Friday, March 15, 2013


Brown, Jordan D. Micro Mania: A Really Close-Up Look at Bacteria, Bedbugs & the Zillions of Other Gross Little Creatures. Morganville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-1936140473.

I don't know if this book is fascinating, disgusting, or just downright amazing. I knew I was "Never Alone" (Chapter 1), but I'm not sure that I wanted to know more about my "Trillions of Close Personal Friends" in Chapter 2 or the "Pets and Pests" found in Chapter 3. I was perfectly fine not thinking about "Creatures of the Kitchen" in Chapter 4, and, frankly, I'd rather not know all the "Places Germs Hide...and How [I] Can Seek Them"—even if Chapter 5 was helpful. (By the way, be sure to microwave your sponges on a consistent basis; similarly, did you know that the bathroom stall closest to the door has fewest number of bacteria and germs?)

I actually used Chapters 4 and 5 in a Linguistics course focusing on teaching English as a Second Language and can attest to the richness of the resources within Micro Mania. My professor's initial reaction was, "Oh, it's only a picture book." After flipping through a few pages, however, she was talking excitedly about what a great text it was. She was more excited than I was!

Chapters 6, 7, and 8 ("Swimming with Plankton," "Give My Creature Life!" and "Learning to Love the Little Guys"—which I should probably re-read) move the focus away from the more personal sphere to the world at large. Still, the bright illustrations, factoids, computer graphics, experiments, and home projects make Micro Mania an incredible resource—as long as you aren't germaphobic!

I strongly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Rice, David L. Illust. Trudy Calvert. Do Animals Have Feelings Too? Nevada City: Dawn Publications, 1999. ISBN-13: 978-1584690047. Price: $8.95.

"Do animals have feelings?" so begins a thought-provoking, curious, and entertaining read. The format of the book is rather straight-forward. Each section starts with a definition of a feeling or characteristic that is normally attributed solely to humans. Next, short examples of animals exhibiting what appear to be said attribute are shared. Finally, readers are asked to reflect on the accounts and decide for themselves whether they are worthy examples of characteristics such as joy, helpfulness, deceitfulness, and compassion. Each sections ends with a prompt that elicits introspection and the reader is invited to come up with his own observations or her own opinions.

But the stories that Do Animals Have Feelings? shares are anything but straight-forward and mundane. I often found myself shaking my head in wonder, smiling, feeling just a little misty-eyed, and asking myself, "Can this be true?"

If I were forced to select only two favorites, they would be the story about two chimpanzees named Sherman and Austin in the Communication section and the Rhesus Monkey covered in Cleverness. The rhesus, using a banana and a moose (yes, a moose), manages to escape from a monkey enclosure not once or twice but three times! Sherman and Austin's communication via computers and corresponding English symbols is fascinating. There are less flashy but all the same astounding examples of Compassion, Grief, and Joy.

Rice does not directly cite the stories, but he does list the sources for each in the back of the book. I think this is a great resource for the older reader to dig a little bit deeper and evaluate the primary sources on their own. I know that I am certainly curious.

This is the second book I have read from Dawn Publications, and I have to say that I am impressed. I will definitely keep an eye out for additional titles to add to my library documenting some of the natural wonders of our world.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR by Christine Brodien-Jones

Brodien-Jones, Christine. The Scorpions of Zahir. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0385739337. $17.99.

Adventure! Archaeology! Lost civilizations and whacked out astronomy! The Scorpions of Zahir packs all of that and more into its colorfully bound exterior, promising the reader an extraordinary adventure. The tale, which follows a young girl and her family as they journey to Morocco in search of her archaeologist father's missing partner, ensnares the reader with a mythical mission to uncover, save, and revitalize the lost civilization of Zahir from being overrun by monstrous scorpions. It just so happens that a rogue planet (though why not meteor?) called Nar Azrak is on course to collide with Earth, specifically upon Morocco, at the same time. Only the restoration of Zahir and its protective qualities can reestablish the balance between planets, people, and beasts. There is a lot to take in, both mythically and astronomically, but the creativity of the storyline unfolds fairly straightforwardly, especially as a foundation for witnessing the determination and growth of the young protagonist, Zagora Pym. Her unbridled enthusiasm carries this story through the wilderness of a foreign country and a cosmic myth come to life; for me, her rambunctious behavior is the most enticing feature of the book and will appeal to middle grade readers of all kinds.

The storyline itself is outrageous and exciting, but does struggle to stay coherent near the end. It's difficult to imagine an actual planet colliding with Earth, but that lapse of scientific grounding may not matter to young readers. They most likely will enjoy the unintentional mischief young Zagora plants herself in while exploring the inner and outer workings of Morocco. Brodien-Jones' lush and aromatic descriptions of the people, markets, and streets of Morocco (Marrakesh in particular) fully demonstrate her own captivation with the city and its mysteries. In this lens, it does offer a beautiful entry into another culture, although at times veers dangerously into fully exoticizing rather than bringing a sense of familiarity and universality to her Moroccan characters. Still, the focus lies squarely on Zagora, and any faults one may find in the plot or other characters can be assuaged somewhat by the creation of a spunky and thoughtful young female protagonist. Her youthful zest and frenetic energy lead her to follow her impulses first and thoughts later, but over the course of the story she learns the value of her family members and friends as well as herself, and finally gains enough control to help solve the mystery. That this wild adventure story circles around the important features of this young girl make the story appealing on so many levels.

Though the climax gets lost in the immense imagery Brodien-Jones demands us to visualize, it does not lose its heart for a step. Astronomy, myth, and science feature prominently in the story, making this both a magical ride as well as a treat for the intellect. A worthy read for some heartfelt, spunky fun.

Reviewed by Alya Hameed

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A TIME OF MIRACLES by Anne-Laure Bondoux

Special Feature: Review by a Middle School Student

Bondoux, Anne-Laure. A Time of Miracles. Trans. Y. Maudet. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-385-73922-1. $17.99 US, $20.99 CAN.

It is the 1990s and civil unrest is spreading throughout the Caucuses. Blaise Fortune (aka Koumaïl), a homeless seven-year-old orphan, sets off on a difficult and passionate journey alongside Gloria, his devout caretaker, out of the Republic of Georgia towards the free land of France. Throughout Bondoux’s heart pounding story of sacrifice and survival, these two helpless mendicants depend upon each other to reach the Promised Land and, most importantly, learn to persevere through the power of love.

In this fictitious young adult novel, the two exiles struggle through times of poverty, exhaustion, and distress, while growing together in spirit and family. Koumaïl and Gloria both sacrifice their own desires and needs for each other’s wellbeing, but they never lose the hope they have of arriving in France, away from the troubling and dangerous political unrest and near the answers to Koumaïl’s past. On foot, the pair transition from one refugee camp to another, each time listening to intense and harsh stories and seeing the physical and emotional scars of other refugees. In one instance, one of the refugees explains, “They came into our house with Kalashnikovs. They shot my husband. Fatima saw him fall on his prayer rug. Ever since then, she refuses to open her eyes.” Gloria, the mother-like figure, nurtures and guides Koumaïl through these many refugee camps and the countless miles in between. In response to the great sadness surrounding Koumaïl’s life, she, as a nurturing mother would, soothed the young boy by whispering, “There’s nothing wrong with making up stories to make life more bearable.” She releases enigmatic bits and pieces of Koumaïl’s life, from their first meeting at the site of the train derailment to the story of his beautiful mother. With her different and calming stories, Gloria teaches Koumaïl to love with all his heart and to keep from “catching a despair.” This is the impetus that propels the two’s emotions and determinations and is what leads Koumaïl to decrypt his past later on in the storyline.

Bondoux beautifully illustrates the passionate and suspenseful journey across Europe while opening up the mind of a poor nomad who lays prey to the chaos in this world. In this riveting novel, love and hope are put on the line and the importance of family is strongly expressed. A young Koumaïl develops into an adolescent in a bloody world and, ultimately, learns the immense power of love.

This exceptional work of literature leaves readers nail-biting questions and allows them to distinguish for themselves their own paths and values. “Is there a difference between a lie and a made-up story?” Will you learn the foolproof remedy of despair? Learn for yourself in this powerful novel, A Time of Miracles.

Review by Mauro Schenone, 8th grade

Monday, March 11, 2013


Padian, Maria. Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011. ISBN: 978-0375865633

Imagine being best friends with someone and then realize you will not see each other for a whole summer. That is what Henry Lloyd and Eva Smith feel like. They are Jersey girls and best friends.  Henry loves tennis and Eva loves dance. But their summer did not go exactly as planned.

Henry Lloyd got invited to go to Chadwick tennis camp in Florida for the summer and Eva Smith got accepted into the New York School of Dance. Both were thrilled at their accomplishments until they figured out that they would be far away from each other for the whole summer. Once both girls were at their summer camps, they loved their experiences and still kept in touch and told each other all the drama. Henry was at the top of the tennis rankings at Chadwick, and Eva was always noticed by the her ballet instructor and even asked to demonstrate. Little did anyone know that Eva had not been eating much. While Henry was making new friends and creating memories, people started to notice Eva becoming very skinny. Eva had anorexia. When Henry found out Eva’s problem, she could not stop thinking how bad of a friend she had been. Henry knew she needed to be there with Eva, so she drove back to Jersey. A few weeks later, Henry went back to camp and Eva went to a facility to help her eat correctly again. Because the facility was in Florida, they could see each other frequently. Henry and Eva never gave up on each other and that is what made them best friends.

The author, Maria Padian, shows what a true friendship looks like. Henry and Eva were there for each other for all the ups and downs they struggled through. This book really gets you hooked to see what happens next. It also really explains what anorexia can feel like and encourages you not to become anorexic. Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best is a book I encourage other teenagers to read not just for the fun of it, but aslso for those who struggle with eating disorders because it helps you understand what it feels like.

Review by Sarah, 8th grade