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March 8, 2011 > Footnotes: Book Reviews

Footnotes: Book Reviews

For kindergarteners and first graders:
Chicken Big by Keith Graves
Chickens are funny folk. They tend to jump to conclusions rather easily - look at the whole "sky is falling" business! The chickens on this little farm are no exception. When a HUGE chick is born, they decide immediately that it can't be a chicken. "It's an elephant!" peeps the smallest chicken. (She was not the sharpest beak in the flock.) With that they decide the humongous chicken must live outside.

The next day an acorn falls. While the smaller chickens panic, our hero picks up the acorn and eats one. "They're actually quite tasty." Elephants don't eat acorns, so after a lot of debate they decide he must be... a squirrel! "A squirrel?" thought the big humongous chick. The smallest chick makes all sorts of pronouncements - an umbrella! a sweater! - all of them very wrong, and all of them hilarious. Great illustrations add to the fun. Chickens sure are funny folk! (Chronicle Books hardback, $16.99)

For 2nd and 3rd graders:
The Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery, by Doreen Cronin
J.J. Tully is not your ordinary dog. He used to be a search-and-rescue dog, who is now trying to enjoy being retired. It's not easy. There are chickens about.

One day a chicken named Millicent shows up. She has two fluffy little chicks with her, but she's missing the other two, Poppy and Sweetie. J.J. does some nosing around but doesn't find anything until Millicent discovers a note, "I have your peeps. It behooves you to rendezvous. Twilight. Your Place." Whoever has taken the chicks left the note right under J.J.'s nose! J.J. is not going to take this challenge to his reputation lying down! (HarperCollins hardback, $14.99)

For 6th grade and up:
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. Melody is eleven years old. She has a great sense of humor, is very intelligent and has a photographic memory. The problem is that up until now, no one has known about any of that because Melody cannot talk. She has cerebral palsy. Life is difficult for Melody until the day that she is given a computer that can speak for her. She can pre-program words and things that she wants to say. All of a sudden Melody has a voice!

When she is put into a mainstream English class, she is excited to learn that they will be tested for membership on a quiz team that competes nationally. She does her best that day and scores at the top of her class! The problem is that the teacher doesn't believe the results, saying they were just a fluke and the test was unofficial anyway... the real test is coming up. How will Melody do under real pressure? Will her answers be believed? Will she be allowed to be on the team? (Atheneum hardback, $16.99)

For 6th grade and up:
Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Jennifer Strange was an orphan who showed up on the doorsteps of the Blessed Sisterhood of the Lobster in a beat up VW. When she turned 11 she was hired out to the Great Zambini, a magician who ran a business and hotel for other magicians. Magic in the world had been fading away so he decided to gather every magician to a central location. Then, unfortunately, the Great Zambini disappeared and ever since. Jennifer has been running things on her own.

The world she lives in is slightly different than ours. Centuries ago, a great magician made a pact with dragons stopping them from eating people and, as long as they stayed in the Dragonlands, no one would kill them. Of course there is a Dragonslayer about just in case... only one. It's a position handed down from generation to generation/ This is the person that will kill all the dragons if they break the pact. Since no dragon has, the Dragon Slayer hasn't been needed... up until now.

A premonition, so strong that even magicians without much talent get the vision foretells that the last living dragon will be killed in just a few days. Word goes out to the press and soon everyone is talking. Who is the Dragon Slayer? Why would the last dragon leave dragonlands? When he's killed, who will lay claim to that huge amount of property? Two kingdoms start to rumble about war, willing to fight to claim to the empty Dragonlands which aren't even empty yet!

All of this bothers Jennifer, but there is another question which bothers her more. Why do all the visions about slaying the last dragon include her? What has she got to do with this? (Hodder & Stoughton hardback, $15.99)

For Junior High and up:
Trackers #1 by Patrick Carman
This book starts with an interrogation. It soon becomes clear that the young man being questioned has done something extremely serious, and that his interrogator does not believe in his innocence. Soon you are immersed in his story, the life of 15 yr-old Adam Henderson, who has grown up surrounded by computers. His family runs a fix-it store, and from birth he was encouraged to take things apart and learn how they worked. A prodigy, he soon had his own workshop and computers.

By the time he met Finn, Emily, and Lewis, Adam had earned enough money to purchase all sorts of neat electronics such as surveillance cameras and camcorders. The friends formed a club, the Trackers, and designed imaginary challenges for themselves. It wasn't real... until someone hacked into their system. They encounter a virtual person named Zara who threatens to reveal their secrets. The Trackers are faced with real challenges that test their loyalty to each other.

This is the first installment of a very exciting series. (Scholastic hardback, $14.99)

For young adults:
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
Brewster "Bruiser" Rawlins is not the kind of kid you want dating your twin sister. He's hulking and quiet and just sort of lurks around. When 16-yr old Tennyson discovers that his twin sister Bronte has made this kid her friend, he flips out. This guy was voted "The Guy Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty" for crying out loud!

Tennyson goes to Brewster's house to tell him to keep away, but discovers that Brewster's life is no easy thing. Brewster has a younger brother he protects ferociously; they live with his uncle who is no great prize. Tennyson also discovers Brewster's secret: he absorbs the pain of anyone he cares about. To punish Brewster, all his uncle has to do is assault the younger brother. Tennyson decides to help his sister's friend.

Bronte wants others to learn that Brewster is wonderfully sensitive and intelligent. Unfortunately, the more people Brewster meets, the more people he comes to care about. With his hidden talent, that means more pain. Brewster has another talent as well; one that's even better hidden.

Bruiser must find an answer to the question, Is it better to care and hurt, or is it just too much? And for Tennyson and Bronte, Is life worth enjoying without any pain at all?

This is a wonderfully written book, with thought provoking ideas. (HarperTeen hardback, $16.99)

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