Showing posts with label adventure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventure. Show all posts

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel Jose Older -- historical fiction with social justice and dinosaurs! (ages 10-14)

I'm really excited to share Dactyl Hill Squad with my readers--my first copy went out today to a reader who loves Percy Jackson fantasies. Dactyl Hill Squad is a terrific mix of historical fiction, action-adventure and fantasy--with a strong underlay of social justice themes. Hand this to readers who want high energy books and a critical look at race relations.
Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 10-14
Magdalys Roca chafes at the rules imposed at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Civil War era New York. Above all else, she cannot stand it when the matron calls her Margaret, instead of Madalys, her real name. Right from the opening page, readers know that Magdalys is strong-willed and proud of her Afro-Cuban heritage. But she also really wants to see the play at the colored theater, so she complies with the matron's demands.

Magdalys discovers that she has a special connection with the dinosaurs that are part of everyday life in this alternative history. She discovers that she can communicate with them mentally: they hear her wishes, and she knows how they are feeling. Dinosaurs and pterodactyls are both wild and tamed, serving people as beasts of burden and roaming free.
"It was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs."
While Magdalys and her friends are seeing the play, riots break out on the streets and their orphanage is burned down. These riots are based on the Draft Riots of 1863. The children flee to Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Dactyl Hill for all of the pterodactyls that fly over the homes. They find refuge with the Vigilance Committee, which, as Miss Bernice explains, "helps fugitive slaves make it farther up north and works to stop the Kidnapping Club from sending our folks south to bondage."

Once safe in Brooklyn, Magdalys and her friends form the Dactyl Hill Squad and set out to foil the Kidnapping Club, find Magdayls's brother and protect their friends. There's plenty of dinoriding, battles and near-escapes.

I especially appreciate how Daniel José Older weaves together complex topics such as race, power and gender in the Civil War in the framework of an action-packed, fantastical story. He provides fascinating historical background information in his author's note.

Given this, I do think that this story is best appreciated by kids who already understand some of the complexities of the Civil War and race relations in US history. My first reader who loved it had just finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains with his class, and this made a perfect follow-up. I wonder if the cover looks a little young--I imagine this working more with a middle school crowd.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, July 19, 2013

Interview with Bruce Hale, author of Playing with Fire (ages 9 - 12)

Today we have something a little different - what I'm hoping is a new regular feature: a chance for some of my favorite kid-testers to interview one of their favorite authors. Natchez and Isla are both avid readers, entering 6th and 7th grade. They love a wide range of books, and one of their new favorites is Bruce Hale's Playing with Fire.

Bruce Hale is a go-to author in my library for kids who love action blended with humor and mystery. My students love his Chet Gecko mystery series and his graphic novel-hybrid Underwhere series. This summer he's kicking off the new School for S.P.I.E.S. series with Playing with Fire.
Playing with Fire
by Bruce Hale
illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Disney / Hyperion, 2013
find it at Amazon
your public library
ages 10 - 13
Natchez wonders what inspired you to write Playing with Fire. What made you want to write a book about an orphanage that taught kids how to become spies?

Bruce Hale: PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves. First, ever since I was a kid, I've loved spy stories. James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible -- all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself. Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant -- crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath. She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday. And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies? When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title "Shanghai Annie's School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage)." For a long time, all I had was the title, but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.

Isla is interested in why you made Max such a stubborn kid. She noticed that the book had lots of different emotions running through it and lots of different characters. Tell us about creating Max's character.

Bruce Hale: It was difficult to find Max's character at first -- until I interviewed some people who work with foster kids, along with a former foster child. Then I started to understand some of the challenges these kids face and how it might affect their personality. For Max, I decided that the foster-family experience made him tough, stubborn, and sarcastic. The stubbornness would help him survive this strange situation he'd been thrust into, and the sarcasm would let me add some humor, which I always love to do. Writing this character was a fun challenge for me, as I'd mostly been doing light, funny books like Chet Gecko, without much emotional development in the characters.

I'm curious whether you draw on any of your own childhood experiences when you are writing - whether things you went through, books you read or pop culture from when you were a kid.

Bruce Hale: Most of my stories come from my imagination and some light research. But in this case, I based Max's relationship with his dad upon the one I had with my dad. We loved each other (he's passed on now), but we had a challenging relationship. Although I didn't use our exact situation, I did draw from the emotions of it. Also, as I've mentioned, I put my old yoga teacher into a supporting role as Hantai Annie. And of course, all my exposure to spy stories over the years helped shape the plot and give me ideas, like the villains' shark tank (from an old James Bond movie) and the kids crawling through the ducts (from every other spy and thriller movie).

What books drew you to reading when you were a kid? How do you try to put elements of those in your writing today?

Bruce Hale: I was a reluctant reader at first -- more interested in running around causing trouble than sitting still and reading. That all changed when I was in third grade, on a day my family still calls The Day The TV Died. My parents resisted getting a new TV for months, and instead, they read to my brother and me. The first series that really captured my imagination was Tarzan of the Apes, and I burned through that series and everything else by Edgar Rice Burroughs. From there I moved on to adventure books -- mostly classics like Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, and The Call of the Wild. And after that, I read voraciously in a wide range of genres.

I think those adventure books helped define what I like (most of the time) in a good read: breathless action, tons of suspense, and situations that really challenge the main character. Today, I try to put some of those elements in nearly everything I write -- even the funny stuff.

Isla is curious why you chose to set Playing with Fire in London.

Bruce Hale: Even though I deliberately didn't mention any names of cities (to preserve that mysterious feeling), I felt from the beginning that the story would be set in London. Maybe it's because of all the British spy movies and TV shows I saw growing up. Somehow, with all the fog, the history, and so forth, London just feels more spy-like than, say, Pittsburgh.

Finally, Natchez really wants to know if there's going to be a sequel to Playing with Fire!

Bruce Hale: I just finished writing the sequel to PLAYING WITH FIRE. It's called THICKER THAN WATER, and it'll be out in Spring 2014. The third book, untitled as of yet, is just getting underway. I'll be working out the plot over the summer.

Check out this video and a feel for Playing with Fire. Bruce Hale introduces is and then reading a sneak peak from the story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Disney / Hyperion. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus (ages 11 - 14)

A student recently told me he liked reading historical fiction that made him think about things in a new way. Some tweens really enjoy reading books that take them to new places, but this student was looking for more. He not only wanted to visit a new place, he wanted a book that would expand his thinking in a deeper way. If your tween is looking for a book to stretch their thinking, try Heart of a Samurai, winner of a Newbery Honor Award this winter. It's a fascinating look at Japan and America in the mid-19th century.

Heart of a SamuraiHeart of a Samurai
by Margi Preus
NY: Amulet, 2010
ages 11 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
2011 Newbery Honor Award
2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Childen's Literature
Inspired by the real life adventures of Manjiro Nakahama, Margi Preus has written a riveting historical fiction, filled with action, suspense and conflicting cultures. At the age of 14, Manjiro was a young teen living in a small Japanese village when he went to work on a fishing boat. On January night in 1841, his boat was caught in a terrible storm and the crew washed up onto a tiny remote island. After barely surviving on this rocky outcrop, Manjiro and his shipmates were rescued by an American whaling ship passing by. The American captain, John Howland, treats them with respect, but life aboard the whaler is not easy. Manjiro must learn English, try to understand the ways of the Americans, and earn the respect of both his Japanese crew and the American crew.

I was fascinated by the tensions between the isolationist Japanese culture and the expansionist, nationalist American culture. Manjiro decided to stay with Captain Howland, effectively becoming his son and returning to Massachusetts with him. Preus helps readers think about what it would be like to be in Manjiro's situation, knowing his own people would not trust him if he returned after living with the Americans. He was caught between the two cultures, and struggled to establish his own identity, his own sense of who he was.

While the book has plenty of excitement and suspense to hook tweens, it's the growth and development of Manjiro's character that will stay with them. I was fascinated that this young boy who was supposed to be a simple fisherman and nothing more, ended up becoming so much more. This book will appeal to strong 5th grade readers as well as middle schoolers looking to expand their horizons.

If you would like another swashbuckling adventure, I'd recommend either Avi's The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle or L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack series.

The review copy was kindly sent by Amulet Books and Abrams. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Into the Unknown, by Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty (ages 9 - 14)

As a child, I was fascinated by how early explorers sailed the oceans to new lands, pushing the limits of their knowledge. I remember learning about how Magellan's fleet circumnavigated to world - it was just captivating to learn about, and yet seemed so hard to imagine. Oh, if I only had been able to read Into the Unknown by Stewart Ross and Stephen Biesty - still, as an adult, I've poured over this book for hours and hours. If your child is fascinated by history, travel, exploration, maps or engineering, definitely seek this book out.
Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and AirInto the Unknown
How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea and Air
by Stewart Ross
illustrated by Stephen Biesty
MA: Candlewick Press, 2011
ages 9 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
With clear, dramatic storytelling, Stewart Ross follows fourteen great explorers as they set out to discover the unknown. Starting with Pytheas the Greek, who sailed to the Arctic Circle in 340 B.C. and ending in 1969 when the crew of the Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Ross examines where, why and how these brave adventurers traveled. Ross provides just enough information to help construct a clear understanding for young readers without overwhelming them with too much detail.

Stephen Biesty's illustrations are a marvel, drawing readers to this book before they even start reading it. Using unfolding maps, cutaways and cross sections, Biesty brings these adventures to life in the reader's imagination. They let us see what it might have been like to sail on rough curragh with Pytheas as he sailed the North Sea. Some illustrations focus on the techniques used to construct certain ships, while others detail the routes taken. Many illustrations are fold-outs that fit nicely into the book, smaller than the full pages so they close up neatly. This volume will be a bit of a challenge in the school library with its many fold-outs. Even the dust jacket folds out to reveal a full map show casing all fourteen voyages!

Ross and Biesty take readers on fourteen famous voyages, arranged chronologically in order. While there is certainly a Euro-centric slant to the choices, they do provide a very interesting range, including Leif Eriksson's journey to America in AD 1003, Admiral Zheng He crossing the Indian Ocean with his enormous Treasure Fleet in 1405, and Jacques Piccard diving deep within the Mariana Trench to the Challenger Deep in 1960. This book will make fascinating reading for many children, piquing their interests to learn more about a favorite adventurer. It has enough information to be used in reports, but is written in a dramatic way to pull readers along who just want to know what happened next!

Stephen Biesty is a truly amazing illustrator. As he writes on his website:
"I create illustrations that are unrivalled for their ambitious scope and attention to detail. They are unique hand-drawn dissections individually designed to reveal and explain the structure of the subject, and show how people lived inside it. My aim is to imagine the unimaginable and give the viewer exciting new images of familiar things."
- Stephen Biesty's Artist Statement
He provides many examples of his work on his website, including many from this book. Look especially at Gallery 6, Atmospheric Cutaways, where you'll find this illustration of Magellan's Carrack, among other things. Biesty is best known for his Incredible Cross-Sections, which is now out of print. But a recent book that I've been wanting to explore is Egypt: in Spectacular Cross-Section, by the same team of Ross and Biesty.

Into the Unknown will receive a starred review in the May/June edition of the Horn Book Magazine. I'm looking forward to reading other reviews as they come in. This is truly a remarkable book.

For many other nonfiction resources to share with your children, check out Nonfiction Monday. It's a weekly event hosted around the Kidlitosphere and is a great place to discover wonderful books for children. Today it's hosted by Jennifer at The Jean Little Library.

The review copy was kindly sent by Candlewick Press.  If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Storm Runners, by Roland Smith - three teens surviving a hurricane (ages 8 - 12)

“The bus hit the water like a torpedo, pushing Chase’s face into the seat frame. He felt a front tooth snap, followed by the coppery taste of blood. Frantically he felt around for his go bag. He’d need the first aid kit and everything else in the bag if they survived the crash…”
- Roland Smith, Storm Runners (ARC, p. 74)
Imagine knowing a Category Five hurricane is barreling toward you and you're trapped inside a school bus trying to get you home. It's storm-dark, and rain is pelting the bus so hard that you can't see anything outside. Suddenly, the bus is lifted off its wheels and tossed onto its side, then down, down into water. Thirteen-year old Chase Masters knows he's in a life-or-death situation, and he does everything he can to survive this incredible situation. This is a book that will grab young readers, pull them through, and have them begging for the sequel.
Storm RunnersStorm Runners
by Roland Smith
NY: Scholastic, 2010
audiobook narrated by Ramon de Ocampo
ages 8 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
Chase Masters and his father have been traveling across the U.S. following major storms and disasters ever since his father survived a lightning strike a year ago. They pursue tornadoes, floods, hurricanes - anywhere that disaster strikes, they'll be there, first offering to help people prepare for the disaster, and then being the first contractors on site to make money as people have to repair their homes. Chase has been trained to be a survivor - he knows what to do in case of emergencies and is prepared. But is he prepared for Hurricane Emily as it barrels down on the west coast of Florida?

If your child likes stories that keep you on the edge of your seat, this might be a great choice. Roland Smith excels at putting you right in the middle of a scene, making you feel every branch that whips past your face in the hurricane force winds. You can feel the crocodile's tail whip out as it takes Chase's legs out from under him, and hear the beast's jaws crash inches from your head. This is certainly a great book to get the adrenaline pumping.

Although it is short and full of action, I would recommend it for students in 4th or 5th grade who are stronger readers, able to keep several storylines in their minds. Smith switches the action from Chase to his father to the local newscaster. This heightens the drama, as Chase struggles for survival and his father searches for him. But the shifting point of view might be confusing to some readers. The biggest problem most readers will face is the cliff-hanger ending. My students are dying to get their hands on the sequel Storm Runners #2: The Surge, but it won't be out until September 1, 2011.

I Survived #3: I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005If you enjoy action stories, I highly recommend Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. This Newbery winning book is one of my all time favorite stories, a classic survival story pulls you in right in the very first chapter and has you hanging onto each page until it reaches a satisfying conclusion. Students who have liked Storm Runners have also liked Scholastic's I Survived series, which currently include:

The review copy was kindly sent by Scholastic. Several of our students have read and loved Storm Runners. We'll definitely be ordering it (and The Surge) for our collection. We've also ordered Peak and Elephant Run, two other books by Roland Smith that appeal to 4th and 5th graders who love survival stories. I have not tried Smith's series I,Q, and would love to know what others think. Is this popular with 4th and 5th graders? What types of readers does it appeal to?

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Alex Rider series - great spy adventures (ages 10 - 14)

Quick action, secret undercover agents, short cliff-hangers: it's a perfect recipe for young teen readers. The Alex Rider series is incredibly popular, and justifiably so. Fans of the series will be excited to learn that the newest and last in the series is just being published. Parents looking for a new series to hook kids who grew up loving the adventure in Harry Potter and Percy Jackson should check this out.
Stormbreaker (Alex Rider Adventure)Stormbreaker
Alex Rider #1
by  Anthony Horowitz
NY: Philomel Books, 2001
audiobook narrated by Nathaniel Parker
NY: Listening Library
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
When Alex Rider's uncle and guardian is mysteriously killed, the 14 year old starts asking questions, quickly discovering that his uncle was an undercover spy for the British government. Alex is pulled into the mystery and soon reluctantly joins the Special Operations division of MI6, his uncle's employer. After a short, brutal training, Alex starts investigating the case his uncle had left unsolved: to discover the secret that Herod Sayle is hiding behind his generous donation of one of his supercomputers to every school in the country. It's an exciting novel that will have readers turning pages to see if Alex can survive one dangerous encounter after another.
Scorpia Rising: An Alex Rider Misson (An Alex Rider Novel)Scorpia Rising
Alex Rider #9
NY: Philomel Books, 2011
ages 10 - 14
available on Amazon and at your local library
Kids who have already been hooked by this series will be thrilled to learn that the newest Alex Rider book is being published March 22nd. From the publisher's summary: "Scorpia has dogged Alex Rider for most of his life. They killed his parents, they did their best to con Alex into turning traitor, and they just keep coming back with more power. Now the world's most dangerous terrorist organization is playing with fire in the world's most combustible land: the Middle East. No one knows Scorpia like Alex. And no one knows how best to get to Alex like Scorpia. Until now." The chase scenes promise to be intense, as Alex survives one perilous challenge after another.

I could hang onto this and read it in full, or I could pass it onto kids who will set aside their favorite video games to devour a 400 page book. It's an easy choice - yep, I haven't read this latest one all the way through, but I promise you it's going be loved in our middle school!

Anthony Horowitz is visiting many schools and bookstores in March and April to promote this book. He'll be in California this week, and then in April he'll visit the Chicago area, DC and Dallas. Here are his visits this week:
Tuesday, March 22: Irvine, CA at Whale of a Tale
Wednesday, March 23: Santa Monica, CA at Barnes & Noble
Thursday, March 24: Petaluma, CA at Copperfield's Books
Friday, March 25: Menlo Park, CA at Kepler's Books

Here's a complete listing of the Alex Rider series:
1. Stormbreaker
2. Point Blank
3. Skeleton Key
4. Eagle Strike
5. Scorpia
6. Ark Angel
7. Snakehead
8. Crocodile Tears
9. Scorpia Rising

If you enjoy the Alex Rider series, I highly recommend trying the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. Great action, witty dialog, full of suspense and mystery.

Many thanks to the Penguin Group for sending a review copy of this book. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.