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 June, 2011

Super Scoop Friday – Smells like… FUN!!

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Seems as thought the age group of 9-12 year old boys contains a great many reluctant readers. Having a boy who falls in this age group, I am always on the lookout for a book that will really engage him. I was thrilled to find Smells Like Dog and its sequel Smells Like Treasure by Suzanne Selfors!

Now, I must confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for basset hounds, and so the covers of these books drew me in right away. This series chronicles the adventures of Homer Pudding, aspiring treasure hunter! Homer wants to follow in the footsteps of his Uncle Drake, professional treasure hunter, and is obsessed with maps. When Uncle Drake meets an untimely demise, and Homer inherits Drake’s droopy old basset hound, things really get interesting. Who ever heard of a basset hound with no sense of smell? Dog is an intriguing character, as he has a hidden talent that proves very useful indeed.

Both of these books are zany and clever and full of action and adventure. Dialogue is witty, humorous and intelligent. Secret societies, cloudcopters, giants, skydiving, fending off grizzly bears, clues and quests are all part of the fun.

Refreshingly wholesome, yet compelling and funny enough to hook even the most reluctant of readers, this series is a great fit for tween boys. Homer and Dog are so much fun, let’s hope Suzanne has another one of their stories in the works!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Road Trip!

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Needless to say, my fellow Snoops and I spend quite a bit of time reading for the website.  Because my “to read” pile can sometimes be overwhelming, I always have a book on my nightstand and a book on CD in my car.  Just like regular books, some books on CD are better than others.  A great narrator can bring a story’s characters to life, while a not-so-great narrator can be nothing more than a distraction.

With summer upon us and many families planning to take road trips, I thought I would share some of the books I have listened to that are particularly entertaining on CD.  Let’s face it; it’s not easy to keep everyone occupied in the car for extended periods of time.  Sibling squabbles are bound to crop up.  If you are interested in a little peace, pop one of these CDs in and you are sure to enjoy a great story and more than a few miles of blissful serenity.

The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning #1), by John Stevens

After being whisked away from their parents’ loving arms one unforgettable Christmas Eve, siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma have spent the past ten years being shuttled from one orphanage to the next. Not even sure of their own last name, the one thing they do know for certain is that their parents will be back for them some day. But what they are about to discover is that they are the subject of a magical prophecy, making them very special children indeed. Soon the three siblings are transported back in time, courtesy of the Emerald Atlas–one of three enchanted books with the power to change history. There, they embark upon an extraordinary adventure filled with evil villains, terrifying creatures, and surprising supporters. Can Kate, Michael, and Emma harness the power of the atlas and right the wrongs of the past?

The Emerald Atlas would entertain families with kids aged eight to thirteen, give or take a bit.  Narrator Jim Dale does a wonderful job of creating a different voice for each and every character in the story while delivering lines with humor in all the right spots. Now get the scoop.

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Twelve-year-old Liam is completely horrified that he is mistaken for an adult on a regular basis. For one thing he’s tall, really tall. He even has facial hair. The worst part–even worse than being called names like “freak” and “wolverine”–is that people expect him to behave like an adult, just because he looks like one. But things change when Liam figures out that he can have a bit of fun pretending to be a grown-up, like taking a Porsche out for a test drive and claiming to be a teacher on the first day of school. He even manages to talk his way into chaperoning the first group of children to travel into outer space. When things go wrong, can Liam do the “dadly thing” and get them all home safe?

Cosmic is a great choice for families with kids between eight and fifteen.  Narrator Kirby Heyborne will have all of you laughing out loud at Liam’s antics.

Now get the scoop.

Scorpia Rising – The Final Mission (Alex Rider #9), by Anthony Horowitz

Fifteen-year-old reluctant spy Alex Rider 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. Has the elite crime organization finally found a way to crush MI6′s secret weapon?

Scorpia Rising will engross children aged nine to nineteen.  Narrator Simon Prebble does a masterful job with all of the books in the series with an impeccable English accent that is spot of for MI6′s secret weapon.

Now get the scoop.

Island Book One: Shipwreck, by Gordon Korman

When six kids find themselves crewing a sailboat in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean near Guam, it quickly becomes clear that none of them want to be there. But for some reason, their parents have decided that each of these troubled kids would benefit from the Charting a New Course program. Now Luke, J.J., Charla, Ian, and siblings Will and Lyssa have no choice but to quickly learn their way around the sixty-foot boat, guided by a well-meaning skipper and his abrasive mate. When a tremendous storm develops, things go from bad to worse, and the crew of newbie sailors find themselves fighting for their lives.

Island Book One: Shipwreck is a shorter read (listen?) that will entertain children ages eight to thirteen.  Narrator Holter Graham does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life in this gripping series.

Now get the scoop.

White Cat (Curse Workers Book 1), by Holly Black

Seventeen-year-old Cassel Sharpe is the only one in his family who is not a curse worker, so he can’t help but feel like he’s not quite good enough. Curse work is illegal, which means anyone who can alter a person’s emotions, luck, or memories with the touch of a hand is a criminal or scam artist — just like every member of Cassel’s family. He may not be a worker, but he’s far from innocent. He can run a scam to rival any con artist, and he killed the love of his life, Lila, three years ago. One night, Cassel finds himself on a rooftop after dreaming about a white cat, and has absolutely no idea how he got there. Images of the cat continue to haunt him as Cassel begins to notice that his two brothers are being even more secretive than usual. Cassel runs scam after scam to get to the bottom of his brothers’ odd behavior, only to discover a shocking secret about himself that changes everything.

White Cat is an intriguing story for families with kids aged twelve and up.  Narrator and Academy Award Nominee Jesse Eisenberg is the perfect Cassel Sharpe, with just the right balance of sarcasm and smarts.

Now get the scoop.

Happy listening!

-Jen, StorySnoop

You’re not gonna wanna miss this–Read Alikes are here!

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

You told us, and we heard you.  We’ve got a new book recommendation feature that we know you’ll love. It’s called Read Alikes, and you can find it here every week.  It’s pretty simple, based on the principle that if some is good, more is better :-)


If you liked:

You will also want to check out:

Super Scoop Friday – Frankie Pickle to the rescue for new (and reluctant) readers!!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

One thing I hear a lot from parents is this funny statement: “I wish my child was a better reader, but he only reads comic books.” Well, hello! That’s reading!

I get the sentiment, though. My oldest went through a Calvin and Hobbes period that I thought would never end. My middle child read and re-read all my old Garfield books while I not so patiently tried to lure her away from them with a good novel. And now my youngest, a brand new reader, is very attracted to the whole comic book format. Lucky for him (and me) we discovered The Frankie Pickle Series.

This book is perfect for boys like mine: new readers with short attention spans who appreciate the cool illustrations of a comic. It’s a chapter book disguised as a comic book. The protagonist is funny and likeable and the author even throws in a few good messages. Win, win!

Hurray for Frankie Pickle!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Meet Kimberley Griffiths Little–she’s on the StorySnoops Summer Reading List!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

To kick off the summer reading season, StorySnoops is hosting interviews with some of the authors whose books are on our Summer Reading lists for tweens and teens.

Today we interview Kimblerley Little, whose book The Healing Spell, is a must-read for tween girls this summer. Kimberley, a mother of three, has won many state awards for her books.

The bayou/Cajun setting in The Healing Spell is so important that it almost seems like one of the characters, and you have really nailed the perfect dialect. How do you manage to write so well about the south, being from San Francisco? Was it pure research, or do you have some other connection to the region?

Yep, it was years and years of research, but it’s also rooted deeply in love. An instant magical relationship sparked the moment I stepped onto a boat with a Cajun fisherman from the backwoods bayous who fed scraps of chicken to the alligators and pulled up crawfish traps and showed us his home.

I also discovered a connection with my husband’s ancestors who immigrated from the same area of France as the Cajun people did during the 1650s. My married last name isn’t really “Little” at all! We learned through genealogical research that is was originally “Monpetit” and changed to “Little” when they left Quebec and came into the U.S. after the Civil War.

I also feel privileged to have so many friends from the bayou now and to have met so many Cajun traiteurs who shared their lives and stories with me, too.

Livie, the eleven-year-old main character in The Healing Spell, has a complicated relationship with her mother, and it is wonderful to see this realistic mother-daughter dynamic in print! Did something in your own life inspire you to explore this theme?

I think fragile mother-daughter relationships at this age are the norm, don’t you?! It’s one of those love/hate relationships where you know you can’t get along without your mother, but you also do *not* want her reading your diary!

And here’s a strange twist: After I wrote the book, I realized that part of what I was exploring was that father/daughter relationship between Livie and her daddy, which is something I have missed most of my life. I lost my own father in a terrible accident when I was just a bit older than Livie and that has shaped me in many ways. It was subconscious, but I think I wrote about Livie and her Daddy as a way to express my own grief over losing my father and our relationship that was cut short.

Livie seems almost reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird—she’s strong, stubborn, smart and independent.  How did you create this wonderful tomboy character?

I just couldn’t write about a girl from the bayou that did not hunt and go frogging and own a pirogue! I love all those aspects of the bayou lifestyle and I knew she had to be that kind of a girl. You could also say that I stole my sister’s life. I have two sisters, but I’m the oldest. I’m actually Faye and the sister just younger than me is the true Livie, and the tomboy in our family. My very youngest sister is eerily similar to Crickett. But it was never intentional!

Livie and her family sprang to life almost from the moment the story began percolating in my mind. She was a little sassy and very independent, but she also had this guilty secret that made her vulnerable and likable, and someone I just wanted to reach out and hug. Livie is like the daughter I never had. (I’m a mom to three boys!)

You take on very serious subject matter (mother in a coma) for a children’s book, and yet you have done it delicately and with finesse.  The magnitude of the situation is clear, without coming across as morose or maudlin. Were you ever cautioned to leave anything out of your book because it was too “heavy” for children?

Never. I have a wonderful editor at Scholastic who told me that she stayed up until three a.m. reading the manuscript and sobbing. She said the book was “a gift” – a compliment that blew me away since I’d spent many years revising and trying to sell the book. The only thing we worked on was deepening the characters and their relationships a bit more. I was really blessed to have an editor who had the same vision as I did for the story and knew it was an important story of family and faith and forgiveness and love.

We hear you have a new book coming in October—can you give us a little preview?

I’d love to! Circle of Secrets is about 11-year-old Shelby Jayne, the daughter of Miz Mirage Allemond, the swamp traiteur. The story is about ghosts and a mysterious charm bracelet and secrets in a blue bottle tree (a Southern tradition).

Thank you for all the kudos about The Healing Spell, and for having me here at StorySnoops!

For more information about Kimberley, visit her website, where you’ll find a Mother/Daughter Book Club Guide and a Teacher’s Guide for free download, as well as this very cool book trailer:

Happy Reading! In the meantime, check here for the rest of the Summer Reading List for Tween Girls.

-The Snoops

Super Scoop Friday – Sarah Dessen’s What Happened to Goodbye

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

My summer reading has officially begun! I just devoured Sarah Dessen’s new release, What Happened to Goodbye. Teen girls will be thrilled because, as usual, Sarah does not disappoint.

The basic plot is that since choosing to live with her father after her parents’ bitter divorce, McLean has constantly been on the move. Her father’s job as a restaurant consultant has them uprooting and starting over frequently and with each new move, she adopts a new form of her name and a new persona. No one is as surprised as McLean herself when their latest stop turns out to be one she is reluctant to leave, and where she may be able to be her true self.

I think the main reason teenage girls are such fans of Sarah’s books is that they see themselves on the pages and in her flawed and authentic characters. Teens of divorced parents may find this heartwarming story a particularly relatable one and a worthwhile message is conveyed about finding a place to belong and forming meaningful relationships with people.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book, but I picked up a great acronym as well. At one point McLean’s father texts her “AHBL” – as in, “all hell breaking loose”. How perfect is that? It is short, it is to the point and I will absolutely use it as a go to the next time hell is actually breaking loose and I need to communicate the urgency of said situation : )

I must admit I am pretty bummed I finished this one already. Now I have a whole year to wait for Sarah to release her next book. Sigh. Do you think you can write a little faster Sarah???

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

“this is teen”–a fun time had by all!

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

How lucky am I that someone at Scholastic has put together a great summer book tour, with three authors that the StorySnoops gang loves? Last night was the only West Coast stop on the “this is teen” tour, featuring Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater and Meg Cabot. I took two excited thirteen-year-old girls up to Books, Inc. in San Francisco for this book adventure and I’m pretty sure they had as much fun as I did.

The fabulous folks at Scholastic arranged for the three of us to go backstage before the event which, as one might expect at a bookstore, is really the break room for the Books, Inc. employees. But there we sat amongst the water cooler, stacks of books and people’s lunchboxes, chatting with Meg, Libba and Maggie about various things. We got on the topic of the voice talent that works on audio books, and everyone had something to say about that.  Maggie and Libba both ended up doing some voice work on their latest audio books, and agreed that it’s a lot harder than one might think to ee-nun-cee-ate properly when one is not a professional. And Meg chimed in with an anecdote about poor Anne Hathaway reading for The Princess Diaries. Apparently, in order to “encourage” her to pronounce her p’s cleanly, the producer was having her drink pure lime juice before reading.  Ick.  Even though voice work the kind of job you can show up to in your pajamas, I guess it’s not all wine and roses when you get there!

The main event was a brief talk by each of the authors to an audience of mostly teen girls, with some adult fans like me thrown in for good measure.  We weren’t sure what to expect from Maggie, since her books are on the serious side, but she is a funny gal! She started off with a quick plug for her new book coming out in the fall, The Scorpio Races, calling it “Deadliest Catch meets My Little Pony”.  Now THAT is a book I’m looking forward to! She also talked about the twisted little delight she gets from making her readers cry and getting some of her inspiration for Forever from real-life scenarios about wolves that she found on the internet. So if there is a heart-wrenching scene in that book that has something to do with a wolf trapped in a sink-hole, we’ll know where that came from :-)

The always-funny Meg Cabot had everyone in giggling fits as she talked about her beginnings as a writer. She reminded the girls in the audience to follow their passions and to never give up, even when they feel like an outsider.  Sometimes that feeling might just be the the catalyst for a great story. Meg’s latest book, Abandon began as an exploration of those “outsider” feelings that Meg herself had in high school. She started with a fascination for the Greek myth of Persephone, and look where she is now!

I haven’t read any of Libba Bray’s books (yet!), because other StorySnoops have reviewed them for the site, but Beauty Queens is now on my nightstand.  Libba hooked me right away when she said that, unlike Meg and Maggie who were writing puppy stories when they were in 5th grade, she was creating gory vampire stories of the sort that might require the teacher to call home to inquire about whether her parents were aware of what she was writing! She considered a long list of careers, including being a crossing guard, a nun, film maker, and even being David Bowie, before she settled on writing. And in a self-deprecating moment we can all relate to, Libba confessed that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking about her books in public, so she created a Mad Lib about Beauty Queens. Audience members called out all sorts of great adjectives, verbs, adverbs and plural nouns, and we all felt ownership of the resulting silly blurb that she read about the book.

All of the authors encouraged the young audience to embrace their passions, get to know themselves, not be afraid to be who they are, and regardless of the direction, to never give up on their dreams (“As long as they are legal!” added Meg).  These women are clearly committed to staying connected to their young fans via events like these, and through the social media that is becoming the main channel of communication for an entire generation.  How lucky are these young girls that authors they so admire are so enthusiastic about being available to them? All good stuff.

-Eden, StorySnoop

Check out the “this is teen” site for more information on the tour.  Don’t miss it if they are coming to a city near you!

Super Scoop Friday – Adele Griffin’s Tighter

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

I sure do love a lot of what I read for StorySnoops, but let me go on record right now to say that there are just not enough psychological thrillers out there.  I am a fan, and I want more!  So needless to say, I was quite pleased to come across Tighter by Adele Griffin.  It’s a modern retelling of the classic Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read The Turn of the Screw, but it is for sure on my list now. It’s not necessary to have read James’ work in order to enjoy Tighter, though if you have, you will see references everywhere.

The book begins with seventeen-year-old Jamie arriving on the New England island of Little Bly for the summer.  Her mom has procured a job for her as an au pair, with the hope that she’ll get over the “mopey” mood she’s been in of late. Jamie has swiped a handful of prescription pills from her parent’s medicine cabinet to get her through what she’s sure will be an ordeal.

No sooner is she settled in than she finds out the au pair from the previous summer, to whom Jamie bears a striking physical resemblance, died a tragic death, along with her boyfriend. And just to make things more interesting, Jamie can apparently see their ghosts.  As Jamie is pulled further into the mystery of those deaths, she is also self-medicating, and the tension notches up and up as the reader has no way of knowing if she is really seeing ghosts or if she’s just in a druggy haze. There is an excellent ending that will immediately remind adult readers of a certain movie that I can’t name, or it will give away the surprise. Younger readers probably won’t know the movie I’m referring to, but suffice it to say, they will immediately want to go back and re-read to see what clues they missed along the way.

There are several mature themes at work in this book, including observations of deep divides in social classes, drug use, mental illness, and contemplation of one’s destiny, so it’s best for teens. All told, this is a taut, smartly-crafted thriller that would be a great read on a leisurely vacation, since once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down until the end. And thank goodness it’s relatively short, because you’ll have to leave time for that aforementioned re-read for missed clues : )

-Eden, StorySnoop

Puppy Love.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

We recently welcomed a new addition into our family, a six-pound bundle of furry joy.  Yes, it’s a puppy.  As I have done with all of our dogs over the years, I enrolled her in puppy kindergarten class because, frankly, I need all the help I can get.

Looking around the room that first night of class, I noticed that there were the usual suspects: families with young children, a few empty-nesters, some single young women, and an older couple.  But there were also a surprising number of teen girls.

What is it about a teen girl that makes her so eager to own a puppy?  Could it possibly be the universal longing for unconditional love and approval during a tumultuous time?  Duh!  After all, puppies are always thrilled to see you, they don’t care what you wear or what grades you get, and they are never, ever critical.  The funny thing is, I can relate because I was that teen girl.  When I was fifteen, I convinced my parents to get me a puppy because I wanted to be understood and accepted, with no strings attached.

What does this have to do with books, you ask?  Well, books are a bit like puppies because a character’s feelings and experiences can make you feel like you’re not so alone.  Like your feelings don’t make you strange or a freak, they just make you… you.  So, before you head to the pound to pick out that puppy for your daughter, you may want to try another form of comfort first.  These books may be just what your teen needs to feel like someone gets her.

Maybe if I’d had a stack of books to make me feel empowered or understood as a teen, I would not have succumbed to the lure of puppy love.  Or, maybe I would have just read the stack of books happily snuggled up with my puppy.

-Jen, StorySnoop

Super Scoop Friday – Have tissues at the ready!

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Garth Stein has adapted his bestseller, The Art of Racing in the Rain, into a book for younger readers. It is now titled Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. I read both books and really can’t tell the difference. The picture on the front has been changed to an adorable puppy for the kid’s version. Don’t let the cover fool you. This is a moving story with depth about love, loss, family, and the ties that bind us.

It sounds weird that the dog, Enzo narrates the story, but it’s powerfully believable and very endearing. Enzo belongs to Danny, an up and coming racecar driver. During their time together, their family expands to include a wife and daughter. Enzo is very perceptive and tells the tale of this family’s (at times tragic) trials and tribulations with great sensitivity.

He knows much of the world through watching television, which Danny leaves on for him during the day. From his T.V. education, he is aware that some people believe dogs will come back as humans in their next life. Enzo, who loves nothing more than riding with Danny in his racecar, already considers himself a human in a dog’s body.

I don’t want to give anything away, but is a tear-jerker –  in the best possible way. You will smile through your tears in the end, as ALL of Enzo’s wishes, even those that are a bit magical, come true.

This is a great book for a mature middle-schooler. I think even high school students would enjoy and be intellectually stimulated by this book. I don’t know if I agree with the publisher’s recommendation of 9-12 years old. I would say that it is an excellent, wholesome, and ultimately hopeful book – for those twelve and up. This would be a great choice for a mother-son or mother-daughter book club, as well.

Add this great book to your summer reading pile!

-Shannon, StorySnoop