We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Source: publisher
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is a delightful book that teaches children about how to fit in with new classmates, especially after a rough first day of school.  Penelope is a T-Rex and she finds children tasty. Unfortunately, her classmates are children and she does the unthinkable.

Thankfully, no real harm was done and the teacher gets her to spit them out. Penelope has to learn how to co-exist with her classmates, even if she finds them tasty. Higgins uses a T-Rex to demonstrate how hard it is to join a new class and to start school when you’ve never been before. Her parents have prepared her for lunch at school, or did they?

Her teacher is very adamant about treating her classmates not as food, but even her initial attempts are rebuffed. When she returns home, her father gives her some advice about how children at the same on the inside as Penelope herself. This is a big lesson for all children. But like human children, Penelope fails to learn her lesson until someone treats her just as badly.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins has colorful images of the Penelope T-Rex and her classmates. I found the text easy to read for early readers, and the message is appropriate for this age group.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Ryan T. Higgins is five feet eleven inches tall and has no sense of smell. He doesn’t like to wear shoes, but he does like salmonloaf and bike rides (not together). Instead of reading a long author’s bio, Ryan would rather you forget about him and visit the website!

Mailbox Monday #417

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Benjamin Franklin You’ve Got Mail by Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel, an unexpected surprise and I’m passing it on to someone’s son who will enjoy it.

If the Future has any remedy for this situation, do not hesitate to provide it. That is to say, Ike and Claire Wanzandae, HELP! HELP HELP HELP.

I am (perhaps not for long),
Benjamin Franklin

Ike Saturday has seen better days. For one thing, his pen pal, Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin), is the target of an angry mob after Ike’s plan to help the Founding Fathers with some intel from the future seriously backfired. For another, he’s decided to mail himself back in time with the help of his girlfriend, Claire Wanzandae, and it’s not a particularly comfortable way to travel.

Once Ike tracks B-Freezy down in 1776, it becomes clear that his pal is less than impressed with the irritating, modern-day rescuer, partially because Ike has a habit of making things worse for Ben, and partially because Ben is incredibly cranky when not in the presence of numerous meat pies. Which speaks to another issue for the pair: they have no money, no food, and basically no plan for saving the country. But Claire won’t be able to cover for Ike back home in the future forever, and the British are looking pretty impatient, so Ike and B-Freezy will have to come up with something quickly if they want to avoid an epic, history-destroying disaster.

What did you receive?

The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Caroline Kennedy

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 192 pages
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The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy, her daughter, is a collection of classic poems that the former first lady adored for either their sense of adventure and whimsy or because she felt the passion of the love the poets expressed.  Caroline Kennedy does an excellent job of explaining why the poems meant so much to her mother and how they were selected and categorized, and it was great to see that she carried on the traditions started by her own mother with her own children.  In particular, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis started a tradition of having her children read, write, and recite poems for each holiday and birthday, and the children were encouraged to write the poems down and illustrate them, and those memories were kept in a scrapbook.  Rather than making it seem like work, it became a competition among the children to find the longest poem, the best poem, and to outshine one another when they read them.  I can only imagine what pride that gave their mother.

First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Second Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

As with any collection dealing with the Kennedy family, it is no wonder that this poetry collection begins with poems that pay homage to America, and also includes the poem read by Robert Frost at the Kennedy inauguration.  Kennedy said at the dedication of a library named for Robert Frost, “The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, … When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.  For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.” (page 5)  There are points in the collection that will require readers to have more patience as the older poems have more complex language and verses.

The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy is a homage to poetry’s place in the United States, in politics, and in families, but it also provides a portrait of a multifaceted woman who became the darling of a nation and the face of sorrow when her husband was assassinated.  But like most women, she was more than her family, her famous husband, or her stint in the White House.  She was a passionate woman who loved the arts, particularly poetry, and wanted to pass the love of beauty onto her children.  Readers will come to see that she was successful in that endeavor at least and she inspires all mothers to do the same.

About Caroline Kennedy:

Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is an American author and attorney. She is the daughter and only surviving child of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. An older sister, Arabella, died shortly after her birth in 1956. Brother John F. Kennedy, Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999. Another brother, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died two days after his birth in 1963.

Book 22 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy

Source: Book Expo America 2010
Hardcover, 136 pages
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The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is an adaptation of her mother’s poesiealbum (poetry album) into a narrative poem, peppered with images and actual entries, and a WWII historical time line as well as a resource listing and a section catching up with Jutta Salzberg’s family and friends and their ultimate fates.  This powerful hybrid poem/memoir not only examines the horrifying snowball effect of Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews, but also how Jewish children still found ways to maintain their childhood and enjoy the joyous moments they still had.

Salzberg lived in Hamburg, Germany, and was the daughter of a Polish born Jew who emigrated to Germany before the Nazi’s came to power, and the poetry album, much like American autograph books, begins in 1938, which became a pivotal year for Jutta.  Her father was a successful, belt, suspender, etc. salesman, who is eventually dismissed from his job because he’s a Jew. As a young lady on the verge of womanhood, she is capable of not only enjoying gossip and games with classmates, but also understand the deep seriousness of the changes around her.

Parents (page 32)
He sags
and I think how Father could use something
to hold him up--
a belt,
a suspender,
a garter...

She also has the ability to question the changes around her within the context of the words from her friends, like respecting one’s elders. Jutta wonders how she can respect someone like Hitler, who is her elder, when he spread such fear and hatred.  There is great tension in this short, narrative poem/journal as a young girl tries to find the silver lining in her circumstances, remember her friends, and enjoy moments with her family, while at the same time worrying that her immediate family will be unable to leave Germany for America as the consulate will not issue them U.S. visas.  The section of the narrative poem that is the most heart-wrenching is when Jews are forced to seek out kindness from strangers in America who just happen to have their same last name.

The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy is powerful and a great testament to her mother’s memory, her own family’s past, and the hope generated by that remembering.  The book is not only a year of goodbyes between Jutta and her family and friends, it also contains information that may not be as well known, including the role of Jutta’s cousin Guy Gotthelf in the French Resistance and the impact of one Jewish man, Herschel Grynszpan, on those left behind in Germany when he avenged the murder of his own family back in Germany.  Lasting, eye-opening, and a must read for young and old.

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books — fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting her writing career, she was a newspaper editor, and a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. She has a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland and spends as much time as she can kayaking and otherwise messing around in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Also please check out the article on her family’s journey in The Washington Post, and her own article on finding the journal in the same publication.

Also, check out her new book, Imperfect Spiral, which is published today!

Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, the five-year-old boy she’s watching, runs in front of oncoming traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, outsiders use the accident to further a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn Humphrey, the sweet kid she had a surprisingly strong friendship with, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her. Through a new relationship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, she begins to work through her grief, but as details of the accident emerge, much is not as it seems. It’s time for Danielle to face reality, but when the truth brings so much pain, can she find a way to do right by Humphrey’s memory and forgive herself for his death?

On July 27, 2013, at 3:30 pm for those in the Alexandria, Va., area, Debbie will be with Beth Kephart in a joint event at Hooray for Books.

This is my 45th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 5)

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz (book 5 in Blue Bloods series) is divided between Jack and Schuyler on the run from the coven and Mimi and Oliver back in New York seeking to uncover the perpetrators of vampire kidnappings.  The New York coven is crumbling beneath the weight of the Silver Blood attacks and the absence of its celestial leader Michael, known as Charles Force in this century.  The deaths of Blue Bloods are scaring the elders and the younger generations, and some are talking about retreating underground.  Meanwhile, Schuyler and Jack have sought refuge in the European Coven only to find that the protection is more like being held prisoner, preventing them from being able to fulfill the Van Alen Legacy of protecting the paths to the underworld from Lucifer.

“Deming wondered how much of that fit in with the Vampire Code to enlighten the human race.  It seemed in the present, many of the vampires were not interested in helping humanity as much as they were interested in helping themselves to as much as possible.”  (page 197)

Cruz’s characters are stretching their wings and coming into their full powers.  Even the confident Mimi Force is flailing in her new position as Regent, and her vulnerability makes her seem a little less abrasive than her celestial “Angel of Death” persona.  Forced to rely on Oliver, Schuyler’s former familiar and conduit, Mimi must learn that she is not infallible and that she can misjudge the scope of her powers, particularly in the modern world.  She also becomes more resourceful in that she calls on the Chinese coven for a skilled Venator to uncover the kidnappers of vampires.

In the Mediterranean, Jack and Schuyler are learning to be comforted in their shared space and experiences, even under the protection of the European Coven.  But in an attempt to kick their mission to find the hidden paths and ensure their protection into high gear, a fiery escape from a yacht leads them deep into the mountains to uncover a 15th Century mystery.  Cruz is easing readers further into the devotion between these two characters and showing how well they work together, in spite of their doubts about how long they will have together given that they are basically outlaws of two covens.

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz is about how the past can trick us into thinking that the future path is set and that there are few choices, but really the future is wide open and can change easily once a new decision and path is chosen.  The series is kicking into high gear and there are newer mysteries to solve and mazes to run through for these characters, and they’ll have your rooting for each of them to look beyond “destiny” to find the future they want most and can make them happiest.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 4.5)

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz is really a companion book to the series, rather than a continuation of the action. In the introductory letter from the author, Cruz says, “The Repository Files, which include character profiles, were written by rather crotchety historians who work for the humorless Committee, so you might find their estimation of the characters a little astringent.”  (page 5)

The book chronicles the series up to the fourth book, provides some additional short stories/chapters that may have been cut from those books or that provide additional background to the story.  In many ways, these short stories are the missing pieces or scenes that some readers may have wanted to see, like the big breakup scene between Jack and Schuyler or what happened to Dylan Ward when he disappeared.  One of the most endearing elements of Jack and Schuyler’s relationship is the books that they share with one another, and upon their first meeting, he gives her The Plague by Albert Camus and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, two seemingly unrelated books, though both are about love and longing.

“Feeling reckless and giddy, and just a tad plucky — like the kind of girl who tramped around the marshes in the dark — she scribbled a note and slipped it under Jack’s door.

Mr. Darcy, I will be there as requested. — Elizabeth.”  (page 57)

“This was a boy who spoke through books:  longing and exile — The Plague — banter and obstacles — Pride and Prejudice.  He spoke her language.”  (page 59)

Cruz also creates an appendix of characters in the books and their role in the books, definitions of the secret language words and other events in the books.  In one chapter, she even more fully explains the hierarchy of the vampire world from the Order of the Seven to the Committee and the Conclave.  Finally, there is an additional chapter on Bliss Llewellyn and her adventures to find the Hounds of Hell, which Cruz apparently spun off into a series of its own (as if I need yet another series to read, though I’ll likely pick it up someday).

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz is an companion book to the Blue Bloods series that can help remind readers what has happened in the past, shed additional light on the characters and relationships in the series, and offers a refresher course on the terms, history, and customs of the Blue Bloods.  It reads like the notebooks of a writer would, giving readers an inside peak into the characters as Cruz sees them and their story, though there are elements that are “redacted” by the recordkeepers, most likely because they are elements revealed in future books.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 4)

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz is the fourth book in the Blue Bloods series.  The pacing of this story is much better as each chapter is told from a different setting and set of characters, increasing the tension for readers looking to uncover the grand plan of the Silver Bloods.  Schuyler and Oliver, her human conduit, have been on the run since the end of the last book, and after more than a year of running from the Venators, they have done little to uncover the truth of her family’s legacy or the plans of the Silver Bloods.  In many ways, Schuyler has taken a backseat in these books to allow Mimi to come into her full powers and true destiny as she and her fellow Venators search the globe for the Watcher, who was taken from Bliss Llewellyn family.

Bliss, on the other hand, has her own set of problems as she fights to regain control over her life and uncover what her father, the senator Forsyth, has been up to behind closed doors.  Meanwhile, she realizes that even the people she has lost are carried with her always and are available to help her regain control and take appropriate action to prevent further devastation.

“Stepping into someone’s subconscious is like discovering a new planet.  Everyone’s internal world is different and unique.  Some are cluttered, stuffed with dark and kinky secrets pushed to the edge of their minds, like racy underwear and handcuffs shoved in the back of a closet.  Some are pristine and clear as a spring meadow:  all hopping bunnies and falling snowflakes.  Those are rare.”  (page 26)

“Memories were moving pictures in which meaning was constantly in flux.  They were stories people told themselves.  Using the glom — the netherworld of memory and shadow, a space the vampires could access at will in order to read and control minds — was like stepping into a darkroom, into a lab where photographers developed their prints, submerging them in shallow pans of chemicals, drying them on nylon racks.”  (page 70-1)

Meanwhile, the Forces begin to realize that the bond that they share may not be as unbreakable as they have been told it is.  But beyond that, they must don their previous lives and knowledge to battle the forces of evil and save not only their Blue Bloods society, but also humanity.  De la Cruz has stepped up the detail in this novel, carefully unfolding the layers of her vampire society’s past and the political machinations that continue even amidst the ominous threat of the Silver Bloods who may have infiltrated their community.

The Van Alen Legacy by Melissa de la Cruz renewed my faith in the series, even though little time is spent on the actual Van Alen legacy.  Cruz has further developed her characters, though the love triangles can be a little tiresome.  It is an action-packed guilty pleasure, looking for a novel to spend a few entertaining hours away from the television and the turkey.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee

Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz (Book 3)

Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz is the third book in the Blue Bloods series in which an upper crust society of vampires, mostly teens in a private New York City school is on the verge of battle with dark forces.  As this is the third book in the series, readers should read the first two novels before tackling this one as without the background of those novels readers could find themselves adrift.  Secondly, even those who have read the previous two novels, should consider rereading them and even with that could find themselves a bit lost in this one.  De La Cruz has a lot going on with her Blue Blood vampires and there is quite a bit of cloak and dagger going on that keeps the readers in the dark up until the end chapters.

The novel opens shortly after a major even in the second book in which an attack on one of the elder vampires by a Silver Blood is successful, and the beginning of this one is set up as though it will be a solvable mystery.  In some ways it is, but not to a satisfying conclusion as more questions about the feud between Blue Bloods and Silver Bloods are raised than answered.  Schulyer, who is referred to as a half-blood (think Harry Potter and the similar connotations apply here, though in a vampire world), is still wandering around, not doing her “lessons” to learn about vampire history, and pining for Jack Force, the twin of Mimi (think soul mate, not sibling).

These vampire characters are supposed to be the earthbound representations of the archangels, and while it creates a unique line of lore for vampires, not much of this history is revealed to the reader as Schuyler refuses to take part in the lessons.  The high-school struggles of vampires among mortals is completely forgotten in favor of a secret conclave-directed set of lessons to help these teen vampires, who have been reincarnated again, to come into their full power.  But even so, the author fails to demonstrate these powers outside of the classroom without explanation.  For example, Mimi suspects her soul mate Jack is seeing someone else, and rather than turn into fog or mist to follow him, she trails him in a Bentley.  Readers will find this disconnect disappointing since half the point of reading vampire novels is for the lore and world building.

Although the novel is full of name drops in the fashion world and in terms of locales in Rio rather than actual descriptions to transport readers to these locations, De La Cruz has created a novel that is a quick read when you want to just turn your brain off for a while — it’s candy for the mind.  Revelations by Melissa De La Cruz was a bit cliched in places and disappointing when vampire powers were not used, but overall, its a quick read that doesn’t require too much thinking and provides a source of entertainment.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee