Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book: Legend of the Ghost Dog

Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Scholastic Press; 2012. 208 pages.

Moving to Nome, Alaska for two weeks is not high on the list of exciting things for any twelve-year-old - especially when you move there with your dad and your eight-year-old brother. Anita's dad had this idea to go on location so he can interview the locals for a book he's writing, so both the kids were taken along since their Mom had to go on a business trip to Japan. At least for this trip, "Tee" as she is sometimes called, was able to take her beagle, Henry to keep her company; it was on a walk exploring the wilderness that Henry got Tee into trouble when he led her to the ruins of an old cabin. Tee soon learns the local legend about what happened at that cabin and along with her new friend, Quin, daughter of the assistant her dad hired to help work on the book, she goes out to discover the truth. What sort of trouble can two girls, a dog and a little brother get into out in the wilds of Alaska while on the trial of a ghost dog?

Readers are treated to both sides of the story - one set in the past, laying out the events and one in the present, trying to solve the mystery of the ghost dog and missing girl. Elizabeth Cody Kimmel did a good job twining the story seamlessly between the past and present. The friendship between the girls is like any other when kids are thrown together by adults - hesitant at first then closer as some sort of test is passed and similar interests are discovered. Kimmel does a wonderful job inserting the character of Jack, the little brother, who like any younger sibling gets in the way and yet must be watched over.

Overall, I enjoyed this book because of its believability - the setting in Alaska made it seem as if you could be there along with Tee exploring the woods, and the ties to Nome's history with the diphtheria epidemic and need for dog mushers to bring the medicine along what is now the trail for the Iditarod was a very nice touch. The way the mystery of a local family's tragedy and search for answers was interwoven with Tee's struggles with her own family in present day made Tee seem more real. Finding out what the ghost dog was trying to tell them really sends chills down your spine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books; 2012. 192 pages.

Georges (named after Georges Seurat, a famous French Post-Impressionist painter) and his parents are forced to move out of their suburban Brooklyn home into a small apartment when his father loses his job. Georges mother works as a nurse and has picked up additional work shifts in order to support the family, something which Georges understands but has a difficult time comming to terms with as he doesn't get to see his mother as much. Things are also difficult for Georges because his once best friend has left him for the "cool" table at school - the same cool table at which the kids who bully Georges sit.

At this apartment buiding, Georges meets Safer, a boy his own age who has some very strange habits. Safer corrals Georges into joining him in spying on Mr. X, the mysterious neighbor who dressed in black and is always with a briefcase. Safer's schemes to keep an eye on Mr. X get more extreme, to the point of breaking into his apartment, something Georges isn't too sure is a good idea. All of Georges' interactions with Safer leave him questioning what it means to be someone's friend and what it means to lie.

While the book started out in a way that was engaging, the plot turned rather confusing about 2/3 of the way through. When Georges' mother becomes ill, it didn't really fit in with the story whatsoever and felt as if it didn't need to be there. The idea behind the plot is a good one as Georges is a boy who has to discover what it means to be friends with someone who is a little different, but overall there are parts that could be improved, like the big reveal about Mr. X, which felt as if it was a bit of a let-down. Much of the intent behind the plot will most likely go over most reader's heads, leaving them confused as to why things ended the way they did.

Book: The Pirate Girl's Treasure: An Origami Adventure

The Pirate Girl's Treasure: An Origami Adventure by Peyton Leung. Illustrated by Hilary Leung.

A pirate girl receives a letter from her grandfather, telling her of an amazing treasure. The pirate girl sets off on her journey - crossing mountains, exploring caves and sailing on the high seas. The brave pirate girl isn't afraid when the seas and weather get rough and toss her onto a deserted island. This original story is more than just an advernture tale, it celebrates origami.  Hilary Leung's illustrations are whimsical and cleverly include the steps to folding a paper boat and turning it into a shirt.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review of Just a Dog

Just a Dog by Michael Gerard Bauer. Scholastic, Inc; 2012. 144 pages.

When Corey was just a little toddler, his parents allowed him to choose which puppy he wanted out of his uncle's litter of dalmatian-mixes. Corey, being so little himself, was overwhelmed by the herd of pups that ran his way, so instinctively he pointed to the one that was the "mostly" white one and was calmly hanging back. The name Mostly stuck - though when one is only three years old, pronouncing certain letters isn't the easiest of things, so Mostly was dubbed Mosely, had a Mister attached to his name and became a very dear member of the family and was not just a dog.

Mister Mosely, like many dogs has his own quirks, like being afraid of thunder but he also has a big heart, one that was too big for his chest which is why he has a heart-shaped mark. Mosely puts up with a lot and is the gentlest of creatures, allowing Corey's sister to dress him up, color him and cover him with glitter. Corey is very close to his dog learning a hard lesson about life when Mosely gets injured and he has to take care of his special friend. Just a Dog is a wonderful story about a boy and his dog.

This is a very sweet and moving book that is perfect for dog fans of all ages, though some content may be difficult for readers under 8 years of age/3rd grade since the book does deal with the death of a beloved pet. Bauer's writing style draws readers into the story of a very remarkable dog with an uncanny sense of what those around him need and paints a picture in the reader's mind with his descriptions written from the perspective of an eleven year old boy. The book also deals with rather difficult family dynamics as the relationship between the Corey's parents does face several bumps in the road and he is witness to some of those situations, giving readers a glimpse of how an eleven year old interprets and reacts to his parents behavior.

Michael Gerard Butler's Blog

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Book: The Buddy Files: The Case of the School Ghost

The Buddy Files: The Case of the School Ghost (Book 6). By Dori Hillestad Butler. Albert Whitman & Company, 2012.

Buddy the Therapy Dog is on another case. The Cat with No Name alerts him that the ghost of the school does not want Buddy, or any of the kids attending the sleepover, to come down to the basement. Agatha the Ghost doesn't like it when children or animals hang out in what is considered to be her basement. Buddy wonders why Connor, his owner, Michael and Jillian got suspicious boxes with flashlights inside right before the fourth grade sleepover. With a storm thundering around them, Buddy and the kids try and communicate with Agatha... but do they find a real ghost, or something else?!

This book is amusing because it is told from Buddy's perspective and is full of moments showing the world the way a dog might view it. In addition to an easy to follow mystery, there are snippets of lessons and advice about the world, such as how making lists helps one to keep track of things, or about telling the truth. Butler really does a good job with slowly building up the excitement about what the mystery really is as Buddy finds more clues in each chapter.

Book: Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire

Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire. By Francesca Simon. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2012. 112 pages.

Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire brings back everyone's favorite character. In the first story of this entertaining chapter book, Henry decides to write a story of his own when his brother Perfect Peter's continues to be full of floofy-fairy-fun; Henry could only bear so much sugary-goodness! When his teacher, Miss Battle-Axe, decides decides to have her students write a story Henry thinks hard about what he'd like to write about; unfortunately for him, he clearly remembers his teacher's displeasure at reading about cannibals and Troll Werewolf Mummies... and since Henry wants to get this story writing over with, he quickly borrows Peter's fairy story and jots it down. Boy is Henry surprised when Miss Battle-Axe loves the story and asks him to read it to the kindergarteners... but wait, isn't that Peter's class? What is Henry going to do - will he read the copied story, or will he create a horrid story on the fly!?
This book has three more Horrid Henry stories that are accompanied by funny illustrations, drawn by Tony Ross, all showing the terribly horrid and yet amusing situations that Henry gets into. Francesca Simon has created a series that both boys and girls will enjoy reading... and laughing about. Some of the situations are very silly and Henry has a very vivid imagination and some very amusing things to say.

One thing to note is that in these stories, the character doesn't actually learn any sort of lesson, he is just the cause of many shenanigans.

Enjoy Horrid Henry's Official Website - be sure to explore Horrid Henry's World, to

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book: Don't Sit on the Baby

Don't Sit On the Baby!: The Ultimate Guide to Sane, Skilled, and Safe Babysitting. By Halley Bondy. Zest Books, 2012.

This is the perfect book to help tweens and teens decide if they're ready for adventures in babysitting. Don't Sit on the Baby is full of very helpful tips that can help a beginner, novice or even a pro sitter. The organization of the book makes it easy to navigate and in case of emergencies, it becomes the go-to source with safety tips and advice. One of the best parts would be shared experiences of teen babysitters, aptly titled "Tales from the Crib," which can calm the nervous first-timer or simply provide ideas on how to act in similar situations. The book even includes an entire section on the business aspect of babysitting - from how to land the job in the first place, maintaining a business relationship with the parents and being prepared to stand up for your rights, to taking babysitting a step further. The book concludes with some handy resources.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book: Earwig and the Witch

Earwig and the Witch By Dianna Wynne Jones. Greenwillow Books, 2012. 128 pages.

A baby was left at an orphanage with a note: "Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I'll be back for her when I've shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig."

Imagine having a name like Earwig... isn't that so much better than Erica, the name given to her by the orphanage's Matron upon reading the note?

 Life in the orphanage is great for Earwig - she practically runs the place. She has a best friend named Custard, he is perfect for Earwig because of his timid nature. Earwig is used to getting her own way and has managed to charm or sometimes even boss others into doing what she wants. From hide-and-seek games in the scary and dark orphanage, to demands of a special lunch of Shepherd's Pie prepared for her by the cook, Earwig ensures her life is just as she likes it - her way, which is why she never wants to leave the orphanage - and why should she?

Unfortunately for her, the day comes when a strange couple walks through the doors and despite all her attempts to look unappealingly un-adoptable, Earwig gets chosen. She was never prepared to leave her safe haven, especially with the mismatched couple. The woman, who looks "raggety" with her big, red hat is apparently a witch and the man who appears to have horns on his head also has fiery eyes is not someone you want to live with... but Earwig has no choice, she is now going to be the witch's assistant.

Life in the witch's household is very strange, indeed, there are is no front door and the windows don't open - the garden is so wild and overgrown that there's no way to get through. The witch, Bella Yaga, has her doing all sorts of odd jobs from grinding down bones to picking plants from the tangled mess that is a garden. The man gets upset very easily and uses his demon minions to get him what he wants - even the witch is afraid of him. Earwig's only friend is Thomas the black cat, who surprises her one day by talking back! Together they attempt to use one of the witch's spells against her in hopes of making their lives a little bit better...

Dianna Wynne Jones has written many charming tales about magic. Earwig and the Witch is, as far as we know, her last book. Jones passed away in 2011; the world lost another great author. Earwig, a precocious little girl, will make readers laugh at her plans to ensure that things go her way. Jones' imaginative book about someone so small with a personality that is oh-so-big is not only fun to read but sends a message about solving problems.
The illustrations in this book are done by Caldecott winner, Paul O. Zelinsky. The amusing pen and ink illustrations show Earwig in all her attempts to make things go her way.

Ages 8+.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Graphic Novel: The Avalon Chronicles Volume 1

Avalon Chronicles Volume 1: Once in a Blue Moon by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir. Illustrated by Emma Vieceli. Oni Press, 2012.

Aeslin thought she was a normal girl...
It all begins with Aeslin's parents reading a story from a very special book; Aeslin's parents tell her about Avalon, the magical dragon Blue Moon, the brave Dragon Knight and the evil Warlord Khrom. During one of these story times her mother suddenly stops reading - saying what happens next is too scary. Aeslin doesn't realize that from then on, things will drastically change, beginning with her father's death resulting in her mother's denial of anything magical.
At 16 years old, Aeslin's life has had no magic in it for eight years, but things begin to change; the catalyst is Cobb's Oddities & Spices - a small store that wasn't appeared out of nowhere - and a certain book. Aeslin soon learns that her mother has been keeping secrets from her after she gets sucked into the very book that she just bought. It turns out that Khrom has taken over the kingdom and Avalon is in dire need of a heroine, but is Aeslin prepared to fill that role? Have the stories from her childhood prepared her for the coming battle? The key to her future lies in the book by Will Redding - a book that allows her to travel between worlds, but will Aeslin fight for Avalon, or will she try and avoid her destiny like her mother did?

The illustrations of Emma Vieceli are well-done and capture the reader's attention. Though the story is a classic retelling of girl-learns-she-is-a-long-lost-princess-and-must-save-the-kindgom, it is still very well done. As an avid reader of  manga and graphic novels, I can't wait until the next one!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Graphic Novel: Courtney Crumrin, Volume 1

Courtney Crumrin Volume 1: The Night Things Special Editionby Ted Naifeh. Oni Press, 2012.

Young Courtney Crumrin is new to the town of Hillsborough, forced to move into her Great Uncle Aloysius' monstrosity of a house by her parents who "ran out of credit cards" and wanted to live the easy life for a while. At school, Courtney, dubbed "Q-Tip," realizes that she doesn't fit in with the rich kids and is lucky enough to make one friend in the form of much-picked-on, Axel. At night, Courtney hears things moving around the house, and when she goes to investigate her great uncle tells her not to worry. Things just don't seem to be getting better as the bullying continues and her parents are in total denial of her claims and insist that she gets along with the local kids. It is only after Axel gets eaten by something in the woods and Courtney stumbles upon a book, The Bestiary of Night Things Great and Small, in her great uncle's library, that Courtney decides to take her future in this town into her own hands. With the books in her great uncle's library as her guides, she captures the goblin from the woods and sets out to turn the town upside-down... but be careful what you wish for, for magic has a price.

This graphic novel by Ted Naifeh combines the story of a misfit girl and a slew of dark and fantastical characters. The artwork draws the reader in as you cheer for Courtney and wonder what will happen to her next. Courtney is a character that must solve her own problems and often manages to do so in creative ways. The story keeps you guessing about what sorts of characters will show up next and what sort of magical things she will find in her great uncle's house and surrounding woods. This was a pretty quick read, only 144 pages, and is suitable for ages 10+.