Solution Squad Review

solution_squad_coverSolution Squad by Jim McClain, art by Rose McClain, Serena Guerra, Christopher Jones, Joshua Buchanan, Shelby Edmunds, Jessica Lynn, Robby Bevard, and Paul E. Schultz

Solution Squad LLC, 2017. 978-0998942506

Synopsis: Follow the adventures of teen superheroes Equality, La Calculadora, Abscissa, Ordinate, Absolutia, and Radical as they use their math-based powers to solve everyday problems and even some extraordinary ones!

Why I picked it up: I heard McClain speak at a library conference this last summer and was intrigued by the notion of a comic being used to teach mathematics.

Why I finished it: As someone who found mathematics confusing and complicated in school (you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to plug numbers into a formula…), this book made me wish that my own teachers had been able to come up with some of the same creative concepts that McClain has conceived in Solution Squad. Using characters names and powers to reinforce basic principles, the reader is taken on a fun-filled mathematical journey that features some of everyone’s ‘favorite’ problems; for example, the two trains traveling at different speeds where one will eventually catch up to the other. McClain’s teaching expertise really shines in this book and in the lesson plans he has that will help other teachers be able to use his material in their own classrooms. I know I would have been a lot more incentivized by the comic angle when I was learning Algebra! And if you still aren’t that into math at the end of the book, that’s okay too. There’s still a lot of crazy adventures that will keep you guessing and maybe even playing along to solve the problems with our young heroes. It’s a great way to trick your brain into learning something new!

Other related materials: Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide by Altair Peterson, illustrations by Chris Pearce; Everything You Need to Ace Science in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide illustrated by Chris Pearce; The Everything Kids’ Puzzle Book: Mazes, Word Games, Puzzles, and More! Hours of Fun! by Jennifer A. Ericsson and Beth L Blair; The Everything Kids’ Science Experiment Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity – Challenge The World Around You! by Tom Robinson; Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit by Pat Murphy; The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle and Other Surprising Stories About Inventions by Don L. Wulffson; Smithsonian Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by Jack Challoner; Hidden Figures: Young Reader Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly; The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Reader’s Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Meeler, illustrations by Anna Hymas; Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

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Night of the Frankenfrogs Review

creeps_1Night of the Frankenfrogs (The Creeps #1) by Chris Schweizer

Harry N. Abrams, 2015. 978-1419717666

Synopsis: In Pumpkins County, weird things happen every day, but nobody ever makes a fuss. Nobody, that is, except the Creeps: Carol, a big-city girl new to Pumpkins County, who finds kindred spirits in Mitchell (monster expert), Jarvis (military brat with logistics know-how), and Rosario (girly girl on the outside, muscle underneath). The Creeps are on the case to figure out the spooky mysteries and still get to class on time. Last week it was a pudding monster. This week, it’s killer frogs—reanimated from the team’s biology class dissection experiment. Who’s behind the Frankenfrog attacks? The Creeps will track down the answers! from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It’s the time of year for some creepy/scary stories!

Why I finished it: Schweizer has a gift for creating memorable and realistic characters that seem to jump off the pages and his first book in The Creeps series is no exception. Set in a town where the strange, kooky, and spooky go largely unnoticed, four brave sleuths are out to save their town from the odd creatures that would seek to overtake it. It was amusing to me that Carol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario seem to operate with a sense of disbelief that the citizens of Pumpkins County would let such creatures as a Pudding Monster go unchecked. But what our gang lacks in support from their peers they more than make up for in their uncanny ability to connect all of the proverbial dots. The art is bright and fun to compliment the prose, and the use of pseudo day-glo colors makes the book wacky, humorous, and a quick read that will get you in the Halloween spirit!

Other related materials: The Trolls Will Feast (The Creeps #2) by Chris Schweizer; Curse of the Attack-O-Lanterns (The Creeps #3) by Chris Schweizer; The Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer; The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings; Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier; Harry Moon books by Mark Andrew Poe; Honey Moon books by Sofi Benitez; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; A Tale Dark & Grimm by Andrew Gidwitz; In A Glass Grimmly by Andrew Gidwitz; The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

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Feature Presentation: Trolls

Trolls_(film)_logoTrolls starring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, and Quvenzhane Wallis

DreamWorks Animation/Hurwitz Creative, 2016. Rated PG

Synopsis: When the ghoulish Bergens invade the Troll Village to steal its citizens for their annual Trollstice Feast, Princess Poppy recruits fellow villager/hermit/doomsday prepper Branch to journey to Bergen Town to rescue her friends.

I honestly don’t know what I was expecting from this movie, but it was definitely girlier than I anticipated. Maybe it was something about the metallic trolls farting glitter or the hugging/singing/dancing nature of the trolls themselves. Sadly, even Branch’s depressed mood and color scheme didn’t do much in the way of making it less girly. Nonetheless, the film’s upbeat energy and the character’s happy-go-lucky attitude is truly infectious even in the most dire of circumstances. Poppy’s self-confidence and positivity sharply contrasts with Branch’s curmudgeonly demeanor, even when he agrees to help Poppy save her friends from certain doom. The Bergens themselves are just as depressed: their only true joy comes from the consumption of Trolls once a year and, as King Gristle Sr. tells his son, there is no other way to be happy. In their own ways, both the Trolls and the Bergens are searching for happiness, but it seems that only one truly knows how to achieve it. While there are part of the movie that seem trite and overly optimistic, the message of perseverance is one that resonates with viewers of all ages and encourages us to see the bright side of life.

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Donner Dinner Party Review

NHHT_3Donner Dinner Party (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #3) by Nathan Hale

Amulet Books, 2013. 978-1419708565

Synopsis: The Donner Party expedition is one of the most notorious stories in all of American history. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of the westward expansion of the United States, and the families and individuals who sacrificed so much to build new lives in a largely unknown landscape. From the preparation for the journey to each disastrous leg of the trip, this book shows the specific bad decisions that led to the party’s predicament in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The graphic novel focuses on the struggles of the Reed family to tell the true story of the catastrophic journey. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’d been seeing this series on the shelves for a while, but I splurged on my own copy while I was at the comic shop.

Why I finished it: Westward Expansion was an exciting time in American history in which the country grew into what we now know as the contiguous United States. Stories of pioneers daring to leave the comfort of the East Coast and the Midwestern towns to journey into the unknown were always fascinating to me, especially considering how spoiled we are in the 21st century: we don’t have to boil water before we drink it, we don’t have to use a chamber pot to go to the bathroom, laundry can be done in a washing machine, we can go to a grocery store or a clothing store to buy food and things to wear, and advancements in modern medicine have made it possible to treat cuts and scrapes without the risk of losing a limb. The story of the Donner Party is arguably one of the more famous stories of a family moving West because of the tragedy and gore that surrounds it. As a student, I was grossed out by even the bare bones of details my teacher would give the class about the hardships that the Donner Party had to endure when they found themselves stranded in the mountains during the harsh winter months. Hale has done a fantastic job of expanding on the story we were given in history class, but keeps it tame enough for younger readers (because it’s so much MORE intense than our teachers ever gave it credit). He’s kept in a good chunk of the gorey bits – the story wouldn’t be much without it – but he also gives a voice to each of the members of the party so that we become more invested in their story of survivalism. Hale has also invested a great deal of detail in his art, carefully creating for us a snapshot of a wagon train and the daily life of the party as they came West. While it’s not the most definitive book on the Donner Party, it’s a fantastic read that is sure to become a great springboard into more research about the brave men and women who helped settle the American West.

Other related materials: Patty Reed’s Doll: The Story of the Donner Party by Rachel K Laurgaard, illustrations by Elizabeth Sykes Michaels; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale; Big Bad Ironclad! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #2) by Nathan Hale; Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood: A World War I Tale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #4) by Nathan Hale; The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale About Harriet Tubman (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5) by Nathan Hale; Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #6) by Nathan Hale; Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #7) by Nathan Hale; One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale; Guys Read: True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

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Feature Presentation: Sing

Sing_(2016_film)_posterSing starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, and Nick Offerman

Illumination Entertainment, 2016. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Buster Moon’s greatest ambition has been to run a theater ever since he was a young Koala. So when the Moon Theater’s ledger goes deeply in the red, Buster decides to host a singing competition in an effort to save the institution he loves. Little does he realize that the contestants will not only change his life, but their own lives a well.

While the film centers around humanoid animals in a fictional city, the characters each touch on the different ways that one can go about pursuing their dreams. Ash, a porcupine, was just dumped by her boyfriend because he didn’t like that she wanted to sing lead and write her own songs. Meena is a shy elephant with a beautiful voice and a severe case of stage fright. Rosita is a stay-at-home pig mom who yerns to do something beyond taking care of her 25 offspring. Johnny isa gorilla with a natural born talent for singing that is being talked into helping out with the shady doings of his father’s gang. Mouse Mike is a street musician with a big ego in search of some recognition for his hard honed talents. Their ability to keep going in spite of the many setbacks the group endures while prepping for the big performance shows the audience that our ability to dream big dreams and fulfill them is only limited by our own discouragement. We find ourselves cheering for each of these contestants, hoping that they are able to break out of their shells and show the city and the rest of the world what they are made of. The film is largely formulaic in terms of its plotline, but the soundtrack and the eclectic nature of the cast make it worth the hour and forty-five minute runtime. Like with most family films, there is a broad range to the humor that will appeal to viewers of all ages. Younger viewers will be espeically amused by Buster using his own body as a sponge to wash cars in one particular sequence while older viewers will connect with Donnie’s fear of his grandmother Nana, a famous opera singer back in the Moon Theater’s heyday. Overall, a cute and inspiring film about following your dreams and unleashing your inner animal.

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Swing It, Sunny Review

swing_it_sunnySwing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm, colors by Lark Pien

Graphix, 2017. 978-0545741729

Synopsis: Summer’s over and it’s time for Sunny Lewin to enter the strange and unfriendly hallways of . . . middle school. When her Gramps calls her from Florida to ask how she’s doing, she always tells him she’s fine. But the truth? Sunny is NOT having the best time.from Amzon.com

Why I picked it up: I absolutely loved Sunny Side Up!

Why I finished it: Sunny is still struggling to adjust to her life without her older brother Dale, who is attending a boarding school for troubled youths. He is home for holidays, but things just aren’t the same. He’s angry and dismissive of Sunny, who just wants to be able to talk with her brother the way she used to. We haven’t all been in Sunny’s shoes, but we certainly know how painful it is to adjust when a family member moves out or when people we love change in ways that don’t seem like they are for the better. I found the advice that Gramps gives Sunny about just loving her brother and being able to give him space to figure things out to be particularly poignant. We can’t predict or control the changes that happen in our lives, but we can find healthy ways to move through the changes so that we are also learning and growing into the best people we can be. Pien’s colors really bring Sunny’s world to life, giving us a sort of flash back to what it was like to grow up in the late 70s. I liked the use of the spotlight to display a sort of reflectiveness in Sunny as she first is missing her older brother and then as the book goes on, how Sunny is striving to find ways to love her brother in spite of his anger at the family. The Holm siblings give the reader a sense that we can overcome life’s challenges and be able to run faster and fly farther than we could before. It gives us a positive message that even though bad things happen, we don’t have to let the break us.

Other related materials: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, colors by Lark Pien; Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm; Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin; illustrated by Raina Telgemeier; Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson; All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson; Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; Phoebe and Her Unicorn series by Dana Simpson; Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson; Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce

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A Clatter of Jars Review

a_clatter_of_jarsA Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff

Philomel Books, 2016. 978-0399174995

Synopsis: It’s summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don’t know is that they’ve been gathered for a reason—one that the camp’s director wants to keep hidden at all costs. Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper’s head and placed into another. And no one knows why. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I loved A Tangle of Knots.

Why I finished it: In this companion to A Tangle of Knots, Graff introduces us to a new set of Talented kids who find themselves in the midst of a mystery while attending summer camp. As a refresher, those with Talents can do something special like tie perfect knots or talk to animals or mix a beverage perfect for making you feel better or matching orphaned children with new parents. Those without a Talent are Fair, meaning they have no special powers. Lily, Chuck, Renny, and their siblings are hoping to have a summer camp experience that will help them find something about themselves beyond their Talents. As the story unfolds, we see each of the characters discover something unique about themselves that sets them apart from the rest of the campers and allows them to find and solve the mystery of the jars of Talents in the lake. What I love about this book is just how imaginative it is. It gives the reader a chance to think about what their own Talents are (both magical and nonmagical) and about how we express love for our families and friends. We learn that forgiveness is not always an easy thing to do, but we also see that reconciliation can help to mend broken hearts and minds. I also liked that this book included recipes for some delicious sounding summer time beverages that can be made year round (depending on the availability of the ingredients). It’s a fantastical read that gives a positive message about the power of love.

Other related materials: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff; Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff; The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff; Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff; The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff; Bliss by Kathryn Littlewoood; A Dash of Magic: A Bliss Novel by Kathryn Littlewood; The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd; A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd; Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl; The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders; Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice; Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Hold Fast by Blue Balliett; Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle; Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis; Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass; The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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