Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: guys-read
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
review 2016-09-18 03:56
Guys Read: Funny Business
Guys Read: Funny Business - Eoin Colfer,Christopher Paul Curtis,Kate DiCamillo,Adam Rex,Jack Gantos,David Lubar,Jon Scieszka,Paul Feig,Jeff Kinney,David Yoo,Mac Barnett

When I was a kid, I was what everybody called a “reluctant reader.” Basically, if you put a book in my hands, I’d do everything in my childish power not to read it. Jon Scieszka’s picture books are some of the first books I remember reading on my own and actually liking. His strange sense of humor worked on rebellious child-me.


I was very interested to see what kind of anthology Scieszka would curate. The Guys Read series is aimed at “reluctant reader” middlegrade boys, and the theme of this particular book is “humor.” Like all anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. A few of the stories are great, a few are terrible, and most are somewhere in between.


“Your brain is doing some great work when it's laughing.” – Guys Read: Funny Business


For me, these are the standout stories:


“Best of Friends” by Mac Barnett is about an annoying kid who tells his classmates that he won a sweepstakes. Suddenly, everyone wants to be his best friend. The characters in this story are all morally gray, so I automatically liked it.


“Artemis Begins” by Eoin Colfer is autobiographical (I think?). Eoin’s younger brother breaks their mother’s acting award, and his older brother goes to great lengths to keep the younger brother out of trouble. It was interesting to learn that many of Eoin’s story ideas come from growing up with rambunctious siblings.


My favorite story is “A Fistful of Feathers” by David Yoo. It’s about a boy whose parents attempt to replace him with a pet turkey. The plot is completely ridiculous, but somehow it’s also compelling. The characters are unique enough that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens to them.


I wasn’t sure if I liked or hated “What? You Think You Got It Rough?” by Christopher Paul Curtis when I finished it. It’s about an abusive grandfather who tells his grandson a disgusting story about hotdog nipples. The ending is too sappy for me, but the story is well-written and gross, so it somehow stuck in my mind.


It’s hard for me to critique this anthology because I’m about as far from the target audience as you can get. For me, none of these stories are funny. They’re creative, entertaining, and totally disgusting, but I don’t remember laughing while reading. I can see how this book would appeal to young boys, though, so if you have a young reluctant reader, you might want to try this anthology.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-07-26 19:24
Guys Read, Summer 2015: Bonus Session!
Love That Dog - Sharon Creech
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #1) - Chris Grabenstein

On short notice, I was asked to fill in for the last session of Wayzata, another nearby HC system library branch’s Guys Reads this summer, and I jumped at the opportunity to see how another group of kids responds and reacts to the chosen material. So, here’s a few more entries to check out before my last Summer session on Wednesday! There were two groups this time, Guys Jr and Guys and the chosen books were Love that Dog and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.


Both of the groups in this class enjoyed the titles here, though one had probably the most positive reception I’ve seen yet for a book.




For the younger kids, we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, what I found a rather heart-rending and beautiful celebration of poetry and of one child’s dog. I’ve always found the emotional range and power of poetry to be really interesting, though I must admit to having read sadly too little and have not had too much practice actually attempting to write it. Here, Creech’s simple poetry of a young boy coming to terms with the loss of his pet and his growing love of poetry, through the tutelage of a great teacher, really would be a great place to start. Before sharing it with the book club, I read it to my Mom and she was quickly weeping.


The kids in the group found it surprisingly emotional too, with one telling the group “I almost cried,” and another chiming in “I did cry.” There were a few complaints of “boring,” but even these appreciated a greater understanding of poetry, telling us that “poetry is really easy to write!” Maybe, maybe. I guess I should try it more! They also enjoyed the addition of some pieces of classic classroom poetry as well. All in all, I’d recommend this a great read for kids learning about poetry, and how poems can help in expressing feelings one has a hard time putting into words.




The older kids read, and greatly enjoyed, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. This was an action packed, silly exploration of what libraries are and how they can be fun! A pretty appropriate choice for the book club, of course. Personally, I found it a bit too silly, with a cast of stock characters teaming up to explore the clues in eccentric millionaire, Mr. Lemoncello, game maker extraordinaire high tech superlibrary to win fabulous prizes before the snotty, elitist bully Charles Chiltingon cheats his way to the top. It kind of presents the library as more of a fun house than a place of learning, and makes an interesting piece to read along with my last review, BiblioTech.


The kids, though, loved it and really couldn’t get enough of Mr. Lemoncello. Probably the thing that really grabbed them was the puzzles that the characters were solving, and which you can solve too! Word games, logic, and a knowledge of children’s book trivia and the Dewey Decimal System can get you far. Designed to introduce and entice children into using and understanding their library, what might have felt a little heavy handed to me, seemed to really engage the kids. While our system uses Library of Congress Classification, much of the generals of the classification system remain the same. The special, afterword puzzle at the end of the book took up a large part of the conversation. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library comes with a lot of resources for using the book in a library book club or classroom, as well. Definitely a good choice!


Later this week, I’ll be posting my fourth, and last, Guys Read Session for my Eden Prairie groups, and it looks like it will be some particularly interesting ones!  


*Music Theme for Entry: "The Library," Kimya Dawson, Thunder Things, 2011


Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-07-21 05:25
Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Third Session
Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman,Skottie Young
The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud
Winger - Andrew Smith


This last Guys Read sessions were quite interesting- the choices for this week were each controversial with the groups, drawing very different responses from the readers. Some loved them, others hated them but in most cases, they did finish reading them! That's always a good sign. 




For the juniors, the choice was Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, another flight of awesome fancy from Gaiman. This was definitely a fun little book that really delves into Gaiman's favorite themes of the power of storytelling and imagination. After a Dad leaves his children one morning to buy some milk for their cereal from the corner store, he leaves for what seems like a long time to the kids. Upon his arrival, he excuses his tardiness on getting their breakfast by regaling them with a wild tale of aliens, pirates, dinosaur inventors, and time travel. Fortunately, he is able to preserve the milk throughout all his adventures, and it even proves to save the world. The charmingly quirky and zany illustrations that accompanied the stories also was a crowd favorite, with kids showing each other their favorites. 


This was the exception of the day; the kids were, in general, really engaged in the story and seemed quite excited with all of its silly, over the top elements, especially the milk. For some reason, they loved the milk- with elements to interest just about any kid. Also, the theme of storytelling and whether or not it matters if the Dad was really telling the truth or not, or if he was just good at telling stories gave the kids some discussion. Of course, they were a bit distracted with storytelling themselves that day, recalling their favorite parts of Inside Out to each other. The little indoor obstacle course I made, to be completed while holding a milk jug, did keep their attention, though.  




The middle school kids read The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, the first in the Lockwood and Company series, which was probably my favorite of the book I've read for the groups so far, proved a bit more divisive among the guys. This was a popular choice with Guys Read groups in the county, this is the second series by Stroud, after the Bartimeaus stories (which I also loved), and follow in the classic British young adult fantasy genre, with some of the kids comparing it to Harry Potter (an apt description, I feel). 


Lockwood and Company differs from Harry Potter, though, in pure spookiness. Though there were some scary moments in HP, this is a series about the Problem, the euphemism for the plague of ghosts currently bedeviling the UK. From merely frightening Type 1s to horrifying Type 2s, the only way to combat these spirits are Agents, generally prepubescent children who still have the psychic sensitivity to perceive what the ghosts need and how to put them down for good. There were some scenes that unnerved even me, so I can definitely see why some of the kids were a bit put off. 


A few said they definitely preferred Zombie Baseball Beatdown, that it was just more fun all around, but there were others who really enjoyed The Screaming Staircase. It was funny that those who did not like The Screaming Staircase started by beating around the bush, saying that it was too boring or cheesy, but soon admitted that it just plain scared them! One kid claimed it gave him nightmares, in particular the infamous Red Room. On the other hand, other guys rated it as their favorite so far, and appreciated the action-packed nature of the story. Personally, I really loved the spooky world Stroud creates, complete with a glossary of ghost knowledge and terms. I've read the next in the series and am waiting with bated breath for the upcoming finale. 




While both the previous choices were similar in being fantasies in the old English tradition, the teen's choice was an All-American YA. My sister, over at I'm Reading Comeeks, is a huge fan of the work of Andrew Smith and has read most of his stuff, but this was the first of his books I've had the pleasure of reading. I'll definitely go for more. Like The Screaming Staircase, though, this had a bit of a mixed reaction in the group.


From what I've come to understand about Smith's work, he can be quite controversial, and this book may be among his "tamer" offerings. Following the precocious 14 year old horndog Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, as he plays rugby at a prestigious Pacific Northwest boarding school. Having been moved up two grades, he finds himself a junior two years younger than anyone else, and seriously crushing on his best friend, the smart and beautiful Annie Altman. It's all pretty lighthearted as Winger tries to improve his life, becomes friends with the charming, openly gay rugby player Joe, and gets up to some hilarious shenanigans. There are friendships found and broken, pranks pulled, balls kicked (in more ways than one); Winger's self-depreciating comics add even more humor to the story, and the ending comes out of nowhere with a sucker punch to the gut just when you least expect it.  


Winger definitely pats himself on the back for being such a good guy for accepting Joe's sexuality, even as he is a sexist himself. I think that Ryan Dean's self perception of himself and his sexist and homophobic actions, even as he loves his friends Joe and Annie offers a lot of opportunity for discussion, the tragic ending notwithstanding. A few of the kids really appreciated what they felt was the realism of the story, seeming to identify with Ryan Dean's struggles and feelings, with the word "amazing" being tossed around.


However, there were others who found the entire book inappropriate and did not enjoy it. In the end, the main debate focused around the strong language of the novel. You see, Smith does not pull his punches when it comes to the language of his characters, who talk, it's true, like many high school students, including profanity. This was a bit much for some of the guy's, who felt there was too much swearing for them. Other members argued this added to the realism of the story, so in the end it was agreed that that Winger's realism was what made it inappropriate for them.   


One more session to go!


*Musical theme for entry: "Dinosaur Stomp!," Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Uncrustable, 2010 


Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-07-08 23:28
Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Second Session
Eerie Elementary #2: The Locker Ate Lucy! (A Branches Book) - Jack Chabert,Sam Ricks
Zombie Baseball Beatdown - Paolo Bacigalupi
Godless - Pete Hautman



Last Wednesday was the second session for my three groups of boys at the Eden Prairie branch library and it was another fun one. I’ve begun to get a bit of a rhythm down, starting the kids out with an “icebreaker” to get them interacting and talking, before getting into the book discussion and ending with an activity or game thematic to the book (or not, sometimes the readers just want to play a board game!). I’ve found it is good to have a variety of questions on the standby to spur discussion, though I always make sure to let them take the conversation wherever they want to go with it. I hand out questions randomly to the younger kids to get them started, or just throw out a comments for the older ones to gauge where they want to go.  So far, it seems that the middle school age students have had the most interesting discussions, though they have all enjoyed the reading so far. Most even finished their books!


For the younger kids, we had a bit of a spooky theme going this month- for the teens, a “controversial” choice. In general, this weeks books were all well liked by the readers.




For Guys Read Jr, we had Eerie Elementary #2: The Locker Ate Lucy by Jack Chabert, the most recently published part of the series involving reluctant Hall Monitor Sam Grave’s continued fight against his living school, as he confronts its very bowels to save his friend Lucy and digs up the truth about Eerie Elementary's dark history. There are hair's breadth escapes from living cafeteria carts and lockers in the slimy basement of the school and Sam’s determination to help his friends, who all had their own moments to shine. To adult eyes, the story is a bit simplistic and nearly everything is resolved through deus ex machina, but it seemed like a good place to begin for a grade schooler’s first “pretty scary” book.


I was hesitant about choosing the second book in a series, but the readers, many of whom had read the first book already, seemed to think that it stood alone well. They were impressed at how “spooky” the book was, mentioning how the “everyday” setting of school made it even creepier. One remarked “it was pretty epic,” though another said it was “ridiculous, violent, and not very smart” (he liked it). This group really enjoyed making pizzas for the last book, but asking them to draw their own normal thing in a scary way with art supplies did not keep their attentions nearly as much.




The Guys Read choice was Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi, an action packed cautionary tale of agribusiness greed, corruption, and the zombie plague as a small group of baseball loving misfits, Rabi, Miguel, and Joe uncover the local meatpacker's evil secret experiments- once again, the discussion here became quite heated, though not for the reasons I’d expected. Like much of Bacigulpi’s writing, there is a distinct social message in this tale, one that is not always subtle. While he couches these heavy themes in a gross, action packed zombie apocalypse tale using all the tropes, (zombies who moan “brains!,” sinister authority figures, and zombie cows), zombies are just the filler- the real meat is a discussion of food safety, corporate "ethics," and immigration. In a group of kids whose backgrounds are quite similar to those in the book, the immigration and agricultural elements were not discussed, though- they stuck to how they liked the characters, the writing style, and how gross and creepy the zombies were. Does this mean the messages did not soak through? Or was it just natural ideas to them? 




The book I chose for the teens was Godless, by the Twin Cities author Pete Hautman, which I found to be quite a thought-provoking read, though the readers found it less so.

Hautman uses a group of compelling and funny teenagers to explore, with no right answers, disputes between faith and skepticism. When Jason Bock, a bored, creative agnostic teen is inspired to make up his own religion, focused on his small Minnesota town's water tower as a project to pass the time during the long summer and wrestle with his own conflicted relationship with his family's Catholic beliefs. He brings in some of his acquaintances, including his best friend, his crush, and a scary but cool local rebel and the group is soon fleshing out the belief structure of the new church of Chutengodianism. Quickly, though, the joke gets a bit more seriously as his friends begin using it as an excuse for exciting risk taking or even begin to believe in "the Ten-Legged One" for real. While the ending is a bit abrupt, leaving some questions unanswered, Hauptman leaves a lot of room for the reader to reflect on the same questions that Jason has, perhaps coming to different conclusions. Bock and his friends make some dumb decisions but Bock's questioning nature make it both a funny and philosophical teen novel.


I found it interesting that the most scientific character, Shin, becomes the most fanatical believer in the new church, while the fearsome bad boy Henry Stagg becomes a more level headed influence. Maybe it was just the the typical Minnesotan reticence to discuss religion or politics in public, but the group here had little to say about the controversial aspects of the novel. They found it quite funny, though. They mentioned that they felt that "really religious" people may not like it, but nothing in the book seemed to bother them, though they felt it ended too abruptly. Still, like in the case of Zombie Baseball Beatdown, could just exposing them to these ideas have sparked them to think? Perhaps, in peer groups, they prefer just to focus on the "fun" aspects of the books? In any case, the fun seemed to have satisfied them this time. 


*Theme music for entry: "Fashion Zombies!," The Aquabats!, Charge! 2005

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2015-06-25 02:55
Guys Read, Summer 2015: The First Session
The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza - James Kochalka
Meanwhile - Jason Shiga
The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey



I experienced something completely new in my history of working in libraries last Wednesday, leading three book groups for grade school boys as part of the Guys Read Program at the Eden Prairie Library. After I started my work in the Hennepin County System, I volunteered to mentor these three groups through what may be their first non-school, shared reading experiences. Geared for promoting literacy among grade school boys, Guys Read is among the many book clubs offered by library branches, for people of all ages. I’m leading three groups, one of kids going into first and second grade, one for third through sixth graders, and one for teens. For each group, I’ve chosen four books that I hope would challenge and entertain the young patrons throughout the biweekly meetings in June and July.


This is definitely like nothing I’ve done in the past and, really, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A real challenge to my public service, reader's advisory, and library instruction skills, I selected titles from as diverse and topic a background as possible, and made sure enough library copies to go around. In addition to the themes presented by the chosen books, I came up with fun activities for the groups as well, or at least, activities that I hoped would be fun. It did not take long for each of them to fill up and last week was the first time I met them all.


The group meetings went well, and I was impressed at the diversity and interest shown by each group of kids. I attempted to allow them to dictate the direction of the conversations over last weeks books, I’m definitely learning a lot and, after my first three groups, I’m looking forward to see how they enjoy the next selections. All three groups enjoyed the titles, for the most part, and the books selected sparked, in some cases, heated and energetic debate.


The three books I chose for the first meetings were comics, for the “Junior” and “Guys” groups, and a popular teen novel for the teen group.



The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza - James Kochalka 


This was, as expected from the inimitable James Kochalka, a silly, super colorful, playful romp across another planet with a cast of goofy but endearing characters; the aforementioned Glorkian Warrior, easily distracted, his SuperBackpack, the voice of reason, and the childlike Gonk. Tasked with the important quest of delivering a pizza, the three eyed pizza loving Glorkian encounters obstacles but through perseverance and occasionally zapping things, is able to finally enjoy a pizza of his own. The kids, in general, enjoyed the tale and its characters, though a few seemed to think it a little too silly. Some of the kids loved the antics of the Glorkian Warrior and Gonk, and lauded the logic and wisdom of SuperBackpack. The cute baby alien was also a favorite (looks a bit like a green Space Invader mixed with a cat). There is some fantasy violence in this story, with plenty of lasers, flying kicks (a Kochalka favorite) and punching oneself in the face and the kids definitely enjoyed this aspect.




Meanwhile - Jason Shiga 


Meanwhile, Jason Shiga’s intricate, choose your own path graphic novel that explores mathematical concepts, proved the most interesting and controversial book for any of the groups. Beginning with a choice, what flavor to choose at an ice cream shop, leads the reader to a mad scientists lab and his three world changing inventions, and lets you choose where to go from there. There are puzzles here, deep puzzles, puzzles that I myself could not always solve.  The middle schoolers were intrigued by this concept, though a few missed the introduction and felt that it was too complex- even these readers were quickly drawn in by the in depth debates and discussion sparked by the philosophical concepts behind the story. What could you use a time machine for? Is choosing the vanilla the only good option, simply because it avoids all of the complications of the rest of the comic? It was not long before they were citing pages in the book to each other, comparing notes about where their choices diverged, debating what you could actually do with time travel.





The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey 


This one was, I admit, a bit hard going for me, personally. Through the eyes of Cassie, Richard Yancey depicts a harsh and unforgiving world and a chillingly efficient alien invasion. No alien walkers or battleships here; the invaders seem to go about their extermination of the human species without putting themselves at risk, as would befit a space faring civilization with the will to conquer. After all, when humans want to combat an infestation, they don’t hunt each cockroach down personally, right? Comparison of humanity to cockroaches and other insects were a running theme throughout the novel.


The first section of the novel, as Cassie narrates her experience of the end of the world, the death of her parents, loss of her younger brother, and her survival, she describes the cold efficiency of the visitors, as they take out human technology, population centers, and will to resist through a series of staggered “waves;” a global EMP attack, artificial triggering of massive earthquakes and tsunamis, a virulent plague spread by birds, and turncoat humans to sow distrust among any survivors. She questions her place surviving when so many others have died, thinking of herself as a mere roach to be stomped or poisoned at any time. However, the humanity as insect analogy breaks down as the novel progresses, as it seems that humans are far more important to the visitors than Cassie believed.  


The teens did seem to enjoy the battle scenes and desperate nature of the world presented, and seemed to have no problem with the female lead (though they did question her wisdom in not straight out murdering a certain character at her first chance) and they also felt the “5th wave” to be illogical when compared to the aliens earlier descriptions. I geared the discussion to why this novel, “soon to be a major motion picture,” was chosen to become a movie? How would they change it to make it more cinematic? What would they leave out? What would they add? In the end, they all said they would definitely see it.  


So, all in all, a good start. Looking forward to see the responses to next weeks choices!


*Theme music for entry: "Pizza Rocket," James Kochalka Superstar, Monkey vs. Robot, 1997


More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?