Friday, October 30, 2015

Mythology Pick: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer
Book 1
by Rick Riordan
Disney Hyperion
497 pages
ISBN: 9781484760383

Rick Riordan has managed to return to his YA/middle grade roots: a likable, funny, irrepressible hero who makes a lot of mistakes but has friends in his corner who help him fight. This was the  kind of magic that is found in The Lightning Thief and now it's back!

Magnus Chase has been homeless since his mother's murder. He's in hiding on the streets of Boston, afraid of the cops and afraid of his Uncle Randolph. His mother's last words were for Magnus to run and hide and never to trust his uncle. So far, Magnus has kept things on the down low. When he realizes people are looking for him, and not just the cops, but someone or something much, much worse, he sneaks into his uncle's mansion for clues.

Magnus discovers strange family secrets including the oddball fact that he is the son of a Norse god. Uncle Randolph "helps" Magnus search for and retrieve an ancient family sword which Magnus uses to defeat a fire warrior, but also ends his own life.  That's only the beginning of the story. In Norse mythology, true heroes after life in  paradise, called Valhalla, and our hero Magnus finds himself with a one way ticket to Hotel Valhalla.

Soon, Magnus finds himself on a quest across the realms where he meets up with a motley crew (that's fun to say and fun to write!) of characters who will help him stay "alive."

The fun and laughter is back!  Riordan's books always use humor but The Sword of Summer is spot on. Chapter titles are hilarious in and of themselves:  for example: "The Man With the Metal Bra," "My Room Does not Suck," "Come to the Dark Side. We Have Pop Tarts," "We Have a Pre-decapitation Party, with Egg Rolls," "I Psychoanalyze a Goat," and "We Are Subjected to the PowerPoint of Doom." (I'm pretty sure everyone has seen that PowerPoint, right?) Magnus is snarky and smart if a bit inept as a demigod. When awaiting his fate, Magnus thinks, "I didn't want to be an extreme case. I wanted to be an easy case: Hey, good job. You're a hero. Have a cookie." Later, Thomas Jefferson asks Magnus, "Why do you think Boston is called the Hub of the Universe?" and Magnus answers, "Wishful thinking?" Comic gold!

Magnus must go on a quest to save the world with his band of sidekicks. Book 1 sets up for Book 2 easily. Expect Loki to cause more trouble-you know Loki alwalys causes trouble.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book as a  gift. I did not received moneary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Code Workshop: Learning Code: So Easy Even a Zombie Can Learn

I offered a Code Workshop to grades 6-8 at each lunch shift on Tuesdays. We began here.

1. Start with the Hour of Code. You can print a certificate at the end.
2. Then I took kids through several learning games: Anna and Elsa, the tutorial featuring Zombies vs. plants, and Flappy Birds.

3. Many students flew through the tutorials. Really, everything you need is right here. Let kids explore. I stayed a few steps ahead of them--most of the time.
4. After exploring, we graduated to Code Academy learning html and JavaScript.
5. We also spent many hours  in Khan Academy.
6. You may also want to check out Scratch.

Using all the free websites, programs, and games is bound to keep your coders happy for the entire year and then some!

Outcome: I saw all types of kids in the library. Many of the older students I hadn't seen in some time began coming in for coding. On Wednesday-Friday, students who wanted to code could come in at lunch and use computers on their own. Once you turn them loose, you will be surprised what they build. The one rule: Keep only on sites that we had already visited as a group. If they found something on another site from home, they could share that with me and I would decide whether or not to share with the entire group.

Word gets around quickly. I had teachers coming to me within days and wondering what the heck coding is? What are the students talking about? What is going on in the library?

Pretty soon,  I was answering questions on the phone from other schools and emails from far and wide. Visitors came to see the kids using code and tweeted out news.

Don't be afraid to try this! It's fun! And as our posters around school say: Even a zombie can learn code!

Livestreaming Pick: Meerkat vs. Periscope: Cool Kids Know This!

The possibilities of Meerkat and Periscope. Cool kids know this! Which one will you use?
Meerkat Vs. Periscope-Livestreaming
Which Is the Livestreaming App For You?

Cool kids know! The winner for this librarian is clearly Periscope!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Giveaway: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch

I have FIVE FREE copies of this outstanding new YA novel. This is one book you MUST read! Although seemingly an adult title, Zebulon is the must amazing and amusing YA protagonist since Ryan Dean West (Winger, Stand Off). Author Daniel Kraus has a sure winner on his hands, and there will be many awards and honors for this title.

For your chance to win, simply post a comment to the blog. Be sure to include first name, city, state and email contact. Deadline for posts is November 12 at noon MST. Winners will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. Please check your email on November 12 in the afternoon. Winners will be notified at that time. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship from New York.

See my review of the book

Good luck and start posting!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Blog Tour and Book Giveaway: The Wild Swans

Book Tour: Visit the next stop on the book tour

Rockin' Book Reviews

The Wild Swans
by Jackie Morris
Full color illustrations
Francis Lincoln Children's Books
(Janetta Otter-Barry Books)
173 pages
ISBN: 9781847805362
 I have 5 copies of The Wild Swans up for grabs. What a beautiful book! Everyone will want a copy of this one!  For a chance to win, you simply post a comment to the blog. Please include first name, city, state and email contact. Deadline for posts is November 2 at noon MST. Winners are chosen randomly by Randomizer. Winners will be contacted Nov. 2. Please check your email on that date. Books will ship from New York. Good luck and start posting!
The Wild Swans
Retold and illustrated by Jackie Morris
This very beautiful and lyrical extended version of the fairy tale 'The Wild Swans' by Hans Christian Andersen is the much anticipated companion to East of the Sun, West of the Moon. With strong characterization of the heroine and also with more rounded characterization of the wicked stepmother than in the original version, and with delicate watercolor paintings throughout, this is both a wonderful story and delightful gift.
Jackie Morris lives in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with children, dogs and cats. Ever since leaving college, Bath Academy of Art, at least one cat has watched over her while she works. Big cats and small are a passion in her life, and it was while reading and watching her cat Pixie sleeping in winter that the idea for I am Cat came about. Among her many books for Frances Lincoln are The Ice Bear, The Snow Leopard, and Tell me a Dragon.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Professional Pick: The Handbook for Storytellers

The Handbook for Storytellers
by Judy Freeman and Caroline Feller Bauer
ALA Editions
394 pages with subject, author and title  indices
ISBN: 9780838911006

The Handbook for Storytellers is a must-have how to book for storytellers.

This handy how-to compendium is  for seasoned storytellers or beginning tale tellers and is bound to become the most highlighted, tagged, bookmarked, post-it noted, and dog-eared well-loved volume on the book shelf. Judy Freeman has left no stone unturned. She has included numerous well-loved and lesser known stories that can be used with children of all ages. Her helpful hints include ideas of using props including kites, textiles, dolls, puzzles and toys. Ideas for gifts for children to take away from an event  include uncooked pasta to remember Strega Nona, dried peas in remembrance of "The Princess and the Pea," or a piece of rope to remember  The Lion & the Mouse.

I was fortunate enough to attend a day-long session where  Freeman."presented" As a presenter, she came equipped with literally thousands of props, books, instruments, artifacts, and odds and ends. Out of seemingly magical trunks, she created an experience for the audience that this educator/librarian will never forget. A child lucky enough to see Freeman perform would be mesmerized. Storytelling is a time honored tradition that should be embraced and practiced in every library, classroom and children's program. There is nothing as magical as listening--truly listening-- to a wild tale and creating that "movie" in one's mind.

Folklore stories and trickster tales, myths, legends, fairy tales, and modern day versions of old tales are included in the book. Freeman also adds "Favorite Stories To Tell"--the favorites selected by Bauer and Freeman out of thousands of books and stories they both have read/learned. These are listed by subject for easier accessibility.  Stories are listed by title, author, and publication and contain a brief synopsis. The indices in the back of the book also allow storytellers to find what they need. The preface by Freeman is a beautiful testament to the two authors' friendship and collaboration. Freeman expresses her love and gratitude for the dynamo she knew as Caroline Feller Bauer. I never met Bauer, but I've seen Judy perform, and it's a gift. If you ever have a chance to attend one of her seminars, you will have a front row seat to something that will change your presentations forever.

I love this book! It will come in handy in any program. My copy already has tons of post-it notes sticking out of it. Post-it note inventor, thank you!

Highly, highly recommended for any librarian, teacher, minister, public speaker, presenter, counselor, well, just about everyone!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Dorky Pick: Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter

Dorky Pick: Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter
by Rachel Renee Russell
Illustrations by Erin Russell
291 pages
ISBN: 9781481457040

Bubblegum pink with puppy paw prints, the cover art invites girls (and boys) of all ages to sneak a peek! Nikki is surrounded by cute puppies in the yellow square on the front cover. The back cover hints of espionage. Operation Paws is Nikki's mission to hide seven dogs (6 puppies) from everyone, including her worst nightmare: MacKenzie!

Nikki's life is perfect, it seems. Her worst nightmare and constant enemy MacKenzie Hollister has transferred to an even posher private school. Squeeeee, Nikki is so happy! She's got two BFFs and a handsome boyfriend named Brandon. They almost share a second kiss and Nikki says, "It made me feel very giggly and a little queasy. Like I wanted to...vomit...rainbow-colored...cupcake sprinkles!" Brandon and Nikki discover a mother dog and her six puppies on the steps of the Fuzzy Friends, the animal shelter where they volunteer. Brandon's worried because the shelter is already at capacity. They've got to find a place for the dogs. Nikki volunteers to take the dogs for one night (before asking permission from her parents), Brandon agrees to a night, and the kids think they've found a short term answer.

Younger sister Brianna loves the dogs and promises to keep the pooches secret. Brianna seems to be keeping her word. Nikki's parents don't find the dogs. The next day, with her mother taking the day off, Nikki has to come up with a clever plan to smuggle the dogs out of the house. She gets them past both of parents and into her  school. Chloe and Zoey help Nikki place the dogs in the janitor's closet.  A series of mishaps have the girls scrambling. New student (and new main character of Russell's next series) Max Crumbly saves the day.

 All is well in the end (as it always is in DD); Nikki and Brianna get a surprise gift from their parents. The dogs all find good homes. Nikki gets a surprise letter from her principal with some jarring news.

A short section of Tips on How to Dork Your Diary is included. The Misadventures of Max Crumbly begins next spring.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Action Pick: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire (book 1)
by Daniel Kraus
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
656 pages

Available: October 27, 2015


“Fiction, like any art, can be divided between the living and the dead. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH is unequivocally and furiously among the former. A splendidly rendered, macabre picaresque, muscular and tender, imaginative and grotesque, cynical yet deeply moving. I was appalled one moment and laughing the next. Don't be fooled by the premise. This tale may be told by a dead man, but what's rendered here is life itself in all of life's absurd glory.” (Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave)

"Kraus' careful prose gifts Mr. Finch with a voice that retains a sheen of elegance even as it repulses readers with macabre imagery. And still, when his occasional efforts at reform fail, Mr. Finch becomes an oddly pitiable character." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Morbidly fascinating." (Publishers Weekly)

My review:

Gripping, disturbing, severe, and ever so gruesomely entertaining, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch will grab readers by the throat, shake them up, and force them to listen to every squalid detail, every juicy tidbit, every strange nuance of  Zebulon's racy story of life and death in Chicago, during the 1890s through the turn of the century, into WWI trench warfare, to the glitter and glam of 1930s Hollywood. Gunned down and dead, Zebulon, rises from the icy waters of Lake Michigan seventeen minutes later to live "life" as a dead man and he's a rip-roaringly fantastic one! What could be better than a dead guy with an attitude? Deadpan humor--what a concept! Zebulon is everything anyone could want a protagonist to be: he is an evil man who can be loving, he is a hero who is tortured by his past,  he is compassionate at times, he is a sinner to be sure, but who is to judge a man who is destined to live for all eternity?

Pull up a chair, settle in and enjoy this epic tale told by a dead man who takes storytelling to great heights with a voice that evokes Dickensian characters of yore. Zebulon's fate--though terrible-- allows him to appreciate the true beauty of the macabre and grotesque. First "taken in" by a traveling snake oil barker, Zebulon spends all his time in a cage. Later, given a chance to discover what is keeping him "alive" and hoping to find a way to die, he makes his way East to find Dr. Leather, a man he met when performing in the traveling show. The doctor promises to help Zebulon. A series of gruesome exams and tactics ensue and if you're squeamish, it may be a bit much. But hold on to your hat, this tale is  just getting started.

Zebulon escapes and runs off to enlist and is shipped off to Europe to fight the enemy. It is in warfare we see Zebulon question life, death, friendship, valor, and war. At first terrified, Zebulon figures this is his chance to finally die and he embraces it. At war's end, our hero returns to America and cavorts his way to Hollywood where he's a pampered lapdog to a glamorous movie star who craves affection. Think film noir and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

This is one whale of a book! Be ready for some late nights with no sleep--it's really that good. Whenever I begin a book this lengthy, I pray, hope, wonder, and the LOVE when it delivers. An engrossing read that just keeps giving. Zebulon Finch a character I will never forget. His name will be right up there with Atticus Finch, Scarlett O'Hara, and Ryan Dean West (Winger, Stand Off). 

This is by far the BEST YA book I've read in 2015. It is in a category all by itself. The writing is so sublime, so perfect that I often had to read a paragraph several times to revel in the sheer joy of the language.

Kudos to author Daniel Kraus! I sense a real winner here! You heard it here first: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch WILL be on so many BEST lists and look for it soon to be a movie...Hollywood will love to get their hands on this one . Steven Spielberg, you're welcome.

So highly recommended that if you only read one book this year, make it this one!

Suitable grade 9-up. Mature content. Not suitable for middle school.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Interview with New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci

Watch my interview with David Baldacci at the Texas Library Association Conference in Austin, Texas. My buddy  and fellow Texas YA librarian, blogger, reviewer, media maven, and all things techie Naomi Bates was kind enough to film. Naomi and I came up with questions for the author. Baldacci is the author of many adult fiction books and now has 2 YA novels, The Finisher and The Keeper.

Fairy Tale Pick: The Wild Swans

The Wild Swans
by Jackie Morris
color illustrations
Janetta Otter-Barry Books
173 pages
ISBN: 9781847805362

Simply a stunning children's book! Beautifully imagined illustrations will captivate and are ethereal, lovely, and delicate.

Eliza is a happy young princess whose doting father and loving mother keep her safe in their care and the warmth of their love envelops her. Her eleven older brothers are strong, handsome and brave and love her dearly. Everything is sunshine and roses until her mother dies. Suddenly the castle is quiet and cold, foreboding even. Her father grieves and leaves daily to hunt with his men in the forest.

One day, Eliza's father comes home with a strange catch. Her father has a new bride and Eliza's brothers are not to come home. Eliza misses her brothers almost as much as she misses her dead mother. This new "mother" is not loving and caring. The new queen discovers her husband's sons and turns them all into swans. Eliza sees her brothers take flight and leave one by one. Now she has no one save her mother's favorite giant dog. The dog and Eliza bond, both having lost the lady their so dearly loved. The evil stepmother (now queen) casts Eliza out and poor, doomed Eliza wanders the woods until she finds a Fairy Queen who tells her how to save her brothers and break the spell.

Eliza must endure years of toil and loneliness in order to save her brothers and reunite her family with her father. This retelling of a story by Hans Christian Andersen is inspiring and breathtaking. A crowning achievement for author/illustrator Jackie Morris!

Look for a FREE giveaway on of this book on my blog within the next few days. You could win a free copy!

Highly, highly recommended for any fairy tale fan. A must for all fairy tale collections.

Suitable grade 4-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at

Friday, October 16, 2015

Series Pick: Dark Days (Dead City, book 3)

Dark Days
(Dead City, Book 3)
by James Ponti
297 pages
ISBN: 9781481436366

Enter the author's webpage
Watch the trailer, crack the code, join Omega, and more fun!

In this third installment of Dead City, Ponti exhibits an uncanny ability to channel teen voice and pun-y dialog.

Molly Bigelow is the kind of cool girl that other girls wish they were, the kind of pal guys want to hang out with and everyone (me, included) wants to have on their side when zombies strike. Funny, self-deprecating, a little shy, but also awesome and a fierce fighter, Molly is a protagonist teen readers will fall in love with!

Omega has been hobbled. Molly's mother is deep in hiding and the leader of the zombies, Marek Blackwell, is building an army of zombies. Not only that, the undead are growing stronger and Marek is building an underground zombie city. Molly is ordered to lay low and the Omegas are not to act.

Poor Molly. Poor, poor socially incompetent Molly. She is going crazy not doing anything, so you really can't blame her when she runs into a zombie by accident. Soon, the Omegas find clues and have to meet. The situation is serious and all hands are needed. Back in the action, Molly gets on Natalie's bad side, but once an Omega, always an Omega.

Ponti has great fun with dialog and jokes. Grayson points out that the state of New Jersey see the backside of the Statue of Liberty, and Alex quips, "Maybe they should put that on the license plate....New--Jersey--the Butt of Liberty."

Zombies have never been this much fun. Ponti's clever characters (Grayson, Alex) and the group's dynamic will keep teens intrigued. New York has never been more beautiful--even the zombies can't take away from the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Trinity Church, Wall Street, and other famous New York landmarks.

Highly, highly recommended. If you haven't read the series, what are you waiting for?

Grade 6-up. No profanity, just good, clean zombie fun.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at