Sunday, January 29, 2012

Balls, Bats and Boys

Maybe it's the 49ers loss, maybe it's because I see all the kids in their basketball jerseys, maybe it's because I just need to get my kids outside more, but I have been thinking sports.  One of my sons would only read sports books when he started chapter books, so I have developed a soft spot for this genre.  Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica are wonderful authors and they have dominated the world of sports books, so I thought I would share a few from some other authors that are also great reads.

Hope your sports obsessed child enjoys them as much as mine!  Don't forget to "like" One Great Book on Facebook!

Title:          Airball, My Life in Briefs
Author:      L.D. Harkrader
Target:       Grades 3-6
Series:         No
What this book is about:
Kirby Nickel loves basketball, he just isn’t a very good player.  However, Kirby jumps at the chance to join the middle school team when hometown hero and NBA star Brett McGrew invites the team to his college alma matter.  The team has to improve before the big meeting and the new coach’s radical plan to improve the kids involves playing in their briefs.  Kirby sticks with it, hoping to have the chance to meet Brett, who he secretly thinks may be his long lost father.
Why I love this book:
Middle school boys have to play basketball in their underwear!  Really, how can you not giggle at that!  Some of the scenes that Harkrader has written are laugh out loud funny.  Kirby is also such a likable character.  His perseverance, and how the whole team works together, give some good life lessons from sports.
Who is it for:
Boys who like sports but are also ready for a good story.  Basketball is simply the vehicle for this piece of fiction, and is not the sole focus of this book.  Basketball may get them to pick the book up, the touching and funny story will keep them engaged.
Final Thoughts:
A slam dunk

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Airball: My Life in Briefs

Title:          Honus and Me (A Baseball Card Adventure series)
Author:      Dan Gutman
Target:       Grade 4-6
Series:         Yes
What this book is about:
Joe Stoshack lives for baseball.  Imagine finding the most valuable baseball card in the world when cleaning your neighbor’s attic, and then discovering that the card can not only bring the player here, but take you back in time to the 1909 World Series!  What would you learn from this ballplayer, and would you return the card to your neighbor, or keep it for yourself?
Why I love this book:
This is a fabulous book for baseball lovers.  I was amazed at how much information about baseball (playing the game, stats, players, equipment) was fit into a 127 page book!  Not only that, but you get a lesson on doing the right thing!  It felt like I was at the 1909 World Series, and I really was able to understand the differences between baseball back then and today.  Also loved that the author gives a little tutorial at the end about what is fact and fiction in the story.
Who this book is for:
Baseball lovers will eat this book up!
Final thoughts:
Home run (you just knew I had to write that!)

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Honus and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure

Title:          Heart of a Champion
Author:      Carl Deuker
Target:       Grades 6-10
Series:        No, but this author has written many sports books
What this book is about:
Seth, a middle school boy whose father passed away, befriends Jimmy, a boy who is baseball obsessed.  The book covers their friendship through high school where Jimmy is the team star and Seth continues to love and struggle with the game.  Their friendship endures despite the differences in their talent, the breakup of Jimmy’s family due to alcoholism, and testing their limits as teenagers.
Why I loved it:
This book is extremely good.  I loved the messages it sent about working hard and being committed to something.  I loved the fact that this book was set just out side of Los Altos.  I loved that the baseball in the book is compelling and that I got completely wrapped up in how the game is played.   But most of all I loved that the book does not have an easy ending with everything wrapped up with a neat little bow.  It challenges our ideas of success.
Who this book is for:
This is a middle school book!   The situations the characters find themselves in are mature.  Additionally, there is limited swearing and drinking in this book, and while it is in no way glorified, quite the opposite, you need to decide what is appropriate for your child and when.
This book is also for any child who loves the game of baseball!
Final thoughts:
Being your best doesn’t always mean being the best.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Heart of a Champion

Monday, January 23, 2012

Newbery Award Winner 2011

They just announced the Newbery Award winner this morning and the title goes to...drum roll please.... "Dead End in Norvelt."  I read this book a few months ago and thought it would be fun to post my review for you today.  It will be apart of a longer post on books for boys in the upcoming months.

What do I think of this winner...well, it is a good book, so for that I am grateful, but I was still rooting for OK for Now, one of the most powerful and heartfelt books I read this year.  I have posted that one again as well, funny how similar their jacket covers are!

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Name:          Dead End in Norvelt
Author:       Jack Gantos
Target:         Grades 5-8

What this book is about:
This is a semi autobiographical book about a boy names Jack Gantos.  It takes place in 1962, and Jack is grounded for the summer.  He is loaned out by his mother to the next door neighbor to help write obituaries for the local paper, which sets a series of adventures in motion.  There is a possible rash of murders, Hells Angels who make their way through town, bloody noses, and a WWII shotgun that all play a role in the story!
Why I love this book:
I had no idea this book would be so funny, and not funny in a ha ha sort of way, but a funny that just kind of creeps up on you and all of sudden you are laughing when you least expected it sort of way.  A nice coming of age story for a boy with a series of quirky characters.
Who this book is for:
I worry a little about this book because it is not a face paced adventure.  While I liked it, I was concerned that a kid would not find it as intriguing. I asked my 7th grade son to read it to get a kid view and he read it in two days straight and gave it 8 1/2 out of 10 stars.  So while it may not have some of the intrigue and action of other books, it is still a strong story that sucks you in.  The one thing that still bothers me is the rather creepy picture of the author on the back cover.
Final thoughts:
Boys can like a quieter story .....really!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Dead End in Norvelt

Title:          Okay for Now
Author:      Gary D. Schmidt
Target:       Grades 6-10

Series:         No
What this book is about:
Doug is an eighth grade boy whose family has just moved to “the dump.”   His father is abusive, his brother is suspected of robbery and his oldest brother returns from Vietnam in a fragile state.  Still Doug finds refuge in the library, not with books but a set of Audubon prints, he gets involved in the community with his Saturday delivery job (where he is known as Skinny Delivery Boy) and finds a teacher who understands that he is not his family, but his own person.

Why I love it:
Wow, I was blown away by this story.  The writing is superb and I was thoroughly invested in this character.  This book made me laugh, it made me cry - sounds silly I know but it is just that good!  I could not put it down.

Who this is for:
I am really hoping that boys will love this book!  It is absolutely fabulous and draws you in pretty quickly, with a middle school boy facing family strife during the Vietnam era.  It is a character driven book and not action focused which makes me nervous, but I am hoping that this character is so compelling that boys will also get lost in the story, since this story is written for them.   However, don’t be afraid to give it to a girl.  It is just that well done, that both genders will get caught up in this amazing story.
I would recommend that children wait until sixth grade to read this book.  While there is minimal violence and no sexual content, the issues of abuse, coming home from war and the subtleties of the relationships are not appropriate for a younger age.  
Final thoughts:
Ok for Now is better than ok (too punny?)  

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Okay for Now

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading Aloud Is a Gift We Give Our Kids

We're all busy, and reading a book to the family is often one of those things that I put off in favor of dishes, prepping for tomorrow or just playing a game of suduko!  But once I get started, I usually have so much fun I wonder why I ever dragged my feet.  The benefits are indisputable.  You have a better chance of raising kids who love to read if they see that it is not only important to your family, but it's a fun, bonding activity as well.

I love it when my kids remind me during the day of something that happened in one of the books we read.  It is a fabulous shared experience that we get by reading together.

So get off the computer and get out there and read aloud to your kids!  Here are some fabulous books to get you started!

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Title:          Zorgamazoo
Author:     Robert Paul Weston
Target:      Grades 2-5
Series:       No
What this book is about:
”I’ll warn you, of course, before we commence, this story is eerie and full of suspense, brimming with danger and narrow escapes, and creatures  of many remarkable shapes.”   Welcome to story of Katrina Katrell, Morty and the lost zorgles of Zorgamazoo!
Why I love this book:
Imagine a whole book written in the most delightful rhyme!  Take it one step further and imagine Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl collaborating on a book, and you would have Zorgamazoo.  This book has won handfuls of awards, but that is no surprise.  It is a fun story, with wonderful villains, heroic deeds and  the most original verse you will ever read!
Who this book is for:
A family that loves to read books aloud!  My daughter looked forward to the next chapter EVERY night (well lets be honest, I did too!)  It is also one of the few read alouds that both younger and older children will enjoy together!
Final thoughts:
This book just begs to be read aloud - so what are you waiting for!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Zorgamazoo

Title:          Toys Go Out
Author:     Emily Jenkins
Target:      Grades 1-4
Series:       Yes
What this book is about:
This book is about three toys, Sting Ray(a plush sting ray), Lumphy (a buffalo) and Plastic (well you will have to discover that one out for yourself) who are best friends and live with the Girl!  Each chapter is an adventure in their lives.  Some of the chapters are laugh out loud funny, and some are poignant, as these three friends learn their strengths, weaknesses and the importance of friendship.
Why I love this book:
I think this book is written on two levels, with some more obvious humor for younger children and sophisticated humor for older children.  This is what makes it such a fun read aloud for a family.  This book is engaging because the concerns of the toys are representative of all children’s fears and hopes.
Who this book is for:
Families that enjoy a book full of clever humor.
Final thoughts:
A surprisingly sophisticated book that is poignant but never obvious.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Toys Go OutMrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Title:          Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Author:     Betty MacDonald
Target:      All ages
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
You can’t find a child in the neighborhood who doesn’t love Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (or a parent for that matter.)  She is the eccentric lady down the street who loves children and has a cure for some of the most common childhood illnesses, “Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys,” “Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedder,” and “Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker” to name a few.  In each chapter she takes on a different challenge to the delight of the reader!
Why I love it:
My children begged me to read this book to them every night!  Each story is laugh out loud funny, and because they follow a predictable pattern, my kids knew just what fun to expect each night, as they looked forward to the next “cure!”  Even though the book is 50 years old, children’s problems remain the same, as do parent’s challenges!
Who this book is for:
Any family who loves to read aloud
Final thoughts:
This is a timeless classic that every family should read!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I've Read Harry Potter - Now what?

In terms of kid's books, this is one of the hardest questions to answer.  Harry Potter is a brilliant book series, and I am sorry to say there isn't one series out there that will satisfy kids in the same way that J.K. Rawlings has done!  Her superb writing and her ability to create a world that all kids wish existed is unparalleled!

That said, there are still wonderful series for those kids who like the idea that magic may be out there among us.  The following books are great to try if you wish you could one day find you had magical skills which were up to now unimaginable to you!  They are also full of fast paced action,  evil villains and new worlds that are living among us unseen.

I hope one (or all) of these books can capture a little bit of the Harry Potter magic for your kids!

Title:          Magickeepers:The Eternal Hourglass
Author:     Erica Kirov
Target:      Grades 4-7
Series:        Yes
What this book is about: 
Imagine turning thirteen and finding out you are from a family of magicians, and not smoke and mirrors magicians, actual magic producers!  The spells that protected you from the bad guys have expired and you are forced to move into a casino with your long lost Russian relatives.  They are training you to fulfill your, until now, unknown potential.  Of course that doesn’t stop the bad guys from coming after you, so you must study earnestly.  You also have to learn to eat fish eggs and cabbage, which may actually be worse than the bad guys.
Why I loved this book:
While I am not normally all that interested in books about magic this one  was very nicely done!  The story is not overly complicated, and does bring in some great Russian culture, as well historical references in an engaging way.  The action is lively and fast paced and the story is well written.
I found myself saying I would read just one more chapter and that usually turned into at least three.  Nick was such a relatable and likable character and the pace of the book was just right to keep me engaged! 
Who this book is for:
Those who like the idea that magic may be among us!
Final thoughts:
Nice start to a series.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass

Title:          Fablehaven

Author:     Brandon Mull

Target: Grades 4-8
Series:        Yes
About the book:
The basic story is about a brother and sister who stay with their grandparents, only to find out that their grandparents are caretakers for a woods that contains magical creatures.  When rules accidentally get broken, evil is unleashed and the siblings must work to regain their family.  
Why I love this book: 
Magical creatures in this story are not seen as delightful impish characters, but as complex, flawed beings with motives and feelings of their own.  The brother and sister could not have more distinct and differing personalities, with Kendra being responsible and cautious, and Seth being curious and a risk taker.  Seth actually drove me crazy, but that’s because as a kid I was just like Kendra!
The story does have alot of action and it moves at a fast pace.
Who this story is for:
Kids who like action and mythical creatures.
Final thoughts:
Fairies and witches and giant cows, oh my!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Fablehaven

Title:          The Unwanteds
Author:     Lisa McMann
Target:      Grades 4-8
Series:        Yes, this is the first book in a trilogy.  The others have not yet been published.
What this book is about:
In the land of Quill you are a Wanted (great), Necessary (ok) or Unwanted (yikes).  We start the story off with twins, Aaron and Alex, one is Wanted, the other Unwanted.  Unwanteds are sent to the death farm were the inevitable is supposed to occur.  However, much to the surprise of the Unwanteds, the death farm is actually a mirage for the magical kingdom of Artime, where those in the creative arts can flourish and learn magic.  However, Artime cannot remain hidden from Quill forever, so a  showdown is inevitable, pitting brother against brother.
Why I love this book:
Let me start off by saying the cover calls this book the Hunger Games meets Harry Potter and on some level this is true.  However, I can say without a doubt that this book is not a good as either book, let alone a combo.  The characters are simple and the plot is straightforward.  So why am I recommending it?   Because it is ideal for an elementary/middle school child.  It is easy to get caught up in this interesting story and frankly the premise is extremely creative.  The fact that it is written for it’s audience means that 9 - 12 year olds will be thoroughly engaged and the content is appropriate for them!
Who this book is for:
Kids who loved Harry Potter and Hunger Games will enjoy this book.  My son read it in two days straight!
Final thoughts:
A highly imaginative book!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Unwanteds

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does the gender of the main character matter?

Does it matter if the main character is a girl or a boy?  All too often we say that "boy" books can be read by girls and boys alike, but "girl" books are only for a female audience.  I understand this on some level.  There aren't too many boys who are drawn into a book called "Puppy Place,"  it just doesn't interest them.  However, a great story is a great story and the books I have chosen this week are just that.  The main characters may be girls, but the stories are adventurous, the heroines are strong and skillful, and they are supported by a cast of interesting characters.

Although I didn't realize it until I had compiled the books, they are all historical novels and this may be why, despite female leads, they work so well for either sex.  Their challenges and adventures mirror the struggles of the time and not the gender of the character.  Whether you have a boy or a girl, I hope they have the chance to enjoy these thoroughly engaging books, although I understand if it is a stretch for your sons!

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Title:          Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Author:     R. L. LaFevers
Target:      Grades 3-6
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:

Theodosia lives at her parent’s workplace, the London’s Museum of Antiquities.  She has the unique ability to sense the curses that are tied to specific Egyptian artifacts.  Her parents are quite unaware of her gift, and so she is constantly “saving” them without their becoming the wiser.
In this story a particular amulet is brought to the museum that could destroy the British Empire, and Theodosia’s unique skills take her on quite an adventure as she attempts to neutralize the curse.  The story takes place at the beginning of the 20th century so it is a fun period piece with some historical references brought in.
Why I love it:

The cover of this book sucked me in right away.  I am at the mercy of great illustrations!  Thankfully the story was just as fun.  I really enjoy a great girl character, who is clever, independent and self sufficient.  The School Library Journal described her as a combination of Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones, which truly hits the nail on the head! 

I must say that I found this book didn’t engage me until about three chapters in, so please stick with it.  Once the story gets going it is hard to put down. 
Who this book is for:

Kids who love a good adventure story.  In this story, Theodosia is taken into a secret society, and they treat her as a serious partner in solving the mystery.  I know kids will enjoy a bright child outwitting adults who appear utterly clueless to what is going on.
Final thoughts:

Having trouble with ancient curses, Theodosia to the rescue!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

Title:          The Diamond of Drury Lane

Author:     Julia Golding
Target:       Grades 4-7
Series:         Yes
What this book is about:

This is a period book, set in the 1790’s.  It tells the tale of “Cat” Royal, an orphan who is raised in a London theater.  A diamond is hidden in the theater which Cat takes the responsibility of protecting.  It is her interactions with street gangs, performers and high society, as she protects the diamond, that lead to an action packed adventure!
Why I love it:

I read this book a few years ago and loved it.  I picked it up again a few weeks ago, and was thrilled to find I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.  The author really gives you sense of London life in the 1790’s with enough action and suspense that makes the book hard to put down.  
I have the version with the original cover.  I was very disheartened to learn that they changed the cover to show a girl representing Cat on the front.  The new cover really makes this look like a girls book, which it is NOT!  The main character is a girl, yes, but there are some terrific male supporting characters and the story is not gender specific in the slightest.  My 12 year old son got so caught up in the story he started taking the book in the car with him.
This book  did win the Gold Nestle Children’s Book Prize in the UK. 
Who this book is for:

Anyone interested in historical fiction with a huge dose of action and adventure.
Final thoughts: 

The secondary characters are what make this book a gem.  From street thugs and aristocrats who sneak off to box, a political cartoonist named Captain Sparkle, to a former African slave who is a violin prodigy, they elevate the story to a delightful level.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Diamond of Drury Lane (Cat Royal Adventure)

Title:          Hattie Big Sky

Author:     kirby larson
Target:      Grade 4-8
Series:        No
Newbery Honor Book
What this story is about:

Hattie is a sixteen year old girl, whose parents died when she was young.  She moves around from relative to relative, no one really wanting her.  Finally a long lost uncle leaves her an unproven claim to property in Montana.   She makes the move and begins her life as a homesteader.  Along the way she learns about herself and what home really means.
Why I love this book:

Ok, I admit it.  I loved Willa Cather in high school, so a story about a girl conquering the flat land of Montana is right up my alley.  Bring in my Norwegian heritage and my family who raised cattle in Nebraska and I was going to love this story from the start.  Thank goodness it didn’t disappoint me!
This book was so well written, and I loved that Hattie was such a strong female character.  She is quite mature for her age, and Larson has surrounded her with a wonderful host of characters.  Even the villain in the story is not all bad, and we are able to see him as a fully developed individual.  
Larson’s grandmother was a homesteader, so the book is filled with authentic references and the story moves at  an engaging pace! 
Who this book is for:

Anyone who wants to learn about homesteading during World War I.  It is a wonderful book for children to see what life was like for these individuals, not that long ago.
Final thoughts:

This is wonderfully written book which will give children perspective.

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Hattie Big Sky