Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ice Skating: From Axels to Zambonis

by Dan Gutman
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Category: Nonfiction – Sports

Personal Evaluation: I thought this was great as a grownup who is interested in ice skating, with the one caveat being that it was pretty out of date for a sports book, which has new records being set and new championships being won every year. What was cool was the interview with then-unknown Tara Lipinski, but that might only be of interest to people who watched her win the gold medal. There were also lots of aids at the back of the book: charts, timeline, glossary, and index.

What might interest children: I think the history of ice skating would be interesting to kids who are really into skating or maybe doing a project on it. There are also several full-color photograph pages in the middle that are pretty cool. Other than that, there is a lot of text and black-and-white pictures and it looks kind of boring.

Porcupines

by Judith Jango-Cohen
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Category: Nonfiction – Animals

Personal Evaluation: This book had a list of more books, an index and a glossary (whose words were italicized throughout the book). Despite these great features, it seemed like it could use a bit more organization and clarification. For example, the author noted that there are 23 species, but in photos did not identify which species was pictures or where the animal lived, and they looked very different from each other. Some other visual representations, besides photos of porcupines and a map showing where the two classes of porcupines live, would have been nice. The author’s authority seemed to be only that she has spent a lot of time in nature. She did a pretty good job of writing engaging narration to introduce the chapter without too much anthropomorphizing, though I did wonder about a few words she used, like saying a porcupine surprised a lion or that a fisher was clever in its fight with the porcupine.

What might interest children: Kids will get a kick out of the photo of the dog with quills in its face and the one of the baby porcupette. There was one mention of the fact that porcupines often sleep hanging by their legs from a tree branch, but there was no photo which would have made a great addition. There are lots of photos (at least one per two-page spread) and “Did You Know?” facts along the margins to break up the text and keep interest.

Soccer: A History of the World’s Most Popular Game

by Mark Stewart
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

Category: Nonfiction – Sports

Personal Evaluation: I could tell from the Table of Contents that this book was going to be a challenge. It had one chapter for the whole text of the book, and then listed the Appendices. It probably would be easier to read if the author had actually broken it up into chapters, but instead he just went through the history of the game chronologically, with a strong focus on World Cups and soccer in America. Since it was published in 1998, readers would also probably benefit from an updated version or a different (and more recent) book on soccer, since the sport’s standing in this country seems to be shifting. The author is quite prolific in writing about sports and athletes and lists a full page of books and websites to visit for further reading, but I’m not sure citing yourself counts as authority.

What might interest children: This is definitely a book for an older reader, probably 7th-8th grade. There are not too many pictures and lots of text on each page, and not too much organization (other than chronological). There is a detailed index but in terms of the content, not too much to keep interest or give context. For example, at the end of the text is a “Modern Soccer Timeline” which says things like “The Sheffield Football Club – the oldest team still in existence – is formed” but does not say where exactly this team is from (though an educated guess would be England). I was underwhelmed but probably a kid who’s really into soccer would get a lot out of it.

America’s Greatest Game: The Real Story of Football and the NFL

by James Buckley, Jr.
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Nonfiction – Sports

Personal Evaluation: This book had plenty of pictures and interesting ways of organizing the information, without being too confusing. There was no index in case someone was looking for information about a particular player or team, but it was short enough and the chapter headings were good enough that it probably wouldn’t be hard to find what you were looking for. The last page encourages kids to get active and play football. SLJ puts it at grades 3-6, but the writing seemed on the high end of that range to me – probably 5th-6th graders. The photos were credited to a wide variety of sources, mainly individuals but also some to Sports Illustrated and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The author’s authority on the subject seems to just be having written lots of kids’ books on sports.

What might interest children: It’s easy to read and packed with facts and statistics and pictures. A really good book for kids already familiar with the game.

Ginger Pye


by Eleanor Estes
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery

Personal Evaluation: This may not be what is traditionally meant by the category “mystery” but I thought of the main characters as trying to solve a dognapping mystery and think it fits just fine. Any story where the siblings get along perfectly now strikes me as unrealistic, but Jerry and Rachel are both so likeable and their dog Ginger so sweet and smart that I kind of didn’t care.

What might interest children: Jerry and Rachel’s relationship might seem attractive to kids (especially only children who might romanticize siblinghood anyway), and the way they work together to solve the mystery of their missing dog in their turn-of-the-century small town is endearing. The nicely wrapped up ending is very satisfying.

When You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery

Personal Evaluation: I was a big fan of A Wrinkle in Time as a kid (and basically everything else Madeleine L’Engle ever wrote) so I love that it was the basis of this book. As I said in my review of Frozen in Time, I also loved time travel growing up. This was the most wonderful combination of time travel and puzzle. I did not figure this one out before the main characters, but when they did I was right with them. That is a hard balance to strike – how to reveal the clues so that it’s not too early and not too late. I read enough mystery books where the ending made no sense or the solution depended on some information that was never given, so the reader was never really given a chance to solve it on their own, so for a long time I hated traditional “mystery” books. I can’t honestly say I would have totally understood this book as a kid, though. I’d have to talk to some kids who read it and see what they thought.

What might interest children: Time travel, puzzle, A Wrinkle in Time – really, what’s not to love? Some kids would also enjoy the relationship dynamics that play out between Miranda and Sal. It’s also a glimpse into an urban world, for kids who do not have that experience.

Frozen in Time

by Ali Sparkes
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Fantasy / Sci Fi

Personal Evaluation: I love time travel books. I am so completely fascinated by the concept and have read tons of them. I love how different they all are in one aspect or another and how authors can be so sure that their way is how it would really happen – like in The Time Traveler’s Wife, that of course he couldn’t take any money with him, or in Back to the Future that of course he can have an impact on the future and maybe even prevent himself from being born. There are so many unknowns that it’s really fun to see how someone else would interpret the consequences of every little thing. Disclaimer: While this isn’t strictly time travel, it may as well be for how different the world is that Polly and Freddy wake up in. I was pretty anxious the whole time I was reading about the underground vault, sure that Rachel and Ben would be shut in it too.

What might interest children: I liked that Polly and Freddy are from the same time period that my parents grew up in. Possibly for kids today that is their grandparents, so maybe that would be interesting to them and spark some inter-generational conversations. I think kids would like reading about their own lifestyles under a magnifying glass to people who are alien to it. The kids are also British, which adds an extra layer of outsider-ness to it for American kids. And of course the cryogenics, and the mystery of what happened to Freddy and Polly, are gripping.

News from Judy Blume

Ok, so this isn’t so much “in the news” as it is just news, but please check out Judy Blume’s blog. I love keeping up with favorite authors’ blogs and hers is usually interesting if not regularly updated. The latest post (from yesterday) has not-great news to share, but she sounds like she’s doing pretty well despite everything.

Anna to the Infinite Power

by Mildred Ames
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Category: Fantasy / Sci Fi

Personal Evaluation: This was the favorite book of a friend of mine who is not a big reader. Something about it latched onto his imagination and hooked him. I thought it was good and kind of reminded me of a childhood favorite of mine, The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts. The similarities include the elements of the girl protagonist finding out she is different from her peers because of a science experiment or accident and that there is a small group of other kids just like her. However, this book is a bit creepy because there is a character that strikes Anna as a bit off somehow, but it turns out that she just sees right through Anna and is a better intellectual match for her than her own family.

What might interest children: It’s a page-turner and really makes you think about science, the government, cloning, lying, family relationships, and decisions grownups make.