Spooky Reads

With the leaves changing color with the change in the weather, this might be the perfect opportunity to curl up under the covers or snuggle into a sweatshirt and check out some new picture books. I put together this list last year for a local preschool group, and I thought I’d republish it here. Pick up some of these books (both scary and not so scary) to share with your little ones after trick or treating.

Black Dog Title: Black Dog
Author: Levi Pinfold
ISBN: 9780763660970
Pagse: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Templar, c2012
This frightful story book features a dog that continues to grow in size outside a family’s house, until the youngest child confronts the dog and shrinks it down to size with her bravery.

Nighty Night Little Green MonsterTitle: Nighty Night, Little Green Monster
Author: Ed Emberley
ISBN: 9780316210416
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: LB Kids, c2013.
Looking for something a little sweeter? An old favorite getting an update is Ed Emberley’s green monster, now allowing your child to say Nighty Nighty, Little Green Monster when they are being put to bed.

Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat
Title: Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat
Author: Eileen Christelow
ISBN: 9780547858937
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, c2013
Those mischievous monkeys are back again in, switching costumes with friends without telling their baby-sitter. The trick might be on the monkeys though if they miss out on the treat at home because of their monkey business.

Matilda and Hans

 

 

 

Title: Matilda and Hans
Author: Yokococo
ISBN: 9780763664343
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Templar, c2013
Another, newer character who is taking advantage of confusing costumes, Hans is always getting into trouble. When Matilda turns him in, the police uncover a surprise behind that mask.

How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow

 

 

 

Title: How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?
Author: Wendell Minor
ISBN: 9780399246845
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, c2013.
If you are looking for a more seasonally themed story for your older children, Wendell Minor takes a look at giant pumpkins and uses that as a jumping off point to talk about mighty monuments around the nation in this unique way to learn about geography.

In Real Life

In Real LifeTitle: In Real Life
Story: Cory Doctorow
Art and Adaptation: Jen Wang
ISBN: 9781596436589
Pages: 175
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2014 (Adapted from a story by Cory Doctorow called “Anda’s Game” first published on Salon.com in 2004)
Published: October 14, 2014

“I’m a gamer and I kick arse. No, seriously. I organize a guild online and I’m looking for a few of you chickens to join me. This is Coarsegold Online, the fastest growing massive multiplayer roleplaying game with over 10 million subscribers worlwide. You might’ve heard of it. This is my avatar. In game, they call me the Lizanator, Queen of the Spacelanes, El Presidente of the Clan Fahrenheit. How many of you girls game? And how many of you play girls? See that’s a tragedy. Practically makes me weep. When I started gaming online there were no women gamers. I was one of the best gamers in the world and I couldn’t even be proud of who I was. It’s different now, but it’s still not perfect. We’re going to change that, chickens, you lot and me. Here’s my offer to the ladies: if you will play as a girl in Coarsegold Online, you will be given probationary memberships in the Clan Farenheit. If you measure up in three months, you’ll be full-fledged members. Who’s in ladies? Who wants to be a girl in-game and out?” (8-10)

With the words of a school visitor, Anda is hooked on the online game Coarsegold. And she makes an impressive start, so much so that she is invited by a fellow clan member to go on some missions. These missions aren’t for game gold though, they are for real world cash. The missions involve hunting down players who are only there to mine gold and then sell it online for real cash, and Anda is getting paid to take out the competition by other gold hunters doing the exact same thing. She thinks it’s to maintain fairness, since other players invest the time and energy and practice to acquire their items and skills themselves rather than paying for them. Then she meets Raymond, one of the gold farmers who gives her a whole new perspective about the real world. Will Anya’s efforts to equalize lead to more trouble in both worlds?

First, Jan Wang’s artwork is STUNNING! The real world is primarily portrayed in hues of olive-green, browns, and oranges, while the virtual world is brightly rendered using reds, yellows, and vibrant blues. By the end of the novel, you can tell Anda’s time in Coarsegold is affecting her because the colors begin to bleed into the real world spreads. The characters are also portrayed in a variety of shapes and races, some less humanoid than others. This novel packs a lot into the tiny size, and it does it without being didactic or patronizing. Anda’s parents’ concerns about her involvement in an online community, the lack of female gamers, the practice of gold farming, working class dynamics, and different cultures trying to relate to each other are all presented in ways that are relevant and necessary for the story. Doctorow addresses most of these ideas in his introduction, urging readers to consider activism and how the internet may aid in activism efforts. “Those risks are not diminished one iota by the net. But the rewards are every bit as sweet.” (xii)

One item that isn’t even mentioned is Anda’s weight, which is so refreshing because although she is on the “bigger” side, it’s not relevant to the main plot and there is no dissatisfaction with her size. It isn’t even a subplot! Based on a short story originally published by Doctorow, Wang took some liberties there, which I think strengthened the focus of the story. Other liberties include shortening the time line, changing the ending slightly, and really focusing on the economic and social aspects of the story. However, whole portions of dialogue were lifted from the original and judging by how much I liked this book, it’s a sure sign that I need to read more of both Jen Wang and Cory Doctorow’s creations. Containing smart, insightful, cultural commentary on a number of issues in an engaging plot, this book will make you think without even realizing it. Give this one to gamers, social activists, feminists, or as an introduction to someone new to the graphic novel genre.

The Shadow Throne

Shadow ThroneTitle: The Shadow Throne
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book #3 (sequel to The Runaway King)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Map by: Kayley LeFaiver
Narrator: Charlie McWade
ISBN: 9780545284172 (hardcover), 9780545640060 (audiobook)
Pages: 317 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 hours, 4 minutes, 8 CDs
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014 (Scholastic Audiobooks, c2014)

With an unsteady voice, she added, “Jaron, do you expect to die in this war?”
My thumb brushed over hers. Not for the first time, I wondered how her skin could be so soft. Then I said, “With the kind of threat we’re facing, I will fight to the death before I surrender. And I don’t see a path to victory.”
“But you’ll find a way. You always do.”
“Maybe Carthya will come through this. But mine has never been the kind of life that leads to old age.” (20-21)

Jaron has every reason to be defeated. After returning home from the pirates camp with a broken leg, he knows war is on the horizon, and receives word of its arrival at the same time he learns of Imogen’s capture. He saved her once, he can do it again, right? With his friends scattered, his country surrounded, and a possible spy in their midst, Jaron is flung into the deadliest battle yet. While he recognizes that he might not make it out alive, he refuses to admit or believe that fate might fall on one of his friends. But will his efforts force him to choose between his companions, his country, or his own freedom?

I posted reviews to the first and second books in the series earlier this year. I still recommend the audiobook versions as an enjoyable listening experience, with Charlie McWade literally providing a voice to Jaron. But with the amount of movement going on between towns and countries, readers might prefer having the map in the print version readily available as a reference of everyone’s destinations and locations. The other thing that I noticed this time around is that the Jennifer Nielsen presents conversations quite frequently as summaries from Jaron’s perspective. I don’t know if she does this to speed the plot or to avoid writing dialogue. I also don’t know if I noticed this more because I was listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. For instance, here are two examples of times I wish I could have “heard” the conversation:

To avoid any argument, I explained only what was necessary of my plans. Mott’s mouth was pinched in a think line of disapproval and Harlowe didn’t look much happier. Tobias clearly thought I had gone insane during my time in captivity, and as that wasn’t entirely impossible, I didn’t contradict him. In the end, they agreed to all that I asked, and Harlowe made Mott and Tobias Promise to keep me safe. Mott replied that he could protect me from everyone but myself, which I thought was a fair compromise. (122-123)

The more we talked about it, the more I was certain that something was very wrong. (194)

Listening to the audiobook, descriptions like the ones just quoted feel as if Jaron is breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. Readers also get first hand analysis of Jaron’s physical and mental state, such as “I was neither the biggest nor the strongest in this battle. My only hope was to be the quickest.” (205) These comments might have read more fluidly if the book had been presented in the third person or if someone else had told Jaron, but from Jaron’s perspective such self-awareness can be slightly jarring.

At other times, these asides are some of the most beautiful and heart-felt portions of the book. I can’t quote any of them without giving away way too much of the plot. Suffice it to say, you’ll know what I mean when you encounter them. Swoon! Balancing the more heart-felt moments, Jaron’s biting sarcasm is a welcome constant in the series. For instance, after encountering a friend, Jaron claims “I need to smile. Tell me something not awful.” After hearing his companions were “miserable”, Jaron arches an eyebrow and says “This is the worst good story I’ve ever heard.” The story continues with an evening rain, making it “cold and so dark we could barely see our own fingers, and the night seemed to last forever.” Jaron responds “I’m beginning to wonder if you understand what ‘not awful’ means.” (94-95) That’s the Jaron we know and love, and those times always brought a smile to my face.

While the print copy benefited from the map, the one benefit of the audiobook was the inclusion of an “exclusive scene” that was not included in the print copy. This bonus scene transports readers to a mid-point in the story and shows an event which Jaron is not present to witness. It explains the actions of another character, and I find myself comparing it to the Harry Potter epilogue at the end of book seven. Some people might like it, but I would have rather been kept in the dark about this character’s motivations than receive this somewhat loose rational behind their actions. It definitely adds more intrigue to the situation. Just like the second book, Jaron paints himself into one corner after another, with no possibly way to get out (at least to everyone else) until some miraculous foresight is revealed that propels him to the next problem. You can’t help but admire his intense planning, but it is also hard to believe a plan this complicated and hinged on so many factors is going to succeed. Still a highly recommended series, this book is Inception meets Princess Bride, and I think fans of both would appreciate the complexities.

Nuts to You

Nuts to YouTitle: Nuts to You
Author/Illustrator: Lynne Rae Perkins
ISBN: 9780060092757
Pages: 259 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2014.

I was watching the carefree squirrels when, all at once, one of them jumped onto the end of the bench where I was sitting and looked with interest at me, and then, meaningfully, at my sandwich. Quite calmly, he stepped closer. That’s bold, I thought. A little too bold. I tore off a bit of my sandwich and was about to chuck it as far as I could, figuring he would take off after it, when he spoke.
“Please, don’t throw it,” he said. “would you mind just setting it on the bench? I’m not as spry as I once was.” (2-3)

Age isn’t the only thing that has changed the squirrel, as the human is about to find out. The squirrel’s story starts with Jed being picked up by a hawk and escaping it’s clutches. His whole family assumes his untimely end except TsTs, who sees him fall and is adamant that he is alive and needs her help to get home. With Chai following her across the buzzpaths, from huge frozen spiderweb to frozen spiderweb, they quickly realize they aren’t the only ones interested in the buzzpaths and spiderwebs. Humans are cutting trees down, and they are heading towards their home! Now it’s a race against time as Chai and TsTs not only fear for Jed’s survival but also the well-being of the families they left behind. Will they be able to alert them in time, and will they even listen to the unbelievable warnings?

The first thing I noticed about the narration is that Lynne Rae Perkins presents the squirrel’s world in squirrel language, and allows the pictures and contextual clues to let the reader know what is being described. For instance, the buzzpaths and frozen spiderwebs are utility lines and towers. The “great beak that sometimes sings but never opens” is a sailboat, and cars are really big beetles that humans crawl inside and come out of undigested but that move like boulders. She also recognizes regional and species differences, with some of the squirrels not recognizing pine cones and describing the trees as having different shaped leaves and smells. I admired her skill at doing all these things realistically, although she does implant a little magical realism since she’s having a squirrel share this story with a human. Her illustrations also aid in imagining the world from a squirrel’s perspective.

Jed, TsTs, and Chai seem to be more adventurous and smarter than the average squirrel in their group. They can figure things out and are willing to change their beliefs based on current events. Although their characters and personalities are almost indistinguishable from one another, their interactions move the story along at a steady pace. Quick comebacks, author asides, and silly puns leave readers smiling. A fun read overall, possibly a read-alike for Flora and Ulysses fans who are squirrely for more.

2 The Point Tuesday Nick and Tesla’s series

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. This time around, I’m featuring the first three books in the new Nick and Tesla’s series. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

NickTesla_9JTitle: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 9781594746482
Pages: 237 pages
Publication/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc. c2013.

As Joe’s cab slowed to a stop out front, a lawn mower was going around and around in the yard. No one was going around and around behind it, though. It looked like a ghost was mowing the lawn.
Rope ran from the mower to a metal pole in the middle of the yard. The end of the rope was wrapped around the top of the pole in a coil. As the mower moved, the rope unraveled itself, slowly feeding more slack to the mower so it could go in bigger and bigger circles.
It was a self-mowing lawn.
“Cool,” said the girl.
“Uhh,” said the boy.
He pointed to the pole. The more the mower tugged on it, the more it tilted to the side.
“Oh,” said the girl.
The pole sagged, then fell over completely, and the mower rumbled off-course into a neighboring yard. It chewed through row after row of beautifully manicured flowers before rolling over a garden gnome, getting snagged, and — with a screech and a pop and a puff of black smoke–bursting into flames. (11-12)

Twin siblings Nick and Tesla Holt have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their scientist parents are off studying soy beans in the Middle East. Uncle Newt has been described as eccentric by polite people, and a fruitcake, flake, and crazy man by some not so polite neighbors who have had to put up with his malfunctioning experiments for years, most recently an exploding lawn mower. The twins are less than enthusiastic about their summer plans, until chasing after a misfired rocket reveals a mysterious girl in an abandoned house. Next thing they know, they’re being followed by a dark van and fleeing from vicious dogs. Who said a summer of science experiments would be boring? Try your hand at some of the experiments included in the book this summer, and see what adventures you discover in this first title of a new series.

NickTesla_9JTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 97815947466499
Pages: 221 pages
Publisher/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc., c2014.

“I’m not ‘running off to play detective.’ I’m just trying to help a friend. If someone doesn’t get that comic book back, Silas’s family is going to lose their store. No store, no money. No money, no food. The Kuskies might have to become migrant field hands or move to Alaska to work on fishing boats or sell their kidneys to sick billionaires or something.” (70)

Two weeks after arriving at Uncle Newt’s house, Nick and Tesla have acquired a reputation around town. After rescuing a kidnapped girl, their new friend Silas recruits them to help find a rare comic book stolen from his dad’s store. That’s just the start of a rash of thefts. After bugging their prime suspect (quite literally), they are no closer to the truth and run the risk of being arrested themselves! To aid in their investigation efforts, the twins design robots and realize they aren’t the only ones with science on their side. Who will win the resulting robot battle?

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget BattleTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle
Author: “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrator: Scott Garrett
ISBN: 9781594746765
Pages: 254 pages
Publisher/Date: Quirk Productions, Inc., c2014

“There you go! There you go!” he exploded once he and Tesla were in the backyard. “Is that enough suspects for you? One of those people has got to be spy. Or all of them, for all we know!”
It is weird how they all showed up the day after we got Mom’s message.”
“Weird? It’s not weird. It’s terrifying! Our uncle’s house is filled with spies and black widow spiders! Mom and Dad might as well have sent us to live with a family of cobras in a volcano.” (41-42)

After helping people around town over the last couple weeks, Nick and Tesla find themselves trusting no one and having no one they can ask for help. Their one communication from their overseas parents is a cryptic, cut-off message that gets mysteriously deleted. With the house being occupied by two maids, an exterminator, and a foreign exchange student their Uncle Newt doesn’t remember signing up for, the house is full of suspects when a prized possession goes missing. Has the danger threatening their parents finally caught up with the twins?

Not the most memorable of series, it’s selling feature is the inclusion of gadget, gizmos, and other creations that can be made with common house-hold items and simple, illustrated, easy to follow instructions. We book talked this series for Summer Reading 2014’s “Fizz, Boom, Read” science theme because the slapstick humor adds to the appeal as the cast of characters remind me of the Scooby Doo gang living with the inventor from Back to the Future series, just minus the lovable talking dog. Dangers, death, and disaster are alluded to but never really come to fruition, making this a good choice for sensitive readers who aren’t prepared for more scary mysteries. Coming in October 2014 Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself

2 the Point Tuesday — Lindbergh: The Tale of the Flying Mouse

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

LindberghTitle: Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Author/Illustrator: Torben Kuhlmann
Foreward by F. Robert van der Linden
Translator: Suzanne Levesque
ISBN: 9780735841673
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: NorthSouth Books Inc., c2014

Since cats guard the ships heading to America, one little mouse has to find another way to escape from the mouse traps. Inspired by bats, the intrepid and aspiring aviator works on several prototypes of machines to aid his journey, but will he be successful? Could he be the motivation for a human’s attempt to come? Take your time pouring over the primarily sepia-toned illustrations. Torben Kuhlmann’s debut tale inspires all of us, and his detailed depictions evoke the size of the project and the mouse’s world. This mouse would make a worthy companion to Despereaux or Ralph S. Mouse.

Short biographies of famous aviators supplement the text.

2 The Point Tuesday Explorer: The Lost Islands

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Explorer Lost IslandsTitle: Explorer: The Lost Islands
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier (colorist Braden Lamb), Michel Gagne, Katie and Steven Shanahan (colorists Eric Kim and Selena Dizazzo), and Kazu Kibuishi (colorist Jason Caffoe)
ISBN: 9781419708817
Pages: 127 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2013.

There’s a rabbit with a helpful robot. A young child discovers there is more than you think behind a carnival mask. A teenage boy stranded on a deserted island finds help from a ghost crab. A teenage girl discovers a woman whose life sounds eerily similar to her own. A flying fish rescues her friends from an erupting volcano. A mage in training learns the value of the radio as she tries to hatch a pixie egg. A boat full of fishermen almost becomes fish food. These seven stories all revolve around exploring lost islands and what you might find on their shores and in their waters. A compilation of graphic novelists take turns sharing through vivid colors their interpretations of the theme, some complete and some with open endings leaving readers to wonder what is next in the adventures of the characters.

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