Monday, June 19, 2017

Becoming Alpha by Aileen Err


With YA, you generally can't miss with hot werewolves and witchcraft. Sometimes, this genre can read as a Twilight wannabe. This is not the case with Becoming Alpha by Aileen Err. One night, I was browsing the "The Big Read" books in our school library collection and this one popped up. I was immediately intrigued by the cover. As a feminist, I like the idea of a female protagonist becoming an alpha. The story does not fail to deliver. It is action packed with new intriguing twists on the whole werewolf schtick. The male lead is a teen hottee, but he does not overwhelm Tessa at all. Tessa is just learning about her powers and abilities as a werewolf and as a witch, and her journey is both compelling and exciting. Two thumbs up on this one. I look forward to continuing to reading the other books in this series.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Electric Angel by Nanci J. Mortimer, Pictures by Della Wells

 Amazon Link

A charming, rhythmic story that brings the musical city of Chicago to life. Mortimer's text is vivid with images while Wells's richly textured art work brings the story to life. A visually and acoustically satisfying read.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review of the Enemy Above by Michael P Spradlin


Twelve-year-old Anton inhabits a world gone mad. He lives in the Ukraine which has been overrun by the Nazi war machine. He is Jewish in a land that the Nazis are seeking to make Judenfrei. Anton's father has joined the Polish resistance. His uncles are considering doing so as well, so only his Bubbe or grandmother remains with him. Facing dire jeopardy, he and his grandmother and other villagers flee to some hidden underground caves. But when the sadistic Major Van Duesen exposes their hiding place and captures Bubbe, Anton realizes he can no longer hide if he wants to save his grandmother.

The Enemy Above is a fast paced historical thriller that chronicles almost incomprehensible tragedy in a sensitive manner than makes accessible to children. Should be on a shelf with Number the Stars.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review - Book One of the Trials of Apollo, The Hidden Oracle

I am a Rick Riordan fan. I loved the Percy Jackson series. In fact, I prefer Percy to Harry Potter. Percy is cute, strong, brave, and decidedly not self pitying, unlike Harry. Percy doesn't whine. Nor does Jason from the Heroes of Olympus. He's buff and honorable, and all around appealing character. I am not quite as big of fan of the Kane Chronicles, just because I don't particularly care for the focus on death in Egyptian mythology, but Carter and Sadie are appealing characters as well. All of these heroes and heroines are flawed in unique and different ways, and they are all sympathetic to readers.

On the other hand, Apollo is a mess. His voice, despite his body and his deteriorating memories, is clearly adult. He is a messed up dude and a total narcissist. I wonder how children will relate to him. In addition, a reader has to have more than a passing familiarity with the loves of his immortal life. Apollo is being punished by Zeus by being forced to live as a limited, unattractive human teenager. Through his experiences, Apollo begins to grow in maturity and insight. It is a clever trope and very successful in the story. Apollo does become more appealing as the story proceeds. And yet, I wonder if kids will relate to his adult attitudes and reflections. I'll have to ask my students. I really enjoyed following the travails of this very flawed god.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jeanne Styczinski's Charming Counting Books

Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting the very talented artist and author Jeanne Styczinski at a writing group. Jeanne was a kindergarten teacher for many years and her knowledge of and connection with children of this age is immediately apparent when reading her work. Her counting book Papa, How Does the Sun Shine? connects nature facts with whimsy in a patterned, rhyming read aloud that I can't wait to share with my own students. Her art work evokes Eric Carle while also possessing a unique humor. I can't wait for her upcoming release  Who Will Be My Friend? which she shared a sneak peak at in the Writer's Group. Jeanne's work is a real find for preschool and kindergarten teachers. Her website is: http://jeannekaypublishing.com/ .

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Review of School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari



This is an interesting and quirky book. I saw the trailer on the Scholastic Book Fair CD and shared it with my students. They found it very engaging. The premise is that four students with crippling phobias, including of insects, water, death, and tight places are sent by their parents to a remote, technology free school where they will be "cured." The headmistress of the school, Mrs. Wellington, is an eccentric former beauty queen. The concept of the story is cool as is the location. Daneshvari does an excellent job of setting the scene and creating rich and believable characters. However, once everything is set up, the story falls a little flat. It's to pat and easy to resolve, and a little (disappointingly) predictable. Still, a worthwhile read for the concept and characters. I really liked how each chapter begins with the definition of a phobia.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Michael Perry words of wisdom - The Writer's Craft

Recently, I had the very great pleasure to listen to Michael Perry, one of my favorite regional authors, speak with third graders about the writing craft. His words resonated with me. Among the key points that he brought up is that we as writers learn about and absorb material from the everyday inspirations we see all around us. He also observed that the "exotic" is always relative. What may be unremarkable for us as individuals, may be truly unique for a person who lives in a very different setting. One of the students asked Mr. Perry whom he would identify as his favorite author. To this, he replied: "the next writer I read."Also, he reminded us of the important truth that we read writers to learn about writing. In this media rich age, it can be challenging to find the will power and time to turn off the screen and read, but it is a critical part of the writer's craft.