Review: Astronaut Academy: Re-entry

Cover © First Second

Cover © First Second

It’s been a couple of weeks since I wrote a review. I hope you’ve been busy reading.

Today, someone in Greece visited the blog. That’s crazy, right?

I’ve got a great, great graphic novel for you guys today. And it is in stores today, too!

Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is the sequel to Dave Roman‘s first graphic novel, AA: Zero Gravity. It continues the story of Hakata Soy and the students at a space school. The first book is fun and hilarious, and this one is a perfect follow up.

The action centers on two things: An epic Fireball tournament (kind of like lacrosse, but with fireballs), and a mysterious heart stealing monster. Umm…maybe you have to read it to get it. Trust me, it is so good.

Dave Roman is really a champion of kids comics. He has a whole podcast devoted to kids comics, and does a lot of work to promote, encourage, and support comics reading. If an adult ever tells you that comics don’t count as reading, you can send them this article he wrote. And he Skyped with my class a few weeks ago! He is a great and talented guy.

One thing that I really love about Astronaut Academy is the voice. Do your teachers talk to you about voice in writing? It can be a tricky thing to master–who knew that it would be so hard to write in natural ways that sound like us? I think Astronaut Academy proves Dave Roman is a master of voice. Here’s why: The words all come out sort of manga like. Have you read any mangas? Or have you seen any of those Japanese animation movies that have been translated into English? Often, the words end up fitting together a little…funny, because of the translation. Dave Roman has written in a sort of “translated” style, even though he wrote it in English and it doesn’t need to be translated. It gives the book and interesting, unique feel.

Why do you think he did this? Maybe he really loves manga, and wanted to do a kind of tribute to that style. Or maybe he wanted readers to connect his book with the elements of manga, to put the reader in a certain frame of mind. Whatever his reason, Astronaut Academy is a great example of how voice can impact a story.

Check out Re-Entry, and Zero Gravity, if you haven’t already! You won’t regret it!

Book trailer!


Keep reading!

Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry

By Dave Roman

192 pages

Genre: Science fiction; humor; heart-eating monsters; faux manga

Source: NetGalley

On shelves today!


Review: The Giant and How He Humbugged America

Cover  Scholastic

Cover © Scholastic

Nonfiction craziness alert!

I’ve reviewed a few more informational books lately. Have you noticed? The thing is, there is so much good nonfiction, about all kinds of strange and wondrous topics, that I can’t help but share it with you. I want your eyeballs to find it!

The Giant and How He Humbugged America is by one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Jim Murphy. He has written a ton of great historical accounts, from wars to disasters to microscopic killers. If his name is on the cover, it’s worth checking out!

The Giant is about a mysterious, oversized “petrified man,” dug up on a farm in New York state. Within just a few days, the massive man, called the Cardiff Giant, turned into a money-making sensation. People paid to see it, it went out on tour, and its fame spread throughout the nation.

But was it really a fossilized man, or was it just an elaborate hoax? The story is amazing, and you’ll have to read to find out.

I thought it was funny that this was a nonfiction book, but it was all about lies, or at least a distorted reality. Get it? In a book about real events, it was hard to figure out what was real and what was a deception.

Do you ever read books that have author’s notes in the back? Do you read the author’s note? You should! Many authors include a note to explain their research, or to tell why they chose their topic. Sometimes they’ll share little tidbits that they left out of the book, or give background. Author’s notes are fascinating!

Jim Murphy included an author’s note in The Giant. Using it, he made a connection between the Cardiff Giant and modern day  lies, trickery, and scams. One of the great things about history is that it can help us understand the present. Mr. Murphy does a great job of making that connection, but you’ve got to read the author’s note, or you’ll miss it!

Check out The Giant! It’s full of lies! I’ve got a copy in Room 3!

Keep reading!

The Giant and How He Humbugged America

By Jim Murphy

112 pages

Genre: Nonfiction; history

Source: NetGalley

On shelves now!

Review: Hide and Seek

Cover © Scholastic Books

Cover © Scholastic Books

A sequel for you today. Though, really, there’s no particular need to read the first book, unless you want to (which you should!). Hide and Seek works great as it’s own story.

Kate Messner is one of my favorite authors. I’ve reviewed one of her books before. I’ve loved all of her books. She’s already a superstar author, to me, but I think in ten years she’ll be a superstar to everyone.

Hide and Seek is an action-packed mystery set in Costa Rica. A priceless golden cup is missing. Members of the Silver Jaguar Society, a secret group who defends the world’s treasures, is sent to find the culprit, and the cup. Three kids, Anna, José, and Henry, get to tag along–their relatives are all Silver Jaguars! You can guess what happens. It’s a wild jungle mystery adventure!

Hide and Seek is the sequel to Capture the Flag (Notice the kids’ game title theme?). The first book was about a stolen flag. But not just any flag! This is the Star Spangled Banner–the flag our national anthem was written about!

I love these mysteries because they are both fun and interesting. Capture the Flag is full of historical tidbits. Hide and Seek is full of jungle plants and animals. These true facts are important to a story. Why do you think? Including details and little facts and tidbits can help make the setting more real for the reader. Describing the jungle is fine, but sneaking in encounters with real jungle creatures–that makes you feel like you’re there! Developing setting is very important, and Kate Messner does a great job transporting us to Costa Rica. I wonder what and where she will write about next!

There will be a third book in this series, too. It’s called Manhunt (which is another kids’ game–like tag). It won’t be out for a bit, though.

Keep reading!

Hide and Seek

By Kate Messner

256 pages

Genre: Mystery; jungle!

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter

On shelves now!

Review: The Water Castle

Cover © Walker Childrens

Cover © Walker Childrens

Here’s a great new one for you.

Look at the cover of this book, The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore. It looks…old fashioned. Doesn’t it? Like it could be a cover of a book from 40 years ago. I’ll come back to this idea later.

In The Water Castle, the Appledore-Smith family moves to their old family home in Maine, after the father has a stroke. They are hoping that a change of pace and the help of a doctor family friend can speed the father’s recovery.

For the three Appledore children, moving to Maine is a big change. A new school. A new/old, mysterious castle-like house with hidden passageways, impossible doors, and a strange hum and occasional blue flash.

Sound weird? Well, that’s not all. Everyone in this town is above average. The children are all geniuses. Which makes the at least one of the Appledore kids uncomfortable. Would it make you uncomfortable? Because…why are they all so smart?

The Water Castle is a fascinating and smart mystery. There is a lot to try to figure out, which makes it really fun to read.

Let’s go back to that old-fashioned looking cover. Why would the publisher choose to have a cover in an older-looking style? Well, for me, that was a perfect cover, because the whole book felt like an old classic. How? Even though it is set in the present, things had an older feel. There was this old, old house. There were three families who have lived in this small town for over a hundred years. There was an endless search, for something treasured and sought since the beginning of time. Even the Appledore kids had old-fashioned sounding names: Ephraim, Price, and Brynn. I think Ms. Blakemore really tried to write in a classic tone, and many of her author decisions helped create that feeling. So that’s why the publisher chose a cover style that fits the tone of the story. Do any of the books you read have a certain feel to the words and writing? How did the author do that?

The book reminded me of two of my favorite older books: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (published in 1985–28 years ago), and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (published in 1973–40 years ago).

I loved The Water Castle. I loved the classic feel. I loved trying to figure out the mystery of the house, the town, and the families that all seemed a part of everything. I think you’ll love it, too. Give it a try!

Keep reading!

The Water Castle

By Megan Frazer Blakemore

304 pages

Genre: Mystery; other genres, too, but they are a…mystery!

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter

On shelves now!

Review: Timmy Failure

Cover © Candlewick

Cover © Candlewick

Three reviews per month. Three reviews per month. Three reviews per month.

I’m waiting until the last second here, yes? Maybe I’ll write a few ahead of time during Spring Break.

I’ve had my eye on Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis, for a while. Mr. Pastis writes and draws one of my favorite comic strips, Pearls Before Swine. It is pretty funny, but, disclaimer, not always kid appropriate. When you get older, though! Anyway, I was looking forward to a kids book from Mr. Pastis.

The book came out, and I hadn’t read it. I figured I would get it from the library or something. But then, a student in my class had it! I saw it ans sort of gave a little shriek! And he was so nice, you know, he lent it to me. What a good guy.

Timmy Failure is another book in the “graphic novel hybrid” format. It’s not all cartoons, but not all words. You know, like Wimpy KidDork DiariesPopularity Papers. That sort of book. My favorite book in this format is Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, by Alan Silberberg. You should check it out.

Timmy Failure is the story of Timmy, whose last name actually is “Failure.” He’s got a detective agency, which he thinks is poised for instant fame and success. He also has a pet polar bear named Total. That’s right. Pet polar bear. He just wandered down from the Arctic. Timmy makes Total a partner in his detective agency, which he then named “Total Failure.” Bahahahaha.

Timmy Failure is pretty funny. Timmy is a bumbling idiot, sort of like Greg in Wimpy Kid, but he’s a lot more likable than Greg. I’ve always felt that Greg is lazy, rude, and only cares about himself. Timmy is sort of lazy, definitely cares mostly about himself, but isn’t nearly as rude. That’s a plus for me.

Here’s something interesting about this book. It’s told in the first person point of view, by Timmy. It’s kind of in diary style. Maybe more like a case file. Either way, Timmy is telling the story. And there were times when I was reading it that I was like, “Wait. I know that’s not how it really happened, Timmy.” As the narrator, Timmy is giving his version of the story. As a reader, we have to figure out if he’s telling us what really happened, or just his own crazy version.

This is how point of view can really affect a story. When a story is written in first person, it doesn’t just mean that the character is in the story. It means we’re getting that character’s version of the story. We all know that different people can tell different sides of the same event. It is the same for characters. Timmy’s version of the events in the story might be a lot different from his mom’s, or his friends’.

Pick up Timmy Failure if you like funny stories or the graphic novel hybrid format. It’s no failure!

Book trailer!


Keep reading!

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

By Stephan Pastis

304 pages

Genre: Realistic fiction (except for the polar bear); funny

Source: A student lent it to me!

On shelves now!

Review: Courage Has No Color

Cover © Candlewick Press

Cover © Candlewick Press

I’ve been so busy lately, I feel like I’m hardly reading. But of course I am. And I am still committed to getting out three reviews a month. This is my second of March, so I’m on target so far.

I’ve got some fascinating nonfiction for you today. Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers, by Tanya Lee Stone, is pretty much what the title says.

Courage Has No Color tells an amazing story. Think about Word War II. Hitler’s whole war was based on racist ideals. And the United States was fighting him because they knew he was wrong. But at home, thousands–millions, probably–of African Americans were being denied basic civil rights. The USA was fighting a terrible racist regime while allowing clear racism to exist in it’s own cities.

If you were an African American back then, would you want to fight for your country? A country that doesn’t treat you fairly? In Courage Has No Color, Tanya Lee Stone introduces us to a group of men who love their country, who want to show the credits and capabilities of their race to those who believe that they are inferior. Is there a better way to fight injustice than by proving that the basis for that injustice is false?

Lately, there have been a lot of really great books–fiction and nonfiction–about the struggle for civil rights. On the historical fiction side, The Lions of Little RockCrow, and Glory Be are wonderful, important stories. And I just recently read We’ve Got a Job, about children marching for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Sometimes, I wonder if we forget about some of our history a little bit, way up here in Washington. We are almost as far away as you can get from Alabama or Little Rock, and still be in the United States. Is it important to know these stories? What do you think?

When I read books like these, I am amazed by the courage of the men, women, and children involved. Even if we feel far away from the history of it, we can understand the themes, we can recognize right and wrong, we can learn about standing up and speaking out for what is right.

Tanya Lee Stone tweeted back to me. She’ll answer your questions if you read her book!


Book trailer!

Keep reading!

Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers

By Tanya Lee Stone

160 pages

Genre: Nonfiction; informational; military

Source: NetGalley

This book is on shelves now!

Review: Navigating Early

Cover © Delacorte Books for  Young Readers

Cover © Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Well, if I’m going to keep up my three-reviews-a-month resolution, I better get cracking, because it’s already March already.

I’m one of those lucky people who likes all kinds of books. Every genre, every style. I’ll read anything. Well, except for grown-up books. But that’s something else. Anyway, I like all kinds of books, and there aren’t any books I turn away from based on genre or whatever.

On the blog, a lot of the books I review are really funny, or action packed, or fascinating non-fiction. I really just want to find books that will appeal to you. But I also know that not all guys like the same types of books, so I want to have a wide range of titles here. I want anyone to come to our blog and find a book that looks interesting to him (or her!).

So, today, I have a sort of quiet book. Maybe you could call it a thinking book. Not that it doesn’t have some good action. Not that it doesn’t have some funny parts. It has those. a calmer, quieter way. It is not the action or the humor or the genre that makes books good. It’s the story.

Navigating Early, by Newbery Medal-winning author Clare Vanderpool (she won a few years ago for Moon Over Manifest) is the story of Jack, who suddenly finds himself sent to a boarding school in Maine, and Early, the mysterious boy he meets there. Together, they take on a quest that sends them through the woods and up the river, with danger and surprise at every turn.

See? It’s quiet, but it’s a quest tale, so you know it’s going to have excitement.

There’s one other thing I want to tell you about, because you know if you’ve been reading reviews that I like to point out interesting things authors do in their storytelling. Ms. Vanderpool must not have been content to write just one story, because she has put a little story inside the main story of her book.

Authors do this sometimes, the story-within-a-story. Why do you think? In the case of Navigating Early, the side story is told by Early, and many parts of it predict and parallel their quest. Often, authors use a story-within-the-story to make connections, or to fill in some missing information. In Holes, Louis Sachar used a story-within-a-story to explain the origin of outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow.

Sometimes the two (or more!) stories end up actually intersecting, and sometimes they don’t. But always, there is a reason the author chose to write that way. It’s up to you, as the reader, to figure out why. Read closely, you won’t want to miss it.

Keep reading!

Navigating Early

By Clare Vanderpool

320 pages

Genre: Historical fiction; quests

Source: NetGalley, and an ARC from ALA Midwinter

On shelves now!