The Reading Corner

One Small Step for Man…

I admit it – I’m not a huge science fiction fan when it comes to books. Movies, yes – sign me up for a Star Trek or Star Wars marathon any day. So against everything that is logical in the universe, I found myself picking up the audiobook Crater by Homer Hickam for a long car ride, and of course I was enthralled.

craterThe Earth has been devastated by civil wars for hundreds of years and needs the precious resources available on the Moon, where a robust yet lawless society flourishes. Crater has one of the risky jobs of mining Helium – 3 and is perfectly content with his life with his adoptive mother. All that changes one day when he is tapped for an extraordinary mission to obtain (OK, steal) an object of untold importance. He’ll have to travel across the moon’s surface, facing danger at every turn.

Homer Hickam is best known for his memoirs about growing up in a small mining town dreaming of building rockets, dramatized in the movie October Sky. In Crater, he creates a vibrant lunar landscape and a harsh technological society, giving the reader enough details without distracting from the action. You’ll find yourself rooting for this unlikely hero and clamoring for the sequel, due out soon.

Favorite Art Mysteries

Did you know that paintings by Van Gogh are the most frequently stolen? No wonder that this amazing artist is featured in Tokyo Heist, a new young adult mystery by local author Diana Renn.

Violet is supposed to spend the summer in Seattle with her artist father, but when several Van Goghs are stolen and her father’s place is ransacked, she finds herself in Tokyo, where she will need all her wits about her to uncover the criminal and find the precious art.

Tokyo Heist is filled with interesting characters and non-stop action; definitely one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a while. Here are a few more of my favorite art mysteries!


Potter-esque Adventures!

I’m always ready for a good adventure – but when brilliant authors add a little fantasy, I’m hooked! Both these new series feature teen heroes-in-training and their friends, using magical powers to battle unusual forces of evil. Sound familiar? If you liked Harry Potter, give these a try!

In The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1), author Jonathan Stroud invites us into an alternate England where dangerous ghosts – er, Visitors – have overrun the country. Psychic teens are the best warriors against this national threat, and that’s where Lucy Carlyle and Anthony Lockwood come in. Their assignment: destroy the Specter in one of the most haunted houses in England. Will they come out alive?

Wild chalklings threaten the United Isles, and only trained Rithmatists can subdue them. In The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, Joel’s dearest wish is to learn this magical mathematical skill and fulfill his father’s lifelong quest. When danger strikes his home of Armedius Academy, he must decide whom to trust if he is to stop the bloodshed.

Friends and Family

We are highlighting the newest award-winning books this month in the Reading Corner. I’ve already blogged about the Newbery Medal-winning book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, here, but check out this video interview!

And now, a peek inside two 2104 Newbery Honor books.

It‘s hard for Zach to remember a time when he wasn’t friends with Alice and Poppy. The adventures they create are full of pirates, warriors, and – most important of all – the Great Queen, a precious, bone china doll locked away in Poppy’s dining room cabinet. Lately, though, Zach’s friends have teasing him about hanging out with girls, and his father says he’s too old for childish games.

The Great Queen, however, has other plans. I know what you’re thinking – she’s only a doll. Or is she? Part ghost story, part adventure, Doll Bones is a fabulous page-turner from Holly Black, the genius behind the Spiderwick Chronicles.

Billy Miller has lots of questions. Is he smart enough for second grade? Is his teacher mad at him? Will his little sister stop annoying him? Can he stay up all night without falling asleep? How can he possibly write a poem – and perform it in front of the whole class and their parents?

Go on a journey through second grade with Billy, and you will discover the answers. This is a wonderful story from Kevin Henkes, who has written many picture books, chapter books and early readers.

Did Kevin Henkes have an annoying little sister like Billy? Find out in this interview!



Back to the Future

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of time travel, from Madeline L’Engle’s Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time to the Back to the Future movies. Two books I’ve finished recently are stellar and inventive examples of how authors can bring us across centuries and into others’ hearts and minds.

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick takes place on the remarkable Scandinavian island of Blessed (or Blest or Bloed, as it is also known). It’s June of 2073 and Eric Seven has arrived here for work. Soon he’s captivated by the beautiful and mysterious Merle, who whispers insistently, “I followed you.” In each chapter that follows, we move backward in time and discover the island’s secrets and its curses, as well as love and hatred that are braided together in and out of time.

In Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, events threaten to destroy lives across three centuries. Andi Alpers, guitar whiz, is losing it – still unable to cope after her younger brother’s death, she’s living in her music and failing her senior year of high school. When her estranged father whisks her off to Paris, she’s convinced things can’t get worse. All that changes when she discovers a hidden diary. Suddenly, she is transported back to the time of the bloody French Revolution, to the life of Alexandrine Paradis. Will Alex survive the dangerous game she is playing, trying to protect the young king, Louis-Charles? And in reading the diary, will Andi find the strength that she needs to embrace life?



And the winner is…

...The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers!

Our grade 3 students voted overwhelmingly for this humorous look at creativity and cheered like mad when the winner was announced this morning.

Find out the real Caldecott winners and other book and media awards at the American Library Association’s website.

It’s Mock Caldecott time!

Each year, our 3rd grade students form Mock Caldecott Committees as part of their library classes. Their mission: to analyze five newly published picture books and then to vote for a winner, in the same manner as the real Caldecott committee. It’s been another amazing year for picture books, and the students had quite a decision to make when voting took place last Thursday.

Here are the five contenders, along with students’ insightful comments. The voting results will be announced next week – stay tuned!

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, written and illustrated by Peter Brown.

A tiger with very different ideas is not popular with his proper friends.


  • “The pictures make me laugh.” ~ Kristina C.
  • “I like how the main character is in color.” ~ Stewart K.
  • “The endpapers related to the beginning and ending setting. I like the pacing.” ~ Scarlett R.
  • “I like the speech bubbles.” ~ Henry R.
  • “Rain = sadness; sun = happiness.” Natalie B.
  • “The muted brown and gray on the animals probably means they are very proper.” ~ Eric B.
  • “I like the double-page spread when the tiger is going down.” ~ Alice F.
  • “The tiger is orange so Brown made the [speech] bubble orange.” ~ Karla P.
  • “”I like how as he gets wilder the color gets more vibrant.” ~ Charley D.

The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

A great-grandfather recalls his immigration journey through his unusual diary of memorabilia.


  • “The illustrator really captured the plot.” ~ Chase T.
  • “I like how he changes color when they go back to the present and past.” ~ Jack R.
  • “I like the shading – how it gets darker and then lighter.” ~ Katherine L.
  • “We see the memory and the present.” ~ Rishi R.
  • “The illustrator made the old card look really old by drawing wrinkles.” Lucy C.
  • “I like the calm pictures.” ~ Grace S.
  • “The pictures of the waves are detailed.” ~ Dylan L.

Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker.

A wordless adventure of creativity, capture, rescue, and friendship.


  • “I like how the colors are all shades of red or copper in the beginning.” ~ Nora P.
  • “It’s almost exactly like Harold and the Purple Crayon.” ~ Lyla G.
  • “I like how the architecture is drawn” ~ Katie B.
  • “Everything that is happy is colorful.” ~ Patrick C.
  • “I like the night sky.” ~ Alex R.
  • “I like how he made the castle look huge by making the people smaller.” ~ Cameron G.
  • “First it’s dull, then colorful.” ~ Jahaziel P.
  • “I like how the colors get brighter by the page.” ~ Chloe T.
  • “I like the blending of the different colors.” ~ Alex T.
  • “So much detail into each spot of the page.” ~ Zoe R.
  • “The illustrations are superb!” ~ Ethan Q.

The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

In a series of letters, Duncan’s crayons let him know how unhappy they are.


  • “I like how the crayons have different emotions.” ~ Rehan K.
  • “I like how the drawings are all the same color as the crayon.” ~ Jack S.
  • “There are good shadows.” ~ Francesca C.
  • “I like how he used different shades of gray.” ~ James D.
  • “I like how beige crayon looks lonely.” ~ Preston W.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, written by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

The true story of Clara Lemlich, who helped improve working conditions for many garment workers in New York City.


  • “I like how the pictures look like a scrapbook.” ~ Savannah C.
  • “I like how the illustrator uses all different kinds of materials.” ~ Sophie X.
  • “The illustrations are very detailed.” ~ Neal M.
  • “I like how there are real stitches.” ~ Maya C.
  • “I like how the cloth has a bird pattern.” ~ Mia S.
  • “The pictures look like they were made a long time ago.” ~ Nora J.
  • “I like the part when she goes to the library – the picture looks like a front page of a book.” ~ Lakshmi B.
  • “I like how the bad things are little because she can solve them instead of us thinking that she can’t.” ~ Hannah F.




Graphic Novels (Pt. II): Latest and Greatest

As a follow up to last week’s graphic novel 101 post, today I’m highlighting great new graphic novel titles that are now or will be soon be available at the Pike School library.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

Author Paul Pope is well versed in the world of superheroes and thrill seekers, having written and illustrated Eisner Award-winning volumes for Batman, Adventure Time and many unique standalone books. In his latest work, Acropolis is in great need of a hero. Monstrous, blood hungry creatures are terrorizing the city and abducting children. Battling Boy is the fast-paced chronicle of the new hero that emerges in Acropolis when local heroic Haggard West is defeated. Everyone questions whether the 12-year-old demigod armed with unlikely weaponry – a magic credit card and a trunk of enchanted t-shirts – will be able to take on the monsters, even himself.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Two separate books looking at the same topic from two different points of view, Boxers follows Little Bao who joins the violent fighting society during the Boxer Rebellion, a group that aims to eliminate imposing cultures and figures from China. Meanwhile in Saints, Vibiana changes her name and joins a missionary group when her family rejects her. Both characters struggle with the balance of religion and culture, personal identity and national identity, self-seeking compassion and conformity. The historical context of The Boxer Rebellion sheds light on Chinese foreign policy from both sides of the conflict, and especially on the author and his own identity-seeking experience.

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

This highly vivid and uniquely organized nonfiction graphic novel covers the scientific, geographic and social aspects of a duster, or savage dust storm, and the impact on locals of the Southern plains. Author Don Brown transports readers to the 1930s creating a historical context that heightens the severity of what began as a gusty dust cloud and snowballed into one of the nation’s largest natural catastrophes.

Bad Girls by Jane Yolen

Note: this title is not truly a graphic novel, rather a traditional nonfiction text enhanced by illustrations and panels each chapter

Bad Girls is a collective biography of women in history – some well known figures and others who have slipped through the cracks. The punny table of contents (“Lizzie Borden: One Wacky Woman”) is just the start. The narrative text  reads as both comical and informative, with brief, entertaining chapters about each woman. Written at a high middle grade reading level, Bad Girls aims to set the rumors and legends straight, all while reminding readers how the role of women has been significant all through the ages.

Which new graphic novel will you be getting your hands on?

Blog post by Library Assistant Erin McCall

Graphic Novels (Pt. I): Have you read one lately?

One book format that has quickly become a favorite reading experience of mine is the graphic novel. Truth be told, I never sought out graphic novels while I was younger because I assumed that graphic novels and comics were 1. not geared towards girl readers and 2. highly violent and, as the format suggests, graphic. It turns out I simply had not discovered the right graphic novels for me. The very first graphic novels to turn my opinion around had female main characters and/or came from the female perspective: Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks and Emily the Strange by Rob Reger (written by a male author/illustrator, but about a wickedly eccentric female lead).

These books opened up a whole new world of wonderful for me. If you haven’t given graphic novels a fighting chance lately, I dare you to try one. Some things to note about graphic novels:

  1. the term “graphic” refers to the highly illustrative and visual nature of the book
  2. they are not as hard to read as one might guess; the panels generally force a reader’s eye to follow to action and dialogue without the reader even realizing
  3. the nature of the visual format makes graphic novels a deeply personal reading experience which is why more and more artists are developing biographical and nonfiction graphic novels
  4. they remind readers just how talented illustrators and comics are in bringing art and stories to life. All different types of artistic styles can be found now, from Siena Segel’s To Dance, a memoir depicting the young life of a ballerina in accessible, colorful panels and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese combining traditional and modern cartoonist styles to the deep, dark artwork of artist Matt Phelan in The Storm in the Barn. If you’re interested in learning more about the meanings of particular style word bubbles and text formats, check out this resource here:

As for the difference between graphic novels and comic books, comic books are short, serial and require readers to read many volumes to reach the end of a plot whereas graphic novels have a closed storyline with a beginning, middle and end, even in the event that there are sequels, and there is usually a greater focus on the quality of artwork.

As for graphic novels at Pike, the library has well over 100 graphic novels at a variety of reading levels. Use the QR code below for direct access to the graphic novels in the library catalog.

Graphic novels in online catalog

Graphic novels in online catalog

Check back for a follow-up blog post about newly published graphic novels.

Blog post by Library Assistant Erin McCall

Tattoos and Tanks

Here at the Reading Corner, school vacation means curling up with The Pile – books we’ve waited all fall to devour during long vacation hours, preferably with a mug of hot chocolate. On top of the pile – Tankborn by Karen Sandler, the first in a riveting new science fiction series.

Kayla is a GEN (Genetically Engineered Non-human), destined to a life of servitude on her planet of Loka. She is already dreading her Assignment Day when a mysterious message is uploaded into her brain. “Your help is required, Kayla 6982…We have no other agent remaining to take on the task.” A small black packet is concealed in her new carrysak – who is it for? Will it be discovered by the ruthless Brigade enforcers? Any small offense can cause GENs to be “reset,” their cognitive pathways realigned and their memories erased.

Her Assignment takes her to the home of a high-status Trueborn, Zul Manel, where she discovers extravagant wealth, unexpected friendship, and a mysterious link to her own past. Will she ever get rid of the dangerous packet? And can she dare to hope for a better life?

Sandler has created a complex world, rich with detail and unforgettable characters. Although it might take a few chapters to feel comfortable with the alien setting, you’ll soon be immersed in this suspenseful page-turner!