Thursday, April 30, 2015

Billy Sure, Kid Entrepreneur

Billy Sure, Kid Entrepreneur
Luke Sharpe
Graham Ross, Illustrator
Simon & Schuster, 2015  160 pgs
Grades 3-6
Billy Sure series #1

Billy Sure is having a great summer.  After inventing the "All Ball", a ball that can change from one kind of ball to another with just the click of a remote, he has become rich and famous.  Billy and his friend Manny have set up a business called "Sure Things, INC", and the All Ball has become the must-have of the summer season.  Billy is making the rounds on TV shows and meeting famous people.  Things calm down as Billy must start his seventh grade year at school.  Fellow students, teachers, and even the principal are treating him differently and everyone wants either money or help marketing their own inventions.  Meanwhile, Billy is out of ideas for his next creation.  Billy and Manny have a great solution.  They set-up a website encouraging kids to submit their invention ideas and Sure Thing, INC will develop and produce them.  Billy hires his pain-in-the-neck older sister to help sift through the ideas and she uncovers "The Sibling Silencer".  Its a great idea, but Billy must tinker with the initial plans to make it actually work.  The problem is: Billy doesn't think that he was the one who figured out the All Ball.  The plans appeared on his desk one morning.  After confessing his dilemma to Manny, His friend comes up with a solution, proving Billy the true inventor of the All Ball, as well as the newly developed Sibling Silencer.  The next big thing is underway, but there is still a strange problem.  Billy's mom, who is a scientist working in the field far away, has been out of signal reach to send an e-mail.  Yet who has been sending e-mails asking about his new ideas using his mom's name and account?  This provides a hook to the next projected adventure: Billy Sure, Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular, released simultaneously.

Welcome to Billy Sure, the latest cartoon-hybrid series aimed at the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Crowd.  The book's title is a bit deceiving.  Billy, although rich, is more of an inventor than a true entrepreneur.  His friend Manny manages the business side, leaving Billy to the inventing and acting as the "face" of Sure thing, INC.  What sets this series apart from some of its counterparts is that there is a bit of a science element, perhaps encouraging readers to invent something of their own.  Also, the book offers a bit of a mystery: who is actually doing the inventing?  Throughout the whole book, humor reigns and the cartoons offered by Graham Ross further add to the fun.  Billy is a likable and regular boy with regular kid problems that readers will identify with.  A perfect choice for boys, girls will like this series as well.  I would recommend Billy Sure to all readers, especially reluctant ones.  The series will be popular and is a cut above the average offerings in this genre.  The little hook at the end, leaving readers wondering who sent Billy the e-mails under Mom's name, will encourage readers to run to the second book.  Two more books are scheduled to be released in August and November.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Castle Hangnail

Castle Hangnail
Ursula Vernon
Dial, 2015  372 pgs
Grades 3-5

Veteran author, Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath series), offers a new story for a slightly older audience.  Twelve-year-old Molly arrives at Castle Hangnail in response to an invitation to be their new resident witch: an invitation not intended for her, but her nasty neighbor, Eudaimonia.  The quirky but lovable minions of the castle are unconvinced of Molly's skills, but Molly eventually wins them over with her ingenuity, attitude, and kindness.  She also wins over the bats and moles who reside in the castle, various neighbors and townspeople, and a donkey she turns into a dragon.  The castle is in disrepair and financial ruin and Molly devises plans to raise some money for much needed repairs, all while fending off an over-ambitious real estate agent.  Molly passes all of the tests required by the Board and looks as if she is here to stay.  Quite unexpectedly, her former neighbor and nemesis, Eudaimonia, appears determined to take her rightful place as the master of the castle.  After a brief loss of confidence and retreat, Molly returns resolved to fight for what she believes is now hers.  The minions agree and pledge their loyalty and assistance to Molly.  Through a cunning use of teamwork, witchcraft, and resourcefulness, the housemates manage to defeat Eudaimonia and her henchmen in an epic battle.  Peace is restored at the castle.  Yet one problem remains: will Molly be allowed by her parents to stay at Castle Hangnail or be forced to return home now that "camp" is over.

Although longer and more involved that the Dragonbreath series, Vernon again offers a well-crafted fantasy world infused with interesting characters and humor.  Castle Hangnail has a great plot that never lags.  It rolls along from one crisis to another, all building up to the final show-down.  Through it all, the humor never lets up, even during the most critical battle.  This is a perfect choice for reluctant readers.  Castle Hangnail provides non-stop action and fun right up tho the very last page.  Little bats are in the margins of every page, adding a little extra interest.  Cartoon-like illustrations further make the book accessible to readers and makes the book read quickly.  Molly is a "regular girl", although a magical one, who children will relate to.  Unlike Harry Potter, who struggles with his special abilities, Molly embraces them and throws herself head-first into this magical environment.  The minions are the true stars of the story.  From the guardian/butler of the castle, Majordomo, to the Minotaur cook and the castle tailor, Pins, a stuffed creature made of burlap.  All of the characters are eccentric and appealing.  The evil sorceress/neighbor,  Eudaimonia, is deliciously vile and provides the perfect foil for the lovable creatures who reside in the castle.  Both boys and girls will enjoy this book and I would recommend it for all readers, including those who don't generally read fantasy.  The book ends with the promise of Molly staying on at the castle, so, hopefully, this means that further adventures await.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Andrew Clements
Atheneum, 2011  160 pgs
Grades 5-7
Realistic Fiction/School Story

Sixth-grader Clay can't help causing trouble.  His file at school is extremely thick and he is a regular visitor to Principal Kelling's office.  His latest incident involves drawing a picture in art class of the principal as a donkey (or "jackass").  The teacher sends him to see the big man himself and he goes gleefully and unrepentant.  All changes when Clay's brother Mitchell, whom he idolizes, is released from prison.  Mitchell has reformed and forces Clay to do the same.  He promises Mitchell he will no longer get into ANY trouble. cuts his long hair, and starts to dress conservatively.  Clay's best friend and partner in crime, Hank, is confused and angry at the transformation.  When Clay's art work is sabotaged and he is framed for vandalism, he tries to figure out who is responsible, with unexpected results.  Changing his bad-boy ways doesn't come easy for Clay, but in time he starts to enjoy the results of achieving and good behavior.

A former teacher, Clements is the master of the school story.  He expertly captures the flavor, workings, and hierarchy of a school setting and knows how kids think and speak.  He also manages to uncover common everyday situations that students encounter and subtly demonstrates how to manage them.  Kids will relate to Clay's story.  Even if they aren't troublemakers, they know someone who is.  Clay does not intend to be bad; he is simply following in his beloved big brother's footsteps.  Once reformed, Clay is aware of the error of his ways and demonstrates character growth and maturity.  Even though the cover looks like a typical Clement's school story, because of the subject matter, Troublemaker is a bit more serious than Clements usual fair and lacks his characteristic humor.  Also, it is intended for a slightly older audience than, let's say. Frindle.  Topics such as vandalism, incarceration, and some cursing are involved, so it is recommended for older elementary and middle school readers.  Both boys and girls will enjoy this book.  It is a great choice for reluctant readers and for kids "too cool" for reading.  It also would work well as a classroom read-aloud.  This book also has an anti-bullying message, which makes it very relevant to today's culture.  you can't go wrong with Andrew Clements and this book is a great edition to his already bulging shelf.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Saint Anything

Saint Anything
Sarah Dessen
Viking, 2015 417 pgs.
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction, Romance

Sydney's life is on hold.  Her constantly troubled brother, Peyton, has recently been arrested for a drunk driving accident, which landed a teenage boy in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Sydney's mother is frantically trying to connect with Peyton and advocate for him, while her father is distant and emotionally checked-out.  Because of legal fees and embarrassment, Sydney must leave behind the exclusive prep school she attended all her life and attend the local public high school.  Here she becomes friends with two siblings who's parents own a pizza parlor.  Layla becomes Sydney's best friend, someone who understands what she is going through without judgement.  Layla makes it very clear that her brother, Mac, is off-limits.  As the school year progresses, Layla falls in love with a local bad-boy, forcing Mac and Sydney to spend more time alone together and, eventually, fall in love.  They keep their relationship a secret, until one fatal night when after a bad choice all is revealed and Sydney lands in a lot of trouble with her parents, resulting in sever lock-down.  Meanwhile, a family friend of Peyton's is lurking around the house offering support, but creeps Sydney out.  Her parents trust him and leave the two of them alone often, which makes Sydney uncomfortable.  Finally, Sydney must disobey her parents in order to support Mac and Layla when their critically ill mother lands in the hospital.  It is during her escape that the situation with Ames (the family friend) comes to a head and her parents are forced to see her for who she is.

Saint Anything is deeper than romance writer Sarah Dessen's usual fare.  Issues such as a family member's incarceration, a parent struggling with Multiple Sclerosis, and rape are all explored.  The many serious issues take place in front of the backdrop of Dessen's characteristic romance and the ups and downs involved.  The two lovers in questions in this book (Sydney and Mac) have very few struggles working their relationship out, it serves more as a subplot between the greater issues.  For older teens, this book raises some mature issues and contains content not meant for a younger audience, such as teen drinking and recreational drug use.  Dessen draws her main character very well, showing much growth through out the book.  Sydney goes from an "invisible" and lonely teenager, who lives her life through reality television, to a strong and independent young woman, capable of making her own decisions and fighting back.  Layla, Sydney's friend, is also an interesting character and has some funny lines.  The rest of the characters are a bit one-dimensional.  The book reads quickly and is hard to put down, characteristic of Dessen's books.  The first person narration encourages readers to relate to Sydney and identify with her struggles.  Considering all of the issues faced during the book, the end gets wrapped up a bit too neatly and Sydney gets a "happily ever after", working everything out with her parents, best friend, and brother, all in the last few pages.  Creepy family friend is eliminated and all is well with the boyfriend.  The book ends with Sydney facing up to her brother's victim, looking for forgiveness and redemption.  Teens will find a lot of content here, along with a great story-line and the romance that they come to depend on from Sarah Dessen.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Annie Barrows
Chronicle, 2006  113 pgs.
Grades 2-4
Ivy+Bean Series #1

Enter the world of Ivy and Bean and be prepared for fun!  Ivy and Bean are neighbors in a suburban American town.  Both of their mothers encourage them to play with the other, but they both dismiss the suggestion.  Because she always wears dresses, has perfect hair, and is constantly reading, Bean is convinced that Ivy is boring.  While playing a trick on her horrible older sister, Nancy, Bean gets into a jam.  Ivy saves her and the two become best friends.  They have more in common than Bean thought possible.  Ivy is training to be a witch and has a costume with face-paint and a book of magic spells to prove it.  The new friends concoct a scheme to get Bean out of trouble and further torture Bean's sister that involves slinking around the neighbor's yards and spying.  The plan blows up in their faces, but no matter.  A friendship is formed and new adventures await.  Nine more books follow in the series, which do not need to be read in order and promise more simple fun and mayhem.

Ivy and Bean bring back that nostalgic American ideal of childhood.  Playing at friend's houses, running around the neighborhood, long and unstructured afternoons and weekends, mothers at home who fix snacks.  Reading these books are a comforting trip back in time and feel fresh out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Children instinctively love the freedom and simplicity of the lives of Ivy and Bean and will read this comforting and humorous chapter-book series with gusto.  The main order of the day is generally sister torture, but Ivy and Bean also manage to create science experiments, manage their own summer camp in the park, and solve mysteries in the series.  Admittingly, I've read some of the series before.  I re-read a few of the titles to prepare for an upcoming "Ivy and Bean Celebration" at my library for the children on spring break.  I enjoyed the series just as much the second time around and found myself laughing out-loud as I read.  Kids will also find the hi-jinx hilarious and eat these books up, all while longing to be part of the fun.  Barrows nails the humor for this audience and thinks like a child.  Perfect for children just starting chapters, the vocabulary is spot-on, the margins are wide, and the font is large.  Humorous pencil illustrations (by Sophie Blackall) appear on almost every page.  Even though the main characters are both girls, boys will like this series as well.  A popular series of books in my library for almost ten years, Ivy and Bean will be around for many years to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Isla and the Happily Ever After

Isla and the Happily Ever After
Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2014  339 pgs
Grades 9-Up

Isla runs into her longtime crush Josh (first seen in the companion novel Anna and the French Kiss) during the summer at a small cafe in New York City after she has just had her wisdom teeth removed and is on heavy-duty pain killers.  They have an encounter and Josh helps her back to her house.  Forward fast two months.  The new school year has begun at the international boarding school in Paris, where both Isla and Josh are starting their senior year.  Sparks fly, but a series of miscommunications keep them from crossing the line in their relationship.  One obstacle is Kurt, Isla's best friend who has a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome.  Josh assumes the friends are a couple and Kurt struggles with sharing Isla.   Finally, Ilsa and Josh become a couple and fall madly in love.  They travel together for a magical weekend in Barcelona, where they are missed upon their return and in big trouble.  Josh, who already has a series of infractions, is expelled and sent back to the states.  Isla remains at school, yet must suffer through daily detention.  The relationship continues despite the long distance and Josh's father's very high-profile political campaign,  Josh, an illustrator, shares with Isla his graphic biography of the past four years at boarding school.  Ilsa becomes very jealous of the portrayal of his ex-girl friend and becomes insecure.  Josh takes offense at her constructive comments and a huge argument ensues, resulting in a tragic and messy break-up.  Back in France, Ilsa is miserable.  Kurt makes new friends, leaving her feeling further alone.  The book climaxes with a reunion of the former couple, including the characters of Perkins first two books in the series all coming together with a surprising conclusion.

I love me some Stephanie Perkins.  Her books are light, fluffy, and highly addictive.  She writes in the first person with very relatable characters, which enables the reader to experience falling in love through the characters eyes.  Ilsa and the Happily Ever After is the  long-awaited final book in her trilogy containing Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door.  They are a loose trilogy, connected only by similar writing style, themes and structure and reoccurring characters.  Isla is much like the first two:  two people are attracted to each other, have a hard time connecting, finally connect, obstacles break them apart, then they get together at the end for their "happily ever after".  This third book is bit different than the other two in that it feels a bit more mature and was more graphic.  There are sexual situations and drinking, making it more appropriate for an older teen audience.  Girls are the natural demographic for this book and will eat it up, just like the others in the series.  Perkin's books are like delicious candy and once you start reading one of her books, its impossible to put down.  At my library we can't keep our Stephanie Perkins books on the shelves and I'm sure that this book will be no exception.  Now that the planned trilogy is over I am curious to see what direction Perkins will move onto next.  Whatever it is, I'm sure to read it!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Death Cloud

Death Cloud
Andrew Lane
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011  336 pgs.
Grades 7-10
Mystery/Adventure/Historical Fiction
Series: Sherlock Holmes: the Legend Begins #1

What was Sherlock Holmes like as a teenager?  Lane explores the youth of this famous character in this series for young people.  Sherlock is just completing his term at boarding school when his brother, Mycroft, whisks him away to stay with estranged relatives in their quiet British country house.  What starts out as a boring summer heats up as Sherlock makes a new friend, street urchin Maddy, and starts working with unconventional American tutor, Amyus Crowe.  Crowe and Sherlock discover a body in the woods and, after a second body is discovered, set out to find the cause of death.  The local doctor thinks the plague has returned, but Crowe is not so sure. Eventually it is discovered that the men have died of bee stings and the bees are tracked down to the evil and sickly Baron Maupertuis.  After much digging around, Sherlock is captured by the Barron and almost killed.  Sherlock  escapes and the investigation continues, taking the whole company, including Crowe's daughter Virginia, to London.  After a hair-raising chase through the slums of London and a brutal tunnel fire, Sherlock and Virginia are again captured by the Barron, drugged, and dragged to France.  Once in France the Barron attempts to kill Sherlock off for good.  First he has a big "Scooby-Doo" confession in which he reveals his whole evil plot of killing the entire British army by killer bee stings and his motivation for doing so to Sherlock since he is about to be killed anyways.  Again, Sherlock escapes with Virginia and the group returns to England.  The Barron is still at large, but the bee plan is thwarted.  What further adventures await Sherlock?  Find out in the next installment: Rebel Fire.

Sherlock Holmes has recently experienced a resurgence thanks to the new-ish BBC series Sherlock, which has become a cult favorite with smart teenagers.  Teens are turning to the original adventures of Sherlock Homes, but many find them tough going and a little dry.  The new television series takes the original stories, puts them in a contemporary setting, and stars the dashing Benedict Cumbererbatch, a far cry from Arthur Conan Doyle's character.  The series Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins is a perfect choice for teens interested in Sherlock Holmes, but not quiet ready to tackle the originals.  Lane imagines what Sherlock was like as a teenager, how he got into his hobbies enjoyed in adulthood (playing the violin, boxing, beekeeping), and, perhaps most importantly, how he developed his keen reasoning skills.  Lane takes some creative license with the character in order to make him accessible to a teen audience.  The plot is a bit frantic and moves quickly, again to appeal to teens.  This series feels similar to the "James Bond Adventures" series, featuring Bond as a teenager, by Higson and is more thriller than mystery.  The mystery is there, but takes a back seat the action and adventure.  This will appeal to reluctant readers and those interested in adventure and Lane never stops delivering the action and plot twists.  Featuring a well known character will create a ready-made audience for the book and perhaps encourage kids to pick it up.  In the process the reader will learn a bit about nineteenth century life in England, beekeeping, and logic.  Is this the best mystery ever written?  Perhaps not, but it is time well spent and an enjoyable read.