Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some last minute 2015 reading...

I had a stack of picture books on the table that I had been meaning to get to, so I tackled those last night.  I also am diligently working on my "Best of 2015" for our teen blog at work - I have to pick my three favorite YAs published in 2015.  Unfortunately, I did not read a lot of 2015 titles because of work... but I have a few to add to the mix.  But first - picture books!

  Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett (2015)
Not everyone likes ghosts. Leo discovers this after a new family moves into his house. He does not want to live where he is not wanted, so he leaves his home in pursuit of a new place to live and hopefully, a new friend. He does manage to find a friend - but she thinks Leo is just another one of her imaginary playmates. Until Leo manages to prevent a thief from stealing the silverware. This book might not be for every child - I know some younger children might be upset at the thought of someone sneaking into their house through a window - but it could certainly be used as a read-aloud for the elementary crowd.

 Melissa's Octopus and Other Unsuitable Pets by Charlotte Voake (2014) - I think I would start this out by asking the kids what animals they can think of that would make really, really bad pets - just to see what they would come up with. Charlotte Voake includes the octopus, obviously, along with an elephant, a mole, and a giraffe. She acknowledges that they are all splendid animals -- they just might not make great pets. But the crocodile at the end of the story seems to be the most unsuitable of all!  Use it in a pets story time for PreK and up.  Or crocodiles!

Coming Home by Greg Ruth (2014)
This is a lovely story - almost wordless - about a young boy waiting for someone special to come home from war.  A must have for any library or school that has a military population in their community and a great addition to any library to help everyone understand what it is like to greet someone returning from war.  Be sure to use it for a Memorial Day display or bring it out for Veterans Day.  It could also be used in a story time about waiting - since there were so many great books published this year with that theme!

Yard Sale by Eve Bunting (2015)    This is a story about a family who has fallen on hard times; they must sell their house and move into a much smaller apartment.  So they have a yard sale to get rid of everything they can't take with them - and raise some much-needed money.  The young girl in the story is a bit confused and unsure of all the changes coming into her life but is reassured by the end of the story.  While the family in this story is having to move for financial reasons, the book could also be used to comfort anyone having to relocate or downsize their household. 

Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier (2015) Two Mice = Too Adorable!  I really liked this story.  It's not profound - two mousey friends and one, two three.  But the illustrations are -- wonderful! The feet of the legs on the table when the mice are eating cookies; the mousey tongue when they find the nest with eggs; the eagle tongue when the mice are flying... just a cute book with lots of detail.  It's on the small side so unless they decide to create a Big Book, this would be difficult to use in a storytime.  But it would be great fun to share one on one -- or project the pictures for a preschool/K group!

I Yam a Donkey! - Story, pictures, and bad grammar all by Cece Bell (2015)
Can you imagine a conversation between a donkey and a yam?  You'll be able to after you read this fun and silly book!  It does share concepts of good (or bad) grammar but mostly it's a "who's on first" type of read.  And I promise you will laugh out loud during the story - it is that cute! This would be a good addition to a story time that includes vegetables or just stories to make you laugh out loud.  PreK and up!  Even older kids will appreciate this story.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

MODULE 15 – The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud


 Book Summary

The Amulet of Samarkand, Book One in the Bartimaeus series, is a fantasy set in an alternate universe where magic is common and those that wield it hold the power to rule. It is the story of Nathaniel, an eleven year old apprentice to a magician. When he is humiliated by Simon Lovelace, an evil and powerful magician, Nathaniel devotes himself to learning the difficult spell of summoning a djinni (basically a form of demon).  He succeeds and summons Bartimaeus - and old and powerful djin. Needless to say, Bartimaeus is not pleased at being summoned by a young whippersnapper of a child. Nor with the command to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace - but he must obey his master. The theft unknowingly uncovers murder, mayhem, and a plot to overthrow the government and give Lovelace ultimate power. It will also result in an unusual friendship between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus. 

APA Reference of Book

Stroud, J. (2003). The amulet of Samarkand. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children.

My Impressions

Stroud has created an intriguing alternate universe where magicians wield the power in several governments around the world - including London - where the story takes place. There are hints dropped by Nathaniel’s art teacher that this is not the case everywhere in the world and that there are governments that do not use magic but are run by so-called “commoners”.  Nathaniel is petulant, prideful, and power hungry - though possibly being sold at a young age by his real parents and abused by his master, Arthur Underwood, are partially to blame for his attitude. Fortunately, Mrs. Underwood genuinely loves the boy which allows him to grow up with a bit of a conscience.  Unfortunately you really do not see that until the end of the book so he is not a very likable character for a large portion of the story.  Even though he uncovers he manages to save the government, he does it out of revenge, not to benefit anyone but himself - at least initially. This makes him a bit of an odd protagonist. I did, however, like the djin, Bartimaeus, Nathaniel's so-called partner in crime and intrigue. Especially his footnotes on what he thinks about humans - they were quite humorous. Nathaniel and Batimaeus are well-developed characters; the others not as much. But it is an intriguing - though quite dark - tale (lots of people die rather gruesome deaths). I am interested to see how Nathaniel fares under his new mistress, Jessica Whitwell; what part the Resistance plays; and how Bartimaeus comes back into Nathaniel’s life in the next book, The Golem's Eye.

What the Professionals Say

KIRKUS REVIEW ~ In a contemporary London full of magic, a thrilling adventure unfolds. Twelve-year-old Nathaniel is apprenticed to a politician (which means magician), but early emotional pain leads him toward hardness and anger. Arrogantly summoning a djinni to help him steal an amulet from slickly evil Simon Lovelace, he’s swept into a swirl of events involving conspiracy at the highest government level. Nathaniel’s perspective alternates with that of Bartimaeus, the cocky, sardonic djinni. No character is wholly likable or trustworthy, which contributes to the intrigue. Many chapters end in suspense, suddenly switching narrators at key moments to create a real page-turner. Readers will hope that Stroud follows up on certain questions—is it slavery to use a djinni? will shaky looming international politics affect the empire? who deserves our alliance? and who are the mysterious children ostensibly running an underground resistance?—in the next installment, sure to be eagerly awaited.

2003, Oct. 1. [Review of the book The Amulet of Samarkand by J. Stroud]. Kirkus Review. Retrieved from

A Suggestion for Use in a Library Setting
The Amulet of Samarkand has been pulled from middle school libraries as well as recommended reading lists because of concerns that the book deals with the occult, though it has yet to be actually banned. Upon examination, the book is always allowed to remain on the shelf since the challengers only see one small part of the book and disregard the fact that it is a worthy work of fantasy.  We do quite a bit at my library to recognize Banned Books Week, including creating a display of banned and challenged books. I would happily include The Amulet of Samarkand as a part of that display and any discussion that we have regarding challenged and/or banned books.