Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: True (...sort of)

True (. . . Sort Of)
True (...sort of)
by Katherine Hannigan
Greenwillow Books, Publisher (2011)
Ages 9-13
Review copy from McArthur Public Library

(description from  publisher) True: Delly Pattison likes surpresents (presents that are a surprise). The day the Boyds come to town, Delly's sure a special surpresent is on its way. But lately, everything that she thinks will be good and fun turns into trouble. She's never needed a surpresent more than now.

True: Brud Kinney wants to play basketball like nothing anybody's ever seen. When the Boyds arrive, though, Brud meets someone who plays like nothing he's ever seen.

True: Ferris Boyd isn't like anyone Delly or Brud have ever met. Ferris is a real mysturiosity (an extremely curious mystery).

True: Katherine Hannigan's first novel since her acclaimed Ida B is a compelling look at the ways friendships and truths are discovered.

It's all true ( . . . sort of).

The truth about this delightful book is that you are going to fall in love with Delly! On the surface she seems to be just another fast talking mischief maker.  But after you read a few pages of this delightful book you'll discover that Delly really has a good heart.  It just that sometimes her really good heart leads her down the wrong path. By 11, she has pretty much given up on ever meeting her family's expectations and if things don't turn around, it's pretty certain that she'll be heading to a specialized school for troubled children.   It's the arrival of an unwanted "surpresent" (in the form of Ferris Boyd) that really starts to turn Delly around. Delly is quirky, funny, and sensitive all at the same time. I loved her made up words (a dictionary is included) and her quest for adventure...I mean "dellyventure".

I felt that every single character in this book rings true. In Delly, we see how it feels to be labeled the trouble maker.  In her siblings, RB and Galveston, we get a picture of what's like to live with a alleged "trouble maker".  Including characters such as Ferris and Brud offer a window into the feelings of kids who are different.  Along with the cast of adult characters who mean well but don't always get it right, Hannigan writes flawed characters which readers can easily relate to .  I think her message that our flaws don't have to define who we were are or what we can become is an important one for readers to see.  Our flawsa are what make us unique and can often times be the vehicle for helping someone else see outside of their situation to see the perspective of others. 

True (...sort of) is a book that deals with several important themes and issues - bullying, muteness, abuse, friendship, and family which would make it a great read aloud for a middle grade classroom. 

An interview with author Katherine Hannigan:

Read what others are saying about True (...sort of):

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review: How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous

by Georgia Bragg & Kevin O'Malley
Walker Children's Books, Publisher (2011)
Ages 9 and up
Review copy gifted to my classroom library

(description from Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. For example: It is believed that Henry VIII's remains exploded within his coffin while lying in state. Doctors "treated" George Washington by draining almost 80 ounces of blood before he finally kicked the bucket. Right before Beethoven wrote his last notes, doctors drilled a hole in his stomach without any pain medication. Readers will be interested well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911. Warning: If you don't have the guts for gore, DO NOT read this book!

I loved this book! Actually 'love' doesn't begin to adequately express my feelings for this book.  This may surprise you since, as the description explains, it's filled with gory, disgusting details! Georgia Bragg had me from the introduction where she writes "There are nice things to say about everybody, but this book is full of bad news. There are funny crying parts and disgusting stupid parts and hideous cool parts, but it's pretty much one train wreck after another. And who can tear their eyes away from a train wreck?"  She doesn't hold back on the gory details that's for sure!   Each story begins with a brief overview of the person's place in history and then tells the events of their eventual demise. You'll learn interesting facts such as it's believed that Henry VIII's body exploded in the casket while he was laying in state.  Or that it's believed that  Cleopatra didn't die from an asp bite but that she actually committed suicide by pricking herself with a poisoned hair pin.  Bragg also includes interesting facts in two page spreads at the end of each story. For those curious to know more or fill in missing gaps, she also includes a fantastic bibliography at the end of book.  The kid-friendly, funny way Bragg handles the subject matter combined with Kevin O'Malley's creepy (in a good way) illustrations may even spark an interest in history in general as readers not only learn about the deaths of these famous people but a little about their lives and historical times as well.

Bragg  includes the awful ends of 19 different historical figures in this anthology.  Each story is about 5 pages long which is one of the things I appreciated.  You can read it cover to cover, like I did, in one sitting.  Or read a few of the stories that interest you.  I also read one story as a read aloud to my 5th graders which then lead to a "waiting list" for the book.  Trust me...once you read a few you won't be able to keep yourself from reading them all. 

This book is sure to engage even your most dormant reader!  I knew I had a winner right away, however my intuition about it's appeal was confirmed about week before school let out when one of my boys brought me a wrapped gift.  Inside I found my own copy of the book! After I stopped jumping up and down...yes...I get excited...he said, "I told my mom we had to get this book for your library so you'd have two copies. It's just too cruel to make kids have to wait to get their hands on it Mrs. Dee!" Now that's an endorsement!

You can read about Beethoven's demise in an excerpt and hear a brief interview with the author at NPR's website.

Read what others are saying about this GROSSLY fantastic read:

Read more about author Georgia Bragg by visiting her website:

Read more about illustrator Kevin O'Malley by visiting his website:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review: Marty McGuire

Marty McGuire
Marty McGuire
by Kate Messner (illus. Brian Floca)
Scholastic Press, Publisher (2011)
Ages: 5-9
Review Copy provided by the publisher


(Summary from  Marty McGuire would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty's absolutely, positively sure that there's been a huge mistake. But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her OWN plan to IMPROVE the play: Why use stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better? In the end, Marty's one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty CAN live happily ever after, after all!

If you haven't read anything by Kate Messner yet you really need to! I absolutely LOVED her two middle grade novels, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and Sugar and Ice.  What I love most about Kate's writing, besides the fantastic story lines, is her ability to create strong girl characters that young readers can not only relate to but also, hopefully, emulate.  I was thrilled to once again find that type of character her new early chapter book series, Marty McGuire

Marty is a  spunky third grade girl! Following in the foot steps of equally spunky characters like Ramona and Clementine, she's a girl who knows what she likes.  From the opening chapter where she says  "I'd call Veronica Grace Princess-Bossy Pants if I was allowed to call people names.  But I'm not. So I won't."  her voice rings true.  She's funny and full of energy without coming across as annoying.  I also love the caring, supportive adults that surround Marty in the story. One of my favorite lines is when her teacher, Mrs. Aloi, who is explaining to Marty  why she would make the "perfect" princess in the class play,  reminds her that she's..."somebody with a lot of talent and confidence.  Somebody with a strong voice and lots of energy.  Somebody who is brave and smart who can think on her feet."  And she is all that and more!  I love that in the end, Marty is true to herself.

A perfect read aloud, this book also fills the need for readers who are ready to move into more advanced chapter books for independent reading.  The storyline deals with great issues like friendships, commitment, and taking chances on new things in a realistic, believable way.   I can't for Kate's next installment, Marty McGuire Digs Worms! which is due out in February, 2012.

Read what others are saying about this GREAT series:
Kid Lit Frenzy
Random Chalk Talk
The Cath in the Hat

For more information about Kate Messner visit her website:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Perfect Square

Perfect SquarePerfect Square
by Michael Hall
Greenwillow Books, Publisher
Ages 2-7
Review copy purchased for my classroom library

Publisher's Summary:  A perfect square is transformed in this adventure story that will transport you far beyond the four equal sides of this square book.

"Perfect" is the perfect word to describe Michael Hall's newest picture book.  The perfect square start out perfectly happy being a square on Sunday.  But on Monday when the perfect square finds itself cut up and hole punched, it doesn't get down in the dumps! Oh no! Instead it makes the best of the situation and becomes a beautiful fountain. The week continues to bring new challenges until Sunday comes again and it realizes it's not happy just being a "perfect" square.  The ending, which relates to beginning, concludes with a wonderful surprise!

I fell in love on the very first read through.  Filled with whimsy and imagination, children will easily be drawn in to the story of how this perfect square changes itself into something new and surprising each day of the week.  Hall uses brief text to allow the geometric shapes and bold colors of his illustrations to tell the story.  When it comes to concept books, this one is jam packed with possibilities including shapes, colors, and days of the week. Offer readers the opportunity to transform their own perfect square of colorful paper by cutting, ripping, wrinkling, pasting, and punching holes to create an adapted classroom version.  This story is sure to become a classroom favorite! If you like this one then be sure to also check out My Heart is Like a Zoo, also by Michael Hall.

Don't just take my word for it! Read what other's are saying about this fantastic book:

The Page Turn
There's a Book
A Fuse #8 Production
Brimful Curiosities