Under the Cover Review: Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill

9780316231756_p0_v2_s260x420-2Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill
by James Patterson
Reviewed by Sam M.
McCracken School, 7th Grade

Rafe Khatchadorian doesn’t like following the rules. In fact, he practically lives to break them. This has left him with quite a record of infamy, and in order to stay in the one school that he actually enjoys, he has to do some extra academic work. This is where Camp Wannamorra comes in, a camp that Rafe will stay at for the summer. It sounds like fun in the sun–except for the part where it’s actually a summer school camp that runs on a super-strict list of rules (no electronics, curfew is 9:00p.m., lights-out 10:00p.m., wakey-wakey 7:00a.m., school 8:00 a.m., the list goes on).

Sorted into the Muskrat Hut, Rafe makes quick friends with his cabinmates (or cabin inmates, so to speak): the big guy Two Tunz, the blue-haired Smurf, the super-tall Dweebs, the super-short Cav, the “specially talented” Bombardier, and the geeky Booger Eater. If you haven’t already inferred, Booger Eater is suffering endless bullying from the other kids, and even though he hides his feelings Rafe knows that he wants it to stop. But, that is easier said than done, as they have to put with the snobby and spiteful Bobcats that have been on their backs since day one. When their heartless pranks on the Muskrats grow bigger and worse, Rafe becomes the general in this cabin-vs-cabin war, and it’s not going to be an easy victory.

I thought Patterson’s last two books were masterpieces; well-written big-hearted comedies that are easy to read and hard to forget. The same goes for this entry. When Patterson’s witty and almost tongue-in-cheek writing style makes us root for the Muskrats, feel for Booger Eater, and despise the Bobcats, that is some pretty amazing writing. And that’s a great adjective to describe this book. Any James Patterson fans or anyone who enjoys Diary of a Wimpy Kid or similar series will love this novel.


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Under the Cover Review: The True Meaning of Smekday

The_True_Meaning_of_Smekday_coverThe True Meaning of Smekday
by Adam Rex
Reviewed by Sam M.
McCracken School, 7th Grade

Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is an eighth grader at Daniel Landry Middle School, assigned with writing an essay with a minimum of five pages about, as the book title suggests, the true meaning of Smekday. If her essay is chosen from thousands of entries, it will be buried in a time capsule to be opened a century into the future. It all began when we found out that there was intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, when the aliens arrived. Anarchy spreads like wildfire following the visitors’ arrival, discussing plans of renaming Earth to Smekland (to honor Captain Smek) and forcing the entire American population into one state.

If there’s someone who has a lot to tell about their experience, it’s Tip. First of all, her mother just isn’t herself lately. Maybe it has something to do with that strange glowing mole on the back of her neck. Then there’s a friendly visitor who becomes Tip’s friend, dubbing itself “J.Lo”. (I’m dead serious.) But the invasion quickly gives way to a cross-country adventure as J.Lo, Tip, and her cat Pig travel to find Tip’s mom at the Happy Mouse Kingdom. Along the way, they make friends including Chief Shouting Bear, Vicki Lightbody, and the Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov (BOOB). The trio is going to need all the gas in their hovercar if they’re gonna cook up a plan to save the country, maybe even the world.

I think I came across this when I was looking for a good science-fiction book to feast my eyes on. And I’ll tell you, The True Meaning of Smekday is more than good. It is absolutely sublime. This is the best science-fiction book I’ve ever read since Maximum Ride, and I can break it down intellectually to tell you why. It has an exquisite sense of humor, it’s part-graphic novel, Tip is a great character, it has additional pictures to deepen the experience, vivid dialogue, unique story structure, and an absolutely shocking ending. If you’re looking for something fresh and fluid from sci-fi, look no further.


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Under the Cover Review: A Certain Slant of Light

certainslantA Certain Slant of Light
by Laura Whitcomb
Reviewed by Kayla G.
Niles North High School, 12th Grade

“Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.” With these first words, Laura Whitcomb draws us into Helen’s remarkable story. Helen has been dead for 130 years and has never encountered anyone who could see her before. Helen is immediately intrigued that Billy Blake can see her and surprised to find out that a spirit named James is actually occupying his body. Suddenly, Helen who has been drifting for decades finds a reason to exist. She and James find themselves immediately attracted to one another, but there’s a little problem: he’s in a body and she isn’t. Desperate to be with one another in the corporeal world, they find her a body: Jenny Thompson.

Now Helen must navigate the human world and adjust to her overly-religious parents. When Jenny is prohibited from dating Billy (he’s a bad influence and not in her church), they must find ways to meet in secret. Everything is going according to the plan until Billy is arrested and Jenny put under house arrest. Choices that were made before Helen and James were inhabiting their bodies and their own choices mix together creating chaos.

As Helen and James fight to save Jenny and Billy, they see glimpses of their past lives, slowly piecing together the truth. As their pasts come to light, Helen and James have a renewed hope of finally reaching heaven, but must first save Jenny and Billy. Laura Whitcomb’s debut novel is well-told, creative, compelling, and original. A Certain Slant of Light gives readers a new take on the spirit world and brings to light important issues relating to religion, drugs, relationships, and much more.


Under The Cover is your chance for to submit reviews on the books you love. Contribute a review.

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Craft of the Month: Chinese New Year drum

drumphotoThe Chinese New Year begins this Sunday, February 10. This is a celebration honoring a new year of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. Each year is represented by a creature such as the rabbit in 2011, or the dragon in 2012. The Year of the Snake lasts through January 30, 2014. To ring in the New Year, come to the Library to create a ceremonial Chinese New Year drum. Decorate your drum with Chinese symbols, an image of the snake, or even colorful hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Also, be sure to pick up some books about Chinese New Year while you are here!

Posted under Arts & Crafts, Just for Fun, Youth

WEview #2 – Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Attention Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate fans! There is a new character on the block. His name is Timmy Failure. And he is, well, an EPIC failure. But he’s pretty darn funny, too. You see, Timmy thinks he knows more than most kids and considers himself the best detective in the town. What he doesn’t realize is that he is incredibly clueless. Whether he is trying to sort out who stole his friend’s Halloween candy or who toilet-papered the neighbor’s trees, he just doesn’t seem to be able to observe the obvious. Timmy and his polar bear side-kick, Total, will have you laughing at their stupidity and possibly adopting a new excuse for your own failures: “Mistakes were made.” See what I mean by viewing his website and blog!

The book, which is written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis (the author of the adult comic Pearls Before Swine) doesn’t come out until February 2013, but you can reserve your copy now. Thanks to Stephan (see picture at right), the library received a few advanced reading copies – one of them was even autographed! So if you are one of our lucky readers, please share your opinion of Mistakes Were Made in the comments section below. That’s what makes this book review a WE-view!

Posted under Books & Reading, Youth

Creative Side

This past week kids of Skokie showed their creative side. We had our first Edible Books Competition. The entries were inspired by a favorite book or tale and had to be edible. The creations could be made individually or as a family. The creations were made at home and then brought to the Library for judging. The doors were closed for the judging at 5:00pm and reopened at 6:30pm for public viewing until 8:30pm. Our winners were “The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan made out of fig Newtons, “A Sheet Cake” made into a bed for Amelia Bedelia and a last minute entry “How to Eat Fried Worms” by Thomas Rockwell made with gummy worms, yellow Jello and cookie crumbs. For more inspiring ideas look at this site  http://www.library.illinois.edu/ediblebooks/2012gallery.html

Posted under Arts & Crafts, Books & Reading, Community, Events & Programs, Youth

Starter-up a New Series

Thanks to a blockbuster release of a movie, it seems that everyone is crazy about The Hunger Games trilogy! The Library now owns 38 copies of the first book and has already ordered 40 copies of the DVD. We don’t know when it’s coming out, but we are ready to take reserves!

So what can you read while you are waiting for your turn? Let me make a suggestion. If you loved Hunger Games, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Starters along with it’s sequel, Enders, which is due out in December. Starters is a futuristic story that takes place after a war (like Hunger Games), where a girl is fighting to survive (like Hunger Games), realizes her romantic feelings for an attractive guy (like Hunger Games) and eventually starts a revolt (like Hunger Games). Of course, the storyline is different, but the intrigue, the fast paced writing, and unethical treatment of teens is all there.

Starters is set in a futuristic Beverly Hills, California where – thanks to a shortage of vaccines and a horrible war – the only living people are the young and the old. Starters, who lost their parents in the war, have to find a way to survive. Enders, who are living until they are 200 years old, want to be able to enjoy the things they used to be able to do. In steps Prime Destinations, a corporate body-bank that offers free make-overs and large sums of money to any Starter who will rent out his/her body. The main character, Callie, desperate to care for her sick, younger brother, agrees to only three rentals. But what will she do when she learns that the Ender who rents her body plans to commit murder?

My colleague, Linda, and I were fortunate to be invited to a celebration dinner with author Lissa Price. We learned that this is Lissa’s first book, and she has already written the screenplay for the movie. Her publisher, Random House, is so excited about Starters, that they’ve created a book trailer which played during the previews of The Hunger Games movie right here in Chicago. So give it a try, and let us know what you think – we’ve already ordered extra  copies of the book!

Posted under Books & Reading, Movies, Youth

Holiday gift giving: books!

Books make great holiday gifts! If you’re looking for some ideas, here’s what’s on the Youth Services staff shopping list this season. If you shop our suggestions, please let us know how your children liked these books!

For the teen and adult readers on your gift list, check out the Library’s 2011 Holiday Gift Buying Guide compiled by the Readers’ Services staff.

(Pssst… kids who read for fun consistently score higher on tests, too!)

Picture books

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle

A Hundred Acre Wood Treasury by Lisa Ann Marsoli

Disney Winnie the Pooh: The Essential Guide by Beth Larkin Hester

E-MERGENCY by Tom Lichtenheld

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?  by Susan A. Shea

Maisy’s Big Book of Learning by Lucy Cousins

Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow

Train Trip by Deanna Caswell

Llama Llama Home with Mama by Anna Dewdney

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Easy readers and easy fiction

Young Cam Jansen and the Circus Mystery by David Adler

The Mixed-up Mail Mystery by Erica Farber

Mr. Putter & Tabby Ring the Bell by Cynthia Rylant

Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery by Doreen Cronin

Fiction for older readers

City of Orphans by Avi

Mistaken Masterpiece by Michael D. Bell

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner

Satch and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian

Posted under Books & Reading

Library Social Story for Kids with Special Needs

You may have read a lot of stories, but have you read the one about visiting Skokie Public Library?

Our new social story was written to help children prepare for their visit to the Library. It is a short story, with simple language and close-up photographs, that shows the reader what to expect and how to behave. Because we’ve never written a social story before, we got some help from Niles Township District for Special Education. Social stories are typically written for children on the autism spectrum, but they can be helpful to anyone who might be uncomfortable in a new environment. It’s also a great tool to use with a class before taking a field trip!

Learn about all the things you can do in the Library — for example: read books, play games, make crafts, or use computers. Did you know that in addition to books, you can checkout Playaways, puppets, and video games? You can also see how to use our new self-checkout and return machines. Notice that there are some rules for behavior in the Library.

I Can Go to Skokie Public Library may be viewed online (with Adobe Reader) or printed and bound into a booklet. There is also a printed copy available at the Youth Services Desk. We hope you’ll read our social story and Come On In! because the Library is a friendly place for children with special needs.

Posted under Books & Reading, Community, Library Facts & Fun, Spaces and Places, Youth

On the road with Sarah Weeks: Middleton School

Author Sarah Weeks rocked the Media Center at Middleton School when she visited with students on Thursday during her whirlwind trip to Skokie. Take a look at our moving memories from that visit:

YouTube Preview Image

(The photos in our moving memories are available for download and sharing on our Flickr photostream.)

Check back soon for more highlights of the day including a Q&A with the author.

Posted under Books & Reading, Community, Events & Programs, School