Archive for May, 2008

the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

the dead and the goneI have never been frightened by a book.  When I was a toddler, I could look at picture books full of dragons and dinosaurs and scary witches without ever turning a hair.  When I recommend picture books to parents at the library, I have to continually remind myself that not all little children are as blase as I was. 

All those fears, though, have been released by the oeuvre of one author: Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I read her first book Life As We Knew It, when it came out a few years ago, and eagerly awaited the companion book, the dead & the gone, when I heard that it would be coming out this spring. 

The conceit of Pfeffer’s books is that an asteroid has hit the moon, pushing it closer to the earth and causing all manner of upheaval, in the tides, the weather, the earth, and society.  The first book was set in Pennsylvania, in a medium-sized town, and followed the family of a teenaged girl as they lived through the destruction of everything they knew.  The second book is set in New York City, and follows Alex Morales, a junior in high school.  When the asteroid hits the moon, his father is in Puerto Rico visiting family, and his mother is at work at a hospital in the Bronx; his older brother Carlos, a Marine, is stationed in California.  As the weeks go by, it becomes obvious that the only one available to take care of Alex and his two younger sisters is Alex himself.

Reading about Alex, Bri and Julia as they struggle to live without parents or income, in an increasingly deserted city, their only support their church and schools (both hard-hit themselves), as more and more terrible things keep happening, was extremely difficult.  Pfeffer’s writing is excellent, her characters are compelling, and (unfortunately) her situations are all-to-believable. 

There are no easy outs in this book, and no definite answers.  The story does end on a note of hope, but I’m still shaking at the power of the experience.  I’m excited — but also terrified — at the news that a third book is in the works.

Posted by: Sarah

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The Very Greedy Bee by Steve Smallman

The Very Greedy BeeWith the arrival of spring comes bugs, bugs, and more bugs!  In this story, a very greedy bee learns that it’s best not to “overslurp”.  The bee gets himself into a bit of a jam and needs to rely on a group of friendly fireflies and ants for help.  Part of this book’s charm is its adorable and brightly colored illustrations.  Read it along with my other favorites from this illustrator, The Very Lazy Ladybug and Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Posted by: Liz

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The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

The London Eye MysteryTed & Kat’s cousin, Salim, and Salim’s mother come for a short family visit before moving to New York City. The family all go together to ride the London Eye which is a huge ferris wheel in London.  Because of the wait, Salim ends up riding by himself and he never comes off of the pod. The police are called in but have no leads. Kat feels responsible and decides that by using her brother’s amazing brain, they should be able to figure out what happened to Salim. Ted who has Asperger’s syndrome, has a great memory for details and a great interest in science.  He comes up with 9 theories to account for his cousin’s disappearance and the plot is off and running. Interesting characters and a good plot make this a great read. Recommended for boys and girls 5th-8th grade especially those who like mysteries or science.

Posted by: Fran W.

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Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

Fairy Tale DetectivesDo Fairy Tales need detectives? Daphne and Sabrina, the Grimm Sisters, thought so when they were plunked down in the middle of real fairy tale characters, called the Everafters, who were living in disguise in Ferryport Landing, New York. When their granny, who they really didn’t think was their granny, was kidnapped by a giant as he crushed houses with his big feet, they had to do something.

You’ll have fun with this fairy tale mix-up with the three little pigs as policemen, Jack, of beanstalk fame, in jail and Snow Whites’ mirror carefully queried for help.  When you have this adventure all figured out you may want to follow the Grimm Sisters as they continue their detective escapades. There are 5 more books waiting for you and the series may keep growing ever after.

Posted by: Iris

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The Middle of Somewhere by J. B. Cheaney

The Middle of SomewhereThis wonderful story was one surprise after another.  It starts out with Ronnie, her brother “Gee” (who happens to have ADHD), and their mom in the emergency room after a squirrel has gotten into their home and caused havoc, resulting in a serious knee injury for their mom.  It is the beginning of the kids’ summer vacation, and since their mom is out of commission, they need some adult supervision.  Just by coincidence, their grandfather (who is a wind prospector by trade) arrives just then from his travels, and their mom comes up with the idea for the kids to go along with him on a “business trip” through Kansas.  The grandfather takes Ronnie and Gee along reluctantly, especially given the fact that Gee is such a handful.  Gee’s ADHD and general exuberance get them into some UNIQUE situations, and in the end helps Ronnie find the adventure and maybe the direction she has been looking for.  I really enjoyed reading this book, and I will most definitely recommend it to kids.

Posted by: Mary

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Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Lawn BoyThis is a quick read and a funny story by a well-known, well-liked author, about a 12-year-old boy’s summer job ballooning into something way bigger than anyone could imagine.  Our protagonist starts out wondering where he could get enough money for a new bike inner tube.  In an unrelated happening, his grandmother gives him an old riding lawn mower for his birthday present.  As our boy begins to cut the little dead lawn his family has, more to test out his machine, than to earn money his family doesn’t have, another neighbor offers him a lawn job, and then another and another, and business takes off like a meteor.  Enter, now, neighbor Arnold who is a day-trader and wants to pay for his lawn cutting by purchasing some stock shares with the proceeds (if there are any) going to the boy.  Too many lawn requests necessitate helpers being called in, and now our lawn boy has employees to take care of, too.  Everything really gets out-of-hand with jobs, employees, stocks, investments, strong-arm thugs, and too much (?) money.

As we mow through this funny story, we learn little lessons about capitalism along the way, and our young lawn boy who starts out without a penny will surprise you very much.  Even if other 12-year-old kids can’t quite relate to all that happens to our boy here, they will wish they could.  I recommend this humorous story for 4th graders and older – even adults!

Posted by: Fran D.

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Dusssie by Nancy Springer

DusssieThis is another Medusaesque story, based on the ancient Greek myth.  One morning, Dussie wakes up to find her head covered in snakes.  She is obviously completely freaked out.  Then, in the space of 24 hours, she learns her mom is a Gorgon (yep, a real Greek Gorgon which means her looks can turn people to stone), turns the boy she has a crush on to stone, and meets The Sisterhood (a group of women from mythology….think Sphinx, harpy, etc).  So her life pretty much sucks.  But she somehow manages to make friends, learn about her snakes, and figure a way out of this mess.  This is a great book that explores mythology in a modern setting.  Springer, as usual, does a great job of conveying what it would be like to be a character from mythology. 

Posted by: Kate

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