A Fresh Beginning – of sorts

In May of 2011 Matt and I began to dabble with blogging.  We were shored up by our technology pal, Mrs. Wyman who walked us through every step of the way.  We met in her computer lab weekly.   She shared in our giggles about books post ideas, reading quotes and fond memories of reading and books.  Matt was in 5th grade when we actually launched Kid’s Books 101.  He has graduated 8th grade now and is ready to move on.  I am sorry to lose my book partner,  but I think it is time to consider new possibilities – maybe a reading and review club would be the way to go.  But for now  – I’ve got some books to recommend for summer reading.  Some are new, some are old favorites and some have finally find their way to the top of my TBR pile.

16082948Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone has been waiting for a year to be read.  Sequel to the Romeo and Juliet Code, this book continues the story of Flissy Budwig Bathburn in Bottlebay, Maine.  She’s been there for two years.   The Bathburn home is truly her own but she still does not fully understand her family’s role World War II.  She knows they are part of the Resistance and she knows they are working from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but are they safe and will she ever understand why they have made the choices they have made?  Will she ever understand why she feels so alone?

The Bathburn family is pretty amazing:  strong and independent, able and willing, caring and courageous.  They live in a small coastal Maine town.  It might seem as though they must be far removed from everything, but they are not. They are totally involved in the war effort.  You’ll have to read to find out how much they are willing to risk to do the right thing.  Romeo Blue (another name for the Marazine Blue butterfly)  is full of interesting twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages right to the end.  You won’t want to miss a word.  Intermediate and middle grade readers will enjoy the adventure and the characters as they live through the ups and downs of life in wartime.

 

The Adventures of Beanboy

The Adventures of Beanboyby Lisa Harkrader

235 pages of everyday life with super hero connections.  What is your super power?  I bet you have one that you haven’t noticed yet.

Tucker MacBean is a seventh grader.  He has a passion for comic books . H2O man is his favorite super hero, but they’re all pretty cool in Tucker’s mind.  He has a best friend, Noah Spooner who is organized and driven to do his best in school.  He has a little brother, Beecher who is most often his main sidekick while his mom is trying to juggle single parenthood, a demanding job and a full load of night courses at the local college.  And, he may have an arch nemesis, Sam Zawicki, who seems angry at the world.  Though Tucker pretty much tries to stay out of her way, their paths keep crossing.

It might seem that Tucker MacBean is a typical kid at first, but the more you get to know him the more you admire is choices. He’s pretty extraordinary. Tucker’s mom is a phantom presence in his life – sticky notes and piles of clean laundry are often the only signs he has that she’s been home.  He doesn’t complain.  He just makes sure Beecher has what he needs.  That’s not always easy.  As Tucker puts it, “Something happened when Beecher was born.  He didn’t get enough oxygen in his brain right at first.  So he doesn’t do everything the way everyone else does.”  Tucker is resourceful.  When the opportunity arises, he decides he will enter a contest to earn a scholarship for his mom so she won’t have to work so hard.  He’s observant.  He notices how his classmates treat one another.  Maybe it is because he really does have a super power of invisibility that he is able to see so much and try to understand the other perspective.  He is honorable.  Tucker MacBean chooses to do what is right rather than what is popular most of the time – and that is hard!

The contest that Tucker has decided to enter says:  “H2O’s sidekick must possess the true heart of a hero.  Reach deep within yourself, find that heroic heart, and create a sidekick who can rank among the greatest sidekicks in comic book history.”  You’ll have to read The Adventures of Beanboy to find out how similar the powers of an ordinary seventh grader are to those of a super hero.  Maybe it’s the Clark Kent effect.

In reading about the author, Lisa Harkrader said she was looking forward to creating more books about Beanboy.  I hope she does because I am looking forward to reading them.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – The Interrupted Tale

The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #4)by Maryrose Wood

385 pages of middle grade mystery full of puzzle, fun and farcical adventure

Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t yet found this series stop reading. Go find the first book and begin.  If you’re at NHS – come to the classroom and borrow it.  You’ll be glad you did.  Whenever you’re ready two, three and this one will wait for you there as well…

If you’ve loved the first three as I have you’ll understand when I say, “I was happy to find the fourth book in the ‘Incorrigibles’ series.”  I like Penelope Lumley.  I appreciate how she teaches the three “wolf” children she has been charged with.  Her model of gentle care, firm expectations and love is to be admired.  I respect her dogged perseverance and her constant and innovative problem solving.

Things are not as they seem at Ashton Place and slowly but surely Miss Lumley is peeling back the layers of deception and intrigue in a effort to uncover answer.  Why were Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia left in the woods to be raised by wolves?  Were they abandoned or secretly cared for?  Is there a curse the plagues the Ashton men on the full moon?  Why has Edward Ashton feigned his death and then returned after 20 years?  Why was Penelope left at the school as a young child?  Are her parents truly gone?  What are Agatha Swanburne’s secrets?  And the hair poultice?  Without it Miss Lumley and the three Incorrigibles have the exact same rich, auburn hair.  Is there something to that?

These questions swirl around the web of connections that surround Miss Lumley and grow tighter in each story.  There are entertaining villains and surprising allies that await you.  You’ll finish wondering what happened in Ahwoo Ahwoo Island.  You’ll wonder if the mysteries that surround so much of Ashton Place will be solved.  And then you’ll remember the wise words of Agatha Swanburne, “Morning may not put one’s problems in a new light, but at least it puts them in a new day,” and you’ll be ready to move on.  Ready, but eager for the next book to arrive so the story can continue and new questions emerge.

Writers and lovers of words will smile at the play with iambic pentameter throughout the story closing at the end with a TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum, TA-tum.  There’s a delicious reference on page 247 about how books you read will later influence what you write:  “…Whether a little French boy named Victor Hugo also read Pierre et la Baguette and was inspired to write a similar tale years later, we will never know, but the truth is that grown-up writers cannot help but be influenced by the books they read as children. Someday you, too, may decide to write a novel that touches upon the subjects you read about as a young person.  Pirates, perhaps.  Or dancing chickens.  Or even some combination of the two.”

It is a fun mystery to savor.

Beholding Bee

 Beholding BeeBy Kimberly Newton Fusco

historical fiction with an infusion of wishes for intermediate readers

Beholding Bee is a book that keeps coming back into my thoughts.  I keep wondering about her and the events in her life, as I try to figure out how things were in the 1930’s and 40’s.  What would happen to a little girl if she were suddenly orphaned by parents who worked at a traveling carnival?  Would she have been called a “freak” and put on display with the fat man and the bearded lady because of a birthmark?

Bee lives with Pauline in the back of the moving truck that is used to haul the carnival hotdog stand from place to place.  Bee slices the onions for the hotdogs – nice and thin – when they awake in the morning. Once the stand is open she works with Pauline to fill the orders.  She does this carefully keeping her hair over her “diamond” and turning a certain way so that people don’t see and stare or taunt.  Pauline has taken care of Bee for seven years, but the snaky carnival owner is figuring different ways to make even more money and sends Pauline away.  Bee is in charge of the hotdog cart on her own.  She is comforted when a caramel brown stray shows up and she decides to keep the dog against the owners wishes.  She has help from Bobby for a while.  He’s runs the pig races, another carnival event, but when he leaves the carnival too, Bee knows she must find a place where she belongs.

Bee runs away with her dog and one of the sweet little pigs from the race.  She runs until she finds a perfect house where she is welcomed by Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Swift.  Sometimes there, sometimes not, they support Bee and help her discover the things that matter in the world.  Surprisingly, happily,  she is one of them.  This book has wonderful characters, wonderful writing and a wonderful message.

“Everyone is always going to notice your birthmark, Bee. It’s like Ellen’s brace. You can’t help but notice. But it’s what people do after they notice that’s important. Do they treat you like a person with dignity? Or do they baby you and coddle you or make fun of you or worse?”

I think this books stays with you and makes you think and question, wonder and care.  I hope you’ll read it and let us know what you think.

 

Palace of Dreams

The Familiars #4: Palace of Dreamsthe 4th in The Familiars series

by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

323 pages of fantastic adventure

Peace has come to Vastia.  Now that Skylar, Gilbert and Aldwyn had defeated Paksahara, Queen Loranella is on throne bringing her kingdom back to its former glory.  While dangers remain, the queen is not willing to cower in fear.  She is working to establish a rule of fairness and believes that forgiveness is the only path for moving forward.

Each familiar and loyal team has been sent on a questabout to test their growing abilities and to strengthen their magical bond.  Skylar and Dalton have gone in search of the lost Xylem garden. Marianne and Gilbert have traveled to the Ocean Oracle to seek the ancient tome, Protocols of Divination.  And Aldwyn and Jack have been sent to the haunted Equitas Isles to find Aldwyn’s Maidenmere Cat twin, Yeardley.  Each returns pair returns, two successful, one not, just in time to celebrate the queen’s birthday.

Before they even have a chance to share the details of their quests, the celebrated three are thrown into their next life or death mission.  Skylar has created a beautiful necklace for the queen, a gift she would like the three friends to give her.  It is the first gift given – and the last.  Immediately the necklace sinks into the queen’s neck poisoning her and bringing her to near death.  The healers can only keep her from slipping into death for two or three days.  That is all the time the familiars have – they must escape the dungeons and find the antidote to stop the parasitic poison from killing their queen.  It seems that everywhere the friends go for help they are always a step behind.  What or whom they seek has been removed just as they approach.  Their final choice is to travel through the treacherous Land of Dreams to talk to the queen herself, find the antidote and clear their names.

Nothing is as it seems.  Dreams turn to nightmare.  Friends become would-be-killers. Reason is clouded by desperate fear.  But Skylar remains scholarly and resourceful, Gilbert, though transformed for a time, remains a true jokester, and Aldwyn continues to logically move from problem to problem determined to reclaim his right to belong and do good for those who depend on him.  This might be my favorite so far.  I can’t wait for the next though – I wonder what will happen when Aldwyn and Yeardley are reunited.

You can find out more about the Familiars series and its creators at their  website.  You can even discover what your familiar would be.  Have fun.

Bo at Ballard Creek

Bo at Ballard Creekby Kirkpatrick Hill

278 pages of small town adventures for intermediate readers – it would make a fun read aloud for younger readers too.

Jack Jackson and Avrid Ivorsen had arrived in Alaska in 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.  They were both big men – bigger than most and that’s how they met each other.  They helped each other get the large sized clothes they needed.  Once they met, they figured out they were good help for each other – Jack ran the kitchen and Arvid did the blacksmithing for the mine.   They were good company.

One day Arvid was taking a break, standing on the riverbank watching the commotion of the logs and passengers being loaded on a steamship when Mean Millie, one of the good-time girls, walked up him and handed him her baby. Told him to take it to the orphanage in Nulato next time he went to town and walked away.  Arvid had no idea of what to do with a baby, but Jack did.

When the time came to take that baby to the orphanage, Avrid and Jack just walked on by and that was how Bo came to live at Ballard Creek with her two Papas.  She worked in the kitchen with Jack helping out with all she could.  She cut the biscuits and filled the wood box with kindling.  When her chores were done, Bo went to find Oscar – the only other child not yet old enough for school and they’d go visiting.  Sometimes they’d read magazines at Milo’s Roadhouse, sometimes they’d visit Lilly and Yovela or sometimes they’d visit Nakuchluk and Unakserak, the oldest people in town.  Bo could speak English and Eskimo.  She was a friend to everyone and everyone at Ballard Creek looked out for her too.

It is interesting to learn about life at the turn of the century in Alaska.  Interesting to learn how the gold was mined, how the mail was delivered, how supplies were shipped and how traditional ways were married with new customs so that all in the village survived and prospered.

The About the Author blurb says, “Kirkpatrick Hill was born into a mining family:  her father was a miner as was her grandfather.  When she was little the family lived at Cleary Hill Mines near Fairbanks, Alaska – a place much like Ballard Creek.  She says, ‘I almost always write bout true events and my characters are often based on actual people.  I couldn’t make up anything more interesting than things that really happened.’  That means that Ms. Hill has known some wonderfully caring people and they have shared some amazing times together.  Reading Bo at Ballard Creek is a real treat!  I hope many readers will join Bo in her small town and meet all the her friends as well.

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig

bThe Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and couragey Chris Kurtz

Flora is a pig – a runt at that.   But Flora has big dreams and longs for adventure.  She isn’t willing to give up no matter where her efforts take her.  ” With a heart born for adventure and hooves stuck in a pen, Flora couldn’t help thinking that trouble might be a good thing. ” As a piglet on a farm that raises sled dogs, Flora wants nothing more than to take her place in the line of dogs pulling a sled.

Her best friend on the farm, Luna the cat, tells Flora that the adventures she seeks are nothing but trouble; and trouble will find her whether she looks for it or not. Flora doesn’t shy away from trouble and she isn’t interested in following the rules.  She isn’t one to do something because it has always been that way – and because of that Flora travels to the South Pole.  Also, because of that Flora doesn’t realize why a pig is going to the South Pole… along with the chickens and cows.  Thanks to rat-catching lessons from Luna, Flora can assist her new cat-friend Sophia and make herself useful to everyone. She likes being useful this way, but she is certain there is more for her to do.  Flora believes she on a ship headed for the South Pole because she has been called to help the sled dogs – it is all she has ever wanted to do.  How could there be any other reason?  Everyone seems to know the answer to that question but Flora.  And yet, when tragedy strikes, the whole crew counts itself lucky to have such a courageous pig along.  Flora is totally unique –  her maxims: don’t ever give up, take advice along the way if it helps, be a friend when you can and begin a new dream with every challenge guide her through her trek.

Flora has spunk and determination.  She works hard.  She comes close to giving up.  She comes close to doing what everyone else expects her to do, but in the end she believes in herself enough and she believes in what she can do for others.  Flora is a pig with dreams.  She works hard to hold on to them.  Because of her friends, she doesn’t give up.  Flora has a lot to teach us.  As the  2014 approaches I wish that could be true for all of us – to follow our dreams and make a difference no matter what.

The Real Boy

The Real Boyby Anne Ursu

341 pages that magically draw you into the story of flawed boy in a perfect world.  But what is real – what is said, what is done or what you see?

a highly recommended book for intermediate and middle grade readers

 

When you look at the map of Aletheia you can see signs of the past.  The Shining City of Asteri encircled by its shimmering magic wall , the Barrow and the Magic Smiths’ marketplace open each day, the ancient forest and grove of one hundred Wizard Trees and the plaguelands, cutting the eastern villages off from the rest of the island – a daily reminder of past sickness and pain that is no more.

Alethia has been through much and the future seems promising.  There is now one magic worker so skilled that he calls himself a magician, Master Caleb.  He was the first magician in a generation and he helps the beautiful people of Asteri shine even more brightly.  Master Caleb has an apprentice, Wolf, and like the wizards of old, he also has a hand, Oscar.  He gathers the herbs and prepares them.  Oscar make sure everything the best Magic Smith on the island could need is ready.  For Oscar going to the wood to gather the plants and berries, the mosses and bark is a comfort.  He cares for each ancient tree, each bush and flower.  He carries a map in his mind of where he needs to gather in order to keep the shelves of the pantry and shop well stocked.

Master Caleb found Oscar in children’s home and he was glad for his work and his place to stay.  Oscar is careful and diligent.  He quietly executes his tasks in the pantry, prepares the shop of opening each day and cares for the cats.   Oscar observes, remembers and learns all that he can.  Though Oscar is supposed to stay in his room from 9 o’clock ’til morning, in the middle of the night Oscar silently creeps into the enormous library to read.  Breaking that one rule was worth everything to Oscar.  He couldn’t learn enough about plants and magic, the history of Alethia and the places beyond his small corner of the world.

While plants and the forest bring ease to Oscar, being with people bring worry and confusion.  Wolf torments him.   Oscar can’t look people in the eye when they speak.  He can’t find the words to say.  People were confusing.  They never seem to say what they mean.  The meaning of the words and their tone don’t match – words crackle and spit at Oscar, they whir and hiss.  Wolf constantly askes Oscar what was wrong with him.  Oscar doesn’t know, it just is.  As Master Caleb’s fame grew, more people came to his shop.  There was more need and demand, but there was also call for Master Caleb to go to the mainland to see if magic could be sold and traded once again as it had in times past.  Those trips meant more time that Oscar must be alone with Wolf and even more time that he must be with people from the city and the barrow.

Oscar has a job to do.  He is loyal and true.  He is careful and hardworking.  He will do as his master says, but that is hard, very, very hard.  Oscar longs to retreat to the safety of his pantry, to his quiet life with the cats, to his silent time in the forest, but he cannot.  Something evil has come to Alethia and something very wrong has been done. Master Caleb is gone.  Oscar has a job to do.

The Real Boy is a beautifully crafted story full of characters that come to life as you walk beside them through the city, and the marketplace and the wood.  The importance of kindnesses and honest caring shine through the murk created by fear and greed.  What does it mean to be real?  The answer to that question is not as simple as it may first appear.

Byrd and Igloo – a polar adventure

Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventureby Samantha Seiple

a 175 page expedition to both Poles and back by a man and his dog

for intermediate readers and beyond

The story begins in January, 1926 on a pouring, bitterly cold day in Washington D.C.  Walking home from work, Maris Booth found a shivering puppy. She knew if she didn’t take him home he would die.  She snuck the puppy into her apartment and then into work.  She cared for him, but knew he couldn’t stay cooped up day after day.  The puppy was independent and determined just like, Maris realized, Robert Byrd.  She had read about Byrd and his daring goal to be the first person to fly over the North Pole.  Booth called Byrd and convinced him that this dog could go anywhere he could and would be a reliable companion on any trip.  Unsure at first, Byrd finally relented and thus began the five year friendship of a man and dog who traveled pole to pole together.

The puppy, soon named Igloo, was devoted to Byrd.  Igloo was left behind at the base and did not fly over the North Pole with Byrd on that first expedition – and he made sure that was the last time. Igloo went everywhere with Byrd.  He learned to deal with vicious sled dogs, wore a fur suit and booties to deal with the bitter cold of the Pole and was as dedicated to Byrd as Byrd was committed to the success and safety of each person in his crew.

Early aviation was exciting, dangerous and unknown.  Combined with the polar exploration and the growing science of the time, the true story told in Byrd & Igloo shares this interesting point in history.  The adventures of Igloo, a strong-willed, devoted, best friend, traveling along side the polar explorer from North Pole to South Pole, with Boston in between are exciting ones.  Igloo was quite a dog.  His adventures were many!

The book is illustrated with photographs of the expeditions to help readers picture that era.  Read it.  You’ll be glad you did

 

The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfieldby John Bemelmans Marciano

139 pages telling delightfully evil tale of a boy who gets everything he wants – or does he?

The 9 LIVES of Alexander Baddenfield is funny.  For all time the Baddenfields have been bad and the Winterbottoms have served them, trying to keep them safe and trying to steer them in a better direction.  It hasn’t worked well the Baddenfields have always been greedy and evil.  From the first Boddenveld of Holland who created the 1637 tulip debacle to Pieter Boddenveld in New Amsterdam (now New York) who made mass profit selling the land he had purchased for about $24 in beads to Rolf Baddenfeld of Virginia colony who invented the cigarette and Weems Baddenfield who cut down the cherry tree and blackmailed his playmate, George into taking the fall for it.  Right from the start the Baddenfields had been bad.  They had been able to make a fortune, but never to enjoy it.  Each one had died young.  26 was an old age for a Baddenfield, and Alexander, only remaining Baddenfield, wanted to change that. At 12 his only friend was his cat, Shaddenfrood and looking at his cat, Alexander wondered, “If a cat could have nine lives, why couldn’t he?”

Once Alexander had that idea, nothing could stand in his way.  He went to all the doctors.  He went to all the scientists.  He went to the Head Executive Vice President for Baddenfield Pharmaceuticals (BaddPharm for short) to get what he wanted.  The researchers there didn’t seem to have any ideas either.

When Alexander could take no more, he held up a hand and said, “Enough!  If you think you can confuse and bore me into going away, you’re wrong.  Is it too much to ask for you to solve one little problem?  Is it going to be the think tank for all of you?”  Normally, a think tank is a gathering of top minds; at BaddPharm, it was a literal steel tank that employees were locked into.  “And no one gets out until someone give me something that helps!”

“How about Dr. Graft?”

The name cracked the silence of the room like a put of potato chips in a library.  Everyone turned to look at who had said it, a low-level intern in the fungus department.  “Oh,” said the man sheepishly and shrank down in his chair.

But Dr. Graft is just the person Alexander needs.  He gets his transplant, but without a change in his reckless, selfish ways will that been enough?  You’ll have to read The 9 LIVES of Alexander Baddenfield to find out.