Book Review: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 4.42.17 PMClayton Byrd Goes Underground is the latest book from the talented Rita Williams-Garcia. It’s about music and grief and family.

Clayton Byrd loves to spend time with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. He especially loves to play his blues harp in Washington Square Park with Cool Papa and the Bluesmen.

When his grandfather dies unexpectedly, Clayton does not know how to deal with his loss. He’s in trouble at school and at odds with his mother (who is still angry at Cool Papa). So Clayton runs away to join the Bluesmen. But on the subway, he encounters a hip hop group and ends up in even more trouble.

I enjoyed this one more than Larrabee did. He liked the character of Clayton, but he says he prefers books with “fewer sad parts and more action.”

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Book Review: At the Bottom of the World

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.54.27 PMIf you and your kids love science, I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Nye the Science Guy. But did you know that he and Gregory Mone are writing a series of science adventure books for middle grade readers?

The first book is called Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World and takes place in Antarctica. Larrabee and I both enjoyed the mix of mystery, adventure, humor, and real science and technology facts.

Twelve-year-old Jack lives with his genius foster siblings, Ava (age 12), who designs drones and speaks multiple languages, and Matt (age 15), a math whiz. A chance encounter leads the three to an internship in the lab of Dr. Hank Witherspoon and a trip with him to Antartica to judge an invention contest. When they arrive, though, they find that one of the scientists is missing along with all of her research.

We liked that the book includes a science experiment relating to density (a concept that’s key to the plot).

Larrabee and I are looking forward to the second book in the series, Jack and the Geniuses: In the Deep Blue Sea, set in Hawaii.

Paws-itively Zany

 

Dav Pilkey was in Santa Cruz today as part of his Supa-Epic Tour o’ Fun!

Larrabee and I both enjoyed his latest book, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties. It’s a comic book about Dogman, a cop with a dog’s head, Petey, an evil cat, and Lil’ Petey, his stubbornly good clone. It has a nice message and an appealingly zany style. Larrabee’s only complaint was that it was too short. He flew through it in one sitting, chuckling all the way.

Pilkey, who has written dozens of books, is best known for his Captain Underpants series. But our family favorites are Kat Kong, a pun-filled picture book in which a giant cat goes on a rampage through the streets of Mousopolis, and Dragon’s Fat Cat, an adorable book for beginning readers about a dragon who adopts a cat.

I hope Pilkey’s visit will inspire Larrabee to draw more comic books and that someday he’ll get to tell a group of kids about his very first comic: Ocelot vs. Cloud.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 1.35.57 PMI just finished reading Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game with Larrabee. This book won the Newbery Medal in 1979, and I remember liking it as a child (although I found that I’d largely forgotten the plot). Now, apparently, it’s a “modern classic.”

Sixteen residents of Sunset Towers are summoned to a nearby mansion for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. The will turns out to be a puzzle. The heirs are placed on teams of two and given clues. The ones who figure out who killed Mr. Westing will inherit his $200 million fortune.

This book was an challenging read aloud choice for us with its large cast of (mostly adult) characters and twisty mystery plot. We enjoyed it, though. I doubt if Larrabee would have liked reading this one on his own, but together we were able to keep the heirs straight, and we had fun trying (and mostly failing) to guess the answer to the will’s puzzle.

Book Review: Stormbreaker

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 3.26.40 PMIf you like spy novels and movies as much as Blaine and I do, then you’ll enjoy Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the first book in a series featuring 14-year-old Alex Rider, pressed into service by MI6 after the death of his uncle.

An Egyptian millionaire has promised to give tens of thousands of his company’s revolutionary new computer to schools across England. The Prime Minister is thrilled, but the offer may be too good to be true. MI6 sent Alex’s uncle to investigate, but he was killed before he could report his findings. Now Alex must go under cover to complete his uncle’s mission.

Stormbreaker is a fast-paced story and a quick read. Like a James Bond movie, though, it requires the willful suspension of disbelief. Alex’s incredible bravery, the villains’ incredible dastardliness, and the outlandish action sequences are all part of the fun. Another part of the fun is trying to figure out how Alex will use his cool teen spy gadgets (such as a Game Boy that is also a fax/photocopier, x-ray device, bug finder, and smoke bomb). And I’ve written about Chekhov’s gun before, but this book has the first Chekhov’s Portuguese man-of-war that I’ve ever seen. Pretty cool.

There are ten books in the series so far, and the 11th book is due out in October.

Scary Stories

5EA4357D-6396-4989-8548-2F0B9AD0777BWe have just one week of summer vacation left. Time for a few more late nights reading scary stories under a blanket…

This summer, Larrabee has discovered the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. They’re horror/thriller stories for kids ranging from the mildly creepy to the downright terrifying.

There are 62 books in the original series published in the 90s and dozens more in the later spinoff series. Some are still in bookstores, and you can find the rest in libraries, used bookstores, and on your brother’s shelves.

Larrabee says both The Haunted School and Ghost Beach will make you break out in cold shivers. And I think It Came From Beneath the Sink! still gives Blaine nightmares. Do you have a favorite Goosebumps book? Or another scary story that keeps your kids up at night?

Book Review: Fuzzy Mud

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 9.50.31 AMFuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar is a suspenseful story about middle school friends and enemies and about biotechnology gone awry.

Tamaya always walks home from school with her older neighbor, Marshall. Then, one day he insists on taking a shortcut through the woods to avoid a boy who has challenged him to a fight. Tamaya knows that the woods are off limits, but her mother has forbidden her to walk home alone, so she follows Marshall. And she comes across some fuzzy mud…

Interspersed with the compelling kids’ stories are excerpts from the Senate’s secret hearings on the technology that led to the fuzzy mud. In addition, Sachar uses equations to show the ominous doubling of the population of microbes.

Larrabee and I both enjoyed this one, although neither of us would rank it as our favorite book by Louis Sachar. That honor goes to Holes for me and Sideways Stories from Wayside School for Larrabee.