Monday, July 25, 2011

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

Teddy Fitzroy is a prankster who finds entertainment at the zoo his parents work at by giving monkeys water balloons or getting the security guards to chase after him for being places he's not supposed to be. But when the Mascot, Henry the Hippo, turns up dead Teddy decides to sneak into the auditorium where the autopsy is being done. He overhears that Henry was murdered and begins an investigation of his own. There are plenty of suspects and with the help of a girl, Summer, the two smart kids work out the clues to discover who the real culprit is in this fun mystery.

The wise-cracking Teddy who is fascinated with animals (and their poop) manages to get into all sorts of scrapes that should appeal to kids. The action is broken with sections that describe zoos, poachers, animals and slows the action. I wish the author had worked these long sections in with more dialogue and showed rather than listed several pages of facts.  Luckily there are not too many sections like this but it kept it from being a much better novel. Also, the ending was rushed and the hippo funeral was unbelieveable and at odds with the message of treating animals with respect. I don't know if young readers will notice these subtle contradictions - I think they will be caught up in the mystery and plot twists.

There are three swear words from adults that aren't necessary and are out-of-character; they are spoken by his level-headed Mom, the Archbishop, and Teddy. Don't read the ending, it will spoil the twists if you know what happens. I have a bad habit of reading the ending...

5.6 Reading Level

3 out of 5 Smileys

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen is a funny, well-written romantic comedy that had some interesting themes such as living in the past, being a dreamer versus a realist, believing in yourself, creating quality work, and have the courage to risk changes. Gil (played by Owen Wilson) arrives in Paris with his fiancee, Inez, and her parents. This beautiful city enthralls the romantic Gil with its rich literary history. He wants to live there and walk in the rain exploring the streets that have inspired some of the greatest artists in history. Inez is a realist and rich brat who can't understand why anyone would think walking in the rain and getting wet would be romantic. She wants Gil to continue making lots of money as a screenwriter and live in Malibu. Gil feels that his career as a screenwriter lacks quality and he wants to change careers, live in Paris, and finish a quality fiction novel. Gil wants to find more meaning in his craft and produce something that has a lasting value in society; something that will last long after he is dead. Inez thinks he's nuts but humors him.

Inez and Gil meet Paul and Carol in Paris. Paul is a pendantic professor who Inez admires and thinks more highly of than Gil. She puts Gil down and goggles over the brilliant Paul. Inez wants Paul to read Gil's novel and she explains to them that he won't let anyone read his manuscript and get help. She does know that the story is about a person who collects nostalgia pieces from the 1920's and that Gil wishes he was born in that era. She's condescending when she explains it to her friends and isn't supportive of Gil's venture into novel writing. One night after dinner with Paul and Carol, Paul suggests going dancing while Gil suggests just he and Inez go for a stroll on the streets of Paris. Inez say's she'd rather go dancing and leaves Gil to walk the streets alone. Gil gets lost and is waiting at a corner when a 1920's car pulls up with Scott Fitzgerald as a passenger inviting Gil to go for a ride. Gil is transported back to the 1920's were he meets famous musicians, artists, and writers. He meets Ernest Hemingway while barhopping with Fitzgerald and asks him to read his manuscript. Hemingway says "no" that he would hate it because he hates all writers - they are his competition and he wants to be the best writer of the time. He does offer to pass on Gil's manuscript to the famous publicist, Gertrude Stein.

Stein makes recommendations for his book and Gil is transported back to modern times where he writes like mad and grows farther apart from Inez. She in turn goes out more with Paul and Carol. When Gil goes back in the past the famous artists tell how their art comments on the times they were currently living in: Picasso comments on bourgeous society, Hemingway comments on war, Fitzgerald comments on American society, Dali comments on reality, and Picasso's mistress comments are a mirror of Gil's desires to live in the past. When Gil changes his novel to reflect the present and his relationship with Inez he gradually realizes he needs to let go of his past in order to move forward.

The character development of Gil is well done showing a person unsure of himself and his art to one confident and willing to take a risk in order to pursue his dream of creating quality work. The dialogue is funny in the contrasts of Gil who is more simple and Paul who is a know-it-all intellectual. The satire of the famous characters is at its best in the character of Salvador Dali (played by Adrien Brody). He was melodramatic and describes the sadness of Gill like a surrealist painting that is hysterical. He also sees a rhinoceros in everything. Google Dali's work if you are not familiar with it - the scene will be funnier with that background knowledge.  Time will tell if as an artist Woody Allen's film will be a lasting comment on the 21st century. This movie is for adults or teenagers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Sidney Charney

Ever seen that teacher who has developed a classroom community of students that is filled with an eagerness for learning and joy at being at school? Ever wonder how they do that?

The book, Teaching children to Care: Classroom Management for Ethical and Academic Growth, K-8, by Ruth Sidney Charney, shows educators how they can do this in their classrooms. In order to build a community, educators need to use positive language and have a clear sense of classroom expectations and routines. Many examples and scenerios that teachers have experienced with students fill the pages of the book making it easy-to-read and relate to by the reader. Examples of misbehaviors, how to deal with them, how to prevent them from escalating, and what to expect at certain ages are detailed throughout the chapters. Lesson ideas are suggested and helpful tips are sprinkled throughout the pages. While this book is written for the classroom teacher , it can be adapted by specialists to their area of expertise. Parents might find this book helpful with how to deal with misbehaviors. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy and I’ll lend it to you.

Nonfiction: professional book

5 Smileys

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Jaide and Jack are waiting for Dad to come home. When his suitcase falls open and they pick up a metal rod the house explodes and a series of events happen that sends them to Grandma X's house. They are troubletwisters and must learn to control their powers. The problem is no one really wants to tell them exactly what those powers are or how to control them. When the evil villian threatens to take over their minds and bodies they are forced to teach themselves with a little help from two talking cats.

I usually like Garth Nix but this book is not my favorite. The beginning has a promising start but it slows down in the middle before picking up again at the end. Not all the questions are answered such as the twin seen in the photo of their dad or how they will control their powers. It is obvious that there will be a sequel. The characters argue and don't trust each other and the names are odd: Grandma X, Jaidith, Jackaran, The Evil. There is plenty of action at the end and some scary parts with zombie-like creatures trying to kill the twins.

There's no reading level (I'd put it between 5 and 6). Grades 3-7

:-) :-) :-) 3 out of 5 Smileys

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley

Molly comes from a poor, illiterate family of seven children. Her father is abusive and her crazy mom is locked in a room in their house. When Molly sees into the future predicting the death of a boy, her fearful dad ships her off to be a scullery maid for the king of Westria. Before she goes, Molly's mom reveals that she too has visions and they are the source of her madness. While working at the castle Molly has a vision that shows the royal family being murdered as a result of a magical curse. She has to find a way to stop it with the help of her firends Tobias and Winifred.

This fairytale with a twist has plenty of action and romance. It's going to appeal mostly to girls. The first person narration makes the book easy-to-read but the plot suffers as a result. I'm not sure why the Prince trusts Molly or why Molly trusts Thomas - this part should have been explained more. Perhaps a third person narration would have done it better. I didn't find the characters as engaging as other fairy tale stories. Molly is illiterate but only uses the word "sommat" to show this in the book. The Prince, Tobias, and Molly sounded quite a bit alike. Most of the plot was predictable but the ending had an interesting twist. The violence is described after the fact or in Molly's visions. A quick read.

Reading Level 6.0

:-) :-) :-) 3 out of 5 Smileys

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Emerald Altas by John Stephens

Magic. Wizards. Time Travel. Dwarves. Witches. Adventure. Sounds fun, right? It is!

In The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, Kate, Michael, and Emma are being shuffled from orphanage to orphanage after their parents mysteriously give them up. Kate is told by her mother to look after Michael and Emma, but when they end up in a creepy mansion in Cambridge Falls with a book that allows them to travel through time, Kate's job becomes impossible. Not only are evil creatures trying to capture the three children who are the only ones who can use the powerful ancient books, but an evil witch has captured the children of Cambridge Falls and will kill them if Kate doesn't give her the ancient book called, The Atlas. Can she change the future? This fast-paced book is sure to be popular with students.   

The characterizations are hilarious, especially with the dwarf, King Hamish: "...'fore we get started on the whole thingamabob, what're the names a' these brats a' yours who think they can just go walkin' in my land when and where they please? Eh" Tell me that."

"It wasn't on purpose," Kate bagan. "We-"

"Oi!" Hamish smacked the table. "Did I tell you to speak?! Huh? Did I say, 'I want to hear from one of the brats'? Did I say, 'I wish one a' them brats would pipe up'? The dwarves around him shook their heads vigorously. "No! I said, 'Magician.' That's 'im!" He pointed a chicken wing at Dr. Pym. "So you, lassie, just keep your yapper shut. Bloody manners on this one."

The housekeeper is funny as well. The humor and wit made the story fun and the plot twists were surprising. The part where Kate naively ends up with the witch was predictable but a surprise comes quickly thereafter. The writing is in third person omniscient from Kate's point of view with the occasional shift to a minor character; mostly Emma. I believe this is because the next book will be from Emma's point of view. The setup is for a sequel with many unanswered questions, but the book has a distinct ending - I didn't feel cheated. The female characters are strong. Kate is the kind caretaker, Emma is spunky and brave, Michael is academic and brilliant. There is some violence but most is tempered with humor.

5.1 Reading Level

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4.5 out of 5 Smileys