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Scholastic Book Fair: March 2013

When I became a parent, one of the greatest moments of my life was realizing that they still had Scholastic book fairs in the schools.  I have a 10 and a 4 year old and several times a year they bring home those glorious little sheets and we pour over them, marking our selections.  The Mr. groans because he knows that we are going to spend more money and have to find more space for books.  But we love it.  So I am starting a new regular feature here, my online Scholastic Book Fair where I highlight five titles coming out this month from Scholastic for Tweens and Teens that you’ll want to know about.

March 2013

Hide and Seek by Kate Messner
If you have not read it yet, I recommend that you read Capture the Flag, the first mystery in this series by Kate Messner (reviewed earlier).  Messner presents a diverse cast of tweens whose family members are part of a secret treasure protecting organization, think a little bit Indiana Jones and a little bit National Treasure.  These are fun, action packed mysteries that highlight friendship, problem solving and doing what is right.  The tween and I have read them both aloud as bedtime reads and they are a good time. 3.5 out of 5 stars, recommended. (Ages 10 and up)

Rotten by Michael Northrop
Northrop is the author of Trapped, which I also recommend.  Everyone loves a good dog story, and this one has a little bit to it – literally.  When Jimmer “JD” Dobbs returns from “upstate”, he finds there is a new resident in his home – a rescued Rottweiler.  The two become fast friends, but that friendship is threatened when Johnny Rotten – why yes, he did name the dog after the lead singer of the Sex Pistols – stands up for his friend.  One snap of the jaws can change everything.  3.5 out of 5 stars, a good read about troubled teens and the power of friendship, all kinds. (Ages 12 and up)

When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little
On the outside, it seems like Tara’s life is perfect.  But her beloved grandmother has just died, her mother is so depressed she can barely get out of bed and her and her sister can’t seem to get a long.  When the butterflies come at her grandmother’s funeral, Tara knows there is one final mystery she must solve.  When the Butterflies Came is an amazing mystery, full of clues and cyphers and a building sense of danger.  But it is also a touching tale of family and self discovery.  4 out of 5 stars, highly recommended. (Ages 10 and up)

The Look by Sophia Bennett
Ted doesn’t have what it takes to be a supermodel, but her sister Ava does.  Ava also is incredibly sick, so Ted tries her hand at modeling while the family tries to hold it together.  The cover would make you think that this is a superficial look at the life of a model, but it is not.  At its heart, it is the tale of sisters and a family trying to make it through difficult times: “Oh, right. I can find out if I’m a supermodel yet, and Ava can find out if she’s still alive. Brilliant.”  This is an interesting read with some thoughtful discussions. 3.5 out of 5 stars. (Ages 12 and up)

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
With the recent discovery that the Holocaust was more horrific than historians thought, this is a good time to remind young readers about this terrible time in our world’s history.

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It’s something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner — his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will — and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story. (from goodreads.com)

Gut wrenching, real and relevant.  Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5 stars. (Ages 10-14)

Take 5: True Confessions of a Sci Fi Reader with Maria Selke

I’ve always been a science fiction reader.

Well, “always” if you count the fact that there wasn’t much science fiction available for younger readers when I was a kid. I got my start in fantasy with Narnia. I ventured into science fiction with A Wrinkle in Time, and never looked back. I continued to read fantasy and historical fiction, of course, but I also gobbled down science fiction like cyborgs were about to take over the earth. 

Recently, though, I realized that my passion for science fiction felt very past tense. Almost everything I read and reread was published before the dawn of the 21st century. The more I talked about my love for the genre, the more people came to me for reading suggestions. While Bradbury, Clark, and Herbert are fabulous, it was time to hit the books and update my repertoire.  I gave myself a SciFi Summer challenge.

I started by trying to express why I think science fiction is such an important genre. It really boils down to this – science fiction is the genre that helps us envision and create a better future. We may read about environmental catastrophes and plot a way out of the path of destruction. We may shiver in fear as humans turn on each other, and turn instead to compassion.  We may read about marvelous science that sparks our desire to cure or explore or explain. I’ve gone into more detail about “Why Sci Fi” on my blog, if you’d care for a more in depth discussion. http://www.mariaselke.com/2012/04/why-sci-fi-power-of-what-if.html

Since the start of June, I have read thirty-seven books that I classified as science fiction. While I’m trying to find newer titles, I did succumb to the lure of a Fahrenheit 451reread after the passing of Ray Bradbury. Let me tell you, that book is just as relevant today as it was when it was published. If you haven’t read it, or you haven’t read it lately, be sure to get a copy! It’s available as a graphic novel adaptation as well, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the original.

Science fiction is for everyone. It can be filled with adventure. It can include flirtation or outright romance. The protagonists can be male, female, both, or neither. There can be mysteries to solve. No matter what other elements it includes; the best science fiction lets us peer into the future. Science fiction can appeal to anyone, of any age, with any interest.

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner


Stormy weather got you down? Are you in the mood for a near future climate science adventure? Eye of the Storm will hit the spot. Kate Messner’s tale of a world of terrifying storms seems even more likely after the past few months.

 Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill

Hankering for a trip to Mars after watching all the Curiosity Rover news? Black Hole Sun is quite a rip-roaring adventure tale, with just a hint of romance. I liked this book on a lot of levels. I enjoyed the Mars setting, and the hints at the history of the terraforming that has occurred. I enjoyed the repartee between the characters, especially between the main character and A.I. that lives in his head. It had the science fiction as well as a western feel to the tale. Since I am a huge fan of Firefly, this worked beautifully for me. 

Wishing you’d gotten another glimpse into The Matrix? Here are few great choices that keep the focus on computer technology.

Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster


Kyle’s story is presented as almost an archaeological find, with his tale narrated on a series of analogue audio tapes. The futuristic society that discovered it jumps in with commentary and explanations as Kyle’s story progresses. I don’t want to give away any plot points, but this one had me wondering if I had taken the blue or the red pill. Great for middle grade on up. Even better news? There is a new book out this month!  (Karen’s notes: 1) I told her to read this book so bonus points for me.  2) The sequel is The Future We Left Behind and it was released last Tuesday.)

 Insignia by S.J. Kincaid


Imagine a world without war. Or at least, without war on Earth itself. Instead, combatants have been implanted with neural processors to allow them to control ships in distant space. How much technology can we inject into our brain structures and still remain human? The teenagers tasked with championing each side of World War III that is waging will soon find out.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Longing to get away from it all? I mean reallyfar away? How about sleeping for three hundred years while you travel to a distant world to begin a new human colony? The first few pages honestly almost made me ill. Not a terrible thing – the description of being prepped for cryo sleep were just exceptionally detailed and traumatic. There’s also mystery and romance; the perfect trifecta to appeal to many teenage readers.  

I can never get enough science fiction, and I plan to keep reading and reviewing for as long as my eyes hold out. I try to mix it up by hitting a variety of interest levels and spicing it up with some science nonfiction. Join me (most) Fridays at Maria’s Mélange for my Sci Friday feature or hit me up on Twitter -@mselke01.

MG Moment (Book Review): Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner is a contemporary mystery with a touch of history (in the form of historical facts), just perfect for middle grade students and younger tweens.

Anna, Jose and Henry (7th graders) don’t meet each other at a special reception for THE flag that inspired the writing of “Star Spangled Banner”.  They do, however, meet each other the next day when they are all snowed in at the airport.  And it turns out they all have something in common, their ancestors all played a part in history and their family is part of a secret society that has pledged to protect important works of art and history.

While stranded at the airport the news breaks in to announce that the flag was stolen from the Smithsonian museum.  What are three resourceful – and bored – kids supposed to do while stranded at the airport?  Why try and find the flag of course.  Could the flag be at the airport? 

At the airport Anna, Jose and Henry meet a variety of characters, and potential suspects, including a senator running for president, a young boy and his very hungry dog, and a whole orchestra who played at the museum the night before.

Capture the Flag in essence becomes a locked room mystery, with an airport full of suspects and some adventure through the baggage claim area.  In tone it reminded of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (a childhood favorite).  There are touches of humor, breadcrumbs of clues, and a mild dash of intrigue.

In order to get a tween perspective (my tween is 10), my family read this book at night as a read aloud and all of us enjoyed it.  The adults figured out the whodunit and why fairly early in the book but the tween did not and it kept her guessing.  One of the biggest issues we  had was one of the characters name is Senator Snickerbottom; every time I read the name the tween started snickering and The Mr. ultimately asked me to stop reading the name out loud because he just felt it was too absurd, but the tween and I got the humor Messner was going for and felt it worked.  Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda fans will also be tickled by some of the drawings inside the book by Sinan, a younger boy travelling with the orchestra, as he tries to learn common American sayings like “scapegoat” and “we bit off more than we can chew.”

In the past, Stephanie and I have complained about the whiteout of characters of in MG and YAlit.  In Capture the Flag, Messner presents a strong female (Anna), a Hispanic boy (Jose) and an African American boy (Henry); here is a diverse cast that reflects a large variety of our kids in healthy, respectful ways.  Jose makes mention of stereotypes about Latino characters and immigration policies, but for the most part Messner presents a well-rounded cast of characters where race is not an issue.  Each character has their own strengths and passions, including reading and playing video games, that helps the group solve the mystery.  In fact, the stereotype that most bothered me is that of the video game playing boy, but eventually even his game playing becomes an asset. My favorite part: a backpack full of Harry Potter books helps to save the day!  As a parent and librarian, I appreciated that the kids were presented as intelligent and I loved that Jose collected quotes (I do too).

Capture the Flag has a nice balance between historical facts learned, mystery elements, character development and dashes of humor.  The mystery is a slow start and could use a few more potential suspects for more sophisticated readers, but it seemed to be the perfect read for young tweens.  3.5 stars out of 5 and recommended for elementary and middle school libraries and collections.  Definitely pair this with The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and add in some good old fashioned Encyclopedia Brown.  There is what many would consider to be a “safe” or clean read.

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner is published by Scholastic.  ISBN: 978-0-545-39539-7