The Fourteenth Goldfish

19156898The February pick is Jenny Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish.  I’m allowed to call her Jenny because that’s what she told me to call her WHEN I MET HER last spring at a children’s literature conference.  She was as awesome as you would imagine and read the beginning of this book out loud, even though I don’t think it was even out yet.

Holm is mostly known as a historical fiction novelist, so it’s interesting to see her play with time in a different way.  Did Ellie’s grandfather really figure out immortality?  Is he really the new cranky kid in her middle school?  Holm always does an excellent job dealing with some heavy themes like aging, death, growing up and fitting in wit a wonderfully light touch.  It’ll be interesting to see her use her powers with an entry-level science fiction tale.  By entry-level, I mean that someone who doesn’t necessarily gravitate toward science fiction would probably pick it up.

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Over Sea, Under Stone

11312Susan Cooper is a master storyteller.  The Dark is Rising Sequence is a favorite. But many are surprised to find that the book titled The Dark is Rising is not the first book in the series.  This one is.  But it’s one of those weird things where this one was first and written for a younger audience, than the rest of the series was conceived and written all together for a slightly more mature audience later on.  Sort of, but not quite, like The Hobbit and the rest of the Lord of the Rings books.

So yes, you can and perhaps have read The Dark is Rising sequence without ever having read the original tale.  Now is your chance to do so and to join the discussion over at the Sword & Laser Kids book club.

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A Wrinkle in Time

18131The only book that can pull the opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night” off with a straight face. Even if you’ve already read this classic you will probably want to post you pet theories on our Goodreads group discussion.  If you haven’t yet read it then now is your chance to catch up with this influential time and space-travelling classic.  Also, if you have read it you might want to try one of these instead or in addition:

There’s a recent and well-reviewed graphic novel adaptation by Hope Larson.

Another Hope, independent film darling and Newsroom actress Hope Davis reads the audiobook.

It is a direct influence on another Newbery award winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

Also, Jennifer Lee, one of the creators of Disney’s Frozen says a film adaptation is her next project, even though there have been a few misguided attempts already.


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The Graveyard Book

2213661Well it’s a good time of year for this one! Neil Gaiman’s riff on The Jungle Book but instead of jungle animals a little boy is raised by the inhabitants of a graveyard.  Mostly spirits, but an interesting vampire as well.

For all it’s creepy trappings it’s an incredibly fun book to read.  Goodreads group member Cliff wants to know what method you will consume this title this month?  There’s the book of course, with interesting illustrations.  Then there’s the audiobook read by the author himself.  Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading (or rereading) this future classic. When you do, stop by the Goodreads group and join us for the discussion.

UPDATE: 12/2/14

Well the discussion on Goodreads never really got off the ground but I hope you all enjoyed the book.  I wanted to add a list of “If You Like This, Then You Might Like…”

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn

Lisel & Po by Lauren Oliver

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Enchanted Glass  by Diana Wynn Jones

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A Note From Tony DiTerlizzi

Well, it’s from him through is assistant anyway.

You may recall from my Search for WondLa post earlier, that there had been some questions about the touted tie-in website with “WondLa-Vision” and why it seems to have been abandoned.  I sent the question through Mr. Terlizzi’s website and received the response below from his assistant.  Yea, internet!

“Hi Jim,

Tony is happy to hear that you have been enjoying The Search for WondLa and have chosen the series for your Goodreads group. “WondLa-Vision” was deactivated due to the amount of work and costs associated with maintaining it on the website. Since it is a web-based activity it required constant browser updating and attention in order for it to be continuously accessible for fans.

As Tony would say, never abandon imagination,


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Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

9780689710681_p0_v1_s260x420This book and movie hit at just the wrong times for me to encounter them as a kid.  The book came out to early and looked old fashioned by the time I was the right age to read it and the movie came out after I was too old to want to see it.  I did read the book with my daughter a couple years ago and remember liking it but since it’s on our district’s quiz bowl-type reading challenge and I’m taking a team this year I thought I should re-read it.

I also had it on my list of possible S&L Kids books to read but could never decide if  it was more Fantasy or more Science Fiction.  It’s really both.  It’s got the talking animal adventure, kind of a Watership Down for kids thing.  It’s also got a kind of Flowers for Algernon SF tale that is essential to the plot.

What I especially love is that the hero of the story is a middle aged mother.  How many SF or Fantasy books have the main character–a smart, courageous middle aged mom hero at that–as the main character?  I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

I can think of tons of stories with kids out on their own with absent or barely involved parents.  How many kids books have a parent as the protagonist and the children are the ones in the background?  It’s totally unique as far as I can tell, but it hold up for kids I think.  I’ll report back about this when my team gets to it.

Of course, even with a strong female character it’s still a novel of it’s time.  I believe it was written in the late 60s.  When she goes to the rats it’s pretty much just males she deals with.  There is some brief mention of “the wives” and a handful of female characters pass through, but for the most part, other than Mrs. Frisby (who doesn’t even get a first name as far as I can tell) it’s all males making most of the decisions.

The other thing I noticed this time around is how little action takes place on stage as it were.  The first part does, what with the cat, the crow and the owl.  But once she makes it down the rat hole, it’s all second hand tales told by Ms. Ages and Nicodemus.  That’s when we hear the SF tale of the rat intelligence experiments.  It’s a captivating tale but the section where they describe learning to read grated.  As an educator I knew they might get something out of those lessons, but learning to read wasn’t one of them.  Other than that, though, the NIMH parts were great science fiction from the object of the experiment’s perspective.

The ending adds a dash more excitement in a Borrower’s type way and ends happily for everyone.  No spoiler there, most talking animal stories do for some reason.

If you like this book, there are sequels but not written by Mr. O’Brian so I don’t know if they’re any good.  To me this is more closely aligned with survival stories and there are many great human and animal survival stories for this age group.  But sticking with the animal fantasy theme, there was that Redwall series, the Poppy books by Avi, the beautiful Tale of Despereaux, A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole, Young Fredle by Cybthia Voight, and Richard Peck has some fun adventurous mouse tales out now.  Oh, and don’t forget about Kathryn Lasky’s fantasy series about owls which starts with one called The Rescue. They made it into a mediocre film but the students still like the books.

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The Search for WondLa

7327327Over on the Goodreads group, we’ve started reading and discussing Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Search for WondLa.  It’s the tale of a girl, a robot, and the search for others like herself.  One weird thing we noticed is the frequent mention of “WondLa-Vision” in the promotion of this book, which has a sequel and a third one on the way.  But when you go to the website, it says the WondLa-Vision has been deactivated.  That seems very strange for a series still in progress.  The paperback for this book only just came out in 2012.  Is WondLa-Vision expensive to maintain?  Did it just not work?  Ah well, I’ve emailed the author.  We’ll see if there’s a response.

In the meantime, enjoy this old fashioned SF/fantasy with a strong female lead.  Can’t have enough of those in the world.  I’ve just started it and it has a great beginning.  It’ll be interesting to see how it compares to a previous pick,  Zita the Spacegirl.

“This book makes me wish I could draw. From the co-creator of Spiderwick Chronicles, The Search for Wondla is a fabulous cross between sci fi and fantasy. A young girl, raised in an underground bunker by a motherly robot, is suddenly forced to the surface and finds that the world is radically changed — if it’s even the planet she thought it was. The story is fascinating by itself, but the illustrations add a whole new dimension to the adventure. Highly recommended.”  -Rick Riordan

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Sword & Laser Kids Podcast ep. 7 – The False Prince

TheFalsePrinceIn this one you get to see my goofy mug, hear some crazy news and get a wrapup of this months pick and a brief preview of next month’s.

The not-that-big-news is that I’m handing over the day-to-day upkeep and monthly picking of books to members Cliff and Beth.  I just feel bad that it’s hard for me to always do this on a timely schedule with all the other things going on.  I’ll still be as involved as I can and will still be on the Goodreads site and will keep up this blog but what with the face-to-face book club I’ve been in for almost a decade and running my school’s 4th/5th grade Reader’s Rally team (another fifteen books to read) I just worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep to the schedule.  Plus it’s nice to have more than one person doing it.  It is a club after all and I’ve had less than great luck finding good co-anchors.

So anyway, here’s a talking head video of me for the last podcast (I can’t bring myself to say “vlog” for some reason).  I’m not saying I won’t do more, but just not regularly for the time being.  Enjoy!

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On A Beam of Light

lightThis is a beautiful book and I’m sure when I get a copy for my library it will go in the biography section.  But it’s not the kind of book you’d read for a report on Albert Einstein. It’s one of those new, what should I call them, inspirational biographies?  No, that’s not quite it. Maybe “Everybody biographies.”  Because the E section of elementary libraries is for picture books and these type of biographies aren’t for research, but for everybody to enjoy like a picture book.  I’ve noticed a few of these lately like Me…Jane, Before John was a Jazz Giant, and this author’s other book, Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau.

It’s a light, whimsical introduction to the life and major accomplishments of Albert Einstein for the K-3 set.  It tells of his selective muteness as a child, his difficulties with traditional school, his patent job which he got so he could also work on his physics papers, then his fame as someone who changed our way of thinking.  The major metaphor is his imagining himself if he could travel on a beam of light and what that would mean and be like.

But more that just a book about Albert Einstein, it’s about that sense of wonder and that drive to understand.  It could have been music, like John Coltrane, or art, like Frida Khalo or biology and the natural world like Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau but for young Albert it happened to be the areas of physics, going beyond Newton.

It begins when, to keep his sick child something to occupy him, Albert’s father gives the boy a compass.  It thrills him. “Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the world–hidden and silent, unknown and unseen.”  And goes from there.

The art is perfect.  It’s loose lines, soothing colors, and has a wry, doodle-like quality that adds to the sense of someone alone thinking interesting thoughts.  You can speed through it or linger and ponder as the mood takes you.

So yes, I realize this is non-fiction, but it is definitely the kind of book that fits my mission of finding books to share that will help raise young geeklings.

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Goodreads Poll for next SF pick!

school-poll-resultsIt’s a crazy voting frenzy over there!  Among the Hidden and The Search for WondLa are neck and neck.  Which will win?  Or will a dark horse take the lead in the last few days of voting?  Who knows?

Head on over there and vote if you haven’t.  Or don’t.  Either way I will continue to blog about SF/Fantasy and other books for your geeklings here on the Sword & Laser Kids.  Not sure about the Goodreads thing.  Might let that fade away depending on the outcome of the voting and the amount of discussion on The False Prince which at the moment has…wait, let me tally up the numbers…one!  One member response.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  But one response does not a book club discussion make. One comment on a blog post is fine.  It happens.  So it’s cool.  But I don’t need to run a forum and a podcast and a blog for one or two interested parties.  Especially one or two interested parties that could do just as good or even better of a job of all that than I am.  I think the blog and it’s comment section will suffice nicely for our purposes.

If you are reading this and are interested in taking over a cool Goodreads group with a lot of potential, let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, I have some blog posts to get ready for.  The False Prince, of course.  But also geek items at the Scholastic Book Fair, holiday gift ideas, how to get your geeks out of a reading rut, as well as book and author reviews and summaries.  If there’s anything you’re interested in, let me know and I’ll write about that as well!

Thanks, and keep on reading!

(image via

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