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 March, 2012

Let’s Hear it for the Books of 2012!

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

It’s already March and I have to say, 2012 has been an awesome year for books so far. If you think they published all the great books in time for Christmas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

First, and with much media buzz surrounding it, John Green waited until the New Year to drop his next powerhouse of a book. Lucky me – The Fault in Our Stars was the first thing I read in 2012 and what a treat it was. I wrote all about here. It left me seriously wondering, “What could possibly come out in 2012 that is BETTER than this?” We’ll see…..

I read two fantastic middle grade books about segregation in the same week. Glory Be takes place in the 1960′s, the story centering on the closure of the town’s segregated swimming pool. The Lions of Little Rock takes place in the 1950′s, a year after the incident with the Little Rock Nine. It is a heartwarming story about a friendship between two girls of separate races. In both books, a female Caucasian main character becomes aware of the racial injustices that surround her. Once her eyes are opened, she must speak out. There are some awesome teachable moments in these books.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis is another very well written historical fiction book for middle graders, which celebrates the perseverance of African Americans during tough times. Set during the Depression, the main character, Deza, goes from being the brightest girl in her class to being homeless in a shantytown when her father loses his job. As an African American, it is that much harder for her father to find work, but this family, and Deza, never lose hope or their admirable spirit. Another wonderful teachable book!

There Is No Dog is like nothing else I have read this year, but boy, was it funny! It was written with the premise,” What if… God was a teenage boy? A spoiled, moody, girl-crazy, teenage boy?” You will have to read the book to find out, but I can tell you this – it’s hilarious!

These are just some of the 2012 books I have read. I know my three fellow Snoops have some others they are itching to add to this list.

What about you? Do you have a book you’d like to add to this list? What’s your favorite read of 2012 so far?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop–Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Oh boy did I love the book I just finished! Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.  This book was a huge award-winner in Australia, and now that it has been released in the U.S., I hope it gets similar recognition over here. It’s a tense speed read of a romance, in a raw, emotionally-risky and intelligent way—not the least bit syrupy sweet.

High school seniors Lucy, Jazz, and Daisy, Daisy’s boyfriend Dylan and his two buddies Leo and Ed find themselves out looking for an all-night adventure to celebrate their graduation.  As the book jacket says, “We’ve got at least seven hours to get what we want before the sun comes up,” and that about sums up the anticipatory mood for the evening. When four of the kids quickly couple up, Lucy finds herself stuck with Ed, who she hasn’t seen in two years since she punched him and broke his nose after he grabbed her butt on their one and only date. But he does have one thing to offer her now, and that is the promise to help her find Shadow, the elusive and mysterious graffiti artist whose work speaks to Lucy in ways that her non-artist friends can’t understand.  She has a rather unhealthy obsession with Shadow that she wants to end by finally meeting him face to face.

And okay, I’ll just say what you are probably already thinking. Ed is Shadow. And I’m not giving anything away by saying that because the author says it in the second chapter. But of course Lucy doesn’t know this, and the evening chronicles Ed and Lucy getting to know each other all over again.  And let me just say that this is not a smooth evening! They had a false start at getting together two years prior when they were attracted to each other enough to go on their date. But things happened (or didn’t happen) and they both left that experience feeling hurt and disappointed, without either giving a second thought to the fact that they might not be alone in their feelings. Too bad they didn’t  talk then, but if they did, we wouldn’t have had this great book to read!

Ed is a rich, loyal character, full of self-doubt because he has dropped out of school. He struggles with learning because, as he says, words “don’t stick in his head” and he sees his future as bleak. The only way he can comfortably express himself is through paint and color. Lucy is a feisty, well-read apprentice glass-blower whose ideas of love and romance come straight from Jane Austen novels.  She is certain that she and Shadow will have an instant connection when they meet, and watching her bumpy transition from being in love with a phantom character to noticing the very real Ed is fabulous.

I made lots and lots of notes about this book as I read (I’m all set if I have to write an essay at some point!), but I won’t give too much away. It was an interesting combination of taut speed-read and delicious character development.  It’s for teens—there isn’t much in the sex/booze/language department, but the personal backgrounds and emotions, and the descriptions of what art means to each of them is for somewhat more mature readers. It’s a smart romance with lots to talk about afterwards. Book clubs? Yes. Book report for a high schooler? Yep. Would guys like it? Quite likely—it’s not a froofy read.  In addition to the budding relationship, there is a burglary subplot, a debt-collecting bully, and a tough guy poet who writes some really great verse.  Check it out.

-Eden, StorySnoop

Calling all tween girls who like to “read up”…

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

There are just some girls who are a bit ahead of the game. From their wardrobe to their reading habits, these girls tend to push the edge of the envelope. My own daughter has given me much insight on the subject. Enough said.

So what do you do when you have a tweenage girl who is a strong reader and a bit precocious?  It can be a delicate balance between giving her relevant books and being careful not to introduce teen themes that she is not quite ready to tackle.

If you know a tween girl like this, The Gallagher Girls is the perfect choice.  It is a clever, squeaky-clean series featuring a smart, capable, and independent teenage girl.  Not your ordinary teen, Cameron “the Chameleon” Morgan has a genius IQ, a CIA pedigree, and attends the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women – an elite boarding school for young spies. Each book in the series is filled with spy action and suspense, and is narrated by Cammie with humor and insight as she deals with typical (mild) teen issues, like makeup and boys, in atypical situations. She is an excellent role model who demonstrates loyalty, academic responsibility, and resourcefulness.  For tweens curious about romance, Cammie does have a couple of love-interests over the course of the series, but boy-girl interactions are completely wholesome.

The fifth installment in the series, Out of Sight, Out of Time, was just released and is perhaps the best one yet.  It begins when Cammie wakes up in a remote convent in October, but has no recollection of how she got there or where she has been since she left the Gallagher Academy in June.  Filled with action, suspense, and surprising plot twists, this book could stand alone, but is probably best enjoyed following the other books in the series. Those who get hooked by Cammie and her crusades will be happy to know that the series will continue in book six.

Happy Reading!   -Jen, StorySnoop

Why I’d Like to Buy Suzanne Collins a Drink : Three Generations of Hunger Games Fans in One Family

Monday, March 19th, 2012

By now, the fact that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is an awesome series that everyone loves, young and old(er), and that the movie comes out next week  – it’s old news. But in my house, The Hunger Games seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.

My daughter read it last summer and has been counting down the days to see her new heroes light up the movie screen. I love the sense of “girl power” that book gave her. She even made her own bow and arrow, inspired by the book’s butt-kicking protagonist, Katniss. Rock on, sister!

Lately, she and my mother have been discussing the book. My mom is ripping through the series and loving every minute of it. How special (and amusing) that this series spans a 53-year age gap in my family.

The Hunger Games mania keeps on spreading in my house. My oldest, a junior in high school, as many of you know, was once a voracious reader and just quit around 7th grade. Life was never the same for him after the Harry Potter series ended, and he pretty much just kept reading that series over and over. We had some brief success with John Green books, but all in all he stubbornly stayed a devout J.K. Rowling worshipper.

Well, what do you know? He came home yesterday with The Hunger Games from his school library – half-read in one day. And – for real – he turned his X-box off after dinner to read. Yes, he really, really did such a thing. When he got home from school today he was almost finished with the first book – only 5 more pages to go.  He was “saving the last 5 pages” because he didn’t want it to end. Silly boy, there are two more books!

We’ll be in the theater this opening week; my daughter, her book club and I. Oh, and the book club parents (who are also big fans) want to come, too. And my mom.  And I think (though I don’t want to jinx it) that my oldest will come, too. Though nothing can take that special place of Harry Potter for him, this might be a new tradition, one that three generations of my family can enjoy together.

Are you going too?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Super Scoop – The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The Disenchantments? I think not – VERY enchanting actually. A turquoise VW bus, three teenage girl band members, one teen boy best friend, and a week-long tour, all amounts to… one hell of a story. This story is reminiscent of another time – late sixties, early seventies perhaps – possibly due to the music the characters love, possibly due to their alternative parents, possibly due to the very nature of the funky towns in which they stop. For whatever reason, this story feels a bit like a step back in time, and a fantastic one at that.

The relationship between Colby and Bev becomes complicated. Best friends, though Colby has been in love with her for years, they learn things about one another that are surprising and hurtful. The teen characters in this story share exceptional and supportive relationships, thoroughly love and enjoy one another, and make you wish you were part of their journey.

A perfect choice for music and art lovers, these teens have recently graduated from an art-focused high school and are passionate about music, drawing, sculpture and theater. Their love of both performing and listening to music is beautiful and meaningful, and also contagious – it got me to listen to my favorite Supremes song : )

The journey they embark on is physical as well as emotional and leads them places they didn’t anticipate. Getting to go along for the ride, vicariously anyway, is a pleasure, and one the reader won’t want to end.

The summer after high school is such a turning point, and this one is documented in the form of a road trip like no other, with photographs, drawings, carvings, tattoos and incredible memories. The characters are so well formed and so authentic, you won’t want to let them go. The older teen girl readers in your lives who can appreciate a powerful journey, forks in the road, music, love, art and extraordinary friendships will thoroughly enjoy this fantastic read.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Heard a good joke lately? Books for your comedy-minded kid

Monday, March 12th, 2012

I’m not quite sure how it’s happened. Three out of four members of my family are enthusiastic, if not downright voracious, readers. Yeah! But the fourth member of our family, my tween son, is…a reluctant reader. Don’t get me wrong, he loves books. He loves to own books, he loves to check books out at the library. Books of all kinds. He just doesn’t really enjoy reading them.

The secret to inspiring a reluctant reader is finding his just-right book. While we’ve had varying amounts of success with different types of books, one theme that has consistently been a hit with my son is humor. Like so many boys in his age group, he loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And we rejoiced! A book he finished and loved–oh happy day! And fortunately for my son and other boys like him, there are lots of other books out there that are, if not of a pure comedy genre, at least full of enough humor to tickle the funny bone, and hold the interest, of even the most reluctant reader. So pick one of these up and see what your son thinks…

Have a good giggle!

–Eden, StorySnoop

It’s World Read Aloud Day!

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

I will never forget my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, reading my class the book Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E.L. Konigsburg. It is one of my favorite books from my childhood, most likely because I have such fond memories of those days in the classroom, sitting with my classmates, hanging on Mrs. Sullivan’s every word, so eager to find out what would happen next.

Today, March 7, 2012 is World Read Aloud Day, and is a great opportunity to look at the importance of reading aloud to children. According to the Commission on Reading, ‘The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.’

When you read aloud to your child, or to any child for that matter, you are not only providing them with important downtime, you are improving their reading skills, their written, oral and auditory skills, you are teaching them grammatical form and story structure, and you are helping them associate reading with pleasure. Reading aloud to children stimulates language, cognitive skills, builds motivation, curiosity and memory and it helps to foster a love of literature.

Children listen at a higher reading level than they read. When you read a child a story that is slightly more advanced than their independent reading level, you expose children to new vocabulary and allow them to enjoy material beyond their own reading abilities.

No child is too young or too old to be read to.

I have loved reading books to my children, and I would bet that they would tell you that they loved being read to. We have some of our very favorites still on the shelf and every once in awhile we get them out and read them again. The books themselves are beloved to us, but so are the memories of sitting and enjoying the story together.

So, in the spirit of World Read Aloud Day, make a trip to the library, stop by the bookstore, stock up from an online retailer or load up your e-reader. The world of children’s literature is full of exciting, engaging an extraordinary writing and stories that are just begging to be read – and I bet there are some children in your life who would love to hear them, from you.

-Tiffany, StorySnoop

Teacher Tuesday (even though it’s only Monday!)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

We love teachers at StorySnoops so the first Tuesday of every month is Teacher Tuesday. We’ll be providing our unique form of children’s book reviews–written from a parent’s perspective–to help teachers select the perfect read-aloud for their classroom, or make book suggestions for those tricky reluctant readers, or stimulate discussions about moments in history. And if you teachers have any requests, please let us know!

This month, we’re featuring read-alouds that have mythological themes.  If you’re working on a mythology unit in your classroom, these crowd-pleasers may be a fun addition (ages 8-12).

Norse mythology

Lexile 820L

Norse mythology

Lexile 670L

Egyptian mythology

Lexile 650L

Egyptian mythology

Lexile 710L

Greek Mythology

Lexile 660L

Greek and Roman Mythology

Lexile 640L


-The Snoops