Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ferals by John Grey

Caw is a young boy who was abandoned by his parents who he assumes are dead. He has been taken in by three crows, the aptly named Glum, young upstart Screech and old, stoic Milky, a white crow who is blind. Caw can communicate with the crows in a language only they understand and their relation is mutually beneficial in that they help him keep out of trouble and he helps them scavenge dumpsters and other places for food.
Caw is content to continue with this peripatetic existence until one night he witnesses a jailbreak by three sinister individuals. This leads him into contact with a headstrong girl called Lydia whose father is the prison warden.  It soon becomes apparent however that the three escapees are not regular people- they have the power to control animals. Caw and Lydia begin to seek help to find out more information about the trio and this leads them to a sympathetic librarian, another street dweller among others.

As they learn more about the sinister trio they discover that there is a fiendish plot underway and that those events are connected to the disappearance of Caw's parents. They also learn that Caw himself has some supernatural powers when it comes to animals but he will have to learn how to control it. More importantly Caw has lived most of his life on the fringes of human society so he will have to learn to collaborate with humans.

There are some truly touching moments in this book where matters of class and belonging are explored. My heart went out to poor Caw when he visited Lydia and displayed absolutely no social grace. The librarian proved to be a very helpful character and showed that librarians in modern society are very different from the shushing, reserved characters that come to mind when one thinks of librarian. Caw's interactions with the crows was entertaining as well. Screech is aptly named and has some very funny lines.

Although the end was a bit strange I had to remind myself that this was after all a fiction novel. Caw is only thirteen years but yet survives on the street without anyone realizing. This brought to mind the increasing problem of homelessness in America's suburbs. Grey did a fantastic job of portraying a dark, foreboding city but the book is not too menacing for young readers. I recommend this book for ages 10+.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stealing the Game by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

Stealing the Game is co written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld a duo that has collaborated on a few other books for young readers. This book however is their first novel aimed at middle grades and uses the sports theme as a way to get readers to explore other themes such has belonging, family issues, friendship and identity. This book features a wide array of nuanced characters which I found very appealing.

The kid is shy but well-adjusted teen who is going through typical early teen adjustments. He plays basketball and is a decent player but more than that he is a good kid. He struggles with communication and knowing when to speak up but over the course of the book he gradually emerges from his shell. Jax, his older brother has long been the star of the family, good at sports and academically and was well on his way at a prestigious law school.  He is a good student but he keeps secret from his folks the fact that he likes to read and write comics.

His parents are serious law professionals and as parents they are very much of the helicopter variety and this makes him chafe at the level of control they want to exert. They schedule tutor time for him, bring brochures for schools and worst of all want him to quit his school team.  Things are okay at school but a series of robberies begin to occur in the neighborhood. This coincides with his older brother's reappearance at home and he is acting very strangely to say the least. Kid begins to suspect the worst when his brother shows him bruises that he received at the hands of a local tough. Then out of the blue Jax proposes a hair-brained scheme to get money for a debt. He must make some tough decisions.

I liked the fact that he ventured out of his comfort zone and out of his neighborhood and in the process gained a different view of a  classmate's life. Although towards the end things seemed to wrap up just a bit too smoothly leaving zero loose ends the conclusion was satisfactory enough for me.

This is one of those books where basketball is part of the narrative but if you are looking for a book where the kid hits the winning shot and then lives happily ever after then you may be disappointed. I recommend it for readers aged 12+.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Button Hill by Michael Bradford

Canadian author Michael Bradford's Button Hill is every bit as eerie as its cover suggests and to be honest I only picked it up because of its skull cover. The book is also in paperback as opposed to the hardcover form so many of these books come in.

The first few pages are reminiscent of Grimm's Fairy Tales and those old stories with a mean old aunt (in this case Aunt Primrose whose house Dekker his mother and sister Riley move to) or stepmother but gradually the plot begins to unfold after Dekker' curiosity gets the better of him and he touches an old grandfather clock thus setting in motion a catastrophic series of events.

His aunt proves to know much more than she lets on however and it is she who comes to his rescue after an ill-fated escapade where he meets the malicious Cobb, a boy who makes a dangerous wager with Dekker.  When Alice went down the rabbit hole and arrived at Wonderland she found some strange things, and this book is no different. Dekker's dog Ranger for example can not only talk but he has some other secrets as well.Later in the book Dekker's heart is taken out of his body and he has to resort to using a certain garden veggie as its replacement when he returns to the real world.

I could detect elements of  mythology, urban legends and classic horror flicks in the narrative and for this reason I think readers from tweens to adults will enjoy it. This book is well-written and well-paced and I recommend it for readers aged 12+.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Vacation bible school crafts

   The kids are out of school and for many the summer months are a good time to learn a little more about the Christian faith. Songs, games and other group activities are always a large part of this. Crafts are cool and the good thing about them is that they can be modified or adjusted according to the skill level of the kids.

For this door hanger, used cds are perfect. Add some decorations, color and a verse of scripture of your choice and voila!

Some scriptures are so powerful that reading them every day can provide a level of comfort. Little ones can make their own praying hands complete with scripture. I think for this one you can have the kids trace their hands or if not then they can use a template.

Also since most of the kids will probably have on flip-flops or sandals anyway you might as well do a foot scripture.  I am thinking that you can get the kids to trace their foot on a piece of construction paper or some other sturdy material, cut it out and then decorate it. For extra longevity you can laminate it as well.

A VBS camp craft list would not be complete without a cross of some sort and I found two that I like. This one is made out of construction paper and regular paper. You can print the verses on the colored paper or have the kids write  those out before pasting them on the cross.

This second cross is really simple as well and you can use pallets of different sizes for this. The kids can color them with markers (paint is really messy) and then paste colored beads, buttons or some other embellishment on it. They come out really nice.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

I had seen this author in various places, most notably here but for some reason I had not heard of the book but when I saw it come in on the new book crate at my library I told myself that this was a must read and I wasn't disappointed.The story uses creatures from the folklore of Trinidad but the inspiration for the story came from a Haitian tale that Baptiste read.

Set on a fictional island in the Caribbean we meet Corinne, a girl who lives with her loving father, an orange farmer. Her mother, sadly passed away. Corinne and her father do not have much material possessions but what they lack in wealth they more than make up for in affection.

A sensuous woman comes to the village one day and off all the men she chooses Corine's dad as the one she would like to woo. Corinne, and her friends in particular have their suspicions but as children they must know their place. Then things start to get really weird...

 The word "jumbie" is also used as a noun in Trinidadian parlance as to "jumbie" someone means to put them off their stride or to break Baptiste's use of all of the main folkloric creatures under one umbrella term "jumbies" and in the process made me (a native Trinidadian) think about how these things have been used in the past.

This is a well-paced read with endearing nuanced characters. The witch for example is seen as bad by some villagers but she is a pivotal character in the story. Although there are some mildly scary parts i would still recommend this book for readers aged 10+.  I can see this book being used in social studies lessons about other cultures, in Caribbean studies classes as an introduction to the folklore and in a variety of other ways. Excellent book!

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens by Henry Clark

A gypsy girl with a weird dad, a Chinese-American kid with a strange fixation with codes and a kid with a dad who dresses weird. These are the three main protagonists in Henry Clark's excellent novel The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens.

Ambrose' best friend is Tom Xui, an intelligent if slightly overworked kid thanks to his Puma Ma (Tigers aren't native to the US). Together they revel in their zaniness and intelligence. On a fateful trip after hours they meet Frankie, a girl who works in her family's traveling carnival. She has a secret, she knows where a time travel device is but they will have to go to the school's band room because the device is also a musical instrument. They wind up in the nineteenth century and are immediately set upon by slave catchers.

As with any book that involves time travel, some of the loops and goings on are slightly hard to fathom (on their first trip back in time Ambrose gets a call reminding him to save someone) but the historical references are fascinating and show that Clark did his homework. There is a code that the boys use in order to decipher what to do and Clark helpfully included the code so readers can see what it looks like. This I thought was a cool way to introduce Morse Code, something most kids will probably have no clue about.

I myself have often wondered about what life was like in the 70s-I adore the music, the fashion and the vibe of that era-and am slightly jealous of my parents for having lived through it. This book allows the young protagonists to ponder what life would be like and what if anything they can do to influence their destiny. I recommend this book for kids aged 9+. It is a great little read.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Superhero kids songs

I posted last week about books that could accompany this summer's superhero reading theme. So today I wanted to select some songs that could be used for programs or story times that went along with that theme.

This song is a good one for story time because it has lots of actions that change in each (short) verse. The video has Ms Shukla singing the lyrics and some exuberant kids doing the actions she describes. The song also emphasizes the message of friendship so I like that especially. I would definitely use this one in a story time or program.

This song is not the fastest, the lyrics aren't particularly giggle-inducing and the graphics are very low tech BUT the words are displayed and can be used for karaoke style sing alongs. Words on a screen solve a problem of having to have kids learn words, printing words on story sheets (that half the parents won't read anyway). So for this reason I will include it on this list.

This song can be used in school and in other programs because it incorporates numbers. It is catchy enough and the graphics are attractive enough that they won't turn off younger ones.

I found Pancake Manor when I was searching for some songs for my own children and I like their style (it's vaguely reminiscent of the Imagination Moviers or the Aquabats). The video features quirly puppets and cute kids in diy costumes

Here are some cool superhero theme songs from yesteryear. Spiderman, Batman are absolute classics (and make cool ringtones also) and although I am not sure if they are superheros per se the Ghostbusters theme is a classic and very catchy also.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Every Hero Does Indeed Have A Story- Unmask it!

    Superheroes and their many and varied stories are the focus of this year's Summer of Reading program. I decided to read as widely as I could to find some books that librarians, parents and caregivers could use in displays, school visits etc. to promote the various SOR events and to drum up interest in the theme. This year's theme is especially catchy and sooo many books tie into it which makes it even more exciting!  I can just see kids coming to the various SOR events dressed as their favorite superheroes.

Kapow by George O' Connor features some friends dressed in their superhero garb. In their minds however they are fearless defenders of the city. The kid dressed as American Eagle's mom has already warned the kids about hitting, a fact that his younger brother (dressed as the Rubber Bandit) reminds him. The kids keep playing and then an accident occurs. What to do?  Taking responsibility for one's actions is a great lesson to learn and is what a true superhero would do.

Superfab Saves the Day by Jean Leroy is about a rabbit who is super fabulous- his walk-in closet is a marvel. This rabbit is not just a snazzy dresser however- he is also a superhero. Superfab's keen fashion sense begins to hinder his career until he is no longer called. Then one day Superfab is the only one who can save the day.  This book is

The Day I lost my Superpowers by Michaël Escoffier is a cute tale told from a child's first person perspective. He describes all the fabulous things he is capable of (flying off his bed, making food disappear etc until one day he loses his powers and has to count on the help of another family member who has powers of her own. This is a cute little read aloud.

Girls can do anything boys can and that includes doning a cape and saving the day. In Super Red Riding Hood by Claudia Dávila a little girl ventures into a forest to pick raspberries for a snack but runs into a hungry wolf. She uses her super skills to evade the famished creature but then uses perhaps her best power of all-kindness to save the day.

Not all heroes are born great. In fact some heroes don't save planets or worlds but do small things to help themselves or their family. In Superhero Joe by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, we meet a boy called Joe. He doesn't seem very heroic. In fact, he used to be scared of many things. One day he got a cape and a special shield and from that moment life changed for him drastically.

For readers who are a little older, here are some good reads that they can sink their teeth into. The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader is not one of those books where the kid turns into a superhero or where the superhero saves the kid. The hero in this book is a regular kid who helps his overowrked mom out with caring for his special needs younger brother. He does well in school and generally stays out of trouble. Beanboy must make some hard choices when he has an opportunity to help someone out who needs help but is not too keen on accepting help.

Another book that I found to be good reading was Ordinaryboy by William Boniface. Ordinaryboy ("OB" to his parents) is the only normal person in Superopolis. He pals around with his friends, each of whom have a quirky super power and they call themselves the Junior Leaguers.  The illustrations throughout are actual pages from the Li'l Hero's Handbook. They all adore Amazing Indestructo and buy anything with his likeness on it. When some trading cards come out the group finds that there is a sinister plot at hand and it is up to the Junior Leaguers to stop a dastardly villain. This book operated on various levels and adults would finish it and reflect on some of the themes discussed. Young readers would identify with OB as although he is a normal kid, he is able to hold his own.

This last book for younger readers is about another ordinary kid. He is made more ordinary by the fact that his older brother is the local football star. Tragedy strikes however and Newton "Newt" Newman  finds himself saving the day as Captain Nobody. It's a bit cliche to say it but this book has a lot of heart and for this reason it is perhaps my favorite of the bunch.  Yes the events are a bit fantastical but I this kid is one of the most unselfish characters I have seen in any of the superhero novels. Good for him.

 I was fooled. I thought that this next book was about a kid superhero called Stainlezz Steel who went about his hood defeating bad guys. the first few pages showed him bragging about defeating heavyweights super-villains.  I thought yes here is someone the kids can root for and he is a superhero of color also!

It turned out not to be entirely true. Yes our hero is a person of color but he is not exactly a titan. Kenny Wright is a public school kid, and one who lives in a tough part of Washington D.C.  He is street smart but not a hoodrat thanks in part to the unwavering guidance of his grandmother whom he calls G-Ma. There are bullies, school issues and other matters to deal with and sometimes he finds himself in strange situations where he has to think really hard about making good choices. I like how the authors chose to keep the focus of the book on high academic expectations throughout. Kenny Wright is indeed a public school superhero.

Coming-of-age stories abound and  Battling Boy by Paul Pope follows a well trodden theme i.e. the alien coming to Earth to save the day. Where the story differs in Battling Boy is that the young protagonist (barely into his teens) is prone to rash decisions. His sojourn on Earth is a mere test of his ability to follow in the footsteps of his father, himself a mighty warrior. This very strong kid armed with a closet full of power t-shirts arrives in Acropolis at a pivotal moment in the city's fight with a scourge of monsters. Acropolis' hero, Haggard West has just been killed and the monsters are making plans for total domination. Battling Boy is going to have to grow up really fast in the face of all these challenges.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks introduces us to a young woman who is a great superhero capable of beating bands of ninjas and bashing giant monsters. Her love life is so-so and she sometimes has trouble making her half of the rent. Hicks' character is someone to root for. (And you'd better, or else she'll pound ya)

Thus ends my round up. What books do you recommend? Feel free to leave a comment. Cheers!