More and more suggestions…

Check out this list of “100 best chapter books” for kids.  I counted and I have read 72 of these myself.  I brought a few home for summer reading, many are on my future to-be-read list, and there are a few others  that I’ve just missed over the years somehow.  I’ve heard of ALL of them though, even the ones I haven’t read, and I’ve heard good things (for example, The Lightning Thief.  Everyone has read that and loved it, but I never seem to get around to picking it up for some reason.  I own it, it’s in my house, but I have yet to read it.)  This is a great list!

As of right now, I can’t get this to work as a link, so copy and paste into your browser for the time being, and I’ll try to figure this out!  Sorry about that!

http://childrensbooksguide.com/100-best-childrens-chapter-books-of-all-time

Zombie Kid Diaries by Fred Perry and David Hutchinson/Brian Denham

Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to go to the 2012 ComicCon in San Diego.  If you don’t know what that is, ComicCon is this HUGE convention that takes over downtown San Diego for five days.  It is a giant gathering of movie studios, television channels, game companies, comic book artists, authors, and publishers.  Imagine everything you ever thought was cool, all in the same place at the same time! You can walk around and get sneak peeks at upcoming games and movies, meet favorite actors/authors/artists, spend tons of money on collectible items, get autographs from your favorite celebrities, and of course buy comic books.  I was down there for two days, spending one day walking around the outside of the convention and one day on the inside.  There are about a hundred million things to see and do, and the whole thing is slightly overwhelming.  Overwhelming with awesomeness!  I forgot to even mention the fact that all kinds of fans show up to this event, and lots of them wear amazing costumes that they have created themselves.  I didn’t wear a costume myself this time (maybe next year if I’m lucky enough to go again), so I put on my favorite Harry Potter shirt, and set out to see what I could find…

Of all the hundreds of booths in the convention hall, and of all the books that were on display and for sale, one caught my eye.  One caught my eye and made me stop walking, dead in my tracks.  I knew on first glance that this was a book I would have to check out immediately.  Zombie Kid Diaries has a cover that looks sort of like another book you may have read, or even seen as a movie.  Hmm.  Well, I love the Wimpy Kid books, too, so I got my hands on a copy and started reading!

Bill Stokes is  your typical middle school student.  He just wants to fit in, do well enough to stay out of trouble but not so well that he stands out, and he has plans to be a professional video game player.  His father was a bit of a jerk and ended up in jail, so now Bill is also adjusting to his mom going back to work.  Only it turns out that the job his mom was able to get is a position as a tester for new medications.  Working all the time makes her tired, but they are doing okay on their own.  Bill takes notes in his journal, so he can keep track of his gaming scores and the day-to-day things that might have influenced his game play, such as his breakfast or the weather.  These notes are what you read, and the journal is fully illustrated in that familiar cartoon style.

At school, Bill meets a weird girl who seems determined to be his friend, and he also unfortunately finds a bully.  Luckily, he still has his best buddy, Larry, on his side.  Things are going okay, except for his mother, who is stumbling around the apartment and falling down randomly.  Side effects from all those medications she has been taking at work maybe?  Then Bill starts noticing that HE feels different, too, and that everyone around him suddenly smells delicious… What do zombie kids eat for breakfast? How do they deal with pimples and showering in PE?  And speaking of PE, how do zombies run the track and play basketball anyway???

A couple twists and turns made this a very funny (and quick) book for a summer vacation read.  This book is illustration-heavy and has all of the middle school requirements like fart jokes and super-stinky BO.  The first book is called Zombie Kid Diaries: Playing Dead, and the second one is ZKD: Grossery Games.  The second book has a different illustrator and looks a little bit different in its style.  In this one, Bill has his sights on competing against a video game champ from Japan, only to discover that he has to go on a class field trip instead.  Maybe that’s okay because his newly developed zombie claws will just slow him down at the tournament anyhow.  Like the title explains, it’s all pretty gross, especially when Bill makes a gruesome discovery in the woods.

These books are not AR books yet, but they were pretty simple with no challenging vocabulary.  Read the Zombie Kid Diaries if you can imagine a combination of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books added to the Goosebumps series.  Funny and icky at the same time, but not especially scary.  Go find out what a “road pizza” is and decide if you would ever eat one!

Enola Holmes (books 1 and 2), by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes #1: The Case of the Missing Marquess  (AR level 6.6, 6 points)

Enola Holmes #2: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (AR level 7.0, 7 points)

“Preposterous! She is a female.  Her intellect is inferior, she requires protection…” Mycroft Holmes, from Enola Holmes: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

He didn’t!  He did! Mycroft Holmes did say that, in describing his missing 14-year old sister.  Little does he know what she is actually capable of…

Enola Holmes is the much, much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.  Sherlock, of course, is a well-known literary character and one of the most famous detectives ever, and Mycroft is his older brother (he works for the government in an important, but never fully explained job.)  On Enola’s 14th birthday, their mother disappears.  She leaves no indication as to where she has gone, but what we do know is that she is a fiercely independent woman who has progressive ideas about women’s rights.  She leaves Enola a few birthday gifts which include a book about flowers and another, more mysterious book of ciphers and secret codes that she has created herself.

When the two brothers arrive from London to attend to the estate, they are shocked to find that Enola has taken after their mother, in that she is not a “proper” young lady.  This means she is opinionated, rides bicycles, climbs trees, and likes to wear pants!  They make a plan to send her off to boarding school where she will brought up correctly and learn how to behave and fit into society, get married, and be taken care of, probably so the brothers would not have to worry about her upbringing.  (Her father died when she was only 4 years old, so she and her mother have been on their own together for a very long time.)

Enola has other plans, however.  In the coded book that her mother made, is a series of instructions, which lead Enola to find money that has been hidden for her in various places in the house.  On the day she is to be delivered to her new boarding school, she asks the carriage driver to please stop in town so she can go say a prayer at church before she leaves.  She tells the dimwitted driver to go wait for her at the pub and have a drink.  He falls for it.  Enola has been preparing for her escape. She is well packed with supplies and has hidden her bicycle in the woods.  She simply rides away to her new life, determined to locate her mother.

Enola is quickly pulled into a mystery involving a kidnapping, but seeing as how she and her mother have both just run away from home, she sees this kidnapping from a different point of view.  After she mistakenly gives her real name, she knows that she must improve her game if she wishes to hang on to her freedom.  After solving her first case (and getting herself into much trouble), she styles herself as a “perditorian,” or a person who finds things that are lost.  She sets up an office in London, pretending to be the secretary to a new detective, all the while working on the cases by herself.  She uses disguises and codes and the money left to her by her mother to establish her new identity in the big city, while trying to avoid being caught by her brothers.  I loved watching her think and solve problems throughout both of the books I have read so far.

The second book also involves a kidnapping (or is it?), but it gets more difficult in its concepts.  The language becomes harder, using words like peripatetic, overwrought, providential, mesmerist, and proletariat.  How many middle schoolers know what toilet water actually is, and not what it seems like it should be? (Ewww, right?)  It also talks about ideas like Social Darwinism, Marxism, dual personalities, white slavery, anarchists, and subjugation.  There is much discussion about corsets,  finishing schools, the downcast poor of London, suffrage, and the social standing of women at the turn of the century.

These were very enjoyable books, but could be difficult for readers unfamiliar with this particular era and style of writing.  Enola is a great character to read as she solves problems and thinks outside the box, but her flaws and impulses remain true to a teenage personality.  She leaves nothing to chance, but still makes mistakes while she is learning how to survive on her own.  I would put this book a bit higher than the suggested AR levels and recommend it to anyone who has read some Sherlock Holmes already, who might consider themselves an Anglophile (someone who loves things from England) and enjoys reading about the Victorian/Edwardian eras because the language can seem formal and stiff for a young adult book.  I wanted Enola to have a little more of a sense of humor that would match her age, but I can see she is handling some very serious situations and laughing is not at the top of her to-do list.  Still, I came to love her, and I will definitely read the rest of this series (6 books in all.)

Girl Stuff

Now, it’s true that I probably like to read “boy books” more than I like to read “girl books,” even though that is a totally silly thing to say.  Books and stories have something to teach everyone, so it shouldn’t be an issue.  Read what you want, find characters that inspire you, get lost in a great plot!  However, I am also guilty of picking books by their covers as well, so I always end up with more boy-oriented stories.  They are grittier and darker and have cool graphics and intense lettering on the front.  I tend to shy away from cupcakes and flowers, pictures of a girl whispering into another girl’s ear, anything that indicates a book has to do with fashion or dating or puppies, contains girl drama, looks like a diary, or has fancy writing to spell out the title.  I don’t know why, but at least knowing this about myself MAKES me pick up books that I wouldn’t normally choose, and it’s my job to build a well-balanced library for my classroom because not everyone likes what I like.  I try to be as fair as possible when I head out to buy books because the books aren’t for me. (The books aren’t for me, the books aren’t for me, the books aren’t for me.  I have to remind myself that sometimes!)

So today, as I am preparing my list to go to the library later (yep, I make a “shopping list” for the library), I was excited to find this blog post at The Nerdy Book Club first thing this morning!  Here is a great list about strong female characters in young adult literature.  What a coincidence!  It’s not a surprise that I have read NONE of these books, not even Matilda.  Heck, I haven’t even seen the movie for Matilda!  As of this moment, I am most interested in reading the Enola Holmes books.  Sherlock’s Holmes’ sister? Awesome! (He’s my favorite and I love it when an author puts a spin on another well-known character.  These are about his little sister’s detective adventures.  Can she beat him at solving a mystery?  I wonder…)  I also want to read Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, because I’ve read and enjoyed some of her other books already.  The story of The Lions of Little Rock also sounds really good to me, so I’ll look for that as well.  You can’t see my computer screen right now, but I have the Nerdy Book Club blog, my blog, and my local library’s webpage open all at the same time while I’m searching for these books.  I take my library trips seriously!

Check out this list of books about strong and interesting girls and see if you can’t add a few to your summer reading list. I’m going to to try, too, so check back later for some recommendations-

http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/top-ten-girl-power-books-middle-grade/

New Captain Underpants on the way!

Dav Pilkey has a new Captain Underpants book coming out in August. Check out the title:  Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers.  How can you resist that?!?  Even you, grownups.  That’s funny no matter what!

Until then, watch this cool little video that features one of everyone’s favorite author/illustrators drawing in real time–

The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society (AR 5.6, 18 points)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey          (AR 6.1, 19 points)

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma      (AR 6.3, 15 points)

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict                        (AR 6.2, 19 points)

There are four books in this series so far, all a pleasure to read.  Well, there are three books, a prequel, and then there is an additional book of games and puzzles.  (It’s called Mr. Benedict’s Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums, if you are interested.  I have not read this one yet.)  The first book, in my opinion, is by far the best, but the characters are so interesting and the challenges so engaging, you have to read them all once you start.  Be sure to read them in order!

It all starts in book one with a mysterious newspaper advertisement that asks, “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”  Reynie Muldoon just so happens to be a gifted child, despite being an orphan, and he wishes for any type of opportunity, special or not.  He and his tutor spot this ad in the paper, which requires Reynie to show up at an office building with a bunch of other children to sit for a test.  It’s not just one test, it’s three rounds of tests, and these tests are difficult!  Four children remain at the end of the testing– Reynie, “Sticky” Washington (because everything he reads sticks in his head), Kate Weatherall (who is always carrying a bucket), and Constance Contraire (who is much more than she appears.)

Mr. Benedict is a mysterious man who lives in a mysterious house with some mysterious helpers and he is assembling a mysterious team of gifted children to work on some mysterious projects.  He also has a mysterious condition called narcolepsy, which causes him to fall asleep randomly and without warning.  Each book sends the children off on mysterious missions full of puzzles and clues, hidden identities, bad guys, danger, world travel, gadgets, diabolical mind control devices, spies…. All this re-capping is making me want to sit and re-read these books again!  (Did I mention that they are very mysterious?)

The fourth book is technically a prequel because it tells about Mr. Benedict’s own childhood experiences.  He, too, was a “gifted child looking for special opportunities” and was also an orphan. He was a kid who didn’t quite fit in with other children and it helps to explain why he gathered this particular team later in his life. I just read this one and I really enjoyed it.  I’m hoping it will become it’s own separate series because there is a big wide window of time to fill in between Mr. Benedict’s own childhood and the formation of the Mysterious Benedict Society.  Maybe the MBS started way before the first book picks up the story!  I kept looking for clues that would give more information about the other three books, but so far this one seemed to stand alone.  Maybe another reader will spot some connections for me; if you do, be sure to let me know!

Read these books if YOU are a gifted child seeking special opportunities!  Okay, remember when you first saw the movie for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and you were so bummed that they left out the scene from the book where Harry and Hermione have to solve the riddle with the 7 bottles of potions to get to the Stone?  If that was you (because that was definitely me), read these books.  If you ever read Encyclopedia Brown books, if you like lateral thinking puzzles, or you just like adventures and mysteries, you’ll enjoy this series!  I know I’m putting the first one back into my TBR (to be read) pile for summer vacation!