Book Review – Watchdog by Will McIntosh

WatchdogBy Awnali Mills

In the future, Chicago is not a safe place for fraternal twins Vick and Tara.  Abandoned by their father, the twins started living on the roof of an abandoned building after their mother died.  They are just trying to stay alive by finding trashed items that autistic mechanical genius Tara can fix and Vick can sell.  Vick is the scrounger, but Tara can design and build anything.  When she finds a discarded computer chip that turns her little robot dog into a clever protector, the two get on the bad side of the local warlord, Ms. Alba.  She will stop at nothing to get that chip, including killing Vick and Tara.

Watchdog has a clever premise.  I loved that Tara was the brilliant one, but I don’t know how accurately McIntosh portrayed her autism (This is my ignorance.  Each child is unique, but Tara seems pretty high functioning and social compared to the autism I am familiar with.  Can an autistic person just “put off” their meltdowns?  Tara can.)

Kids probably won’t mind that McIntosh skips over mechanical details, but it pushed the limits of my credulity that the gang of kids Vick and Tara fall in with can just produce highly functioning robots with a few spare parts.  I’ve tried to assemble things before.  Given, I’m not a mechanical genius, but it’s pretty difficult to put together things that are built to fit, much less assemble a bunch of disparate parts into technologically advanced soldier robots.

Just saying.

I also thought the ending was pretty abrupt, and didn’t bring me any closure for their situation.  It was…hard to swallow.

The story is very fast paced, which adventure lovers will enjoy, and kids who enjoy mechanical things might be willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story.  And, as I mentioned, it’s good to have another portrayal of a special needs kid in a primary role.  Be aware that there is a total lack of helpful or caring adults in the book—they’re all bad guys.  Recommended for grades 3-5.

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Penguin Storytime 12/13/17

By Awnali Mills

It was an absolutely frigid, windy day, so totally appropriate for penguins!  The books I chose were Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion and Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere by Bob Barner.  Perhaps because of the cold, I had a small, intimate group.  That worked for us!

I had a stuffed penguin with a baby chick to introduce the letter P, and then I passed out laminated pictures of penguins with numbers on them.  We counted our penguins and brought them to the board.  Then I read Baby Penguins Everywhere.

A fingerplay was next, Two Little Penguins.

Two little penguins sitting on the ice (hold up two fingers)
One bows once, the other bows twice (made index fingers bow)
Waddle little penguins. Waddle away. (put fingers behind back)
Come back penguins. Time to play! (bring fingers to the front)
Credit: King County Library System

Then we sang If You’re a Penguin and You Know It.
If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings (flap, flap)
If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings (flap, flap)
If you’re a penguin and you know it and you really want to show it
If you’re a penguin and you know it flap your wings. (flap, flap)
Catch a fish (clap hands)
Wiggle your tail (wiggle, wiggle)
Snap your beak (click teeth)
Credit: Childhood variation

Next we did the song Visit to the South Pole to which I added pictures of actual penguins doing the actions that we were singing about.  I wasn’t up to playing my ukulele today, so I sang instead.

Sung to: “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

I went to the South Pole and what did I see?
A baby penguin sitting on the ice.
I went to the South Pole and what did I see?
Two penguins flapping, and a baby penguin sitting on the ice.
I went to the South Pole and what did I see?
Three penguins swimming, two penguins flapping, and a baby penguin sitting on the ice.
I went to the South Pole and what did I see?
Four penguins diving, three penguins swimming,
Two penguins flapping, and a baby penguin sitting on the ice.
I went to the South Pole and what did I see?
Five emperor penguins! Four penguins diving, three penguins swimming,
Two penguins flapping, and a baby penguin sitting on the ice.
Modified from: http://www.preschooleducation.com/spenguin.shtml

Then we read Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere followed by the flannel Five Baby Penguins.  The kids helped me with this one, putting the baby penguins on their iceberg.

To finish, I handed out scarves, and we danced to The Freeze by Carole Peterson from the album Dancing Feet.

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Book Review – Lily’s Mountain by Hannah Moderow

Lily's MountainBy Awnali Mills

Lily’s father is a great outdoorsman, and he has taught his daughters well.  That is how Lily knows for sure that the reports of his death on Denali, North America’s tallest mountain, have to be wrong.  There is no way that her father could have died—he was too good at surviving.  Even though everyone else has given up, Lily won’t.  Instead, she convinces her sister to take her to the mountain.  It doesn’t matter what obstacles they face; Lily will find her father and do whatever it takes to make sure he comes home.

So, I am a bad person.  I don’t do suspense well, and I had a very strong opinion about whether or not Lily’s father should survive.  So I checked the back of the book before reading a whole chapter because I wanted to be sure that Moderow didn’t behave badly.  She didn’t.  Whew!  So, you’re safe not checking the back of the book, because I did it for you.  You’re welcome.  Be a better person than me and don’t read the end first.

Lily and her sister Sophie are strong and smart, even if they make some stupid choices.  Lily’s hope is so strong and so compelling that she really can’t make any other decisions than the ones she does.  Moderow gives us lots of good information about survival skills, which are woven skillfully into her narrative.  Readers of realistic adventures will appreciate this fast paced, fairly short novel.  For grades 3-5.

 

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Book Review – The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

Guns AboveBy Awnali Mills

Things are not looking up for Josette Dupre.  Her recent battle successes have earned her the ire of people who don’t want females in the military.  So what did they do?  Went and make her the first female captain of an airship, then gave her a brand new airship with a “revolutionary new design.”  In other words, they just gave her a death sentence.  Because everyone knows that “revolutionary new design” is engineer speak for “get you killed in new and interesting ways.”

And as if all that wasn’t enough, they also put a spy aboard to report her every move in the worst possible light.  Spy Bernat Hinkal of the royal family is a useless fop, even if he is charming.  He can at least shoot a gun.  Will he and Josette become a team, or will they go down together in flames?

Okay, so I picked up this book ONLY because they printed a recommendation from Patricia Briggs on the cover.  I adore Briggs, and I’m shallow enough to be influenced by such base and common marketing techniques.  Bennis creates interesting characters, and she isn’t the least bit afraid of killing them off (see, now you’re worried, right?).  I loved the action and the smart-aleck interplay between the characters, but the battle scenes and the technical descriptions got a little wearing for me.  Other people, I am sure, would enjoy the technical stuff.

The book definitely has a steampunk vibe, but I’d classify it as fantasy because it doesn’t take place in our world.  There’s a lot of women proving themselves capable in the face of men who want them to be pretty, gentle, and biddable, which I always enjoy, and Bennis does it without making (most) of the men look like idiots.  There’s one line in the book that I adored, and it went something like, “And that is why men shouldn’t be allowed on airships.”  It was great.

If you like action, adventure, war stories, fantasy, or steampunk, give this one a try. Recommended for teens and adults.

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Book Review – Breaker Boy by Joan Hiatt Harlow

Breaker BoyBy Awnali Mills

Corey is anxious to join his father in working in the mines of Pennsylvania.  That is, until he falls through the ice and drowns.  He is rescued and revived by reclusive Mrs. Chudzik, but suffers from PTSD caused by the experience.  Now the mine causes him to have terrible panic attacks.  Mrs. Chudzik comes to the rescue again, giving him a way to overcome his fear.  But when his friends and his father are threatened, will he have the courage to do what needs to be done?

This is a historical novel, taking place right after the turn of the 20th century.  Harlow draws an accurate picture of the lives of coal miners, the greed of mine owners, and the smiling threat of the company store.  Mrs. Chudzik is an interesting character, and her approach to curing PTSD and phobias is used by many people today.  This is a great book to offer your historical fiction fans who like adventure.  Recommended for grades 4- 6.

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Pirate Storytime 12/6/17

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was all about pirates, and the books I chose were How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting.

How I Became a PiratePirate Boy

I started off singing Jbrary’s Pirate Zoom, Zoom, Zoom and supplemented this with 5 large circles I cut out of gold paper, writing the numbers 1-5 on them, and putting a magnet on the back.  As we counted down each number, I put the corresponding doubloon on the board.

Then we read How I Became a Pirate.  This is usually a great storytime book for me, but I had a younger crowd today (most were not old enough for my storytime).  Most of them sat really still for the book, but the book used all of their attention up, and I had a hard time getting them back for the rest of the storytime.

We stood up and sang This Is the Way We Swab the Deck
This is the way we swab the deck, swab the deck, swab the deck
This is the way we swab the deck, so early in the morning.
Walk the plank
Drop the anchor
Raise the sails
Steer the ship
Salute the captain

Then we did the flannel Pirate Wore a Red Patch.  The kids chose the color we put on each time we did the chant.

Because our book had talked about sea chanteys, we needed to sing one.  So, I grabbed my uke and we sang What Shall We Do with the Pirate Sailor

(Shrug shoulders))
What shall we do with a pirate sailor,
What shall we do with a pirate sailor,
What shall we do with a pirate sailor,
Early in the morning?
(Jump up in the air)
Hoo-ray and up she rises,
Hoo-ray and up she rises,
Hoo-ray and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Because the kids weren’t set for another book, I skipped Pirate Boy and went right into the flannel Five Pirates on a Treasure Chest.

Then, we finished up with If You’re a Pirate and You Know It.
If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish)
If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish)
If you’re a pirate and you know it, then you’ll hear the sea winds blowin’
If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish)

Walk the plank (stomp and fall down)
Say “Aye, Aye!” (and salute)

That probably wasn’t the best move, since one child turned to his mom and said, “Didn’t we just swab the decks?”  Oh, well.

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Book Review – The Marvelwood Magicians by Diane Zahler

Marvelwood MagiciansBy Awnali Mills

Mattie Marvelwood and her family all have very special talents.  Her father can create illusions, her mother can read the future, her brother Bell can disappear, and her little sister Tibby can float.  And Mattie?  Mattie can read minds.

Because they work at fairs and circuses, everyone thinks that the Marvelwood talents are wonderful tricks, but Mattie hates that her talent is real.  She hates knowing what people really think, and all the ugliness they hide inside.  More than anything, she just wants to be normal.  And she may get her chance, because the ringmaster at her new circus has his own talent, and it isn’t a nice one.  Will Mattie and her new friend Selena be able to stop the ringmaster before he hurts everyone she loves?

The Marvelwood Magicians is a wonderful story with really interesting characters.  It’s a cool peep behind the scenes into the world of the circus, and Mattie is a strong and courageous heroine.  Give this to your mystery and adventure fans.  Recommended for grades 3-5.

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