Category Archives: science fiction

Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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Re-reading my personal classics…

Most years, I experience Charlotte’s Web in bits of pieces, since I’m almost always volunteering in Mrs. P’s room just after lunch recess during literature time, and she always reads it to her third graders.  Other books pop up again and again, sometimes because I’ve sought them out, sometimes because the kids at school or the library remind me how wonderful they are.  It’s usually a good experience, since reading them again reconnects me with something from my youth when I first read them.

Because I recently re-read Counting by 7s (by Holly Goldberg Sloan) and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (by the always wonderful Kathi Appelt), I’ve been thinking about other books that do the work of capturing moments in my life I want to revisit.  And here they are…

  • A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) – Whether it’s because of Meg Murry and Charles Wallace, or because it mentions tesseracts and led me into some great science fiction, re-reading this one is always powerful. There is loss – a lot of loss – and being an outsider and trying to figure out what the heck is going on and it all just seems like too much.   It’s both your worst family trip and your best one.  From there, I might head back into When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (E.L. Konigsburg) – This somewhat unlikely book for middle graders and teens is about Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s in heaven, waiting to find out where her second husband, King Henry II of England, will be headed.  How does this seem like something that would have fascinated me when I was young?  It’s Eleanor.  Well, Eleanor and the great writing, which made these long-dead historical figures seem real to me.  Reading about her made me think more critically about women and power and history, which could conceivably have pushed me in several directions that affected real-life choices for me.  After reading this one, I like to move on to biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt or other lesser-known rad women.  (See this blog post for more.)
  • The Dark is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper). This series actually starts with Over Sea, Under Stone, and I have to admit that I haven’t re-read it lately, so who knows what I’ll think of it now?  (I know I’ll still love it.) However, it was fantasy in the time before Harry Potter, and brought together a bunch of kids into a fight between Dark and Light, complete with connections to Arthurian legends and other fun stuff.  The Dark was really dark, and there were wizards, and that’s all you need to know if you haven’t read them.  I remember dreaming myself into the stories when I was a kid, and then thinking about what my mind made them into while I was at school the next day.  What an excellent use of “quiet work” time!

I’m sure there are more, many more.  Some books hold up better than others over the years.  Some characters remind you of who you used to be, and others connect with you in new ways.  It’s all good.

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If you’ve ever wondered about lava tubes or pooping in space…

spaced out

 

I know.  That’s not much of a way to start any kind of grown up review of a book.  But seriously, if you’re that grown up, you probably shouldn’t be reading middle grade.  And it’s all scientifically accurate, too, so get past that and read the book, my friends.

A few months ago, I did a little author talk for Mrs. B’s class on Stuart Gibbs, the author of Spaced Out: Moon Base Alpha, as well as the FunJungle  and Spy School series.  What an interesting life!  And the guy’s got a great blog, too. (http://stuartgibbs.com/blog/)  Sure, he spends time promoting his books there, but he also writes about things he cares about.  I took a few entries on endangered rhinos and lava tubes in for the kids to read.  As with his books, they’re a great combination of funny, quirky, and informative.

The entry on lava tubes brings us to Spaced Out, which is also all of those things—funny, quirky, informative.  In addition to a good mystery, you get a lot of cool information about what life would really be like on the moon.  Most of it makes living in Iowa look pretty good, to be honest, but it’s super interesting and answers some of those questions you’d have.  How do you go to the bathroom?  Does anything you eat actually taste good?  How would you go to school?

Dashiell Gibson is still stuck at Moon Base Alpha, and although there are really cool things about it, the toilets aren’t one of them.  Some of his fellow residents are not much more fun.  When someone goes missing, everyone wonders if it’s a repeat of the murder Dash solved in Space Case.  Even doing a search on Moon Base Alpha can be a challenge, and oh, there’s also an alien who visits Dash telepathically.

You’d think all of this could push things over to ridiculous, but it worked for me.  There’s an unexpected bit of heaviness towards the end on taking care of the planet and war – all of which I agree with — but I’m not sure whether kids would be put off by it or not.  They are probably thinking the same thing a lot of the time, so why shouldn’t Dash?

It’s a rare author who can pull off a goofy middle grade-action- adventure-mystery and also manage to broaden your scientific knowledge.  Well done, Stuart Gibbs.  What’s next?

Spaced Out by Stuart Gibbs

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365 days – 1,342 items in the book bag, give or take a few

book stack

Why would one person check out this much stuff? Books, magazines, graphic novels, movies, music, picture books, middle grade, teen, mysteries, history, sci-fi, tv series, the occasional puppet and so much more. E-books and e-audiobooks aren’t even included, nor are the things which never end up in my email folder of library receipts. If I actually buy something, it’s not counted – and those are often the books I’m most excited about and can’t wait for the library to get. My husband and son also figure into this number; it’s usually just easier to check out what they want when I’m at work. And some things never get read or watched, even though they come home with me.  So I’m never sure exactly how many books I read.

Still, why so many?  It’s not just that I love the library and work in one. My healthy holds list means that I’m never short on new things to look at. (Often there are 80-90 things on that list in addition to everything I have checked out.) I also follow authors and what’s new in publishing, and I lead a writing group, which frequently has me thinking about storytelling or word choice or past favorite reads. Teaching a college class this fall also meant I needed books to look over and consider for student assignments. Some of those items are books or cds I requested when I was scheduled to lead story time or wanted to talk about a particular topic at one of my volunteer gigs.

When I look at everything the library shared with me (for free!), I see new favorites and things to laugh about, scary stories, great friendships, love, grief, fear, and hope. My life is so much more exciting and full because I read. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds – more books, more tears, more laughter, more joy.

Not everything I read was published in 2015, but many were. Here are just a few of my 2015 favorites, in no particular order, grouped by loose categories:

Picture Books

Wolfie the Bunny

Rude Cakes

Float

Last Stop on Market Street

Please, Mr. Panda

Boats for Papa

Leo: A Ghost Story

Imaginary Fred

Nerdy Birdy

We Forgot Brock!

Red

 

Middle grade

The Terrible Two

Echo

Gone Crazy in Alabama

Nightbird

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Beware the Power of the Dark Side

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

The Thing about Jellyfish

Circus Mirandus

 

Graphic Novels

The Graveyard Book, vol. 1 & 2

March

The Sleeper and the Spindle (I’m putting this one with the graphic novels, because it’s such a beautifully illustrated version.)

The Phantom Bully

Little Robot

Awkward

Nimona

Hilo

 

Teen Fiction

Under a Painted Sky

Silver in the Blood

Carry On

Everything, Everything

Dumplin’

Library of Souls

 

Teen Nonfiction

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Most Dangerous

I Will Always Write Back

 

Adult

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

A God in Ruins

Between the World and Me

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Read you will

trilogy_header_newIn 1977, I was twelve years old. Old enough to ride my bike almost everywhere. Old enough to have some babysitting money to spend. Not old enough to be cynical or to have to pay for car insurance. As I remember it now – who knows if this is accurate? — I saw the first Star Wars movie more than 10 times that summer, riding my bike to the closest theater for the matinees whenever I could. My friend Amy and I had Star Wars shirts, and I started a collection of character cards. My Burger King Star Wars glasses are somewhere in the attic still.

Time passed, the characters in the second trilogy didn’t speak to me, Disney bought the franchise, and here we are now, waiting for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Someone with some smarts and a marketing plan decided that putting out some middle grade Star Wars books would be a good idea. Someone decided to rely on popular authors like Alexandra Bracken, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series) to do the work. It could have been a complete disaster – predictable retellings falling flat, a whole generation of bored tweens who wouldn’t understand why this whole thing was such a big deal.

But no— fortunately, these authors are too good for that. Alexandra Bracken uses The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy to set up the later novels. She relies heavily on the movie script, which worked fine for me, and creates the world of the Empire and the Rebellion in all its most wonderful and most horrible realities. As an adult reading the stories of my youth, it was quick and action-filled and fun, even in the scary moments. Knowing how things would turn out didn’t diminish the story one bit.

Adam Gidwitz follows up with the story from The Empire Strikes Back, but he sets a different tone. So You Want to Be a Jedi? lets the reader really imagine Luke’s internal battle to become a Jedi, and the reader IS Luke, charging ahead, realizing at the last minute that he might not be ready, wanting to help his friends. It’s intense and yet still funny, and maybe some kids will learn to meditate before they face their personal Darth Vaders. Who knows? Loved it!

Tom Angleberger takes on The Return of the Jedi in Beware the Power of the Dark Side! His narrator is all-knowing and sometimes judgmental, which somehow was the perfect follow-up for So You Want to be a Jedi? .

“An endless desert. Two robots. Two robots plodding through and endless desert. Fear not, reader! It will get better!”

There are moments when you, like the characters, are left hanging, and others when you’re in on the joke. This playful, quirky spin worked so well for me that I forgot at one point that I knew exactly what was going to happen. That’s part of the real joy of these books for grown-up fans. Instead of pretending we don’t all have an idea of what’s going to happen, these retellings take what we already know and spin and bounce and have fun with that knowledge. What fun for me! What fun for my 12 year old self remembered!

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