Book of the Week - Dinosaurs Love Underpants

Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, Illustrated by Ben Cort

One would think that any story that included underpants and dinosaurs would be a winner with kids, especially boys. For the kids at my story time, this just wasn't so. The book begins:

Dinosaurs were all wiped out,
A long way back in history,
No one knows quite how or why,
This book solves the mystery...

In this follow-up to the award-winning Aliens Love Underpants, Claire Freedman attempted to write another fun underpants story, but the story simply felt forced. The rhymes often did not flow, not rolling off the tongue, and often I stumbled on the long lines. Worse yet, even though the story line is supposed to be silly, it just didn't make sense. Although there is an obvious beginning and end, the middle muddled through with lots of underpants but no story line.

This could have been so much better. The illustrations were vibrant and fun, but the greatest illustrations cannot save a story with a loose plot. Most of the laughs generated by this book were from the illustrations which makes this story fun to look at but a hard read. And a hard sell.

My recommendation is stick with the original Aliens Love Underpants and find another fun Dinosaurs story. Hopefully one with a real story that matches the fun illustrations.

Author of the Week - John Flanagan

Thanks to a new sitemeter, I can now see how and why people are visiting my blog. For reasons unknown to me, the main reason that people stumble upon my blog is due to a review I did ofThe Ranger's Apprentice series a good while back. When I reviewed the book there were only five at the time. To tell you how exciting this book is, I had a friend who I recommended this book to for her nephew. (or some other childlike creature she knew) After reading the second book, he called her up in tears because it had ended so abruptly and he didn't have the next installment. She called me in a panic, knowing that this child simply couldn't wait to read the third book. These are the kind of stories I like to hear. But why has the book become so well-known among children and teens, but still lives a life of obscurity amongst many adults?

I think the first reason is simple. John Flanagan is writing a book for boys. A real book. It has archery, throwing, sneaking around, horseback riding. These are the things that boys like to do right? (rhetorical question. I have brothers. I know this is what they do) Will is all guy, medieval fantasy guy, but all guy all the same. Sure adults see this, but perhaps we are a bit too focused on what may win an award as opposed to what kids are devouring? Just a thought.

The second reason so many boys are attracted to this series is because it isn't a feelings book. Even the hint of romance is just that, a hint. The books live from one action scene to the next. Don't get me wrong, there isn't constant battling, but the movement of the books is always forward and fast, making for a book that readers don't want to put down.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect for me as a writer is the fact that these books fulfill their promise. They promise from the beginning to be full of danger, intrigue, disguises, sneaking, shooting, killing, fantasy, death, adventure, and a some mentoring thrown in for good measure.
By fulfilling all these promises in every single installment, Flanagan's readers keep coming back for more.

So, some quick info on Flanagan. John Flanagan grew up in Sydney, Australia and says he always wanted to be a writer. However, it wasn't until he wrote a rather uncomplimentary poem about a senior executive at the agency he worked at, that his talent was fully revealed. It turned out of the company's director agreed with Flanagan and happily agreed to train John in copy writing. After writing advertising copy for two decades, Flanagan teamed up with an old friend in order to help develop a television sitcom, a venture that lasted for eight years. Ten years ago, Flanagan began writing the Ranger's Apprentice for his son, originally beginning the works as short stories. Today there are seven books out in the Ranger's Apprentice series with another to be published May 18. A lot of his books have already been released overseas, but sadly, it does take some time for them to reach us here in the states.

Halt's Peril (Book 9) Ranger's Apprentice, Book 9: Halt's Peril - John Flanagan

Rumor has it there is a film that may come out, but as far as I can tell, this is still in a rumor phase.

Illustrator of the Week - Ellen Forney

Many will immediately recognize Ms. Forney's art from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Ellen is an interesting choice for a young adult book since many of her illustrations are not so young adult-ish. Ellen has been working as a professional cartoonist and illustrator since 1992. Currently, she teaches comics at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, paints large-scale acrylic work for solo and group shows, and is an avid swimmer and yoga practicioner. In Sherman Alexie's own words, "Ellen is quite aware that all of us are weird. Because Ellen herself is a beautiful freak, she makes it OK for all of us to revel in our own freakiness."

Book of the Week - Leviathan

One of the least used and yet one of the more interesting modes of storytelling is that of alternate history. Of course, it stands to reason that children's books would shy away from this considering that youngsters barely know real history. Should there really be books out there that twist and turn history on its head? If it is done well, then my answer would be a resounding yes.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is one of those well done books. This is World War I as you have never imagined it. Some of the facts are the same. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franze Ferdinand and his wife are assasinated, beginning a sequence of events that plunges the world into war. From there the story expands into the world of fiction. This global conflict is between the Clankers, those who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose put their faith in manufactured ships made from living organisms. See, in this parallel universe, Darwin discovered the key to DNA and soon people are making giant war ships from whales, birds, bees, and anything else you can imagine. After the assasination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar must escape with the help of a handful of faithful men. In the meantime, Deryn Sharp, is trying to become an airman, a feat that only men can do so she hides her femininity in hopes of going airborne.

This book is brilliantly constructed. The world is strange, but soon you find yourself not questioning bees in the gastro intestines of a hydro whale air ship. Westerfeld has tempered the advancements in this other society with the realities of social politics as they existed at the beginning of the 20th century: women can't vote or join the military; the divide between aristocracy and the general public is clear, distrust runs high for all technology based; ignorance and gross misunderstanding abound. To be fair, technophobia still exists, but in the case of the Darwinists versus the Clankers, personal preference and biased ideals over the dominant technological advancements are strong enough to start one of the most vicious wars in history.

The book is only enhanced by Keith Thompson's (see earlier Illustrator of the Week) beautiful black-and-white illustrations. It helps the reader see and imagine the strange creatures that inhabit this world.

There are only two drawbacks to the book. The first is the fact that the book is clearly going to be a part of a series, and yet nowhere on the cover did the book indicate this. I'm okay with things being a series as long as they tell me from the beginning. Why is it that every book that comes out these days must be a series? It wouldn't have taken much more to finish the storylines and so I wonder what Westerfeld has in store if this is a planned series. We shall see. The other complaint is that the book does start a little slow, but then again when you are creating a parallel alternative history, you do not to do some world building.

Those complaints aside, this book is full of nonstop action, and steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.

Forgotten Author of the Week - John Newbery

Although some may argue that John Newbery has a name that everyone knows, I think that they know the Award not the author. Born in 1714, John Newbery, English publisher and author, was the first person to make children's literature a sustainable and profitable part of the literary market. He also supported and published the works of Christopher Smart, Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson. In honor of his achievements in children's publishing, the Newbery Medal was named after him. (this year's winner was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead) Although he was a publisher, Newbery was also credited with the whole or part authorship of Mother Goose's Melody, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread, the History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, and A Little Pretty Pocket Book intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly with Two Letters from Jack the Giant Killer. The last one (the one with the very long title) is generally considered the first children's book and consists of simple rhymes for each of the letters of the alphabet. To market the book to the children of the day, the book came with either a ball or a pincushion, depending on which gender the child is. The book was very popular, and earned Newbery much fame. The book includes a woodcut of stoolball and a rhyme entitled "Bade-ball." This is the first known instance of the world baseball in print.

Illustrator of the Week - Jerry Pinkney

Since Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott for his book The Lion and the Mouse, I will simply say bravo Jerry. Bravo.

A special Congrats to Marla Frazee who won the Caldecott Honor for her work in
All the World.

The other Caldecott Honor goes to Pamela Zagarenski for her work in Red Sings from Treetops

Book of the Week - Kingdom Keepers

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

When Disney comes looking for five teenagers to serve as actors for a new technology-Daylight Hologram Images, or DHIs-there is more to it than meets the eye. Strange things have been happening inside the Florida park: parts from one ride are found mysteriously moved to another; in the Fantasmic! show, the dragon unexplainably triumphs over Mickey; little blips in story lines and "offstage" antics by characters trouble managers. Finn Whitman, a middle-schooler, goes to sleep one night and has the dream of a lifetime: he "wakes up" inside Disney World as his DHI character, a glowing hologram. He meets an old man there, Wayne, who claims to be one of the original Imagineers and explains to Finn that he "and your friends" have a mission to save the park from forces that humans can neither see nor hear. Not believing his dream, but not totally discounting it, Finn, back in real life, sets out to find the four other kids who were chosen to be DHIs and in doing so he learns an eerie fact: he is not alone in this "dream." The others have had similar experiences. What if this is for real?

Ridley Pearson follows his popular "Peter and the Starcatchers" with this action packed early teen novel. Thousands of families have visited Disney World since it first opened, the Magic Kingsom being the most beloved park of the current five. Within this park are all the beloved characters that children see in movies. Children of all ages have explored the Kingdom, but no one has seen it after dark, until now.

Kingdom Keepers is fast-paced with loads of vivid imagery. Readers who have been to the Magic Kingdom can easily reference the various places in it like Cinderella's Castle and the Haunted Mansion along with characters like Mickey Mouse and Pirates. Don't mistake this book as a Disney marketing tool though. Sure, it could be seen that way, but this book does stand alone. Even if the park didn't exist, this book is a great action read and perfect for a boy looking for some adventure. The Kingdom Keepers is a must-read for everyone, regardless of whether or not you've had the opportunity to visit the parks. Who know, maybe one day you will visit, and you will find yourself looking for the teepee's on Tom Sawyer's island, imagining the cold breath of Malificent the Witch as she comes looking for you.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Louis Gladys Leppard

I have been slowly getting to some of the favorite authors that my readers said they loved in an earlier post. It has definitely taken me to books and authors that I didn't know anything about, but that is kind of the point of this blog isn't it?

Louis Gladys Leppard is the author of The Mandie Series. A group of stories that is now considered primarily religious, but when originally published was considered to be books on morality for girls. Leppard wrote her first Mandie story when she was only eleven years old, but did not become a published author until adulthood. Besides being an author, Leppard also worked as a professional singer, actress, and playwright. She studied at the New York School of Music and the Voice Beautiful Institute. She and her two sisters even formed a singing group called the Larke Sisters. As of 2004, just four years before her death, there were 41 Mandie books. The spunky heroine lives in North Carolina in the early 1900's and encounters adventure and solves mysteries with the help of her friends, family, and pet cat Snowball. Leppard promised that her books would never contain anything occult or vulgar and in the books Mandie is depicted as a faithful Christian. The Mandie books often dealt with issues of discrimination and prejudice relating to race (particularly Native Americans), class, and disability.

Illustrator of the Week - Keith Thompson

British Illustrator, Keith Thompson has been painting all his life. Although primarily thought of as a fantasy and science fiction illustrator, Thompson has never seen himself this way. The art he draws happens to be classified as such, but it is not his purpose to only draw genre art. Inspired by Japanese artwork, Thompson likes to combine various mediums into beautiful pictures that take fantasy art to a new level. His most recent work can be seen in the Victorian steampunk novel Leviathan. A wonderful book with brilliant black and white illustrations that really breath life into the novel.

Book of the Week - Antsy Does Time

Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman

Antsy is back and believe me he is as funny as ever. Antsy Bonano and his friends Ira and Howie are hanging out on Thanksgiving, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade when they watch a tragedy unfold. One of the giant balloons takes off with three men (or idiots as Antsy refers to them) dangling from its ropes. Next thing they know, they are taking a train to watch the tragedy in person. Once the attempted rescue is over, Gunnar, an aquaintance from school, turns to Antsy and says, "I have 6 months to live."

Antsy has never had a friend who was dying before, and he has a need to do something Meaningful for Gunnar. Antsy comes up with the grand idea of donating one month of his own life to Gunnar. Sure it's symbolic, but it's the thought that counts, right.

The problems arise when everyone in school hear about it and wants to be involved. Which would be perfectly fine, unless Gunnar is not telling the whole truth.

Antsy has such a memorable and hilarious voice, that it is worth having a second book featuring this amazing kid. Even if you haven't read The Schwa Was Here this book stands on his own. Antsy's family is having problems during this time, and apparently so is Gunnar's. The topics discussed in this book are heavy. Divorce, gambling addiction, death, funerals, dating an older woman, neglect. But the thing that makes all of these things bearable, even light, is the way Antsy tells the story. He tells it in his honest, humorous way, sparing no details and yet always leaving us with the same questions he has. A few Antsy quotes:

“A family is a collection of strangers trapped in a web of DNA and forced to cope.”

"It was all my idea. The stupid ones usually are."

"Howie, Ira, and I were hanging out in the recreational attic. We used to have a recreational basement--you know, full of all of our cruddy furniture, a TV, and a big untouchable space in the corner that was going to be for a pool table when we could afford it in some distance Star Trek-like future."

Just a little snippet of the fun you are missing.

Forgotten Author of the Week - Edward Lear

I don't usually feature poets or poetry because frankly it is an area of expertise that I am sorely lacking in. However, nonsense there's something I can understand.

Edward Lear, born in 1812, was an English artist, illustrator, author, and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularized. In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions and helped popularize the form. In 1865 The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple was published, and in 1867 his most famous piece of nonsense, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of his patron Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed.

Lear's nonsense books were quite popular during his lifetime, but a rumor circulated that "Edward Lear" was merely a pseudonum, and the books' true author was the man to whom Lear had dedicated his works, his patron the Earl of Derby. Supporters of this rumor offered as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that "Lear" is an anagram of "Earl".

Lear's nonsense works are distinguished by word invention and word sounds, both real and imaginary. A stuffed rhinoceros becomes a "diaphanous doorscraper". A "blue Boss-Woss" plunges into "a perpendicular, spicular, orbicular, quadrangular, circular depth of soft mud".


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'


Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.


'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Illustrator of the Week - Thomas Docherty

Thomas Docherty is a British illustrator who never imagined he would be an illustrator for books let alone writing stories. In school, Thomas' spelling was terrible and reading was a struggle. Even with his parents support, it wasn't until after Art college that Thomas attempted to write a book. That first book was called Pip and the Lost Dream was published in Spanish. Thomas holds a Kate Greenaway Medal for children's illustrations. Through the years Thomas has garnered ideas from all kinds of sources, but his most recent muse is his daughter, Lucia. Thomas' new book, Big Scary Monster will be out in July.

My reading highlights of 2009

(idea borrowed from another blog)

Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud:

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

New-To-Me Series That On One Hand I'm Glad To Have Found, But On The Other, I'm Seriously Horrified That I'd Missed Out On Until Now:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Lirael by Garth Nix

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Sequel Happiness:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Hunger by Michael Grant

Book That Made Me Crave Food:

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Most Enjoyably Bad Book:

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Forgettable Plot Saved By a Fresh, Honest Voice:

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan

Book I Was Most Surprised By:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Made of Pure Awesome:

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover:

Prism by Faye Kellerman

More Adorable Than Sparkling Puppies:

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald

YA Book Most Likely to be Loved By Adults More Than Actual YAs:

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Biggest Disappointment:

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Books that Invoked Irrationally Violent Emotions in me:

Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen

Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (I do read non-fiction sometimes)

Books I Loved For Their Imperfect Heroines:

Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Best Vampire Book For Twilight-Haters:

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Worthy of the Hype:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Favorite Roadtrip Book (and MAN, there were a lot of them!):

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

Best Action/Adventure Book:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Books that were weird just to be weird:

The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven

Un Lun Dun by China Meiville

Sci-fi's that made me think there is still a future for this genre (future, get it):

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Books I lent out to people multiple times:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Jumper by Steven Gould

Have a question about this list. Wonder why I loved or hated a book? Feel free to ask.

Book of the Week - Skin Hunger

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger is set in a world where magic is virtually extinct except for remnants left in old songs. A girl from a farm named Sadima whose father and brother have a bitter (but understandable) resentment of magic, leaves everything she knows and loves when a young wizard recognizes her ability to speak with animals and beckons her to the city of Limori. Sadima joins the handsome and abused Franklin and his master Sommis. Secretly, Sommis is attempting to gather the old songs and bring back the old songs. But Sommis is a cruel and obsessed master. His methods are dangerous and as Sadima soon learns, illegal.

However, there is a second, completely separate from Sadima's and yet connected. Centuries have passed since Sadima met Franklin and Sommis. Hahp is the second son from a privileged family. He is sent to a wizard academy where he is assured only one person will graduate or none will. Little does Hahp understand how much that is true. Soon the boys at the academy are starving to death, and Hahp is sure that he will die. Unless he can learn how to concentrate. Memorize the songs. And hopefully one day prove to Franklin and Sommis that he is worthy of being a wizard.

It took me awhile to figure out what was going on. Sadima's story is told in the third-person. Hahp's story was written in the first-person. Because of this, the chapter changes were often jarring. After the first couple of times I began to get used to it though.

Perhaps what I disliked the most was how I couldn't figure out if the story happened at the same time or not. There was nothing for the first couple of chapters that would give me any indication that the stories weren't happening simultaneously. It wasn't until the story mentioned the Founders who built the wizard academy that I had my first inkling. Honestly, the only way I knew that the two stories happened centuries apart was because the back jacket flap told me so. Otherwise, I may have just assumed that they had happened a few decades apart.

The other problem with the story was that it felt very much like a whole lot of world-building and nothing else. nothing really happens in the story. The academy, which we can see will eventually be built, never gets built. Sadima doesn't get the guy. She doesn't learn magic. She doesn't tell anyone about her learning to read on her own. Hahp doesn't become a wizard. He doesn't fight back. They both learn some things, but the things that you are waiting for...the things that the story seems to promise, never come to fruition.

The characters themselves were interesting. I liked Hahp especially as he had the right amount of spunk and rebelliousness. Sadima too was interesting, although a little too "smitten" for her own good. The only reason she doesn't leave the cruel and abusive relationship with Somis is because of her love for Franklin.

There were definitely little signs of the future rebellion that these two characters will create. And the reason why Franklin and Sommis still exist centuries later is both eluded to and yet never fully explained, which makes me want to read the second book in order to learn. And interesting way to tell a story definitely, but I do expect the second one to actually go somewhere.