Sunday, November 28, 2010

Because of Mr. Terupt

This book is written from 6 different points of view. Mr. Terupt is a new teacher who tries to get his students to be responsible for their actions. The students like his class and method of teaching but when one prankster causes a serious injury, the students have to rethink about their behaviors and the consequences of how they treat others.

The chapters are short and the book is a quick read. Some of the characters are likeable and others are not. These fifth grade students have to learn how to stand up for themselves and know the effects of good or bad choices on themselves and those around them.

Several chapters in a row end with the kids saying how great Mr. Terupt is as a teacher. I found it annoying. For instance, on page 19 Anna ends the chapter with: "He wasn't going to let me hide all year. This made me nervous, but it turned out to be a good thing in the end." The next chapter ends with Peter saying, "Man, things were just so much fun with Mr. T." The following chapter has Luke saying "I think it was a case of Mr. Terupt being a special teacher."

This happens over the course of six pages and I'm beginning to feel like someone is hitting me over the head with the book shouting, "Do you get it? We love Mr. Terupt!"

 Just show me, don't tell me.

The author stops doing this and the drama surrounding the story picks up. The book was enjoyable and deals with issues of students being new, teased, bullied, and ostracized.

Reading Level 4.6

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

My best friend and I set off on our bikes determined to go further than we ever had before. The wind whipped my hair off my face and nervousness, joy and excitement rippled through me like heat waves off the asphalt. We were having a blast.

Until we got lost.

That wasn't so much fun.

Jeremy Fink in the book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass, is the opposite of me. He likes comfort so much he won't even eat anything other than peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. It is hard for Jeremy to be adventurous until the day he gets a box from his now-dead father that has the words engraved in it: The meaning of life: for Jeremy Fink to open on his 13th birthday. The box is missing 4 keys to open it and Jeremy goes on a quest to find them with his best friend Lizzy.

Lizzy is like a sister to Jeremy. Her mother left when she was a baby and Jeremy's family is like her adopted family. Lizzy has issues with stealing items when her hands "get itchy." She doesn't like to sit for long because she doesn't want to think deeply about things. When she has to start using her brain she steals stuff and starts to run.

Lizzy's stealing doesn't make sense in the beginning and I remember reading it and asking myself, "Huh? Why would she do that?" I also thought Jeremy was weird just eating peanut butter sandwiches. I thought his Mom only made him that as a meal but Jeremy wouldn't eat anything else.  I remember thinking these are two strange kids but their actions become clear at the end of the story.

Jeremy's Dad leaves the two of them a wonderful message in the box. You'll have to read the book to discover what it is!

Scholastic book trailer video

Reading Level 5.0

:-) :-) :-) 3.75  Smileys

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Futuristic Dr. Doolittle.

Meet Max who lives in a world where people don't go outside but have all their needs met through technology.

Well sort of.

Max has a bedroom that is so high tech he doesn't see his parents in person but on the LCD screens on his walls. His room is completely computerized - the ceiling is  a gigantic speaker - and hardwired to his leg. Literally. He has a computer chip implanted in his leg that reads all his vital signs. The computer can predict when he wants to eat, use the toilet, has low sugar, etc. Whenever Max's vital signs change, his parents contact him by phone - even though dad works at home and has an office 3 doors down from his room. His parents are media celebrities who make bizarre decisions that no normal parent would make. I hope.

Dumb parents aside, the story has lots of action and tension. Max gets a gift from his Dad and discovers he can talk to animals. His dog, Hugo, alerts him to the fact that the Vet they go to is really an evil man who's abusing animals by putting computer chips in them and controlling them. Max works with Hugo to uncover the plot of how he'll take over the world.

 The end is a setup for the next book. Fun read.

Reading Level 5.3

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys.

The Exiled Queen

Princess Raisa has run away from an arranged marriage to a military academy with Amon and two other cadets who are meant to guard her. She's taking more than a full class schedule in order to gain knowledge that will help her be a better ruler. This is the start to The Exiled Queen, the sequel of The Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima. Princess Raisa is too small and slight to be a soldier but she's tough and uses her brains to get out of difficult situations.

Han is at wizard school with Dancer. All he wants to be is a student but he is being recruited by all sorts of people who want to use his magical powers for selfish reasons. Han doesn't cross paths with Raisa until later in the story but he still doesn't know that she's a princess. Han and Raisa's school experiences are somewhat similar to Harry Potter with them having to deal with bullies and good and not so good professors. There are plenty of love triangles as people couple up or go their separate ways.

Nice pacing, quick read with plenty of action. Read the first book or it might be confusing in parts. Also, the ending is a setup for a third book.

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning

Violet Raines not only got struck by lightning she emitted raging electrical bolts at all the people who knew her.

Honestly, Violet is not a very likeable kid.

She is jealous of her best friends new friendship with the girl who has moved into town, but they are so nasty and rude to each other I'm amazed they eventually become friends. This story captures being 13-years-old too well and it is all the ugliness of girls being catty, jealous, and immature. Violet and her best friend, Lottie, have problems when Melissa moves into town. Melissa becomes friends with Lottie and they have makeovers, watch soap operas, and read magazines. Violet gets jealous and mad because she doesn't want her friendship with Lottie to change. Violet and Melissa swap insults every time they are together. Violet shows kindness to Lottie's younger sister but it is too little and doesn't balance out the snottiness of the girls attitudes toward each other.

The writing is quite beautiful. The author's descriptions and the unique voice of Violet are clear and well-done. Violet is manipulating her mom in this passage: "'Now why you asking me that?' I make the exact opposite of a smile. Some people think that's a frown, but they're wrong. The exact opposite of a smile is an I-don't-care face, like I make now. 'Just wondered.' I take a bite out my cupcake. It works, 'cause she looks past me and I can tell she's looking through the memories in her head. Her face gets all soft and, for a moment, she looks young."

While the writing is great, the characters are not.   

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Night Fairy

Fairy godmothers are great but fairy mothers are not great.

They leave their fairy babies after three days to fend for themselves. Some of those fairies don't survive.

So begins Flory's tale in, The Night Fairy, by Laura Amy Schlitz. Flory is about three months old when a bat mistakes her for a moth and bites off her wings. She falls to the earth and learns to survive in a world of giant-sized animals. Along the way she makes friends and learns to overcome her fear of bats.

The illustrations in the book are beautiful and add to the story. The beginning of the story has too many sentences that start with "she." The rhythmn of the text has a monotonous feel. I almost put the book down. It gets more interesting toward the end and the tension picks up.

This book is simliar to the Rainbow Magic fairy series but a little more difficult to read. I prefer the Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, by Gail Carson Levine which has more tension and action in the story.

Reading Level 4.7

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Scandinavian Mythology

The mighty Thor rides a goat-drawn chariot.

That's right... goats!

Zeus has a chariot pulled by gorgeous winged horses. Even Santa gets some cute reindeer. The Norse myths give the Valkyries, or women warriors who collect the dead from the battlefield, winged-horses that drive chariots.

Thor just got the short end of the stick. I can see oxen or bulls. But goats? Maybe they were the two older Billy Goats Gruff.

None of the three books I read on Scandinavian mythology explained this, although in Mary Pope Osborne's book, Favorite Norse Myths,  (4.8 reading level) the goats were gold. I guess that might look cool.

According to the book, Scandinavian Mythology (6.7 reading level), by Jason Porterfield, Thor is the Viking ideal. In the book, Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse (4.9 reading level), by Leonard Everett Fisher, Thor has a magical belt that doubles his strength, a magical hammer that makes lightning when he strikes things, and a chariot that rumbles as thunder when he rides it around the sky. The bleating of goats is the sound of light rain - just kidding. Thor  is the most popular of the Norse gods.  

Porterfield's book is packed with information and the language is at a higher level than the other two books. Osborne's book reads like a story and is probably going to be the most engaging if you don't want to get bogged down with facts, while Everitt's book is more introductory with each page describing a god.

What I enjoyed the most about reading the books are how much literature came to mind that uses Norse myths. The Alchemyst: the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott has the tree Yggdrasilll and its collapse. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R. Tolkien uses the legend of the curse of the ring. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis has an endless winter. In Norse Myths an endless winter will precede Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and giants or good and evil.

Odin gets an eight-legged horse that is faster than any horse. He is the "All Father" and has a habit of taking all the best for himself. Maybe that's why Thor got the goats. Every Christmas we put up these cute straw goats which my bestemor or grandma said came from Sweden. Porterfield said that many Christmas traditions are celebrations of pre-Christian Scandinavia and the straw goats represent the goats that pull Thor's chariot.

I looked up online why he rode goats and there is a story of him eating the goats and then resurrecting them. It also said that the horns on the goats were magnificent and that they were faster than any of the other chariots.

Jason in the Lost Hero gets rescued from some evil wind gods by a winged-horse-drawn chariot. It might have been funny if he'd been picked up by a goat-drawn chariot. The goats are the fauns or satyrs who protect the kids at the camp.

But I'm getting side-tracked.

I suppose the Scandinavians picked the goat for practical reasons. The goat was important to the farmer in providing milk for a family and other sustenance such as nutrition. My view of the goat  is more urban than rural.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Lost Hero

I didn't peek!

When I get bored with a story, I peek ahead to the ending.

Oftentimes this spoils the story. But this time I just hardly put the book down. In the book, The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan, the action was nonstop, the characters were fun, and the plot unpredictable. I might have even liked it better than the Percy Jackson series. Shhhhh! I said "might."

Three new characters are introduced to Camp Half-Blood: Jason, Piper, and Leo. The characters are quite distinct and Leo is hysterical. I also got a kick out of how some of the gods are presented like Aeolus, who is slightly insane from trying to predict the weather which the gods constantly change: "'Hello Olympus! Aeolus, master of the winds here, with weather every twelve [minutes]! We'll have a low-pressure system moving over Florida today, so expect milder temperatures since Demeter wishes to spare the citrus farmers!' ... He tapped his ear piece. 'Sorry folks! Poseidon is angry with Miami today, so it looks like the Florida freeze is back on! Sorry Demeter!'" (p. 416) He also describes Aeolus as having so much plastic-surgery that his face looks like "a Ken doll someone halfway melted in a microwave." (p. 412)

Jason is the hero and leader, while Piper is smart and beautiful. Leo is the wise-cracking jokster who keeps everyone laughing: "'Your Dad is Hephaestus.' 'Festus?' Leo had heard somebody say that before but he was still dismayed. 'Sounds like the god of cowboys.'" (p. 67) Whoop it up with this new quest as the demigods fight to save the world from evil.

Take away the "might." I think this is Riordan's best book yet.

Reading Level 4.8

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Candy Shop

Candy that gives you superpowers.

Imagine milk chocolate melting in your mouth and coating you body with iron so that you are indestructable. You could jump from a 3-story building like Nate does while running for his life.

In The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull, Nate and his friends are able to do all sorts of fun stuff with magical candy given to them from Belinda, owner of the The Candy Shoppe. Belinda asks them to perform assignments that get shadier and shadier. She says if they don't do it, they won't get anymore candy. When she asks them to steal an object they decide to stop working for her and get caught up with a second magician who is at war with Belinda. Both magicians want a magical artifact and they recruit kids to help them obtain it because the magical candy only works on children.

I thought the start was full of action and some interesting creatures but then things slowed down when the kids were at school getting bullied. I got a little bored with the missions  such as when they had to get mushrooms. I can see the author was trying to show the kids learning to trust Belinda but it was too slow. The plot was very predictable until the end where there are some surprise twists.

Some parts of this book were delicious, while other parts were bland. Check out the more satisfying Fablehaven series.

Reading Level 6.1

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


A sci-fi fairytale with a pinch of history?

This story is weird.

Really weird.

And it oozes with tension which is what kept me from putting it down.

That's it's strength.

Incarceron is a prison that Finn, the main character, is trying to escape. The prison has no sky or stars and no one has ever escaped except Sapphique who is a legend among the thousands of inhabitants of the prison. Finn is convinced that he is from the Outside but has only a few vague memories of a birthday party. He has visions where he sees stars, water and Sapphique. This makes him special among the people. 

The prison is alive and talks to Finn. Originally the prison was setup to be a paradise but instead it has become a living Hell. The prison preys on the fears of people and suggests that the evil in humans is what poisons the place and keeps people from being good. People and animals are recycled and many are born as half human; that is, part machine and part flesh. The prison is running out of organic matter. Even the prison wants to know what is on the Outside and takes interest in Finn.

When Finn finds a key in the prison he becomes connected with Claudia who has a matching key. Claudia helps Finn and his friends in their quest to escape the prison. She is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She has been raised since birth to marry the spoiled prince of the current Queen. When she meets Finn she is convinced because of a tattoo on his arm that he is the prince she was originally betrothed to but who supposedly died in a riding accident. She wants him to escape Incarceron so she doesn't have to marry the current prince.

The plot is predictable in many ways and somewhat slow in the beginning but it takes off full speed at the end with all sorts of twists that setup for the sequel.

So don't peek ahead (like I did)! Or you'll spoil some of the surprises.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Dreamer

Neftali? Who spoons the water from the clouds to the snowcap to the river and feeds it to the hungry ocean? (p. 9)

The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, in the book, The Dreamer, writes a fictional tale about the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda born Neftali Reyes. The above quote  is Ryan's attempt to imitate Neruda in his book titled, The Book of Questions. The Dreamer shows Neftalia's difficult childhood growing up with a domineering father who detested his daydreaming and desire to be a poet. Neftali was a sick, painfully shy child who had overcome these obstacles to reach his dream of being a poet.

The writing in the book is beautiful and Peter Sis has illustrations that add to the richness of the story:  He heard only the thudding of retreating footsteps, a clumping of footfalls on wooden stairs, and a swollen door yelping shut. Ryan imitates Neftalis poetry of looking deeply at objects throughout the story: He heard a rustling inside a rotting log and bent to peek inside. A gigantic horned beetle scurried from beneath the leaves. At first Neftali jerked back, but then he bent closer to watch it hiss. He had never seen a beetle so big or fierce-looking. (p. 99) He then pretends or deams that he climbs onto the beetles back and rides it like a horse.

This book is written like no other book I have read. The illustrations and poetry weaved together like a tapestry; inseparable from the rest of the story.

Reading Level 5.3

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys