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 July, 2011

End of an era…

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Well, I guess the writing was on the wall last spring when the first round of Borders store closures hit my town.  I can’t say I’m surprised (is anyone?), but I am sadder than I thought I’d be at the whimpering death of a big chain store.  So many others are seeing the end of the same cycle that we witnessed a few months ago.  The big chain comes to town, aces out the little guy mom n’ pop independent booksellers, which makes us all grumble about the unfairness of it all, but ultimately we get used to it and frequent the big behemoth, even though we swore we never would.  And then, just when we were comfortable with the whole thing, WHAM! The only bookstore left in town is gone.

I guess a lot of folks are in our shoes because if there was a Borders in your small town, odds are pretty good that there really wasn’t an independent bookseller anymore.  Borders took care of that (with a little help from A*&^$n of course), so now they are leaving a huge void everywhere that they were.  We aren’t holding our breath, but we are still desperately hoping that a Literature-Loving Tech Mogul will open an independent store in our town. It has to be somebody who is in it strictly for the love of the written word, because this is clearly not a get-rich kind of business anymore.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my family has already come up with the business plan for this LLTM who wants to open a store.  We’ve even revised it a bit to reflect the changing nature of the industry.  We figure that people will always buy media, like books, music, videos, games, etc. And the fact that that can be done online will clearly never change.  But what about those of us who like to browse it first—flip through the pages of the book, sample a couple of tracks on the album, peruse 80’s DVD’s without using the back button on the browser….?  When technology is ready for electronic media and paper media to exist and be sold all in one store (maybe this new “cloud computing” thing can help us out here?), we will be ready to go. Come on in and browse with your kids on a Friday night, then the oldsters like me will buy a paperback and a DVD and the kids can purchase a download for their e-reader or iPod on the spot, whatever brand it is, and whether they have it with them or not.  That’s why we need the tech mogul—he or she will figure that small logistical part out.

Sigh. Until the altruistic LLTM comes to town, ready to save the day so that our children’s children will learn to love the quaint little idea of an actual book-selling storefront as much as we do, we watch with sadness as the Borders era comes to an end.

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–a new classic, Holes

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

It’s Super Scoop day today and I am writing about an “oldie but goodie”, Holes by Louis Sachar.

It is a well-loved, frequently read book in our house enjoyed by both of the boys and the girl, regardless of age. It’s one of those rare stories you just never grow out of.

I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the book. It has several storylines, is rich with themes, has mystery, action, and is extremely well-written, but you can read all about that on the StorySnoops website. It even won the Newbery Award.  But all that doesn’t necessarily make it worth checking out at the library, right? Sometimes those Newberys can be “total snoozers” , as my daughter likes to say. Here is how I know this book is different.

Holes is one of those rare magical crowd-pleasers. All three of my VERY different children loved it. My oldest read this book in second grade, and although it was hard for him, he struggled to finish it then immediately reread it. It wasn’t until we watched the movie together that I realized he really did comprehend every little detail in the book, and was explaining half of the movie to me (not because the story needed explaining, rather, he was a kid who liked to explain things). He still rates it as his favorite book (right under, ahem, Harry Potter, of course), and it sits on his shelf where no one is allowed to touch it.

Fast-forward to when my daughter is 10, and dismisses it as a “boy book” after one look at the cover. In spite of her reaction, I bought the audio version for her iPod for a long car ride. Five hours, one splitter, and two sets of earphones later, she and my youngest son were so engrossed in the story that they didn’t want to stop for potty breaks.  When we got home from our trip, she bought her own copy of the book, which she reread two more times, did a book report on, and choose it as her book club book.

Enter my son. Age 8. Super-reluctant reader. We have gone through a few of those Captain Underpants kind of books, a few graphic novels, but nothing seems to stick. Now we are reading Holes together – he reads one page, and I read another. Finally, he asks me, “Is it ‘read-books-in-my-bed’ time yet?” Gotta love that!

So if your child is between 7-13, try Holes. It’s a winner.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Read Alikes–Need to know where to go after Percy Jackson?

Monday, July 25th, 2011

If you have kids in the 9-12 age group, odds are that Percy Jackson has come in to your house at some point or other! If your child loved this series, and needs some ideas about where to go next, look no further–we’ve got you covered.

If you liked:

Then be sure to look for:


–The Snoops

The Carrie Diaries – where it all began…

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Have you checked out The Carrie Diaries yet? In case you haven’t heard, Candace Bushnell has started a new YA series about teenaged Carrie Bradshaw, telling the story of how she came to be the toast of the town fashionista that we know and love from Sex and the City. The first two titles, The Carrie Diaries and Summer and the City, are about Carrie’s senior year in high school, and her first summer in New York, respectively.  We meet her family and high school friends, and have ringside seats for the beginning of her friendships with Samantha and Miranda. Let’s be real though, these books may be called Young Adult, and may be about a teenaged Carrie, but they aren’t just for teens!

The Carrie Diaries gives us Carrie’s background, including all the juicy details about where she came from and how her writing aspirations began.  Carrie is a high school senior in a small town, complete with friend drama, a love triangle, and a gay friend worried about coming out. This book stands on its own, and the antics and romantic adventures of the teens would certainly appeal to teen girls who aren’t familiar with the SATC franchise.  Of course the moms who ARE fans of the series and movies will enjoy young Carrie, looking for the early seeds of her feminist ideas and quirky fashion sense.

Summer and the City more closely resembles the future SATC gang and their glamorous lifestyle. Carrie is spending the summer after graduation in NYC for a writing class before college. Samantha is the cousin of one of Carrie’s high school classmates, and she is the first person Carrie turns to upon arrival. Miranda quickly joins the gals, and off they go.  These gals live like no teens I know of (granted, Samantha is a ripe old 23, to Carrie’s 17, but still…). They live a pretty upscale life, and smoke, drink and talk sex with only slightly less abandon than their future adult selves do.  There are good messages about dreaming big and becoming uncompromising, strong women, which teens would certainly relate to, but this book is definitely only a slightly junior version of SATC.  It’s a vicarious, escapist peek that older teens and adults alike will enjoy, even though they aren’t likely to identify personally with Carrie and her peeps!

I can only hope that there will be more Carrie stories to come, since we get our very first glimpse of young Charlotte in the closing pages of Summer and the City : ) All told, younger readers who don’t know the future characters may not enjoy Summer and the City as much as they’d like The Carrie Diaries. But for adult SATC fans who would not-so-secretly love a little visit to the 1980’s with one of their favorite icons? All in!

-Eden, StorySnoop

Meet Frank Cottrell Boyce–he’s on the StorySnoops Summer Reading List!

Monday, July 18th, 2011

To celebrate 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.

Our guest today is author Frank Cottrell Boyce, who began his writing career as a screenwriter.  In 2004, he wrote his first children’s book, Millions, which was based on his own screenplay.  After winning the Carnegie Medal, Frank went on to write two more books for children: Framed and Cosmic, a StorySnoops favorite for tween readers.  He lives in England with his family and is currently scripting the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.

Welcome Frank!  Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

How is writing for film different from writing children’s books?  What do you enjoy in particular about each of the different processes?  What are the challenges?

Well it’s much harder to write a book than it is to write a film. BUT it’s much easier to get a book published than it is to get a film made, because films cost millions and millions of dollars to make. So whereas a publisher just has to love a book, a film producer has to love it to the tune of millions!

The biggest problem I had in switching from screenplays to books was the word “said”.  You never have to use it in a screenplay of course – because it’s laid out like a play.  As soon as I started writing the book Millions, the word “said” kept jumping out at me.  It seemed to appear thousands of times on every page. Said, said, said, said, said  – like spots before my eyes.  I tried changing them all to fancier words – exclaimed, murmured, whispered, pronounced, interpolated, opined ….. and then I realized that said was better than all of these.

Why did you choose to focus on fiction for readers aged 9-12?

Because the books that I most love and the books that have had the most effect on me are the books I read at that age.  They rearranged my DNA and I still love them all.

Your characters have qualities that young readers can identify with.  Are they inspired by the experiences of your children, your own childhood, or some combination of the two?

I try not to be inspired by my children – I’m not at all comfortable with the idea of writing about people I know and love.  But bits of them do sneak into the story.  My son had a friend who had a massive growing spurt.  Seemingly overnight.  He came to the house to play football one Friday a perfectly normal boy and the following Friday he knocked at the door and there was this giant, mutant version of himself with rumbling bass voice and bits of hair sticking out of his face. It was as though he’d been hit by some strange alien growth ray.  He no longer looked the same age as my son. In fact he no longer looked like the same species.

Cosmic is the story of twelve-year-old Liam, who is completely horrified that he is regularly mistaken for an adult until he figures out that he can have a bit of fun pretending to be a grown-up.  Posing as a dad, Liam embarks upon an exciting adventure and hilarity ensues.  But the story also has many poignant moments.  How do you balance humor with the more serious elements of the book?

I don’t try to balance them. I think you can’t have one without the other.  Jokes are funnier if they’re about something important.  And stories are more powerful if they’re about people you love.  Also – compared to other children’s writers – I’m pretty slow. So I end up living with my characters for months and months.  So I end up really caring about them. Worrying about them even. I find myself waking in the night, thinking – “Does Liam really appreciate how much his Dad loves him? Maybe I’d better tell him.”  It’s a bit sad really!

We recommend Cosmic on our Summer Reading List for tween boys and girls.  Are there any books from when you were a child that you would add to the list?

Yes! All my other books of course! But I LOVED some books by a strange Finnish artist called Tove Jansson.  They were about a family of creatures called The Moomins who hibernated all winter and had amazing adventures in the summer.  They’re set in Finland where the winters are long and the summers are short and spectacular, and everyone knows how to make the most of them. When I said some books rearrange your DNA,  I was talking about these books for me.  The hero was the Mother – Moominmama.  Whatever strange creature turned up at the doorstep – tiny, jabbering thieves, or big gloomy ogres, strange – she just lays a place for them at the table and hunts out some fresh bed linen for them. She taught me that hospitality can be a great adventure.   And that no matter how crazy or disturbing people are, there should be roomfor them at your table.

Do you have any plans for another book (we sure hope so!)?

I’ve just finished (hooray) writing the official sequel to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – do you know what that is? It’s very British.  The original book was written by Ian Fleming (James Bond) and the movie was written by Roald Dahl – so not really very difficult acts to follow at all.  It’s about a big, beautiful vintage car that can fly.

I’ve also got a short book that I’m very proud of coming out called The Unforgotten Coat – which is based on a true story for once.

And I’m writing the script for the movie of Cosmic!!!!!!!!!

For more information about Frank and his screenplay for Cosmic, look here.  In the meantime, check out the StorySnoops Summer Reading Lists for Tween Boys and Tween Girls.  Happy reading!

Super Scoop Friday – Moira Young’s Blood Red Road

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

This week I am sharing my latest Dystopian Fiction obsession.  The first novel by Moira Young, Blood Red Road is a stand-alone book, so it’s a great way to get your feet wet with the genre without making a long-term commitment to a series.  For those like me who are already hooked on Dystopian Fiction, this book is a must for your “to read” list.

Blood Red Road tells the story of eighteen-year-old twins Saba and Lugh, who have lived all of their lives in a shanty in Silverlake, with their closest neighbor twelve miles away. Ever since their Ma died in childbirth nine years ago, it seem like they’ve been watching both the land and their Pa wither away bit by bit. Lugh thinks it’s time to leave this wasteland but Saba only cares about being with her beloved brother.

Then one day, the choice is made for them when four horsemen in long black robes appear on the tail end of a dust storm. When they tie Lugh to one of the horses and take him away with no explanation, Saba vows to get him back. Fiercely determined, Saba embarks upon a journey through a world she has only heard about in stories. A world where a self-proclaimed king rules using an addictive crop to control his subjects, and where danger lurks around every corner. But with the help of a charismatic outlaw named Jack and a band of girl rebels called the Free Hawks, Saba’s quest to find Lugh may even change the world.

Once the reader adjusts to the rhythm of the story, Blood Red Road becomes increasingly difficult to put down with each passing chapter. Saba is a capable and strong-willed character who is unconcerned with placating others.  Often abrasive, Saba uses her wits and determination to overcome even the most insurmountable of obstacles.  She is fiercely independent but learns to trust and accept the help of others. Packed with action and danger, Blood Red Road also contains themes about love, loyalty, and friendship.  And for those who enjoy a good love story, there is romantic tension between Saba and Jack interspersed with the action.

Toss a copy of Blood Red Road in your beach bag this summer.  It’s sure to be a hit with the fourteen and up crowd.

Happy reading!

-Jen, StorySnoop

Harry Potter: the end of an era…

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Those of you who read this blog know all about my Harry Potter tradition.

My oldest son, now sixteen, and I have been doing the “midnight Harry Potter thing” for years and years. Whenever the most recent Harry Potter book has arrived in book stores, we have been first in line – at midnight. When the latest Harry Potter movie comes out, we see it at midnight. And now, there is only one more midnight to experience together. After all these years, the last Harry Potter movie will run at 12:00 AM Friday morning, this July 15th. (Of course, even though we have bought our tickets, we will be waiting in a very long line that actually forms on Thursday night.)

This time around, I think maybe life is testing my dedication to this tradition. My husband will be out of town, so I had to beg a friend to watch my other two children. Our pre-arranged multi-family vacation begins the day before the movie comes out. We’ll be a day or two late to that now, and my family thinks I’ve lost my mind. After all, they say, you can see Harry Potter ANY time.  Not quite.

They must not remember how often teens relish doing something with their parents (never). Or what it is like to BE THERE – at midnight – with all the enthusiastic and screaming fans – for one last time. I wouldn’t give up this one last midnight for anything in the world. So, I’ll be there at midnight, proudly sitting right next to my son, who actually WANTS me to sit next to him (although that may just be because I am paying for the movie and popcorn, but whatever) for this one last “midnight Harry Potter thing.”

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Read Alikes–are you a fan of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

If you loved either the book or the movie (or both!)–or even if you’re not familiar with The Sisterhood, but are a fan of a good chick lit drama/romance, lose yourself in one of these that we loved!

If you liked:

Then you’ll want to check out:

Super Scoop Friday – Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

A good sequel can be hard to find! Sometimes they just don’t live up to the first book, or they don’t go in the direction that you want, or you just don’t care quite as much about the characters. The eagerly awaited sequel to the wildly popular If I Stay did none of those things and most importantly, did not disappoint.

In the three years that have passed since the devastating car accident that killed Mia’s family and left her seriously injured and hovering between life and death, she has rehabilitated, started playing the cello again and has attended Julliard. Her boyfriend Adam has become an incredibly famous rock star and half of a celebrity couple. At one point the two were inseparable but now they live completely different lives on opposite ends of the country. When they meet up by chance for one night in New York City, old feelings of love, anger and grief all come to the surface as they remember how important they once were to one another.

Now, I am not going to give anything away, because those who have not read it yet would kill me! I will say that Where She Went is a moving and powerful story, and that fans of If I Stay will thoroughly enjoy revisiting these characters. They will root for Adam and Mia to work things out and reunite. They will understand why music is a huge part of this love story and will appreciate the meaningful lyrics sprinkled throughout.

I challenge you readers not to shed a tear as you read this one, and I highly recommend this as a great example of an elegantly executed sequel.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Green Oompa Loompa Check In

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

It’s been a while since we’ve had an update on my 5th grade girls’ book club, The Green Oompa Loompas. Here is what they have been reading, and more importantly – what they have to say about it :-)

The Hundred Dresses: This Caldecott Award-winning book is a very short and easy read. It was written in 1947, and it holds up! The lessons about friendship, kindness, and judging a book by its cover stand the test of time.

What the girls thought: A unanimous thumbs up. Although the book was short (which appealed to many of the girls) it had real depth. They could relate to the morals of the story and apply them to their lives today; especially the messages about those ever-present mean girls.

Mandy: This is another oldie but goodie. Written in 1971 by the film and screen actress Julie Andrews, this is a sweet and wholesome story about a young orphan girl in England who finds her place in the world. It kind of reminded me of The Secret Garden, and I wasn’t sure if the girls were going to like it – or if they would find it too old-fashioned.

What the girls thought:They loved it! They all agreed it was a speed-read. Mysterious and suspenseful, they could not put it down. They also commented on how descriptive it was. They felt as if “they were right there in the cottage with Mandy”.

Dragon Rider: This is a wholesome read by Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart. A fantasy book, its main characters include a brownie, a boy, and a dragon that set out on an adventure. Again, I wasn’t sure what the girls were going to think – it’s a 500-page book about a boy and a dragon.

What the girls thought: Mixed reviews on this one. I would say that the main deterrent was the length rather than the writing (which I found to be excellent). The other deterrent was the genre. Not everyone can do a 500-page fantasy book. It was about 50/50. The girls who hung in there and read the whole thing really liked it, and some are now reading Inkheart.

That is what we’ve been up to. What has your child’s book club been discussing lately?

-Shannon, StorySnoop