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 November, 2011

A Holiday Shopping Pledge

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Let’s put our money where our mouths are.  We’ve said it again and again on this blog–we love our paper books.  I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to, and not just book-industry types, who have tried to express their feelings about the feel of a paper book in their hands.  Holding a book is so much more than just a tactile experience. It’s beautiful to look at (people spend a lot of time choosing fonts, paper and cover art for a reason!), it has a certain smell (does an e-reader ever smell deliciously musty and dusty? I think not!) and it frequently evokes a pleasurable memory (curled up by the fire on a rainy day maybe?).  I have sort of joined the e-reader bandwagon, but kind of half-heartedly. E-readers have their benefits and I like that about them—if I need a book for a deadline, or need to streamline my travel bag, my iPad certainly is convenient.  But an e-reader for me is only that—a convenience, not a substitute.

Followers of this blog also know that we have recently lost the only bookstore that we had in town.  And thanks to Border’s presence in our town for many years, we didn’t have any independent booksellers left here to fill their void (ah, the irony).  I found myself in a Barnes and Noble at the mall the other day, and oh lordy, I didn’t realize how much I had missed being amongst the stacks!  I was like a crazy woman, browsing the aisles and picking things up, flipping pages and reading jacket flaps.  I bought a couple of holiday gifts, and added several titles to my mental list for other family members. I made myself a promise right then and there that if I ever hope to see a bookstore OPENING instead of closing, I need to put my money where my mouth is and go find one where I can do my holiday book shopping live and in person. I know things will get crazy now that the holidays are here, and I will be sorely tempted to make an Amazon “run” around midnight some night, just to check a few things off my list.  But I’m going to make a public pledge right here and now that not only will I consider books as gifts for more people on my list, but I will also find the independent bookseller closest to me, and make an outing of it to go there and make my purchases.  I will (hopefully) not once grumble about the prices being a little higher, and the parking or traffic being challenging!

Maybe, if I spout off about my pledge enough, a few others will join me? I can accept that the book industry is changing, and that there is a segment of it that will go electronic. There is obviously a market for that. But in our electronic age of instant-gratification and frenetic multi-tasking, there is a lovely calming refuge to be found in being able to put all devices away, and curl up and lose oneself in a book. I pledge to be an advocate for our beloved paper books, and to teach my children about this lovely simple pleasure. All those parenting guides tell me I have to lead by example, so I guess I’d better start Googling those ony-semi-local indie bookstores right now : )

-Eden, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–Don’t miss Morpheus Road by D.J. MacHale!

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I just finished reading the second installment in The Morpheus Road trilogy, written by the author of the wildly popular Pendragon series.  D. J. MacHale has done it again with The Light (Book 1) and The Black (Book 2), combining authentic male characters with lots of action and an intriguing premise for the ten and up crowd.

In The Light, sixteen-year-old Marshall Seaver is looking forward to an amazing summer chilling with his best friend Cooper. But when Cooper gets into trouble and is shipped off to his family’s lake house, Marsh resigns himself to week after week of boredom. That is, until strange things start happening at home–inexplicable sounds and mysterious breezes that lead Marsh to doubt his own sanity. And then Gravedigger, an illustrated character Marsh created, comes to life and tries to kill him. Alone and terrified, Marsh runs to the only person he really trusts, but Cooper has gone missing. The more Marsh learns about Cooper’s disappearance, the more he is convinced that it is somehow connected to the other bizarre events in his life.

In The Black, the reader finds out that Marsh was right.  That’s because Cooper has left Marsh behind in life–known as The Light–and entered the afterlife–known as The Black. There he learns that the purpose of The Black is to spend time coming to terms with the person you were in The Light so that you can move on to a better existence. But Cooper doesn’t have time for all that because an evil, centuries-old warrior named Damon is haunting Marsh in The Light. If Cooper doesn’t help Damon, Marsh will be killed. Will Cooper give in and help Damon? Or can he stop Damon from ripping a hole between the worlds of the living and the dead and protect Marsh at the same time?

The Light is suspenseful read featuring an extremely likeable character who evolves over time, becoming more confident and courageous.  But if it’s possible for the second book in a trilogy to make the first book even better, then that is the case with The Black, which tells the same story as The Light, but from the irreverent Cooper’s perspective. Rather than seeming repetitive, the circumstances are completely different, and Cooper’s tale is fresh and suspenseful while providing welcome explanation for some of the perplexing events described in the first book. This makes the two books even more enjoyable read one immediately after the other.  Fans (like me!) will be eager to read the final installment of the trilogy, which is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2012.

Enjoy!

-Jen, StorySnoop

Giving thanks…

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

As this holiday in particular is one on which we count our blessings, I am going to start by being thankful for my fellow Snoops. Because of what we have collectively created, I am thankful that every day I get to do what I love and I get to share it with people who share my vision and my passion for books and reading.  Thank you for being everything that you are ladies!

In the world of children’s and young adult literature, there is much to be thankful for! I am thankful for the truly exceptional books I have read for this site – for the ones that reminded me of valuable lessons, for the ones that brought me to tears, for the ones that made me laugh out loud, and for some remarkable characters that I will never forget.

I am thankful for the authors who pour their blood, sweat and tears into books that bring meaning to the lives of young people, for the authors who craft entertaining and engrossing stories that just beg to be read, for the publishers who make sure these books get on the shelves and to the readers who love them so much.

I am thankful for the authors who have been so willing to let us interview them and who are so willing to discuss their work. We have been incredibly blessed with amazingly gifted writers who have been fun and funny and enlightening and so darn pleasant to interact with!

I am thankful for the books I have read that I have been able to share with my own son and daughter, who have loved them as much as I did. I am thankful for bookstores (the few that still exist!) and libraries, and even for e-readers – anything that can get a book into my hands! Most of all, I am thankful for the beauty that can exist in the written word.

Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

National Book Award 2011!!

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

“Congratulations to Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature! Click on a book cover for the scoop on the winner and all of the finalists.

We met Wendy!

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

A while back, my tween book club, the Green Oompa Loompas, was fortunate enough to interview one of their favorite authors, Wendy Mass. Recently, they were able to meet her in person.

The book club has officially read 11 Birthdays and The Candymakers, but many of the girls have read her other books. I drove a car full of excited and squirmy tween girls thirty miles to Kepler’s our local independent book store, to hear her read from her new book, 13 Wishes, the latest addition to the Willow Falls series.

When we entered Kepler’s, I think a spell came over me for a minute. I was in a REAL LIVE BOOKSTORE.  Bookstores are closing like crazy in my neck of the woods, and being amongst stacks of new books was downright intoxicating. The girls snapped me out of my spell and we hurried towards where Wendy was about to speak.

Watching them clutch their “Wendy Mass” books to their chest, excited and anticipating the arrival of their beloved author, I had to smile. I mean, these are middle school girls holding books and fired up about READING. How awesome is that?

Wendy did not disappoint. She gave an inspiring talk, read from her book, and then thoughtfully answered the many questions from her tween fans.  What a cool opportunity for young readers to be able to interact and connect with the authors that write the books they love. And from a parent’s perspective, I was grateful to have these girls enthralled with such a strong and positive female role model. It was a great “girl power” evening.

Wendy said that she wrote for tweens because she was so affected by the authors that wrote for tweens when she was younger, such as Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. She remarked that those authors were a part of her and always would be. I can certainly relate to that.

I am sure my daughter would agree with me that Wendy is her generation’s Paula or Judy. Her books, while engaging and fun to read, are beautifully written and rich with important themes about growing up.

If you have a middle grade girl in your life, do her a favor and check out Wendy Mass’s books. She’ll be glad you did!

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop – Playground by 50 Cent

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Who knew hip hop artist 50 Cent is a children’s book author? And a good one? Yes, he is!

In this gripping and real story, Playground (based on the artist’s own life, and inspired by his own teen son) you meet fourteen-year-old Butterball (named for his weight problem). Butterball is a bully. But, unlike other books with anti-bullying messages, you come to love this bully. You come to cheer for this bully, and most importantly, you come to understand this bully.

The book starts with a horrible beating that Butterball gives an innocent boy. This cringe-worthy violent act is shocking. However, just as you are about to judge this seemingly heartless and evil kid….you come to see more about his life, and how he came to be the way he is. You learn more about the psychology of a bully. His mother and her partner are good role models, but his neglectful father encourages and rewards such criminal behavior. The more you get to understand Butterball, the less you judge. (Love it when books do this for people!)

Butterball is a good boy deep down, just misguided by peer pressure, and a terrible male role model. Through his therapy comes an evolution from playground bully to ex-bully, and even eventually, to an upstander. Once he embraces therapy, the pieces of his life fall into place (although this never reads as hokey or unbelievable). His therapist sees the good in him and encourages him to follow his dreams of movie making, which in the end, is a big turn in the road for him. Once hopeless and lost, he now lives a crime-free life, choosing to  live and be driven by his art, rather than violence.

Playground is a fantastic read with a powerful and inspiring message. This strong anti-bullying story does contain violence and graphic language, including several f-bombs. The fact that 50 Cent wrote this will grab the attention of whole new crowd of readers. It is not only a quick and easy read, but well-written and heartfelt. This is a great example of someone famous using their fame for good. Great book choice for boys and girls 12 and up, and also a great choice for reluctant readers.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Snoops’ Top 10 (or so) for Tweens!

Monday, November 7th, 2011

In case you missed it, several days ago we published a list of our favorite books for teens thus far in 2011. But we can’t have our tweens feeling left out. There are plenty of great releases this year for them too.  As was the case before, we tried to make a “Top 10″ list but couldn’t really stick to our self-imposed format :-) If you have anything to add to the list, let us know, since we are clearly not bothered by a loose interpretation of the number 10!

Enjoy!  And be sure to let us know if you have anything to add…

–The Snoops

Ryan Jacobson, welcome to StorySnoops!

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Today, we have a special guest blogger–author Ryan Jacobson is stopping by to promote his new book Can You Survive? Jack London’s Call of the Wild (a Choose Your Path book) AND to share some tips to help get kids’ creative story-telling juices flowing.  We found the concept of a “Choose Your Path” book fascinating, and hope that we can help bring it to the attention of more young readers. Have you read the original Call of the Wild? Yes? Know the story of Buck the dog and his trials in the unforgiving Yukon?  Well, in Ryan Jacobson’s version, the story starts out the same, but at various inflection points, you are asked to decide what to do. You turn to different pages, depending on the decision you’ve made. Fans of survival stories will find it fun and interesting to test their instincts in the wild, and hopefully develop a new appreciation for a classic read.

Welcome Ryan!

When Eden told me I could dream up whatever I wanted for this post, I felt like I’d been handed a blank check. But then she applied the pressure: she mentioned that her audience has a large base of teachers and librarians. Yikes! If there’s one group a children’s book author wants to impress, it’s educators.

With that in mind, I’m breaking out my A+ material, the stuff I normally save for a crowded auditorium of rowdy fourth and fifth graders. (Is it redundant to say rowdy?) I’m going to share a really fun way to build a story with a group. Believe me, even those reluctant readers hiding in the back row will be begging to join in.

The way this works: I ask for multiple ideas to each question—usually 3 to 5, since my time with students is limited. I write the ideas on the board, and students vote for their favorite. The answer to each question with the most votes wins. So, without further ado, here’s a story idea in just six questions:

1. What are your characters’ names (one boy and one girl)?

I tell students that I don’t spend much time on character names because I always change them later, when I know the characters better. At this point, I usually pick names just to keep track of whom I’m talking about.

2. What job does the story’s adult helper have?

I like to include an adult helper because we almost always share a laugh later on, when the main characters rescue the adult. Asking about a job is an easy way to get students’ imaginations warmed up for the next questions. Sometimes the adult’s job affects the story; usually it doesn’t.

3. Where does the story take place?

The best ever answer to this question: “Inside your belly button.”

4. What’s something scary we can add to our story?

Now, if you want to avoid zombies, vampires or Chucky (don’t ask me why fourth graders know about Chucky), you can ask for a “problem” instead of “something scary.” Of course, you might miss out on such awesome answers as a homework-crazy math teacher or my mom. (Oh, yes, she’s scary!)

5. What’s something ridiculously silly that can scare away our monster?

If their answers don’t make you laugh out loud, something has gone horribly wrong. I mean, what’s funnier than a man-eating diaper monster being chased away by a kindergarten teacher with a finger puppet? (Man, I wish I could take credit for that storyline!)

6. What shall our characters do for their happy ending?

More often than not, you’ll end up with a birthday party or a trip to Disney World. Be careful, though. If two students named the characters after themselves and if the group chooses a wedding, well, that’s the makings of a fourth-grade scandal. Yep, it’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

And…there you go. The answers to these questions give students their characters, their conflict and their resolution. Granted, there are plenty of blanks left to be filled in (like, how did the characters wind up inside my belly button), but it’s a great starting point and a lot of fun.

Enjoy—and if your students come up with anything especially crazy, be sure to let me know.

P.S. Parents, this also works one on one. Try it on your next road trip.

Thank’s for visiting us, Ryan! For more information on Ryan’s books and what he’s up to, visit his website. And if you haven’t read  Can You Survive? Jack London’s Call of the Wild yet, be sure to check it out.

-The Snoops