Monday, August 31, 2015

Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of the Fifth Grade by Jack Gantos

When Jack Henry's family moves to their new home in Miami, Jack is hoping for a fresh start. Unfortunately, his hopes are dashed because he still has a mean older sister, an annoying younger brother, and Jack still attracts weird new friends. But in his fifth-grade year, a smattering of absurd occurrences cause Jack to rethink his life's decisions...or to just ignore the consequences of those decisions for as long as humanly possible.

Written as a type of autobiography based on his own diaries, Gantos relates nine stories that affected his decade of living. Readers will cringe, gasp, and laugh-out-loud at the aspects of Jack Henry's life. From his fascination with bugs to finding the family cat dead in the fridge, Gantos gives a true voice to the thoughts and feelings of a fifth-grade boy. This is apart of Gantos Jack Henry series. The other books are Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue; Heads or Tails: Stories of the Sixth Grade; Jack's New Power: Stories from a Caribbean Year; and Jack's Black Book: What Happens When You Flunk an IQ Test.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

While Jim Hawkins is helping run his family’s inn, a crotchety sea captain comes to stay at their establishment. However, the captain is not a welcome tenant. His heavy drinking and violent outbursts frighten the other guests. But the captain’s tyranny vanishes when an old shipmate discovers his location. With no place to hide, and a pirate death sentence upon his head, the captain has no one to trust except Jim. Before his blood-thirsty crew can get to him, the captain dies leaving Jim and his recently widowed mother a map to the untold riches of Treasure Island.

Written in the 1880s, Treasure Island is the originator of childhood adventure stories. So much of juvenile literature today is based on many of the concepts Stevenson developed in his novel. These include an observant young protagonist who must decide his own destiny, a villain who seems friendly but has ulterior motives, understanding adults who support the young protagonist’s efforts, the young protagonist fighting his own battles using his wit and ingenuity, and the rewards of seeing a hard situation through to the end. At times, the language may seem out-of-date and wordy to today’s standards, but the story is an enveloping action adventure. A must-read for ages 12 and up.     

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

On an island far away, a white and rounded imaginary friend, Beekle, is created. Beekle follows the same protocol as other imaginary friends by waiting until a child imagines them over into the real world. But as time passes, all the friends are carried off, except him. Beekle decides to make the journey over into the real world to search for the child who needs him.

Santat creates a richly original story that reminds readers about the importance of imagination. For most children, their natural tendency is to imagine a friend who appreciates the things they enjoy. But sometimes, children’s imaginations need a little help developing. This is the case for Beekle. When he finally meets Alice, their chance encounter ignites her imagination and leads them both into a close-knit friendship. This is a great book for parents, teachers, or librarians who are wanting to inspire children’s imaginations. But along with Santat’s story, he crafts a solid, colorful world using mixed-media illustrations and hand-lettered text. A priceless book that is worthy of it’s 2014 Caldecott Medal.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Acadia National Park: Eye of the Whale (Adventures with the Parkers) by Mike Graf, illustrated by Majorie Leggitt

After a long flight from California, the Parkers are ready to see all the sites of Acadia National Park. With the guidance of the park rangers, the Parkers hike several challenging trails, bike the old carriage roads, watch the local sea life, explore nearby islands, and snack on wild blueberries growing all over the park. During their excursions, Mrs. Parker joins an old college friend to kayak around several of the islands. However, their kayaking trip is interrupted when the two friends come across a young beached whale.

Graf creates the ideal Acadia guide for families who have wondered what this national park has to offer. With several photographs, watercolor illustrations, and park maps, readers can follow the Parkers trails as they tour and camp around the park. Graf also showcases several of family-friendly programs offered by park rangers, like searching tide pools, learning how a beach is created, and experiencing the Dive-Inn Theater. This book will whet readers vacationing appetites to see this amazing national park firsthand.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Seven Wonders Journals: The Key by Peter Lerangis

Ever since their mother died, Aliyah has watched her family fall apart. She lives in a hovel with her twin brother, Osman. Their treasure hunting father is rarely around, let alone sober. And since their mother's death, their father has been working for several shady men. When their father is commissioned to search the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus for treasure, the twins decide to go with him. But their search turns into a nightmare when the twins and their father run into the zombie of Artemisia.

Lerangis creates an intriguing novella where readers follow the courageous, but desperate Aliyah as she tries to hold her family together through any challenge: alcoholism, criminals, treasure-seeking ferrets, backstabbing business partners, sibling stupidity, or crumbling zombies. Aliyah's character seems incredibly real and tangible from the words she writes in her diary. Lerangis proves he is a master writer in composing such an emotionally rich story in less than eighty pages. A great supplemental read to Seven Wonders Book 3: Tomb of Shadows.  


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Sarah has lived many places, so home is anywhere with her parents. But her stable life is shattered when her mother leaves Sarah and her father. To add to Sarah's confusion, her father announces that she will be staying with her grandparents--people Sarah didn't even know were alive. After a long journey, Sarah arrives at her grandparents home, a decrepit stone tower deep inside a foreboding forest. Her grandmother is a crotchety old woman and her grandfather...well, he is a large beast locked up in the back shed. From this startling revelation, Sarah learns that there are deep curses ruling their lineage. If Sarah wants to salvage any part of her family, she must find a way to resolve the curses before they envelop her as well.

Beastkeeper is an enchantingly dark fairytale written with a modern twist. Like many girls, Sarah wants the romanticized version of magic in her life. She even imagines certain places and things have mystical qualities. But when she is thrust into an environment reeking of magic, it's not the "Disney" world she dreamed it to be. It's a harsh place where happiness and light struggle to survive. And where love is, curses follow. The only thing that helps Sarah handle her cursed surroundings is her loving memories of her parents. That drives her to find a cure and fight for her own happily-ever-after. A beautifully written novel great for ages 13 and up.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars

Milo Pine and his parents own the old and infamous Greenglass House, a secluded hotel used often by local smugglers. As he and his parents settle down for a quiet Christmas break, several unannounced visitors come to stay. Milo is upset his vacation is ruined, but he notices each guest has some tie to Greenglass House. With the help of his new friend, Meddy, Milo unravels the mysteries lurking behind each lodger.

Milford's novel is a beautifully unpredictable story where Milo and Meddy delve deep into the history of Greenglass House. But behind the folktales and puzzles lies a heartfelt story of familial belonging. Milo loves his parents, but people immediately notice he is adopted. This awkward truth makes life difficult for Milo. But once Milo uncovers the guests' riddling backgrounds and sees their ongoing quest for belonging, he realizes that his true place is with the Pines. Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will enjoy this richly fun, yet thought-provoking middle-grade read with a fantastic twist of an ending. Readers will definitely want to reread this book to pull out clues to Meddy’s past that Milford has peppered throughout her story.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seven Wonders Book 4: The Curse of the King by Peter Lerangis

After the Loculus of Healing is smashed, Jack, Cass, and Aly think that their quest is over. So the three tweens return home to live out their last months. But when Jack and Cass’s Loculus shards fuse together, they realize their mission is still possible. However, the Massa took the remaining shards back to their headquarters on Karai’s island. To get the Massa’s attention and be returned to the island, the three friends pursue the Loculus of Strength held by the statue of Zeus in Olympia. But it is far from being a simple snatch-and-grab. The statue comes to life and fights the tweens to keep the Loculus. After a humiliating defeat, Jack, Cass, and Aly are kidnapped by the Massa.

Warning! The Curse of the King may cause readers to stay up all night due to the book’s addictive plot and adrenaline-pumping action. Fans were left speechless when Jack destroyed the Loculus of Healing at the end of The Tomb of Shadows. But hope blooms in The Curse of the King when the Loculus’ shards heal themselves. This revelation jump-starts Jack, Cass, and Aly’s commitment to their life-saving mission. With time quickly running out, the threesome take greater risks in gaining an upper hand against the Massa. However, their risks come with grave consequences. Even though the books say “Seven Wonders”, Lerangis is graciously writing five novels to complete the series. The final book, The Legend of the Rift, will come out March 2016.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

2015 ILA Conference: Closing Ceremony and Exhibit Hall

Monday, July 18, 2015
Day 3: Closing Ceremony and Exhibit Hall

Today was our final day at ILA. We joined the 6,000 other attendees to finish out the conference by listening to two speakers: Dr. Stephen Peters and Octavia Spencer.

Stephen Peters

Peters was a classroom teacher and administrator, but through his dedication became the CEO of The Peter's Group, a group that aids at-risk and honor students in the United States. In Peter's presentation, he talked about the educators that inspired him to become the success he is today.

But along with his background, Peters also addressed the problems students face today because of the decline of the family. From studies done by The Peter's Group, Peters talked about how the influences on children today have changed dramatically from the past. In the 1950s, the top five influences on children were Home, School, Church, Peers, and TV. Today, the top five influences on children are TV/Media, Peers, Church, School, and Home. Peters knows teachers cannot take the place of parents. He asked that parents take a stronger stand in helping their children succeed in life.

Peters also discussed how poverty is still a big problem in our society today. He has a special saying that he quotes often in his books, "Literacy is the vaccine for poverty." Once we give people an education, they can learn to rise above their monetary challenges and then give back to their communities.

Octavia SpencerThe final speaker was Octavia Spencer, Academy Award winning actress and recent YA author. Marcie Post, Executive Director of ILA, had a Q&A session with Octavia where two middle school students asked Octavia questions about her upbringing, reading history, acting, and writing.

Octavia admitted she has dyslexia and ADHD. These two problems made her life difficult when it came to reading. But the books that helped her become a reader were mystery books. She said that knowing there was a problem she could solve helped her continue reading even though it was a struggle. So with her new series, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective, she wanted to make it a mystery to help other struggling readers to learn to like books.

With her acting, she credits her mother for her success. When Octavia admitted she wanted to become an actress, her mother didn't like the idea, but still supported Octavia in any way she could. But before Octavia pursued an acting career, her mother gave Octavia some guiding advice. She said Octavia should never give into the pressures of changing who she is personally, morally, or physically to suit the needs of others. That if she stayed true to herself she would be rewarded for it. At first it was a struggle getting acting jobs and staying true to herself, but eventually she was rewarded by her performance in the movie The Help.

Octavia is an advocate for those who deal with dyslexia and ADHD. She wants the world to know that you can still be successful while dealing with these mental challenges.

When the ceremony was over, we joined the flood of conference goers towards the Exhibit Hall. This time, however, we didn't see many authors. Only a few were doing book signings. But on this day, most of the booths were giving away or cutting prices on their goods. Brand new hardcover books were $10 to $5, while paperbacks were $2 or free. This is when our stash of books REALLY grew (as seen by the photo on the right). In the end I brought home SEVEN book bags full of awesome reads!

Thanks for checking out my time at ILA! I hope I conveyed what an incredible experience it was to attend. Check out the authors I mentioned in previous posts and keep an eye out for the books they will be publishing soon. Lots of amazing reads ahead!