Thursday, March 31, 2016

Masterminds

Masterminds
Gordon Korman
HarperCollins, 2015  323 pgs.
Grades 3-6
Science Fiction/Mystery/Adventure
Masterminds Trilogy

Eli lives in what is thought to be a perfect town. Everyone in Serenity, New Mexico has a nice house with a swimming pool, a job, and enough to live comfortably. Some of the thirty kids who live there find it boring, but that's better than being out in the dirty and dangerous rest of the world, right? When Eli's rebellious best friend is sent to boarding school under mysterious circumstances, Eli finds a note that Randy secretly left behind. Randy thinks that some of the kids in Serenity are "special" and that all is not as it seems. Now other young narrators (five in all) help Eli tell the story, as they discover the truth about the purpose of their hometown and what makes them special. First they discover that the adults in town are keeping them ignorant of how the world really works and even their internet is censored to leave out undesirable information. Next, they figure out that the plastic cone factory in town is not what it seems to be and is actually a decoy for other work. Their investigations must be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of their parents or of the "Purple People Eaters"; Serenity's police force. The dangerous situations increase as the kids unveil more of the truth behind the real history of their town. Finally, they reveal a big secret about their own identities, which forces them to make a big decision concerning their futures and leads them on a dangerous and unexpected adventure.

With more than eighty books for young people under his belt, Gordon Korman knows his way around a children's book. He writes for kids with respect, humor, and non-stop action. He knows what they like to read and appeals to reluctant readers. Masterminds is a great start to a trilogy that will not disappoint Korman fans and may earn him some new ones. Written much in the vein of Margaret Peterson Haddix, this exciting book is plot intensive with a mystery which leads to a rollicking adventure and contains a science fiction twist. When the secret behind some of the children in the town is revealed, I was truly surprised. The multiple narrators add interest to the story and, thanks to the chapter headings identifying who is talking and the characters distinct voices and personalities, do not get confusing. There are no comic illustrations, no supernatural elements, just great storytelling with a believable, yet surprising twist explained by real science. The book will be enjoyed by both boys and girls and by both kids who love to read and reluctant readers. Cliff-hanging chapter endings will keep readers turning pages. The children escape the town and end up at their desired destination, giving the book some closure, yet threads still dangle. It will be interesting to know where Korman takes these young people next and luckily we don't have to wait. Read Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, released last month, to find out!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Summerlost

Summerlost
Ally Condie
Dutton, 2016 247 pgs
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Bestselling author, Ally Condie (the Matched Trilogy), stretches her writing wings as she dives into realistic middle-grade fiction. Twelve-year-old Cedar, her mother, and her younger brother move for a summer back to her mother's hometown in the Pacific Northwest, where a local college hosts a summer Shakespeare festival. Cedar's family is grieving the deaths of her father and autistic brother the previous year and are presently living with the sadness, guilt, and rebuilding of the aftermath. A strange neighbor boy, Leo, introduces Cedar to the festival and helps her to secure a job with him selling programs. Leo, a theater lover, drags Cedar into his scheme of leading private tours tracing the footsteps of a deceased local celebrity in order to raise money to see a favorite actor on stage in London. While leading the tours the two friends get swept up in the mysterious death of the actress and attempt to reconstruct what actually happened that fateful night. The Summerlost Festival becomes a refuge for both young people as Cedar begins to volunteer for the costume department and Leo finds a reprise from the town bullies who make his life miserable because he is different.  Meanwhile, items are appearing on Cedar's windowsill. Are they from the buzzards who congregate in her yard or maybe Leo? By summer's end, one mystery is solved and another isn't, but Cedar forges a forever friendship and her now compact family begins to heal.

Condie proves that she is not limited to age group or genre as she departs from Dystopia and tackles some tough topics for tweens, sure to appeal to fans of Flipped. Summerlost is a quiet book, yet has enough of a plot to keep it from getting boring. Death of a loved one is the scariest fear kid's face and may be why dealing with this loss is a topic so often explored in serious fiction for children. Cedar is struggling both with the loss of her father and brother, but also the guilt that she carries for sometimes being embarrassed and impatient of how her autistic brother acted. She finds a new friend, a job which helps her to feel productive and capable, and the perfect escape into the land of Elizabethan England. Throwing herself into the life of the deceased actress and trying to solve the mystery surrounding her death also provides a distraction and, although the mystery is never solved, helps her to find peace and closure in her own situation. As the book moves on we discover, as Cedar does, that some characters are not what they seem at first. The adults in the book are flawed, but positive influences in promoting Cedar's growth. The real story is the friendship between Cedar and Leo, proving that twelve-year-old kids of different sexes can be friends. Although there are little romantic "twinges" they remain platonic and discover that their friendship is much deeper than other relationships in their lives and more important than a crush. The "gifts on the windowsill" mystery is solved in a very satisfying way and offers the reader closure on that front. Most plot lines are wrapped up at the end and the characters are left happier and better off at the end of the book than we meet them at the beginning. The reader is still left with questions concerning the actress's death, but that reflects real life, where we don't always find out the full story. Cedar and Leo are okay with not knowing and, therefore, so are we.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Eva's Treetop Festival

Eva's Treetop Festival
Rebecca Elliot
Scholastic Branches, 2015  72 pgs
Grades 1-3
Animal Fantasy
Owl Diaries series #1

Scholastic has recently launched a new line of books for children graduating from early readers and transitioning into chapter books. All of the various series have eye-catching illustrations on every page, child-friendly scenarios, are a lowish reading level and are less than one hundred pages. The Owl Diaries series features a cute and lively owlet named Eva and capitalizes on the current popularity of this nocturnal bird. Eva Wingdale decides to launch a Bloomtastic Festival to celebrate the coming of spring. She plans to include a talent show, bake off, art exhibit, and fashion show. After getting her teacher's permission Eva starts all the work necessary to pull off the event in just one short week. Unfortunately, her friendemy, Sue Clawson, (or as Eva refers to her: Meany McMeanerson) wants to get involved and is not happy or supportive when Eva wants to run the festival entirely on her own. After a stressful week, Eva finally gives in and asks her classmates to help. All of Eva's friends rush to the rescue, including the dreaded Meany, and the festival all comes together. All the participants have a wonderful time at the big event, except for Eva who experiences some technical difficulties. Eva feels like a huge failure until Miss Featherbottom knows just what to do to save the day.

Written in a diary format with very few words per page, it is no surprise that this series, as well as other Branches titles, have been very popular in my library. The transition to chapter books can be a big jump and this series helps to bridge the gap. The book is divided into distinctive chapters, which will get readers going in the right direction, and is longer than a traditional early reader, yet the vocabulary and reading level are still low. Along the lines of the Mercy Watson series, there is a place for these books and they are most welcome. The Owl Diaries series will appeal more to girls than boys. Eva's problems are pretty straight forward and easily solved, yet still provide a conflict and allow for discussion. The illustrations are cute, colorful, and plentiful, using patterned collage to create and almost funky retro-70's vibe. Elliot adds humor to the story, relying heavily on puns, which will both entertain and empower kid's cleverness as they are able to figure out the jokes. A bonus page at the end includes discussion and comprehension questions that can be used by both parents and educators. Although we have most of the Branches books at my library, this series and The Notebook of Doom have been the most successful circulators. Recommended for the intended age group both for the entertainment value and the developing literacy hole it fills.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Red's Planet

Red's Planet
Eddie Pittman
Amulet, 2016 192 pgs.
Grades 2-6
Graphic Novel
Red's Planet #1

Cartoonist and former writer for Phineas and Ferb, Eddie Pittman, turns his successful web-comic into a series of graphic novels for kids. This opener in a projected series introduces Red, a ten-year-old foster kid, with the spunk and independence to match her red hair. She hates being called "Red", yet everyone does it. When living in the circus of her foster home becomes too much, Red decides to run away. A policeman picks her up, intending to bring her to social services. A mysterious light forces him to investigate, leaving Red in the police car, which is beamed up to an alien ship. The ship belongs to a rich and eccentric collector of rare things. The police car with Red secretly inside is just what he needs to make his collection complete. Meanwhile, pirates threaten to invade the ship and all must evacuate. Red crashes with the ship and all those unlucky enough to escape. The alien planet seems deserted and survival looks hopeless. Red and her new friend, a small mute creature carrying around a mysterious metal egg, have a series of misadventures, finally landing them at the doorstep of Goose, the cranky custodian/tiger of the planet who clearly wants to be left alone. Red unites her rag-tag group of fellow survivors and reluctantly Goose agrees to co-habitate with them until help arrives. Red realizes that she feels comfortable on this new planet and with these strange folks and knows that at long last she has finally found Home.

PIttman has turned his alien web-comic into an enjoyable graphic novel series for young people. The pictures are lively and colorful and work to tell the story seamlessly with the text. The story is imaginative, yet believable, and has a linear plot that children can understand. The humor Pittman used while penning Phineas and Ferb is evident, as through the story funny things are happening, both obvious and subtle. Red is a foster kid with no ties, which makes her the perfect outer space adventurer. Children will relate to the humanness of Red and experience her brave and reckless adventures through her eyes. Red is not a "girlie girl" and boys will manage to relate to her as well as girls. She is the new "Gilligan" and we can imagine many madcap adventures await as the series continues and our band of stranded misfits try to get off the "island". The layout is easy for children to follow and the panels scan well, leading to full page spreads when the action reaches a crescendo. Unknowns are left dangling, raising questions in the reader's mind: What is Goose's story, where did the little mute guy disappear to and what is in his egg? Will the aliens remain on the planet or will a rescue ship arrive? Kids will eat this volume up like candy and it just might just lead them to read more serious science fiction, or at least the next installment in the series.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Changers: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm
H.K. Varian
Simon & Schuster, 2016 167 pgs.
Grades 3-6
Fantasy/Adventure
Changers Series #1

Meet the Changers: a group of seventh graders with the ability to transform into mythical animals. Alternating points of view tell the story through the eyes of all four of the young people. This introductory volume starts with Makoto (or Mack as he prefers to be called) as the narrator, who is the boy featured on the cover. Mack and three other seemingly unrelated classmates are sent to an "independent study" phys-ed class where a friend of Mack's grandfather shares startling news: the tweens are actually "Changers", an ancient species of humans with the ability to transform into animals with magical and supernatural powers. Through the power of a "changing stone" the young people discover what mythical form their transformation will reveal. Mack is a Kitsune, a legendary fox from Japan, Gabriella is a Nahual, a Mexican dog or, in Gabriella's case, a Jaguar, Fiona is an Irish Selkie, and Darren is an Impundulu, a mythical bird from South Africa. The youths must now learn how to transform at will and to control their new found abilities. Their new teacher must train them quickly for a threat looms. An ancient horn has been rediscovered by an evil enemy with the ability to control the Changers at will. One thousand years ago, when the horn was last used, four young Changers (including the teacher and a surprise family member) were able to battle the evil, since the horn's powers did not effect them. Will the original Changers still be able to resist the power of the horn? How will Mack and his new friends contribute to the battle? Find out in this new series opener due to be released in June.

The concept behind "The Animorphs", a series wildly popular twenty-years ago, has been reconfigured with this rebooted version which is more mythology than science fiction. Readers not quite ready for Percy Jackson or Harry Potter will love this new series, featuring actual magical creatures from ancient legends around the world. The cast is multicultural, as are the myths, exposing readers to creatures previously unknown to our eurocentric heritage (with the exception of the Irish Selkie). In 167 pages the author covers a lot of ground and the action never slows down. The book reads quickly and the change of narration flows seamlessly and is surprisingly not confusing. The reading level and length is perfect for kids graduating from early chapter books, but not quite ready for Potter, along the same lines as the "I Survived" books. The characters are diverse in both ethnicity and personality, yet do not became charactertures and are further developed than most characters found in books on this level. Varian introduces the players and the framework for the magical super powers, brings in a villain, produces a conflict, resolves, and gets out, while leaving a dangling thread for the next series installment. The book is tight and not bogged down with unnecessary subplots. Classic mythology mixed with current sensibilities, this new series is sure to be a hit with the target audience and is well worth the time spent reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Gallery

The Gallery
Laura Marx-Fitzgerald
Dial, 2016  321 pgs.
Grades 4-8
Historical Fiction/Mystery

An old lady in a nursing home is interviewed by a reporter concerning her upcoming one-hundredth birthday, but the old woman is reluctant to talk. Instead, she gazes out of her window onto a cemetery, which hides the secrets of her life. The story now falls back in time to the roaring twenties New York City; to the truth behind the secrets. Martha is a young teen who is forced to leave her catholic school for insubordination. She takes a job with her mother as a maid in a household of an important newspaper magnet and his former socialite wife. The socialite, Rose, is now a recluse who spends all her time in her bedroom organizing and reorganizing an art collection of epic proportions, all while barely eating anything of substance. Mr. Swell, the master of the house, is clearly up to no good, hosting last-night guests and acting very suspicious. Martha, who is spunky and brighter than her station, questions the motives of Mr. Sewell, the true identity of the mysterious footman, and the current situation of Rose. She is convinced that foul play is the cause of Rose's mental illness and concocts a scheme to save her, all under the backdrop of a party of Gatsby proportions. Martha's plot does not go as planned, yet surprising allies, combining with true historical events, ensure that justice is served. All ends are satisfyingly wrapped up, including the importance of the cemetery, and Martha can rest in peace now that her story has been told and the truth divulged. 

The glamour and gluttony of 1920's New York City elite is witnessed by a young maid, invisible to the powerful folks who surround her. Through Martha's eyes we see the corruption of the press during this time and the frantic greed exhibited by those obsessed with a ballooning stock market. Martha is limited by the weaknesses in the adults in her life and tries to set matters to right, only to have her plans fall apart. All is not lost, as by the end of the story, the adults come through and justice is done. I love books about art, the 1920's and New York City. I liked this book enough, but not nearly as much as Under the Egg, by the same author, which was my favorite book of 2014. The Gallery does not have the carefully woven layers of Marx-Fitzgerald's debut and the mystery is not as clear-cut and compelling; just mysterious people whose motivations need to be revealed and the truth behind a mysterious fire. This sophomore offering does highlight the 1920's in a spectacular fashion with a really cool party complete with circus performers and celebrities of the time. These celebrities may be lost on today's youth, as will the connection to Sacco and Vanzetti, who I'm quite sure are unknown to the intended audience. Marx-Fitzgerald includes an extensive author's note in the back explaining the history and motivations behind the book, including the historical identities of Sacco and Venzetti. Anyone who reads this section of the book will learn something. I, for one, did not know of the mini-crash that happened in March of 1929 before the fateful crash the following October. The author identifies the paintings highlighted in the book and where readers can see them in real life. She concludes with her main inspiration for the book: the Gardner Museum heist of 1990. This has also always intrigued me. I would like for someone to write a book speculating more closely on this event. Or the kidnapping of the Mona Lisa in 1911 is another story that would make a great historical fiction story for young people. Marx-Fitzgerald leaves the reader with a challenge to find the missing works of art from the Gardner. Maybe one her her young readers will take up the challenge.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wings of Fire

Wings of Fire: the Dragonet Prophecy
Tui T. Sutherland
Scholastic, 2012 304 pgs.
Grades 4-8
Fantasy/Adventure
Wings of Fire series #1

Our story begins with a prophecy concerning five dragon eggs from different warring factions brought together by the Talons of Peace in order to stop the great war, which is killing their families and friends and destroying their way of life. Unfortunately, one of the eggs is demolished and another egg from a faction not included in the prophecy is substituted. Forward fast to the present: Clay, a gigantic Mudwing dragon is suppose to be a fierce warrior. Unfortunately, he is a gentle giant and refuses to hurt his fellow dragonets being raised to stop the great war. The dragonets hate their lives, trapped in a cave and constantly training to save to the world by their grouchy and demanding masters. Finally their chance arrives and the five dragonets escape, only to be captured by the evil Skywing queen. In the queen's prison they meet Peril, the queen's champion who can burn a dragon to death at a mere touch. Peril and Clay become friends and together they discover a secret ability that Clay didn't know he possessed. Meanwhile, the action heats up as the queen demands that the dragonets of the prophesy fight to the death. Their wish is to escape in order to find their families from which they were stolen from as eggs. After a hair-raising escape, they find the mother of one of the dragonets, but the reunion does not go as planned. Will they fair better in another dragonet's land? Find out in the next installment of the series: The Lost Heir.

Kids love dragons. Heck, I love dragons. Sutherland produces a series perfect for youth not ready Eragon, but more advanced than Jane Yolen's dragon books. They are on the same level, more or less, than the Rick Riordan books and contain the same level of violence, which in my opinion is too much, but kids eat it up. Sutherland produces a fully realized Dragon society and does for dragons what Rowling did for wizards. The book begins with a map of the land, which kids enjoy pouring over, and a guide to the different kinds of dragons and who they support in the war. This guide was very helpful as I kept getting the dragons confused. Sutherland further helps to ease confusion by making the names of the dragons correspond somewhat to the nature of their breed. All the dragons have distinct personalities and the main characters exhibit character growth as the book progresses. The story ends with a cliff-hanger and a sneak peek into the next installment, which will have readers running to the library to obtain it. I know this to be true because this is currently the most popular series of books in my library and I had to buy multiple copies of the titles. Appealing to lovers of fantasy and adventure, the Wings of Fire series is both a quality and entertaining read.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Museum of Heartbreak

The Museum of Heartbreak
Meg Leder
Simon & Shuster, 2016  269 pgs.
Grades 8-Up
Romance

Penelope is a late bloomer. It is the start of her junior year of high school at her private school in New York City and she has yet to have a boyfriend. Her two best friends, Audrey and Eph, are both establishing new relationship and growing away from her. Audrey has a new best friend, who happens to be Penelope's arch-nemesis. Eph has become suddenly handsome and in demand and when they are together things sometimes are getting awkward. Enter new cute boy, Keats, who has history with the arch-nemesis, yet appears to like Penelope. She dives head-long into her first romance with this seemingly perfect boy, all while confronting feelings of confusion about Eph. Meanwhile, things are weird with the adults in her life, as Penelope begins to understand that grown-ups have problems of there own and are not perfect. Things become increasingly strained with Audrey until that relationship snaps and Penelope finds new friends by joining the staff of her school's literary magazine. Heartache does arrive in the story, although not in the way expected, and a happy ending is reached by the book's conclusion. 

First time author, Leder, writes a romance that is a cut above the average fair. More than a romance, this is also a book about friendship, family, and growing up. I loved this book and found it impossible to put down. Leder does for New York what Stephanie Perkins did for Paris and the city is an intricate part of the story. Girls will relate to Penelope, a fellow reader and late bloomer. She emerges into a butterfly as the book progresses and finds her confidence and dating mojo. Even though Penelope is a book nerd, she is very cool. She dresses in vintage store finds and races around New York on the Subway doing interesting things. The reader feels what first love is like right along with our protagonist and Leder captures both its emotions and complexities perfectly. The book itself is designed within the format of the Heartbreak Museum. Each chapter is introduced by an artifact, carefully cataloged, featured within the chapter pages. Penelope's father is a curator for the Natural History Museum, which may be why she chooses to capture her heartbreak within this format, and also serves to add another dimension of coolness to the story. The romance element gets steamy, but not too graphic, and is not the only focus of the story. Nerd girls will enjoy spending time in Penelope's shoes (I know I did).  Meg Leder is an author to watch and I can't wait to read what she writes next.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nightfall

Image result for nightfall halpernNightfall
Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski
Putnam, 2015  346 pgs.
Grades 7-Up
Fantasy/Horror

Marin and her twin brother Kana live on an island where the sun stays up straight for fourteen years and then sets for another fourteen. Once twilight arrives the residents of the island pack up, hop on trading ships, and move to a desert community until the sun rises again. But what actually happens during Nightfall? The townsfolk, especially old-timers, are terrified by it and follow the strange instructions on how to leave their properties to the letter. When Line, friend to the twins and Marin's love interest, disappears into the woods at the last minute, the siblings risk being left behind to rescue him. The worst happens when they finally locate an injured Line, but do not make it back to the boats on time. Once the sun sets weird things start to develop. Monsters appear, who are systematically hunting all remaining human creatures. Even more disconcerting are the changes Kana begins to undergo. His feet begin to grow talons and his senses begin to sharpen in unnatural ways. One of the monsters begins to communicate with Kana. Is she friend or foe? And what is her connection to him? These answers are revealed as the three teenagers fight for their lives to try to escape from the island before they become breakfast for the recently reawakened creatures.

Halpirn and Kujawinski offer their contribution to the dystopian genre. Nightfall isn't pure dystopia or end-of-the-world, but it will appeal to that readership who can appreciate an action story in a dysfunctional society where survival is a hard-scrabble. More horror movie than fantasy, the teens battle against the stuff of nightmares, proving that sometimes knowing the truth is worse than remaining in the dark. Kana's transformation into a monster is pretty cool and keeps the reader guessing as to its cause and his connection to the whispering female monster. Line and Marin share an innocent romance, which involves some kissing, but nothing inappropriate for the intended audience. The plot moves quickly and the characters do a lot of dashing about, which will appeal to a certain kind of reader. The characters do not get overly developed and the story reads a bit more like a comic book than a standard novel, but this will also appeal to young readers. The island society is well conceived and the concept is very interesting, making the book an easy sell to teens. The story ends a bit too abruptly and neatly, but this will also satisfy its readership, who will appreciate no dangling threads. Nightfall is a cut above average horror with an interesting setting and cool concept that reluctant readers especially will enjoy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Old Wolf

Old Wolf
Avi
Brian Flocka, Illustator
Atheneum, 2015  144 pgs
Grades 3-7
Animal

Our story takes place on Casey's thirteenth birthday and the day after on a late winter/early spring day in a rural American community. Casey's favorite thing to do is play his hunting video game. He is so good at it, he can't wait until he can try his hand at the real thing. Imagine his delight when he is presented with a real hunting bow at his birthday dinner. The newly minted teen can't wait to try it out. Meanwhile, alternating chapters tell the story of Nashoba, who's wolf pack is starving. As the alpha it is up to Nashoba to lead the pack in a hunt, but the pickings are slim. The great wolf is aging and is no longer the fierce predator he once was. After his leadership in the pack is barely defended Nashoba takes advice from a raven named Merla and commands a badly executed attack on a group of elk, where he becomes seriously injured and left for dead by his pack. The two stories converge as Casey ventures into the woods with his new bow, confident that he will handle it like a pro. Tragedy strikes, leaving Casey more mature and wise about the responsibility of hunting and the old wolf Nashoba more alone than ever.

You can read twenty books by Avi (he has written over seventy) and not guess that they were written by the same author. This eclectic writer has taken on many different topics, genres, time periods and intended ages of readership. The common thread of all his books is the excellent writing quality and the ability to capture a story to which young people will relate. Old Wolf is a simple straight forward tale, although it is told by two points of view. Even with the duel narrators, it is never confusing who is talking; Casey or Nashoba. Avi seems to get into the head of a wolf and it seems realistic that he can communicate with his pack mates, as well as with his new friend Merla. Themes such as hunting responsibly, the evils of video games, loyalty, and inter-species friendship are explored. Wolf pack life is vividly captured and Avi's love and respect of these majestic creatures comes through. This is the second fictionalized story I read about wolves in the wild published last year and, interestingly enough, they both feature the wolves befriending a bird. This book reads quickly. Short chapters, wide margins, and large print will entice reluctant readers, as will the stunning illustrations by Caldecott winning artist Brian Floca. Learn more about these endangered and misunderstood symbols of wild America and be entertained in the process.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Secrets to Ruling the School

The Secrets to Ruling the School
Neil Swaab
Abrams, 2015 226 pgs.
Grades 4-8
Humor
Secrets to Ruling the School series #1

Veteran children's cartoonist pens his first solo comic/fiction hybrid in this irreverent offering. You, as the the reader, are the new kid in middle school. You are greeted at the door by Max Corrigan, self proclaimed middle school life coach who is willing to work with you to make your school life a social success. Immediately Max takes you under his wing and explains the cliques and pitfalls of middle school life. In order to break into the social scene Max recommends getting in with the class clowns. They are willing to accept you, but only if you get the artists to do them a favor. The most legendary artist in the school is willing to work with you, but only if you can get the band kids to do something for her. This goes on and on through the cliques of the school from the jocks to the nerds to the juvenile delinquents until the big fall assembly, where the action comes to a head and you will either be the most popular kid in school or the biggest failure. The assembly not only brings closure, but also a big surprise. Throughout it all, Max is engaging in a war with his biggest rival, who is using bullying tactics to bring both of you down. Max is with you every step of the way, offering his advise, wisdom, and humor.

Swaab, formally a cartoonist for James Patterson's comic/fiction hybrid series "Middle School" is branching out solo. He is using the format established by Jeff Kinney, yet adding his own twist. This is part middle school satire and part instruction manual for social success. Max is the narrator, talking to and educating the reader throughout the book. Other characters, representing the various cliques and administration, are written in different fonts to help establish the personality of the character and help to make the narration clear. The volume is well designed with generous comic illustrations on every page and homemade charts and graphs offered by Max to insure social success. This is a very contemporary update of a classic folktale, which I know of as "The Old Woman and Her Pig" but is called different titles in different cultures, where in order to get a job done one thing keeps asking another for a favor down the line, until someone is willing to help out, which solves all the favors in a domino effect. This book is constantly funny and contemporary, yet will not be dated quickly. Swaab relies a bit too heavily on potty humor and the book can get a bit "off-color", but nothing too over the top and the target audience will love it. Give this book to Wimpy Kid fans and to kids who don't like to read. The story ends with Max getting a great idea to become the reader's campaign manager for class president, which serves as a lead in to the next installment in the series, set to be released this September in time for the presidential election.