Sunday, March 27, 2011

#78 The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero is the first book in Rick Riordan's new series The Heroes of Olympus. Those of you who are Percy Jackson fans will be happy to know that many of the characters from that series find their way into this series as well: it is really a continuation of the story.

The book begins by introducing us to the main three characters: Jason, Piper and Leo. Piper and Leo are about to discover the shocking truth that they are demigods, which explains a lot about the events of their young lives. Jason has been stripped of his memory and, although he is at camp with Leo (and holding hands with Piper!) he has no idea who he is or how he got there. From the very first chapter you will be glued to this book. I literally could not put it down, and it consumed the first two days of my spring break - but it was worth it!

The only disappointment? The next book in the series is not due out until fall of 2011. I may have to go back and re-read the Percy Jackson series while I wait!

If you haven't been to the Rick Riordan website you'll want to be sure to do so. You can find it at: Besides learning more about all of the books he's written you will also find some very fun activities to go along with the stories. Perhaps you are a demigod, and didn't even know it? You're in luck: the website has a great test to find out if you are.

Watch the video below to hear Rick Riordan tell you more about this exciting new book:

#77 School of Fear

There isn't a whole lot to be scared of at the School of Fear, except your own fears. You meet some pretty unusual characters in this book, beginning with Madeleine, who is so afraid of bugs that she never goes anywhere without her bug spray and veil. Then there's Theodore, a pudgy boy who is deathly afraid of dying (get it? Deathly afraid?), Lulu is scared of confined spaces, and Garrision is terrified of water. The four of them are sent by their families to the School of Fear - a summer school where they are going to face their fears and learn to overcome them.

If you enjoyed the Lemony Snicket books I think this is one you will also like to read. There are wonderful descriptive words and incredibly unusual names, and surprises around every corner. Of course, any author with the name Gitty Daneshvari is sure to come up with some pretty crazy names, wouldn't you think?

Once you've read School of Fear, there are three more stories in the series. Here is a book trailer video on the second, called Class is Not Dismissed. As far as I can tell the titles of the next two have not been released yet. You might as well read them all though - and then get ready, because supposedly Time Warner has already made a movie deal - so School of Fear will be on the big screen and coming to theatres near you!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

#76 Amelia Rules: The Tweenage Guide to NOT Being Unpopular

This is the first Amelia book I had read, so it took me a while to get into her character. This is a graphic novel as well, so that slowed me down too. I find it interesting that even though I loved comic books as a child, I have a difficult time reading graphic novels. I hope that doesn't mean I'm getting old!

Back to the book: the story begins with Amelia and her friend Rhonda working together on a school project about the future. They really get excited about it, and their project turns out great! Unfortunately, that's when the teasing starts, and Rhonda and Amelia begin to wonder what it is that makes a kid popular.

Now it's always a little hard for me to figure out these graphic novels and the message they're trying to give, but I think there's a message here about being kind to people, doing what you love, sticking by your friends, and not worrying about what others think. I guess you'll have to check it out and see if you get that same message.

In the meantime, enjoy Amelia's website and this fun book trailer:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

#75 King of Shadows

Although I've been trying to read the newest books in our collection, there are still many books out of the thousands we have that I haven't had a chance to read. King of Shadows by Susan Cooper is one of these.

It was so wonderful to have a snow day today so I could curl up and read this book from cover to cover! I was glued to it! Nathan is an actor who is hired to travel to England to play the role of Puck in Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. He is a great little actor and is perfect for the part.

Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed in a theatre called Globe Theatre in the late 1500's and early 1600's. In the story a reproduction of the Globe Theatre has been erected so this entire cast of young boys (ages 11-18) have been brought in from all over the United States to put on two plays in the way they would have been performed 400 years ago.

Suddenly Nat feels a little dizzy, however, and the next thing he knows he's feeling sick and is sent to bed. When he awakes he is still in England - but he is in the England of 1599! What a surprise when he is taken to the original Globe Theatre and not only expected to play the same role of Puck, but also given the chance to meet William Shakespeare face-to-face, to act with him, and to live in his home.

Through this great fantasy we find Nat living out the realities of England in 1599 - a very dirty and disgusting place (with no running water, electricity, or any of the comforts he is used to). However, Nat plays his part and becomes quite attached to his new friend, William Shakespeare. But why has he been transported through time, and what will happen as they days continue. Will he ever get back to the future again?

As I said, this was a page turner - and I loved every minute of it! It is a challenging book to read, especially with the old English language and the many parts of the Shakespeare plays, but if you can take your time and make your way through it you will be very glad you did!

#74 Little Cricket

As fourth graders one of the things we study in social studies is immigration. So often we think of those immigrants as people who came to the United States hundreds of years ago. Little Cricket tells the story of modern day immigrants, and is set in Minnesota. It is a wonderful story, but is based on the real events of our society.

Kia lives happily with her family in Thailand. We get to know Kia, her brother Xigi, her parents and grandparents in the first part of the book, and we see them as a pretty typical family. However, during the Vietnam War Kia's village is no longer peaceful. They struggle for a time, and Kia's father is taken by the North Vietnamese where he will be forced to fight for them. Kia's grandfather assists the Americans who are trying to help free the people. This is a terrifying and dangerous time, and when her grandfather becomes ill the family decides to leave for a better life in the United States.

Families from Minnesota (and other areas around the country) are working together to help assist these families, but there are many challenges. There is a lot of "red tape" and paperwork, and because of an error, Kia's mother and grandmother are forced to remain there while only Kia and Xigi travel with their grandfather to Minnesota.

Through Kia's story we can learn how it feels to leave everything you know and love, and move to a place where the customs, the language, the life itself is so very different. Author Jackie Brown wrote this story in 2004, and the story takes place in the mid-1970's when a large number of Hmong families came to live in Minnesota. We are welcoming immigrants from around the world continually. I believe that reading this story will help all of us be more understanding of the challenges our new citizens face, and will teach us to show more compassion as we work together to make them feel at home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#73 No Such Thing as Dragons

Young Ansel, a boy who doesn't speak at all, is offered by his father to Johannes Brock, a dragon-hunter, to serve as his assistant while he travels into the mountains to hunt a fierce dragon. At first Ansel is afraid, but Brock assures him that there really is no such thing as a dragon: he just says there is so he can look like a hero to the village people. It is all just a show to him.

Their trip progresses perfectly until they reach the superstitious village, head up into the mountains to pretend to hunt the dragon, and are faced with the biggest surprise of all: the dragon is real! Suddenly Brock realizes that he didn't ever really want to fight a dragon, and Ansel must decide if he can be brave enough to do battle with the dragon on his own.

This is a great fantasy: well-written and adventurous. I found myself cheering for Ansel, and even taking pity on the poor dragon, and I especially enjoyed the twists and turns that lead the story to a satisfying ending.

You can find author Philip Reeve's website here:

#72 Jip: His Story

Katherine Paterson is one of my favorite authors. If you haven't read any of her books, you are certain to do so in the next few years: Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Jacob Have I Loved, The Same Stuff as Stars. I chose to read Jip because it was one of her books that I had never read.

Well, I am so glad I finally read it! The only thing Jip knows about where he came from is that when he was a baby he was found on the side of the road, supposedly fallen out of a wagon driven by the gypsies (Hence, the name: Jip). Because the community is poor, Jip is raised on a farm. Although he always wonders why no one ever came back for him, he considers the poorhouse home and at a young age does most of the work around the place.

When a stranger starts showing up asking Jip about his past, Jip begins to question where he came from. It isn't until he comes face-to-face to the man who may be his father that Jip learns his story and decides what to do next.

This book is an excellent historical fiction book and ties in really well with many of the other stories we read about the underground railroad. So much is included in this book: friendship, loyalty, respect, family, the importance of education. It is beautifully written, and is now one of my favorites. I encourage you to read it as well: it will certainly cause you consider some important issues!

You can find out more about Katherine Paterson at her website:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#71 The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs

Calling all fans of ghost stories: Cynthia DeFelice has another great one! You loved The Ghost of Fossil Glen? The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs is the exciting sequel.

Allie is back at school just a few weeks after her first exciting adventure in Fossil Glen. Just as life seems to be getting back to normal, Allie sees another ghost and she begins to hear him speaking to her. She believes he's telling her something about the head cook, Mrs. Hobbs, so she takes on an assignment so she can interview Mrs. Hobbs. During their interview a mysterious fire breaks out and things start to get very hot - literally!

Just when Allie needs her friend Dub the most, they end up in a fight. Who can Allie share these strange activities with now? Her little brother is in danger, fires are starting in more unusual places, and even her favorite teacher's dog Hoover seems to be scared of Allie. This book is a page-turner, and you will love every minute of the suspense!

You can learn more about author Cynthia DeFelice at her website:

#70 Zita the Spacegirl Book One: Far From Home

Another graphic novel!! Zita and Joseph discover a huge crater, and in the center, a button (like the "Easy" button from Staples). Now who could resist pushing the button? Zita does...and to her surprise an alien space creature appears and Joseph is grabbed and pulled away.

At first Zita doesn't know how to react, but she realizes she must find Joseph and rescue him - and just like that, she's off on her adventure! Off she goes to the planet Scriptor, where she finds some helpful friends: a giant mouse that she rides; an oversize bloblike creature named Strong Strong, a Heavily Armored Mobile Battle Orb known as One, and Robot Randy. Together they head off to the Scriptorians' castle to rescue Joseph. Zita must risk her life in order to rescue him: can it be done?

The comic illustrations are very fun and if you're a graphic novel fan I just know you'll enjoy this exciting adventure!

Here is the website about Zita: and a fun book trailer for you to watch:

Zita the Spacegirl: Trailer from Ben Hatke on Vimeo.

#69 Wishworks Inc

If you were given one wish what would you wish for? Max wishes for a dog. However, Max's wish doesn't turn out quite the way he dreams.

Max is bullied in his new school, and to help him cope with that he has imagined a great big dog, King, who would walk beside him and protect him. The dog he dreams of is a big dog like King. The dog he gets is a dog so small Max doesn't think it could protect anything. He calls his new dog Ratty.

Max is soon wishing that Ratty would disappear. Do all wishes come true? To Max they seem to - but not in ways he expects. What Max doesn't even realize is that what he really needs is a friend.

Author Stephanie Tolan is probably best known for her 2003 Newbery Honor book Surviving the Applewhites. You can learn more about her books at:

#68 The Real Lucky Charm

Mia and her twin brother Marcus both want to play basketball and are excited to sign up for their teams. The problem comes when not enough girls sign up, so Marcus's team adds the girls and they become the first coed team in the league. To celebrate their first practice, their Dad gives Marcus a new basketball jersey and gives Mia a basketball charm for her charm bracelet.

Mia plays great - and begins to believe that the charm is what makes her so good: she rubs it before every game. It also seems to work in school, when taking tests or completing projects. Mia decides that because she has this great new lucky charm she doesn't need to practice or study at all. This works just great until Mia loses the charm and has a bad day at school and an even worse day in basketball.

Should she quit the team? Is there really such a thing as a lucky charm, or do we make our own "luck" by working hard? Mia is about to find out.

#67 laveideM

I have to admit that I'm not quite sure what to do about this book. You see, every book I've written about in this blog has been one that I'm happy to recommend. However, laveideM was not a book I was particularly impressed with, and it is not a book I would encourage many students to read. Please don't get me wrong: I am sure there are some students would find it "a hilarious fantasy" (as one reader proclaimed in a review I read) but for the most part I found it to be a little difficult to follow and more work than fun to read.

The story starts off in a fractured fairy-tale sort of way - with Lord Bugle (who executes most of his staff), a beautiful princess with a mysterious message, a peasant, and a few random dragons and castles. Jason, the peasant, joins in partnership with Lord Bugle and they set off to deliver the letter for Princess Jennifer. Along the way they do have a few adventures, but these are usually highlighted as being funny. This made me lose interest in the story quite quickly, and I really had to struggle to continue reading until the end.

This book was a Scholastic Art & Writing Award contest winner and the author wrote the book while she was in college. That may explain was the book isn't as well-written as I would have liked, and I wish the publishers had worked with her to develop the story more thoroughly.

As I said, there may be readers who enjoy it, but I found it to be one of those books I wished I hadn't wasted my time on.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#66 Finding Danny

This book, Finding Danny, by Linzi Glass, is a testament to the saying that something good can come out of a bad event. Bree is devastated when her dog, Danny, is lost. She and her parents look everywhere for him, putting up posters and searching the neighborhood, and asking everyone they see, but it seems that Danny has disappeared.

Suddenly Bree thinks she sees Danny running through a neighbor's yard. She calls out to him, but he runs, and she chases him. Just as she is getting close, the dog darts out into the street in front of an oncoming car. Bree throws her self at him and catches the dog - only to realize that it isn't Danny. However, someone else is chasing the dog too. And this begins a wonderful new friendship between Bree and Rayleen, a dog-lover, who has made it her mission to help lost dogs find their owners.

Rayleen introduces Bree to the local animal shelter and Bree dives right in and begins volunteering and planning a huge adoption event. But will anyone come? And will the dogs who are red-listed (have been there too long and will be euthanized) find families to call their own?

Oh - and the good things that come out bad? There are many: a few new friends, a new mission, a healing of relationships, and many more!

If you love dogs (like Bree) and especially if you want to help them, you'll want to visit this website by the Humane Society: Created just for kids, this site includes contests, games and activities related to pets. It's a great way to help out a pet, have a little fun, and learn more about caring for animals.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

#65 Kennedy Through the Lens

The photography in this book is terrific, and it was especially fun for me to read because of how important I remember President Kennedy being to my family. I was just a baby when he was president, but I know that his life and his family made a lasting impression on my parents and on my oldest sister.

I think there are a lot of things that were happening in the early 1960's that can be compared with things that are happening in our world today. President Obama faces many of the same challenges as President Kennedy did, and in addition to that, President Obama's family is in the public eye in much the same way as Kennedy's was.

As I said, the book has beautiful pictures that really help tell the story. However, the AR level on this book is 9.1 and it is intended for grades 6-9, so you really have to be a good reader in order to get through this one. If you do, I promise you'll learn a lot about history - and you'll learn a lot about a great leader.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

#64 The Shark Attacks of 1916

This "I survived" series has already been a popular series in our library, I've noticed. I checked this one out because of the big shark looming on the cover - and the boys in the water near it. It looked like a great adventure!

The Shark Attacks of 1916 is based on true events in history. Even though the names were changed in this book, the events are told as they actually happened. What a strange occurrence: to have so many shark attacks to close together, and many of them in shallow ocean water and even in rivers!

At the end of the book is the first chapter of the next "I Survived" book, which is about Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I can't wait!

Read more about the shark attacks, the Titanic, and Hurricane Katrina at:

Friday, March 4, 2011

#63 Throwing Heat

On to another baseball book. In Throwing Heat, by Fred Bowen, Jack is a young pitcher with a sizzling fastball. What a pitch! He can strike out just about anybody, and when he's measure by the speed gun at the fair he throws 75 miles an hour!! So why is Jack having so much trouble in games?

Jack's sister's boyfriend, Finn, encourages Jack to throw a change-up, and not to worry so much about speed, but Jack isn't so sure. At first he ignores Finn's directions, but once he finds out that Finn might be right, Jack decides to do what Finn tells him to do...and that's when Jack begins to find success as a pitcher.

There is a lot of great baseball instruction in this book, and it is based on real life baseball players. Finn tells Jack about a pitcher named Dalkowski who pitched in the 1950's and 60's. He was thought by many to have the "fastest pitch ever". However, he never had a great pitching career. In fact. he never made it to the Major Leagues.

Fred Bowen has a whole series of sports books. You can learn more about them at: Whether you have dreams of being an all-star or not, you will definitely enjoy these books!

#62 She Loved Baseball: the Effa Manley Story

Play Ball! It's spring training time - and I thought that would be the perfect time to read a few baseball books. I started with this one: a picture book that tells a wonderful piece of history.

A woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame? That doesn't seem possible! This book tells the true story of Effa Manley, a woman who loved baseball, and who worked to change the face of baseball by paving the way for the black players in the Negro Baseball League to be entered into the professional leagues, and finally into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Effa Manley was a believer in being heard - no matter how long it took. She organized protests and wrote letters to share her beliefs. She believed in treating everyone fairly, regardless of the color of their skin, and in recognizing the talent in every person. This book has a lot of great messages for kids and adults today. Sure, it's a picture book, but I think it's a perfect book to start baseball season with. So - play ball!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

#61 Play, Louis, Play!

Play, Louis, Play! The True Story of a Boy and His Horn is the story of Louis Armstrong - but it's told in an unusual way. His horn (his cornet) tells the story, which really makes it fun.

I love reading stories about the lives of famous people. Muriel Weinstein makes this one come alive, especially when she describes Louis. He was obviously a very happy boy, and it shows every time he sings, "ooblee-loon-lee" or when he "jiggles with joy". I had often wondered why Louis Armstrong was sometimes called "Satchmo", and if you read this book you can find out too!

You will also find out a lot more about jazz and ragtime, and how this poor little boy who loved music (and had a really rough childhood) followed his dreams.