Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde

Howard seems always to have some kind of mischief up his sleeve and he can always find a ready excuse for not taking the blame--especially if someone else has gotten caught--even if that someone is his best friend. This dubious talent has kept him out of trouble for the most part--until he pulls one prank too many on the old woman at the goose pond. She seems able to see right through all of his ploys--and doesn't fall for any of them. Undaunted, Howard insults her--after all, he and the other children have taunted her all these years, calling her an old witch and making fun of her walk and her devotion to the geese at the pond. Imagine Howard's surprise when the the old woman turns HIM into a goose--feathers and all. The only way for Howard to ever regain his true form is for him to perform three good deeds. Piece of cake, right? Not exactly. Will he be able to convince anyone that he's a boy, not a goose? Can he figure out what makes a good deed good? Does he get eaten or does he learn the difference between being selfish and selfless? To find out, read Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde.
I've had great success getting interest in this book by just reading aloud the first two chapters. So far, every time I've done this, several students have put their names on the reserve list for this title.

Grades 3-5.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wikis, Social Networking, and More in Plain English

Thanks to the good folk at LM_Net, I recently learned about a wonderful blog called "The CommonCraft Show". Once you scroll down the page, you'll see links to various videos including:

These brief videos do a great job of getting to the gist of the topic, and as the title says, in plain English. If you're curious about any of these topics, but don't have the first clue where to start, take a look at these videos.

Thanks for the great info CommonCraft!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

You are considered a "littlie" until age 12. At 12, you move into a boarding school where you will eat, sleep and breath life as an "Ugly", looking forward (and across the river) to age 16 when you can have the operation that makes you a "Pretty" and you can move to Prettytown--and all your troubles are surgically removed along with that too-large nose or too narrow chin. Then you meet someone who challenges this vision of your future--the only vision you've had until now, on the eve of your 16th birthday. What if you must then choose between this new friend and the only dream you've ever had. What if there's a ugly side to being a Pretty--that has nothing to do with how you look?

Uglies is the first in a trilogy that chronicles the adventures of Tally Youngblood as she is introduced to the not-so-perfect side of her utopian world. The series order is: Uglies, Pretties and Specials. For the readers who simply can't get enough of this story, there is now a 4th book in the series, set a few years in the future beyond the point where Specials left off--it's called Extras.

Although these books are 400+ pages, they read so fast that even some of my more reluctant readers are taking a chance on them--and coming back for more.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Imagine Jules Verne sitting down with Robert Louis Stevenson, the folk who worked on Disney's Treasure Planet and Hiyao Miyazaki (the anime version of Howl's Moving Castle)--and coming up with an adventure story that was part historical fiction, part science fiction, and part fantasy. That doesn't actually describe what Kenneth Oppel's Airborn is, but it's close. Matt is a 15 year old cabin boy on a luxury airship (think dirigible or blimp). He's more at home in the air than on solid ground, but his world is about to get shaken up when he meets a young woman who is determined to prove that her grandfather's sightings of large furry flying creatures were not hallucinations. With airship wrecks, pirates, uncharted islands, and mysterious flying creatures (that may or may not exist), this story is a page turner that doesn't need a screenplay to come to technicolor life as you read. This book works for just about any reader, male or female, who likes a good adventure. Many of my high school students are reading this one and being inspired to read more by Oppel. Reading level grades 6 and up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney, Illustrated by Matt Phelan

What do a rough old bookcase, an old loom, an outhouse in the middle of nowhere, a dried up apple-head doll, a haunted table and a boy and his hound dog have in common? To find the answer to this question (and maybe a few more), all you have to do is read this little book with its rough-textured cover the color of rich gold leaves in autumn.

“How It Started”
"Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny brown speck of a seed. And the Wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn’t been for what got started then and kept on going.”
(Excerpted from Pg. 1)

Eben McCallister is sure that there is nothing worth seeing in Sassafras Springs and longs to get out and see the world, like Balboa and Columbus, discovering new and exciting places and ancient marvels. When his father offers him a chance to get out of Sassafras Springs, IF he can find seven wonders OF Sassafras Springs, he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to find anything that would compare to the great pyramids of Egypt or the Colossus of Rhodes. Does he find seven wonders and get to take his trip to Silver Springs, Colorado? I won’t tell you if Eben finds his seven wonders---for that, you have to read the book—but I will tell you that, maybe, along the way, Eben finds more than he bargains for—and maybe that a great deal of the wonder OF a Wonder is all in how you look at it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Acceleration by Graham McNamee

Duncan's a 17-year old who lives in "the Jungle", the inner-city of Toronto. During the searing heat-wave of summer, his dead-end summer job in the Toronto Transit Authority's "morgue" (aka: Lost and Found) offers him some respite from the heat, but it doesn't offer him any relief from his nightmares. Or does it? Plagued with nightmares about the drowning girl he couldn't save, Duncan's world takes a CSI-type turn when he finds a journal amongst the "lost treasures" of the morgue--the things left on city buses or subway cars. This book is not just any journal--it's someone's chronicle of their descent into going from torturer of small animals, to arsonist, to a stalker of women--someone on the way to becoming a serial killer. The pictures and newspaper clippings in the journal are all too real, but the police don't seem willing to take Duncan's concerns seriously. Is the journal real or just someone's sick creative writing attempt? If the journal IS real, can Duncan find this man before he takes his first human victim? Read Acceleration by Graham McNamee to find out.

Duncan's voice rings true and it's almost as hard to put the book down as it is to find a copy at our school library--yep, it's checked out THAT often. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell

Fin knows that something is wrong, she just doesn’t know what. She can’t stop counting. Some of the teachers at her new school think she just isn’t paying attention, but Fin knows that maybe she’s paying too much attention--to everything. Her dad wants to be buddies with his new girlfriend. Her mother wants her to go to counseling. Her counselor wants her to take Paxil, but her mother doesn’t want her to take meds at all. Fin feels like she’s all alone--until she begins a “conversation” with a tagger on the stall wall of one of the girls’ bathrooms. Maybe she’s not so alone after all, but will she ever be able to stop counting everything? Will she take the meds? Will she meet this tagger? Read Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell and see.

Chappell does for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) what Jack Gantos and his character, Joey Pigza, do for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Neither Gantos nor Chappell presume to solve their characters’ problems, nor do they preach or sugar-coat. They do not push any particular treatments. What they do is to skillfully offer the reader a glimpse into the minds of young people as they learn that, maybe, they’re not crazy--and that they aren’t alone. Total Constant Order, scheduled for release on October 23, 2007, is a worthy addition to any young adult collection.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Launch Pad: A call for young authors and illustrators

I recently received word about an interesting opportunity for those young authors and illustrators out there. If you know of a young author or illustrator, consider looking into Launch Pad, a new publication for children's works set to debut in January/February of 2008. The following is the call for submissions along with URLs, snail mail, e-mail and phone information for the editor and publisher, Paul Kelsey. The call includes URLs for downloadable fliers. What a great way to encourage our dragonlings to get creative!!!


Call for Submissions

Become a Published Young Author or Illustrator!

Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off! is now accepting fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and artwork by children ages 6-12. We encourage children to submit a few illustrations with their written work, but this is not a requirement. We are looking for creative works about the following themes:

The Ocean
Fairy Tales & Fantasy

Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off! is scheduled to debut with a January/February 2008 print issue. Please visit to review our submission guidelines!

Printable handouts:

Email submissions and queries to:

Or mail to:

Launch Pad
P.O. Box 80578
Baton Rouge, LA 70898

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dragons in Children's Literature

Well, in my previous post, I included a brief look at two picture books of dragons. Of course, this now begs the question: what are some others good books with dragons?

Off the top of my head, some of my favorites are:

The Dragon Machine (Ages 5+)
The Dragon Snatcher (Ages 4+)
Dragon Song, Dragon Singer, and Dragon Drums (aka Harper Hall series) by Anne McCaffrey (Ages 10+)
Ignis by Gina Wilson and P.J. Lynch (Ages 4+)
Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini (Ages 10+)
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (Ages 9+)

What are some of YOUR favorite books--picture or chapter that include dragons.

I suspect this means that I will now start a list of favorite books with dragons. . . . The list now includes 9. Oh, that reminds me--the list of librarians in children's lit? It's up to 46 now. A far cry from 100--but still growing.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A few books with dragons. . . .

It's been far too long since I returned to the cave. However, I am happy to say I return to the cave with a new diploma to hang on the wall and a mortar board (slightly rumpled) and tassle (slightly singed) to go along with it. I will say that whoever designed the mortar board and tassel simply did not take dragon anatomy into consideration (though my human counterparts at graduation were not faring much better). Those mortar boards were wobbling to and fro and tassels were being spat out regularly whenever anyone turned their head and opened their mouth at the same time. At least I had the option, unintended though it might have been, to singe the dratted tassel--just one small snort of flame and poof--no more tassel to irritate the nostrils. Ahem. I digress.

What I actually wanted to make note of was a couple of "new" (to me at least) picture books featuring one of my favorite topics: dragons. Of course, looking at the dates on these, you'll realize that "new to me" doesn't necessarily correspond with currency of publication date, but that's neither here nor there--well, it's actually more a then not now. . . .

The Dragon Snatcher by M. P. Robertson. Published by The Penguin Group's Dial Books for Young Readers in 2005, this beautifully illustrated book features a young boy named George who, unlike at least one of his predecessors, is out to save dragons--not slay them. Hearing a noise in the chicken coop one night, George investigates to find a worried dragon who whisks him off to a cold, bleak castle. Inside the castle George finds shelf after shelf on neatly labeled dragon eggs--and overhears an old wizard whose plan is to "rid the land of these cursed creatures" once he finds just one more egg. Does George stop the wizard from stealing the last dragon egg? Can anything melt the wizards ice-cold heart? Read and see. (K-3rd grade)

The Dragon Machine by Helen Ward, illustrated by Wayne Anderson. Published by Dutton Children's books in 2003, this is a very different story about a boy who always went ignored and overlooked, just like the dragons he starts to notice. Dragons are everywhere, but noone ever seems to notice them, just like they never seem to notice George--until they start to become troublesome. Needing some advice, George goes to his local library, where he learns, much too late, that one should never feed the dragons or let them into our home. But the book also offers hope that these dragons might not end up captured--if only he can show them the way to their own home--the place where they belonged. And so, George builds the dragon machine. Part of the fun of this story is discovering the dragons along with George--at first glance, the unobservant reader might just miss seeing these heretofore unnoticed creatures. Are the dragons discovered and captured? Do the dragons follow George as he attempts to take them to the safety of their own home? Does George ever get noticed? Read this whimsically illustrated story and see. (K-4th grade)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lyn Anderson

Meet 10-year-old May Bird, who lives with her mother and a hairless rex cat named Somber Kitty at the edge of a woods in a place called Briery Swamp. She spends much of her time with her cat in the woods, dreaming of being a warrior princess or in her room drawing pictures of strange creatures. She's not like the other kids in her class, who think she's just plain weird. May Bird's mother, concerned and coming to her wits' end with May's "strange" behavior, is talking about sending her away to a boarding school in New York. Even though May Bird has reason to be scared now that she's started seeing ghosts in the woods and in her home, she's more scared of leaving her beloved West Virginia woods. Things become stranger still when, in the ruins of an old post office, she finds a mysterious letter, postmarked from 50 years ago, but addressed to May Bird at her address. The letter leads her into a world that is even further away than New York where being different--being "a live one", might just be deadly for her--a world where the Bogeyman is real; where ghosts are afraid of "people like her." It is a complex story with many layers, some humorous (ghosts of thieves playing practical jokes on one another) and some frightening (ghosts having their souls sucked into nothingness by the evil Bo Cleevil). In this strange and frightening world, May learns that, just maybe, she isn't as alone as she thought she was, and she just might find that she's more of a warrior princess than she ever dreamt.

Some sources list this story as being at a reading level of Ages 9 and up, others at Grades 5 and up. Because of the complexity and possible fright factor for some, I would tend to agree with the latter. That said, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next as May Bird ventures through the land of the dead in an attempt to find answers, to find her way home, and to find herself. The series so far is:

  • May Bird and the Ever After (Book 1)

  • May Bird Among the Stars (Book 2)

  • May Bird: Warrior Princess (Book 3)

Some of you have asked if there will be other books in this series. After reading Book 3, my thoughts are that there will not be any further books in the series--simply because the story was wrapped up very nicely. That said, you just never know. If I hear of any additions to the series, I'll be happy to add them to the list.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo

Many, many years ago, I read Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising. The series enthralled me, and I found myself anxiously waiting for each book in the series to come back in to our school library (the series was popular). So how is this relevant to Jenny Nimmo's The Magician Trilogy? Reading The Snow Spider put me in the same frame of mind that Cooper's series put me into so very many years ago, so much so, that I (1) can't wait to read the 2nd book in Nimmo's series and (2) am itching to re-read Cooper's series. Set in Wales, Nimmo's new series (she is author of the Charlie Bone books), introduces us to Gwyn and his family on the day of Gwyn's ninth birthday. Gwyn's grandmother gives him five very puzzling gifts--a piece of seaweed, a scarf, a whistle, a twisted brooch and a broken toy horse--and tells hiim that now is the time to find out if he, Gwyn, is a magician. Gwyn and his mother and father, still grieving from the mysterious disappearance of his sister Bethan almost five years previous, pretty well think that Gwyn's gran is nuts. But is she? Full of the richness of Welsh names The Snow Spider is an intriguing tale of darkness, mystery, and the light of hope. I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

Reading level as listed on Ages 9-12

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A few more fairy tale based chapter books. . .

After my previous post, I received notes from several folk at LM_Net reminding me about the Sisters Grimm Fairytale Detectives series by Micahel Buckley and Peter Ferguson. I have only read the first in the series, but thoroughly enjoyed it. In this series, you meet two young girls, Sabrina and Daphne, who are sent to live with their grandmother, Relda Grimm. The catch? They didn't know anything about this grandmother, they didn't know anything about their family history, and they certainly didn't expect to find out that fairytales might be more than just stories. Join them as they discover their Grimm family heritage, and meet the real characters behind the fairytales they only thought they knew.

The series so far includes:

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives
The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects
The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child
The Sisters Grimm: Once Upon a Crime

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fairy Tales Revisited--Chapter Book Fairy Tales With a Twist

I've found myself recommending some of the same titles over and over again, both at the public library and in the school library. As this list grows longer, and my memory shorter, it's time to make another list. This one is a list of children's chapter books that are either based on/in a fairy tale or that take on additional levels of meaning if you are familiar with some of the traditional fairy tales. Without fail, each of the titles in this list has left me chuckling and wishing I had been the one to write that book or come up with that idea.

Patricia Wrede's Chronicles of the Enchanted Forest in which Princess Cimorene defies princessly tradition and goes in search of a dragon to serve and attempts to dissuade those pesky princes from attempts to rescue her--and manages to befriend a witch,melt a few wizards, foil a few dastardly plots, organize a dragon's cave and cook copious quanitites of Cherries Jubilee.

Dealing with Dragons
Searching for Dragons
Calling On Dragons
Talking to Dragons

Gail Carson Levine's standalone book

Ella Enchanted and her Princess Tales books in which she puts several new twists on many fairy tale conventions and archetypes

The Fairy's Mistake
The Princess Test
Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill
The Fairy's Return
For Biddle's Sake

Esme Raji Codell's Diary of a Fairy Godmother in which young witch-in-training, Hunky Dory, defies the convention of her classmates and the expectations of all those expecting her to go into the family business (witching) and considers other possible magical career options, much to her family's distress but our enjoyment.

Jean Ferris' Once Upon a Marigold in which you'll recognize many of the fairy tale elements--but with some fun twists--evil Queen mothers (not step-mothers), people with mysterious histories, lost children adopted by trolls, crazy inventors and, oh yes, quite a few horrible (but in a good way) jokes.

E.D. Baker's Tales of the Frog Princess in which rather un-princessly Princess Esmerelda manages to kiss a frog--and be turned into a frog herself, with great adventure, albeit frog-sized, and hilarious results.

The Frog Princess
Dragon's Breath
Once Upon a Curse
No Place for Magic