Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Declaration of American Independence by Valerie Bodden

The Declaration of American Independence (Days of Change)
I always love looking at books published by Creative Education. This publisher consistently produces a book, filled with gorgeous illustrations and photographs. I know, when I pick one up, it's going to be visually stunning. The Declaration of American Independence  is no different. Beautifully designed, I loved looking at each page's illustrations.

That said, the information in the book is presented at the appropriate interest level. What could have been dry facts is more of a retelling of events. The reader gets caught up in the story instead of just seeing boring history class stuff. I see this book as an ideal introduction to the topic, rather than one used for in-depth study.

My grade for this one is a B.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

The Name of this Book is Secret
You have to admit this book has a fabulous cover. The carnival-esque look with a blurb to get any Lemony Snicket fan salivating... oh yeah.

Unfortunately, my love for the story doesn't match my love for the cover. Yes, the story has a Series of Unfortunate Events feel to it, but, honestly, the author is trying too hard to make it like ASOUE. If I wasn't absolutely anal about reading every book I start cover-to-cover, I probably would have put it down after only the first two or three chapters. I was thinking, really?? You really think the reader thinks this is cute, clever, humorous??? Sadly missed the mark there.

It's probably a good thing that I do finish every book I start, because the story did improve after a few more chapters. I tended to "overlook" those Snicket-like references in the story and focused more on what was actually happening to Cass and Max-Ernest. I discovered a pretty good mystery there. I think the idea of the evil group using alchemy and the children wanting to find out about their missing classmate was actually intriguing and made for a good story, but quit trying so hard to be funny. It wasn't.

I think this book will basically leave a reader with one of two reactions. Either you will absolutely adore the book and immediately look for book two in the series or you will want to throw the book against the wall and never want to even think about it again.

For me, I believe once is enough. I don't have any desire to read any more of the series, even to discover the answers to the teasers at the end of the story. Nope. I think the author just tried way too hard and it fell flat.  For me, it was a C, but I realize that others will rate it much, much higher.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Atticus of Rome, 30 B.C. by Barry Denenberg

Atticus of Rome, 30 B.C.   (The Life and Times Series)
With the popularity of the Dear America and My Name is America series, I picked up a couple of books in The Life and Times series, Atticus of Rome being one of them. I hoped this book would be on par with some of the titles from the aforementioned series.

Sadly, I didn't like this book. The story took way too long to develop and then, wasn't even fully realized. Yes, there's plenty of detailed description of Ancient Roman life, but what happened to the story? There were things mentioned, here, there and yonder, but never cohesively tied together.

 Frankly, this was just a big hot mess. My suggestion is to skip this one entirely. I give it a D.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Surprises According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

Surprises According to Humphrey
I knew before I ever started reading it that Surprises According to Humphrey would be a little young for my students. I still wanted to read it, because I love the idea of the class hamster narrating the story. Oh, it had the potential to be just adorable. (At least I hoped so!)

Humphrey tells of his experiences in Mrs. Brisbane's classroom at Longfellow School. He describes normal, everyday events from his perspective, which often lead to humorous miscalculations. When a new custodian comes in to clean the room, Humphrey is convinced that she must be a space alien. She talks to the "mother ship" by pressing something on her ear and has wires attached to her ears. I chuckled over the obvious description of an iPod with earphones and a Bluetooth phone receiver.

I can't help but compare Humphrey to Hank the Cowdog. There are many similarities in tone, humor, and style. While completely opposite in setting and plot, I think readers who enjoy one series will appreciate the other.

Surprises According to Humphrey is a cute and clever tale. I know it's set in an elementary school and ideally suited for 3rd or 4th graders, but I think there really might be some appeal for middle schoolers. Granted, it's not a challenging read for them, but I believe they could appreciate the humorous situations that Humphrey describes.

Yes, this was every bit as adorable as I'd hoped. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone from 3rd grade to about 6th or 7th grade. My grade? A 'B+'.