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33 Minutes ...Until Morgan Sturtz kicks my butt

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged coming of agehumor

Click for the full-sized comic

@bookblurb Sam’s former best friend, Morgan, is going to kick Sam’s butt at recess. It’s inevitable. It is going to happen.

Frankenstein A Monstrous Parody

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged horrorpicture bookhumor

Twelve ugly monster kids misbehave and scare people. The ugliest is Frankenstein. After Frankenstein falls ill, his head is replaced, and he eats pretty much everything and everyone. (All the other monsters eventually lose their heads, too.)

Why I picked it up: Great pen name! (The creators are actually Nathan Hale and Rick Walton.) And I loved the “A CaldeNOT Horror Book” medal on the front cover.

Why I finished it:

“In two crooked lines, they bonked their heads,
pulled out their teeth,
and wet their beds.”

I love any verse that ends like that. But what really kept me reading were the drawings of the monsters — they’re a perfectly loveable bunch of Halloween creatures (vampire, werewolf, mummy, dragon, creature from the Black Lagoon, devil, others) and they always look like they’re having a good time being bad.

I’d give it to: Anna, a little animal fiend I know. During a zoo visit, the lion is hiding from the monsters, the hippo and rhino look nervous, but the ostrich seems to enjoy being a snack for the vampire. (This book is ODD.)

@bookblurb Twelve loveable monster kids misbehave, wet their beds, and scare people.

Witch & Wizard

Link to this review by rose tagged paranormal

Whit and his younger sister Wisty are arrested on suspicion of being a witch and wizard, even though they have never heard of anything so ridiculous. (To them, witches and wizards are just fairy tale characters!) They are sent to a prison filled with hundreds of other kids by the New Order, a political party ruled by The One Who Is The One, a powerful magician.

The ghost of Whit’s girlfriend, Celia, helps them escape prison via a portal into the Shadowland. Back in the real world they find that the New Order has taken over most of the U.S. They want to find their parents, but they also help a group of young people trying to rescue more kids from prison.

Why I picked it up: I was reading Maximum Ride and saw an excerpt from the graphic novel version of this book. There was a picture of Wisty covered in fire extinguisher foam. Her eyes were so wide that every time I looked at it, I couldn’t stop laughing! I always like to read the actual book before I read a graphic novel adaptation, so that I can get all the details. So, I checked the book out from the library.

Why I finished it: I really liked how the chapters were just a few pages each, and how the point of view switched between Whit an Wisty. It really made the book engaging, because you got to see how each of them was handling the same situation.

I’d give it to: My friend Jessica. She would love Whit, especially because Celia describes him as “Mr. washboard tummy.”

@bookblurb A brother and sister arrested by the New Order escape prison with the help of a ghost.

Kindness for Weakness

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged coming of age

Fifteen-year-old James has no home life to speak of after his older brother, Louis, quarreled with the latest of their mother’s boyfriends and moved out. Their mother lives a depressing life of cigarettes, shifts at the diner, and abuse from her drug-addicted boyfriend. James leaves the house hours before school, even in the bitter cold, to simply not be at home. When Louis wants to hang out, James jumps at the chance. But Louis uses him to deliver drugs. After James is arrested, Louis abandons him.

Bewildered by his quick trial, James is soon in juvenile lockup. His only friend is an effervescent gay boy named Freddie. James endures sadistic guards and threats from other inmates. His only comfort is a treasured copy of The Sea Wolf by Jack London, which he turns to for advice. At counseling sessions with other prisoners, James learns how to de-escalate arguments and avoid violence. But these lessons conflict with what he learns from the other inmates; on the street, kindness is seen as weakness.

Why I picked it up: It was a combination of the enigmatic title and the cover blurb from Todd Strasser, whose books often deal with troubled kids.

Why I finished it: James is one of my favorite characters of the last few years. He has a vulnerability and a desire to please that makes him a poor fit for juvenile detention, and he is honestly trying to figure out what he should do next and how to become a responsible adult. James’ counselor, Samson, who all the inmates respect for his physical size, is actually most noteable for the wisdom he tries to impart. James gets to spend time with Samson on Friday nights, lifting weights, talking, and eating take-out, because he has his earned “stage privileges.”

Even though things start to turn around for James, his friendship with Freddie is dangerous. I was waiting for that shoe to drop.

I’d give it to: Xavier, a young man at my school who has anger issues. I am sure that he would identify with the all-consuming rage the boys talk about during their counseling sessions, and I hope the book would help him reflect on how he should deal with it.

@bookblurb James’ older brother uses him to deliver drugs, then abandons him when he’s arrested.

Genkaku Picasso Volume 1

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged graphic novelparanormal

Seventeen-year-old Hikari is always drawing, so everyone calls him Picasso. He starts his own after-school drawing club. His high school classmate, Chiaki, finds him fascinating. She’s his only friend and the only other member of the club, though she doesn’t draw.

During a club meeting, a helicopter crashes near them. Chiaki is killed but Hikari miraculously survives. Except Hikari didn’t exactly survive. Chiaki prayed for him as she was dying, and she was told he could be saved if he helped people. If he doesn’t, rot will take over his body, and he’ll die for good. A small, invisible (except to Hikari), angelic version of Chiaki helps him fulfill his purpose.

Why I picked it up: Viz’s Mark de Vera recommended it when we were talking about The Drifting Classroom.

Why I finished it: Hikari helps those who need it by first drawing what’s in their hearts. (Since he died, he’s been able to see some people’s dark auras and draw these pictures almost automatically.) The pictures are symbolic and mysterious (a giant rabbit, a giant man holding a bag of money, a ragged swan, a merry-go-round in a ruined field), so they present puzzles for he and Chiaki to solve as they try to figure out what Hikari needs to do. They also have the ability to go into the pictures he draws and, by doing so, into the mind of the person whose inner world it represents.

I admired the setup for the way it allows both recurring characters as well as a variety of storylines. And the scenes that take place inside a character’s head are all inked in an older, cross-hatched style, which looked great and made them easy to differentiate from the “real-world” scenes of the main story.

I’d give it to: Emma, who will like the dark problems Hikari helps his classmates with: a father-son relationship broken by the death of the boy’s mother, misplaced childhood guilt over the death of a pet, and an inferiority complex that leads to a suicide attempt.

@bookblurb A high schooler draws the dark secrets in others' hearts. If he can’t find a way to help them, he'll die.

Chloe and the Lion

Link to this review by ang tagged humorpicture book

Stumbling home after one too many spins on the merry-go-round, Chloe finds herself face to face with a dragon. Wait. A dragon? But, this book is titled Chloe and the LION. Author Mac Barnett pops his head into the pages to see what has gone wrong. Illustrator Adam Rex has taken some liberties with the story (“I just thought a dragon would be cooler.”) and the two get into a disagreement that ends with Mac firing Adam and having him swallowed by a lion. A string of replacements, shown through a juxtaposition of illustration styles, contribute to the story with disastrous results.

The book is a mess. Mac is ready to give up. But fortunately Chloe is not. After teaching Mac a thing or two about collaboration and friendship, she sets out to save Adam and her story.

Why I picked it up: Barnett and Rex! Have you ever seen Gene and Bill lovingly (It is lovingly, right guys?) mock the little squeal and clap that children’s librarians do when they get really excited? Some of us pretend to be way too cool for such displays of glee, but we all have our weaknesses. Mine is a book by both Barnett and Rex. Seeing both of their names on the cover may have elicited some squealing. Perhaps the tiniest clap. I’m only human.

Why I finished it: (Or, more specifically, why I finished it nine times.) I read it to students in several grade levels because this smart, silly book has layers. There is an obvious, irreverent humor that resonates with everyone. Beneath that is something sly and subversive, dark humor and literary references that reward older readers. While it’s always fun to watch students transform into writhing balls of giggles, my favorite read-aloud moment was when a kid raised an eyebrow and mouthed, “Frankenstein?” at me from the back of the room when she picked up on an allusion.

I’d give it to: Kellie. She’ll pretend she is reading it to her classes because it’s a great tool for reviewing terms like “author,” “illustrator,” and “main character.” We’ll be able to exchange a knowing “I’m aligning with the Common Core State Standards” wink when we share it, because our main reason for reading it aloud will be that it’s goofy.

@bookblurb After his picture book goes wrong, the writer fires the artist and hires replacements. The results are disastrous.

I Would Die 4 U

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged biography

Prince Rogers Nelson, better known as Prince (or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince), is a tightly packaged explosion of creativity and an image that was perfect for the MTV era. Touré, a critic who regularly appears on fuse and MSNBC, digs deeply into Prince’s early life, interviews band members and others who knew him, and tries to decipher lyrics that often combine sexual and religious images. What emerges is a nuanced vision of a rock icon who is well aware of media and cultural perceptions of him, which he has attempted to shape since day one of his career.

Why I picked it up: Back in the 80s, Prince’s music was funky and different, especially when he sang in that weird falsetto. He seemed to get away with behavior other stars couldn’t, like dressing androgynously and singing overtly sexual songs. I wanted to hear what made this famously strange dude tick, and I was hoping for the skinny on the whole unpronounceable symbol stage of his career. (Editor’s note: This symbol is now apparently know as “Love Symbol #2.”)

Why I finished it: Prince was controlling, especially of the members of his band. He mandated that whenever they were in public, even walking into a hotel or running to the grocery store, they had to be in full costume. He cast his band so that he had a multicultural, multi-gender group where each member had an image to portray. (Prince announced that he himself would embody “pure sex.”) He even tried to make all band members eat a vegan diet, though they apparently ate whatever they wanted when he wasn’t around. He once fired two of them that were planning to leave so that he could be the one making the decision.

Then there’s the information about a fabled Prince song, “Wally,” that has been heard by only two people, Prince and his sound engineer. It was confessional and deeply personal, and was erased immediately after it was recorded. (The sound engineer dished about how she attempted to get him to reconsider his decision to erase it.)

I’d give it to: My friend Roy. He was always confused by Prince’s appeal to his girlfriend back in high school and would like Touré’s informed discussion about Prince’s appeal to gen-x fans. Touré posits that because so many of their lives were shaped by divorce, Prince’s lyrics about longing, love, and pain resonated with them. (This book wouldn’t explain why Roy’s girlfriend liked Prince’s sparkly purple clothes, but then he can’t have everything.)

@bookblurb An in-depth biography of the controlling, über talented rock icon, Prince.

In the Kingdom of Men

Link to this review by emilyjones tagged historical fictionaudiobook

Raised in post-World War II Oklahoma, Virginia “Gin” Mitchell seeks escape from her fundamentalist grandfather’s unyielding ways. When she gets pregnant and decides to marry high school basketball star Mason McPhee, it seems like she’s trapped again. But Mason accepts a job with the American Arabian Oil Company and they move to Saudi Arabia. Gin finds herself surrounded by wealth and luxury beyond her wildest dreams. As Mason becomes embroiled in company politics, Gin tries to find her own place in the compound where they live. 

Then the body of a drowned Bedouin woman is pulled from the sea. Mason is missing. And the new life Gin had sought for so long comes crashing down around her.

Why I picked it up: After watching Argo, I was sold on the idea that Americans in a foreign country might make for a compelling story. I found this book by chance while browsing the library’s downloadable collection, and it fit the bill.

Why I finished it: It was totally fascinating! The customs of the Bedouin people, the rigid limitations of Shariah Law, and the early relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were expertly woven into the story of how Gin transitions from a strict Pentecostal childhood to the hedonistic lifestyle of a U.S. compound in an Arab country. I felt like I was listening to a history lecture and a suspense novel, and I honestly don’t know which I enjoyed more. 

I’d give it to: My mom, who was part of the same generation as Gin in the 1960s. I want to know how much she’d relate to the societal norms of the expatriate American community in the book, and to Gin’s place in what was clearly a man’s world.

@bookblurb A woman from rural Oklahoma moves to Saudi Arabia with her husband and finds herself in a murder mystery.

Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today?

Link to this review by craigseasholes tagged picture bookgraphic novel

Lilly chooses a different persona for each day of the week. On Monday she’s a cook, on Tuesday she’s a city planner, on Wednesday an acrobat, and so on. Earnest and adorable, Lilly is a resourceful and imaginative girl.

Publisher’s rating: A Level 1 Reader for Grades K-1.

Why I picked it up: I like that on the cover Lilly declares, “I can be anything!”

Why I finished it: It’s really, really short, and Lilly is a very endearing character, both earnest and playful.

I try to buy all the Toon Books for my school library because of interest created by the eleven that are available for free, online. My students and I enjoy hearing comics read aloud, and this site even has a multilingual library which lets students choose a language (via buttons at the bottom of the page) so that they can read along as they are read to them in Spanish, FrenchRussian and Chinese. Some of them are even using the site to make their own comics, too.

I’d give it to: Annika, my almost three-year-old niece, who likes finger painting and drawing, because after Silly Lilly’s Monday cooking efforts result in beet-pink, carrot-yellow, and spinach-green stained fingers, she declares, “Now I can be an artist.”

@bookblurb Lilly can be anything! She chooses a different persona for each day of the week.

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