Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Adam Rex


Image from MacBarnett.com
Simon and Schuster, 2009
9781416978152

SUMMARY
You might think that Steve Brixton is just an ordinary kid who would rather read all 59 books in the Bailey Brothers mystery series instead of write an 8 page research paper on early American needlework. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Steve is actually a detective or at least he will be after he figures out the whereabouts of a valuable piece of American history. In the meantime, he has to dodge Rick the less-than-bright policeman who is dating his mother, a squad of secret government agents (aka librarians), and the mysterious Mr. E. Will Steve and his best friend Dana be able to solve this tricky case and finish their research papers by Monday morning? With the help of The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook they just might be able to save the day (no guarantees on the papers though)!

The first in the Brixton Brothers series this action-packed story is a tongue-in-cheek spin on classic Hardy Boys stories. In short chapters, Barnett creates a world in which the ridiculous is taken seriously making for some truly outlandish and funny situations. Written in third person, the plot has plenty of twists and completes with a satisfying ending in which Steve reveals the most unlikely suspect to be the villain. Rex’s pen and ink illustrations, done in classic mystery series style, add context and humor to the story. Gloriously dated bits of the fictional detective handbook are included along with illustrations demonstrating how to identify a bad guy or tie a rope from bed sheets. This quick read is great for reluctant or below level readers.

Read an excerpt of the book. Can you solve the mystery before Steve does?

CONNECTIONS
*Follow these directions to make a secret book box like Steve does in the book.

*Check out the official Brixton Brothers website for more fun stuff.

*Pair this book with a Hardy Boys mystery. Compare and contrast Steve and Dana to Frank and Joe. How are the characters and plots similar or different?

*Read about the further adventures of Steve and Dana in the other Brixton Brothers books:

*Readalikes:
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Boom by Mark Haddon
The Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 8+ / Grade 3+

-Amy

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Image from Us.PenguinGroup.com
Dial, 2013
9780803738553

SUMMARY
Willow lives an orderly life with her adoptive parents until their unexpected death forces her out of her well-worn routine of gardening, researching, and counting by sevens. As she grieves for her parents, Willow finds herself nurtured by an unlikely group of people – the Vietnamese-American Nguyen family, her lazy school counselor, and a local taxi driver. Intensely curious and analytical, Willow excels at academics. But no matter how her vast vocabulary she is still emotionally an 11 year old and not equipped to handle her grief alone. As the story progresses Willow’s world expands from just her parents and plants to a community of diverse people who support one another.

Sloan has crafted a unique story with a memorable heroine and a multicultural cast of characters. Willow matter-of-factly calls herself a “person of color,” but she never elaborates on this beyond stating that her skin is dark and her hair is a mess of curls. Cultural customs, such as lucky colors and foods, are incorporated seamlessly into the narrative. Socio-economic status is addressed as Willow’s comfortable former life is contrasted with her new “temporary” life with the Nguyen family, first in a converted garage and later in a small apartment. There are frequent references to locations that firmly ground the story in contemporary Bakersfield, California. The chapters alternate between Willow’s first person narrative and third person observations that flesh out the supporting characters and propel the plot forward. Willow’s voice is pragmatic, yet there is a poetic sensibility that enriches the story.  The short chapters keep this introspective book moving at a rolling pace that allows for thought, but never drags. This is an intriguing combination that will captivate readers.

CONNECTIONS
*Use this for a book club and discuss the use of labels. Talk about the labels that Dell creates for his students. What other labels have you encountered at school, at home, with friends?

*Check out Nova Ren Suma‘s interview with Sloan on the blog, Distraction no. 99.

*Readalikes:
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
           
RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 10+ / Grade 5+

-Amy

Friday, September 13, 2013

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark


Image from HachetteBookGroup.com
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
9780316206662

SUMMARY
At first the dark green sofa sitting in front of the mysterious Underhill place just seemed like junk waiting to be picked up. At least that’s what 12 year old River and his friends Freak and Fiona think. But after pulling out some strange tidbits from the sofa cushions, including a rare zucchini crayon that seems to be worth thousands of dollars, the trio begins to realize there’s more to this sofa than meets the eye. For one thing, it’s part of an 8 piece set. For another, it’s actually a sophisticated computer that can think and tesser, all powered by dust bunnies. Finally, it’s owned by the eccentric and non-human Alf who is determined to save the Earth from an evil villain from another world, known as Indorsia. River and his friends are trying to save Earth too, but should they trust the enigmatic Alf? Should they trust the sofa? And what does the zucchini crayon have to do with it all?

Set in Pennsylvania, this comical science fiction story is written in first person from River’s point of view. The characters are a bit over the top, but this seems to fit the melodramatic, exaggerated tone of the story. The one exception is Freak’s alcoholic and abusive father, which seems to be Clark’s only brush with a truly serious topic. The tale is propelled by humorous dialogue and, in the words of River’s English teacher, “hyperdiculous” situations. Several plot twists and subtle foreshadowing make for a satisfying conclusion. Cartoonish zucchini-colored maps on the endpapers are a nice touch. Readers who are looking for an adventure story with a touch of wacky will find this an entertaining read.

Read an excerpt of the book to get an idea of the hyperdiculous and frabjous world Clark has created.

CONNECTIONS
*Several uniquely shaped hot air balloons are a major plot point. Ask kids to use their imagination to design their own hot air balloon.

*Only a few colors in the special limited edition box of crayons are named in the story. What other vegetables colors would you include in the box? If you could create a themed box of crayons, what would you name the colors?

*Readalikes:
Boom by Mark Haddon
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass

RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 9+ / Grade 4+

-Amy

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain, Illustrated by Anne Keenan Higgins


Image from Scholastic.com
Scholastic, 2013
9780545443524

SUMMARY
Almost-Eight-Years-Old Jules Bloom doesn’t expect anything special to happen on the day she sings her very own, made-up-for-fun Fizzy Ice Cream Cone song at the dinner table at the local diner. Well, maybe she expects her artist mother, chef father, and not-so-good-at-standing-still little brother Henry to clap and cheer. But she certainly doesn’t expect a casting director, the effortlessly cool Colby Kingston, to invite her to audition for a mouthwash commercial! The audition is on Friday, but in the meantime Jules is busy making lists and learning about friendship. At first Jules is worried about whether or not she’ll get the commercial, but then she gets the script and develops an even bigger worry: The commercial is for orange mouthwash! Orange! Jules can’t believe her bad luck! After a horrible incident in a taxi cab involving throwing up large amounts of orange sherbet, she can’t even handle the smell of oranges. Will Jules get the part if she throws up during her audition? Will the new girl, Elinor from London, become Jules’ new best friend? And will Jules and her ex-best friend, Charlotte “Stinkytown” Pinkerton, continue to fight? One thing’s for sure, this week won’t be boring!

Set in New York City this story centers around a vibrant, realistic, and unique protagonist. I especially love her colorful style and her goal-oriented lists. Surrounding Jules is a loving, quirky family. Supportive and encouraging, Jules’ parents always have time to answer her questions and work through issues. The plot complications have to do with overcoming personal obstacles, be it the taste of oranges or the changing of friendships. Friendship is a major theme in this book, as Jules learns to make new friends, appreciate old friends, and accept that sometimes people change and that’s okay. Short chapters, written in first person from Jules’ perspective, keep the pace quick as the story effortlessly unfolds. The text is a balance of narration and realistic, yet humorous, dialogue that will keep readers engaged. Higgins cartoon-ish black and white spot illustrations provide visual interest and just enough context to keep transitional readers moving forward.

Get to know Jules a little better by reading an excerpt from the book.

CONNECTIONS
*Check out the discussion guide (written in list form, naturally) published by Scholastic.

*In the book, Elinor introduces Jules to astrology. Have kids figure out their signs and the signs of their friends for fun. You could also bring in books on constellations so kids can see the constellation for their sign.

*Follow Jules adventures as she tackles her part in a movie in the sequel. Scheduled to be published later this month (Sept 2013):
            Starring Jules (In Drama-Rama)

*Readalikes:
            The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
            The Ruby Lu series by Lenore Look
            The Violet Mackerel series by Anna Branford

RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 7+ / Grade 2+

-Amy