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Summer 2014

It’s summer! And that means it’s Summer Reading at the library! Have you signed up for the Summer Reading Program? All you have to do is keep track of the amount of time spent reading, and then you win prizes! Stop by your library to sign up and get your folder. Our theme this summer is Fizz, Boom, Read! It’s a science-themed summer. We have lots of science programs for you to attend, and in this edition of Off the Shelf, I’ll share with you a short list of great science-themed reads!

Also in this summer edition of Off the Shelf, Miss Audrey and I introduce you to some great (long) series. Summer is the perfect time to commit to a long series. Spending the summer (or part of a summer) with some characters that you love, book after book, is a great fun! We’re giving you the series title, author, and title of the first book. To find out the entire series in order, you can stop by the library (we are always happy to help) or you can check out this handy dandy website: http://www.mymcpl.org/books-movies-music/juvenile-series; here you can search to see the titles and order of the books in any series. Enjoy your summer! Good Reading! – Ms. Amanda

Some Fun Science Reads 

   

Some Bugs!

by Angela DiTerlizzi; illust. by Brendan Wenzel

Ages: 3 -5

This picture book about bugs is a simple read for the very young, but it includes a page that names all the various bugs depicted in the book. This is a nearly nightly bedtime read for my young son.

 Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science

 by John Fleischman

Ages: 9 and up

Phineas Gage got a railroad spike driven clean through his skull and brain. He did not die. Instead, his (horrific) accident gave scientists some wonderful insights into the human brain.

 

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead

by Rebecca L. Johnson

Ages: 9 and up

Walking, brain-eating, dead people are not real. Fungi, parasites, and other small creatures that take over the body and mind of their victims ARE real. 

 

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures

by Carlyn Beccia

Ages: 6-10

Travel through the history of unusual medical cures. From leeches to frog soup to mummy powder to mother’s kisses, guess which cures might actually have had some benefits to the patients.

 

The Scientists in the Field series by Various Authors

Ages: 9 and up

This series of books (which, to date, has 36 books) about various types of scientists is fascinating. Filled with facts and amazing photographs, this is one of the best science series around. Covering a variety of topics from national parks to Mars Rovers to volcanoes to various animals, there is bound to be something to spark your young reader’s interest. To check out the series, go to http://www.sciencemeetsadventure.com/  or do a keyword search in our library catalog for “Scientists in the Field.”

Great Series

 

Series: Sammy Keyes

by Wendelin Van Draanen

First Book in Series: Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Age: 10 and up

Genre: Mystery

This series begins with Sammy, a spunky young lady who will be entering 7th grade, using her grandmother’s binoculars to spy on the buildings across the street. Sammy has been staying with her grandmother in a retirement apartment building. While spying, she sees a thief stealing something from a hotel room across the street. Does she run and tell? Of course not, she’s not even supposed to be in the retirement apartments! Does she hide? Nope. She waves to the robber. Now, he knows she saw. And she knows that he looks familiar. When she finally gives up what she knows to the police, they refuse to believe her. Now, it’s up to Sammy to catch a crook.

What make this series great are not just the clever mysteries, but also the character of Sammy. She’s feisty and smart. She reminds me a lot of Harriet the Spy. More than just a run-of-the-mill mystery, Van Draanen fills Sammy’s world with wonderful supporting characters and lots of family drama. Sammy’s own family life becomes part of the mysteries she must solve. 

Series: The Ranger’s Apprentice

by  John Flanagan

First Book in Series: The Ruins of Gorlan

Age: 10 and up

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy

Will is an orphan. Though he wants to train to be a knight, his diminutive size is an obstacle.  At 15, he is, however, selected as an apprentice Ranger. The Rangers are a secretive corps that uses stealth and woodcraft to protect the kingdom. (I think of them as the medieval CIA.)   Under the tutelage of Halt, Will trains to fight with knives, to obtain nearly superhuman abilities with the longbow (though, it’s not magic that makes him so good, just natural ability and LOTS of practice), to track, to think and plan, and to move without being seen. The first book finds a previously defeated, evil duke commanding an army of wargals (half human, half beast) and returning to Will’s homeland of Araluen in a bid to gain the throne.

 How I love this series! Let me count the ways. I love the adventure. I love that there is just a touch of fantasy, but that it is mostly an adventure series for those that love the medieval setting. I love the characters. Even though they can be a little too perfect and can sometimes become almost caricatures, they are comfortable and lovable and you definitely care about them. I especially love Halt. I love that Flanagan isn’t afraid to focus on the adult characters, and I love that the adult characters play a major role in the stories right alongside the young characters. I love (and this is totally me being an adult here) that Flanagan focuses on everyone working and training. I love that things took practice, and it’s mentioned frequently. Even if the characters are naturally good at something, they still had to train and practice to become amazing. I love how Flanagan builds a world that is at times familiar and at times completely new. I love that I’m not offended that girls aren’t warriors/Rangers, because it does stick to some realistic portrayals of such a time period, but the girls/women are still strong, intelligent, and capable. They aren’t left completely to the sidelines. (I do wish there were other female characters, though – but with the newest installment, Royal Ranger, Flanagan corrects my complaint – maybe a new series is coming??) I started this series because I had so many fellas tell me about it here at the library. I’m glad they did. 

 

Series: The Last Apprentice

by Joseph Delaney

First Book in the Series:Revenge of the Witch

Age: 10 and up

Genre: Horror

Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son. As such, he has some unusual abilities, such as seeing ghosts. So, he is apprenticed to the local Spook, Old Gregory. The Spook’s job is to deal with witches, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night and to protect the people of the County. He’s had apprentices before, but they fail, run away, or die. Thomas Ward is his 29th apprentice and, probably, Old Gregory’s last. Things are going OK for Thomas and his apprenticeship, that is until he befriends Alice (who has pointy shoes, and Old Gregory warned him about talking to girls in pointy shoes). Next thing he knows, he has been tricked into releasing Mother Malkin, a witch. Now he has to fix his mistake before Mother Malkin takes those that he loves. And that’s just the first book!

There are a lot of reasons why I’d suggest this book. First, this is a true horror series. These witches are not necessarily nice. They can be gross and slimy, and some even do blood and bone magic (with real blood and bones…). The boggarts might drink blook (human blood that is). It didn’t keep me up at night or anything, but I definitely felt like it was a comfortable creepy. The characters are probably my favorite part of the series. I want a mentor like Old Gregory.  And Thomas is a real person, not perfect, but courageous and spirited and smart (though he does dumb things). Alice (yes, the young witch) is another favorite character. She so perfectly embodies the gray area between good and evil that you never know what she’ll do next.  I’m fond of outsider stories, and the Spook and his apprentice are definitely outsiders. No one wants to befriend a Spook, not with all the scary stuff they deal with. But the majority appreciates the necessary work that they do. (There are those who’d have the Spooks done away with, and one such person is The Quisitor. The Quisitor’s job is to hunt down anyone who has anything to do with the dark, whether or not they are on the side of good.) Sometimes Old Gregory and Tom find themselves battling both supernatural evil and human evil. Eventually, a prophecy comes into play. And Tom might be the key to it all. This series is perfect for those looking for some horror (or dark fantasy) books to fill their free time reading. This is another series I started reading because several kids in the library told me how good it was. They were right!

 

 

Series: Redwall

by Brian Jacques

First Book in Series: Redwall

Age: 10 and up

Genre: Fantasy

When my mother first suggested I read this series when I was ten, I was completely uninterested. I had not yet fallen in love with the fantasy genre, and a bunch of books about talking animals seemed frankly too much. Then I read it, and everything changed. This series turned me from a kid who just liked books into a certified bibliophile and a lover of all things medieval.

This series has a little bit of everything: courageous heroes, evil villains, epic quests, an occasional smidge of romance (but not enough to get in the way), feasts, songs, and excellent dialogue. The good guys and bad guys are mostly divided according to what species of animal they are.  The good guys are mice, squirrels, badgers, hares, otters, shrews, etc.  They live in scattered settlements throughout Mossflower country, and the largest of these is Redwall Abbey. The Brothers and Sisters of Redwall are part of a non-religious Order devoted to healing, feeding, and generally taking care of others. The Abbey is also home to various other members of the community who participate in Abbey life without being members of the Order. The bad guys, or “vermin,” tend to be rats, weasels, foxes, ferrets, snakes, and so forth, who are out to steal whatever they can get from the peaceful settlements. The books are slightly formulaic, in that each story is told from multiple points of view and there is always a quest. The author sets the stage by introducing characters in the vermin camp and at the settlement. Then, something happens at the settlement (which is generally Redwall, but sometimes not), and the main protagonists leave on their quest. The narration follows the quest, the vermin, and the settlement in turn, in a way that ties the whole story together and gives the reader a thorough picture of what’s going on. It’s absolutely engrossing. The author also had a knack of providing each member of his huge cast with a fairly distinct personality, at least on the good guy side, which helps keep the story rolling.

A few other characteristic details of the series:  1) There are as many strong, kick-butt female characters as there are male, which is still somewhat rare in the fantasy genre, and they are no more distracted by romance than their male counterparts, which is almost unheard of. It’s extremely refreshing.  2) The good guys are very good guys, but they do have to work for it. They get scared and discouraged just like everybody else, but they still put the greater good first, in a way that isn’t preachy.  3) People die. It isn’t gory, but you will lose characters you love. This will be a first for some younger readers.  4) The descriptions of the feasts will always make you hungry.  5) Several species, most noticeably the moles, always speak in dialect. The authors that can pull this off without being annoying are few and far between, but Mr. Jacques was one of them.  6) The books are chock-full of poems and riddles. In fact, solving riddles is a very important part of most of the quests. It’s nice to see brain valued as much as brawn in an adventure series. I could keep going. It’s an excellent series. You should try it. (Review by Ms. Audrey)

 

Series: Young Wizards

by Diane Duane

First Book in Series: So You Want to Be a Wizard?

Age: 9 and up

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

This series opens with Nita Callahan trying to avoid the bullies who beat her up every day after school. Nita is a smart, curious bookworm with absolutely zero interest in fighting to defend herself or changing her personality to blend in. To avoid capture, she ducks into her favorite safe haven: her local library. While wandering through the Children’s Department, she happens upon a book she’s never seen before entitled So You Want to be a Wizard? She checks it out on a whim, and her life is never the same.  The book is an actual Wizard’s manual, complete with spells and lessons in Wizard’s Speech, which is understood by everything in the universe, including inanimate objects.  The purpose of Wizards, according to the manual, is to slow down entropy, or the eventual death of the universe, by bringing order to chaos and showing respect for all life. The manual also contains an oath: by swearing the Oath, a person becomes a Wizard, personally committed to fighting the Lone Power and keeping the universe alive. Naturally, Nita reads the Oath, and soon after she meets another young wizard, Christopher “Kit” Rodriguez. The two hit it off, and their adventures begin immediately. In the first book alone, the kids befriend a white hole from outer space (vastly shrunk down and with most of its mass in Wizard storage) named Fred; infiltrate an alternate version of Manhattan peopled by sentient, carnivorous cars and helicopters; and save the sun from extinguishing. It’s a pretty exciting read. In subsequent books, the kids explore the ocean as whales, enter Irish Mythology, travel into deep space, and battle for their lives and loved ones.

I’m a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi, and I’ve never read another series quite like this. It has a perfect blend of both genres, and the world building is fascinating. The mythology behind Wizardry is flexible enough to fit pretty much any world religion, including ancient Egyptian, and is never preachy. As Nita and Kit get older, they encounter the Lone Power in many different forms, which keeps them on their toes. At the same time, they experience family drama, deep loss, school issues, and pimples. None of the characters are perfect, and their development is completely believable. It’s also nice that there is a great deal of diversity in the cast. For example, Kit is Hispanic, and while it’s a big part of his home life and identity, it’s never a part of the plot. And that’s just with the human characters: toss in the animals and extraterrestrials, and you have a series that pretty much defies stereotypes.

If you enjoy the idea that magic and world-saving heroes can co-exist with our modern world, try this series. If you enjoy clever dialogue and believable characters (who might not be human), read these books. And then pass them around to your friends. (Review by Ms. Audrey)