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Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw by Elaine Scott

Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw by Elaine Scott.

Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw by Elaine Scott

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: January 2011
List Price: $17.99
ISBN-13: 9780547241890

Review: Quite possibly one of the most significant instruments that has changed the way "people look at themselves and their world" is the Hubble Space Telescope. This invention that was originally known as a "spyglass" is discussed in detail in Elaine Scott's book Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw. Filled with awe-inspiring photography and fascinating quick facts, Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time is an excellent addition to any library - both young and old.

The book begins with an immediate text connection for young readers - a connection with Madeleine L'Engle's book A Wrinkle in Time. This introduction immediately captures all of the L'Engle fans out there who have read and cherished A Wrinkle in Time. But even if A Wrinkle in Time is not familiar, the idea that everyone wants to understand things, even if they are very hard to understand, beautifully sets the stage for the Hubble Space Telescope and its unraveling of the mysteries that oftentimes weigh on our minds. Beginning with a brief history of the Hubble Space Telescope, and continuing through various space explorations, all readers will be thoroughly engaged in the story of the Hubble Space Telescope. But, this book does more than merely provide background information. Instead it attempts to answer one of the most difficult questions ever asked - "Where did we come from?" Through captivating photography and easy to interpret facts that have been pulled out of the text so that even the most casual reader will get something out of the book, Scott brings her readers closer to finding an answer. She even adds a section that includes a recipe for a planet - written just like a recipe from a cookbook. What a great way to share this information! Finally, Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time also includes a comprehensive glossary and suggestions for further reading which is essential since after readers finish this book, they are definitely going to want to read more!

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw for this review.

Have you read Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw? How would you rate it?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Emi and the Rhino Scientist by Mary Kay Carson

Emi and the Rhino Scientist by Mary Kay Carson. A Scientists in the Field Book.

Emi and the Rhino Scientist by Mary Kay Carson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: October 2010
List Price: $8.99
ISBN-13: 9780547408507

Review: A group of people crowded around a tall woman with long hair. She was dressed in scrubs, like a surgeon, and stood next to a computer. Everyone moved in for a closer look when the woman pointed to the screen. On it was a fuzzy picture called a sonogram. The blurry black-and-white image was a baby still inside its mother. It wasn't yet ready to be born. So begins Mary Kay Carson's book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist, a Scientists in the Field book. Similar to other books in the series, Carson guides the readers on a journey - a journey of a rhino. Beginning with the sonogram images of Emi's calf, through to the death of Emi, Emi and the Rhino Scientist engages the reader in an enjoyable story that captures not only facts about the rhino population, but also the life and experiences of Emi, her mate, Ipuh, and the baby rhino, Andala, that "gave hope to everyone trying to save his species."

Emi and the Rhino Scientist begins by introducing Emi and Ipuh through a historical account of the rhinoceros. The account is thorough, but not overwhelming for the younger readers. It then continues into an explanation of the scientists' goals for impregnating Emi. It evidently was surprisingly more difficult than one might expect! The excitement that builds in the readers as Emi rides the roller coaster that has become her life is inspiring. A nearly 4-year project finally comes to an end. But that is not the end of the book or the story about rhinos. In fact, in some ways it is just the beginning as the book continues with a section on how science can be used to save a dwindling species. Andala's birth really does bring hope. Finally, the reader gets to become up close and personal with Andala as he grows up into a tough adult rhino. It's so amazing all that the Cincinnati Zoo is doing to help rhinos and repopulate the species. Readers will not be able to read Emi and the Rhino Scientist without going away touched in some way and with a deeper appreciation for rhinos. The Scientists in the Field books are always excellent, and Emi and the Rhino Scientist is certainly no exception.

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of Emi and the Rhino Scientist for this review.

Have you read Emi and the Rhino Scientist? How would you rate it?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Review: Spirit Storm by E.J. Stevens

Spirit Storm by E.J. Stevens. A Spirit Guide Novel.

Spirit Storm by E.J. Stevens

Sacred Oaks Press
Publication Date: January 2011
List Price: $12.99
ISBN-13: 9780984247530

Review: You think your life is falling apart? Well, Yuki has a pretty normal life, other than the fact that She Smells the Dead. Sequel of She Smells the Dead, Spirit Storm, a Spirit Guide Novel, is written by E. J. Stevens. Yuki is happy with her best friend Emma and her boyfriend Calvin (Cal), but what is the fate of the people she loves?

Not many people know that Yuki smells impressions of the dead, other Emma and Cal. Also, it isn't a very well-known fact that Cal is a werewolf. Only Yuki, Emma, and Simon, and older werewolf in the wolf pack, know of Cal's werewolf spirit and him being the pack alpha. But when Yuki, Cal, and Simon go to save Sam, another werewolf (held captive in a dark cave), Cal gets seriously injured. Only good medical care and Yuki can help him. How? When Yuki dances, she can get in touch with Cal's inner wolf spirit. Will Yuki be able to awaken Cal, or will he lie in his cabin bed until the worst happens? On top of it all, on Samhain (Halloween) the spirits will awaken. How will Yuki survive the attacking smell of so many spirits? Will she survive the smell?

I absolutely love Spirit Storm for so many reasons! First of all, it has a fast-paced plot. It keeps going, and doesn't stop when a solution doesn't come immediately. The characters are well-developed and very essential to the plot. Spirit Storm is a fantasy realistic-fiction, and contains werewolves and smelly spirits. Yuki's sleuthing skills to solve her Samhain problems are very detective-like. It would be best to read She Smells the Dead (1st Spirit Guide Novel) to best understand Spirit Storm, including the characters and the basic plot itself. I think it is very interesting how there is fantasy, adventure, and romance all combined in one novel. It is quite original how there is a significant, yet small part in werewolves and spirits. Though the book is based on werewolves and spirits, E. J. Stevens also incorporated some high school adventures. There is also the adventure of rescuing Sam, and Cal and Yuki's romance. If you like these combinations of genres, I suggest you read this book. I rate Spirit Storm a 5 out of 5.

Review written by Sahaj (6th grade student).

We would like to thank E.J. Stevens for providing a copy of Spirit Storm for this review.

Have you read Spirit Storm? How would you rate it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Holly Schindler & Book Trends Discuss Books and Blogging

Sixth grade teacher (and Book Trends webmaster) Margo Nauert recently had a chance to talk about books and blogging with novelist Holly Schindler, whose most recently published book for young adults is Playing Hurt (Flux Paperback, March 2011, 978-0-7387-2287-0).

— ◊ —

Holly Schindler
Photo courtesy of
Holly Schindler; Photo credit John Schindler II.

Holly Schindler: Hi, Margo! Can you tell us a bit about yourself — your work, how you got interested in blogging?

Margo Nauert: Hi! I am a middle school teacher and mother of a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. I have been teaching 6th grade language arts & social science for 19 years, and for the past 3 years, my focus has been on gifted students. As far as blogging goes, I kind of fell into it. It’s a little bit of a story, but a good one nonetheless. My brother has been blogging for quite some time on his Omnimystery family of mystery websites. Although he has a wide range of sites, the one that inspired me was Mysterious Reviews — where he writes reviews of mystery books. Well, our mother fell ill several years back, and we came close to losing her. As she was recovering, she struggled with some depression, but my brother found a solution. She was looking for a good book to read, and he offered her one — but it had a catch. She had to write a review. Reluctantly, she agreed, and since then has published countless reviews for him.

It was amazing to see what writing something that was read and appreciated by so many people did for my mother, which made me think, “How can I use this with kids?” So, I approached my brother about having my students write reviews for his children’s mystery site — First Clues. It was such a hit that we started receiving non-mystery books in the mail for review. I had a choice to make, ignore the non-mystery books or start my own blog. The choice was clear — and as a result, Book Trends was born! Since then my students and I have written hundreds of reviews. Honestly, being able to provide middle school students an opportunity to write something that is more meaningful than the standard essay, which is written for a real audience, is — priceless!

After reading a great book like Playing Hurt, it’s always exciting to find out a little about the author that made the characters come to life. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

HS: First, I have to admit, I really admire what you’re doing in the classroom, Margo. I love the fact that you’re actively seeking new reading material for your students, and introducing them to real-world discussions of literature … You are absolutely creating lifelong readers with a passion for literature … The book blogging community is a powerful place for both young readers and writers!

That having been said, I’ve been a writer since I could hold a pen. I was an extremely shy little kid, and sometimes, I think I started writing almost as a way to have a “voice.” I wrote through high school, majored in literature and creative writing in college — undergrad and grad. When I obtained my master’s, my mom invited me to nix the idea of a full-time job in favor of writing. She offered to feed me while I sought publication, got my writing career off the ground. Even though I didn’t have any financial concerns, the first deal did not come easy — took seven and a half years to ink the first contract!

But not only did I have financial support, I also had someone who was cheering me on, as four, five, six years passed with not a single acceptance. Someone who kept insisting I’d get there, if I’d persist just a little longer…

As an author, my first concern is my readership. Both of my books — Playing Hurt and my debut, A Blue So Dark — are pretty honest. I try not to sugarcoat anything, or to shy away from any content. But I wonder — especially with a novel like Playing Hurt, which has both sensual and sexual content — how librarians and teachers like yourself approach or deal with that edgier content. (I still remember when my sophomore year high school English teacher had to offer us all another book to read, if we were afraid that Of Mice and Men would be too offensive!)

MN: Well, Holly, I’d say your mom is a gem. You definitely have a gift, and I’m sure countless readers are thrilled you had the support to get through those early years! “Honest” is a great way to describe your writing. Playing Hurt is an outstanding book — mainly because of that honesty. But you’re right, that edgier content can be questionable for some readers. I remember when Forever by Judy Blume was the “must read” book with girls hiding them in their book bags hoping Mom never found it! But, right or wrong, times have certainly changed since then. With so much exposure on public television, I’m sure Forever would never get the fevered attention today!

That being said, as both a parent and an educator, I definitely have to think about the appropriateness of the edgier content. Clearly Playing Hurt is intended for an audience much older than my 6th grade students, but I do think it is every bit appropriate for late high school students. There is an excellent storyline that goes much deeper than the sensual content. However, it is very important for parents and educators to be aware of what their children are reading. Back when I read Forever, I remember my mother asking to read it too. Although I was a little horrified at first, in the end I did not mind at all. In fact now that I have children of my own, I highly respect her decision. Teens are going to be faced with “adult” decisions. What’s most important is giving them the support and core values to help them make the best decisions. Nothing — no books, movies, television shows, etc. — can ever replace the valuable conversations parents have with their children that help them grow and develop in their understanding of themselves and the world.

So, when it comes to books like Playing Hurt, I would say — go ahead READ! But, parents need to be aware. Read Playing Hurt too, but most importantly TALK. If more parents and teens really talked (and listened), a lot of problems might very well be avoided. I admire the honesty in your writing, and look forward to sharing your books with my daughter in a few years! Hopefully by then there will be more Holly Schindler books on the market!

HS: Love that you referenced Forever, Margo! (Didn’t we all love that book growing up?) And you’ve so succinctly summed up exactly how I feel about edgier content, as well — that it can absolutely be used as a springboard for an open dialogue!

I do absolutely love the blogosphere for so many reasons … One thing I love about the blogosphere is that bloggers also engage in just that kind of dialogue … Bloggers don’t just discuss the literary merits of a book, they also discuss a character’s actions and behaviors, and whether or not they agree with them …

With Playing Hurt, there’s been a lot of discussion about the cheating subplot … some bloggers take the black and white view that cheating is wrong, and Chelsea and Clint’s relationship never should have happened, and other readers have really empathized with Chelsea’s situation, and have put themselves in her shoes, trying to figure out, “What would I have done?”

As a literature major (who has for years focused her reading on literary merits), I love that the blogosphere has such a guttural reaction to books … I find that reading blog reviews has made my own reading more emotional. How has blogging changed your own reading? How do you hope it changes your students’ reading?

MN: The blogosphere is an exciting, emotional world that has most definitely changed the act of “reading” for anyone who has experienced it. For myself, I find I am reading very differently. I don’t merely read for overall plot enjoyment, but my mind delves deeper — looking for the elements that make a review. I find myself armed with Post-It notes to mark those thought-provoking moments, good quotes, subtle inconsistencies, etc. But, amazingly, it doesn’t remove the enjoyment one bit. In fact, it deepens it. I am enjoying books on a different level today.

This depth of enjoyment is exactly what I hope for my students as well. When I was in school studying literature, the over-analysis nearly pushed me to detest reading. If another teacher asked, “Why do you think the author wrote it that way?” I might have pulled my hair out! But, writing reviews and blogging encourages that thought in a far more purposeful and enjoyable way. Once the review is out there, the anonymity of a blog allows people to express their thoughts in a comfortable forum. I’ve loved reading the comments my students have received. Granted they’re not all thought-provoking, but they are finding that what they write is being read and valued — not by Mom or Dad, and not by a teacher, but instead by real people looking for books. I see them engage far more intensely in literature discussions than I have in the past because they know how to review literature — and they do it well. Knowing that someone out there around the world is going to read their writing, and that their writing will evoke opinions and emotions in the readers, really pushes kids to think about the literature in a much different way. I even see their books riddled with Post-It notes!

But, most importantly, let’s face it, kid book-talk groups aren’t exactly seen as super cool, but a blog provides a safe forum to let out that “inner geek” and really talk about books — and how books shape and change the lives of their readers. What a wonderful concept – kids analyzing books and having fun at the same time! I imagine as an author, you’d also hope that readers don’t merely fly through the pages and then let the book collect dust, but instead they find themselves reading & discussing your books in such a way that an impact is made on the reader so that thirty years from now (as is nearly the case for my reading of Forever), someone, somewhere will be telling people about Playing Hurt, the incredible, inspiring book they read as a teen and the impact it made on them as a person.

— ◊ —

About Playing Hurt: Star basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.

As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain — or finally heal their heartbreak?

About Holly Schindler: Her first novel, A Blue So Dark, was recently announced as the winner of a 2011 IPPY Gold award in the category of Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. It is also a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. She is currently working on her third book for middle school readers to be published by Dial in 2012. For more information about Holly, visit her website at or her blog, Novel Anecdotes.

Review: Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler.

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $9.95
ISBN-13: 9780738722870

Review: Imagine being in high school knowing exactly what your future entails - a full basketball scholarship, a wonderful idolizing boyfriend, a family who is proud of you - what more could you want? Up until one life-altering accident, this is Chelsea Keyes life. After a horrifying fall on the courts, everything Chelsea has come to know as the norm is turned upside down, making her a stranger to her school, her family, and most importantly to herself. Chelsea's search for her identity is beautifully portrayed in Holly Schindler's novel, Playing Hurt .

Chelsea ends her senior year in high school much differently than she'd expected. Instead of being the star in everyone's life, she is now just Chelsea. The only constant is her devoted boyfriend, Gabe. With everyone else, she's become withdrawn and fixates on that last moment when she fell and destroyed every hope of ever playing basketball again and crushed both her and her father's dreams. In hopes of moving Chelsea beyond her depression, her father treats the family to a three-week summer "boot camp" in Minnesota where he hires a personal trainer, Clint, who he hopes will be able to restore some of the girl Chelsea once was before the accident. Though hating to leave Gabe behind, Chelsea quickly finds Clint - who is a 19-year-old ex-hockey player haunted by his own personal demons - intriguing. As hard as they both try, the chemistry between Clint and Chelsea is far too strong, and Chelsea's father ends up with far more than he's bargained for in a trainer. Chelsea realizes that with Clint she can "almost remember what if felt like to be whole again. Unbroken." As Chelsea struggles with her growing feelings for Clint and her sense of devotion to Gabe, she finds that maybe, just maybe if she takes a chance, she can move on in her life. But, is that chance worth the risk of causing more heartbreak for everyone involved?

Simply stated, Playing Hurt is fabulous. It is an absolutely perfect young-adult romance - focusing on issues today's teens must face, and handling them with an elegance that touches even the coldest of hearts. Holly Schindler addresses complex issues such as teen sensuality, infidelity, and simply growing into adulthood beautifully. So often, edgier novels are written more with a shock value, hoping to lure in teens by risqué content. But Playing Hurt doesn't need shock value - it's simply good, authentic literature. The primary plot of Chelsea's growth and acceptance of her life without basketball is but one part of the novel. The subplots are certainly equally captivating. Schindler does a nice job weaving in family dynamics with struggle between sticking with comfort and taking a chance on life, and it is never presented in an unrealistic, "every-story-needs-a-happy-ending" way. Also, Schindler's writing style is captivating. Lacing the story with figurative language such as "Basketball is an hourglass with a whole pyramid of sand on the bottom," adds to the lure of the novel. Clearly, Holly Schindler is a name to watch. Playing Hurt is her second novel, and her debut novel, A Blue So Dark has recently won a gold medal at the IPPY's and is also a finalist in ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year. Hopefully readers will be hearing a lot more about Holly Schindler!

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Holly Schindler for providing a copy of Playing Hurt for this review.

Have you read Playing Hurt? How would you rate it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Kindred by Tammar Stein

Kindred by Tammar Stein.

Kindred by Tammar Stein

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $16.99
ISBN-13: 9780375858710

Review: Imagine getting a visit from an angel telling you to save someone, but to make things worse, your twin brother also gets a supernatural visit, but from the other end of the good-evil spectrum. This is only part of the crazy and confusing events that happen to Miriam in Kindred by Tammar Stein. Miriam is in college and is lost. She believes in a powerful energy but doesn't feel comfortable talking about her religion. Then one night on spring break Miriam's world is turned upside down when she gets a visit from Raphael, the angel. Kindred is a religious and fictional story filled with drama, love, and much more.

After Miriam's encounter with Raphael who told her to protect Tabitha, a stranger Miriam goes to school with, Miriam starts looking for answers. She finds Tabitha who she befriends. Miriam is told by the angel to save Tabitha before the Sabbath. Though Miriam gets to Tabitha before the Sabbath when Tabitha's dorm is blown up, Tabitha is disabled forever and Miriam ends up in big trouble for not helping Tabitha in time. So Miriam is now confused and scared and decides to become a college drop out and take a job as a reporter in Hamilton, Tennessee. With Miriam's parents worried and calling her all the time, things get even worse when Miriam gets a visit from her twin brother Mo. While with Mo she discovers that Mo got a visit too, but from the opposite direction. As in what Mo says in Kindred, "I've got friends in low places", from the song by Garth Brooks. This upsets Miriam because her brother is working for the Devil. Soon after, Miriam is getting stomach cramps that turn out to be Crohn's disease that she believes to be a punishment from God. Also, Miriam gets another angel visit giving her a new person to help who is an intern at the newspaper with some of his own problems. During the story Miriam develops a relationship with the local tattoo parlor owner Emmett. What will Miriam do to help mysterious Jason?

I wasn't really impressed with this book. One reason is that the story was quite slow at times. Also, the author always explained jokes too much when they were actually easy to understand. This frustrated me because it made the book seem longer than it actually was. I also couldn't connect with the main character who I found to complain a lot. This book was mostly a romance novel. It was funny at times but was a really serious book. Possibly one of the reasons that I did not enjoy this book as much as I'd hoped is because of the genre. Someone who likes romance novels might like it more. Overall, I would give Kindred two stars if you're not a lover of romance. But, this book could be great for someone looking for a fantasy romance novel.

Review written by Kyle (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Kindred for this review.

Have you read Kindred? How would you rate it?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian.

Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $16.99
ISBN-13: 9780375865794

Review: Funny, loveable, and relatable all describe Jersey Tomatoes are the Best . Maria Padian captures just how difficult it is to be away from your best friend for an entire summer. Henry Lloyd who is a teenage tennis star and her best friend Eva Smith, a supreme ballerina, have to manage living without each other for a whole summer. These two Jersey girls are away from not only each other but also their beloved New Jersey. Henry is down in Florida while Eva is dancing her way around New York. How will their friendship hold out?

To begin, Henry gets a chance to go to one of the best tennis academies ever, Chadwick. She wants to improve her game and have her chance to be an even bigger star. At the same time, Eva goes to New York for ballet camp, so she can become a prima ballerina. While these two friends are away from each other, everything seems to happen. They try desperately to keep their friendship together, although they are very far apart. Henry is getting along great at her new camp. She is having so much fun with her new friends that she completely forgets to talk to Eva. With Eva battling her problems with being a ballerina in her tiny leotard, she is unable to dance for a while. Henry has no clue what condition Eva is in for a long time. Henry will stop at nothing to get to her best friend and be at her side when she needs it most.

I really thought this was a fantastic book! The writing was great and some of the jokes are very funny. Not only are the jokes funny but it has a serious tone throughout. It really shows how serious life can be to teenagers. That life for young people is not always happy and dandy. Life can really have problems and there is a difficulty in the character's lives. Jersey Tomatoes are the Best does not underestimate what young people go through as they life with their friends. The book made me think hard about how my life is good. Not only does it really capture the spirit of people, but also it is impossible to but down! I would stay up until midnight reading this book. My parents almost yelled at me to go to bed for multiple nights. I enjoyed reading and only stopped when it was absolutely necessary. Jersey Tomatoes are the Best can keep you entertained and make you never want to leave the book. The way the author ties the two girls' worlds together with phone calls and thinking of the other, really makes you see how close the girls are to each other. The end made me think of how important a best friend is and how much they would do for you. I really hope Maria Padian writes a follow up on the two girls and tells us what happens next. This book deserves all the stars in the galaxy!

Review written by Kathryn (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best for this review.

Have you read Jersey Tomatoes are the Best? How would you rate it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

David Fickling Books
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $16.99
ISBN-13: 9780385752176

Review: Imagine being eight-feet tall and moving from a small hometown city to a large, busy, noisy city in England. Candy Gourlay has designed a remarkable book that keeps you predicting on the several outcomes of the story. Andy lives peacefully with her mom and dad, but she sometimes forgets that she has a very tall brother across the ocean in the Philippines. Bernardo on the other hand lives in the Philippines with his aunt and uncle wishing for the government papers to come saying he can move to London where the rest of his family is living. When the papers finally come, Bernardo has to make a decision that will change his life forever.

Andi is peacefully living her life, but the one problem that she faces is that her parents want to move into a fantastic new house. At first she goes along with getting the new house because she doesn't realize that she is going to have to transfer schools. She goes to school one day and learns that she has been chosen to be the point guard on her basketball team, but on the same day she also learns that she has to transfer schools and Bernardo will be in the new house with them in less than a week! Bernardo lives with his aunt and uncle who are the only ones that know about the letter, but Bernardo worries about his best friend Jabby. He and all the other people in Philippines believe that Bernardo is a giant after his father Bernardo Carpio who has a reputation for saving the town from the collapsing of mountains from deadly earthquakes in a legend. When he finally reaches London, Andi dislikes him because her level of responsibilities have doubled, but will basketball unite the two siblings, or will Bernardo go back to the Philippines after an earthquake destroys his hometown?

This is the first book I have read by Candy Gourlay and it is extremely fascinating. This book is what I like to call an amazing page turner because from the first page you get caught into the book and you will never want to stop reading. An important factor in Candy Gourlay's writing is the immense descriptions of all events and characters that make you feel like you're watching a fantastic movie. Tall Story is like a bumpy rollercoaster that shows how the relationship between Bernardo and Andi go up and down, but in the end they love each other equally. The layout of the story is also captivating because it alternates from Bernardo's point of view to Andi's point of view at every chapter, and as the story gets closer to the end, it becomes one. This shows how the separation between the two siblings gets smaller. From the first chapter of Andi the book is very fast and exciting, which to me is a great way to start a story. Although, the second chapter on Bernardo starts off very slow, and I think it would have been better if it was in a quicker pace keeping the reader tied to the book. Tall Story's topic is also very interesting because it shows how a separated family meets and works together to form a strong bond. Lastly, the fact that Bernardo has a brain tumor in his pituitary gland makes the reader predict and continue to read about Bernardo being 8 feet tall. The ending of the story finishes the story like frosting on a cake with a life or death situation. This part brings action into the story and helps you understand how all of the characters are feeling. Do not stop until you read all 296 pages of this marvelous story.

Review written by Ravi (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Tall Story for this review.

Have you read Tall Story? How would you rate it?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry.

Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

Random House Children's Book for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $16.99
ISBN-13: 9780375861963

Review: Do the right thing. Support the mission. This is all that Jody Field, Giselle Johnson, and Vivian Armstrong want to do when they find Arvo Kross. Arvo is a Soviet translator who just wants his home country, Estonia, to be free from the Russian Soviets. In Second Fiddle by Rosanne Perry, all three 8th-grade girls have a parent helping the military. The three girls are also a musical trio. Jody and Vivi are moving out of Berlin, the three girls want to spend as much time together. Will they be able to, without getting in trouble?

Jody, Vivi, and Giselle are participating in a Solo and Ensemble Contest in Paris. To go, their escort will be their music teacher, Herr Muller. The only problem is that he can't go. The three girls were looking forward to going to Paris for the competition because it is probably the last time they will ever play together. After learning this unfortunate fact from Herr Muller, the girls stumble upon Arvo. Not knowing what to do, the three girls decide to help him. Arvo being from the Soviet side, has to be well-hidden. Not telling their parents, the girls take care of Arvo every day. Then the girls have an idea. They can disguise Arvo as Herr Muller and go to the contest in Paris. But at the end of the contest, things go terribly wrong. Arvo may have bought the girls' lunch, but he also stole all their money, passports, and train tickets. How could this have happened? The girls thought Arvo could be trusted. How will the girls safely get back to Berlin, with their parents?

This book is awesome! It shows friendship in its best way and how three inseparable girls stick together in Paris. I also love the title of Second Fiddle because of the word 'fiddle'. I play the violin and because of that, even though it is historical fiction, I picked up this book. Based on the period of the Cold War in 1990 in Berlin and Paris, everywhere is war-ridden. I am almost attracted to novels on how people cope in war times. It is very well-written, and the setting is fully detailed. I also like how the voice of Jody is used very well to show her feelings. The plot is complicated, yet easy to understand, and is a delight to read about. I rate this book a 5 out of 5! You should read Second Fiddle if you love music and/or historical fiction.

Review written by Sahaj (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Second Fiddle for this review.

Have you read Second Fiddle? How would you rate it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Mathemagic! Number Tricks by Lynda Colgan

Mathemagic! by Lynda Colgan.

Mathemagic! by Lynda Colgan

Kids Can Press
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $16.95
ISBN-13: 9781554534258

Review: Mathakazam! Your secret number is now the number 4. Magic and math combine to form Mathemagic!, a book dedicated to fun with numbers. Mathemagic! Number Tricks, written by Lynda Colgan and illustrated by Jan Kurisu, will teach readers how to read minds, solve math problems and much much more! It is a nonfiction book that will totally un-boggle your mind and boggle your friends.

All Mathemagic! is about is math. But, it's not your ordinary boring math class math. This is the fun math class, where Linda Colgan teaches you to enjoy math. After you read each well-explained trick it teaches you how the trick works in excellent detail. You will easily understand each trick and even be able to teach your math teacher a little something about math. All of the tricks work perfectly and are really fun.

My favorite part of the book is the explanation. I like seeing how all these tricks work. Unfortunately, though, one trick didn't work very well at all. The good news is, the authors notify you about the problem. The way the author explains the tricks is great. She uses simple and non-confusing words and phrases. The excitement in this book is unequaled because you actually get to make the fun. Overall, I give Mathemagic! 4.5 out of 5 because it is well written, easy to understand and packed with fun. So go out and buy the book. Fool your friends, amaze your parents, teach your teachers. The fun is endless!

Review written by Sean (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Raab Associates for providing a copy of Mathemagic! for this review.

Have you read Mathemagic!? How would you rate it?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: Weird Sports by Michael Teitelbaum

Weird Sports by Michael Teitelbaum.

Weird Sports by Michael Teitelbaum

Beach Ball Books
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $12.95
ISBN-13: 9781936310036

Review: When most people think of basketball, football or hockey there is no weird in their thought. But when it comes to less traditional/private sports they get crazy and weird. The author of Weird Sports is Michael Teitelbaum and Weird Sports is filled fill all sorts of sports. There are weird yet, cool sports.

In Weird Sports readers will learn about less traditional sports. For example, in the Scottish Highlands people toss a high wooden pole similar to a telephone pole with the intention not to throw it the furthest but, to yield a solid landing. Another game that is played in Thailand and India involves elephants playing soccer with people riding on them. It's called Elephant Soccer. A few of the other weird sports include Turkey Bowling, Extreme Ironing, Toilet Racing, Chess Boxing and Mullet Tossing. These are all really weird sports. The book has many different and unique sports and maybe some of them can influence the readers to try one of theses or even create a weird sport of their own!

I really enjoyed learning the new sports. Weird Sports has numerous types of sports. Some of the sports give insight into the people and cultures in various region of the world. Also, Weird Sports shows how not only lacrosse, basketball, football, horse racing and soccer are sports but instead the world is filled weird and interesting sports. In fact, if it is a boring day a person could play one of the sports alone because most of them can be done with any number of players.

Review written by Vraj (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Raab Associates for providing a copy of Weird Sports for this review.

Have you read Weird Sports? How would you rate it?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children by David J. Smith

This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children by David J. Smith. A Citizen Kid Book.

This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children by David J. Smith

Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $18.95
ISBN-13: 9781554534661

Review: Children, particularly American children, are growing up in a technologically advanced and privileged world where they are more concerned with their cell phone than anything else. The egocentrism that is often associated with children is only becoming more pronounced. However, David J. Smith has written a book that opens a child's eyes to a world outside their own. This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children is a captivating look at the lives of children around the world.

This Child, Every Child is organized in topical groups such as education, war, and gender roles. Each section focuses on the life of a fictional character who might live in the region being explored. The realization that hits when a child sees that not every child even has access to the basics such as food, clothing, water, and even air is profound. A wide variety of nationalities and religious groups is presented in the book, and accompanying each segment is an excerpt from the United Nations Convention's Rights of the Child (which is presented in a full child-friendly version in the back of the book) showing children what the UN has done to protect them from these inequalities.

Overall, This Child, Every Child is a good book. The stories are captivating, and the facts presented are shared in such a way that they not only prove to be informative, but also leave the reader with something to think about. Also, the additional excerpts from the Rights of the Child is a good companion piece. In truth, the brief stories from different places could have been longer and more detailed. Typically they are just a paragraph or two. Readers will find themselves either wanting to learn more about the child or unaffected because there wasn't enough depth to pull them in to the story. Although the book jacket states "young readers" will enjoy the book, it's more appropriate for upper elementary, and that being said could be a longer book. However, it would be a great addition to any elementary classroom to be used as a read-aloud - focusing on parts of the book that might relate to curricular areas being studied. For this purpose, the shorter snippets are perfect. So, in the end, depending on what a reader is hoping to get out of This Child, Every Child, it is either perfect or a little short on details. Either way, it is for the most part engaging and might just be one way to get children to look past their cell phones and see that a whole world of 2.2 billion children is out there - waiting to be discovered.

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Raab Associates for providing a copy of This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children for this review.

Have you read This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World's Children? How would you rate it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review: Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis. A C.H.A.O.S. Novel.

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: January 2011
List Price: $14.99
ISBN-13: 9781595547538

Review: KABOOM!!! SMASH!!! CRASH!!! goes the windows and walls of the room. Exciting action like this fills every page of Invasion, the first book in the Chaos series by J.S. Lewis. It is a science fiction book that is imaginative, thrilling and entertaining.

As Colt, a 15 year old boy, makes his way through the hole in the wall, plasma bolts shoot all around him. He takes a run to the nearest object he can find, which happens to be a phantom. He climbs aboard and takes off to avoid being hit by any plasma bolts. But wait I am ahead of myself. Let's go back. Colt is sitting on the couch of his hotel room when there is a knock. He answers it, and it is a police man who informed him that his parents have been killed in a car accident. This horrible turn of events forces him to move in with his grandpa and attend school in Arizona. He is told to go to an old air force base where he meets up with a man named Van Cleeve. They are attacked by the trident group. They are the people who are controlling minds. Colt barely escapes with his life. It turns out that his parents were actually killed by a man who was being controlled by a chip in his head. Will Colt be able to stop him?

I liked all of the creativity in Invasion like the plasma bolts and the mind controlling. But unfortunately it was a bit unrealistic. Nonetheless, I was pulled in by the 3rd chapter. I was taking my time, but I enjoyed it a lot. I was swept away when the fights and guns were introduced. It gets your blood racing like you are actually there. The big problem is the mind controlling because you can make a person do whatever you want them to do. This has frightening implications. For example, if the president or somebody important is controlled then that could cause a lot of problems. Invasion is worth reading simply to find out what happens in the end, so read the book and enjoy.

Review written by Carson (6th grade student).

We would like to thank Raab Associates for providing a copy of Invasion for this review.

Have you read Invasion? How would you rate it?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens

She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens. Spirit Guide.

She Smells the Dead by E.J. Stevens

Sacred Oaks Press
Publication Date: August 2010
List Price: $9.99
ISBN-13: 9780984247523

Review: DEATH. That's all she smells. It changes all the time, from bunt brownies to a pungent vinegar smell; she smells it all. Yuki is a girl with a very odd and exquisite talent…she can smell the dead. She Smells The Dead by E.J. Stevens is a beginning, kind of like it's filling you in and preparing you for the series, to her whole collection based on Yuki's tales. The first book of the series A Spirit Guide is Spirit Storm. This book is about, yes; a girl who has a sixth sense for paranormal activity, but it doesn't get too into the creepy stuff. Like, there's no possession of souls or anything, it's just based on Yuki trying to help the lost souls find the light.

The main character is Yuki, (formally known as Vanessa, but swapped to Yuki after joining anime club), and her best friends Emma and Calvin, (Cal). Yuki is Goth, (very), and is known as "The Witch" at her high school. Not very popular but true to herself, Yuki keeps her own way and still achieves being admired by those she knows best. The story begins with Yuki smelling this very strong disgusting vinegar smell. She knows it must have something to do with the dead, since she's dealt with it before, but she needs to know how to get rid of it. She learns from Emma, The Research Queen, that the smell of vinegar is related to Mr. Green. Mr. Green owned a vinegar company and had died recently. His wife, Grace, is the only Green member left since her sons have all been killed in a boating accident recently, the same time as Mr. Green. Cal, Emma, and Yuki all set off to learn who killed Mr. Green. Was it his wife, his children, or himself? Yuki finds out that Cal (whom she had recently started to date a week or so before) is a werewolf. He is meant to be her protector from all of the dangers of the spirits trying to find their way into the light, because as the second book says, Let the spirits guide you, but never let them take you. Cal's inner animal is a wolf, and Yuki's is a scarab (a sacred dung beetle), and Cal's wolf is meant to protect her. But Cal's life is in grave danger at the Homecoming Dance, when it's a full moon and his wolf spirit is awakened. People may see him, and he isn't fully trained yet to control himself. The spirits are awakening, faster than ever before, and Cal may not be able to protect Yuki. It will take true courage for Yuki and Cal to train together to go against the spirits…but will Yuki be able to save Cal? Or even herself?

Basically, I see E.J. Stevens as a great writer. She writes deep, dark, mystical poetry on the spirits of the dead but doesn't include a dark side to her book. It contains some info on the spirits, but it has humor as well. I at first thought it would be all about how the spirits were entrancing Yuki's mind with scents and were going to imprison her through her nose, but they didn't. I judged a book by its cover, (which was why I judged it, if you can tell. She's frowning at the camera in her Homecoming dress with locks of hair sticks out while her eye shadow runs to her cheekbones…a fact I learned later was because of an incident at Homecoming). The book was nothing like its cover and I thought it would be considered a paranormal comedy. The book is written about werewolves as well, I found the two together were perfect…(mostly because the Twilight thing was getting old and this was a new type of fictional couple). All in all, Stevens did a great job. Yuki can't be considered the Goth type of person who goes around hating the world…she is energetic, fun, and exciting. I found her seeming more like Emma, who is the EXACT opposite of Goth. Kids can easily read this book maybe at the age of eight or nine, because really, it's not scary at all. That's what makes it so awesome, because I personally cannot stand to read scary books because it makes me say to myself, Alright, that's definitely NOT one I'm going to read again. NO WAY and I writing a review on that thing! But I didn't say that about this one, because honestly, it was totally, amazingly, awesome!

Review written by Amber (6th grade student).

We would like to thank E.J. Stevens for providing a copy of She Smells the Dead for this review.

Have you read She Smells the Dead? How would you rate it?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Delacorte Press Books for Young Children
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $17.99
ISBN-13: 9780385739351

Review: Stuck in the small town of Washokey, Wyoming, hoping to escape and find that there is something more to the world than horrid pageants and the same old kids in her class, is Grace, a brilliant sophomore in Kirsten Hubbard's edgy novel, Like Mandarin. Grace is a studious girl who has a rebel hidden inside. It came out once when she was younger, being forced to parade around at beauty pageants, and it yearns to come out again. Grace keeps to herself; she doesn't seem to fit in with her old friends anymore, and she doesn't really seem to care. But, her life changes when she is asked to tutor the most rebellious senior in the school - Mandarin.

Mandarin's character encompasses everything that Grace is not. She is promiscuous, she drinks, she breaks every rule, and she doesn't care. What brings her to Grace, however, is her teacher's hope that she'll graduate. Grace has always idolized Mandarin from afar, and when her teacher asks her to help Mandarin finish up her graduation requirements, Grace is both exhilarated and terrified. But, it doesn't take much for Mandarin to break that fear and encourage Grace to leave her comfort zone. Before long, Grace is hip deep in one of the most explosive and dangerous friendships imaginable. She releases the rebel and has the time of her life stealing animal-head trophies, skinny-dipping, and exploring the world. But, does Mandarin go too far? Grace has won a highly coveted spot in a summer leadership program in Washington, D.C., but Mandarin has other plans for her - she wants Grace to forget D.C. and escape with her to California. Grace wants nothing more than to escape Washokey, but is she really to leave everything behind?

Like Mandarin is an engaging novel. The setting is utterly unique. Not many stories for young adults are set in the Wyoming Badlands. The descriptions of the Washokey landscape and the importance of beauty pageants help to paint a highly vivid picture of why Grace wants so badly to escape. Like Mandarin is also a good relationship story. The relationship between Grace and her mother is probably very similar to many teen girls' relationship with their mothers. Too often teens and their parents stop really communicating, and instead simply coexist. Like Mandarin works through that relationship and emphasizes the importance of family - whatever that family structure might be. This is shown also in Mandarin's lack of a relationship with her own mother. Finally, high school is a search for identity - which is what Grace tries to find. Hubbard does a wonderful job showing this struggle. For example, Grace says, "Now I scowled at my reflection. Behind me, my bed bulged with a mountain of mismatched pillows. A row of swans Momma had cut from pink flowered contact paper trailed along the tops of my walls. My carpet did not quite make it from one side to the other, leaving a strip of floorboards exposed. My computer was a neighbor's hand-me-down. The stacks of novels on my shelves came from the junk shop and garage sales. Except for the plastic show boxes of rocks stacked beside my dresser, hardly anything about my room reflect me. Not even my reflection." How many times do teens today feel the same? They will be able to identify with Grace as she is tempted by Mandarin to give up everything she believes to be right and follow her need for adventure. They will be pulled in by Mandarin's intrigue, just like Grace, and they will race through page after page to see how it ends.

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Like Mandarin for this review.

Have you read Like Mandarin? How would you rate it?