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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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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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The Survival Guide to Bullying Review

survival_guide_to_bullyingThe Survival Guide to Bullying: Written by a Teen by Aija Mayrock

Scholastic, 2015. 978-0545860536

Synopsis: The Survival Guide to Bullying covers everything from cyber bullying to how to deal with fear and how to create the life you dream of having. From inspiring “roems” (rap poems), survival tips, personal stories, and quick quizzes, this book will light the way to a brighter future.from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: Because I remembered being bullied in school and not feeling like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

Why I finished it: Being a kid is hard. It’s even harder when there are people in your social circle at school or work that seem to be mean to you and maybe a few others for no reason at all. It could be that we don’t fit into the ‘pretty, skinny, perfect’ mold. It could be that we don’t like the same movies or books as other people. It could be that we like a different food than everyone else. It’s never easy to pinpoint why you or someone else is being picked on; mostly, there’s an overwhelming feeling of being defective or faulty, being made to believe that there’s something wrong with you, being made to believe that you’re a bad person. Mayrock addresses many of these thoughts and feelings as she walks the reader through her own middle school and high school experiences with bullying, both in person and online. It’s refreshing for me to see/read about someone who has experienced the same nonsensical emotional beating and the different techniques they used to be able to fight their way out of the hole. While the writing can be cliched at times and knowing that all of the methods won’t work for everyone in every situation, it’s a great resource for getting young people to be able to recognize the problem and getting the help they need to stop the bullying and bring a boost back to their self-esteem. It can be hard to recognize that you need help; it’s easy to convince yourself that if you don’t confront the issue it will resolve itself; it’s easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of feeling alternatively worthy and worthless. There is a helpful list of websites and hotlines at the back of the book that can aid the reader in taking the first step toward breaking the cycle for themselves or for someone else. It’s an inspiring little volume that can be read as a whole or just as individual relevant chapters.

Other related materials: Be Confident in Who You Are (Middle School Confidential, Book 1) by Annie Fox, M.Ed.; Real Friends vs. the Other Kind (Middle School Confidential, Book 2) by Annie Fox, M.Ed.; What’s Up With My Family? (Middle School Confidential, Book 3) by Annie Fox. M., Ed.; Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig; My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig; Stick Up For Yourself!: Every Kid’s Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-Esteem by Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D, Lev Raphael, Ph.D, and Pamela Espeland; Speak Up and Get Along!: Learn the Mighty Might, Thought Chop, and More Tools to Make Friends, Stop Teasing, and Feel Good About Yourself by Scott Cooper; Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written By Teen Victims, Bullies, & Bystanders edited by Stephanie H. Meyer, John Meyer, Emily Sperber, and Heather Alexander; Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones; We Want You to Know by Deborah Ellis; The Weird! Series by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Paula Heaphy; The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School – Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More by Haley Kilpatrick with Whitney Joiner

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The Princess Curse Review

the_princess_curseThe Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. 978-0062008152

Synopsis: In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Sylvania, the prince offers a fabulous reward to anyone who cures the curse that forces the princesses to spend each night dancing to the point of exhaustion. Everyone who tries disappears or falls into an enchanted sleep. Thirteen-year-old Reveka, a smart, courageous herbalist’s apprentice, decides to attempt to break the curse despite the danger. Unravelling the mystery behind the curse leads Reveka to the Underworld, and to save the princesses, Reveka will have to risk her soul. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: The title caught my attention while I was browsing for books in the library.

Why I finished it: Those of us who know anything about fairy tales know that they usually involve a curse of some sort that a brave hero or heroine must break before the all-important happily ever after ending. What piqued my curiosity about this particular book was the nature of the curse. Did the author choose to retell a fairy tale? Did Haskell take an existing plotline and add a few new twists and turns of her own? What is the curse and is it something I’ve read about before? The answer to all of these ended up being that yes, this is a retelling of a fairy tale with some new twists – including a variation on the traditional curse. It’s a clever mash-up between Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast that takes an almost mythological turn as Reveka reveals the true consequences of breaking the curse. Reveka has been labeled a liar and a troublemaker by the nuns who raised her, but it’s clear to the reader that though her actions at the outset seem somewhat devious and selfish (the reward is enough for her to pay the admission dowry to a nunnery where Reveka wishes to start her own herbary), she begins to see the selflessness that comes from freeing the princesses from their obligations to dance. It’s a fantastical read that fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Megan Morrison will devour.

Other related materials: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell; Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell; Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison; Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison; Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale; illustrated by Nathan Hale; Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale; The Chronicles of Claudette by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado; Princeless series by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrations by Ana Juan

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Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs Review

big_nate_revenge_of-the_cream_puffsBig Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs by Lincoln Peirce

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 978-1449462284

Synopsis: Here come the Cream Puffs!  Nate and his baseball team, saddled with the most embarrassing moniker in Little League history, want to show the world they’re not just a bunch of cupcakes. But it won’t be easy. Their opponents mock them. The local sports section misprints Nate’s name—THREE TIMES. And now, on the day of the big game, illness and injuries have the team facing a crushing defeat . . . unless the unlikeliest Cream Puff of all can come in from the bullpen and save the day.from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’m loving this comic so so much!

Why I finished it: Nate is still the man when it comes to everything – or so he would like to think. He’ll take on most any challenger in order to prove he’s the top dog. Except maybe Kim and her new cuddle bunny Chester. That’s just too much physical damage to even think about. Whether it’s kicking Gina’s butt at chess or trying to earn participation points by getting coffee for Mrs. Godfrey, Nate never fails to express his trademark charisma and charm that will keep readers endlessly entertained. We continue to identify with Nate’s struggles to get through middle school: dealing with over-exuberant teachers, trying to stay away from the bullies, trying to win the girl of your dreams back, pondering why he didn’t make the list of school hotties…. Peirce’s art is still just as lighthearted as his stories, using bright colors and thick lines to entice the reader into the book’s pages. It’s a perfect end-of-the-summer read as we start to head back to school.

Other related materials: Big Nate: What’s A Little Noogie Between Friends? By Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: I Can’t Take It! by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate’s Greatest Hits by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: Welcome to My World by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: Say Goodbye to Dork City by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: The Crowd Goes Wild! by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate and Friends by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: Game On! by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate Makes the Grade by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate Out Loud by Lincoln Peirce; Big Nate: Thunka, Thunka, Thunka by Lincoln Peirce; My Weirdest School books by Dan Gutman, illustrated by Jim Paillot; Timmy Failure books by Stephan Pastis; Middle School books by James Patterson and Chris Tebbits, illustrated by Laura Park; Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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Max the Flying Sausage Dog: The Seaside Tail Colouring Book Review

max_the_flying_sausage_dog_seaside_tailMax the Flying Sausage Dog: The Seaside Tail Colouring Book by John O’Driscoll and Richard Kelley; illustrated by Arthur Robins

Words in the Works LLC, 2017. 978-0997228458

Synopsis: When Tom’s cousin Katie comes to visit, the family takes a trip to the seaside to enjoy the waves. But what happens when a wave sweeps Katie out to sea? Will Tom use Max’s special power to help save his cousin?

Why I picked it up: It’s the perfect end of summer read! Plus, it’s also a coloring book!

Why I finished it: If you have read some of my other posts, you will know how much I have been enjoying Tom and Max’s adventures. And now, with this coloring book, the reader can take a role in the story by playing illustrator! I loved being able put down my own version of Robins’ wonderful illustrations and putting a different spin on this story that was all my own. The story itself is not as long as the other three Max books, but there’s lots of blank pages that invite the reader to fill it up with their own drawings and doodles. Plus, there are pages from the previous stories for the reader to color as well! This may be a quick read, but it will provide hours of entertainment.

Other related materials: Max the Flying Sausage Dog: A Tail from London by John O’Driscoll and Richard Kelley, illustrated by Arthur Robins; Max the Flying Sausage Dog: Tails from the Pound by John O’Driscoll and Richard Kelley, illustrated by Arthur Robins; Max the Flying Sausage Dog: A Scary Tail (Bullies, watch out!) by John O’Driscoll and Richard Kelley, illustrated by Arthur Robins; Gumwrappers and Goggles written and illustrated by Winifred Barnum-Newman; That Day in September and Other Rhymes for the Times by Liz Lime; Flat Stanley books by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; Roscoe Riley Rules books by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Brian Biggs; George Brown, Class Clown books by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Aaron Blecha; The Notebook of Doom books by Troy Cummings

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