Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Bridge, Emily and Tab are the best of friends. They have even sworn over the almighty Twinkie  to never fight. As the friends go from grade school to middle school things seem to change a little. Will they survive the arrival of boys, cell phones, and social media on their scene?
In addition to the three friends, Stead
Rebecca Stead has masterfully woven this story from multiple perspectives, bringing issues facing every student today front and center. A beautifully written commentary on lives of tweens and teens in this age of technology.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner

cover of Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner
It's a cliché to say that a work of nonfiction reads like a novel, but... Well, Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune totally reads like a novel. A bloody, epic one at that, full of betrayal, bravery, backstabbing, honor, loyalty, war, and feuding families in soon-to-be feudal Japan.

The Taira clan had the emperor's favorunfairly and undeservedly, in the eyes of Minamoto Yoshitomo. After a Minamoto plot to kidnap the emperor went awry and Yoshitomo was murdered, it would not have been unexpected for Taira Kiyomori to kill Yoshitomo's surviving sons, as well. He decided to spare a few of Minamoto's sons, however, including the youngest, an infant boy named Yoshitsune.

So here's the story of an exiled child from a dishonored family who runs away from the monastery he was sent to, learns archery and swordfighting late in life (for a boy from a samurai family, anyway), reunites with his brothers to go to war against the Taira, displays courage and skill in battle and an unexpected military genius, has a kind of charisma that engenders loyalty among the men he commands, but is also proud and ambitious and maybe arrogant, meaning powerful men had powerful reasons to fear and/or hate him and seek his downfall. Seriously, is it any wonder that Yoshitsune became a legendary figure and the basis of several classic works of Japanese literature?

Pamela S. Turner's biography of Yoshitsune is a page-turning, very approachable book that vividly describes 12th-century Japan, while delineating what is known about Yoshitsune's life and what is speculation or fiction. Turner integrates a lot of information about Japanese life and culture at the time into the text, which helps readers understand the complex relationships (or rivalries) among the families, clans, and with the imperial family. She also writes rousing battle scenes. And if you're a fan of back matter, you'll have even more reason to love this bookpractically a third of the book consists of back matter, comprising an author's note, comprehensive chapter notes, a bibliography, and more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Firefight (The Reckoners, Book Two) by Brandon Sanderson

This is a great sci-fi series. I wrote a review of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, the first book in the Reckoners series, over a year ago. You can check it out here if you want a little back story.

Firefight takes place shortly after the end of Steelheart, our hero, David, is struggling with the realisation that his friend and mentor, the man known as the Prof, possesses super powers much like the Epics - the enemies he is sworn to destroy.

We catch up with the Reckoners as they travel to Babilar (once New York), a city almost entirely covered in water. Here, David and his rag-tag group of friends must traverse this minefield of a setting to try and track down and destroy the super villain Firefight, along with other Epics.

However, in Babilar, nothing is as it seems.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

Book JacketHistorical fiction reads for younger reads aren't always the most popular or entertaining reads I must admit. I can't remember the last time a young customer has requested one of them in the library. However, when one does find a book that is not only based on historical events but is also a transcendent story then it must be lauded. Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing is one such book.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Rootabaga Stories

I can't believe I haven't reviewed Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories here yet! Of all the books we read to our kids, these were the ones that surprised me most. I was amazed that I had never heard of them. Maybe I focused too much on reading nonfiction?
The Rootabaga Country may be somewhere between Oz and Mount Olympus. Sandburg let his imagination soar as he made up stories for his daughters. (Note: the illustration here is from the two-volume set illustrated by Michael Hague.The Rootabaga Stories have been published with various illustrators contributing their art. I just really like Hague's.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

THE DARK GAME: True Spy Stories by Paul B. Janeczko

Little-known fact: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a spy. I practiced by spying on my younger brother, naturally. It all seemed so cool and glamorous. When I got to college and heard from speaker G. Gordon Liddy about the Watergate break-in, I was glad I'd grown out of it.

Still, I like learning about actual spies, and have written a bunch of poems about some of the spies featured in THE DARK GAME: True Spy Stories by Paul B. Janeczko, who says in the introduction that he shares my childhood interest in spying. The book includes tales of revolutionary spies (the Culper spy ring and Benedict Arnold), the Civil War (including women and African Americans), both World Wars and the ensuing Cold War.

In addition to profiles of individual spies or groups, there is information about the technology used by spies. The book came out in 2010, and I've had a copy sitting here in my house since before then (an ARC picked up from the publisher at a conference). It was a finalist for a YALSA award for excellence in nonfiction in 2011. I'm only sorry I didn't read it much sooner. Now I'm off to locate a copy of Janeczko's earlier title, Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing (2004).

Monday, February 8, 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Even reading teachers have reading gaps, and for me the graphic novel is David Letterman’s front teeth. I can only partially blame this gap on residual snobbery from my youth, an ill-conceived notion that graphic novels are not “worthy” stories. As part of my redemption I resolved this year to read more graphic novels, and what finer text to begin with than Noelle Stevenson’s National Book Award finalist Nimona.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

LOSERS TAKE ALL by David Klass

Losers Take AllFremont High has a fine history of winning sports teams.  The student body and a supportive community fill the stands for every athletic contest.  When Principal Arthur Gentry takes his place as the 21st runner in the annual senior race everyone cheers his forty year career as leader of the school and creator of a sporting dynasty.

This year the race ends in tragedy when Principal Gentry collapses at the finish line.  The position of principal is now open, and the school board vows to find the perfect person to take the job.  No one is greatly surprised when long-time football coach Brian Muhldinger is appointed to the position.  He will run a tight ship and keep sports in the spotlight.

Not everyone is happy when Principal Muhldinger announces a new school rule.  Every senior at Fremont High must participate in at least one complete sports season or they won't graduate.  Jack Logan and his friends are not interested in sports, but what choice do they have.
Jack comes from a long line of football players.  His father almost went pro except for a career ending knee injury in college.  His two older brothers were part of the Fremont football winning tradition.  Jack is offered a spot on the varsity team by the new principal, but he turns it down.  His rejection of football starts a revolution that will flip the school's devotion to sports on its head.
Author David Klass takes a look at the overemphasis of sports in some of today's high schools, as well as the issue of bullying and its sometimes devastating consequences.  Jack and his friends recognize the importance of a well-rounded education.  It isn't all about sports, but rather a healthy mix of academics and extracurricular activities.  Teens whose number one priority isn't on the athletic field will cheer on the losers in LOSERS TAKE ALL, and educators will also find satisfaction in a theme that focuses more on success in the classroom than achievements on the field.

Previously posted at

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Falling into Bone Gap

Laura Ruby's Printz Award Winning novel Bone Gap manages to be both eerie and familiar. It's a book, in fact that can't decide what kind of book it is. That's not a bad thing. Ruby masterfully wields that indecision guiding the story through realism and surreal fantasy and back again so fluidly that it's like kayaking down a twisty river. Every new turn brings another surprise. The overall effect is as compelling as it is odd.