Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stories about history and far-away places

People read for a lot of different reasons -- but some people read because they like getting a mental picture of different places or times. The books below all have strongly-described settings that will make you feel like you've traveled to another world. Look for them at your library using the WorldCatalog link, or find copies in the Amazon search box, both here on BookBag.

The Falconer's Knot: A Story of Friars, Flirtation and Foul Play, by Mary Hoffman (Bloomsbury USA) Historical Fiction. Star-crossed lovers! Lies! Crimes of passion! Friars! Peril! And ... pigments! If you thought the Italian Renaissance couldn't possibly provide the setting for a rip-roaring romp of a mystery, think again. When gorgeous and wealthy Silvano is accused of killing a sheep farmer--the husband of the woman Silvano loves--he flees to Giardinetto, where the monks grind and mix pigments for a renowned fresco painter. But when people start dropping dead at the monastery, Silvano must find the true culprit and clear his name. Rich with detailed descriptions of medieval Italy (and about the process of making paints), this suspenseful tale will transport you back in time.

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson; illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Dutton Children's Books) Fiction. Instead of her birthday, Annika marks her Found Day, when Sigrid the housemaid and Ellie the cook discovered her abandoned in a church and took her home with them. Despite her happy life with Sigrid, Ellie, and many good friends, Annika still longs to meet her long-lost mother. When a glamorous, fine lady appears and claims Annika as her daughter, the girl is only too happy to be whisked off to her new-found family's estate...which turns out to be a big mistake. This richly imagined, suspenseful story is brimming with great characters and paints a vivid portrait of early-20th-century Vienna.

Lost Boy, by Linda Newbery (David Fickling Books) Fiction. Matt Lancaster is out riding his bike when a speeding car, nearly killing him, runs him off the road...where he finds a memorial to Martin Lloyd, a boy who was killed in a hit-and-run at the very same spot. Then Matt starts seeing Martin's ghost and meets the elderly man said to have been responsible for the boy's death, and the more questions Matt has about the past, the more complicated a puzzle it becomes to solve. This creepy and gripping mystery has a touch of the supernatural and gives readers a strong sense of its setting in the hills of Wales.

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You, by Hanna Jansen; translated from the German by Elizabeth D. Crawford (Carolrhoda Books) Historical Fiction. Eight-year-old Tutsi Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi lived a normal, happy enough life in Rwanda until the day in 1994 that her Hutu neighbors murdered her family and razed her home (Tutsis and Hutus are two groups of Rwanda's native peoples). This story details the unimaginable horrors that she witnesses and survives before being adopted by a German family. Descriptions of the time before the genocide give a clear picture of daily life in Rwanda, and accounts of the violence make Jeanne's experience painfully clear. Written by Jeanne's adoptive mother at the young girl's insistence, Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You is an emotional and absorbing fictionalization of a true story.

Westminster Abby, by Micol Ostow (Speak) Fiction. Sheltered 16-year-old Abby Capshaw is traveling from New York City to London, where she hopes that her summer of study abroad will help her forget about her overprotective parents and her cheating boyfriend. Abby, who sees herself as "a little vanilla" (sweet, yet plain and not very exciting), hopes that the summer will be her chance to become more like a hot-fudge sundae. This 1st of 13 novels in the fun-and-fabulous Students Across the Seven Seas (S.A.S.S.) series brings the sights and sounds of London to life; readers who like to experience new places through reading will enjoy the rest of the books, in which students travel to places such as Italy, France, Spain, and China.

Night of the Howling Dogs, by Graham Salisbury (Wendy Lamb Books) Fiction. Dylan is excited about going camping with his scout troop at Halape, one of the most remote beach spots on Hawaii's Big Island, just beneath the Kilauea volcano. But when he learns that Louie Domingo, a thuggish older boy, will also be going on the trip, his excitement turns to worry. Louie is definitely intimidating--but he's no match for the earthquake and tsunami that strike after the boys reach their destination. Based on an actual 1975 disaster that the author's cousin experienced, this riveting survival tale incorporates Hawaiian legends and, with its vivid descriptions of the setting, makes readers feel as though they are on the Big Island right along with the characters.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New fiction and fantasy for kids

Once in a while kids may want to sit quietly and read, with or without their parents' help. Here are some books that will keep both kids and adults interested, with a little quiet time added for good measure! Look on World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here at BookBag to find copies at the bookstore or your local library.

Kerka's Book, by Jan Bozarth; illustrated by Andrea Burden (Random House) Fantasy. In Birdie's Book, Kerka Laine learned that she (like Birdie) is descended from a long line of fairy godmothers who guard and guide people in our present-day world. As Kerka, who is now living with her aunt and older sister in New York City, tries to cope with the recent death of her mother, she's also anxious to begin her training in the fairy world Aventurine ... but the quest that the fairies set her on is much more difficult than she'd imagined. Blending a fascinating imaginary world with realistic family drama, this magical second book of the Fairy Godmother Academy series will delight fans of gutsy girl heroes--and the series also has a fun website loaded with games, activities, and more.

Out of the Woods, by Lyn Gardner; illustrated by Mini Grey (David Fickling Books) Fantasy. When their explorer father goes off in search of the "legendary four-tongued, three-footed, two-headed honey dragon," the three Eden sisters Aurora, Storm, and little Anything do their best to get by on their own. A fun-fair comes to town, and the owner gives the sisters free passes to enjoy it...but little do they know that the carnival is a trap set by the evil witch Belladonna, who wants to cut out Aurora's heart and steal a magical pipe of great power from Storm. This clever, funny sequel to Into the Woods is full of adventure and weaves in bits and pieces of many familiar fairy tales--but be sure to start with the first book, or you'll miss too much background.

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt & Julie Graham-Chang, by Amy Ignatow (Amulet Books) Humorous Fiction. Best friends Lydia and Julie are keeping a secret notebook in which they record their observations of a different species: the popular girls. They're determined to decipher the secrets to popularity before they go to middle school next year ... but when they try putting what they've learned into action, things don't quite go as planned. Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Julie and Lydia's hilarious journal is filled with drawings, dialogue, and plenty of embarrassing moments. Following the girls' schemes and getting to know their interesting family members is sure to keep fans of funny, (mostly) realistic fiction entertained.

Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, by George O'Connor (First Second) Graphic Novel. This dramatic and exciting comic tells five different myths about Athena, the goddess who sprang full-grown from her father Zeus's head. Narrated by the three Fates who spin the threads of the world's destiny, this well-researched retelling gives readers a clear image of the bold and fearsome goddess of war and wisdom. Excellent, action-packed artwork keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, and character profiles, "Greek notes," and a family tree of Olympians offer more in-depth information for serious mythology buffs.

Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age, by Deborah Kogan Ray (Frances Foster Books) Nonfiction Picture Book. After the first reconstructed dinosaur skeleton in America went on exhibit in 1868, scientists began a fevered race to find more evidence of the "terrible lizards." In 1908, Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest men in the country, sent paleontologist Earl Douglass on an expedition to find "something big"--and did he ever. This fascinating book tells about Douglass' hunt for dinosaur bones and his discovery of the bones of an enormous Apatosaurus. Strikingly illustrated and including maps, quotations from Douglass' journals, informative charts, details about the tools and methods of the trade, and more, this book is a must-read for dinosaur fans.

Sports Camp, by Rich Wallace (Alfred A. Knopf) Fiction. Eleven-year-old Riley Liston is one of the youngest (and smallest) kids at sports camp, where all of the campers compete for the Camp Olympia Trophy. Riley knows that he can hold his own in running or swimming competitions -- although wild tales of the gigantic snapping turtle that lives in the lake make him a bit nervous--but he's not so great at basketball or softball, and he really doesn't want to be the weak link on his cabin's team. This action-packed and suspenseful sports story will score lots of points with fans of Matt Christopher's Nothin' But Net (about basketball camp), John Coy's Eyes on the Goal (about soccer camp), or Mike Lupica's Summer Ball (about basketball camp).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mysteries and other silly stories

Mysterious and spooky stories can be scary -- or funny! Here's a group of recent mysteries that are fast, entertaining, and silly at times. Use the World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here on BookBag to find copies of these unusual books ....

The Case of the Stinky Socks, by Lewis B. Montgomery; illustrated by Amy Wummer (Kane Press) Mystery. Who wants a yucky pair of stinky socks? Up-and-coming detective Jazz's brother Dylan, that's who. Dylan pitches for his high school's baseball team, and the pair of socks that he's missing aren't just stinky--they're lucky, and Dylan needs them for the big game coming up. So when Jazz's neighbor Milo sees her reading Whodunnit magazine and suggests that they practice solving mysteries together, the two of them already have a case to solve! This easy-to-read book is the 1st in a fun new series that features detectives-in-training Milo and Jazz.

Masterpiece, by Elise Broach; illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Henry Holt) Mystery. Two families live in the Pompaday household: one consists of 11-year-old James Terik, his mother, and his stepfather, and the other is a family of beetles. James longs for attention from his family, while young Marvin the beetle longs for a little space from his overprotective clan. When James receives a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin tries it out in secret--and discovers that he has artistic talent! Marvin leaves his masterful drawing as a gift for James...and then things begin to get out of hand. Before long, Marvin and James are not only friends, but partners in an attempt to foil an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you liked either The Borrowers or Chasing Vermeer, don't miss the deliciously suspenseful Masterpiece.

What Really Happened to Humpty? (From the Files of a Hard-Boiled Detective), by Jeanie Franz Ransom; illustrated by Stephen Axelsen (Charlesbridge) Humorous Mystery. "Humpty Dumpty was pushed." At least, that's what his kid brother, Joe Dumpty--a "hard-boiled" detective complete with trench coat--believes and aims to prove. Tracking clues and snooping around the likes of Goldilocks, Miss Muffet, and the Big Bad Wolf, gumshoe Joe is sure to catch the culprit...and make you laugh! Written in the style of old-school private-eye movies, this book may be shelved with the easy-reader picture books, but it's full of groan-worthy jokes and puns that older kids and fans of fractured fairy tales will appreciate.

Hannah's Winter, by Kierin Meehan (Kane/Miller) Mystery. Hannah would really rather be home in Australia than living with the Maekawas in Kanazawa, Japan while her mother tours the country. But just as she is getting to know and enjoy the small, old-fashioned town and the Maekawa family, Hannah is swept up in a curious and creepy mystery involving a ghost-boy and an ancient message. Fast-paced and spooky but with well-timed comic relief, this unusual mystery has supernatural elements and yet gives readers a vivid and realistic picture of modern, small-town Japan as well as the country's culture and history.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Strange places, strange stories, and runaway adventure

Sometimes it's good to get away -- even if it's just to get lost in a book. Here are some great recent stories that will make the reader keep turning the pages with anticipation of what happens next! Find them here using the Amazon and World Catalog search boxes on BookBag.

Everwild, by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster) Fantasy. Sometimes, children lose their way to the afterlife and end up--at least temporarily--in the bizarre in-between world of Everlost. In this second volume of the Skinjacker Trilogy (after Everlost), deceased teens Allie and Nick are waging a sort of war against Mary Hightower, who wants to keep all of the children of Everlost with her forever. Packed with twists and turns, startling revelations, and even some laughs and a bit of romance, Everwild is a mesmerizing story set in a uniquely creative imaginary world.

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster) Paranormal Romance. Smart, responsible Nora Grey is irritated by mysterious transfer-student Patch when they first meet, but it isn't long before she finds herself irresistibly attracted to him (despite her persistent doubts about his character). After extremely frightening things begin happening to Nora, she decides to investigate Patch ... and discovers that he is one of the Nephilim, a fallen angel. And he wants very badly to be human. Hush, Hush is a haunting and tantalizingly sexy read that will have you on the edge of your seat--and hoping for a sequel.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner (Delacorte Press) Science Fiction. Thomas wakes up in a metal box that's lurching upward, and the only thing he can remember about himself is his first name. Deposited in the central courtyard of an enormous maze, he meets the boys who were delivered there before him. They've developed a society based on two goals: survival--the maze is populated by deadly mechanical monsters--and escape. But soon after Thomas' arrival, things change, and the need to find a way out of the maze takes on new urgency. This suspenseful novel establishes a fascinating and enigmatic world that's suffused with a creeping sense of doom. Fans of dystopian stories will be riveted--and desperate to learn what happens next.

Goth Girl Rising, by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Fiction. Kyra, the girl from The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, has spent the last six months in a mental institution, and Fanboy didn't visit or contact her once. Maybe he was too busy managing his sudden popularity -- the result of publishing his comic in the school's literary magazine while Kyra was away -- but whatever the reason, Kyra is angry, and she's going to get revenge. If you like believable characters and stories filled with raw emotion, don't miss Goth Girl Rising.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot, by Natalie Standiford (Scholastic) Fiction. Beatrice Szabo, forced to start her senior year in a new place because of her father's job, is the new girl at a Baltimore, Maryland private school where everyone else has known each other since kindergarten. She's so emotionally deadened that her mother declares her a robot ... but something tugs at her wiry heartstrings when she meets tortured, antisocial Jonah, aka Ghost Boy. Witty, emotionally intense, and at times startlingly funny, How to Say Goodbye in Robot is the perfect novel for proud misfits; fans of quirky, character-driven stories; and anyone looking for an unconventional love story.

We Were Here, by Matt de la Peña (Delacorte Press) Fiction. Miguel Casteñeda has been sentenced to a year in a group home for a crime that he won't talk about--and honestly, he figures it's better than living at home, where his mother won't even look him in the eye anymore. Then Miguel runs away from the group home with two other residents, Mong and Rondell, with a half-baked plan to go to Mexico. Still keeping the journal that he was required to start in juvie, Miguel relates the hardships, adventures, and epiphanies that the trio have along the way. Part survival tale and part friendship story, We Were Here is a gripping, suspenseful read.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Starting a book club and helpful reading tips for parents

How do you get a child to read? For many kids learning to read is one of the more difficult (and sometimes frustrating) aspects of school. Parents can help by motivating their kids daily, whether it's reading for an hour to a pre-schooler or getting an older child interested in a reading assignment for class. But how do you do that? Here are a few books with suggestions on how to get your kids reading regularly, from and Reading is Fundamental.

(You can find a library copy of any book on BookBag, and your nearest library, by typing in the title or author in the World Catalog box at the top left, above.)

Tips for helping your child learn to read
  • Learn more about your child's interests and suggest books, magazines, and articles that relate to those topics.
  • Sometimes good movies are a starting point for pleasure reading — after seeing a movie based on a book, children will be motivated to read the book.
  • Sometimes travel sparks reading, and finding books that relate to a place you visit on a family vacation can get a child hooked.
  • Keep books and other reading materials at home.
  • Read books with your children! Children of any age can appreciate being read to.
  • Be a good role model — let your children see you reading.
  • Try a hands on activity. There are many activities that tie in literacy themes. (Try RIF's activity search for ideas.)

Try one of the suggestions below or search the database of activity ideas.

  • Make a Book Chain
    After they read a book, children add a link on a paper chain. Can one child make the chain reach from the ceiling to the floor? Read more...
  • Around the World in Eighty Books
    Reading can make globe-trotters of your children or send them on a cross-country trek. Read more...

  • Book Adventure
    Book Adventure, created by Sylvan Learning Foundation, is an online reading motivation program for children in grades K-8. Children create their own book lists, take multiple choice quizzes on the books they've read offline, and earn points and prizes for their literary successes, all while parents keep track of their achievements.
  • Reading Rockets: Tips for Encouraging Kids to Read
    Find several suggestions for simple ways to motivate your readers.
  • Raising Eager Readers
    View advice and book recommendations from the Eager Readers website.

Reading Aloud

Getting kids to read: the Parent-Child Book Club

The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading by Melissa Stoller a
nd Marcy Winkler, Horizon Line Publishing, NY, 2009): Whether you're a teacher, a parent, or a librarian, when it comes to motivating young learners to read, The Parent-Child Book Club has intelligent and easy-to-use suggestions.

Stoller and Winkler walk you through the steps on how-to-start a book club, and every page has its own resources and guidelines as well as lots of parent-child book club resources. Here are a few topics: Conducting the Book Club and the First Book Club Meeting Theme-Related Projects, Activities, Puzzles, Games Creating Thoughtful Questions and Discussions.

Also included are valuable sections regarding quick tips for success, book club do’s and don’ts, and real life issues solved. Time-saving lists of common art supplies that relate to many projects, and lists of projects that complement many book themes, are also offered. Especially useful are annotated lists of age-appropriate children’s books, adult reference books, and helpful websites.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Help for struggling readers in English and Spanish

Reading is a tool that can open a world of possibilities. Studies suggest, however, that nearly forty percent of children have difficulty learning to read. Below is one recent look at literacy problems in the New York City school system, and links to suggested reading guides from the Reading Rockets program of WETA educational television in Washington, D.C. Below that, there's also a link for reading help guides in Spanish. Search for library materials in the World Catalog search box to the left above, or purchase books using the link here on BookBag.

Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read? by Beth Fertig (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux). Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio are old enough to vote, but they can't read. In Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read?, Beth Fertig profiles these three young New Yorkers as they enter the world without basic literacy, following them for two years as they sue the city for extra help, get private tutoring, and make first-ever bookstore purchases.

So who is to blame for letting them fall through this massive educational crack? That's not an easy question. To start with, Fertig's subjects are among the fewer than 5 percent of kids with "hard-wiring problems" that make it extremely difficult to learn how to read (as opposed to the 20 to 25 percent of kids with "garden variety" reading problems). Fertig smartly pulls together shelves of research and animates data and theory with lively classroom scenes and interviews. She walks us through the "reading wars" between competing literacy pedagogies, but unfortunately none has a good solution for learners like Yamilka, who can't hear that "book" and "cook" rhyme.

Are digital technologies to blame? Nope. In spite of the book's title, text messaging actually helps Antonio with reading and writing. Other tempting culprits: Mayor Bloomberg and the technocrats who engineered the city's recent educational overhaul, as well as No Child Left Behind and the never-ending assessments that are used "in lieu of curriculum and teaching," as one school official grouses. But Antonio and Yamilka often blow off their tutoring sessions, and their brains stubbornly refuse to create the neural pathways necessary for fluent reading. By the end, it's unclear whether we should celebrate or cry: After 1,500 hours of tutoring, for which the city paid $120,000, 25-year-old Yamilka can finally read compound words like "boyfriend." (review by Anne Trubek in the Sep/Oct issue of Mother Jones magazine.)

Helping struggling readers, from

Did you know that learning to read is a challenge for almost 40 percent of kids? The good news is that with early help, most reading problems can be prevented. The bad news is that 44 percent of parents who notice their child having trouble wait a year or more before getting help. Unfortunately, the older a child is, the more difficult it is to teach him or her to read. The window of opportunity closes early for most kids. If a child can't read well by the end of third grade, odds are that he or she will never catch up. And the effects of falling behind and feeling like a failure can be devastating. Click below to find information on:

FAQs – Find answers to real questions from real parents about reading and learning disabilities

Why They Struggle – Learn why some kids struggle with reading
Target the Problem! – Pinpoint the problem a struggling reader is having and discover ways to help
Assessment Process – Find out how to get your child evaluated

Parent as Advocate – Why you need to toughen up and stand up for your child
Finding Help – Where to get extra help for your struggling reader
Self-Esteem and Reading Difficulties – What else suffers when kids struggle in school and what they can do to help themselves

Early identification is crucial. If you suspect a problem, don't hesitate. Learn about reading difficulties, get your child assessed, find out what you can do to help your struggling reader, and don't give up.

Related articles

Seeking Help for a Struggling Reader: Seven Steps for Teachers
, byJoanne Meier and Karen Freck: Children come to our classrooms from so many different ability levels and backgrounds. As a teacher, it's important to recognize and know what to do to help a struggling reader.

About Reading Disabilities, Learning Disabilities, and Reading Difficulties by Kathryn Drummond. Reading difficulties likely occur on a continuum, meaning that there is a wide range of students who experience reading difficulties. There are those students who are diagnosed with a learning disability. There is also an even larger group of students who do not have diagnoses but who need targeted reading assistance.

Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt,
by American Federation of Teachers. A look at three pivotal studies clearly shows that Late bloomers are rare and that skill deficits are almost always what prevent children from blooming as readers.

Seeking Help for a Struggling Reader: 8 Steps for Parents, by Reading Rockets. What should you do if you think your child is having trouble with reading? Sometimes children just need more time, but sometimes they need extra help. Trust your instincts. You know your child best. If you think there's a problem, there probably is.

Lectura de ayuda en español es un sitio Web bilingüe que provee información, actividades y consejos sobre cómo ayudar a sus niños a que aprendan a leer y tengan éxito en la escuela. Desarrollado por el proyecto Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado resalta información práctica para los padres de habla hispana, contiene hermosas ilustraciones de David Díaz, el ilustrador ganador del Premio Caldecott, además de videoclips de celebridades tales como la que fuera nuestra querida Celia Cruz, y actividades que giran alrededor de canciones y rimas en el lenguaje español para desarrollar habilidades.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fabulous first lines

First lines, as any reader knows, are important -- they draw you in and make you want to read more, or leave you cold and uninterested in turning the page. Here are some books with great first lines -- look for them using the Amazon / World Catalog boxes here on BookBag!

True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex (Hyperion) Humorous Science Fiction. "ASSIGNMENT: Write an essay titled The True Meaning of Smekday." What, you may wonder, is "Smekday?" It's a holiday that commemorates the alien Boov's conquest of Earth, but the story that 12-year-old Gratuity "Tip" Tucci has to tell starts before the invasion, when the Boov abducted her mother. Now, King Smek of the Boov is forcing all Americans to move to Florida, and Tip is on her way there to find and rescue her mom when a renegade Boov named J. Lo joins her. J. Lo is in trouble and on the run because he revealed Earth's location to another alien race, the Gorg. Can Tip and J. Lo save Tip's mom--and the entire planet? Fasten your seat belt and get ready for some wacky adventure and pun-tastic humor!

The Monsters of Morley Manor, by Bruce Coville (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt)Fiction. "If Sarah hadn't put the monkey in the bathtub, we might never have had to help the monsters get big." With an opening line like this, you know that you're in for a wild ride--and this part-horror, part-science-fiction, part-fantasy adventure is exactly that. Anthony and his little sister Sarah bought a box of small brass figurines when the new owner of creepy Morley Manor held a garage sale...but little did they know that water would bring the figures (a vampire, a werewolf, and a snake-haired siren) to life. Nor could they possibly expect that they'd be fighting alongside their monsters against alien frogs, evil twins, ghosts, and beings with soul-sucking guns. If you don't mind things getting a bit ridiculous, you'll have a blast reading this weird and wacky tale.

Antsy Does Time, by Neal Shusterman (Dutton) Fiction. "It was all my idea. The stupid ones usually are." In this sequel to The Schwa Was Here, 14-year-old Antsy Bonano and his pals are heading to Manhattan to witness a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade disaster-in-progress (involving a huge raccoon balloon) when they run into their classmate Gunnar Ümlaut. After Gunnar tells Antsy that he has only six months to live, Antsy promptly draws up a legal-looking document and deeds one month of his own life to Gunnar. Soon others are following suit, and the momentum of Antsy's gesture spins completely out of control. This clever, funny, and moving story has fantastic characters and surprising plot twists that fans of the first book will love.

Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival, by Arthur G. Slade (Wendy Lamb Books) Fiction. "Newton Starker knew he would most likely die from a lightning strike." How did Newton know this? Because for many centuries, nearly every member of his mother's family has been killed by lightning, making him a very nervous 14-year-old who's unusually preoccupied with the weather. Determined to beat the odds, Newton enrolls in the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival, where the curriculum includes courses designed to help students "stare down disaster." Clever, funny, and featuring not only a brainy, truffle-hunting pig but also recipes (Newton is a budding chef) and tips from the Jerry Potts survival handbook, Jolted will be a hit with fans of boarding-school adventures and odd characters.

Sisters of the Sword, by Maya Snow (HarperCollins) Historical Fiction. As daughters of the feudal Lord of the Kai Province in 1216 Japan, sisters Kimi and Hana are well-trained in dancing, tea ceremonies, calligraphy...and the martial arts. And, as the opening line "I have become invisible" reveals, Kimi has developed skills worthy of a samurai. Little does she know how much she'll need them--until a vile and brutal betrayal robs the sisters of their home and family and forces them to take refuge in a local dojo, disguised as boys. This bloody, suspenseful, and action-packed story about family honor, treachery, and revenge is the first volume in a gripping series that fans of girl heroes will savor.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee (Arthur A. Levine Books) Fiction. "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things." Technically, Millicent Min (who opens this book with the previous line) is a genius--and she's the only 11-year-old attending her high school. While her brains impress adults, they don't exactly skyrocket Millie to popularity. So, when she has a chance to make friends with volleyball teammate Emily, Millie goes to great lengths to pretend that she's just an ordinary kid. This funny, feel-good story has wonderful characters and will ring true for anyone who's ever struggled to fit in -- even non-geniuses.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New summer fiction and fantasy for tweens

When it's too hot to think, readers might enjoy these new books featuring everything from a finger-puppet Yoda who dispenses sage advice to a hard-boiled school safety monitor named Griff. Look for these here on BookBag using the World Catalog / Amazon search boxes and prepare to laugh!

City of Spies, by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan; illustrated by Pascal Dizin (First Second) Graphic Novel. It's 1942, smack in the middle of World War II, and 10-year-old Evelyn is being sent to New York City to live with her pampered, free-spirited aunt. Evelyn spends most of her time drawing her own comic, in which super-hero Zirconium Man and his sidekick, Scooter, repeatedly foil the plans of Nazi spies. But when she teams up with Tony, the building superintendent's son, the two of them decide that they can defeat actual Nazi spies in the German district of the city--which leads to all kinds of mishaps, adventures, and, ultimately, a very dangerous situation. With clean-lined art, an old-fashioned adventure story, and Evelyn's fun comic-within-a-comic, City of Spies is an exciting and action-packed read.

13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison (Little, Brown) Fantasy. Tanya is constantly tormented by nasty, brutish fairies that only she can see. When the fairies' pranks get Tanya in trouble, she is shipped off to her cold, demanding grandmother's secluded countryside manor. There Fabian, the grounds-keeper's son, convinces Tanya to investigate the disappearance of a local child, and she discovers dark secrets in the mysterious woods near her grandmother's house. Sure to satisfy fans of Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles, this supernatural mystery will pull you into its gothic setting and keep you turning the pages.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books) Humorous Fiction. Sixth-grader Tommy needs to know whether Origami Yoda is for real. His buddy Dwight is considered a weirdo even before he shows up at school wearing a folded-paper Yoda as a finger puppet. Then "Yoda" begins doling out advice that seems pretty solid. In this hilarious book (illustrated with equally funny cartoons), Tommy compiles tales from classmates who've sought wisdom from Origami Yoda, hoping to determine whether it's just a "green paperwad" or a link to The Force ... because he isn't about to take advice about girls from a fraud. With quirky characters, plenty of in-jokes for Star Wars fans, and instructions for folding your very own Origami Yoda, enjoy this book you shall!

The Celestial Globe: The Kronos Chronicles, Book 2, by Marie Rutkoski (Farrar Straus Giroux) Historical Fantasy. As this sequel to The Cabinet of Wonders begins, Petra Kronos is under attack from the evil prince of Bohemia's hired assassins. British spy John Dee whisks her out of harm's way via a mysterious space-time Loophole, but Petra is desperate to return to Bohemia to find her father. While Dee holds Petra captive and instructs her in magic, espionage, and swordplay, Petra's friends Neel and Tomik search for a pair of enchanted globes that hold great power--and they aren't the only ones trying to find them. Incorporating historical details from 16th-century Bohemia, The Celestial Globe is a fast-paced adventure laced with mystery, political intrigue, romance, and some excellent swashbuckling.

Short: Walking Tall When You're Not Tall at All, by John Schwartz (Roaring Brook Flash Point) Nonfiction. This book's author, John Schwartz, is short (he's five feet, three inches tall). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, children -- boys especially -- who aren't likely to exceed Schwartz's height as adults can be given a synthetic growth hormone to help them grow taller. But is being short really so bad? In addition to debunking research that claims short people are less happy and successful, Schwartz talks about his own experiences as a short person and offers great advice on how to cope with being different (something that extremely tall people might benefit from, too).

Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol, by Jim Krieg (Razorbill) Humorous Fiction. Griff Carver may be new to Rampart Middle School, but he's an old hand at enforcing the law--as a veteran member of the Safety Patrol, he's seen it all. He can tell that something isn't right at his new school, and with the help of patrol rookie Tommy, school-newspaper editor Verity, and Solomon the janitor, Griff is determined to bust up an operation that distributes phony hall passes (among other criminal activity). Written in a hilarious tongue-in-cheek style that spoofs hard-boiled detective stories, this fast-paced, action-packed tale is a must-read for fans of Jack Ferraiolo's The Big Splash.

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron James, Batso the biker, and other real-life stories

Real life can seem stranger than fiction. Here are some real-life stories that may surprise you, from the lives of NBA superstars to going-green experimenters driving cross-country in their french-fry oil-powered car. Looks for these non-fiction reads here on BookBag using the World Catalog / search boxes and fasten your seatbelts for some wild rides!

Shooting Stars, by LeBron James and H. G. Bissinger (Penguin Press) Adult Nonfiction. You probably know NBA superstar LeBron James is busy packing his bags for Miami -- but what do you know about where he came from? Writing in cooperation with the author of Friday Night Lights, James tells about growing up poor in Akron, Ohio and later playing killer basketball with his best friends, "the Fab Five," on the Shooting Stars amateur youth team and at St. Vincent-St. Mary's high school. Fans of on-the-court action will especially enjoy this exciting and timely memoir.

Rescue Ink: How Ten Guys Saved Countless Dogs and Cats, Twelve Horses, Five Pigs, One Duck, and a Few Turtles, by Denise Flaim (Viking) Adult Nonfiction. With their combined 1700 pounds of muscle and their blunt, in-your-face approach, the heavily tattooed members of the animal-rescue group Rescue Ink can seem a pretty intimidating bunch. After all, do you really expect a biker nicknamed "Batso" to have a soft spot for kittens? Maybe you should: these New Yorkers have made it their mission to improve the lives of abused and neglected animals. This inspirational book gives background information on each fascinating member of the organization and tells the stories of many of their rescue adventures.

My Name is Jason. Mine Too. - by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (Joanna Cotler Books) Nonfiction. Two guys named Jason, former college roommates, chase their dreams and ponder the meaning of their lives in this mélange of verse and artwork that, in two distinct voices, tells about a single, universal journey. The Jasons--one a poet, one a painter--struggle financially after moving to the Big Apple to seek their fortunes, and just when one of them is ready to give up hope, the other buoys him up. Just the thing for artists, free thinkers, and philosophical types, this tale of The City is a quick and inspiring read.

Greasy Rider: Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future, by Greg Melville (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) Adult Nonfiction. Who needs gasoline? Not Greg Melville--and, if you ask him, "nearly anyone can operate and maintain a french-fry car." To prove it, he converted a dilapidated old Mercedes from a diesel-powered car into one that uses recycled grease as fuel and drove it from Vermont to California with his old college buddy Iggy riding shotgun. Collecting fuel from restaurant dumpsters along the way, Greg and Iggy also tour a number of sites powered by green energy (including geothermally heated Fort Knox and Google's solar-powered headquarters). The New York Times calls this book "an entertaining combination of On the Road and An Inconvenient Truth."

Three Little Words, by Ashley Rhodes-Courter (Atheneum) Nonfiction. This powerful and harrowing real-life story traces author Ashley Rhodes-Courter's painful childhood and offers a challenging look at the U.S. foster-care system. Taken from her neglectful mother as a toddler, Ashley endured more than a dozen foster families--ranging from benevolent to apathetic to downright cruel--over the next nine years. Written to inspire hope in children who have, like the author, fallen through the cracks in the system, Three Little Words is a captivating, disturbing, and (ultimately) encouraging story.

I'm Down: A Memoir, by Mishna Wolff (St. Martin's Press) Adult Nonfiction. At one point or another, most of us struggle to feel like we fit in--and humorist Mishna Wolff's story is a prime example of that struggle. In the 1980s, Wolff and her family, all of them "white Americans of European ancestry," moved to a poor black neighborhood in Seattle, where Wolff's father--who truly wanted to be black--could embrace African-American culture. Wolff tried desperately to fit in with her classmates, but she wasn't "black enough"; then, after her mother had her transferred to a private school, she found she wasn't quite white enough, either. Check out I'm Down for Mishna's hilarious, absorbing, and bittersweet story.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New summer fiction for teens

Summer: time for a lazy time by the pool, or keeping cool inside. Here are some new books for teens recently published and great for chilling out during the heat of July. Look for these on BookBag using the World Catalog / Amazon search boxes ... and stay cool!

The Cardturner
, by Louis Sachar (Delacorte Press) Fiction. Alton Richards--freshly dumped by his girlfriend, jobless, and with no plans for the summer--has just been recruited as a driver and cardturner for his blind great-uncle, a master bridge player. Uncle Lester is elderly, crotchety, and "rich enough that he never had to be nice to anyone," and Alton's parents are eager for Alton to buddy up to him and hopeful that they'll be rewarded in Lester's will. We know what you're thinking: "A novel about an obscure card game that only old people play? Really?" Well, yes, really. Fabulous characters, humor, romance, and more excitement and suspense than you'd ever expect are in store for those who give this unusual novel a try.

For Keeps, by Natasha Friend
(Viking) Realistic Fiction. Josie and her single mom, Kate (who had Josie when she was a teenager), are close friends. Josie has never wanted to meet her father, who left before she was born, but when his parents move back to Josie's Massachusetts hometown, it's likely that she will. Meanwhile, Josie is seriously smitten with her first real boyfriend, Matt, and Kate is dating again for the first time in 16 years. Fans of TV's The Gilmore Girls and those who enjoy character-centered family dramas with great dialogue and plenty of twists and turns will finish For Keeps with a sigh and a smile.

Efrain's Secret,
by Sofia Quintero (Alfred A. Knopf) Fiction. Smart, hard-working Efrain Rodriguez is a likely candidate for valedictorian at his Bronx high school and has his sights set on Harvard. But a disappointing score on his first crack at the SAT and the reality of nearly $33,000-per-year tuition have Efrain seriously worried. Convinced that "doing the right thing" won't pay his tuition, he resorts to desperate measures in order to finance a second round of test prep and to bankroll his higher education. In her debut novel for teens, author Sofia Quintero, who also writes hip hop novels under the pen name Black Artemis, has created memorable characters and a story that fans of gritty realistic fiction will love.

by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook Press) Historical Suspense. Sig Andersson is sitting in his family's remote cabin with the corpse of his father, Einar--who fell through too-thin ice and froze in a nearby lake just hours earlier--when a burly stranger with a gun shows up demanding gold that he swears Einar stole from him. Sig's stepmother and sister could return home at any time, and Sig isn't sure whether he can get to his father's hidden pistol or escap
e from the intruder before they do. And even if he does get the gun, can he pull the trigger? Flashbacks to the Alaskan gold rush reveal what really happened between Einar and his erstwhile business partner, and tension builds steadily in the one-room cabin 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This atmospheric and intense story will chill you to the bone.

Inside Out, by Maria V. Snyder (Harlequin Teen) Dystopian Science Fiction. The denizens of Inside inhabit what is essentially an enormous metal box that's divided into floors and quadrants, with the higher-class "uppers" living above and the menial laborers, called scrubs, occupying the floors below. Trella, a scrub, spends as much time as she can hiding in the structure's pipes and ductwork, but her solitary life is disturbed when she meets a prophet and soon after finds herself in the middle of a rebellion. This action-filled story of revolution is a good choice for fans of Jeanne DuPrau's Books of Ember series--especially those who also like a bit of romance in the mix.

White Cat,
by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry Books) Dark Fantasy. Cassel Sharpe comes from a family of criminals and "curse workers," people who practice magic illegally and can alter others' luck or memories--or even kill them--with a single touch. Cassel, who doesn't seem to have inherited his family's talents,
tries very hard to convince his private-school classmates that he's just a regular guy. But he's haunted by a dirty secret from his past, a white cat that keeps appearing in his nightmares, and the odd way that his brothers have been acting around him lately. Right from the start, when Cassel awakens from a nightmare to find himself on the roof of his dormitory, this 1st volume in the Curse Workers series is a fast-paced, intense, and mysterious read.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 4: Stories behind America's favorite songs

This Sunday America celebrates its 234th birthday! Here are the stories behind some of the country's most popular patriotic songs, colorfully illustrated and told simply for young readers to read along (and sing with) for the holiday. Use the World Catalog and Amazon search boxes here on BookBag to find copies of these inspiring stories.

This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie, illustrated by Kathy Jacobsen (Little, Brown) Ages 4-8 Since its debut in the 1940s, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" has become one of the best-loved folk songs in America. The classic picture book celebrating the ballad is brought to new life in this tenth-anniversary edition the whole family will love to share. Includes a full-color poster featuring one of Kathy Jakobsen's exquisite art pieces from the book.

America the Beautiful, by Katherine Lee Bates, illustrated by Chris Gall (Little, Brown) Ages 4-8 The song "America the Beautiful" gets a striking treatment from illustrator Gall, who opens with an introduction to the words, which were written as a poem in 1893 by 24-year-old Bates. The words were set to several different pieces of music, until, finally, a tune, written many years earlier, became the accepted version. Just as those who hear the song feel inspired by the patriotic sentiments, children will be stirred by Gall's pictures. Using hand engraving on clay-covered board and enhancing elements such as color with a computer, he offers a series of pictures resembling woodcuts in form and WPA paintings in style

You're a Grand Old Flag, illustrated by Norman Rockwell (Atheneum) Ages 4-8 Written in 1906 by George M. Cohan, "You're a Grand Old Flag" has been a favorite celebration song for generations of Americans. Now see it brought to life like never before as it is set with images of Americana, by the master of all things patriotic, Norman Rockwell. Children run to the swimming hole, families attend parades, a young couple kisses, and soldiers salute in this tribute to Norman Rockwell and the American culture, so beautifully immortalized in his art. With a foreword by Norman Rockwell's grandson, John Rockwell, this book is a treasure that families will love to sing along with.

My Country, Tis of Thee, photographs by Samuel Francis Smith (Cartwheel) Ages 4-8 The words to this familiar patriotic song are illustrated with stunning photographs of the American landscape and people. Children will enjoy celebrating the beauty of this country as they learn the words to "My Country Tis of Thee."

The Story of "The Star Spangled Banner, by Patricia A. Pingry, illustrated by Nancy Munger (Candy Cane Press) Ages 4-8 Fewer than two hundred words tell the story of how Frances Scott Key observed the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 and was so moved by the sight of the flag still flying at dawn that he wrote the poem that became our national anthem. Included in this little book are the words to the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner" along with the admonition that we should stand up, remove our hats, and place our hands over our hearts when this song is played.