When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket book and T-shirt

Lemony Snicket book and T-shirt

Well, I just came back from the San Diego Comic Con, and boy am I exhausted! The four-day event ended with us getting in line at midnight for a chance to attend the panel (or presentation) for the 50th anniversary of the show called Doctor Who.  We got in line at midnight and the presentation was at 12:30 the next afternoon.  Comic Con is a very silly place!  We DID get in for that panel, thank goodness, and saw many other super cool things while we were there.  People gather from all over the world to buy comic books, collect toys, watch previews and premieres of movies and television shows, buy artwork directly from the artists, try new video games, maybe see some celebrities,  get autographs, and dress up in the costumes of their favorite characters.  Also, many of the big movie studios and other companies give out posters and t-shirts and all kinds of goodies over the course of the convention.  People like free stuff and it’s a great way to spread the word about all of these upcoming movies, shows, and games.  Let the fans do the advertising for you! 

That’s all well and good and fun, but there is also a section of the convention where you can find book sellers and publishers.  This is MY favorite area and where you are most likely to find me hunting around for new titles.  I did go to one book signing, but that is a post for another day. (Veronica Roth was there, too, author of Divergent.  I would have liked to meet her, but I couldn’t be in two places at once. I’m working on cloning myself for next year.)  Something I did manage to come home with is an advanced copy of the next book in the Lemony Snicket series “All the Wrong Questions.”  I’m a huge fan and I even got to meet him at a book festival earlier this year.

snicket autograph

Terrible photo, my apologies. This book is in my classroom, so I can’t get a better picture right now.

In When Did You See Her Last?, Lemony and his incompetent chaperone are hired to search for a missing girl, named Cleo Knight.  She is the daughter of the family that owns Ink, Inc., which was once Stain’d-by-the-Sea’s biggest business.  The sea is now gone and the octopi who produced the ink are endangered, and the little town is practically shut down as a result.  Cleo is working on something having to do with making invisible ink when she is either kidnapped or has run away.  Which is it, and why? Who would want to stop her work? Who would want to steal her work? So many questions and most of the are probably the wrong ones!

Many of the characters from the first book return, and the Bombinating Beast statue is still being carefully guarded. But, what’s up with the tadpoles that bite?  And who is meant to be working with all of those aquariums?  Where is Kit Snicket and what is she up to on her secret assignment?  Who is Hangfire, really?  I could take a guess, but it’s too early to tell.  We do get a cross-over character from A Series of Unfortunate Events here, so keep your eyes peeled for that!  Also, watch for clues about other books and see if you can figure out which titles are being referenced.

I liked the first book well enough, but now with book 2, I’m really excited to find out the rest of the story!  When Did You See Her Last? comes out in October, and will be sure to have all of the artwork completed for the official publication.  My copy has a lot of spots where it just says “art to come” so I’ll have to buy the hardback to get the rest of the illustrations, which are really neat.  Because this book has not been released yet, there is no AR information, but I will update this post when it becomes available.


The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

EgyptGameI’ll be honest, I really struggled with this book.  I’ve had it in my classroom for years and never read it. It won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1968.  I love Egypt.  (My concentration in college was anthropology.  I was either going to be a teacher or Indiana Jones when I grew up!)  Obviously, I enjoy children’s books.  It should have been an easy match, but it was hard and slow going for me, which surprised me a lot.  There’s even a blurb on the back by Lemony Snicket saying how great it is, and everyone knows that I love Lemony Snicket, so I was looking forward reading  this book.

The Egypt Game takes place in a college town, most likely Berkeley (another one of my favorite things), based on the author’s personal information.  April has just moved to town from Hollywood to live with her grandmother temporarily.  Her mother is a struggling actress who seems to always be on the brink of superstardom, according to her infrequent letters.  April doesn’t really know her grandmother at all, and when she arrives at her new home, she doesn’t quite fit in.  April wears her hair in a very adult up-do, insists on fake eyelashes, wears a fur wrap, and is very different from the other sixth graders.  Luckily her new neighbor Melanie can see through her insecurities and befriends her.  The girls like playing games using their imaginations, such as cutting out photos from magazines and making up stories to go with them.  They also enjoy reading and researching information at the library and find themselves in a phase where they study all they can about Egypt.

Melanie has a younger brother, Marshall, and together they find a place to play what becomes the Egypt Game.  They set up various shrines, create elaborate rituals, and even start making costumes.  Two of the boys from their class even join in the game, though reluctantly at first.  Their secret “Egypt” is in the storage yard of a curio shop in town, owned by an odd man known as the Professor.  When a crisis occurs, the mysterious Professor becomes a suspect, and a mystery unfolds.

I enjoyed the characters in this story.  The author was able to capture April’s insecurities at being new and lost and basically being abandoned by her mother.  At the same time, I loved Melanie’s ability to see through that and be a great friend for April, as well as a good big sister to Marshall.  The sixth grade boys are also complicated, wanting to do what’s cool and be popular, but also still wanting to play this secret imaginative game with the girls.  April’s grandmother is also awesome because she is there for April, but knows how to wait patiently until April warms up to her and lets her guard down.

So, this book had a lot of things I liked, but it just felt slow and out of date.  The Egypt part was secondary to the story here, but I did love that the kids were playing this inventive game together, outside, and that they were reading, reading, reading to learn more about a subject they were so passionate about. Honestly, I was hoping for some time travel, or something more like a Rick Riordan book that teaches while it entertains.  It wasn’t bad, just not what I expected.  I probably would have loved it as a kid, back closer to the publication date when we did spend our time running around the neighborhood and riding our bikes all over the place.

Read this book if you are a kid who has a great imagination and you like to write your own stories and make up games or secret clubs!  The Egypt Game has an AR level of 6.4 and is worth 7 points.

The Truth About Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

trumanschoolThe Truth About Truman School is a book I bought at the end of the school year, since it’s about a middle school and my sixth graders were getting ready to take their next steps to seventh grade themselves.  We had been having some problems with kids being mean to each other, and I knew they were tired of hearing me lecture and I was tired of giving the same speeches day after day, reminding everyone to please just BE NICE.  Most of my students had been attending school together since their preschool days; they were at the point of splitting up to go in different directions for the fall so they were sad, but they also knew just how to push each other’s buttons and drive each other bonkers.  (It’s a fine line between love and hate, so they say.)  So I figured maybe if I couldn’t say anything else, I could throw out a reading experience that some kids would pick up on, and I ended up buying this book.

In the story, Zebby and Amr are neighbors and best friends.  They had a third friend, Lilly, but they “lost” her to the popular group in middle school, and hadn’t really interacted with her much lately.  Zebby wants to be a journalist when she grows up, but is frustrated with the way the school newspaper is being run.  Everything is sugar-coated and nobody can write anything even slightly critical about the school.  She and Amr decide to start a website for school news, where anyone can post anything they want– best teacher/worst teacher, opinion pieces, polls, etc.  They promise that they will not censor anyone like the official school newspaper does.

Of course, this idea of letting anyone speak their mind without consequence begins to spiral out of control.  The site quickly becomes a gossip site, and Lilly is the main target.  Someone is spreading anonymous rumors about her, and going through a LOT of trouble to do it.  This story follows the effects of cyberbullying on Lilly and the others who were involved, by alternating narrators and multiple perspectives.

I thought it was a very up-to-date topic, and was handled very well.  I do wish that the mean girls had expressed a bit more remorse, or indicated that they had learned a little something from their part.  Two of the stories end with a very flippant, “It was just a joke, no big deal” kind of attitude.  I suppose that’s real life though.  Not everyone will get it or have as much empathy as we would like.  You might recognize yourself in any one of these characters, or maybe more than one, since this age is so complicated for all of us.  It’s good to know that we aren’t alone, even if it sometimes just feels like us and a fictional character.  That’s why we read, to make connections.  And maybe reading something like this can help you learn to reach out to a friend who is struggling or even to make changes in yourself.

This was a really fast read, especially since there are no chapter breaks.  That always makes it hard for me to put a book down because I never know where to stop!  The Truth About Truman School has an AR level of 4.4 and is worth 6 points.



This is totally not a book….

…But it IS an amazing story, and I just have to share it with all y’all.  If you have 20 minutes to watch an inspirational short film, please check it out.  This is a follow-up to the original ESPN short from 2009.  I was lucky enough to discover it because my brother-in-law was the camera man (and you can actually see him in this one!)  Watch this and be thankful.

What can you overcome?

What can you help someone else overcome?

Watch and remember one of my favorite sayings:  What You Do Matters.


Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger

hortonI know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I will almost always pick up a book if it has a funny title.  The whole title for this one is Horton Halfpott, or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.  And this is how I came to acquire this particular book, need I say more?  (As an added bonus, it opens with a map and sketches of all of the main characters.  I’m always a sucker for that, too.)

Of course I will say more!  Tom Angleberger wrote the Origami Yoda series, which I have written about on my blog, here.  (The next book, Jabba the Puppet, comes out in August!  On my birthday!)  I got to meet Mr. Angleberger in April, and he was really nice.  There was a boy in line in front of me, and he took the time to examine all of the origami Star Wars characters the boy had brought to show him.  My nephew is a HUGE origami superfolder now after reading all of these books, so I switched it up and had a copy of Fake Mustache signed for him instead.  (I’ll have to blog that one later on.)  Needless to say, I’m a big fan.  I Tweeted out that I had just finished the book, tagged the author in my post, and he tweeted back to thank me! How cool is that?

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 1.25.30 PM

This story, Horton Halfpott, is a mystery of the old-fashioned variety.  Horton is a poor put-upon kitchen boy, who spends his days and nights washing dishes and polishing the silver at an estate called Smugwick Manor.  On Sundays he walks home to check on his family and deliver his wages of one penny per week. His father has been ill and they cannot afford to hire a doctor to take care of him, so Horton toils away, overworked and underpaid, trying to contribute to his family’s savings.  Smugwick Manor belongs to the Luggertuck family, where they value tradition and rules and respectability, until one day, when M’Lady Luggertuck asks for her corset (an oldy-timey girdle used to tie up one’s midsection to appear skinnier) to not be hitched up as tightly as usual.  This creates a relaxed environment that everyone in the house picks up on, and the rules start to fall apart.  The Luggertucks own a diamond called The Lump, which is famous for being the world’s largest uncut diamond…and then it is stolen!  M’Lady Luggertuck calls in a very famous and important detective, Portnoy St. Pomfrey, to solve the case.  He is not a very good detective, in the way that Gilderoy Lockheart is not a very good wizard.  Horton and his friends become involved in the mystery, a love interest is introduced, and a band of shipless pirates appear in town.  Shipless.  It’s just what it sounds like.

This book stands nicely by itself, but there are a few hints that maybe there could possibly be another story in the future.  It also names some make-believe prequels, any of which I would also read! I recommend this book to anyone who likes clever writing and funny characters with great names.  For example, the baker’s name is Loafburton and the cranky cook is called Miss Neversly.  One of the servants is called Wickleweaver.  Say it out loud. It sounds most excellent!

Horton Halfpott has an AR level of 5.8 and is worth 5 points.