DK Adventures: Horse Club by Patricia J. Murphy

DK Adventures: Horse Club. By Patricia J. Murphy. Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2014. 128 pages. $16.99/hardcover and $5.99/paperback

Saddle up, readers and get ready to enjoy a rollicking good time at the Paddock Promises Horse Academy and Stables! Emma, her sister Amanda and their friends from Horse Club go to riding camp over winter break. While not without incident, their camp experience fulfills their wildest dreams, including the sisters pulling off a not-to-be-believed special trick at the Horse Show-and-Tells before a stunned audience of family and friends.

The text is peppered with a great deal of factual information on horses including riding, equipment, and breeds. For the most part, this information is placed at the end of the chapters, allowing readers to learn along with the riders. Occasionally however, these spreads are placed within the chapter, interrupting the flow of Patricia J. Murphy’s galloping narrative.

Horse Club, as the newest entry in Dorling Kindersley’s DK Adventure series, deserves a top billing all its own. Murphy, author of over 150 children’s books, has created a sure fire winner for the middle grade set. Not just for horse lovers, this title has appeal for developing readers in 2nd-4th grades.

Counting by 7’s

Counting by 7’s. By Holly Goldberg Sloan. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group USA Inc.), 2013. 384 pages. $16.99

Willow Chance is brilliant. She has an encyclopedia knowledge of medical conditions and plants.. She thinks of the world as a pattern of 7’s. An outlier? Definitely. But she fits right in with her warm and supportive, albeit small, family. Then Willow ’s life is changed in a heartbeat. Her parents die in a tragic accident and she faces the very real possibility of being swept into the foster care system.  Friends she didn’t know existed step up to provide her a place to live and a buffer against the system. In the spirit of Polacio’s Wonder and Lord’s Rules, Sloan opens our world to the possibilities of those who are differently abled. She writes with the same clarity and strength that she bestows upon Willow, who you’ll come to admire for her resiliency and determination. Counting by 7’s is achingly sad, funny, and heartwarming. A wonderful book for grades 4 and up.

Book 1: The Hypnotists: Hypnotize Me

The Hypnotists: Hypnotize Me. By Gordon Korman. Scholastic Press, 2013. 240 pages. $16.99

Look into my eyes… go to your nearest independent bookstore and buy a copy of Gordon Korman’s newest book Hypnotize Me. When you awake, you’ll remember all of the details and be telling your friends about this great new series. Korman has created a vivid and mesmerizing (sorry, I couldn’t help it!) world for hypnotists. Jackson Opus wonders why things go awry when he looks at some kids in a certain way. It turns out he’s descended from not one, but two, powerful families of hypnotists. As he learns to control his power, he realizes that not everyone has his best interests at heart as Dr. Mako seeks to exploit his powers to influence the results of a national election. Non-stop action will put even the most reluctant of readers in a trance. Korman has a winner here. Readable, thrilling, full of twists and turns, this book will appeal to readers in grades 4 to 8.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. By Chris Grabenstein. Random House, 2013. 304 pages. $16.99

Disclaimer! I’m an elementary school librarian. I LOVED this book. I’m trying to think of how I can use it in my school library program to turn kids on to the magic of the Dewey Decimal System. But let me back up a minute….

Mr. Lemoncello, a board game magnate, bequeaths his hometown of Alexandriaville the funds for a new library. This is not just any library. It has all of the latest and greatest, not-yet-to-be-imagined-in-the-real-world, features. A drawing is held and twelve seventh graders are selected to celebrate the library’s opening by spending the night in the library. Their challenge is to find their way out. Relying on their game-playing skills, knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, and applying old-fashioned logic, the 12-year-olds battle each other to win the grand prize. Conflict arises, allegiances form, egos are bruised, and friendships are formed as the puzzle is solved. Grabenstein has crafted an innovative story, but it requires a certain knowledge of and appreciation of how libraries are organized. Readers may not have that fascination and/or interest and that could narrow the appeal for this book. Hand-selling the title to library lovers will be key.  Perfect for bibliophiles in grades 4-7.

When I’m not reading children’s books, I’m most often found curled up with a good mystery. This is certainly due to my preoccupation with Nancy Drew in my formative years :-)

I don’t think the #1 selection surprises anyone, but maybe some of the others do. I had never read Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver, so I finished it this summer while in northern Michigan. It kept me on the edge of my seat clear through the end. The concierge at The Grand Hotel mentioned that you could visit locations in the book if you were visiting the north coast of the Upper Peninsula. Maybe on the next trip….

25 Greatest Law Novels…
ABA Journal August 2013 Vol 99 #8

25. Old Filth (2004) by Jane Gardam
25. The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
24. The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand
23. Anatomy of a Murder (1958) by Robert Traver
22. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood
21. The Count of Monte Crisco (1844) by Alexander Dumas
20. The Firm by John Grisham
19. QBVII (1970) by Leon Uris
18. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston
17. The Caine Mutiny (1951) by Herman Wouk
16. A Time to Kill (1989) by John Grisham
15. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens
14. The Stranger (1942) by Albert Camus
13. Native Son (1940) by Richard Wright
12. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) by Herman Melville
11. The Paper Chase (1971) by John Jay Osborn Jr.
10. An American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser
9. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) by Tom Wolfe
8. The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathanial Hawthorne
7. Presumed Innocent (1987) by Scott Turow
6. Billy Budd (1924) by Herman Melville
5. Les Miserables (1862) by Victor Hugo
4. The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka
3. Bleak House (1852) by Charles Dickens
2. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fydor Dostoevsky
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Bluffton. By Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, 2013. 240 pages. $22.99

Summer in Bluffton…. On the shores of Lake Michigan in the early 1900’s,  a community of vaudeville performers summers near Muskegon Michigan. Notable is the Keaton family, including young Buster. Henry Harrison much prefers playing baseball and swimming with these transient members of the community to helping out in his father’s store. The friends grow up and move on… but Henry will have the memories of these Bluffton summers. Matt Phelan takes a little known story about a little known town and brings both alive. Using watercolor panels, Phelan seems to innately know what the scene calls for in order to evoke an emotional response from the reader. The dialogue is sparse with his artwork often carrying the storyline for a series of pages. The palette of summer colors is as refreshing as a dip in Lake Michigan. This book, like Phelan’s award winning Storm in the Barn is a perfect entre to the graphic novel genre. It’s time to summer in Bluffton! For readers and artists in grades 4 and up.

My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman

My Weird Writing Tips. By Dan Gutman. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013. 154 pages. $16.99 (Hardcover) and $5.99 (Paperback)

What’s there not to love about Dan Gutman promoting writing using his popular My Weird School series. He starts with encouraging a good story, something Gutman know a little bit about. Next are basics of grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Topics are covered in the irreverent form you’d expect from a tie-in with the Weird School kids. Having said that, the message isn’t lost in the humor. While keeping the tone light and lively, Gutman drives home the point that the ability to communicate is vitally important. Teachers will enjoy incorporating sections the book into their writing lessons. Parents will want to have a copy left in their student’s homework spot. We can only hope the kids will pick them up. For grades 3-7.

After Iris by Natasha Farrant

After Iris. By Natasha Farrant. 272 pages. $16.99

Imagine having your twin die. And then imagine life going on. That, in a nutshell, is the story of After Iris by Natasha Farrant. Life for the Gadsby family goes on after the death of Iris, but things will never be the same for Flora, Jasmine, Twig and their parents. But most of all, life won’t be the same for Iris’ twin, Blue. Blue disengages from the family viewing them, as they grieve separately rather than together, through the lens of her movie camera. When Zoran, the Bosnian male au pair, and Joss the new-boy-next-door enter the scene, things can go either way. Will it be further disruption or a mending of the family? Farrant has crafted a poignant story about the fragile emotions that envelope a family as they cope with what life has wrought. At times funny, at times sarcastic, at times heartfelt, all-in-all this is an engaging read. For grades 4-8.

Summer Reading

I’m back from my hiatus and will be actively writing about all things to do with books and reading resources, especially those geared to middle grade readers.

Since I’ve last posted, I’ve taken several classes. In the spring I was enrolled at the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science as a community credit student taking a course on youth and media.

This summer, I’ve been immersed in picture books! As part of ALA, I attended the preconference sponsored by ALSC celebrating 75 years of the Caldecott Award. What a wonderful day at the Art Institute of Chicago hearing from some of the most notable illustrators in the game today talk about their work and art. I’ve followed that up with an online course through Penn State University on The Art of the Picture Book (LL ED462). I highly recommend this course. It is well facilitated with excellent feedback from Dr. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw. The readings and assignments are interesting and the dialogue with other students is top-notch.

As for actual reading, I’ve turned to some adult books. Don’t miss Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic. The lyrical writing and riveting plot will hold you spellbound. Along with practically everyone else I read Dan Brown’s Inferno, which was everything I expected from a Dan Brown book – fast paced, page-turning action with a neat plot resolution at the end. While at ALA, I picked up an advance reading copy of Sara Paretsky’s newest book, due out this November. Keep an eye out for Critical Mass. I couldn’t put it down. Next up for me, and I’m sure many others, is the Cuckoo’s Calling. Who would have thought it; JK Rowling plays detective!

Enjoy your summer reading… I know I am.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Hold Fast. By Blue Balliett. Scholastic Press, 2013. 288 pages. $17.99

Early and Jubilation Pearl, along with their parents Dash and Summer, don’t have much in this world in the way of material goods, but they do have strong family bonds built on a love of words, language and books. That makes it all the more mysterious when Dash disappears, their apartment is ransacked, and their meager possessions destroyed. This event propels Mom Summer with Early and Jubilation onto the Chicago shelter system. What transpires next is a testament to the resourcefulness and the resilience of the human spirit as Early sets out to solve the puzzle of Dash’s disappearance. The clues are there – she just needs to solve them.  This might just be Blue Balliett’s best work to date, inspiring compassion for those who must traverse the world of the homeless. Suitable for readers in 4th -8th grades.

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