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 January, 2012

Super Scoop–Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Why We Broke Up. Wow, this book is heavy. I don’t mean in terms of subject matter, I mean the book itself is literally weighty. I picked it up, and I was caught off guard by its weight. I found out why when I opened it – thick and glossy paper, the kind you just want to run your hands over. This book was expensive to produce and I took a moment to hold it in my hands and appreciate that.

The illustrations by Maira Kalman blew me away. They are colorful and eye-catching and absolutely exquisite. Each one documents an item that is in the box of mementos of their relationship that Min leaves on Ed’s doorstep. I found myself looking forward to turning the pages to see what the next item was and how it would be drawn. A few of them literally took my breath away.

Now, on to the story. This guy can write. Imagine my surprise when I read author Daniel Handler’s bio and discovered that he is the famous Lemony Snicket, creator of the wildly popular Series of Unfortunate Events! This is definitely a departure for him, but the sharp intellectual wit he is known for shines through in his main character, Min. This book is beautifully written. It tells a story that everyone can relate to in one way or another – either the excitement of falling in love, the determination to make a relationship work when two people are wildly different, or the devastation of a break up.

This story goes backwards. In the beginning you know that Min and Ed have broken up, but you don’t know how they got together in the first place or anything about how their relationship evolved or ended. I loved the progression, using the objects in the box to tell their story, and I loved Min. She is smart and outspoken and sassy and unique.

This one is a keeper. I don’t’ think it could possibly be fully appreciated on an e-reader. This is one of those books that is a tactile experience and one that is not soon forgotten. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and fans will thoroughly enjoy going to the website, www.whywebrokeupproject.com to either tell their own story, read those others have shared, or learn more about the author and illustrator.

Enjoy!

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Check back next week for Teacher Tuesday–we’ve got a new list for you!

Super Scoop – The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Just finished up such an interesting book! The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (author of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy). It’s not your run-of-the-mill fantasy story, and in fact, she almost had me believing that the participants in the Scorpio Races, mythical water horses that come out of the sea onto the beaches of the isolated island of Thisby, were just as real as the runners in the Kentucky Derby.  As she said in her Author’s Note at the end of the book, Stiefvater has long been fascinated with the myth of water horses—fierce, flesh-eating horses that emerge from the sea around the month of November, who make the finest mounts available, as long as you can keep them away from the salt water—but she has been pondering for years how to actually write the story.  Well, she’s done a remarkable job, in my opinion.

The story is set on the fictional island of Thisby, off the coast of…perhaps Ireland? The United Kingdom? Not sure.  And it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter one bit that the time is not particularly certain either. Clues are few (there are cars, but no evidence of cell phones) but the timeless nature of the people on Thisby make this detail irrelevant. The place is a ruggedly beautiful island, where life is rooted in thousands of years of tradition.

Seventeen-year-old Puck (Kate) Connolly and her two brothers were orphaned when their parents were killed by the capall uisce (pronounced CAPple ISHka) in a boat on the sea. They have struggled to make ends meet ever since, and Puck’s older brother has finally declared his intentions to leave the island to look for a job on the mainland. In her desperation to get him to stay, Puck throws her hat in for the annual Scorpio Races, where the locals race the barely-tamed capall uisce on the beach, tempting fate in a dangerous race that more often than not results in death for more than one rider.  A female has never raced before, and Puck has a long road ahead of her if she wants to survive.

Even though nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick lost his father at age ten to the Scorpio Races, his dedication to the animals has never faltered. He is the only one on the island with the maybe-magical, maybe-not-so-magical, skills to relate to the beasts as much as anyone can. He has won the races four of the past six years, but this year the stakes are almost impossibly high for Sean.

The story here is not the race itself or even the brutish and often-violent capall uisce, but rather Puck and Sean, their dreams and their powerful ties to the island they live on. I like how Maggie Stiefvater does romance—her YA characters seem to like each other for all the right reasons, and in this case, the romance develops slowly and sweetly. There is a lovely message about finding your own happiness, and how sometimes, that means finding not what you want, but what you need. Horse lovers will relate to both Puck and Sean, and will find the capall uisce fascinating, though sensitive readers should know to expect violent incidents, death and blood.  That’s all forgotten though with the tissue-worthy ending, about which I can reveal no more : ) Enjoy!

-Eden, StorySnoop

And the winner is…

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Are you ready?

Woo hoo!  It’s award season!  And it’s a big day in the book world as the American Library Association has just announced a slew of important awards in Children’s and Young Adult literature. Here are just some of the highlights:

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:

Two Newbery Honor awards were also named:

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:

Four Printz Honor Books also were named:

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

For the complete list of distinguished awards that were announced today, click here.  We are on pins and needles waiting for the YALSA “Best Fiction for Young Adults” lists, which we will bring you as soon as we hear :-)

Enjoy!

–The Snoops

Super Scoop – The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Sometimes the best books are the hardest to review. Such is the case with John Green’s newest book,  The Fault in Our Stars.

Well, of course it is GOOD. It’s by John Green, who has won many prestigious awards for his books and has legions of fans who call themselves “nerdfighters.” Even so, it is perhaps his best work.

This time he writes using a female narrator, 17-year old Hazel. She is razor sharp, funny – and living with terminal cancer. Sound like a downer? Keep reading! Her parents are charming, loving people who are devoted to Hazel, and although Hazel adores them, she’d rather be treated like a normal teen. She doesn’t want to be fussed over, worried about, stared at, or treated differently. She wishes she had a normal life, but knows that because of her circumstances, she “ hadn’t been in proper school in three years. My parents were my two best friends. My third best friend was an author who did not know I existed.”

Suspecting Hazel, who prefers to spend her days watching “America’s Next Top Model” marathons,  may be depressed, her parents send her to a cancer support group for teens. She doesn’t want to spend time with this group and its depressing “rotating cast of characters.”  That is, until the gorgeous Augustus Waters walks in. Charismatic Augustus, a cancer survivor himself,  is there to support his friend, Isaac.  I don’t want to give any more away because this book is completely unpredictable. A love story ensues, adventure occurs, and many side plots entertain and surprise. A life that was not being lived fully – is.

The story is fantastic, the writing is superb, and the characters are all lovable in their own way. It’s an easy read, but it is a thinking person’s read, too. Many references to authors and their works are referenced and quoted such as Dickinson, Whitman, and Shakespeare (from whom the title comes). The characters have quite impressive vocabularies and do much existential questioning of the universe for their young age.  That might not be completely realistic, but it’s totally entertaining and fun to read their witty banter. Symbolism and metaphors abound.

I loved this funny, honest, sensitive, heart-wrenching, and beautiful book.

Who would like it? Everyone. Not for the extremely sensitive or young reader, because you will require a Kleenex or two, but both teen boys and girls (but oh, especially girls!) would love this book. And their teachers. And their parents. And pretty much anyone who likes a great read.

Am I too old to be a nerdfighter?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

New Today–Teacher Tuesday!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Last month, we blogged some read-aloud suggestions for the classroom here, and the response was amazing! We love teachers here at StorySnoops. If we can help make your job just a teeny bit easier, well, that just makes our day :-)

In honor of you educators, we’ll be devoting one blog a month to all things education. We’ll be dishing about great read-alouds for all ages, book report suggestions, and books that will make for great classroom discussions. Looking for books for those reluctant readers?  Trying to find age-appropriate books for that nine year-old in your class who is reading three grade levels ahead?  We can help you out with those books, too.

For January, let’s begin the year with some more read-alouds…

Since you are never too old to be read to, here are some books that would be especially enjoyed in a 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classroom.

Happy Reading!

The Snoops

Listen up teachers…

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

In my last post, I talked about how challenging it could be to find that “just right’ book for a classroom read aloud. It must be wholesome while still having depth. And, most importantly, it has to be entertaining so the kids will WANT to listen to it.

I just read the book Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and think it would be a perfect read aloud book for both home and the classroom. First of all – it’s completely wholesome. Secondly, there is an atmosphere of mystery, magic, and suspense that will hook your students And as a bonus, this book is beautifully written. The imagery, symbolism, and many literary devices used in this book – could prompt no end of teachable moments,

As a mom, I adored the loveable and flawed main character, Hazel. She took me right back to fifth grade, and how hard it can be to fit in. The imagery was spectacular, and of course, I love to read my kids a good modern fairy tale with a strong female heroine. I also liked that it challenged my mind.

It was not predictable, and left me thinking about the story and what it all meant. This is why I’m certain this book would have wide appeal, from about third grade on up to at least eighth, or beyond if the reader didn’t mind a fifth-grade protagonist.

I loved that this book was magical –  but still managed to be real, and the characters lives were far from perfect. Of course, I am a sucker for a book about growing up and coming of age, so this book checks all my boxes, so to speak.

For teachers, I think the value of this book multiplies. It is squeaky clean and features both a boy and girl as main characters. The characters are those that every kid can relate to.  As for literary devices – take your pick as this book features all of them. You could analyze and this book for days. Plus, the plot is discussion-worthy, the characters complex, and the messages – fantastic. Whether you are a teacher or just a reader, check out this little gem of a book.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop – Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Sometimes I get lucky with spontaneous book selections, and sometimes I don’t.  A few weeks ago, luck was on my side when I stumbled upon Streams of Babel, by Carol Plum-Ucci, while perusing the audiobook shelf at the library. In this case, the cover description hints at an interesting premise, but as with many characters in the book, there is more to this story than meets the eye.

It begins when seventeen-year-old Cora Holman’s mother dies of a brain aneurysm in their home. Cora is not entirely surprised by this turn of events since her mother has been a morphine addict for years. But after her neighbors Scott and Owen Eberman’s mother suffers a similar death within twenty-four hours, suspicions are raised. And when all three teens begin to exhibit the same flu-like symptoms as their deceased mothers, it becomes virtually impossible to deny that this is more than just a coincidence, particularly since the daughter of a United States Intelligence Coalition supervisor has also become ill.

Determined to contain the virus, if in fact it is one, vigilant paramedic Scott arranges an unofficial quarantine at Cora’s house. At first, Cora is horrified that her pathetic lack of friends and family will be discovered by this group that is revered at school, but their shared experience begins to break down the barriers between them, whether real or self-imposed.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy is hard at work as the USIC’s secret weapon in the fight against terrorism. A virtual spy, or v-spy, Shahzad Hamdani has picked up some extremist chatter about a lethal and undetectable substance called Red Vinegar that will kill many people in Colony One. Will Shahzad discover the contents of Red Vinegar and the location of Colony One in time?

Set in New Jersey six months after 9/11, Streams of Babel is a gripping thriller that offers so much more than an all too feasible tale of bioterrorism. The story is chock-full of discussion material and teen characters that are richly developed, authentic, and relatable. In addition to themes of terrorism and courage, there is an underlying theme about perception versus reality, and how our own internal dialogues can be vastly different from how we are perceived by others.

Cora sees herself as unworthy of friendship, while others perceive her as perfect–from behavior to appearance. To protect herself from the shame of having an addict mother, Cora has built an impenetrable emotional wall around herself. A former photojournalist, Cora’s mother Aleese was absent for most of Cora’s life and emotionally abusive during the four years they did live together. But after discovering videos of Aleese in Mogadishu, Cora realizes that before the pivotal event that took away her ability to photograph and will to live, Aleese was unquestionably courageous and fiercely committed to her beliefs. And when the teens Cora has looked up to for years stand behind her throughout this discovery and their shared illness, her walls finally start to crumble.

Known as the quintessential jock who is universally adored, there is also much more to Owen than meets the eye. Prone to bouts of overwhelming sadness over the state of the world, the compulsively empathetic Owen refuses to judge the terrorists who have poisoned him and his family without first trying to understand them. Also stereotyped as a golden boy, Owen’s older brother Scott is extremely responsible, extraordinarily bright, and driven to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of his mother.

Shazhad is an interesting and complex character who provides valuable insight into a culture with which many readers are unfamiliar. Determined not to miss any bits of intelligence that could prevent the death of innocent people, Shazhad’s job as a v-spy for the USIC weighs heavily on him. Tyler Ping, another highly skilled hacker, is an irreverent and fascinating character whose mother is a spy for North Korea. Emotionally broken by the combination of his mother’s secret and her inattentiveness, Tyler has no sense of self-preservation–as if he wants to get in trouble so that his mother will be discovered without having to betray her himself.

All told, a riveting plot and intriguing characters make Streams of Babel a worthwhile read that is difficult to put down. And the really good news…there’s a sequel. Fire Will Fall is officially at the top of my to-read list!  Enjoy.

-Jen, StorySnoop

Super Scoop – Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

How lucky am I that I got to read this extraordinary gem? I was absolutely enchanted by this beautiful book, equal parts fairy-tale and ghost story. Clearly, a great deal of love and care was taken in the writing of this book, and I understood where that came from when I read the author’s note at the end. (You will have to read it to fully appreciate this.)

Liesl’s father has passed away, and she has been locked in the attic at the hand of her evil stepmother for 13 months. Outside the sun has stopped shining, and has not come out in over a thousand days. When Liesl encounters friendly ghost Po in her attic room, he helps her exchange messages with her deceased father. With Po’s help, she escapes the attic, and sets off on a mission to return her father’s ashes to a special place. Will is an indentured servant, slaving away as assistant to the alchemist. When Will accidentally switches the delivery of a box of powerful magic with a box that happens to hold Liesl’s father’s ashes, he sets off a chain of events that lead their paths to cross. Liesl and Po join forces with Will as they set off on an extraordinary and oftentimes dangerous journey.

The black and white illustrations, generously interspersed throughout, are the perfect complement and add greatly to the story. Liesl & Po tells a tale of generosity conquering greed, of good triumphing over evil, and of a journey to restore color and vibrance to a cold and gray world. When everything falls into place the sun shines again after 1728 days of a gray and lifeless existence, and evil characters get their just desserts. This wholesome and meaningful story will appeal to both boys and girls, to reluctant readers as well and would make an excellent read aloud.

I am grateful that this book was on my list and that I had the opportunity to lose myself in it for a little while. I folded down many pages of outstanding passages and quotable quotes. I particularly loved this, “And the endlessly long winter had at last turned to spring. From life to death and back again to life. It was indeed the greatest magic in the world.” Lauren Oliver, it meant something to me.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

New Year’s Resolution

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

At this time of year, we Snoops not only like to reflect on what we’ve read over the past twelve months, we also like to look ahead and consider how we can make the website even better. But to create our list of StorySnoops New Year’s resolutions, we need your feedback. What could be improved about the site? Are there books that we have missed or features you’d like to see more of? How about a new theme for our suggested reading lists? All ideas and suggestions are welcome. Please help us make StorySnoops the best resource it can be by leaving a comment. We look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers!

The Snoops