Posts tagged ‘Summer Reading’

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


Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. […]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? […]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” […]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

The Icarus Project

Icarus Project
Title: The Icarus Project
Author: Laura Quimby
ISBN: 9781419704024
Pages: 293 pages
 Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2012.

“I know it’s your big chance. That’s why I’m going with you. It’s our big chance.”
Dad shook his head. “You have school. And should stay home.”
I had to think fast. “The expedition will be educational. What kid gets to go to the Arctic to watch real fieldwork in action?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Plus, spring break is coming up.”
“No, Maya. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
The danger card was the last play of a parent on the edge of caving in. I knew I was close. “I can handle it,” I said. “I’m not afraid. And you’ll be there.” (33)

Thirteen-year-old Maya is thrilled when she talks her way onto her dad’s Arctic expedition to explore what could possibly be a wooly mammoth encased in ice. With an anthropologist mother and a paleontologist father, she’s spent her entire life hearing about all these adventures and exotic places. But the Arctic is cold and spooky with its endless white landscapes. Maya and the rest of the dig team soon realize that they might have been summoned to this vast and deadly wasteland under false pretenses. What is really caught beneath the ice? Who is really running the expedition, and what is their true goal. Maya is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it involves destroying what everyone is trying to protect.

I’ve had this book checked out for much longer than I originally intended. I feel like it was a great idea that came across kind of flat. The dialogue is somewhat stilted in places and the expository portions of the book are a little jarring, but author Laura Quimby presents a character that reminds me of a modern-day Nancy Drew. With a lot of coincidences, some supernatural elements, and a bit of sleuthing, Maya is able to solve the mystery that has stumped the scientist adults. It make an interesting read, and it corresponds surprisingly well to the Summer Reading Theme of both “Dig In” and “Beneath the Surface”. The plot does touch on a lot of discussion worthy topics, such as humanity vs. scientific experimentation/research, cloning and DNA, corporate greed, and also gets slightly religious/supernatural towards the end. The different points of view are represented, although I wish some of these topics had been examined more thoroughly or deeply, but I guess the range of topics hopefully means there is something for everyone. I wonder if the unanswered questions are left that way for discussion purposes, or if there are plans for a sequel.

I feel like Rebecca Stead’s First Light and Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass succeeded with presenting this concept of mysterious beings in a frozen landscape in a more cohesive manner. But if readers of either are looking for something similar, you could recommend these titles as read-a-likes for each other.

The Memory Bank

Title: The Memory Bank
Author: Carolyn Coman and Rob Shepperson
Illustrator: Rob Shepperson
ISBN: 9780545210669
Pages: 379 pages
Publisher/Date: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2010.

“Forget her.”
Hope’s father wasn’t kidding. He never kidded.
Moments before, he had ordered Honey–Hope’s little sister, a skim coat of bubble gum covering most of her small face — out of the car.
“I’ve told you a thousand times,” he said. “No laughing.”
Now, as he stepped on the gas and the car lurched back onto the highway, the first words out of his mouth were, “Forget her.”
A cyclone of dust rose up in their wake.
Dumbfounded, Hope stared out the rearview window at her sister. For a few seconds she couldn’t even make out Honey’s little body in the swirl of debris their car wheels had kicked up. By the time she could, Honey had already receded. […]
Hope begged her parents to turn around, to go back.
Onward they sped. (13-15, 24)

Hope’s life is turned upside down when her uncaring parents leave her little sister on the side of the road and get rid of all her things. Told never to mention Honey again, Hope spends her days crying and sleeping in the garage, dreaming of Honey. She receives a summons to the World Wide Memory Bank, where her memory deposits have shrunk to almost nothing but her vivid dreams have caught the attention of Violette, whose in charge of the Dream Vault. Reluctantly allowed to stay until her accounts balance out, Hope begins to suspect that the sabotage taking place at the Bank might have some connection to her sister’s whereabouts. Will the sisters reunite, or will the war and the mischief spread and split them apart?

I was intrigued by the concept and enthralled by the story until the very end. The open ending migh encourage discussion, but readers like myself might also be a little disappointed by the ending which doesn’t explain very well the source of the problem and glazes over the almost sappy happy ending. That being said, I think for librarians looking for a summer reading themed read (dreams? really?), it might make a really cool choice for book discussions around the Summer Reading Theme this Year of “Dream Big–Read”.

The Memory Bank is a place where memories are sorted and catalogued, awaiting the time to be returned to the people they originated from. The Dream Vault is the same for dreams, and there’s an innate tension between the woman in charge of the Dream Vault and the man in charge of the Memory Bank, since memories can’t be made while someone is asleep and dreaming, and vice versa. That’s nothing compared to the tension caused by the Clean Slate Gang, who is sabotaging the Bank.

Fans of Brian Selznick’s books will almost certainly enjoy the alternating narrations, as Honey’s is told almost entirely in pictures while Hope’s story is told in words with accompanying illustrations. That’s probably why illustrator Rob Shepperson shares the author credit on the cover as his impressive artwork really conveys emotions and moves the story along. I hesitate to say that he does a better job than Coman, whose tasks it is to explain everything. When Coman finally takes over Honey’s story things become just slightly clearer, but I loved the pictures of the Clean Slate Gang and their dump truck of lollipops.

Heart of a Samurai

Title: Heart of a Samurai
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9780810989818
Pages: 301 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2010.

“We can never go back to Japan, you know,” Goemon said, staring across the sea.
“Why not?”
“The law says, ‘Any person who leaves the country and later returns will be put to death.'”
They brooded on this in silence.
Finally, Manjiro said, “But why?
“Because, if we were to encounter any of the foreign devils, we would be poisoned by them.”
“Poisoned!” Manjiro said.
“Maybe not our bodies, but they will poison our minds with their way of thinking. That’s why no fishermen are allowed to go very far from the coast — they say ‘contamination lies beyond the reach of the tides.’ The barbarians would fill our heads with wrong thoughts!” (14)

Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is on his first fishing trip with four others when a storm damages their boat and blows them off course, stranding them on an uninhabited island. They have no way of getting home, and even if they did, Japan has closed their borders to everyone, including Japanese who have left the country, for fear their citizens will be influenced by the outsiders’ way of thinking. When an American whaling ship passes by, they have no other option than to climb aboard. But will Manjiro ever be able to return to his home, his family, and his impossible dream of becoming a samurai?

I received an Advanced Copy of this book at ALA last year, and never got around to reading it. After reading the published version, I’m kicking myself just a little bit. The cover bills it as “a novel inspired by a true adventure on the high seas,” and Preus does a spot-on job at backing up that claim. There are drawings done by Manjiro scattered throughout the text and his real words also supplement the story. At the end of the book is extensive back matter (close to 25 pages) that includes an epilogue, a historical note, glossaries of Japanese words, terms, and places, whaling terms, sailor lingo, and other miscellaneous terms, and a list of suggested reading on assorted topics for both adults and younger readers.

While the story is spread over the course of ten years, Preus leap-frogs from one event to another, keeping the action and adventure moving. She also approaches the racism that Manjiro experienced with care, compassion, and understanding, as Manjiro is quite possibly the first Japanese to reach American soil and the other residents don’t know what to make of him. He’s certainly not black or white and, in an age where the two groups were separated, his uniqueness is emphasized by the fact that Manjiro’s caretakers had to change churches twice in order to find one that would accept him.

Manjiro’s inquisitive nature is also emphasized in his constant questions that he asks everyone. From his fellow sailors to his rescuers and the people he encounters in America, Manjiro seems especially suited to bridge the gap between Japan and America. His open personality makes it difficult for anyone to escape his charm. I was instantly drawn into the story, and other readers will do likewise once they discover this Newbery Honor book. This is a book that I talked about with all 5th and 6th grade students when discussing Summer Reading Club, and several seemed interested.


Title: Sylvie
Author and Illustrator: Jennifer Sattler
ISBN: 9780375957086
Pages: Unnumbered.
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2009.

Sylvie is a flamingo who realizes that although all flamingos are pink, there are lots of different colors and patterns on the beach. After her mother explains to her that flamingos are pink because of the shrimp they eat, Sylvie begins to explore and experiment with not only grapes and leaves but also the striped towel and the patterned swimsuit of a sunbather. Her feathers change colors to match whatever she’s eaten. After her buffet of flavors and colors though, her stomach doesn’t feel well and her appearance isn’t much better. Then end has Sylvie back her traditional shade of pink, with one noteworthy exception.

This book by Jennifer Sattler is a cute and fun read, that I’m sure will delight story time audiences. The expressions and body language are priceless, ranging from curiousity to elation to saddness and back again, and the watercolor backgrounds make the flamingo literally pop out of the page. I showed the book to a collegue of mine, and he smiled just looking at the cover. More astute or advanced readers can return to the beginning of the book and locate all the items that Sylvie sampled throughout the story. Kindergarten connections could pick an item and then paint what Sylvie would like after eating it. I’m recommending it for use in our summer reading program, which is using the theme “Make a Splash-Read” this summer.

Please Write in This Book

Please Write In This BookTitle: Please Write in This Book
Author: Mary Amato
ISBN: 9780823419320
Pages: 97 pages
Publisher/Date: Holiday House, c2006.

“Hello, Boys and Girls,
You have found this book! I hid it in the Writer’s Corner, hoping you would.
During Center Time, you can chose to come to the Writer’s Corner and write in this journal. Write about anything you want. Leave it for other students to find and write in, too. I want you to “talk” to one another in these pages.” (1)

This is the message that the students of Ms. Wurtz’s class finds left for them in a blank notebook hidden in the classroom. What starts off as a fun opportunity turns quickly into a war of the words. Classmates debate whose feet stink the worst, and Luke writes a mean about Lizzy and Yoshi being chased by worms. Accusations fly as classmates hog the book and argue over it’s true purpose. When the book goes missing, did Ms. Wurtz take the book away?

When I book talk this book to kids for our summer reading club, I’ll be adding that “Although the title of Mary Amato’s book is Please Write in This Book, those instructions are for the students in the story. We encourage you to find your own book to write in, and not the copy you check out of the library.” Because you know there is some smart-alex in the group that will want to write in it. It’s a simple story, probably appropriate for kids who have passed the early/easy reader stage. I could definitely see this as a good book for teachers to use in conjunction to their own class writing notebook and assignments. Understandably there are an unrealisticly small number of students who participated in the journal writing. The vignetes are humerous and amusing, and some beginning literary concepts like similes are discussed. Similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Ellie McDoodle in it’s diary and drawing format, which might tide over the younger fans.

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