Review: Hello Ruby

hello rubyReview:

Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer

Author: Linda Liukas

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, 2017

Source: Public Library

Since the theme this month is about all the places we will go, I thought a trip inside someplace would be a little out of the ordinary. So today we will journey into a computer (I bet you thought I was going to say we’d go into a human body book).

Ruby, like so many small girls, is bored. Somehow there is just nothing to do and no one available to play with. Nothing seems like an adventure. So she turns – as so many of us do – to the computer to entertain her. Alas! The computer isn’t working. Ruby isn’t sure why, at least not until the mouse tells her: “Cursor isn’t answering my messages.” Then next thing she knows, Ruby and the mouse have crawled into the mouse hole and are exploring the computer’s innards.

This book is a clever way to introduce kids to the information of how a computer really works. It’s a chapter book, but with short, manageable chapters that won’t overwhelm the reader. While half the book is story, the second half of the book is filled with hands-on activities. Kids will “build” a computer (not a real one, just paper!) and will come away with an understanding of what a computer really is and how they work. It introduces the idea of programming, but once again on a level that is not overwhelming. Readers will not suffer from the same problem as Ruby; they will not be bored. To learn more about Ruby’s world, visit: HELLORUBY.COM.



Review: Tumble & Blue


Tumble & Blue

Author: Cassie Beasley

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017

Source: Public Library

Blue is one of the Montgomerys with a curse. He simply can’t win at anything. So when the red moon is scheduled to appear in the sky near his grandmother’s home in Murky Branch, GA, Blue’s father drops him off there. “According to family legends, on that night one person could travel into the swamp and claim a great new fate. And when you were cursed – as Blue and half of the other Montgomerys were- a new fate was worth the risk.” (pg. 9) Since the red moon only appears every 100 years, it’s his one chance. Of course, it’s all the other cursed Montgomerys chance, too, so Ma Myrtle, Blue’s feisty great-grandmother, will make the decision as to who is going to get the chance to change their fate.

Lily Wilson, aka Tumble, is a Maximal Star fan. She’s got four copies of his book How to Hero Every Day! She practices all Maximal’s precepts on a regular basis, for it’s vitally important she continues to be a hero. While Blue thinks of Tumble as a normal girl, Tumble prefers to think of herself as “potentially extraordinary.” (pg. 53) And she will be – if she can just be a hero often enough.

While Tumble and Blue both struggle against cruel fates, they begin to wonder: are their destinies really tied to a curse from long-ago, where magic and a weird golden alligator named Munch will control who they become? Or is it possible that Tumble and Blue can make their own choices?

With a cast of zany characters and mysteries that reach even deeper than those hidden in the nearby Okefenokee Swamp, Tumble & Blue will charm readers with true acts of friendship and heroism.



Review: Greenglass House

Greenglass HouseReview:

Greenglass House

Author: Kate Milford

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

It’s a cold winter night and the innkeepers of Greenglass House and their adopted son, Milo; are ready for a quiet holiday season. No one ever comes to stay at their inn at this time of year. Smugglers, like television programs, have their seasons.

Then, just as the snow begins to fall, the doorbell rings and an unexpected guest arrives. Then another. And another. Until the inn is full of people. Not only are there five mysterious guests (all deciding to stay for an undetermined length of time), but extra help has been called in. Mrs. Caraway, the cook, comes to help, bringing her two daughters along. Meddy, the younger daughter, is just about Milo’s age and together they begin a role-playing game called Odd Trails.

Ensconced in this unique home, it soon becomes apparent that this group has not come together by accident. As snow turns to ice, the travelers find ways to entertain each other by telling stories. Thefts begin to occur. Using the game as a way to help solve the clues, Milo and Meddy begin to unravel the mystery: who are these people and why are they really here?

This lovely, atmospheric tale is just the kind of book to cozy up to on a snowy winter night. Even if you are not into role-playing games, Odd Trails is a fun and unique way to delve not only into the mystery of the visitors of the house (and more arrive even after the original character list), but into Milo’s ancestry.

Review: Speed of Life

speed of lifeReview:

Speed of Life

Author: Carol Weston

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Since her mother’s sudden death in April, Sofia has been grieving. There’s so much she still needs to talk to her mom about, things like boys, dating, going to parties, personal issues. She’s got her dad and plenty of friends, but no one really understands.

Fortunately Dear Kate, advice columnist for Fifteen Magazine, makes a public appearance at Sofia’s school. It gives Sofia an idea. There is someone she can ask about all her most private and confusing issues.

However, having someone to talk to doesn’t stop Sofia’s life from becoming more complicated. It’s one thing to worry about her own dating problems. It’s another to have to worry about her dad starting to date. Although he hasn’t talked with her, she is sure there is a MW (Mystery Woman) in his life. Is it one of her closest friends’ mom or possibly someone else?

Speed of Life has a complicated, twisted plot and is so true to real-life that you will forget you are reading and think you’re talking with a close friend. The warning at the beginning of the book says this is a sad story. I’ll be honest. It’s not a tear-jerker. It’s sometimes poignant, sometimes juicy (think Judy Blume’s Forever) and always keeping the reader wondering what is going to happen next.


Review: Restart



Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

When Chase Ambrose –  the “apex predator” of Hiawassee Middle School –  falls from the roof of his home, he suffers a concussion and has amnesia. His memory is gone. He can remember things like how to talk, but he can’t remember his own name or recognize his family members.

When school begins, he sidelined from football. He was the captain and hero of every sports team at school and the son of a former HMS football champion. He knows he was popular because of how his teammates act toward him. The funny thing is, there is a whole other segment of the student population that seems to cringe whenever he walks by them. He can’t understand why. Could he really have been that bad?

As it turns out, he was. The question is: if one boy fell from the roof, is it the same boy who returned to Hiawassee Middle School? He certainly seems different, but can anyone really change that much?

Though I often find multiple points of view to be confusing, in this case we get a clear picture of the boy Chase once was. The technique only adds to the power of the story. I also thought the perspective – a one-time bully’s look into his past – unique and really well-done. No trite answers. An excellent book for discussions (yes, some sample questions coming your way later this week).


Review: Just My Luck


Just My Luck

Author: Cammie McGovern

Publisher: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

When Benny Barrows’ dad takes Benny to the track to practice his bike riding skills, they end up accidentally bumping heads. It wasn’t a big deal – until it became a very big deal. Upon returning home, Mr. Barrows suddenly and unexpectedly keels over. They learn he has had a brain aneurysm. Though his mom constantly reminds him, “This is not your fault,” it sometimes feels like maybe it is.

It’s not just the situation with his dad that has Benny worried. His best friend has moved away, and Benny is finding that it’s not so easy to find a new best friend. It’s even harder because of his dad’s aneurysm. Mr. Barrows doesn’t behave normally anymore. In fact, Dad’s behavior really freaked out his oldest brother’s girlfriend. Dad seems more like Benny’s autistic brother, George, than his old self – and George isn’t exactly the easiest person to have around. It’s simply not easy to bring a new friend home, especially right now. In fact, Benny keeps facts about his dad a secret, at least as much as possible.

Although he got into Mr. Norris’s classroom – supposedly the coolest fourth grade teacher ever –  Mr. Norris has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, too. Instead of all the cool stuff he did in the past, Mr. Norris now falls asleep during school and comes in with stained clothes. Worst of all, he doesn’t seem to think that Benny does anything to be recognized in the school’s new C.A.R.E. (Cooperation. Accountability. Respect. Empathy.) program. Whenever teachers see a student showing empathy or compassion, they earn a footprint. Benny’s given Mr. Norris plenty of opportunities to see him earning a footprint, but Mr. Norris always seems to overlook his actions. It’s very important to Benny to earn one since he needs to be good at something.

These problems alone would be enough for anyone, but Benny is also struggling with his schoolwork, the family is having money problems, and he and his brothers have to help a lot more at home, although George can be the reverse of helpful. Plus, he still is no good at riding a bike. It’s difficult for Benny to know how to cope with everything that is happening.

It’s hard not to want to jump right into this book and give Benny the big hug he deserves (I promise, though realistic about the problems Benny faces, the ending brings plenty of understanding and real happiness to him and the reader). For a fourth-grader, his problems are real and complex, and I especially love his insights into his own problems. I give just one example: when Benny’s mom asks him why all his favorite minifigs are bad guys (pg. 74), Benny explains that the good guys don’t need him that much. They already have all their needs met (after all, Batman has Alfred and Robin), but the bad guys don’t have that. Benny would have to take the time to get to know them better and then he’d like them more. Perhaps we should all get to know those people we find challenging a little better. Maybe we’d find, after all, they really aren’t so bad.

Review: Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Deep and Dark and DangerousReview:

Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Sandpiper, an imprint of Houghton Mufflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2007

Source: Public Library

No Halloween reading list would be complete without a selection by Mary Downing Hahn. Her books are always so deliciously creepy! Although this is not a newly published book, it is wonderfully chilling – just right for reading on a dark and dangerous night with your back up against a wall.

Ali is getting to spend the summer at Gull Cottage on Sycamore Lake in Maine despite her mother’s negative attitude toward the whole idea. Her mother hasn’t been to the cottage since she was a girl, but according to her the place is always rainy, mosquito-ridden and unpleasant. Sycamore Lake is deep and dark and dangerous. Aunt Dulcie, an artist preparing for a big show, has decided it is time to return and get some work done. She needs Ali to babysit her five-year-old daughter, Emma. Despite a lot of reservations, Ali’s mother agrees.

Once in Maine, Ali realizes that her mother’s fears may be well-founded. Emma shares a scary dream in which bones in the water come out and chase her. Then a malicious and mysterious girl of about nine or ten shows up. Sissy is a nasty little thing, made all the worse because she seems to be a bad influence on Emma. After hanging out with her, Emma begins lying, telling Aunt Dulcie that Ali tried to push her off the dock into the lake.

It is through Sissy that Ali and Emma learn about a girl named Teresa: how Teresa was drowned in Sycamore Lake and her body was never recovered. “… her bones are still out there someplace deep down in the dark, dark water” (pg. 87). Most frightening of all is the accusation that Ali’s mom and Aunt Dulcie were somehow involved in the tragedy.

Can Ali find out the truth after all this time? Can she keep herself and Emma safe while trying to find out just what happened at Lake Sycamore? And is Sissy going to make more trouble – or might she actually help solve the mystery? Those questions really keep the pages turning.


Review: The Witch’s Boy


The Witch’s Boy

Author: Kelly Barnhill

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Recommended Ages: 9+

Ned and Tam are twins. They built a raft which they tried to float in the Great River. The craft was not seaworthy and the boys were thrown into the water, fighting for their lives. People of the town gathered at the edge of the river and called out to their father, “If you can only save one, make sure you save the right one.” He saves one boy, Ned, and Tam is drowned. The townspeople shake their heads. They felt he had saved the wrong boy.

The boys’ mother, Sister Witch, realizes that she is also about to lose Ned. So she uses her magic and as Tam’s soul leaves his body, she takes hold of it and sews it onto Ned. Ned survives.

Áine is the daughter of the Bandit King. Her mother’s last words are, “The wrong boy will save your life, and you will save his.” Her father was so grieved at the loss of his beloved, that he locks himself away with a jug of wine and howls his sadness. When Áine points out that they desperately need money to survive, the Bandit King finally rouses himself. Suddenly there is money available, but her father is much changed. What has caused this change? Áine does not know, but she knows that action is needed in order to save her father from himself.

When the Bandit King comes to steal Sister Witch’s magic, Ned knows he must do something drastic, so he attaches the magic to himself. But “Magic is chaotic. Magic is sneaky” (pg. 121). Perhaps Ned has taken on more than he can handle. He meets up with Áine and together they set out on a mission that will change the course between two warring nations and their lives.

The Witch’s Boy stands as a great classic fantasy story. However, I love it in part because it’s language is so rich. My partial vocabulary list includes words like multitudinous, implacable, prodigious, and stymied – not the vocabulary used by the average nine-year-old, or even much older kids, for that matter. So you might think this book is too hard for some of the younger audience to read. I’d like to quote Madeleine L’Engle from her book, A Circle of Quiet (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972):

To give a writer a controlled-vocabulary list is manipulating both writer and reader. It keeps the child within his present capacity, on the bland assumption that growth is even and orderly and rational, instead of something that happens in great leaps and bounds. (148)

The more limited our language is, the more limited we are, the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. (149)

We need more books like this, books that use wonderfully expressive language. Sure, it’s a great story, but part of what draws us in are the words. I was so impressed by this that – as you may have guessed – tomorrow I will include a vocabulary list. Warning: it is a long one!

Review: The Candymakers


The Candymakers

Author: Wendy Mass

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010

Source: Personal Purchase

I thought this book would be a nice one to include as part of my October reading. It’s not scary, though it does include a mystery. It’s just that it seemed like an appropriate way to start the candy season.

The Life Is Sweet candy factory has held a contest in which four lucky winners will get to compete in a candy-making competition. The goal, of course, is to come up with the best new candy. The four contestants have been chosen and there could not be four more unlikely children. They are only alike in one way. Each of them has a secret.

Logan Sweet is the son of the factory owners. Like his name suggests, Logan is a sweet kid. He has spent most of his life in the factory. In fact, since the factory stopped giving public tours years earlier when a child threw a toy truck into one of the machines, Logan hardly sees any other kids at all. You might think that as the son of a family of candy makers, Logan would have the definite advantage. He knows all about the processes involved. He’s been experimenting with them for years. All he really needs is a miracle. Instead, he is faced with a problem. Logan learns that someone is trying to steal the factory’s secret ingredient!

Miles O’Leary is a strange character. He speaks gibberish (well, unless you know his secret code, that is) and is overly concerned with the afterlife. His secret involves a terrible accident. But the real question is this: Does Miles really know what he has seen, not just what he thinks he has seen?

We know right from the beginning that Daisy Carpenter is a spy. Her mission is to steal the secret ingredient from the Life Is Sweet candy factory. At least, that is what her mission is supposed to be. She really has another, even more secret mission. However, she acts as though she is working completely for the spy agency while all the time she is wondering: Who is the client? Who really wants her to steal the secret ingredient?

Philip Ransford The Third wears a suit, carries a briefcase, and has an apparent dislike for candy. He’s all business and not a very likable kid. So why is he here? To Philip, success is the best revenge – and revenge is very, very important to Philip. Too bad he is unaware of the real person he needs to take revenge against.

Each section of the book is told from the point of view of one character. Then the stories converge, the secrets emerge, and the results are pretty sweet.

Though I loved the story, I have to be honest. I was disappointed in one aspect of the book. The candy portion could have been so much better. I mean “Icy White Blob” and “Neon Yellow Lightning Chews” are just not tempting, mouth-watering names. Even J.K. Rowling’s candies (you remember – things like Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, or Cockroach Clusters) – have a certain charm, even if I wouldn’t want to eat them. Blobs and Chews just don’t cut it.

Review: The Notebook of Doom (Series)

the notebook of doomReview:

The Notebook of Doom series

Pop of the Bumpy Mummy (2014)

Rumble of the Coaster Ghost (2016)

Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz (2017)

Author: Tony Cummings

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Source: Public Library

Recommended for Grades 1-3

Lots of kids say they like scary stories. Some just think that they like them. Parents of this type of kid know what I mean. The child reads something that frightens them – and everybody suffers at night.

This series (The Notebook of Doom) might provide the right balance. I read three of them. There is minor mystery, some not-very-scary monsters, and lots of the type of silliness that is so appealing to this age group.

Basically, the Super Secret Monster Patrol (SSMP), led by Alexander Bopp, finds ways to fight the local monsters and then write them up in his secret notebook.

There is, for instance, the Bumpy Mummy. It’s actually a bubble wrapped warrior wearing a diaper (sort of). The Octo-Schnozz sneezes and the “snot rained down on Putter’s Cove making all eighteen greens a bit greener” (The Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz, pg. 87).

Yes, I know. Not remotely scary. And sometimes that’s exactly what kids need. Many of the characters (Alexander’s father comes right to mind) and pictures are goofy, but pleasantly so. Actually, the monsters are kind of cute. These books would be fun even as read-alouds.