Archive for August, 2012

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith

The Great Cake MysteryQuite often, we are asked for mystery books by children who have only been reading for a few years. There are a number of mystery series written for children of that age (the A to Z Mysteries, Nate the Great, Cam Jansen), but children who like mysteries REALLY like mysteries, and by the time they have to ask an adult for a book recommendation, they’ve already burned through all the well-known series.

We’re always excited to see the first book in a new series, and luckily for us, Alexander McCall Smith has produced a spin-off of his adult series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, called The Great Cake Mystery. This first book in what will hopefully be many tells a story of nine-year-old Precious Ramotswe (future proprietor of the aforementioned agency) and the very first mystery she ever solved–one that involves all of her classmates at her country school in Botswana.

While the mystery is not trivial, the story is a gentle one, and unlikely upset young or sensitive children. The book isn’t meant for the very first emerging readers, but for those who are already reading easy chapter books, such as the Magic Tree House series. The great strength of the book lies in the African setting, which is beautifully described, and the description is augmented by phenomenal illustrations by Iain McIntosh. The wood cut-like depictions combine with McCall Smith’s words to create a Botswana so different, and yet so comfortable, that they will entice any child to want to visit.

Posted by: Sarah

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Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Book Review

Eileen shows us how to while away the lazy month of August with How to Cook: Delicious Dishes Perfect for Teen Cooks by Maggie Mayhew.

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The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray

Gingerbread Man Loose the SchoolHere in our library, it seems that the interest in the gingerbread man isn’t just a holiday thing, it happens year round — and this book will keep that fascination going. In this version, the gingerbread man has been baked by kids at school and left to cool in their classroom while they go out for recess. Well, the gingerbread man can’t believe that they would just leave him behind, and he becomes very distressed. He wants to be part of the class, and so he runs after them through the halls of the school looking for them (I’ll run and I’ll run, as fast as I can. I CAN catch them! I’m their gingerbread man!).

There are of course some obstacles along the way, for instance a bouncing ball that flattens him like a pancake and breaks off his toe, but the teachers and school nurse and the principal are willing to help him catch up with his class. When he arrives in the principal’s office, he finds that the kids are actually out looking for him and have posted missing signs all over the school! He is finally reunited with his classroom who have built a gingerbread desk and chair and a cozy house for him, and they pledge to always take him along since he is part of their class now. Such a clever take on a very old story! This books is REALLY FUN and a wonderful read-aloud too – and rhyming to boot!

Posted by: Mary

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I Am Invited to a Party by Mo Willems

I Am Invited to a PartyThis is not a new book but it is a cute summer read. Piggie gets her first ever party invitation and she asks Elephant to go with her. He is delighted and tells her that he knows about parties. He advises her that it might be a fancy party and that they should dress up for it. They do! But then he says that it might be a pool party. So they wear their pool accessories also. But wait, it might be a costume party too! Does Elephant know parties like he says he does? Look for this book in the Easy Fiction section under the author. It is a lot of fun. And if you like it, there are more Elephant and Piggie books.

Posted by: Fran

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My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff

My Heart Will Not Sit Down Kedi lives in a small village in the African country of Cameroon. Her teacher is a young man from America who has told Kedi and her classmates about the Great Depression and the children who are starving in New York City because they have no money for food. Kedi sympathizes with these children so greatly that her “heart stands up and will not sit down” until she has done something about it. But what? The families in Kedi’s village have food – they work hard growing, fishing, and hunting so they can eat – but they have little money. However, once Kedi’s heart has stood up, one by one, the rest of the villagers’ hearts stand as well, and they offer what little coins they have to help the starving children in America.

We learn in the Author’s Note that Kedi’s story is based in truth: in 1931, the city of New York received $3.77 to feed the hungry, from a group of villagers in Cameroon. Even in 1931, $3.77 would not have been very much money in New York City, but to the villagers of Cameroon it would have been a very great deal of money. The author notes similar instances in which people around the world, people who were poor themselves, have sacrificed to help others in need. I am inspired and moved by this story of compassion and humility, and think it would be a wonderful book to share with children of all ages. One does not have to be of a certain age, or position, or from a rich or powerful country, to have a heart that will not sit down when it hears of hunger and hardship.

Posted by: Parry

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Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash! by Barbara Odanaka

Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash!Right now, my son’s favorite day of the week is garbage day. Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash! by Barbara Odanaka is a fun book to read with any child that loves garbage trucks. Two little pigs eagerly await the arrival of the garbage truck, and they are able to see it gobble up a broken chair along with some apple cores and moldy bread. The rhyming, upbeat text catches the anticipation, excitement, and thrill of waiting for the garbage truck. Read it along with my other favorite book about garbage, Trashy Town by Zimmerman, for a trash-a-riffic storytime.

Posted by: Liz

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Another Brother by Matthew Cordell

Another BrotherAs the oldest sister in a family of four, I immediately related to Davey, the sheep who, for the first four years of his life enjoyed the good life. Then, Petey came along, and then Mike and then Stu until there were 12 other brothers! It should be mentioned that Davey’s family is a family of sheep, not people, but people of all ages will relate to Davey’s plight as each brother appears and further exasperates poor Davey. Davey’s main problem with all of those brothers is how they try to copy everything he does. The book is composed of hilarious illustrations of Davey riding his bike, followed by his 12 brothers, Davey asking for Toot Loops for breakfast and all 12 brothers wanting the same breakfast and finally, Davey glaring at his brothers and pulling his hair in frustration and all 12 doing it right back to him. Eventually, Davey’s brothers start to develop their own interests, and Davey finds himself all alone in his empty bedroom, that is, until a new little sister saves him from his loneliness.

The illustrations in this picture book are certainly minimalist. The sheep are portrayed in their home through line drawings and only small splashes of color appear in the mostly black and white art work. But the illustrations are where the humor of this story shines through. There is a hilarious spread of Davey leading his 12 brothers down the street on their bikes and another hilarious picture of Mother and Father sheep attempting to sit in easy chairs at the end of a hard day, but their straight sheep legs and puffy bodies really aren’t made for chairs and consequently, they are shown sliding out of them. The story is written in rhyme and the lilting tone will keep even very young listeners engaged. A hilarious pick for anyone who has ever been a sibling, is about to become a sibling or has dreamed of having a sibling.

Posted by: Kelly

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Crush by Gary Paulsen

CrushKevin Spencer is the most romantic 14-year- old guy you will ever meet – or so he would like to have us believe. He has a crush on Tina Zabinski who, in Kevin’s eyes, is the most beautiful girl in the world. He just knows he would make a perfect boyfriend. He realizes that he must swing into immediate action when the new boy in school, Cash, starts showing attention to Tina.

Since romance is based on chemistry, Kevin decides that he must gather information on love and romance by creating a variety of experiments. Some of his experiments are successful and others not so much. He feels that his experiments have him on the right tract to understanding girls and thus becoming the best of the best when it comes to being a boyfriend.

The problem is Kevin tries too hard. His experiments don’t really help him figure how girls think. Nor do they give him the nerve to ask Tina out. Is this romance doomed before it even begins? I suggest you read this clever and funny book to find out.

Other books about Kevin Spencer are Flat Broke and Liar, Liar.

Posted by: Wendy

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Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song by George Ella Lyon

Which Side Are You OnAmong many other things, the good sisters at my high school instilled in me a strong love of song and a deep sense of social justice. When books like Which Side Are You On? by Kentucky native George Ella Lyon come along, both of those passions are well satisfied.

The story tells of the incredible circumstances that led to the writing of a famous pro union song, “Which Side Are You On?” With the sheriff’s gun-toting thugs shooting up her modest home, Florence Reece, a miner’s wife and mother of seven, tore a page from her calendar, crouched down on the floor-(to avoid the bullets) and wrote what was in her heart. The words are simple and stirring. They’ve buoyed the flagging spirits of workers around the globe and they’re as true today as they were 80 plus years ago. United, we can stand against oppression and aggression.

Lyon, a musician herself, suggests that the reader go online to listen to the many iterations of that song over the years—from Florence herself to folk icon, Pete Seeger to a “trad-punk” (my term) Boston group called the Dropkick Murphys.

George Ella Lyon is in familiar territory here. She born and raised in Harlan County Kentucky, the heart of coal country. Though she was a town girl, the mountains surrounded her and played—still play—a large role in forming who she grew up to be. Many of her books– Mama is a Miner, Sonny’s House of Spies, Who Came Down That Road?— take place in the area she knows so well. In Which Side Are You On? Her simple description of the coal miner’s plight makes the story accessible to young readers. However, she has notes at the end of the book that detail the beginning of the union movement in Harlan County and would spark the imagination of an eager older child. This would be a good adjunct to a 5th grade social studies class. It’s a look at life away from the big cities but just as gritty as any other ghetto.

Christopher Cardinale’s illustrations, with his long angular miners and their thin, big eyed families speak to the hardscrabble life in a company town. He has just enough cross hatching in the background to give his drawings the illusion that coal dust that has settled all over them the way did close to the mines.

If you’d like to find out more about Ms. Lyon, she has a wonderful website where she discusses poetry, sings her songs and talks about her life as an author, musician and activist. You’ll find it at: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/index.html .

Posted by: Eileen

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