Wednesday, February 3, 2016

LOSERS TAKE ALL by David Klass

Losers Take AllFremont High has a fine history of winning sports teams.  The student body and a supportive community fill the stands for every athletic contest.  When Principal Arthur Gentry takes his place as the 21st runner in the annual senior race everyone cheers his forty year career as leader of the school and creator of a sporting dynasty.

This year the race ends in tragedy when Principal Gentry collapses at the finish line.  The position of principal is now open, and the school board vows to find the perfect person to take the job.  No one is greatly surprised when long-time football coach Brian Muhldinger is appointed to the position.  He will run a tight ship and keep sports in the spotlight.

Not everyone is happy when Principal Muhldinger announces a new school rule.  Every senior at Fremont High must participate in at least one complete sports season or they won't graduate.  Jack Logan and his friends are not interested in sports, but what choice do they have.
Jack comes from a long line of football players.  His father almost went pro except for a career ending knee injury in college.  His two older brothers were part of the Fremont football winning tradition.  Jack is offered a spot on the varsity team by the new principal, but he turns it down.  His rejection of football starts a revolution that will flip the school's devotion to sports on its head.
Author David Klass takes a look at the overemphasis of sports in some of today's high schools, as well as the issue of bullying and its sometimes devastating consequences.  Jack and his friends recognize the importance of a well-rounded education.  It isn't all about sports, but rather a healthy mix of academics and extracurricular activities.  Teens whose number one priority isn't on the athletic field will cheer on the losers in LOSERS TAKE ALL, and educators will also find satisfaction in a theme that focuses more on success in the classroom than achievements on the field.

Previously posted at

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Falling into Bone Gap

Laura Ruby's Printz Award Winning novel Bone Gap manages to be both eerie and familiar. It's a book, in fact that can't decide what kind of book it is. That's not a bad thing. Ruby masterfully wields that indecision guiding the story through realism and surreal fantasy and back again so fluidly that it's like kayaking down a twisty river. Every new turn brings another surprise. The overall effect is as compelling as it is odd.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

“History is full of eyewitness accounts of giant waves, monsters in the hundred-foot range and beyond, but until very recently scientists dismissed them. The problem was this: according to the basic physics of ocean waves, the conditions that would produce a hundred-footer were so far beyond rare as to virtually never happen. Anyone who claimed to have seen one, therefore, was engaging in nautical tall tales or outright lies.” 

As we now know, waves seventy, eighty, even over a hundred feet high are real, and they are not unusual. Most people would want to avoid such waves as much as possible--waves much smaller than these monsters are dangerous and contain the potential for massive destruction, after all. Other people seek them out, and these are the folks Susan Casey meets in The Wave.

Traveling with big wave surfers like Laird Hamilton, and talking to mariners and scientists, Casey investigates what we’ve learned and what we still don’t know about waves. Also, what we might need to worry about in the future, considering how much of the world's population lives near the ocean, how much stuff is transported in massive cargo ships across oceans, not to mention climate change. Casey blends firsthand experiences on the ocean with scientific research and historical accounts of big waves (the Lituya Bay chapter, in particular, is hair-raising) into one engrossing book. Although The Wave was published in 2010, prior to the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011--and I don't think it's possible to read it now without wondering how the book would be different had it been written post-Japan tsunami--it is very much still worth reading, especially if you're interested in the ocean. Or surfing.

As one scientist tells Casey, “People have been studying waves for so many years, and we’re still struggling to understand how they work.” But Casey does a fine job of explaining is known to the rest of us, conveying the power and the beauty of the ocean's waves to readers of this book.

Book info:
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
Adult Nonfiction
Published in 2010 by Random House/Doubleday (ISBN 9780767928847)

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Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: Don't judge a book by its cover. As fun as this cover is, the protagonist of this graphic novel is not the carefree, sunbathing type - in fact, she's almost the opposite of what you might assume by looking at the cover. So pick up this book and give it a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Sunny (real name: Sunshine) is spending the summer in Florida with her grandfather. It's the first time she's been away from her family for such a stretch of time, and hanging out with retired folks in Snoozeville is not exactly how she envisioned her summer. Luckily, her lively grandpa has lots of activities planned for them - like going to the grocery store! hanging out with the neighbors! eating dinner super early! His sunny disposition gives his granddaughter a newfound appreciation for the simple joys in life. Sunny also makes a friend in Buzz, a boy her age who introduces her to the wonderful world of comic books. Together they dream up fun and easy ways to help others and earn some pocket money.

Throughout the story, flashbacks to the previous year reveal important things about Sunny's home life with her parents and two brothers. It's easy to keep track of the then and the now thanks to simple text tags with the month and year as well as a different haircut for Sunny - longer hair last year, shorter hair this year. The dialogue is simple and straightforward, allowing this to be a quick read for kids who naturally fly through books or a more contemplative journey for kids who really sink into the story and/or pay attention to the details in the illustrations. When Sunny discovers her grandfather is "trying" to quit smoking, it brings up a problem with another one of Sunny's relatives, forcing her to confront a family secret that's been bothering her for a while.

Some books shy away from tackling issues like substance abuse and smoking in an effort to 'protect' young readers, but the truth is, kids are aware of these issues, especially if someone in their immediate family is battling addiction or similiar problems, and this book can potentially help kids deal with those in-house secrets and perhaps make them confident enough to broach the subject with their parents, teachers, or other trusted adults. Sometimes, it is easier to deal with something you're going through when you see it presented in a fictional setting, be it a book, a film, or a TV show. Those stories can encourage readers and viewers to ask for help or get closure (if possible) on something that's been hurting or haunting them. This is just as true for adults as it is for kids.

This full-color graphic novel written by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm, and colored by Lark Pien is a great fit for Scholastic's Graphix line. The bright colors in the Florida pictures really pop, while the panels and pages that feature comics are lovely tributes to both the superheroes and their enthusiastic fans. And how cool is it that Jennifer and Matthew are real-life siblings? This story about brothers and sisters and summers and secrets is recommended for kids in upper elementary school and middle school.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

Zeroboxing is mixed martial arts in a gravity free cube, and Carr Luka is the sport's newest and youngest superstar. As a Terran (Earth born,) his fights are finally making the sport more popular with the residents of Earth and not just those on Mars, the moon or the other colonies in the solar system. As his career starts to really take off, Carr finds out some disturbing news about himself and he must decide if it will destroy him or make him even stronger.

This story has some really great action coupled with deeper story lines surrounding genetic engineering, ethics and socio-economic class.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Lock In by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is one of my favorite contemporary science fiction authors. His books are accessible but smart, funny but thought-provoking, quick reads but entirely re-readable. He's been compared favorably to Heinlein, albeit a feminist "version" rather than a chauvinistic one, and he is a well-respected if occasionally controversial member of the science fiction community.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Concentr8 by William Sutcliffe

Drugs are bad, mmkay?

Near-future London has been devoured by riots. The culprits? Out of control teens labelled "feral" by the media and the police.

Huge swaths of misbehaving students have been put on a new wonder drug called Concentr8. It's like Ritalin on steroids. Wait, that might be confusing, it's like Super-Ritalin. There, that's better.

Concentr8 has been "proven" by the medical community, often backed by pharmaceutical companies, to reduce criminality in youth suffering from ADHD.

Then, out of the blue, the program is stopped cold. The teens, suddenly deprived of their precious drug, go all Dee Snider and decide that they "Ain't Gonna Take It," hence the riots.

The novel focuses on a young gang, although they wouldn't call themselves that. It's made up of Blaze, Troy, Lee, Femi & Karen. They've been on Concentr8 for many years and decide to wander out into the city and see if they can capitalize on the rioting.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stormstruck by John Macfarlane

Book JacketAll through junior high and high school I was a member of a Boy Scout troop- A Sea Scout troop to be precise. We learned a lot about knots, basic navigation, clouds and we bonded through camps and other adventures. More than anything though, the life lessons have stuck with me all through life. There is something about leaving the confines of land in a small craft at the mercy of the elements that builds teamwork, character and camaraderie.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

APOLLO: The Brilliant One by George O'Connor

Narrated by the nine muses (who tell segments of Apollo's story), O'Connor introduces Apollo with stories of his origin and some of his adventures - like killing a giant python as a way of seeking revenge for a time when the serpent pursued his (and his twin Artemis's) mother during pregnancy. You can check two of the spreads related to that story line below.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Like many of you, I spent some time over the holidays in a galaxy far, far away, swept up in the story of an epic war between rebel forces and an evil empire, a story filled with interstellar strife and futuristic technologies. But I have yet to see the new Star Wars movie; instead, I read the pulsing Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

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