my kid!  We are surrounded by enough of that already. I read a great book this week where the father and son had an embarrassing and cringe-worthy “talk”, but the father managed to get his message across about birth control, disease protection and the fact that “no” always means “no”.  Now THAT was some good reality!

As always, book selection comes down to choice. Some authors will write about sex, some will not.  Some publishers will publish books with sexual content and some will not. Some kids will read books that touch on this topic, and some will not.   As long as there are options and variety out there, I am happy.  And while I’m quite certain the amount of sex in the books my daughter will read will always be pushing the limits of my comfort zone (because part of the mom in me wants to deny that she is getting older!), I hope that I can continue to maintain an open dialog with her on the topic.  I hope that will influence her choices far more than what she reads.

Then again, I’ve never parented a teen before.  What do you think?

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop Friday–Acceleration

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I just read the Edgar Award-winning mystery, Acceleration, by Graham McNamee, and could not put it down!

Acceleration tells the story of seventeen-year old Duncan, who works in the Lost and Found department of the Toronto subway.  To Duncan, this minimum wage summer job feels like a maximum-security prison sentence.

Then one day, Duncan discovers a diary among the lost books, and his life is changed forever.  It turns out that the diary was lost by a sociopath who has filled the pages with descriptions of animal cruelty and arson.  Duncan becomes truly alarmed when the diary’s author begins to identify potential female targets like a serial killer-in-training.

This intriguing premise is further enhanced by author’s authentic teen voice — funny, irreverent, and vulnerable.  Duncan’s character is richly drawn; giving depth to his motivation for tracking down the potential killer he nicknames Roach.  Haunted by a drowning he could not prevent, Duncan feels like he has been given a second chance to save a life.

With the help of a friend, Duncan does some research on serial killers and the two develop a profile of the man they are searching for.  At first, they feel like would have just as much luck trying to find a needle in a haystack.  But with a lucky break and some clever detective work, they begin to close in on Roach.

Enough said.  You’ll have to read Acceleration for yourself to see what happens.  And for those of you with a reluctant teen reader at home, this subway speed-read may be just the ticket.

-Jen, StorySnoop

Simply GaGa for Reading!

Monday, November 1st, 2010

As Snoops, we love stories about how others encourage and inspire young readers.  Today, we welcome guest blogger Donne Davis, who is kind enough to share her experiences with a young reader in her life — her granddaughter.

After Donne witnessed the birth of her first grandchild in 2003, she went completely gaga!  Six months later she founded the GaGa Sisterhood, a social network for enthusiastic grandmas who share creative ideas and resources for staying connected with their children and grandchildren.  Her blog discusses the joys and challenges of being a grandma today.  Thank you Donne!

My seven-year old granddaughter and I have shared an afternoon storytelling ritual for the past four years. It began when my daughter was pregnant with her second child and needed a break in the afternoon. I would call my granddaughter and tell her a story while she listened on the phone. We both got hooked on these stories.

By age four she was able to dial my phone number by herself. “I’m calling for a storah,” she’d say. Then I’d ask: “Do you want a story about people or animals?”

Sometimes she called me three times a week, and I’d drop whatever I was doing to make up a new story for her. I wove details from her life into make-believe stories and we’d often speak for half an hour. Her favorite and most often-requested stories were about two best friends who lived next door to each other and had a Pet Rescue Service.

At age five she wanted to add her own details to our stories, including more magic and even some scary adventures.

As she’s gotten older, I’ve had to dig deeper into my imagination and find some new resources. Last year I found an online version of Alice in Wonderland and read her one chapter at a time. A few months ago I had a bad cough and couldn’t talk. I needed a storyteller substitute for my hoarse voice.

That’s when I discovered Storynory, an amazing collection of audio stories. Storynory has a mix of original stories, fairy tales, and specially adapted myths and histories. Natasha Gostwick, a lovely young British woman with impeccable diction, narrates the stories.

To keep up with my granddaughter’s interests and advancing reading tastes, I’ve started to check out chapter books from the library. We just finished Sugar Plum Ballerinas by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood.

Recently, my granddaughter reached a new milestone and learned to read. Last week our ritual took a new twist—she read to me! As she read me the adventures of the wacky Golly Sisters, I felt incredibly proud of her and even got a little teary. That little toddler who used to call me and request “storahs” was now the one reading. She sounded as if she’d been reading all her life—her sweet voice rising with inflection, sounding out new words with ease, and clearly understanding what she was reading.

This week she called me and said: “Baba, I have two new books to read to you. Which do you want to hear first: Why Does It Thunder and Lightning? or Why Do Birds Sing?

I’m not sure how long our reading ritual will continue or where we’ll go next. But I do know that I’m one grateful grandma to be able to share my love of stories with my granddaughter.


Thank you Donne! We’re excited to make a new friend, so please be sure to check out her site, where grandmas “bond, brag & benefit!”.  And while you’re there, check out our favorite tips for selecting books for reluctant readers that we recently shared with the GaGa Sisterhood.

-The Snoops