Review of One False Note, by Gordon Korman


One False Note

The 39 Clues, Book Two

by Gordon Korman

Scholastic, 2008.  174 pages.

Like the first book in The 39 Clues, The Maze of Bones, One False Note is more than a book.  It’s also a media event, an online game, a collectible card game, and a contest with real prizes.  They’ve gotten outstanding children’s authors to write the books — Rick Riordan wrote the first one, and now Gordon Korman.

Dan and Amy Cahill are travelling the world, trying to find clues to something that has the potential to make them the most powerful people in the world.

They have learned that their Cahill family is responsible for almost all the accomplishments of mankind.  In the first book, they were on the trail of Benjamin Franklin (a Cahill, of course), and in this book they follow the path of Mozart and his sister, Nannerl.

I find I’m not quite buying it.  Yeah, other books tell me that all these significant figures of history were masons, or part of some other big conspiracy.  But all family members?  Benjamin Franklin and Mozart and Marie Antoinette were all supposed to be related?  I can’t quite suspend disbelief so far.

And I’m sorry, I just can’t begin to bring myself to believe in a huge underground complex in Venice, storing the greatest art treasures of the world.  Even with really big pumps, I simply don’t believe that you could find that much solid ground to tunnel in, and who would risk the likelihood of flooding, even if you could?

I was delighted when they went to Venice, but I didn’t believe that part, and I didn’t believe that they would steal a boat to get away.  It’s so easy to get lost on the streets of Venice, why on earth would you use a boat where you’re so easy to spot?

On top of that, the clues don’t seem too tremendously important, since so many sinister family members are still on their tail.  Why don’t Amy and Dan just do what the other teams are doing:  follow the person who seems to have the latest lead.  Why should they break into their cousin Jonah Wizard’s hotel room, when they could just follow the news about Jonah and see where he goes next?

Okay, you get the idea — I have quibbles about the whole book!  But it is still a fun adventure story, and I doubt kids will be bothered by those things that bothered me.  Amy and Dan are growing on me, kids loose in Europe with only the help of a resourceful and multilingual au pair.  And by the end of the book, they’re on their way to Asia.

I do still plan to keep reading and find out what happens next.  Episode Three is slated to appear in March 2009.

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Review of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox


Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

by Mem Fox

illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Harcourt, 2008.  40 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #4 Picture Books

I saw this book listed on more than one end-of-the-year Best of 2008 list.  I’ve loved Helen Oxenbury ever since my 20-year-old son was a toddler who memorized the text in her Tom and Pippo books and “read” the books along with me.  Mem Fox I discovered later, but have an extra-special fondness for her books, particularly Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!

So I simply had to check this book out.  I was completely enchanted.  I will definitely be using this book at my very next Mother Goose Time for babies and parents.  The book is only a few months old, and already I find myself thinking of it as a classic no parent of a baby should be without.

There was one little baby who was born far away

And another who was born on the very next day.

And both of these babies, as everyone knows,

had ten little fingers

and ten little toes.

Mind you, the picture on the page with “had ten little fingers and ten little toes” shows baby hands and feet so precious you just want to eat them up!  (No one draws babies so utterly adorably yet lifelike as Helen Oxenbury.)

The book goes on, in the sweet rhyming cadence, to tell of babies from all over the world.

As each set of two new babies is introduced, the earlier babies look on as a kind of adorable chorus.

The final stanza is what clinches this book as such a delightful exploration between parent and baby:

But the next baby born was truly divine,

a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.

And this little baby, as everyone knows,

has ten little fingers,

ten little toes,

and three little kisses   [Here are the earlier babies are laughing in anticipation!]

on the tip of its nose.

What can I say?  I think this is going to get tucked in with the next baby shower gift I give.  Absolutely delightful!  Go to your library and look at the illustrations, if you don’t believe me!

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Review of Paper Towns, by John Green


Paper Towns

by John Green

Dutton Books, 2008.  305 pages.

Starred review.

Wow.  Paper Towns isn’t quite like any other teen novel I’ve read.  At first glance, it’s a typical teen novel about parties and girlfriends and pranks and prom and graduation.  But it goes so much deeper, dealing with profound questions like whether we can ever truly know another person.

The opening of the book is awesome:

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.  Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust.  But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us.  I could have seen it rain frogs.  I could have stepped foot on Mars.  I could have been eaten by a whale.  I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea.  But my miracle was different.  My miracle was this:  out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Quentin and Margo were friends as kids, but he hasn’t seen much of her since they started high school.  She moves in a much more brilliant circle.  Then, one night late in their senior year, Margo knocked again on Q’s window.  She convinced him to drive her on a wild night of sweet revenge.  The next day, she disappears.

Paper Towns deals with Quentin’s quest to find Margo.  As he looks for clues, he comes to terms with the fact that no one knew the real Margo.  Each of her friends saw her as someone slightly different.  Can we ever truly know another person?

Quentin must also face some of his own fears and figure out who he is himself.  Why did Margo choose him on her night of revenge, and why did she leave clues for him to find?  Did she expect him to find her?

I admit that, as a fan of John and Hank Green’s Brotherhood 2.0 video blog (see ), I had a tendency to “hear” Quentin’s voice as John Green talking.  However, that worked fine and made the character that much more believable and likeable.  It’s refreshing to read a teen novel from a guy’s perspective.

The author pulls off all this profundity with a light touch.  Quentin has friends who are nerdy and quirky, and he doesn’t go on his quest alone.  Some of the teen antics will make parents cringe, but other than that it makes for fun, light-hearted reading.

I read the latest posts on John Green’s blog at, where he talks about some of the amazingly profound questions teens have asked him.  I think that’s his secret — He has nothing but respect for the thinking of teens.  He doesn’t water down the philosophical questions behind the story here.  So although it is indeed a teen novel, the issues raised are issues about being human, and will give people of all ages something to ponder.

I did enjoy An Abundance of Katherines, but I do think that John Green has grown as an author and I find Paper Towns an outstandingly well-crafted novel.  (What I’m trying to say is that I liked this new one even better!)

As a librarian, it will be interesting to see who I can get to read this book.  (I’ve already talked my teenage son into reading it, but he is already a fan of, so he didn’t take any convincing.)  I find myself wishing it didn’t have a picture of Margo on the cover, since I think there are many teenage boys who would thoroughly enjoy this book, and I will have to talk them into trying a book with a picture of a girl on the cover.  (There are two covers for this book, one with a bright, happy Margo, and one more dingy, sad and dark.)  At any rate, for now the book is on hold, so it’s getting some buzz, and I will not have copies on the shelf to recommend to anyone. 

Definitely worth reading, for readers of any age who are willing to have some fun and explore questions about how they see the world.

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Review of Let It Snow


Let It Snow

Three Holiday Romances

by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Speak (Penguin), 2008.  352 pages.

Starred Review

Okay, I’m in the mood for holiday reading, and this book of three intertwined holiday romances was completely delightful.  I began reading during a dentist appointment, and found when I got home, my recovery demanded further reading.

The three stories are all teen romances, delightfully told.  John Green’s story, told from the guy’s perspective, is in the middle, and makes a nice subtle change from the other two, but I loved all three.

Maureen Johnson tells the  first story, where Jubilee Donegal is on a train to visit her grandparents in Florida instead of at her boyfriend’s big family Christmas Eve Smorgasbord.  Her parents were arrested in a riot over collectible Flobie Santa Village buildings, and Jubilee got sent to Florida.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t get far before the train is stopped by snow.  She’s in a car with a group of cheerleaders off to a cheerleading competition and a cute guy obsessed with trying to call his girlfriend (and failing).  What can she do except go out through the snow and try to get to the Waffle House she sees across the highway?

What follows is a delightful story of adventure and eye-opening revelations and, yes, romance.

John Green’s story involves a guy and two friends trying to get through the snow to the Waffle House, where their friend, the store manager, is telling a hysterical tale about a group of cheerleaders needing “help” working on cheers.  He needs them to bring a Twister game, but if they take too long, someone else’s friends might beat them to it.  Once again, things don’t happen as they expect.

In Lauren Myracle’s story, we see the ex-girlfriend of the guy on the train, despairing because he didn’t show up and he didn’t even call.  Meanwhile, her friends need her to do a little something for them — and they don’t want to hear that there’s been another “crisis.”

The stories dovetail beautifully.  They are all funny and sweet and wonderfully entertaining.  Definitely recommended holiday reading!

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Review of Swindle, by Gordon Korman



by Gordon Korman

Scholastic Press, New York, 2008.  252 pages. 

My homeschoolers’ book club chose to read Swindle because they like Gordon Korman books.  This book is fun reading with some serious underlying issues.

When Griffin Bing finds an old baseball card in a house about to be torn down, he naturally brings it to the local shop for collectibles, run by S. Wendell Palomino.  Palomino tells him it’s a fake and pays him $120, but soon after Griffin sees him on TV talking about the million dollar card he found in an estate sale — and it’s the card Griffin sold him.

It’s doesn’t seem right that S. Wendell should be able to swindle a kid and get away with it.  Meanwhile, his parents have sunk all their money in Griffin’s Dad’s invention, and they are going to have to move.  Griffin comes up with a daring but complicated plan involving a team of friends to steal the card back.

Stories of a daring heist are always fun.  This one happens to involve a group of kids, stealing back something they believe is rightfully theirs.  Again, Gordon Korman delivers a funny, absorbing story that will draw in both boys and girls.

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Review of Janes in Love, by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg


Janes in Love

by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Minx (DC Comics), 2008.  152 pages.

Starred Review.

The Janes are at it again.  In this sequel to The Plain Janes, Jane’s group of friends (all named Jane), try to give new life to P.L.A.I.N. — People Loving Art in Neighborhoods — with new “Art Attacks.”  However, their funds are running out, the authorities are still against them, and Jane’s Mom reacts badly to news of another terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, Valentine’s Day is approaching, and all hearts are turning to thoughts of love, making life that much more complicated.

I liked this graphic novel even better than the first.  It’s a fun story of a gutsy character, who still believes in her message: Art saves.

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Review of Punished, by David Lubar



by David Lubar

Darby Creek Publishing, 2006.  96 pages.

Logan knew he shouldn’t run in the library.  But how can you keep from it when your friend tags you It?  He certainly didn’t mean to run into that old guy who looked like a retired teacher.

Logan tries to apologize, but the man says maybe he needs to be punished, and blows some book dust on him.  When Logan leaves the library, suddenly everything he says gets people groaning or giggling.

It takes Logan awhile to figure out that every sentence he utters comes out as a bad pun.  Soon the old man isn’t the only one planning to punish him.

Logan’s only way to lift the curse involves finding oxymorons, anagrams, and palindromes.  If he can’t find the required number in time, he will be cursed to spout puns forever.

This book celebrates word play in a way that invites the reader to try it for yourself.  It’s a nice quick read for groan boys and girls ready for full-fledged chapter books.  Silly fun with silly puns!

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Review of The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan


The Maze of Bones

The 39 Clues, Book One

by Rick Riordan

Scholastic, 2008.  220 pages.

This is not a book, it’s a product — but a good one.  Scholastic has gotten some outstanding children’s authors to write ten books in The 39 Clues series.  The captions on the back of the book say, “Read the Books, Collect the Cards, Play the Game, Win the Prizes.”  All the books come with collectible cards in the front (though they’ve been removed from the library copies).

I haven’t tried the game and haven’t seen the cards, so I will only comment on this story as a book.

The book is a good one.  Another fun adventure yarn for kids.  I probably shouldn’t have read it so soon after The Mysterious Benedict Society, Larklight, or Lionboy, but this book is right in that same vein.  A good clean adventure for kids.

The Maze of Bones has some of the flavor of The Da Vinci Code, without the religious aspects, because we have a powerful family with clues planted hundreds of years ago in actual places all over the world.

Amy and Dan Cahill thought they were their grandmother’s favorites.  But they aren’t so sure, when, at the reading of her will, a contest is announced.  Amy and Dan don’t seem to have any advantages.

They have a choice:  They can take a million dollars or the first clue.  The clue is regarding “a quest of vital importance to the Cahill family and the world at large.”  The winner may become the most powerful person in the world.

The Cahill family is enormous, and several teams form, choosing to take the clue.  How can Amy and Dan, two orphans without resources, possibly follow the clues and take on such powerful opponents?  Is there anyone they can trust to help them?

This book is well-written, and the adventure, full of narrow escapes and a trip to Paris, is compelling.  If Scholastic did half as good a job with their contest, this is an impressive feat indeed.

It’s interesting, though.  My reaction is not, “I loved this book,” but rather, “I think kids will like this book a lot.”  As I said, maybe I’ve been reading too many kids’ adventure novels lately, but although I enjoyed it, it didn’t really reach out and grab me.  And I wish that Amy and Dan’s relatives weren’t all so mean.

It will be interesting to see how well a varied group of authors can do in keeping the thread and feel of the series.  Gordon Korman has written Book Two, and I am confident he is up to the challenge.

I will definitely be watching how this series unfolds.

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Review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart


The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

read by Del Roy

Listening Library (Random House), 2007.  13 hours, 17 minutes.  11 compact discs.

I had not one but two parents tell me that their kids loved this book.  When I saw it on audiobook, I thought I’d give it a try.  Audiobooks are working well for me for light-hearted fiction that I can enjoy in small doses.

Renny Muldoon is a brilliant orphan who knows he is completely different from other children.  When he sees an ad offering a test for gifted children looking for special opportunities, he goes to the test and begins the adventure of a lifetime.

Renny ends up on a team with other exceptional children who are offered a dangerous mission with the fate of the world at stake.  The mysterious Mr. Benedict explains why only children can save the world now.

The adventure yarn that follows is a lot of fun.  Sure, there are several coincidences and several places where believability is strained.  However, it’s definitely an entertaining and exciting story.

Del Roy’s voice sounds like a kindly grandfather telling you a story, and I quickly thought of his voice as coming from Mr. Benedict himself.

This book is excellent for upper elementary age children who will enjoy some good, clean, and clever fun.

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Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, by Lenore Look


Alvin Ho

Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

by Lenore Look

pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2008.  172 pages.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, reminded me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only for younger kids.  It has similar cartoon drawings generously illustrating the story, and a similar attitude toward school.

Alvin Ho is starting the second grade.  He does not like school.  He says, “If there were no school, my troubles would blast away, just like that.  I would dig holes all day.  I would play catch with my gunggung.  I would watch cooking shows.  I would keep an eye on things.  It would be fantastic!”

Alvin tells us that before he went to school, he was a superhero.  “I was Firecracker Man!  I ran around our house, full speed ahead, screaming at the top of my lungs while beating on a garbage can lid.  I was as noisy as a firecracker on Chinese New Year! . . .

“But now I am Firecracker Man only on weekends and holidays.  There is just no time for it.

“Being a superhero is hard work.  You have to save the world.  But going to school is even harder.  You have to save yourself.  Most days I can hardly even make it to the school bus.  And when I arrive at school, I can’t think.  I can’t read.  I can’t smile.  I can’t sing.  I can’t scream.

“I can’t even talk.”

It turns out that Alvin has never said one word at school.  He can talk anywhere else, even on the school bus.  But at school, his voice simply doesn’t work.

Not talking at school makes it hard to make friends.  It makes it hard to avoid annoying girls who want to be your desk buddy.  It makes it hard to join in a game of Minutemen and Redcoats.  It makes it hard to explain to a substitute teacher why you aren’t responding to her questions.

This book is a lot of fun, with a nice set of school-related scrapes, and Alvin learning to confront his fears. 

I did think the chicken pox adventure, where the whole class gets chicken pox after paying to visit the first kid who caught it, was funny, but sadly out of date.  My 14-year-old son was required to get a chicken pox vaccination before he went to school, and I think that’s pretty standard now.  So today’s children, poor things, will never know the joys of two weeks off of school along with the fun of showing off ones spots.

There are some great quirky characters.  Alvin’s Dad likes to use Shakespearean imprecations when he’s angry.  The annoying girl Flea wears an eyepatch.  Alvin’s sister loves to dig holes.  And Alvin himself is a big collection of entertaining quirks.

Alvin Ho is longer than a beginning chapter book, but makes fun, non-threatening reading with lots of pictures for a kid ready to laugh at the trials and tribulations of facing scary things like school and bullies and girls.

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