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 December, 2010

Tiff’s 2010 Wrap Up

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Like my fellow Snoops, I had a really hard time choosing my favorites of 2010. What a fantastic problem to have–to have read so many exceptional books this last year that I could not narrow it down to 5. In fact, my original list included 13!!  The true marks of a great book for me are whether it stays with me for a while, if I have a hard time wanting to pick up another book and whether I want to read it again and again. These 5 made the cut and I recommend them highly. Hats off to the incredibly talented writers who gave us such moving stories and memorable characters!

Green Witch was written by one of my favorite adult lit authors, Alice Hoffman. This book is a sequel to Green Angel. I collected so many beautiful quotes from this book, such as, “This is how much love weighs. Nothing if you don’t take it when it’s offered. Everything if you accept what’s given to you,” and “In the end, every path you choose takes you closer to what you’ve been searching for all along.” The main character Green is strong, resourceful and heroic and provides a powerful role model for young girls. Confession: I actually read this one twice : )

The Sky is Everywhere was on many Best of 2010 lists and for very good reason. Beautifully written, this story tackles tragic loss, grief and healing. Music and poetry are woven throughout a beautiful and hopeful love story. I recommend this book often to teen girls and they have all thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, I found one of my favorite quotes in the pages of this book, “It’s such a colossal effort not to be haunted by what’s lost, but to be enchanted by what was.” Sigh.

If I had to choose only one book to call my favorite of the year, it would be Sorta Like a Rock Star. I can’t say enough good things about this one and can’t recommend it highly enough. I chose this book for my adult book club, and everyone loved it. Amber is a unique, strong and beautiful character. This story is tragic, though also funny, smart and incredibly moving. I had checked this out from the library to read for the website, and I loved it so much I wished it was one that I had purchased to own. I couldn’t have been more touched when I received it as a Christmas gift from someone who knew how important it was to me.  I love this book!

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would and I applaud Josh Berk for creating such an original voice in the deaf character Will Halpin. This mystery is sarcastic, intelligent and fascinating. I had to look at the author’s info to see if he was deaf as everything about Will seemed so authentic. I love a great read for teen boys, as it sometimes seems there are so many more out there for girls. This is definitely a noteworthy one that I hope more people read.

Last but certainly not least I chose Last Night I Sang to the Monster. This book moved me to tears numerous times. It reminded me a great deal of A Million Little Pieces, which (I don’t care what anyone says) was a fantastic read. This journey through rehab and pain to a place of healing and hope is a heartbreaking but beautiful one. Only a truly great book can make you feel so deeply and care so much about a character that you share their grief and their joy and you cry like a baby while doing so. Zach’s story is one I will remember for a very long time.

So, those are my top 5 – I encourage you to pick up any one of them, you won’t be sorry! In case you are wondering what I had to leave off my list, here are a few of my other favorites: Before I Fall, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Chasing Brooklyn, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, Payback Time and Gimme A Call. Happy Reading!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Eden loved her 2010 reads–how about you?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Happy holidays StorySnoops friends!  Now that the presents are unwrapped, the relatives have gone home and refrigerator is mostly back to normal, it’s time to think about 2011 being right around the corner, and as is customary, ‘tis the season for the “Best Of” lists.  It was VERY hard to narrow it down, but here are the books I liked best this year:

Out of My Mind, but Sharon Draper.  I was bowled over by eleven year-old Melody, who is a spitfire personality trapped in a disabled body.   It was an eye-opener for me to be reminded that in spite of her physical issues, Melody wants the same things that other kids her age want: to be understood, to have friends and to be one of the crowd.   A great read for the middle-grade crowd, both for entertainment’s sake and for the lessons it teaches.

Somebody Everybody Listens To, by Suzanne Supplee.  For anyone who has ever had a dream of escaping a small town to try their hand at the greatness they feel destined for!  Retta has dreams of being the next big country music star, and finds her way to Nashville to try to make it happen.  Once she gets there, she finds the music industry harsher than she expected, and learns that in order to stand out she must imbue her music with her own style and personality.  A pretty wholesome read for the teen or mature tween set, in spite of the eighteen year old main character.

Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman.  I loved this fast-paced book with its fascinating premise about the ultimate form of empathy.  One of the teen characters literally takes on the physical and emotional pain of those he cares about.  There is some great thought-provoking material about how our behavior changes when there are no physical or emotional consequences to our actions.

Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials, by Rosalind Wiseman.  Okay, I loved this book!  There seemed to be sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, teaching moments everywhere!  Rosalind Wiseman is known for her favorite topics: mean girls, bullies and their enablers, and the teen social hierarchy, and this book is loaded with that material.  I can’t wait for my daughter to read this one to see if she absorbs any of the material I, as a parent, liked.  I’m guessing she’ll probably just enjoy the story!

Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. I thought this was a lovely and inspirational story for the tween set.  Mr. Terupt is a new teacher, tasked with a group of children who are struggling for a variety of reasons.  He is able to connect with each of them in a different way before a tragic accident takes him away from the classroom.  His students are forced to carry on without him for several months, while they work to conquer their personal demons with the tools he has given them.  Big sigh.  Happy ending.

I hope you too have had a good reading year in 2010.  What did you like a lot?  Or not so much?  Let me know.

Eden, StorySnoop

What Jen loved about 2010

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

It was SO not easy for me to choose my top five favorites books from 2010!  What I came up with is an eclectic mix of genres, including Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Realistic Fiction.  What these books have in common is that they each offer thought-provoking themes while captivating the reader with highly engaging characters.  I hope your young readers will enjoy them as much as I did!

Ship Breaker — Fans of Dystopian Fiction (and those who are not!) should definitely pick up this book.  Set in the post-oil future, this absorbing read tells the story of a teen boy who, with a little luck and a lot of heart, rises above his circumstances and can’t seem to help but do the right thing.

Monsters of Men — I can’t say enough about this riveting conclusion to the Chaos Walking trilogy.  It really should really be read after the first two books, which are equally compelling.  The trilogy tackles the societal conditions that lead to conformity and war, told from the alternating perspectives of the main characters. Once readers become familiar with the unusual premise of these fast-paced books, they are tough to put down!

Split — This edgy, gripping novel confronts the reality of domestic abuse head-on.  Some of the family interactions are painful to read, but the story is rich with discussion material.  You can’t help but root for the main characters, who struggle to stop their past from defining them.

Dark LifeThis is the story of fifteen-year-old Ty, the first person born in a subsea settlement created after large parts of the continent fell into the ocean, and humans ran out of land.  Exciting from page one, this action-filled plot is sure to entertain tween fans of science fiction and adventure.

Sources of Light — This is a great pick for those who are in a book club, or those who are looking for book report material.  The story provides a unique perspective on the civil rights movement and the injustices of racism as seen through the eyes of a relatable fourteen-year-old girl.

Cheers for the New Year and happy reading to all!

-Jen, StorySnoop

It’s Super Scoop Friday–how about a Christmas story?

Friday, December 17th, 2010

I took a trip down memory lane and re-read a favorite childhood holiday book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. This book was originally published in 1972 and it has been a beloved and popular Christmas book ever since.  I loved this book when I was a kid and I enjoyed it just as much when I read it today as an adult.

The rotten and incorrigible kids at the heart of the story, The Herdmans, are as endearing as they are obnoxious. You’ve got to love kids that are described in the first paragraph of the book as “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear and hit little kids. The town lives in fear of these six bad kids and when they show up at church, curious about the desserts they heard were served at Sunday school, everyone is outraged.

When the Herdmans decide they want to participate in the Christmas pageant and bully their way into lead roles of Mary, Joseph and the Angel of the Lord, no one quite knows what to do with them. To their credit, the kids are actually interested in and fascinated by the story of the birth of Jesus. The regular church-going kids have heard the story a million times, but it is all new to the Herdmans and they have questions and comments and really get into the spirit of the pageant.

The unusual, slightly irreverent and somewhat disastrous interpretation of the Christmas story in the pageant has everyone nervous and on edge, but the Herdmans, with their fresh look at the timeless tale, cause the church members to remember the story’s true meaning.

This sweet story is laugh out loud funny and touching, and would be great to read aloud as a family. Revisiting this book was a sentimental blast from the past for me, and the Herdman kids are timeless and great fun. What are some of your favorite childhood holiday books?

Tiffany, StorySnoop

‘Tis the season! Here are Shannon’s faves for 2010

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Hello readers!

It’s that time of year where we are rounding up our favorite teen and tween books of 2010. It’s hard to choose favorites when there have been so many great reads!  This year, I chose five middle grade books. These are just the ones that stuck with me the most.  Some are literary, some are just plain fun, but all are outstanding in their own way. Most importantly, kids will enjoy them.
This beautifully-written book about a family in Maine has award buzz all around it – and I can see why. It’s an easy read that girls will really like. My daughter did, and she is pretty discerning.
Not only is this a fabulous book, but it appeals to both boys and girls. At the heart of the story is a family coping with the aftermath of divorce, but its humor, a new German Shephard, adventure, and a little mystery keeps this book from getting too serious. It’s an enjoyable story with just the right amount of depth.
This book is awesome –  but hard to explain. It’s like a modern day “Choose Your Own Adventure”  graphic novel, written and illustrated by an award winning comic. If your child likes math and solving puzzles, he will not put this book down. I know brothers who loved this book so much their mother had to buy them separate copies!
This author never misses, and this imaginative story is another hit. Told from the perspective of 4 middle school narrators, three boys and a girl, this book will appeal to both boys and girls equally. (My tween girl book club gave it a big thumbs up!)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth:

How can I leave this one off my list? Surely, I could have come up with another beautifully written literary triumph, but a book that draws so much attention and enthusiasm from kids deserves a spot in my top five. I can’t think of any other book that caused such a frenzy at the bookstore. I know I waited 20 minutes in line on its release day with other parents buying the book. Kids love it – reluctant readers live for it, and it’s an all around crowd pleaser for boys and girls of all reading levels. I even laughed out loud while reading this book (and got several strange looks, as I was under the dryer at the hair salon, laughing at a children’s book) This book is just FUNNY!

Those are my picks. Hope your enjoy children enjoy them as much I did!
-Shannon, StorySnoop

It’s Super Scoop Friday–Have you read Ship Breaker yet?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I just finished reading the National Book Award Finalist, Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Back when I was reading books for grownups, I would have steered clear of just about anything labeled Science Fiction.  In this case, I would have seriously missed out.  Set in the post-oil future, this absorbing book is further proof that I can no longer judge a book by its genre.

Ship Breaker tells the story of a teen boy named Nailer who works with the light crew, scavenging copper wire from deep inside the ducts of obsolete oil tankers abandoned on Gulf Coast beaches.  Each day, Nailer battles to make his quota because the alternative is an even worse fate.

After a close call while ship breaking, Nailer becomes known as “Lucky Boy.”  It seems that survival is just the beginning of Nailer’s luck when he stumbles upon the wreckage of a beautiful clipper ship filled with valuable scavenge, ripe for the taking.  But when he finds an unlikely survivor, Nailer is faced with the biggest decision of his life.  Is this girl more valuable to Nailer dead or alive?

Ship Breaker‘s intriguing plot is further enhanced by richly drawn diverse characters.  In particular, Nailer is an endearing, multi-faceted protagonist.  His job is dangerous and without a real future, and he lives in a shantytown shack with his abusive drug-addict father.  But rather than becoming bitter, Nailer uses his difficult circumstances to prove to himself that he can withstand any challenge.  In a society where every man is out for himself, Nailer is fiercely loyal.  Although he has many opportunities to profit from finding the shipwrecked girl, he does the right thing, often risking his own life to save hers.

Meant for the fourteen-and-up crowd, Ship Breaker is sure to be a hit with fans of Dystopian Fiction — and newbies like me!

-Jen, StorySnoop

StorySnoops and My Ego

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

When the framework for the StorySnoops website started to come together, I was feeling pretty proud of our growing database of books, and all of the hard work I had put in.  I felt great that I was finally exercising the old gray matter that has been semi-dormant for so long.  Don’t get me wrong—I use my brain plenty as a mom, but not always in the ways that I would really like to, you know?  So, I was feeling good, hoping that I was setting a good example for my kids, and then beyond that, hoping they would actually notice!

When my son started asking for recommendations, I was very fired up—of course I could send a few books his way.  He even got a couple of them for his birthday, but…well, he hasn’t really gotten around to reading them yet (six months later).  Hmmm.  So much for my recommendations— I supposed my ego could survive that for the time being.

Then my daughter started asking what I could suggest for her.  Yes!!!  I totally had some ideas for her too!  She took a few of my many suggestions and actually read them, but has since taken to re-reading the Harry Potter series for the second time.  Wait.  What?  She is plowing through those at the speed of light.  Is she really getting anything out of them?  What did she miss the first time?  She’s seen all the movies 72 times for goodness sake!  Doesn’t she want to infuse her brain with good new stuff??? Well, like most middle-schoolers, she has to keep a reading log as part of her English homework, and it turns out that she is in an extremely heated “total page count” competition with a (cute) boy in her class.   Oh brother!  And I thought she wanted to broaden her horizons!  Ego goes back on the shelf for now.

-Eden, StorySnoop

Green Oompa Loompa Update, with tween girl book ideas…

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Those of you who read this post know I that I love my Green Oompa Loompas.
They are, of course, the spirited group of ten year old girls that I meet with monthly for some book club chat, fun, food – and noise. I don’t think I mentioned the noise thing last time. Wow. Let’s just say these dramatic tweens are passionate about their book discussions. Passionate and LOUD.  Anyway, aside from the shrieking, they are a fun bunch.
The girls pick their own books each month, and I have to say, they do a fabulous job. Many are award-winners, and the others are equally quality reads.
I wanted to share with you what they have read since my last post, because these are kid-tested, mother-approved,  all-around great books. If you have a tween girl in your life, I highly recommend checking out some of these awesome books. The G.O.L. loved them, and shrieked appropriately!