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 February, 2011

Super Scoop Saturday–The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I have noticed a startling pattern in my reading habits lately.  Many of my favorite books fit into the Dystopian Fiction genre.  Who knew?  For those who are unfamiliar with this genre (as I was), the action typically takes place in some future society that is responding to cultural or political conditions that have gone wrong in a major way–climate changes, earthquakes, totalitarian government take-overs, tyrannical leaders…  You get the idea, times are tough.  I find this genre particularly compelling because the characters’ responses to these kinds of conditions are complex and fascinating.

Take my lastet obsession, for example.  In The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, the world that has been devastated by sun flares, extreme climate changes, and the outbreak of the Flare, a hideous disease that turns people into insane killers as it slowly destroys their brains.  But none of the characters know this because their memories have been erased by a world government organization called WICKED as part of an experiment designed to save humankind.

When the protagonist, Thomas, wakes up in a lightless, rising elevator, the only thing he knows is his name. All of his other memories have been completely wiped out, leaving him disoriented and confused. As the lift grinds to a halt, Thomas is met by a group of teen boys who welcome him to the Glade, an enormous courtyard surrounded by towering stone walls.  None of the Gladers know why they are there or who they were before they arrived, but they do know that order is the key to their survival, and that if they can solve the maze that is beyond the walls, they can finally find their way home.

Soon after Thomas’ arrival, strange things strat to happen. First, he survives a night locked in the deadly maze, and then the lift brings the unexpected arrival of the Glade’s first girl. Thomas can’t escape the feeling that these events are somehow linked and that he already has all of the answers he needs to solve the maze, if he can only find a way to unlock his memories.

The story’s intriguing premise and many unanswered questions kept me guessing and the pages turning.  The Glade’s community of teen boys cooperate to form their own highly functioning society, without falling into a Lord of the Flies scenario.  Despite dire circumstances imposed by the Glade’s creators, these boys generally remain united.  You can’t help but root for Thomas and the other boys while being horrified by the creators of this outrageous experiment.

The second installment in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, is as complelling as its predecessor.  Without giving away any of the details, suffice it to say that the Maze is just the beginning.

I am breathless with anticipation for the final installment in the trilogy, but I had better brace myself for a long wait as The Scorch Trials was just released last October.  In the meantime, I’m sure I can keep myself busy with some other Dystopian gems.

Calling all Dystopian Fiction fans.  What draws you to this genre?  Which books are must-reads?

Jen, StorySnoop

How do I love the library? Let me count the ways!

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

In honor of Library Lover’s Month, we are re-running this post celebrating some of our favorite things about the library.  Let us know what else you’d add to the list–we’d love your thoughts too!

I know – a seemingly simple and boring blog topic, but come on. The library rocks these days.

Yesterday, my kids and I left the library with three bags filled with CD’s, DVD’s, magazines and books. I couldn’t believe the librarians were actually letting me leave with all of this stuff. For free? Really? Didn’t they know about my tendency to lose things? As I was walking out the automatic doors, I found myself looking over my shoulder, feeling as though at any moment The Library Police would sound their whistles, call me over to the desk and say,  ”Ma’am, you have a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff in those bags – you can’t just take it. Hand it over.”

It got me thinking about how cool the library is. I know it sounds nerdy, but in this economy, who doesn’t love to save a buck or two? Everyone knows you can borrow books from the library, but my love affair with the library goes much deeper than that. How do I love the library? Let me count the ways:

1. The Summer Reading program makes my kids compete against each other to see how many books they can read in a summer.

2. Kids get their very own library cards.

3. The library has all the latest issues of “American Girl” and “National Geographic Kids” so I didn’t have to renew our subscriptions.

4. You can do homework with your kids argument-free.  Everyone knows you have to be quiet in the library.

5. They have 15 different books on hammerhead sharks. If you happen to have a fan of hammerhead sharks, that comes in quite handy.

6. You can check out audiobooks, which are fun to listen to in the car with your kids. I find that since they are such a captive audience in the car, I can sneak a classic or two in and they don’t notice.

7. My active seven-year-old will sit for an hour with a stack of comic books he cannot really read yet.

8. That new check out machine! You can stack a ton of books on top of each other and “BING”!–the machine checks out all the books for us and prints a receipt. It’s so easy even my kids can do it.

9.With the computers, periodicals, and encyclopedias, is there a better place to work on a high school report?

10. Reading Hour. Sadly, my kids are too old for this now, but when they were younger, they really enjoyed it.

11. Free Wi-Fi.

12. When a book I want is checked out, I put my name on a list. When it comes in, I get an email letting me know they are holding it for me. Lovely.

13. I get email reminders when my books are about to be due (which has saved me big bucks in late fees).

I could go on and on but what about you? What do you love about your library?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Need something for your child to read?  Check out what some of our librarian friends have to say about the most popular books in their libraries.  Betsy Bird and John Schu weigh in on the elementary set, while Tiffany Whitehead, Kathy Burnette and Jennifer Laredo fill us in on the middle school and teen crowd.  Enjoy!

Top Ten Most Popular Books in the Library for Middle School and Teens

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

We’re back celebrating Library Lover’s Month!  Without further ado (drumroll, please), here is what our librarian friends say are the most requested books among the middle school and teen crowd:

Tiffany Whitehead

Tiffany is a former elementary school librarian, who now serves the middle schoolers. Tiffany tells us that her students are “series crazy”!  Here are the top ten books that are flying off of Tiffany’s middle school shelf (with her very helpful comments):

10. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series by Heather Brewer – This series is in the early stages of catching on. I expect it to rise higher on the list by the end of this school year.

9. Football Genius by Tim Green – This is the only non-series book on the list. As expected, my middle school boys LOVE books about football.

8. Maximum Ride series by James Patterson

7. Dork Diaries series by Rachel Russell

6. The Clique series by Lisi Harrison

5. Bluford High series by Anne Schraff

4. Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

3. Amulet series (Graphic Novels) by Kazu Kibuishi

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

1. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

For more on Tiffany and her middle school musings on books and technology (she is quite the tech savvy librarian) visit her blog – The Mighty Little Librarian.

Kathy Burnette

Kathy knows kids – she is a former elementary school teacher and now is a librarian for a middle school. She adores middle grade and young adult books, and dreams of owning her own teen bookstore one day. Here is what Kathy’s middle school students are lining up to check out:

10. Heist Society by Ally Carter

9.  Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter

8.  Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

7.  The Kings of Klonmel by John Flanagan

6.  Chasing the Falconers by Gordon Korman

5.  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

4.  The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

3.  Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

To see what else Kathy has to say about books for teens and tweens, please visit her blog – The Brain Lair.

Jennifer Laredo

To see what the teens are reading these days, we decided to check in with our own beloved local library. Jennifer Laredo is the teen librarian in the Los Gatos Public Library, a place we Snoops visit frequent quite a bit. Here is what Jennifer says are the top teen books from the last six months:

10. Perfect by Sara Shepard

9.  Wanted by Sara Shepard

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

6. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

5. Uglies by Scott Westerfield

4. Unbelievable by Sara Shepard

3. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

1. The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

There is a pattern here – kids of all ages seem to love a good series. The Hunger Games trilogy is a winner with the teen crowd as are the Pretty Little Liars books. I wonder how much being a T.V. series has helped with that? I love it when a T.V. show or movie prompts a kid to pick up a book (although the book is usually SO much better than the movie, right?)

I am thrilled to see Never Let Me Go on one of the teen lists. I read that book years ago, but had no idea it was a teen book, as it was shelved at the bookstore in the Adult section. Glad to see teens are reading it. Also glad to see kids reading When You Reach Me, which is one of my favorite kid’s books of all time.

Thanks to our “panel of experts” for contributing their very valuable information.  Parents and teachers, if these books are hits in the libraries, then they are sure to be hits with your kids, as well. The next time your teen needs a book for school or just for fun, you might want to consult this teen-approved list of books. Happy Reading!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

p.s. Looking for books for younger kids? Check out the top-ten lists for elementary kids here, supplied by Betsy Bird and John Schu.

Top Ten Most Popluar Books in the Library for Elementary School Kids

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Did you know that February is Library Lover’s Month?  Well, you know from this post that we love the library and we love our librarians! In honor of this occasion we’ve polled some of our favorite librarians and asked them to give us the top ten most requested books in their libraries.

There is no better way to supplement our own reviews than to hear, direct from the trenches, what books are most popular with young readers.

In this post, we’ll start with what the younger kids are reading (ages 9-12).

Here’s what our librarian friends had to say.

Betsy Bird

Elizabeth Bird is a children’s librarian at the Children’s Center at 42nd Street of the New York Public Library system. She has served on Newbery committee and written for Horn Book. Betsy’s kids in the 9-12 age range are into series, and here is what she says are their favorites.

10. The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine

9.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

8. The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

7. The Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce

6. The Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell

5. The Warriors series by Erin Hunter

4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

3. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

1. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

For more from this librarian-extraordinaire, visit her blog. She always has something interesting going on!

John Schu

As an elementary school librarian (K-5), John knows what books are hot with the younger kids. Here are the books that are most popular with his 3-5th graders:

10. Warriors: Omen of the Stars #3: Night Whispers by Erin Hunter

9. Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

8. Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

7. The Genius Files by Dan Gutman

6. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

5. DC Super Heroes: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book by Matthew Reinhart

4. Big Nate: From the Top by Lincoln Peirce

3. Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney

1. Big Nate Strikes Again by Lincoln Peirce

For more from John on book video trailers and some knowledgeable book chat, check out his blog.

Why am I not surprised that Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are in first place? They are certainly favorites in my house! I am glad to see the Lunch Lady series on John’s list, as this has been a favorite in my house for a year now, but I haven’t seen many other kids reading it.

Parents and teachers, if these books are hits in their libraries, then they are sure to be hits with your kids, too. Next time you are at the library or bookstore, you might want to bring this list of kid-approved books with you!

Thanks to our Betsy and John for sharing their knowledge from the trenches with us. And check it out – this post is all about what’s hot with the middle school and high school crowd.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

It’s Super Scoop Friday–Revolution!

Friday, February 11th, 2011

So, I am just warning you all that pigs may be flying around in frozen-over hell right now! I am notorious for my dislike of historical fiction. I have even gone so far as to say that I HATE it. Now, I have been pleasantly surprised a time or two in the past (literally, only once or twice) – and lo and behold, it just happened again. When faced with the wildly popular young adult book Revolution, I immediately thought to myself, ugh! The French Revolution?? Not for me. How close-minded and silly of me! As a responsible StorySnoop I dove in and started reading, and darn if I didn’t love it from the get go!

The stories of two teen girls, centuries apart, are woven together and overlap, and both are fabulously compelling. In present day Brooklyn, Andi is having an incredibly difficult time trying to deal with the crippling grief and depression she is experiencing after the tragic death of her younger brother. Her feelings of regret and the blame she places on herself for his death are overwhelming. Her grades are plummeting , her behavior is reckless and self-destructive, and she has a huge project to complete for school. Her father forces her to accompany him to Paris over her winter break to get her out of New York, to make her finish her project and so that her mother can get some psychiatric help. In Paris, she discovers the diary of Alex, a plucky and resourceful teenage girl who chronicled her efforts to survive the French Revolution and her own internal struggles.

The heartbreaking stories of these two girls are woven together and their similarities, including their anguish and their passion for music, are powerful. Music and its ability to heal is key to both story lines, and the many references to songs and lyrics will be appealing to music lovers. Revolution deals with so many relevant topics, including: divorce, death, grief, healing, love, and mental illness. Readers will also come away with a greater understanding of what it was like to live during the French Revolution. This engaging and suspenseful book has a mystery at its heart and though it is long, is a quick read.

Who would have thought I would be raving about and recommending a historical fiction novel?? Yet, here I am doing so! If you or your teen are looking for a quality, escapist, beautifully written story, look no further.

What do you think–have you read it?

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

No more dead dogs please!

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

No More Dead Dogs.  Have you read this book by Gordon Korman? It’s funny. Long story short, it’s about a boy who protests his school’s required reading because he is sick of stories where dogs die. I have to agree. What’s with this tradition? First there was Old Yeller, then Sounder. Now they are teaching Where The Red Fern Grows in middle school. It’s a wonderful book and my son really liked it – until the dog died. Why do the dogs always have to die?

I’ll admit, this issue is on my radar for selfish reasons. I have perhaps the world’s most sensitive ten-year-old animal rights activist for a daughter. And I’ll admit further that she could toughen up a bit as she still cannot get through Charlotte’s Web without weeping hysterically. But she makes a good point. It seems like many of these books about animals (such as the popular Warriors and Seekers series) feature lots of animal death and suffering. Aren’t animal lovers the ones who would most be attracted to these books? If so, why do authors kill off our furry friends?

I guess that authors would answer back that tragedy adds to the plot. I get that. But think about it….all books with children as main characters don’t kill off children (although…some do, I suppose). Can’t we have a happy animal story?

Here are some animal stories that are “sensitive reader safe”:

The Bunnicula series


Wild Girl

The Truth About Horses, Friends, and My Life As A Coward

What about you? Any recommendations for animal books that won’t leave my daughter in a puddle?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

What to do with a Tween girl reading up?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

It’s no secret to my friends that one of the big reasons I got on board with the StorySnoops idea was my daughter.  At the time, she was in fourth grade and had recently been bitten by the book bug.  She was reading anything she could get her hands on, much to my heart’s content.  When she picked up Twilight, I was a little concerned—I didn’t know anything about it, and it looked a bit edgier than say, Nancy Drew! But my girlfriend had just started the series too, and she said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that bad.  They just spend a lot of time gazing at each other.” So, my little overachieving reader dove right in and plowed through the series.  She had been finished for about a week when that same friend said to me, “Oh by the way, I meant to tell you that you probably shouldn’t let her read book four in the Twilight series—the vampires have stopped gazing and are now having sex.”  Well…too late.

I’ve said it a million times—I don’t object to sex in teen books, but my kid (at that time) was not even close to being a teen!  You probably have at least one girl in your life who is a voracious reader, so you know what I’m talking about. Right around 4th grade they seem to get bored with the skinny chapter books and want to take the plunge into something a little meatier.  I’m all for supporting the reading habit, but it is difficult when the reading level and the maturity level really don’t match.  There is a special class of book out there that is well-suited to these girls though.  They have older protagonists (at least middle-school age will be exciting stuff to our budding book-aholics) who are exploring real-life issues that don’t revolve around romance (shockingly, there are at least two or three other topics out there).  Now that I have some reading under my belt thanks to StorySnoops, I’m pleased to report that I have a few books to share with others who may find themselves in the position of trying to keep their avid reader well-stocked with age-appropriate books thatstill make her feel just a little naughty, like she’s getting away with a little something, peaking into the mysterious world of the teenager.

Author Kate Messner has this down pat.  Her two titles, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and Sugar and Ice are both about middle school girls dealing with family, sports and female relationships.  All relevant stuff for girls of any age.  In My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald, the protagonist is working to save the family business and respect the environment at the same time.  The Amigas series by Veronica Chambers is about a group of fifteen year old entrepreneurs (with a great message about respecting their Latina heritage too, by the way)—a fabulous lesson for young girls. And for the mystery-loving set, The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter is squeaky clean fun about ultra-smart girls and their adventures at a private spy academy.  And the list goes on. Bottom line?  We can tempt young girls with stories about friendship, competition, initiative, brain power and so much more.  There is plenty of time for the romance (and all that comes with it!) later, when we’re all ready for it!

Librarians in particular, if you have any titles to add to our list of favorites for the Tween girls reading up, let us know.  We’ve got a few of them in the StorySnoops houses.

-Eden, StorySnoop