Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Great Good Summer

The Great Good Summer
Liz Garton Scanlon
Simon and Schuster, 2015  213 pgs
Grades 3-6
Realistic Fiction

Welcome to the fictionalized town of Loomer, Texas, a small town where churches out number Quik Marts.  Ivy Green's having a terrible summer before seventh grade.  Her mother has run off with a bible-thumping preacher, Hallelujah Dave to the pan-handle of Florida, home of The Great Good Bible Church.  Ivy spends her time babysitting the neighbor kids and watching schoolmate, Paul, launch his model rockets.  Ivy's father tries to make life as normal as possible for her, but the missing and worry grow too big.  Finally Ivy and Paul concoct a plan to take a bus from Texas to Florida to find Ivy's mom and so Paul can visit the Kennedy Space Center.  The trip isn't the glorious adventure the young people thought it would be.  At a sketchy bus station along the way Ivy gets her money stolen, leaving them serious strapped for cash.  A creepy guy on the bus makes them both uncomfortable, until he reveals himself to be a good guy and actually helps them get into the Florida jail, where they discover that Hallelujah Dave is being incarcerated.  An unpleasant visit with Hallelujah Dave leads them to a hospital where Ivy's mother is a patient.  The three of them leave the hospital, rent a car, and head back to Texas, only to have Ivy stop the trip.  They still haven't visited the Kennedy Space Center.  Unpredictably, Mom takes both the young people to the Space Center, where Paul has a major life epiphany and after which Mom and Ivy talk things out. and find peace and forgiveness.

Picture book writer, Liz Garton Scanlon tries her hand at writing fiction in this emotionally charged book for young people.  The cover draws readers right in and is illustrated by Marla Frazee, who won a Caldecott honor for All the World, which is penned by Scalon.  Once readers crack into the book we are instantly sucked into Ivy's world.  Scalon's folksy writing style creates familiarity and helps to define the setting.  As soon as we read on the first page that mom has disappeared with a character named "Hallelujah Dave" its impossible to put the book down until you know the whole story.  Scanlon does not disappoint and Ivy and Paul have a grand adventure, leaving their comfort zones, finding a personal connection with each other, and mature in both wisdom and empathy.  Scanlon presents adults who are supportive, yet flawed, and emphasizes the importance of family.  When the book began I thought that it would have a "religion-bashing" agenda, but Scalon offers a balanced view of this as well.  Hallelujah Dave certainly uses religion for evil purposes and Ivy's home pastor is less than helpful when Ivy and her father are in need of understanding and support, but none of this makes Ivy throw God out the window.  Instead she relies on prayer and God's support as she faces scary situations.  It is unusual to see God and faith playing a part in a children's work of fiction and, although its not the main focus of the story, it plays a major part of who Ivy is and how the plot plays out.  Ivy's faith is reflective of the lives of many young people in our country and should be represented in mainstream children's literature at least on some level.  The book is quiet, yet loud on plot, and reads quickly.  It can be enjoyed by both boys and girls and is a perfect choice for summer reading.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Arcady's Goal

Arcady's Goal
Eugene Yelchin
Holt, 2014  234 pgs
Grades 4-7
Historical Fiction/Sports

Arcady lives in a terrible orphanage for boys run by corrupt commander Butterball (Arcady's name).  All of the unfortunate inmates are children of "enemies of the people" who have been executed for crimes (both real and trumped -up) against the government.  The boys are starving and have no recreation, aside from soccer.  Arcady is the best in the orphanage, besting boys much bigger than himself.  When a group of inspectors come to the camp, Butterball shows Arcady's skills off, forcing him to play match after match.  One of the inspectors, Ivan Ivanych, seems different than the rest. Imagine Arcady's surprise when Ivan Ivanych returns to the camp seeking to adopt Arcady.  For the first time in his memories Arcady has enough food to eat and a room to call his own.  Even though Arcady tries to hide the fact, Ivan discovers that Arcady has never been taught to read and begins to teach him, further building confidence.  After Arcady expresses desire to play soccer on a team, Ivan Ivanych puts a team together, making himself the coach.  Arcady assumes that Ivan is an important coach and only adopted him in order to have a strong player on his team.  The truth of Ivan's inadequacies as a coach are revealed at the first practice, when Ivan clearly does not know what he is doing and the other parents object to having a child of the enemy of the people (Arcady) on the team.  We know that Ivan's wife is dead, but now we learn the truth behind the cause of her death and Ivan's true motivation for adopting Arcady.  Does Arcady achieve his soccer dreams?  Do he and Ivan become a family?  Read the book to find out.

Newbery honorist, Yelchin, offers another glimpse into Soviet life.  His surprise hit Breaking Stalin's Nose was similar in concept to The Boy in Striped Pajamas, only a naive boy's point of view of the tyranny of Stalin, not the holocaust.  He revisits Soviet Russia with a fictionalized story based on his father's real childhood experiences.  The book begins with an actual photo of Yelchin's father when he was the captain of the Red Army Soccer Club.  Right from the first glimpse of the photo, I was reeled in.  As the reader we can see that Ivan is no soccer coach long before Arcady does and we live through his eyes the hideous abuse he endures and accepts as his lot in life.  We  can't help but root from Arcady from the first and cheer as he finally finds a home and gets his chance to make a team.  This book is mature in content, but exists on different levels, depending on the maturity of the reader.  It reads quickly and boasts a small trim size and wide margins.  Pencil illustrations, drawn by the author, are plentiful and add to the atmosphere of the story.  Arcady's Goal is a great choice for reluctant readers needing a book for a historical fiction book report.  The soccer element will further make this book an easy sell.  Arcady's Goal is perhaps not as cleverly written as Breaking Stalin's Nose, but it does have more kid-appeal.  An author's note at the end further personalizes Yelchin's story and explains the horrific nature of the Stalin years and the lasting effects on its survivors.  Part sports story, part historical fiction, part family tale, Arcady's Goal packs a wallop in its few quickly read pages.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Archvillain

Archvillain
Barry Lyga
Scholastic, 2010  181 pgs
Grades 3-6
Science Fiction/Adventure
Archvillain Series #1

School prankster and secret genius, Kyle, is planning a huge prank in an abandoned field.  Out of nowhere he is hit with a wave of alien energy, which changes his body's make up, leaving him with super strength, even higher intelligence, and the ability to fly.  Kyle was no the only boy in the field that night.  "Mike" also got zapped by the energy, but has no memories of where he is from and how he got there.  Mike gets taken in by a local family and immediately puts his super powers to good use helping folks in need.  Kyle, meanwhile, has told no one about his powers and is using them to bring down Mike and get his former glory as the most popular boy in school back.  Unfortunately for Kyle, the whole town is enamored by Mike, including Kyle's best fiend (and crush?) Mairi, and he become a local hero, fueling Kyle's desire for revenge.  To this end, Kyle creates a computer based on his own personality and intelligence to help him bring down Mike.  The computer becomes a constant snarky presence whom Kyle talks to ceaselessly and they develop a love/hate relationship.  In Kyle's efforts to expose Mike as an alien fraud and gain back his popularity, he unwittingly causes trouble and destruction. evolving into an misunderstood evil nemesis.  Our story ends with Mike still actively saving the world and beloved by all and Kyle still jealously struggling and determined for revenge.  The story continues with two more installments in the series, ending with the answer to Mike's real identity and origin.

My quest continues to read as many superhero books as possible before my superhero summer reading club begins.  This book is great and, although I won't be directly using it for a program this summer, I want to lead into my fall book discussion group for fifth and sixth graders with it.  Archvillain has a natural hook for readers: who wouldn't want to suddenly develop super powers and the ability to fly?  What sets this book apart from the average fair is that the main character goes evil, which is far more interesting than a reluctant hero.  We see Kyle's motivation and even (kind of) root for him.  We also see that he is driven by jealousy and is an unhappy person.  The villain's point of view will help children see the world in a different way, give lots of fodder for discussion, and teach subtle lessons in morality that children won't be aware that they are learning.  Lyga is a great author.  He manages to deliver an exciting and entertaining story all while sneaking in some substance.  Kyle is an awesome character.  He reminds me of Oliver from I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President.  Kids love young characters who are more clever than the adults in their lives and have power.  Its fun to walk in Kyle's shoes, but the reader still sees that although Mike isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, he is the happier and better person.  On top of all the action and adventure Lyga offers, there is also great humor in this book.  I would highly recommend Archvillains to all readers, especially reluctant boys.  Will Kyle remain bent on destroying Mike?  Is Mike actually an alien?  I have to read on in the series to find out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit
Tommy Greenwald
J.P. Coovert (Illustrator)
Roaring Book Press, 2012  272 pgs
Grades 5-6
Humor
Charlie Joe Jackson Series #2

Wise-guy, Charlie Joe Jackson, has a problem.  His grades are terrible and his parents are threatening to send him to book camp.  He must achieve all "A"s with only one "B" to avoid this unpleasant fate.What's a scholastically reluctant class clown to do?  First he throws himself on the mercy of his egg-head friends for tutoring in the academic subjects.  Then he throws himself on his art, gym, and drama teacher's mercy for some much needed extra credit.  Extra credit with the elderly art teacher involves dressing in a dorky old-fashioned suit and posing while she paints him.  This situation improves when the teacher is joined by her granddaughter, cute new girl, Zoe, on whom Charlie Joe develops a crush, resulting in a run-in with the school bully.  In order to get extra- credit for phys-ed Charlie Joe must join the student council, of which the phys-ed teacher is the adviser for.  This isn't so bad, except that Charlie Joe must help campaign for the teacher's pet project: Ambidexterity Week.  A meeting with the principal to discuss the plans ends in a broken window and dashed hopes.  Next, on to drama.  Charlie Joe auditions for the school play and, much to everyone's surprise, lands the leading role.  He finds that he enjoys acting and may have found his niche.  Predictably, Disaster strikes opening night when Charlie Joe has to kiss his former crush with the whole school, including Zoe, watching--and he chokes.  The school year finally draws to a close and the grades are released.  Did Charlie Joe obtain his goal or will he be tortured at book camp?  Read this hilarious book to find out!

Between a construction project at work and chaos at home, life has been intense lately.  I was in desperate need of a light book with some laughs.  Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit was just the ticket.  Greenwald has written a very likable, human, and hysterically funny character in Charlie Joe and his story provides some truly laugh-out-loud moments.  Cartoon-like illustrations make this a natural choice for kids who have grown out of the wimpy kid books and its a slam-dunk for reluctant readers.  Anyone would enjoy reading this book.  It reads quickly with short chapters and generous margins, but has enough pages that teachers would accept it for book reports.  Its is written on a higher level than Wimpy Kid and some upper level vocabulary is secretly imbedded (ex. Ambidextrous).  No great lessons are learned and Greenwald has no agenda, besides getting kids to love reading.  This volume is actually the second in the series, but it stands alone and no prior knowledge of volume one is needed.  Two series entries follow this volume, along with a new companion book from the point of view of  Charlie Joe's friend Katie.  All the series entries have zippy titles and enticing covers just begging to be read.  Kids will wish they went to school with Charlie Joe Jackson and may try to get some extra credit of their own.  After reading this book one questions remains: how can I sign myself up for book camp?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Nightsiders:The Orphan Army

The Nightsiders: The Orphan Army
Jonathan Maberry
Simon and Schuster, 2015  389 pgs
Grades 4-7
Science Fiction
Nightsiders Series #1

Milo Silk is use to life on the run.  Living in a house with electricity, heat, and food at the ready is a thing of the not-too-distant past.  Ever since the alien invasion of the "Bugs", humans are scarce and hunted, forced to live in nomadic communities, always in hiding and scraping together a meager existence.  Milo is part of a team of kids who scavenge crashed alien spaceships, and anything else they can find, for food and parts.  His father has long disappeared and he and his mother, an important commander in the resistance, are part of a secret community.  Milo has very vivid dreams, where he is visited by "the Witch of the World" who shows him the future.  Milo keeps a dream journal recording the prophesies, so it should come as no surprise when the worst happens.  His mother leaves for battle and then the Bugs invade their community and led by the battle crazy commander, The Huntsman.  Milo manages to escape and falls in with a rag-tag band of magical creatures, the Nightsiders.  They have always lived among humans, but have been pushed into the shadows to escape percussion.  They also are battling the Bugs and the Huntsman and Milo joins forces with them.  This group of Nightsiders are the "Orphan Army" of the title, since they, like Milo, have lost their parents in through circumstances relating to the invasion.  Milo and his new friends use courage, magic and wits to infiltrate the Bug's hive and destroy their eggs and hope for the future.  Unfortunately, the Huntsman escapes, leading to more adventures in the next installment in the series.

Dystopian science fiction remains hot and Nightsiders is a great choice for kids not mature enough for teen works.  Its a particularly good choice for boys, being that most of the characters are male, the book is action driven, and there is not even a wiff of romance.  A few girl characters make this book accessible to girls as well.  Maberry, a longtime author of horror fiction for adults, tries his hand at writing books for young people.  Although clearly more science fiction than horror, the book retains a dark atmosphere and doesn't shy away from violence and the stuff of nightmares. Maberry offers his readers some important themes including protecting the earth, tolerance of others, and not to take what we have in this life for granted.  The magical creatures that make-up the orphan army are pretty cool.  The leader is a female werewolf, which is unusual.  Other creatures include a sprite, a fire salamander, a tree boy, and a rock boy, who only says "Mook", which is reminiscent of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Reading this book feels like reading a comic book without the comics, which will appeal to young readers.  There is plenty of action, a little magic, and many interesting characters that were easy to keep straight.  Still, the book felt a little long for me and took me a while to get through.  Maberry ended the tale in a satisfying conclusion, yet with enough loose ends that kids will want to crack into the second installment.  The big burning question is: did Milo's mother survive?  And how about his father?  Hopefully, Maberry will have these characters pop-up again as the series continues.  Give to fans of The Maze Runner.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Heat

Heat
Mike Lupica
Philomel, 2006
Grades 4-7
Sports

Michael Arroyo loves baseball more than anything else in the world, except his beloved older brother, Carlos, and his recently deceased father, Papi.  Michael is the star pitcher of his little league baseball team.  The are on fire and just might make it to the Little League World Series.  Michael is having an awesome summer, playing baseball, Listening to his beloved Yankees, hanging out with his comedian catcher best friend Manny, and making a new friend, quiet baseball-loving Ellie.  The summer would be perfect, if it wasn't for the black cloud hanging over Michael's life.  Papi dies in the spring and Michael and Carlos have kept it a secret from the authorities so they don't get separated.  Meanwhile, Carlos is working two jobs to support them.  The only people in on the secret are Manny and an elderly neighbor, who watches out for them.  Another challenge arises as some coaches in the league, trying to eliminate Michael's eligibility so that thier teams can win the championship, demand to see Michael's birth certificate proving his age.  Michael came to the United States from Cuba, where poor relations between countries and red-tape makes locating the certificate impossible.  Michael must spend the end of the baseball season on the bench.  Worse yet, Carlos turns to scalping Yankee tickets to make ends meet--and gets arrested.  On top of everything a man from social services is sniffing around.  Will the brothers get separated?  Who is this Ellie who shows up in the park and then disappears?  Will Michael ever locate his birth certificate and find his place back on the team?  All loose ends are tied-up by the end of the book in a satisfying conclusion.

Baseball fever continues at the Fair Lawn Library with this solid selection for my fifth and sixth grade book discussion group.  I love this book for book discussion: its a sports story, which appeals to the often overlooked boys in the group, yet offers much to discuss.  Issues such as immigration, honesty, and social and economic inequality within the US are all explored.  This book sparked a discussion in the group about relations with Cuba, which is very timely and relevant to current events.  There is so much more than baseball happening in the story, but still enough of the sport to satisfy enthusiasts.  Adding the character of Ellie makes the book accessible to girls as well as boys. Michael must make many ethical decisions and he doesn't always do the right thing, making him a believable character and the reader learns from his mistakes.  The adults in the book are supportive and helpful.  I particularly liked Michael and Manny's coach, who has a great attitude about playing.  He takes the game seriously, but encourages the kids to have fun and emphasizes sportsmanship.  Manny is also a great character for the comic relief and he and Michael make a great team.  Also, the book is set in New York (my favorite setting) and features the Yankees, which is an added bonus.  Great baseball fun with some serious issues to chew on adds up to a great book for young people, which I highly recommend.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Locomotion/Peace, Locomotion

Locomotion/Peace, Locomotion
Jacqueline Woodson
Putnam, 2003/2007  100pgs./136 pgs.
Grades 4-7
Narrative Poetry


Lonnie, otherwise known as "Locomotion", traces his life as an eleven-year-old Brooklyn foster-kid coping with the death four years ago of his parents and separation from his little sister, Lily.   Lonnie is a sad boy who struggles to find sense in the world.  Unable to communicate his feeling and afraid of being judged, he finds an outlet through poetry, introduced to the classroom by super-teacher Ms. Marcus.  Through Lonnie's poems, we experience his life and emotions and, eventually, some joy and hope in life.  The story continues in Peace, Locomotion, as Lonnie begins a new year in school with a destructive teacher, who makes him doubt his writing abilities and deals a blow to his self-esteem.  Luckily for Lonnie, the teacher goes out on maturity leave and a new, nurturing teacher takes over.  This second volume is all about peace, both in Lonnie finding peace in his own life and peace overseas, as his foster brother returns home from war physically and mentally damaged.  Lonnie finally learns to trust his foster family, finds his place within the unit and comes to terms with being separated from his sister.  Healing and, yes, long awaited peace are coming to Lonnie and those around him and we leave him with much hope for the future.

After reading Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming I had to finally catch up on the Locomotion books.  Although a long-time fan of Woodson's work, somehow I missed these two slender volumes.  It is well worth the time spent with Locomotion.  As in Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson's narrative poems are honest and heartfelt and make the reader feel the setting, emotions, and story of the narrator.  I came away from Locomotion knowing Lonnie and worrying about him, until I went ahead and read the second book and found my own sense of peace.  The books read quickly and would be a wonderful way to introduce poetry to reluctant students or those who feel that they don't like it.  Woodson is not afraid to delve into some tricky topics such as religion, death of a parent, what life is like in a group home, childhood illness, and the ethics of war.  Some of the messages she leaves us with is the power of poetry, the amazing influence a good (or bad) teacher can have on a child's life, and finding the good in every situation.  Lonnie learns to find beauty in his world and comes not only to accept his situation but discover happiness and true peace.  I found these books so moving and inspiring I walked away charged up to become a foster-parent, which will require a serious conversation with my husband and daughters.  In the meantime I am recommitted to treating the young people that I serve at the library with kindness and respect--and expose them to poetry!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Battling Boy/The Rise of Aurora West

Battling Boy/The Rise of Aurora West
Paul Pope
JT Petty (co-author Aurora West)
David Rubin (Illustrator Aurora West)
First Second, 2013/2014  202 pgs/150 pgs
Grades 4-Up
Graphic Novel

Time travel to the earth in the not-so-distant future.  The world is riddled with monsters, who prey on children and wreck havoc on everything they touch.  The city of Acropolis is under-seize by the violent menaces and a mandatory curfew at nightfall keeps the citizens at their mercy.  The only hope is hero Haggard West, who's super human strength and super cool inventions, including a jet pack allowing him to fly, keep the monsters at bay.  He is assisted by his teenage daughter Aurora, who is smart, strong, and feisty, as well as beautiful.  Unfortunately, early on in the first book, Battling Boy, Haggard West is tragically killed while on a mission.  All seems lost until a mythological god-like boy is sent from a far away planet to prove his manhood: enter Battling Boy.  Battling Boy wins his first battle with the help from Thor-like father, but now he is on his own.  His superhero source comes from t-shirts with animals printed on them.  When he wears the t-shirt he assumes the power from the animal.  He is still working out his powers and getting adjusted to his new life and challenges when Aurora shows up, back on the scene, and ready to also join in the monster war.  The Rise of Aurora West is a prequel, fleshing out the back story of the West family and tracing Haggard's rise to power from archaeologist to scientific superhero.  Aurora becomes curious about the death of her mother and starts to conduct some research on her own to uncover the truth, all while studying during the day and battling monsters at night.

I've been getting my "superhero on" preparing for my superhero themed summer reading club.  I've had a long appreciation of graphic novels, although calling myself a fan might be too strong a word.  Still, I've been meaning to read Battling Boy and Aurora West, because they seemed different from the standard Marvel comic. I was not disappointment.  The plot is exciting and creative, the drawing amazing, and they manage to be original without being too artsy and loosing the target audience.  The art and story feel like a hybrid of American Marvel-type comics and Japanese manga.  They are written with kids in mind and, although violent, are age appropriate.  Many comic-loving kids read  graphic novels intended for adults.  It is a welcome change to see high quality superhero comics intended from the start for children.  If I have any complaint it is that the artwork at times seemed a little frantic and busy, but that could just be my old brain not processing the quick images.  Video game kids are use to frantic images and will expect them.  They are appropriate for an elementary audience, but are scary and violent, making them not for sensitive readers.  Battling Boy's mythological roots create a natural hook to grab the Rick Riordan fans.  Battling Boy is in full color, Aurora West isn't.  Both series have more projected volumes coming out soon.  Sure to be enjoyed by comic lovers of all ages and both genders, these new series are a cut above your average fare.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Nest

The Nest
Kenneth Oppel
Jon Klassen (Illustrator)
Simon & Shuster, 2015  244 pgs
Grades 3-7
Fantasy/Horror

Be prepared to get creeped out.  Steve lives with his parents, younger sister and new baby, who struggles from health issues.  Being an anxious child and long-time nightmare sufferer, it comes as no surprise that with all the stress the family is undergoing with the new baby Steve's nightmares come back.  He begins to have a reoccurring dream of being visited by a caring angle who is concerned about the well being of his family and the sick baby.  As time goes on Steve realizes that the angel is really the queen of a nest of wasps.  The town is suffering from a particularly bad summer wasp invasion and Steve's house sports a large nest.  It is discovered that Steve is allergic to wasps and Dad is having a hard time getting an exterminator to the house due to the distraction of the sick baby and the unavailability of the exterminator.  The wasp queen continues to visit Steve at night, finally offering to "fix" the baby.  All Steve has to do is say "yes".  In a moment of stress and weakness Steve finally says "yes" and what follows is the stuff of nightmares.  Is it all real or just a figment of Steve's anxious imagination?  Who is the knife sharpener lurking around the neighborhood, who the neighbors can't see?  Who is "Mr. Nobody", Steve's sister's imaginary friend, whose voice Steve actually hears on a toy phone?  These and other questions will be satisfactorily answered by book's end in this highly imaginative novel for young people.

Wow!  What a cool book!  I feel like I've read everything under the sum and then, once in a while, a book keeps me up until after midnight reading.  That was The Nest.  I couldn't go to sleep until I found out what happened to Steve and the Baby.  Kenneth Oppel (already one of my favorite authors for young people for his amazing and creative plots) teams up with Caldecott winning Illustrator Jon Klassen (another favorite) to create a power-house team.  The book is creepy on its own and really doesn't need Klassen's moody illustrations, but they fit the book perfectly and send it right over the top.  As we read the story we learn more about Steve's anxieties and begin to see him as a possible unreliable narrator, doubting whether this wasp thing is happening at all.  I love that Oppel actually answers that question and doesn't leave the reader always wondering.  Kids need a firm conclusion and open-ended books drive them crazy.  Oppell knows what scares kids (stinging bugs, family problems that they can't control, sketchy adults) and always writes for his audience.  The book is atmospheric and dark, but moves quickly, keeps us guessing and is impossible to put down.  The writing feels like a cross between Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury and ever word is intentional.  Both boys and girls will love this book, although its not for everyone.  The Nest is truly creepy and only kids who enjoy reading such books will enjoy it.  That said, those who do will have found a treasure.  The Nest is not released until October, which may be just as well.  You don't want to read this book during wasp season!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Sidekicks

Sidekicks
Jack D. Ferraiolo
Amulet, 2011
Grades 6-9
Adventure

Scott, aka Bright Boy, is having a bad day.  In the middle of an epic battle with nemesis Rogue Warrior he has an embarrassing costume malfunction, while saving a beautiful woman, that goes viral and makes him the laughing stock of the city.  The next day Scott can hardly bear the shame and rude comments he hears from his classmates who have no idea that the quiet kid in their midst is actually Bright Boy himself.  Bright Boy is the sidekick to Phantom Justice, the most famous superhero in the city, and is blessed with two super abilities: speed and strength.  Phantom Justice is not sympathetic to Bright Boy's concerns about his costume and is annoyed at Bright Boy's adolescent angst.  Bright Boy manages to get out some of his frustrations during a battle with Dr. Chaotic, Phantom Justice's arch enemy, recently escaped from prison, and his sidekick Monkey Wrench.  Imagine Scott's surprise when both he and Monkey Wrench loose their masks in the battle and his foe turns out to be a pretty and popular girl from his school named Allison.  Scott and Allison have much in common and develop a friendship, which slowly turns into romance.  Things are looking up for Bright Boy and the public adores the clandestine lovers.  But all is not as rosy as appears at first glance.  Phantom Justice may not be who Scott thinks he is and he may be in mortal danger--from those whom he trusts the most.

Sidekicks is a fast paced and fun adventure story involving interesting villains, dashing heroes, and twists and turns in the plot.  The action never stops and Ferraiolo takes us on an exciting and bumpy ride.  The plot contains surprises that prove to be very cool and unexpected.  Although possessing super powers, Scott is a regular teenager who readers will relate to, imagining themselves having these rollicking adventures.  Throwing in the character of Allison/Monkey Wrench serves to add a bit of innocent romance and make the book accessible to girls.  The book is written in the first person from Scott's point of view, so we see the plot unfold through his eyes.  The reader is allowed sneak peeks into what Phantom Justice is up to.  These sneak peeks are told on black paper in white print in order to not confuse the reader.  Because of the nature of Scott's embarrassing costume malfunction and the romance in the story, this book is really not appropriate for kids under sixth grade.  The cover makes the book appear to be for a younger audience than it is really intended for.  That said, the book reads quickly, has exciting adventures galore and humorous episodes.  Reluctant teen readers will eat it up.  "Superheroes" will be the summer reading club theme for many libraries across the nation (including mine) and Sidekicks will be a great literary link to the theme for teen readers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bobby Baseball

Bobby Baseball
Robert Kimmel Smith
Delacorte, 1989  165 pgs
Grades 3-6
Sports

Bobby has big baseball dreams.  He is confident that he will be a major league pitcher and, meanwhile, spends his time reading, writing, and dreaming about nothing but baseball.  He has his whole career planned out, including his nickname for when he's famous: Bobby Baseball.  The first step towards stardom is to land on the best little league team (The Hawks) with the best manager, who just happens to be his dad, himself a former major league player.  Dad is reluctant to put Bobby on the team, wisely sensing a a problem with keeping team matters out of family matters.  Bobby's persistence finally wears Dad down and he lands a place on the Hawks along with his best friend Jason.  Bobby is a hard working player and manages to score his coveted position as pitcher, even though Dad feels that his arm is not strong enough for pitching.  The Hawks win their first few games, building up Bobby's confidence and swagger.  Then the story changes.  The Hawks face a tricky team and Bobby has met his match.  When Dad pulls Bobby off the pitcher's mound to give someone else a chance, Bobby looses his tempter and refuses to leave.  Dad must bench Bobby as punishment for disobeying the manager and Bobby quits the team in retaliation.  The Hawks' season progresses, but without Bobby Baseball.  Bobby has to decide whether or not its time to curtail his baseball dreams, find a little humility, and make up with the manager/Dad to gain his place back on the team.

I picked Bobby Baseball as my May pick for my third and fourth grade book discussion group.  Spring has finally reached New Jersey after a very long and cold winter and my heart turned to baseball.  What a great choice!  Smith manages to capture the passion and enthusiasm young baseball fans have for the sport, as well as the unrealistic dreams to be famous.  There is much for book discussion, from Bobby's inability to control his temper to whether it was a good decision for Dad to have allowed Bobby on the team in the first place, proving that Bobby Baseball isn't just another baseball story.  There is also a part when Bobby complains about girls being let into the league and then we see him slowly change his mind as he makes friends with a female teammate.  Smith infuses gentle humor with real-life situations and shows Bobby's family to be flawed, yet functional and loving.  The chapters are a decent length for this age level, the margins generous, and the full page pencil illustrations are included at decent intervals.  Being an older book, I felt that the print was smaller than I am used to in books for this age group, but its not unbearable.  Give to baseball fans, who will eat this title up.  Even non-fans will enjoy it.  I know I did!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer
Dial, 2015  294 pgs
Grades 5-Up
Non-Fiction/Autobiography

A younger reader's edition appropriate for middle and senior grades based on an adult bestseller of the same title.  William Kamkwamba lives in Malawi, Africa with his farming family in a hut in poverty.   A severe famine grips the nation and many people die.  William's family comes close to death, hanging on by a thread.  Although the next year's crops are better and they now can eat, there is no extra money to send William to secondary school.  William has a thirst for knowledge, especially science.  He spends his free time in the small local library, voraciously reading every book on science he can get his hands on.  Through these precious books William teaches himself about electricity, something that is in short and irregular supply in Malawi.  After scavenging through the garbage he acquires the materials to construct a small windmill, and then a bigger one, bringing electricity to his family.  Eventually, people take notice of the windmill and William is brought to first local attention and then national, and finally international.  William is able to return to school and help his family in ways he never thought possible.  What's next for William?  Find out in the epilogue.

Offered in several different forms, William Kamkwamba's story is extremely inspirational and now accessible to many age levels.  I have used the picture book version (also of the same title) for both environmental and science programs about electricity.  Its an incredible journey that William takes and his incongruity and perseverance would be extremely motivating to children and adults of all ages.  The young reader's version sticks close to the adult version.  Because of the graphic nature of people dying during the famine (the family dog is left to die in the woods because of lack of food) I would not recommend it to young elementary children.  Brian Mealer is a former journalist stationed in Africa and is the perfect author to pen William's tale.  He writes clearly and succinctly, capturing Williams voice and rural African life.  American children will benefit greatly from reading this story and will, hopefully, walk away from it appreciating both the food on their table and the schooling that they take for granted.  This book will be a great pick for both boys and girls who prefer non-fiction, especially those who are interested in science.  It will also work well for biography book reports.  Less dry than most non-fiction offerings, the book felt like fiction, until you realize that William's story is for real.  My only questions is: When is the movie coming out?