Thursday, May 24, 2012

STUDENT REVIEW - Lawn Boy Returns by Gary Paulson

Lawn Boy Returns
By Gary Paulson
Published by Random House Children’s Books, 2011
112 pages (paperback)

Gary Paulsen’s funny follow-up to Lawn Boy is full of big surprises and big laughs.

Lawn Boy says: The summer I was twelve, mowing lawns with Grandpa’s old riding mower turned into big business. With advice from Arnold the stockbroker, I learned all about making money.

Six weeks and hundred of thousands of dollars later, life got more complicated. You see, the prizefighter I sponsor, Joey Pow, won a big fight. And a TV interview made me famous. As Arnold says, “Capitalism plus publicity equals monster commerce.” Even my best friends wanted a piece of the action. Meanwhile, some scary guys showed up at Joey’s gym. . . .

Yes, I would recommend it. It was very short. I thought the plot could have been longer. It was cool how the chapter names were so complicated. It was easy to read and connect to. I remember last year when I wanted money so I saved. Lawn Boy mowed lawns. Very interesting book……
---Reviewed by David G.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

STUDENT REVIEW - Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
By Jack Gantos
Published by Square Fish, 2011
176 pages (paperback)

"They say I'm wired bad, or wired sad, but there's no doubt about it - I'm wired."
Joey Pigza's got heart, he's got a mom who loves him, and he's got "dud meds," which is what he calls the Ritalin pills that are supposed to even out his wild mood swings. Sometimes Joey makes bad choices. He learns the hard way that he shouldn't stick his finger in the pencil sharpener, or swallow his house key, or run with scissors. Joey ends up bouncing around a lot - and eventually he bounces himself all the way downtown, into the district special-ed program, which could be the end of the line. As Joey knows, if he keeps making bad choices, he could just fall between the cracks for good. But he is determined not to let that happen.
In this antic yet poignant new novel, Jack Gantos has perfect pitch in capturing the humor, the off-the-wall intensity, and the serious challenges that life presents to a kid dealing with hyperactivity and related disorders.
To the constant disappointment of his mother and his teachers, Joey has trouble paying attention or controlling his mood swings when his prescription medications wear off and he starts getting worked up and acting wired.

I recommend this book because it is funny and emotional and a great book. I love how this book is emotional and educational because this book is like what I’m going through as a middle schooler. It’s like reality and I think that’s what’s really cool about Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. This book is perfect the way it is, but I think the book should show more surprises like what someone wouldn’t see coming.
---Reviewed by Jewelry

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it is a really good book to read. It puts new things in constantly and keeps excitement in the book. It could have probably described Joey’s past a bit more so the reader isn’t hanging.
---Reviewed by Micah

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because he is in middle school. It’s funny and exciting and sad. It is good because it shows you how kids with ADHD act and why.
---Reviewed by Carlos

Yes. [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it is funny and he has ADHD and anybody who has it can relate. Everything was good about this book.
---Reviewed by Carlee

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because I think they would enjoy it. Joey was good because he was funny. [This book could be improved by] making Joey seem better because they made him seem like a bad guy.
---Reviewed by Ceigan

I would [recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it teaches you that you “need to play the hand you are dealt with”. I like this book because it is humorous, appropriate for children, and interesting. Another reason I really like this book is that it has a very important theme. In this book the detail could be improved because {deleted comment due to spoilers} it explained too much!
---Reviewed by Gabe

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler]. It teaches a lesson like you have to fight to reach your goals. It was funny when Joey swallowed the key. Also, I liked how funny it was and how lots of people care about him. There could have been less bad things. Also, the family could have been nicer to him.
---Reviewed by Kyra

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because the book is sooooooooooooooooo funny!!!! [This book is good because] his grandma wanted to give him a timeout in the fridge. There is nothing to improve.
---Reviewed by Paul

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because some middle school kids have problems. [I liked] everything because it was like about a boy with problems and there are a lot of people in schools with ADHD problems. [I would change] nothing. The book was amusing.
---Reviewed by Autumn

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler because] it shows what can happen to someone. It was funny and also surprising and it’s nasty. Well only a little bit. Also it’s short.
---Reviewed by Laisha

I would [recommend this book] because it teaches about ADHD and is very funny. What’s good about this book is how Joey learns through his actions and it’s funny how Joey is so hyper. [I would improve] just the part where Joey’s bad decision {deleted comment due to spoilers} [leads to a scene with blood] and I just don’t really like blood.
---Reviewed by Austin

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it is a good book. Joey was good because he has ADHD like some people I know. The length could have been improved because I like long books.
---Reviewed by Colin

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because if you know someone with ADHD you can show them this book. This book was good because it was exciting. You get to know some of the life experiences of a person with ADHD. It could have been improved by sticking with the title because they only had two chapters about him swallowing the key.
---Reviewed by Justice

Yes, [I would recommend this book to a middle schooler] because it’s really funny and I enjoyed it. It was a little boring sometimes, but it’s funny and fun to read and enjoy.
---Reviewed by Cassidy

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Friend Me!: 600 Years of Social Networking in America by Francesca Davis DiPiazza

Friend Me!: 600 Years of Social Networking in America
By Francesca Davis DiPiazza
Published by Lerner Publishing Group, May 1, 2012
112 pages (hardcover)
Source: NetGalley

Anyone who texts recognizes "LOL," "2G2BT," and "PRW" as shorthand for "laughing out loud," "too good to be true," and "parents are watching." But did you know that in the 1800s—when your great-great-great-grandparents were alive—telegraph operators used similar abbreviations in telegrams? For example, "GM," "SFD," and "GA" meant "good morning," "stop for dinner," and "go ahead." At the time, telegrams were a new and superfast way for people to network with others.
Social networking isn't a new idea. People have been connecting in different versions of circles and lists and groups for centuries. The broad range of social media includes wampum belts, printed broadsides (early newspapers), ring shouts (secret slave gatherings with singing and dancing), calling cards, telegrams, and telephones. The invention of the Internet—and e-mail, text messaging, and social utilities such as Facebook and Google+—is just the latest way in which humans network for fun, work, romance, spiritual bonding, and many other reasons.
Friend Me! takes readers through the amazing history of social networking in the United States, from early Native American councils to California's Allen Telescope Array (ATA), where researchers are hoping to interact with extraterrestrial beings. Learn how Americans have been connecting in imaginative ways throughout history, and you'll see social networking in a whole new light.

I was really excited to read this. My husband is getting his PhD in higher education and, essentially, his dissertation is on how well (or IF) Facebook gives social support to college students. Most of what he talks about goes right over my head so I was looking forward to reading this so I would have something to contribute to our conversations. BUT…. then I started reading Friend Me!.

Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with the book. I think I expected to read something fresh, edgy, and reflective of this being about a social medium that has changed how people communicate. Instead it seemed like a poorly formatted textbook that lacked color and interesting details. Also, I feel that teenagers would find this book bogged down with text that is a bit wordy at times.

As a former history teacher I have seen and used a lot of textbooks and much of the information in Friend Me! is what you would find in those textbooks. What I mean is there aren’t cool and interesting details that one would expect to find in a non-textbook history book (ie. How They Croaked). For example, this book made a big deal about the Anne Hutchinson “scandal” that resulted in her being kicked out of the Massachusetts colony. However, this is something that most textbooks talk about so the juicy gossip really isn’t all that new. I would have loved to see some of the secret messages Patriots and/or Loyalists exchanged during the Revolutionary War or even some information about the ways bootleggers communicated during Prohibition.   

Overall, the concept for this book is great. Teens today don’t know a world without cell phones, texting, computers, the Internet, or even Facebook. However, Friend Me! failed, for me in execution. I just don’t think the early version (this is me hoping there were some additions/changes) I read would be appealing to young readers and engage them the way the premise promised.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins, 2010
312 pages (hardcover)

In this ingenious and captivating reimagining of Rudyard Kipling's classic adventure The Jungle Book, Neil Gaiman tells the unforgettable story of Nobody Owens, a living, breathing boy whose home is a graveyard, raised by a guardian who belongs neither to the mortal world nor the realm of the dead. Among the mausoleums and headstones of his home, Bod experiences things most mortals can barely imagine. But real, flesh-and-blood danger waits just outside the cemetery walls: the man who murdered the infant Bod's family will not rest until he finds Nobody Owens and finishes the job he began many years ago.

A #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of many international awards, including the Hugo Award for best novel and the Locus Award, The Graveyard Book is a glorious meditation on love, loss, survival, and sacrifice...and what it means to truly be alive. (from

I read this a few years ago right after it received the Newbery Award as a reward to myself. In a way, it reminded me of the days I spent with my Dad and/or friends wandering around the 100+ year old  cemetery that is WAY back in the woods behind my parents’ house. We would go back there and look at the names of the people who had died, when they died, and how old they were. There are lots of children who live back there eternally as well as quite a few people who died during the Civil War. While it is sad, it is also interesting to think about how these people lived –and died- so long before many people settled the area. These people all had stories to tell, lives to live, and loved ones to embrace. And then they ended up on top of a hill next to a cornfield.

Now The Graveyard Book is (deservingly so) a Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award (RCYRBA) nominee so I wanted to write up my thoughts.

First of all, it is a really fresh concept. I mean, a boy who lives in a graveyard and is taken care of by ghosts? I really think only Neil Gaiman could have come up with that. It’s a strange mix of life & death, love & loss, and hope & despair.

It is rare that I will read more about a book when I finish reading it. A book has to be extremely engaging and memorable for me to do research on my own. But The Graveyard Book inspired me to look up a bit more on the author and how this book came to be. While researching, I found out that this book actually started out as a bunch of short stories. This explains the sometimes disconnected and random twists & turns of the plotline. Throughout the book there were some situations that seemed to start and not be resolved and chapters that had no real connection with the main story of Bod and why he is living in a graveyard. The side-stories weren’t horribly confusing, but I was left puzzled and wondering how everything/everyone was connected at times. Gaiman’s writing, however, is just so that the creepy stories just seem to fit into the air of mystery that he has created for this book.

The Graveyard Book inspired my imagination and kind of made me want to roam around old cemeteries and look into the stories of those who live there. Kind of. It also gave me enough shivers and goose bumps that when visiting historical cemeteries in Boston I kept waiting for ghosts to pop up and tell me things I don’t really want to know.

You don’t have to love scary stories or creepy things to enjoy this book. The creativity and creepy-whimsical feeling of The Graveyard Book will at least make you appreciate this unique twist on old ghost stories.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
Edited by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2010
403 pages (paperback)

Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside) and Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, Geektastic covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers. Whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on! (from

I thought I was kind of nerdy growing up. I got good grades, I didn’t get in trouble, and I read lots of books. After reading Geektastic, though, I realized I am not that nerdy. Or geeky. Or whatever. I had no clue what many of these stories were about. Sure! These were good stories by some really amazing authors, but these stories referenced Star Wars and Star Trek and Dungeons & Dragons. Truth be told, I have never seen Star Wars or Star Trek and the only clue I have about D&D is that it probably somehow involves dungeons and dragons. Really.

My sister and I weren’t allowed to have video games growing up because our parents thought we should be playing sports or playing outside or reading or napping (my family is excellent at napping) or doing just about anything besides playing video games. To this day I can barely play the original Mario Brothers game and I only succeed at the Wii because I wave my arms around really fast.

However, for all that I lack in the understanding of geek culture, I did enjoy this book. Sure, I would have enjoyed it more if I actually understood many of the references, but underneath all the talk about Klingons and Jedi, these were interesting stories. Some stories told of love, others of betrayal, and still others of the interesting characters one meets online. Ultimately, for me, good stories are good stories. It doesn’t matter if the characters like Battlestar Galactica or basketball. What matters is that there is a story worth telling and all the contributors to this book told some wonderful stories. And, of course, an added bonus is that the contributors to this book are AMAZING young adult authors so it’s like a Who’s Who of YA Lit right in your hands.

Geektastic is a great book for anyone and since the stories are short, you can take a quick break every day to escape to the world of Geek-dom. Those who are into “geeky” things will probably enjoy this book even more than those of us who are totally ignorant of true geek culture. In fact, perhaps I will consider watching Star Wars. Maybe.

**An added THANKS to Mrs. Brownfield who bought this book for the UMS Library during Barnes & Noble’s Books by the Bushel!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent  (Divergent Series #2)
By Veronica Roth
Published by HarperCollins, 2012
525 pages (hardcover)

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so. (from

I picked up Divergent at the beginning of this school and absolutely loved it. The concept of factions by character traits was fresh and thoughtful and the story was intriguing. Obviously I anxiously anticipated the release of the 2nd book in the trilogy: Insurgent. I was so excited to read this that I got it and read it on the release date. Yeah, I am that dedicated to amazing books.

Veronica Roth keeps on with the awesomeness in Insurgent. I don’t want to give away too much, but below are thoughts that kept running through my head while reading it:

  • Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.
  • I think I would like the Amity (the peaceful) faction best. There is no fighting, you get to spend a lot of time outside, and there is a really cool tree that you all meet around.
  • Seriously… why don’t Tris & Tobias/Four just tell each other everything/the truth since they apparently love each other so much. If they want to have a good relationship they need to be honest with each other or it won’t work.
  • Huh? That’s weird.
  • This is going to end badly
  • It’s interesting to learn about the other factions. The Amity (the peaceful) seem nice but Candor (the honest) is kind of grumpy.
  • Arg! Everyone keeps switching sides. I don’t know who to trust [since you know I am totally there with all the characters and not just sitting on my couch reading and eating chips].
  • Actually, some of the Candor are simply jerks.
  • Ugh! Why won’t Tris just sit on her butt or take a nap instead of running off and getting herself caught in situations?
  • Someone needs to smack Marcus upside the head.
  • Never-mind.
  • Uriah is adorable!
  • Yep. I would totally pick Amity. They seem the opposite of chaos AND they wear red & yellow. I have some lovely red and yellow shoes that would look great with their outfits.
  • No, Tris. No, no, no, no, NO!
  • Yeah, I totally saw that coming.
  • That’s a weird alliance, but you gotta do whatcha gotta do (especially when you are Divergent).
  • Uh oh.
  • Huh?
  • This is getting kind of weird.
  • No! That can’t happen. This book is making me mad!
  • Wha…… What? I had understood everything that was happening but now I am kind of completely confused. Is this society and where they live what I think it is? Really? And now there are no more pages. Crap. Do I really have to wait for like another year to read the end of this trilogy? That’s not cool. Books in a series should all come out at the same time so I don’t have to wait to find out about these characters I love so much. I mean, everything needs to be fine so Tris & Tobias can marry, have cute babies, and grow old together. I hope Veronica Roth puts that at the end of the next book.
  • Blah. I have to get up in like 5 hours. I’m sooooooo going to have dreams about this book.

So, there you have it. Definitely read Insurgent. It's great. It's memorable (I really did have dreams involving the characters). It's a well-written novel that will take you away to another world where you will love and hate the characters and situations right along side the actual characters. And now the countdown starts until the next book is relseased.......

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: The Top Ten Books I'd Like to See as a Movie

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the Top Ten Books I'd Like To See Made Into A Movie.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
This was one of my favorite books when it came out and it is still a favorite among students. This could definitely be an artistic movie that reflects current feelings/fears about the future and how we should all learn from the past.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels and I think it would make for a really awesome movie.
Amandla Stenberg as Isabel?

The Warrior Cats books by Erin Hunter
This movie would need to be made with real cats (no animation!). Really I just want to see fluffy house-cats in battle armor fighting. Actually, I probably wouldn’t go see the movie, but the movie trailers would be pretty funny.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I would just love to see the set for where the Dauntless live.

The Iron Fey books by Julie Kagawa
I enjoyed the imaginative characters, scenes, and storylines. Of course, two cute actors playing out the love-hate relationship between Puck and Ash would be awesome to watch on the big screen.
I still like Puck best

Looking for Alaska by John Green
You know that last prank? Yeah, I want to see that acted out.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I think Tim Burton would be a great person to direct The Graveyard Book. It could be claymation or animation, but I think the movie could be a delightfully creepy retelling of this awesome book.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
This is just a silly book with eccentric characters so it could definitely be a fun movie. I think I imagine this as being like Sandlot or Now and Then.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
This book captivated me from the start and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it was the wealthy vs. poor story. Or the mystery. Or the self-discovery. Or the history. Or the love. Or the heartbreak. Or the catacombs under Paris. Whatever it was, I think Revolution could be a great movie because it mixes so many elements that appeal to readers (and movie-goers).

Maximum Ride by James Patterson
This is such a popular book (and series) that an on-screen adaptation seems like the logical next step.

Tempest by Julie Cross
Julie Cross is a local author with an awesome book and she was a speaker at this year’s Urbana School District Young Authors Celebration (more on that at a later date!). Julie inspiring to students who love to write and gave the kids some great tips. The movie rights to Tempest have actually been bought and the studio has over a year to decide if they actually will make this book into a movie. I think it would be really cool if a hometown lady got her book made into a popular teen movie.