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 April, 2011

It’s Super Scoop Friday–Are you in need of a Healing Spell?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Children’s Book Week is just around the corner! Check out our blog next week (May 2nd-May 8th) for a new interview every day, from some of our most beloved children’s authors, and see what they have to say on all kinds of topics. Hear from Dave Barry, Clare Vanderpool, Wendy Mass, and more!

I want to tell you about this little gem I just read called The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little. It takes place in rural Louisiana, in Bayou country. The book is rich with description–you feel like you are right there eating crawfish and watching for gators in a simple but exotic place where trateurs (healers) exist, and Cajun magic is possible.

This is one of those books where you might read the book jacket and just put it back down on the shelf–for fear the subject matter is too serious. But don’t let the book jacket scare you away from this magical and touching book. Here is the scoop:

Eleven-year-old Livvie’s mom is in a coma, and her father opts to bring her home to recover, feeling that she has a better chance of waking up at home with her family than in a hospital. Livvie is not so sure, and is pretty freaked out about her comatose mother on display in the living room.

Desperate to help her mother, but uncomfortable with showing her true feelings, Livvie takes matters into her own hands. She paddles to a remote part of the bayou to visit a legendary trateur (healer). There, she receives instructions for healing her mother, which includes collecting certain items and recording fond memories of her.

In performing these tasks, Livvie takes an honest look at herself. She and her mother always seemed to be at odds, and at first, it is hard for Livvie to recall loving memories. But, as she opens herself up and lets down her walls, she begins to see things for how they really were: that she was not always the easiest daughter to manage, and that her mother knew her and loved her better than she could have imagined. Livvie sees past their disagreements, and discovers a lot about her mother, their relationship, and herself in the process. She learns the trateur was right when she told Livvie, “You gotta remember that with faith, nothing is impossible.”

This would make a great read for a mature 5th grade girl, or a classroom read aloud in middle school. It would probably be fine for a read aloud in a 5th grade classroom, too, but there is a wrenching pet death scene.  (Then again, my 5th grade daughter’s class just read Where The Red Fern Grows. This book is far less wrenching, and a much easier independent read.)  Dependning upon how sensitive an animal lover your child is, this is a great read for all girls from 4th-8th grade.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

p.s. And maybe try this one out as a mother/daughter read too. Mother’s Day is coming, right?!

Tiff’s got the fever!

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

I’ve got summer reading fever!! Many great books are due for release in the next two months and I can hardly wait! There is nothing I love more than summer vacation and a pile of books I am excited to read : ) Since I clearly have some sort of arrested development, and because I have to read them for this website anyway, I am a sucker for a good teen girl book. And lucky for me, some of my favorite YA authors have books that will go into my beach bag as soon as they hit the shelves.

We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han, sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You comes out today and should be one many teen girls will want to get their hands on. My daughter and her friends were big fans of the first two books so I expect this one to be a hot commodity, and one we may fight over in this house. I call dibs on reading it first!

So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti comes out the following week on May 3rd, right in the middle of Children’s Book Week. Her previous books have all been bestsellers and ones that I particularly enjoyed. Her teen love stories and characters are authentic and relatable. Check out the video!

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray may be a wild ride! Her first book, Going Bovine, was award-winning, critically acclaimed and wacky! I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next, and a group of beauty queens deserted on an island in a Lord of the Flies-esque setting should be great fun indeed.

My most anticipated release in this category is Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye. I have read every one of Sarah’s books, have loved them all, and eagerly await this one. Another one my daughter and I will fight over, may have to let her get first crack at this one, but only if she promises not to tell me what happens!

Anything you are looking forward to reading this summer?

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

It’s Super Scoop Friday–Have you felt the Crunch?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Does anybody else watch the gas gauge with dread these days?  The pain we are all suffering at the pump inspired me to share a great book for readers ages ten and up: Crunch, by Leslie Connor.

Crunch tells the story of fourteen-year-old Dewey Marriss and his family.  For Dewey, it’s crunch time in more ways than one.  Fuel supplies have run dry right in the middle of his parents’ annual anniversary trip, which means they are stuck far away from home. So, Dewey and his older sister Lil are in charge of their three younger siblings, and all of the chores around the house for quite a while. Because of the fuel crunch, there is also a crunch at the family’s bicycle-repair shop, since bikes are the only way to get anywhere without walking. Dewey creatively manages to keep the shop running smoothly, except that he can’t seem to keep track of some of the bike parts. Concerned that the missing parts reflect badly on him, Dewey is reluctant to tell anyone… until the night when he catches the thief red-handed.

Crunch is a wholesome read about a lovely family whose five siblings are extremely responsible, self-reliant, and charming.  Supportive neighbors and members of the community surround the Marriss children during their parents’ absence.  However, some people behave quite badly during the shortage–bikes are stolen from the youngest Marriss children and their father is beaten up by a person who steals his fuel ration cards.  This could spark an interesting conversation with your reader about how a crisis can bring out the best in some and the worst in others.  As an added bonus, the story provides a subtle environmental message about the dangers of our dependence on fossil fuels–something all of us can relate to at the moment!

While Crunch is geared toward tween readers, it would also make a great read-aloud for families with younger children who may particularly enjoy the escapades of the five-year-old Marriss twins.  Happy reading!

-Jen, StorySnoop

Friendship growing pains? We’ve got what you need.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Ah, growing up.  Fun to do, fun to watch (mostly).  One of my favorite things about being a parent is watching the different stages kids go through as they get older.  As a child, I had no idea how predictable those stages would be, since I had no idea what a stage or a phase was of course.  But now with the infinite wisdom (ha!) that I have as an adult, I’m enjoying my watching and occasionally helping to guide, and I’m so delighted that the drama that comes with some of these phases is no longer mine :-)

One natural part of growing up is the transition in and out of friendships as kids change, and the social paths that once seemed like the only ones they could ever imagine following begin to diverge.  Sometimes if we are lucky these transitions are natural and smooth, but mostly, they are not.  They can be filled with guilt, confusion, embarrassment and even anger, and kids often need some extra guidance and support to maneuver these bumpy roads.  Since parents are mostly old fogies who don’t know anything, and probably don’t even remember the dark ages WAY back when they were kids, thank goodness there are so many books out there with characters the same ages as our children who can provide examples of “friend transitions” that just might hit the right note with a kid who is struggling with a similar situation.

Of course the sticky friend situation can hit any kid at any age, but it seems to be a particular issue for middle grade girls (end of elementary through middle school).  I’ve had several titles come across my StorySnoops “desk” on the topic that might be just the thing your daughter needs if she’s caught in one of these tricky transitions right now.  Or just keep these titles in your parent “tool kit” because if she’s not in it now, she will be.  It’s coming.  Like a freight train!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop Friday: Ah, to be Eleven again…

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Ah, 11. It’s that age for girls where they have one foot in childhood and one foot in those teen years to come. They squeal with excitement when receiving a text from a boy, but they aren’t quite ready to give up their My Little Pony collection, and are known to still play with it from time to time. They rule the school as fifth graders where much friendship drama occurs. Puberty is in full swing; some girls are shaving their legs while others still play on the monkey bars. This is the age that Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? captures so well. And now, there is another book that brilliantly speaks to this audience.

The book is Eleven by Lauren Myracle. It’s about a sixth grade girl named Winnie, and the changes she experiences between her eleventh and twelfth year. The writing is so engaging – it reminds me of the Judy Blume books that I couldn’t put down as a kid. My daughter read it last year when she was ten. While she loved the book and ripped through it at lightening speed, she probably could not relate to everything that Winnie experienced, as she had not experienced much of it herself at the time. That has changed in the past year as nearly everything that Lauren Myracle wrote about in this book has occurred in my daughter’s life on some level.

Friendships change and girls mature and develop, both physically and mentally, at different rates. In the book, Winnie and her long-time best friend Amanda begin to grow apart. Amanda begins to notice boys and becomes concerned with her appearance, while Winnie would rather just play Chinese jump rope. Winnie finds a new friend with interests similar to hers, but she still misses Amanda. Although she vows not to change like Amanda, Winnie realizes she is changing in spite of her promise to herself, that growing up is inevitable and not as terrible as she thought.

I’m so glad we read this book last summer because I have referred back to it in countless discussions with my daughter. When she comes home upset or confused from the latest eleven-year old girl drama, there is always some moment in the book I can draw upon. I can remind her that some girls are going to be Amandas and some are going to be Winnies, and that is totally normal for this age.

At an age that is so full of highs and lows and plain old weird feelings, it’s great that there is a book that our daughters can read, relate to, laugh with, and feel a little closer to normal.

And more great news: this is the first book in a series. Winnie’s adventures in growing up are chronicled in Twelve, Thirteen, and Thirteen Plus One. And for the younger girls, a prequel, Ten, is due out May 17, 2011.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Who is brave enough to push back the bullies?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Poe Holly, the main character in Michael Harmon’s Brutal, is a rebellious and fearless teenage girl. Her self-confidence, defiance and sassiness all contribute to her questioning of authority and her inability to be a bystander to vicious bullying behavior. She puts herself in the eye of the storm in order to protect someone else, and gets beaten severely as a result. The clear and resonant message this story conveys is one of standing up against what is wrong and for what is right.

Where are these kids who are willing to throw their bodies in front of the bullies? Who are willing to risk their own safety to protect another? Who are willing to go toe-to-toe with the school administration, the school counselor, the cops, anyone who will listen and make the bullying stop??

I know that Poe Holly is a fictitious character and an almost unbelievable one in her tenacity and integrity. I realize it is asking a lot of anyone and I realize that having this kind of self-confidence, courage, and intestinal fortitude is pretty darn rare – at any age. Since we can’t seem to stop bullying, sadly, maybe we can help instill these traits, and hope for a few more of these “superkids” who will not tolerate bullying.

I know kids who stand up against bullying are out there, and I applaud them. I cannot sing their praises enough. However, the fact that there are so many books written about bullying tells me that there is still far too much of it going on. From elementary school all the way through high school, bullying in all its various forms exists, from name calling to cyber bullying to physical beatings.

I have personally read over 30 books for this website that have addressed bullying in some form. I know that some of these are very popular and widely read books. Hopefully each time a kid reads a book with the message that bullying is damaging and cruel and unnecessary, a little bit of it sinks in. Hopefully the messages the schools are struggling to get across to students to be upstanders intead of bystanders will stop at least one act of bullying and save one kid the public humiliation and pain that it causes.

There are truly some exceptional stories for tweens and teens having to do with bullying and providing positive role models who refuse to just stand by and watch. While it is fantastic that authors are writing such great books on the topic, it is so sad that they have so much material to work with.

We would love to hear some success stories where kids stood up for someone or stood up against bullying. Do you have any for us?

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–I can’t wait for more of The Body Finder!

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

What did you like to read as a teenager? I was a mystery fan, so I started with Nancy Drew, but then pretty much jumped right in to Agatha Christie (hey, there were a lot of those Nancy Drew’s—it took quite awhile to get through them!). Agatha was phenomenal of course, but the British settings from pre-1950 and the stuffy characters at weekend house parties where the inevitable murder took place were not exactly relatable stuff for a teen girl from California. Maybe there were teen-centered mysteries around when I was a kid, but if so, I never saw one.  So needless to say, I get really excited when a good mystery pops up on my to-be-read list for StorySnoops.  The latest that I am really enjoying is The Body Finder series by Kimberly Derting.

The books (The Body Finder and Desires of the Dead, so far) revolve around sixteen-year-old Violet, who has inherited a somewhat unnerving “sixth sense”. She can find dead bodies.  Not just any dead bodies though.  She only finds the ones that have experienced a violent death.  They give off an echo that Violet senses, which could take one of many forms (like a vibration, a sound, a smell, etc).  And then to make things even more interesting, the killer carries a matching echo that only Violet can detect.  Needless to say, thus far Violet has found herself in some scary situations.  I guess it’s necessary to the plot that she get close to the killer so that she can get the dirt on him, since she can’t very well just go to the authorities and say “He did it’” without explaining how she knows, right?

The two mysteries that Violet has solved so far are intriguing (one with a serial killer and one related to domestic abuse), though not gory or overly descriptive in nature (plenty of other places to find gore, if that’s what you are looking for). What I also enjoy about these books is that there is a great romantic plot line about Violet’s protective (one could even say “heroic”) boyfriend Jay, and their (mostly) very level-headed relationship.  Since they are in high school, there is plenty of teen social intrigue as well.  And I love that it is all done with just a little bit of the Big Three (language, sex and partying). Just enough to keep it real and relatable for the teen audience, but not so much that it distracts from MY reason for reading: mystery + romance!  There is some foreshadowing in Desires of the Dead about the direction that we (Violet, Jay and I) are heading for the third book :-) I am ready and waiting, and sending Kimberly Derting polite little telepathic messages to pleeeeeease hurry!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–A Super Send-Off with Scorpia Rising

Monday, April 4th, 2011

This week, I am using writing as a way to get closure because one of my favorite series has come to an end with the release of Scorpia Rising, the ninth installment of the Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz.  While reading for StorySnoops, I have looked forward to each of these books, knowing I was in for a treat every time one rose to the top of my cue.  Always fast-paced and action-packed, the Alex Rider series is great for suspense-loving readers, both reluctant and voracious.

The series begins when Alex’s uncle dies in a car accident and something just doesn’t seem right. After some snooping around, the fourteen-year-old discovers that his uncle was not a banker at all, but a field agent for England’s MI6 organization, killed in the line of duty. The leaders of the Special Operations Division want Alex to pick up where his uncle left off and become their secret weapon.  In this and every book that follows, the reluctant teen spy encounters ruthless villains and alarming plots, but somehow manages to emerge triumphant and unscathed.

In this final installment, a now fifteen-year-old Alex has bested Scorpia twice in the past year, undermining their reputation as the world’s most formidable crime organization. So when Scorpia is hired to coerce the British government to return a collection of classical marble sculptures to Greece, the organization cannot fail. An elaborate blackmail scheme is hatched to accomplish this goal, while getting revenge against Alex in the process. And despite orders from the British Prime Minister that he is never to be used for a mission again, Alex is drawn into the trap set by Scorpia.

Like its predecessors, Scorpia Rising‘s page-turning plot will keep fans of the teen spy, and readers who are new to the series, thoroughly engrossed. The indomitable Alex faces his most terrifying adversary yet, forcing him to rely on his self-confidence and quick wit more than ever before.

Nine books later I can honestly say I have enjoyed every single one (and I’ve been known to bemoan a long series!).  I have listened to some on CD and found myself entranced by narrator Simon Prebble’s engaging English accent.  Great for a long car ride, these CDs will capture the imagination of the entire family.  But no matter what the format, this is a series worth reading, in order or not.  I for one will miss Alex Rider.

-Jen, StorySnoop

Think you’ve already read Cinderella? Think again!

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I want to share with you a book for younger girls that’s simply awesome. The name of the book is (and how cute and cheeky is this?)  Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know The Story) by Barbara Ensor.  I have suggested this book and bought it as a gift many times, and I’ve never met a girl who didn’t love it. So, with a success rate like that – I have to give it a shout out!

It’s a funny book based on the familiar fairy tale about a girl who loses her mother, gains an evil stepmother, and marries a prince. In this book, Cinderella is a girl that young tweens can relate to. She vents in her diary about her typical tween frustrations, her evil stepmother, and the loss of her mother. Several clever plot twists modernize this story. Cinderella, a self-proclaimed “pushover,” gradually gains confidence throughout the book to stand up to her adversaries and assert herself.

Cinderella is not so sure she wants to marry the prince. After all, he’s handsome, but he is kind of a spoiled brat. The prince goes through his own metamorphosis, overcomes his phobia of his own feelings, and has to learn humility and compassion before he can love Cinderella. In the end, the characters fall in love with each other not because of their beauty, but because of their traits. And yes, there is a happy ending, but only after they work hard on their “partnership of marriage” do they live happily ever after.

I love that this is no damsel in distress story. No one saves Cinderella – she saves herself, and in the end in this book, she goes down in history as an assertive and beloved queen and diplomat.

How great is this Cinderella as a role model for our girls?

This book will be most enjoyed by independent readers in 2nd to 4th grade or as a read aloud at any age.

-Shannon, StorySnoop