Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ellie McDoodle Have Pen Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw

"So now I'm trapped in a steel projectile, hurtling down the highway into the Great Unknown with a bunch of control freaks and snotty-nosed brats. Eric started a fight with Deanna and Tiffie so Aunt Mug is making me sit next to him. I'd rather ride on the roof rack." (3)

Eleanor McDougal, otherwise known as Ellie McDoodle, is forced to spend a week with her twin 11 year old cousins, her seven year old cousin, her three year old brother, and her aunt and uncle camping in a cabin while her parents go out of town. Just look at how Ellie depicts her cousin Er-ICK! (as a multi-armed dinosaur), and you can see this is going to be a fun trip. From catching frogs to going on a bear hunt, it's filled with outdoor adventures as Ellie tries to keep her sanity during this trip. Along the way, all the frogs they caught are released during the night, Eric goes missing, and the whole family finds and reads Ellie's journal. Ruth McNally Barshaw, who lives in Lansing and sets the story in Michigan, also reveals numerous fun games that any kid can play after reading Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen Will Travel. Everyone who has read it has compared it to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but no one has told me which one they like better. Read it yourself and make your own comparisions.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff

"Georgie decided that if his parents were going to go do something stupid like have another kid, a kid who would probably end up as huge as Godzilla, he definitely was not going to spend his hard-earned dog-walking money to buy them a Christmas present. They were going to have to settle for a nice poem under the tree this year." (45)

Georgie Bishop is the shortest fourth grader in the entire school. He needs a stool to reach the chalk board, a pillow to support his back on his oversized desk, and is forced to walk the smaller dogs (Poodles!) in his dog walking business with his friend because he can't handle the bigger ones. But that's not the only thing about Georgie. He's annoyed constantly by Jeanie the Meanie, who not only sits behind him in class, but also has to work with her on their class project. His friend Andy might be moving, and oh yeah, Georgie's mom is having another baby, who will probably be taller than Georgie. What's a kid to do? Read The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

"If you so choose, each one of you may walk out of this room with one million dollars and never have to think of Grace Cahill or her last wishes again. Or . . . you may choose a clue -- a single clue that will be your only inheritance. No money. No property. Just a clue that might lead you to the most important treasure in the world and make you powerful beyond belief . . . "
William's gray eyes seemed to settle on Dan particularly. ". . . or it might kill you. One million dollars or the clue. You have five minutes to decide." (20)

Dan and Amy Cahill's grandmother, Grace Cahill, has just passed away. But at the reading of her will, both children find out that they were left more then they were bargained. Instead of a piece of jewelry or maybe the cat, everyone is given the choice: take one million dollars and run, or forfeit the money for a clue and a promise of power if they succeed in solving all 39 clues. Beginning in Boston, the seven teams quickly end up in a round the world trip, with Amy and Dan dragging along their college-aged "au pair" Nellie. But for some reason (maybe because everyone knew Dan and Amy were Grace's favorite relatives), the rest of the teams believe Dan and Amy have an advantage. They're going to do everything in their power to stop them from solving the clues first. Clues are hiden everywhere in The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, and readers have to pay special attention to everything, including what page they're on...


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

"But before you turn the page, I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city. You will rush through the doors into a crowded lobby. You will evnetually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him, because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he's waiting for his story to begin." (1)

After these words, readers have over 40 pages of beautifully drawn black and white illustrations which show not only the scene just described, but continue the story. Interspersed with increasing amounts of text, 284 pages of these drawings advance the story and make it seem like a movie's story board than a novel. The first work of fiction to win a Caldecott Award (besides the usual picture books) tells the story of Hugo Cabret, a twelve year old orphan who cares for the clocks in the Paris train station after his uncle abandoned the job. Set in 1931, it interweaves true references to real life occurances with the story of how Hugo's own secrets set in motion the exposure of an even bigger secret, one that affects the bitter old toy shop owner and his god-daughter and a man with an eye-patch. Things aren't what they appear, and thieves and secrets lurk in ever corner of this highly acclaimed book by Brian Selznick. You need to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret at least twice, once for the plot and once for the pictures, but I think most readers will return to this book again and again. Plus, what other time will you get away with reading a book that is half pictures?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks

Over the years, Oggie's teachers had found all kinds of interesting ways to describe him -- unique, quirky, one-of-a-kind. Last year, in third grade, Oggie's teacher, Mrs. Stifler, had said that Oggie marched to the beat of a different drummer. Oggie had found that comment surprising, considering the only instrument he knew how to play was the kazoo..." (19)

Fourth-grader Oggie Cooder is slightly odd, whether it be in his choice of patterned clothing from his parent's resale shop, or his sentences dealing with a failed bagel naming contest cropping up in a spelling test. Since life can be stressful, Oggie deals with it in a unique way, "charving." Charving is carving cheese into shapes, and Oggie particularly enjoys making the shapes of the United States. When a television talent show rolls into town for auditions, he gains fame, a manager, and the popularity he had been missing. But does Oggie really want what comes with his new found fame? Does Oggie win the contest with his charving talent, or will the kid who can make his rabbit faint with onion breath win the top cash prize? Find out when you read Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

"First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary. I know what it says on the cover, but when Mom went out to buy this thing I SPECIFICALLY told her to get one that didn't say "diary" on it.... So just don't expect me to be all "Dear Diary" this and "Dear Diary" that." (1)

This is how Jeff Kinney in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Greg Heffley's Journal introduces Greg Heffley, a middle schooler who is just trying to figure out a way to get through school. In a way, Greg knows the rules, like the fastest runner is no longer the most popular kid like he was in fifth grade. On the other hand, he can't figure out why his friend Rowly Jefferson is mad at him after Rowly got in trouble for something Greg did. Whether it's an unsuccessful haunted house, or trying to get out of being a tree in the school play, readers witness the hillarious everyday ups and downs of middle school. Illustrated throughout with drawings that are little more than stick figures just add to the appearance of an actual journal. His alternating confusion and comprehension and his wry humor is a perfect combination for any reader. A must read!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

"There was once a kindly old wizard who used his magic generously and wisely for the benefit of his neighbors." (1)

So starts the first of five wizard fairy tales published in J.K. Rowling's newest book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The text and morals are very reminiscent of fairy tales that we Muggles grew up reading, some of them almost directly comparable to versions we've heard. Younger children will be highly entertained by the stories. Older readers will get just as much enjoyment from the stories, and have an added bonus of reading Dumbledore's commentary after each one, which definitely adds depth to the story. The commentary, although rudimentary, could be used by teachers to show how literary analysis is crafted. The stories are all short, with the longest one being 15 pages, so I won't spill the plots. Generous margins make it an easy read and perfect for bedtime stories. Simple balck and white pictures are available for each story, and the cover art is just gorgeous. This would also serve as a good introduction to the magical world of Harry Potter for those younger siblings who have been watching their brothers and sisters grow up with the wizard. Not as much action as the previous seven books, but definitely a must read for any die-hard fan.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood

"When I was seven years of age, my prospects changed, as some say they do every seven years of a person's life." (4)

At seven, the young orphan Widge leaves the orphanage and goes to live with Dr. Timothy Bright. While there, Widge learns the Dr.'s form of shorthand writing in order to take notes of his experiments. At fourteen, Widge is sold to a mysterious cloaked stranger named Falconer and brought to a new master. His new master expects Widge to copy down William Shakespeare's newest play Hamlet, and bring it to him so his theatre company can make money off the hit play. Unfortunately, complications arise, and Widge is forced to join Shakespeare's theatre group in order to avoid suspicion. Will he ever be able to finish the task and can he avoid the threat of Falconer's growing impatience? What will his friends in the company think when they learn of his original plans? If you want a story with some London sword play and back alley chases, read The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood.