Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zorgamazoo (Book)

Author: Robert Paul Weston. Release date: 2008. Publisher:  Penguin Group. ISBN: 9781595142955.
Plot summary: Katrina Katrell lives with a distant relative, Mrs. Krabone, who doesn’t understand why the young girl is constantly daydreaming about adventures and mythical creatures. One day when Katrina and Mrs. Krabone are on the subway, Katrina is sure she sees a large, hairy creature wearing a tie and walking around the underground tunnels. Mrs. Krabone is finally fed up, and contacts Doctor LeFang to “cure” Katrina with his horrible Cranial Puncturing Mincer of Mind. Katrina catches wind of the plan, and manages to escape. By chance, she meets up with Morty, a Zorgle, and the very same creature she spotted earlier on the subway. It appears that Morty has been given a quest to find out what happened to the Zorgles of Zorgamazoo, an underground country village where the inhabitants have vanished. Morty is quite timid, but his new friend, Katrina, convinces him to proceed on what she’s sure will be a grand adventure for them both.
Review:  Told entirely in rhyming couplets, Zorgamazoo is a creative and entertaining story for readers of all ages. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Weston’s rhymes is that they never grow stale or seem forced. He does have to employ some made-up words (a nod to Dr. Seuss), but, in general, he manages to rhyme ordinary phrases that ‘tweens will be able to understand. The plot of the novel is also very clever, with nods to influential authors like Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket, but in an original package. Younger readers might be frightened by Mrs. Krabone and Doctor LeFang, who want to lobotomize Katrina. Some of the illustrations in the book, such as those of the Octomabots, a machine that is a cross between a bee and an octopus, and of Doctor LeFang’s Cranial Puncturing Mincer of Mind, might be frightening as well. Other aspects of the plot, however, like Winnie the Windingo who constantly cries, and an ogre who is extremely attached to his glass eye, will lighten the mood. Overall, Zorgamazoo is a fun novel for readers who are interested in something a little bit different. It would also make  a great read-aloud for a classroom or group of children or ‘tweens.
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grades 4-7
Similar titles:  James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket, any title by Dr. Seuss.
Personal thoughts:  I had heard a great deal about this award-winning novel, and wasn’t disappointed in how clever and unique it is amongst recent literature for ‘tweens. Weston’s rhymes were simply amazing. While reading the book I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of the work that must have gone into composing an entire novel, completely in rhyme. For me, the storyline played second fiddle to Weston’s literary craftsmanship. I did enjoy the novel quite a bit, and would definitely recommend it to ‘tweens as well as teachers seeking a fun read-aloud.
Themes: Bravery, adventure, the importance of imagination.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and The Horn Book Magazine. Recipient of 2009 E.B. White Honor Book award, Silver Book Award, nominee for California Young Reader Medal.   
Series Information:  None
Character information:
Katrina Katrell – A young girl who lives with a distant relative, the cruel Mrs. Krabone. Likes to daydream about adventures and fantastical creatures. Meets Morty, a Zorgle, and goes on an adventure with him to learn about the fate of the Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.
Mortimer “Morty” Yorgle – A Zorgle, a hairy creature that lives underground. Timid and unsure of himself, despite the fact that his father was a renowned adventurer in the Zorgle community. Meets Katrina and decides to be brave and determine the fate of the Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.
Mrs. Krabone – Katrina’s distant relative and guardian. Cannot stand Katrina’s constant daydreaming and finally decides to have her lobotomized.
Winifred “Winnie” Windingo Thistle McPaw – A large beast who is constantly crying over the loss of her family from Zorgamazoo. A big fan of the sport, Zorgally Ball.
Bortlebee Yorgle – Morty’s father, a famous Zorgle adventurer.
Annotation: Katrina Katrell happens upon Morty the Zorgle, and together they decide to uncover the fate of the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coraline (Book)

Author: Neil Gaiman. Illustrator: Dave McKean. Release date: 2002. Publisher:  HarperCollins Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780380977789.
Plot summary: Coraline Jones isn’t thrilled when her parents move her into an apartment in an old Victorian house. Her neighbors, two elderly women named Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and an eccentric old man, Mr. Bobo, don’t help her to feel at home either. Coraline’s parents don’t pay her much attention, so she spends most of her time exploring the creepy old house. One day, she discovers a small door in the wall that has been bricked up. Despite warnings from her neighbors that she is in danger, Coraline decides to explore the door further when she is alone. She soon discovers that the bricks are gone, and instead, a passageway is on the other side of the door leading to an apartment that is identical to her own. Living in the other apartment are her Other Mother and Other Father, also identical copies of her own parents but with buttons for eyes. Coraline learns that this Other World is far more interesting than her own, and spends more and more time there, becoming closer with her Other Mother and Other Father. One day, her Other Mother offers to let Coraline live in the Other World forever. Coraline considers the idea, until she learns that in order to stay she will have to have buttons sewn on her eyes. Coraline quickly escapes the Other World, only to discover that her real parents are missing. Has her Other Mother trapped them in the Other World?
Review: This novel, adapted into the hit 3D film of the same title, is a truly creepy but engrossing story that will spook even the bravest of young readers. Almost from the beginning of the story, it’s clear that something unearthly is in store for Coraline. The house she’s moved to is creepy, and when she discovers the Other World, things get even more suspicious. Although the Other World is, at first, delightful, something isn’t quite right. Why do her Other Mother and Other Father have buttons for eyes? Why does the Other Mother seem so urgent to have Coraline agree to live in the Other World forever? After Coraline’s parents are kidnapped and she must rescue them, things get even creepier. Several scenes when the Other World is beginning to unravel into the horrifying place it is are truly eerie, even for adult readers. ‘Tweens will delight in the scariness of Coraline’s predicament, however, particularly since it does turn out well in the end. Gaiman does a truly remarkable job of creating an unusual and entertaining story for all ages to enjoy. Coraline is likely to be a classic for years to come.
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grades 4-8
Similar titles:  Coraline the graphic novel, illustrated by P. Craig Russell.
Personal thoughts:  As a big fan of the movie, I was really interested in reading the book version of Coraline. I was not disappointed! Like the film, the story is just eerie enough to be enjoyable.  I really enjoyed the drawings by Dave Mckean that accompanied the text. They added an element of creepiness to the story, even though I had visions of the film while reading it. I would highly recommend this novel to ‘tweens searching for something fun to read under the covers at night. An instant classic.
Themes: Bravery/overcoming fears, taking family for granted, “the grass is always greener” concept.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Winner of Hugo Award for Best Novella (2003), Nebula Award for Best Novella (2003), Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers (2002).  
Series Information: Film adaptation – Coraline (2009)
Character information:
Coraline Jones – Young girl who moves to a creepy Victorian house with her parents. Soon discovers another world that lies beyond a small door in her apartment.
Other Mother – The creature inhabiting the Other World that Coraline discovers. She is later referred to as a “beldam,” an old word for witch.
Miss Spink and Miss Forcible – Elderly tenants of the Victorian mansion. Former stage actresses.
Mr. Bobo- Eccentric elderly man who lives in the apartment above Coraline and her parents.

Annotation: Coraline Jones lives in humdrum life in an old Victorian mansion apartment with her parents. One day, however, she discovers a passageway leading to another world where everything is better than her own…or is it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stargirl (Book)

Author: Jerry Spinelli. Release date: 2000. Publisher:  Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN: 9780440416777.
File:Jerry Spinelli - Stargirl.jpg
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Leo Borlock is a junior at Mica High School. He leads a normal life, along with the rest of his classmates who try not to stand out. Everything changes when new-girl, Stargirl Caraway, arrives at Mica High. Stargirl does everything but fit in. She wears unusual clothes (her mother is a costume designer), she carries her pet rat, Cinnamon, with her everywhere, and generally dances to the beat of her own drum. At first the rest of the school isn’t sure what to make of the newcomer, but soon the student body is enchanted by her charm, none more-so than Leo. Just as quickly as her popularity rises, however, it begins to fade when Mica High begins to question the things she does. They don’t understand why she insists upon cheering when rival basketball teams score, why she shows up to the funerals of strangers, or any of her formerly charming actions. Leo’s still madly in love with Stargirl, even if the rest of the school starts to shun them both. But how long will his infatuation last as Mica High School becomes more and more distant?
Review: Stargirl is an interesting and unique story about an interesting and unique, free-spirited girl. Spinelli does an excellent job of setting the stage for Stargirl’s “grand entrance” to Mica High School; it’s akin to when Dorothy steps into the Land of Oz for the first time and everything goes from black-and-white to color. The relationship between Leo and Stargirl is an interesting mix of adoration and confusion. Leo doesn’t know what to make of Stargirl’s strange behavior: her ukulele playing, her unusual clothes, her celebration of all the little things her classmates do. Young readers will be able to appreciate how different Stargirl is from their own peers, just as Leo does. Her rise and fall from popularity will also be interesting for ‘tweens who might witness similar situation in their own schools. Overall, Stargirl’s unique and fun-loving qualities make for an entertaining and heartwarming story that will likely stick with readers for some time.
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grades 5-9
Similar titles:  Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (sequel to Stargirl).
Personal thoughts:  I wasn’t sure what to make of this novel initially, but came to find the character of Stargirl to be quite endearing. She is unlike any other character I’ve met in a novel, and I realized that that was likely Spinelli’s intention. I really liked the relationship between Leo and Stargirl, and how he really admired her despite the pressure he felt from his classmates to shun her. I would definitely recommend this novel to ‘tween, teen and adult readers.
Themes: Conformity/nonconformity, high school relationships, acceptance, struggling to fit-in.  
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults.
Series Information: Sequel, Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli.
Character information:
Leo Borlock – Sixteen-year-old student at Mica High School. He is immediately intrigued when Stargirl moves to town, and eventually falls in love with her.
Stargirl Caraway – A free-spirited and unusual sixteen-year-old who turns Mica High School upside down when she moves to town. She is, at first, very popular with her classmates, then quickly becomes and outcast.
Kevin Quinlan – Leo’s best-friend. He’s the only student at Mica High who will still pay attention to Leo after he and Stargirl are shunned by the rest of the school.
Archie Brubaker – A paleontologist who is a friend and mentor to Leo, Stargirl, Kevin and many of the other students at Mica High School.
Hillari Kimble – Mica High School’s “mean girl.” She immediately dislikes Stargirl and makes it a point to get the rest of the school to agree with her.
Annotation: Mica High School is just like any other school until Stargirl moves to town. Stargirl doesn’t act like everyone else: she is free-spirited, perpetually optimistic, and constantly encouraging. Will the students of Mica High force her to conform?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book)

Author: Jeff Kinney. Release date: 2007. Publisher:  Amulet Books. ISBN: 9780810993136.
Plot summary: Greg Heffley is a middle school student who, at his mother’s insistence, is recording his thoughts, experiences and illustrations in a diary. Greg is small and somewhat shy, but has a lot to say about his classmates, teachers, and family in his diary. Greg and his best friend Rowley must deal with typical middle school challenges: a wrestling unit in P.E., weirdo nerd Fregley who wants to be friends, older and younger brothers, parents who won’t let them play video games, and school plays. They also have to survive a horrible contagious disease that has run rampant in their school: the dreaded Cheese Touch. In his diary Greg muses that he will certainly someday be rich and famous, but for now he is stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons. Will he survive his trials and tribulations?
Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a truly laugh-out-loud funny book for ‘tweens that perfectly epitomizes many of the standard “middle school” experiences in an entertaining and unusual format. The combination of Kinney’s text and drawings makes this novel a fast read. What makes it even faster is Kinney’s humor. Greg’s biting commentary on his peers, parents and school will certainly hit home with most readers. His family experiences, like his older brother who is constantly picking on him and his younger brother who is a tattle-tale, are sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming. Greg’s relationship with his friend, Rowley, is endearing. Greg proclaims that he’s not sure he wants Rowley as a best friend anymore, but it’s clear that Rowley means more to Greg than he admits. Many of the situations in the storyline, the school play, Greg allowing Rowley to take the fall for something he didn’t do, will resonate with readers and help them deal with similar experiences in their own lives. The wild popularity of the entire Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is understandable after reading this fun and clever story.
Genre: Fiction/ Humor
Reading level: Grades 5-8
Similar titles:  Rest of Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Personal thoughts:  I found myself laughing-out-loud while reading this novel. I was aware of its extreme popularity with young readers,  and now consider myself a Wimpy Kid fan after reading this first installment. Kinney’s humor is razor-sharp but he also manages to include heartwarming relationships and moral lessons. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.
Themes: Middle school, family relationships, friendship.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.
Series Information: Part of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Character information:
Greg Heffley – The “wimpy kid.” A small, shy middle-school student who writes his experiences in a combination of text and pictures in his “diary.”
Rawley Jefferson – Greg Heffley’s best friend. A chubby and gullible but sweet middle school student. His parents are strict and won’t let him play violent video games.
Rodrick Heffley – Greg’s older brother who likes to pick on him. Plays in a band.
Manny Heffley – Greg’s little brother. He wants to play with Greg, but is a tattle-tale.
Mr. and Mrs. Heffley – Greg’s parents. They don’t always seem to understand what he’s thinking or feeling, but are kind and caring.
Fregley – Greg’s sometimes friend. He is very strange and often makes off-the-wall comments.
Annotation: Experience the trials and tribulations of middle school in Greg Heffley’s diary.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator (Book)

Author: Jennifer Allison. Release date: 2006. Publisher: Puffin. ISBN: 9780142406984.
Plot summary: Gilda Joyce lives a life of glamour and intrigue in Detroit, Michigan. At least she imagines she does. As a self-described “psychic investigator,” Gilda strives to use her natural abilities to solve mysteries of the paranormal, among her many other projects. When her eight-grade year ends, Gilda is worried her summer won’t be as exciting as she’d hoped after her best friend goes away to camp. Determined  to have an adventure, Gilda contacts a distant relative, Mr. Splinter, in San Francisco and invites herself to stay for the summer. After a mis-communication with Mr. Splinter’s ditzy assistant, Gilda is actually asked to come keep Mr. Splinter’s daughter, Juliet, company over the summer. Gilda arrives in San Francisco and soon discovers that the Splinters are living in a house haunted by the ghost of Mr. Splinter’s sister, Melanie, who committed suicide years before. Gilda and Juliet become friends, and are determined to solve the mystery of Melanie’s death. What will Gilda’s psychic investigations uncover?
Review: This fun and clever novel not only delivers an entertaining and sometimes spooky storyline, but also a message that won’t be lost on young readers. Gilda Joyce makes for an interesting and somewhat complex heroine. She is confident, blunt and clever, but there is a layer of sadness over the death of her father two years earlier. Throughout Gilda’s bumbling psychic investigating, it’s clear that she is using the mysteries as a means of working through his death. Juliet, Mr. Splinter’s anti-social, sickly daughter, is also an interesting character for young readers. At the outset of the novel, Juliet is contemplating suicide, and she is obviously wrestling with some inner turmoil of her own. The relationship between Gilda, Juliet and Mr. Splinter is very interesting, and is reminiscent of Mary, Colin and Mr. Craven in Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Gilda’s adventures are merely a vehicle for what is actually a very relevant and touching story about families, communication and friendship.  
Genre: Fiction/ Mystery
Reading level: Grades 5-7
Similar titles: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene.
Personal thoughts:  I was surprised by how engrossing I found this novel. I was immediately aware of the underlying elements of the story, Gilda’s sadness over her father’s death, her strained family situation with her overworked mother and distant brother, and the coldness between Mr. Splinter and Juliet. The family relationships were quite heartbreaking at times. Allison does a wonderful job, however, of lightening the mood with Gilda’s antics. Gilda is a very likable heroine and the mystery she and Juliet solve is actually quite interesting. I found myself feeling “creeped out” at times from the antics of the ghost of Aunt Melanie. Overall, this is a very enjoyable novel both for adults and tweens.
Themes: Death, grief, family, communication, friendship.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Series Information: Part of Jennifer Allison’s Gilda Joyce series.
Character information:
Gilda Joyce – A thirteen-year-old self-proclaimed “psychic detective” from Detroit, Michigan. Her father passed away two years before from cancer, and she lives with her mother and brother. Seeking adventure, she decides to visit her long-long relatives in San Francisco for the summer.
Juliet Splinter – Gilda’s thirteen-year-old cousin and daughter of Lester Splinter from San Francisco, California. Her parents divorced when she was young and she lived with her mother in San Diego until she was ten. She is depressed and contemplates suicide. She believes she is haunted by the ghost of her aunt, Melanie.
Lester Splinter – Gilda’s distant uncle and father of Juliet. He is an accountant in San Francisco and is a very private person, displaying little to no emotion. He is strict with Juliet and does not show her much affection. He’s not very friendly with Gilda when she arrives to San Francisco.
Summer – Lester Splinter’s ditzy assistant. She is responsible for Gilda visiting San Francisco.
Rosa – Lester and Juliet’s housekeeper. She is very friendly with Gilda and shares that she has seen many ghosts in the Splinter mansion.
Annotation: Self-proclaimed “psychic investigator,” thirteen-year-old Gilda Joyce decides to visit her long lost uncle and his daughter in San Francisco. When she arrives, Gilda discovers an intriguing secret: her relative’s mansion is haunted!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath (Book)

Author: Nick Bruel. Release date: 2008. Publisher: Square Fish. ISBN: 9780312581381.

Plot summary:
This illustrated novel tells the story of Bad Kitty and her
bathing experiences. The primary purpose of the story is to instruct the reader on the proper methods of bathing a cat, Bad Kitty being the example “specimen.” Chapters include the various steps of the bathing process, from preparing the bath, locating kitty, getting kitty into the water, and after the bath. Information is also given on feline anatomy and behavior: why cats lick themselves, the science behind a hairball and exactly why cats hate water. Bad Kitty is shown in various stages of the bath process, along with her “friend” Puppy. The conclusion of the novel contains an interview with author Nick Bruel about his life and career.
Review: Bad Kitty Gets a Bath is one of several books in the Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty chapter book series and is a hilarious and fun but educational story about everyone’s favorite naughty feline. Cat-lovers of all ages will enjoy and identify with the dreaded cat bath experience described in the book. Bruel’s illustrations perfectly compliment the text, showing exactly how bad Bad Kitty is. The story’s ironic and clever humor will hold a definite appeal for tweens. Hidden within the book are science facts about feline anatomy and behavior, adding some substance to the otherwise light-hearted tale. The interview with Bruel at the story’s conclusion is also perfect for tween readers who might have an interest in creating a Bad Kitty tale of their own. Overall, this story is a hilarious must-read for tween cat lovers.
Genre: Fiction/ Humor
Reading level: Grades 3-5
Similar titles: Other Bad Kitty stories
Personal thoughts: This is one of the most hilarious books for children I have read in a long time. As a cat owner, I can completely identify with the experience of bathing Bad Kitty. Nick Bruel’s illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny. This chapter book would be fun to read aloud to a classroom or group of tweens.
Themes: None
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Series Information: Part of Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty series of picture and chapter books.
Character information:
Bad Kitty – A naughty but funny cat who is the primary subject of the story.
Puppy – A goofy but lovable “friend” of Bad Kitty.
Annotation: Learn how to accomplish the most dangerous duty of a cat ownership: the dreaded bath!