Dark Lord: The Early Years


Author: Jamie Thomson

Age Range: 9-14 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-14

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Humor

Plot: Dirk Lloyd has been hit by a car and lapsed into some kind of amnesia- at least that’s what he was told after waking up in a supermarket parking lot and being rushed to a hospital. But Dirk knows exactly who he is: The Dark Lord from the Iron Tower of Despair at the Gates of Doom, from the Dark Lands. The white wizard has sent him here to earth and trapped him in the body of a 12-year-old boy because it was the only way to defeat him, and now no one believes him. The child psychologists think he’s created some elaborate fantasy to deal with a traumatic event- they even try hypnotizing him to find out the real story! But after months of living in a foster home and learning how to navigate the seventh grade as a puny human boy, Dirk isn’t changing his tune. But he is managing to learn how to show affection and gain ::gasp:: friends instead of minions. Is Dirk faking, or is he really from another world, full of orcs and goblins?

Review: I loved this book! Between the humor and the references to movies and role playing games, there were very well done discussions on bullying, going to therapy, navigating inter-group relations at school, dealing with the powerless feeling of being a kid. It’s hard to be the nerd, especially when you’re so lost in your world that you can’t help but let it come out sometimes. Dirk lets his flag fly high, and gains friends in the process. His closest friends end up spanning three very different groups: a goth girl, a very normal boy, and the most attractive and popular jock in the seventh grade. His unwillingness to back down in the face of bullies is inspiring, and his interactions with the child psychologists are frustrating and (I would imagine) pretty spot-on for most kids. This book might appeal to a very different kind of kid- or at the very least let those who are always focused on the good guys take a walk on the dark side. Like Dirk always says “Why is it always for goodness’ sake? Why can’t it be for evil’s sake? For evil’s sake!”

Themes: Bullying, Illness, Changes at Home, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Dirk Lloyd: The Dark Lord, or so he believes. The adults are trying to tell him he’s been hit by a car and just cannot remember his real name, parents, or anything about his past. But Dirk is convinced he was fighting a war in his home, the Dark Lands, and was banished by a white wizard. Now he’s been placed in a foster home and must start attending school like any other normal kid. But Dirk is anything but normal, and his teachers and fellow students don’t quite know what to think.

Christopher Purejoie: The son of Dirk’s new foster parents. Chris and Dirk eventually manage to become friends. Chris even earns the title “Mouth of Dirk” for his wonderful ability to act as translator between Dirk and his surroundings.

Susan Black: Upon first meeting her, Dirk mistakes Sooz for a vampire- even addressing her loudly as “Child of the Night” and disrupting class. But Sooz is a goth, not a vampire, and really likes Dirk. I mean, really likes him. She even decides to take the heat when the three of them (Sooz, Dirk, and Chris) get in some major trouble.

Sal Malik: The most popular jock in the seventh grade. His interests lie mostly in Baseball and Soccer, and Dirk only manages to earn his friendship when he displays his strength in tactics. Soon the two are meeting secretly to come up with plans on how to crush the competition. Dirk even promises Sal the position of Lord High Overseer of the Armies of Darkness, due to his physical prowess.

All three sidekicks are certain that Dirk is crazy and just coming up with stories. They know he believes every word he says, but none of them actually thinks he’s telling the truth.

Bibliographic Info:

Thomson, J. (2012). Dark Lord: The Early Years. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc.


Dirk Lloyd is from another plane of existence, but for now he’s trapped on Earth in the body of a puny 12-year-old boy. How’s a real Dark Lord supposed to take over anything when his magic stops working and he’s reduced to a child?


The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate


Author: Scott Nash

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure Story

Plot: Welcome to the world of avian pirates! The fearsome Captain Blue Jay has been leading his air ship, the Grosbeak, and crew on a very successful run of pillaging and plundering. But everything changes when he decides to keep an egg that they’ve found as a prize for his collection. The presence of the egg throws the crew into disarray- loyal Junco, the navigator,  has been leaving her post to try and hatch it! She convinces Jay that this egg is truly special and will bring them adventure, so the entire crew is enlisted to keep the egg safe. When the egg finally hatches, they find the Junco was right- this adventure will be like nothing they’ve ever dreamed. Along the way, learn a few new pirate songs and let the Jolly Robin fly!

Review: This book was definitely great for pirate lovers. A true pirate story all the way, complete with legends , and sword fights, and death, but made more kid-friendly because the characters are all birds (and a few other animals). This story will capture the mind of any child fascinated by pirates or birds, and the author has done a great job of describing details like how their ship flies through the air. Pirate-obsessed younger readers with strong abilities will enjoy this story too, and won’t need much help from parents to get through it. A unique option for the reader who wants nothing but adventure, this might help them bridge the gap into the fantasy world.

Themes: Coming of Age, Changes at Home, Bullying, Loss, Death

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Blue Jay: The captain of the Grosbeak, and infamous pirate. There are many legends about his ferocity, but those who know him best know otherwise. He’s survived six mutinies, and piloted multiple ships, but this next adventure will go down in the books as his biggest achievement yet.

Junco: The navigator for the Grosbeak. It is her instinct that tells them the new egg is important and should be hatched. More loyal than any other shipmate, everyone is surprised by her crazed behavior surrounding the egg. Junco becomes a kind of surrogate mother to the hatchling.

Gabriel: The hatchling, who turns out to be a gosling. Blue Jay refers to him often as a godling, since in their world geese are often thought of as gods.

Bibliographic Info:

Nash, S. (2012). The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.


Pirates can sail the high seas, why not the high skies? Join Captain Blue Jay and his crew on the greatest adventure a bunch of pirate birds has ever seen!

Forays Into Modern Technology: The Animated Book Trailer

An animated book trailer, by Yours Truly. Wow, do these take some time to put together!

Follow the link to enjoy! (Apparently WordPress doesn’t support Flash…)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio by xstarbattx on GoAnimate

Animated Presentations – Powered by GoAnimate.

Invisible Inkling

Author: Emily Jenkins

Age Range: 7-10 (Kirkus Review)

Interest Range: 7-10

Genre: Fantasy,  Magical Realism

Plot: Hank Wolowitz is not looking forward to the fourth grade. His best friend Alexander has moved away and he is facing the year without any real friends to share it with. But one day, he feels something. It’s fur, under the counter. And then again when the neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking at an empty corner. Eventually he discovers Inkling, an invisible bandapat who has traveled to Brooklyn in search of the Big R0und Pumpkin, because he really loves squash. But the Big Round Pumpkin isn’t a vegetable at all, it’s Hank’s parent’s ice cream shop. Despite the disappointment, Inkling sticks around to help Hank- since he owes him for having saved his life. Hank’s got problems at school. And when Bruno Gillicut decides that Hank is the perfect person to push around, Inkling comes to the rescue. Will an invisible creature really be able to stand up to a big bully? Or will Hank be forced to pay the sprinkle tax for the rest of eternity?

Review: This was a very cute story about a very real problem. Hank is a lonely kid who is floundering because his best friend is gone. Before he has time to bounce back and find himself with other kids, in comes Bruno. Hank even does what he is supposed to: he talks to the lunch aides, he talks to his teacher. But the lunch aides never see Bruno at work, and Hank’s teacher is too concerned with the fact that Bruno’s family is having problems at home. And maybe Hank should try to befriend Bruno, but Bruno isn’t making it easy. Hank even realizes it when he goes too far, insulting Bruno in a fit of anger by saying something that hits a little to close to that sore spot at home. He feels horrible, and not just because of the beating he knows is coming his way, but because he sunk to Bruno’s level. Eventually, it is Hank that gets in trouble with the school, not Bruno. But Bruno decides to leave Hank alone. Was it the invisible creature that bit the bully, or did Hank really act out enough to scare the boy off? I guess we’ll never know.

Themes: Bullying, Making new Friends

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Hank Wolowitz: A 9-year-old boy who finds an invisible creature and decides to keep him as a kind of pet. This comes with great timing, since Hank’s best friend has recently moved away. But when Inkling decides he needs to move on in search of more squash, Hank has to face the possibility of losing a friend all over again.

Inkling: An invisible bandapat, we’re unsure of where he comes from since every time he tells a story it’s a new lie. But he makes Hank’s life interesting and Hank appreciates the company.

Nadia: Hank’s older sister, she works sometimes at the ice cream shop and also walks the neighbors’ dogs for extra cash.

Bruno Gilligcut: The fourth-grade bully. The teachers are convinced that he’s just having a rough time at home (his parents have recently split-up) and are looking the other way.

Ms. Cherry: Hank’s 4th grade teacher, who is convinced that no one is your enemy, but only a friend waiting to happen. Ms. Cherry never happens to see when Bruno is exacting his sprinkle tax on Hank or generally stealing his lunch and making his life miserable. She eventually sites Hank as the source of the problem and gets him in trouble. But it’s not entirely her fault, she couldn’t see that the real biter was an invisible creature who was standing up for Hank.

Bibliographic Info:

Jenkins, E. (2011). Invisible Inkling. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Not everybody is lucky enough to know an invisible bandapat, but Hank is. And this one owes him a debt- big time.


Author: Raina Telgemeier

Age Range: 12-18 (Kirkus Review)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Autobiography

Format: Graphic Novel

Plot: Raina is 11 when she knocks out her two front teeth. The dentist is able to save them, but this starts a 4-year battle with braces and various procedures to get her teeth back to looking normal. As if being a metal mouth wasn’t enough, there are boys, and friends, and general growing-up things to worry about. From sixth grade into high school, we get to watch Raina’s journey of self-discovery. How she finally ditches the friends that have been so mean to her for so long and finds herself in artistic expression is an inspiration to readers from every walk of life.

Review: I love this book. Not only is it a very accessible graphic novel for middle grade students, but it’s a true story. A true story about the most volatile and eventful years of everyone’s life, but amplified and chronicled by the repairing of Raina’s smile. No 11-year-old wants braces. They have enough to deal with concerning zits and crushes and constantly shifting friendships and relationships in every facet of their lives. But this book shows how an actual girl made it through all of that and was able to end up better than where she started even though there were some very painful moments (both physical and emotional) along the way.

Themes: Coming of Age, Changing Relationships, Making New Friends, Middle School, Bullying

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Raina: An 11-year-old girl who is about to get braces, but has an accident and knocks out her front two teeth, further complicating the process. Raina is smart, but struggles to find herself among her group of friends. They criticize her for the boys she likes, the way she dresses, and pretty much everything about herself. Eventually Raina stands up for herself and finds her real calling in a high school art class.

The Girl-Scout Troop: Kelli, Jenny, Emily, Kaylah, Nicole, Karin, and Melissa. While some of the girls are closer to her than others, these are the girls who Raina has grown up being friends with. Eventually, she grows apart from most of them.

Sammy: Raina’s first crush. He is one year below her in school and they meet in band class. Raina gets embarrassed when her friends make fun of her for liking someone younger and stands him up at the Valentine’s Day dance.

Sean: Raina’s longer-lasting big crush that goes on through middle school. Raina even tries out for the basketball team to try and get his attention, but she never pursues him further instead deciding to like him from afar.

Theresa: The first new friend Raina makes in high school.

Bibliographic Info:

Telgemeier, R. (2010). Smile. New York: Scholastic, Inc.


You thought middle school was bad enough? Try it with braces.

The Year of the Book


Author: Andrea Cheng

Age Range: 7-10 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-10

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Anna is having a rough time in 4th grade. Laura used to be her best friend, but is now hanging out with Allison- even though Allison is not the nicest of girls. Plus, Anna now has to attend Chinese school on Saturdays. Her mother, who is from China, feels it is important that she learn more about her heritage. On top of that, what would the other girls say if they knew that her mother cleans other people’s houses for a living? Or is currently going to school, and doesn’t even know how to drive? Being Chinese in Ohio is strange, so Anna finds comfort in her books. An avid reader, Anna almost doesn’t even notice the year going by around her as she makes friends with another girl from Chinese school, helps Laura through her parents’ separation, and manages to begin to learn Chinese and embrace what makes her so different and so special.

Review: Anna is struggling with being a minority in a not-very-diverse place. She is different from everyone not just because of her looks, but her mother is actually from another country. Chinese school, along with many other pressures and expectations from her parents that are not necessarily the same as her classmates’ experiences make her feel especially excluded. Also, her closest friend is searching to find meaning and support in a structure that is falling down around her- trying to become friends with girls that she perceives as important while her parents are experiencing a very messy split. Even though Laura’s actions hurt her feelings, Anna eventually comes around to appreciate the painful place her friend is living in and the two are able to somewhat repair their relationship. Even more inspiring, throughout her year Anna learns to embrace what it is that makes her different. She makes new friends and ends her school year really looking forward to the 5th grade.

Themes: Coming of Age, Building New Relationships, Trying to Fit In, Divorce, Race

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Anna: A 4th grader who loves to read. Anna always has her nose in a book, even though the teacher told her that read-walking can be quite dangerous. Anna is struggling to figure out friendships and how to feel about what makes her different, her heritage.

Laura: Another 4th grader who used to be close friends with Anna, Laura is also trying to figure out what it means to be friends with someone. In her struggle to fit in with the more popular girl in their grade, Laura begins to shun Anna- often leaving her alone at school and calling her as a last resort when the other girls decide they don’t want her around. Laura’s parents are going through a very rough time and eventually end up separating. Anna’s family ends up being a refuge for Laura when things get too rough at home.

Allison: The popular girl in the 4th grade, who is not very nice. She often completely shuns Anna, shoots her down in front of others at school, and steals her ideas.

Bibliographic Info:

Cheng, A. (2012). The Year of the Book. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


Being different can be hard, especially in the 4th grade. But lots of other hard things can happen in the 4th grade too, like making friends.

Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

Age Range: 10-13

Interest Range: 10-13

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction

Plot: Bud is living in an orphanage during the Great Depression. After fighting his way out of a foster home, he runs away and decides to find the man that he is sure is his real father. He knows, because his mother left him hints, that his real father is a bass player in a jazz band in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bud embarks on a mission that will take him through a cardboard city for homeless families, attempting to ride the rails, and eventually walking from Flint, Michigan, as far as he can stand. When he is picked up on the side of the road by Lefty Lewis, his luck begins to change. Lefty knows Bud’s father, and eventually takes him to him. But Herman E. Calloway is a cold, mean man, and much older than Bud expects. Is he really Bud’s father? Will Bud ever find a real home?

Review: Bud is a wonderful character. Street smart and funny, very relatable to young boys even today. He fights off bullies and vampires and his list of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself are something that any child can relate to and appreciate. His drive and determination make him a force to be reckoned with, and it’s obvious from the beginning that he’ll do anything to find the man he believes to be his father, even walk that 120 miles in 24 hours. The book also paints a good introductory picture of the Great Depression and what it meant for a lot of families, as well as the race relations that existed during that time period. A good way to introduce readers to that time in history.

Themes: Coming of age, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery award winner, 2000; winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for recognition of outstanding African-American authors

Main Characters:

Bud Caldwell: His name is Bud, not Buddy, because his mother warned him constantly in his youth not to ever let anyone call him anything other than Bud. Bud’s mother died when he was 6, and that was 4 years ago. He’s been living between an orphanage he calls The Home and various foster families that entire time, and after one-too-many beatings he escapes and is on the run to find the man he believes is his father. Along the way, Bud experiences a lot of luck as he encounters Hooverville, tries to jump a train, learns about unions, and tries to walk 120 miles to Grand Rapids. Bud’s determination is something to admire, and he takes everything that he is handed in stride ready for the next encounter.

Lefty Lewis: A kindly stranger who intercepts Bud on his long walk just outside of Owosso and eventually deposits him with Calloway and his band.

Herman E. Calloway: The man that Bud believes is his father, and who we eventually learn is actually his grandfather. Calloway is cold and difficult to deal with, but agrees to keep Bud around when pressured by his bandmates. He eventually learns the truth about his relationship with Bud, at the same time learning that his long-lost daughter is deceased.

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not buddy. New York: Random House, Inc.


When one door closes, another opens. Join Bud as he sets out to find his father.

Discussion: Bullying

The idea expressed in this week’s assigned article, by Boyd and Marwick, discussed an interesting point: that we may be ineffective at discussing bullying with kids because they aren’t using that terminology. To kids, it’s “drama”, which is something that isn’t worthy of their time, something that they’re above and can just brush off. Labeling it in such a way keeps their outside image strong for other kids their own age and they can lock away the painful feelings associated with that “drama” for another time/place. Of course, for many of those same kids, the pain can just keep building and building with no outlet and can cause some serious damage. I also was struck by the idea that support programs for these bullied kids should actually mirror those for victims of abuse. It made complete sense once I read it, but it had never occurred to me before that moment. These individuals have undergone verbal and emotional abuse. Once they realize and admit that that is the case, they will be feeling victimized and someone in that state needs a level of psychological support that many kids don’t have within their families.

To really get the point across to children about bullying, we need to use their terms. They need to understand that even “drama” can cause serious pain. We need to be able to discuss the difference between truly petty or silly drama and things that can wound us/others- which of course will be different for every kid. We all have different thresholds for what kind of criticism/abuse we can take. Kids need to be instructed on how to figure out how much is too much for them, and the correct actions to take when it reaches that boiling point. Easier said than done, I know.

On a different note: reading the chapter on Safety in Born Digital this week, I was reminded of two things:

1. One of the first episodes of the first season of Glee (television show aimed at high school students) involves a passing scene of two of the school’s cheerleaders (popular girls Santana and Brittany) looking at the MySpace page for show’s lead misfit, Rachel. Rachel has recently posted another video of herself singing (beautifully) into her webcam from her bedroom, and these two popular girls are leaving hateful messages in the comments. Later in the shows, the girls all become friends, but it is no secret that they have made fun of her in the past. Everyone has. Rachel happens to be resilient enough to take it in stride, pursuing what makes her happy and eventually achieving many of her dreams by the end of her high school career.

2. The last time I was in a chat room was when I was in junior high (1998-1999). I remember that for those two years of my life this was something I really enjoyed doing. The idea of talking to strangers and finding things we had in common was very exciting. I would often be on the family computer in the basement chatting with school friends on AOL Instant Messenger and going to chat rooms through Yahoo. I don’t remember my parents ever having discussions with me about internet safety, but I do remember a few weird encounters with strangers and having to trust my gut about when to sign off. It was normal for people to ask your age and gender when engaging in one on one conversations, but the second anyone made some kind of sexual comment I immediately shut the window down. I knew it was wrong by the feeling in my gut, and the conversations I would have with friends about chatting online. But I was also a very wary child, easily scared by what I didn’t know and slow to act in any uncertain situation. Before reading this chapter I hadn’t thought about those encounters for years. From the time I entered high school, I had no desire to enter chat rooms with strangers. From that point on, I have only communicated with people that I already knew from school or real-life encounters and then finding each other online afterwards. Looking at it from an adult perspective, I feel much more confident to talk to my own potential children about internet safety than I’m sure my parents ever did. Having grown up with the technology myself makes it seem much less daunting.

Boyd, D., & Marwick, A. (2011, September 22). Bullying as true drama. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/opinion/why-cyberbullying-rhetoric-misses-the-mark.html

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born Digital. New York: Basic Books. p83-110.



Author: Louis Sachar

Age Range: 9-12 (publisher info)

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Stanley has been convicted of a crime he did not commit, he just happens to be very unlucky. Because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Stanley has been sent to a very severe juvenile detention camp where he is forced to dig holes in the middle of the desert. While there he learns what it feels like to be accepted, no longer the fat kid and the outsider that is picked on by the school bully. But the relationship he has with his new-found friends is shaky, and soon he is being picked on again. The boys in his group aren’t happy that he’s made a trade with Zero: one hour of hole-digging done for Stanley by Zero for one hour of Stanley teaching Zero how to read and write. As the boys’ teasing of Stanley turns to a physical fight, Zero gets involves and ends up running off into the desert. A few days later, overcome with guilt and worry over Zero’s fate, Stanley ventures off to find him and bring him back.

Review: The only other Sachar I’ve read are the Wayside School books. Growing up I loved the nonsense and would read those stories over and over again. Holes is incredibly different, dealing with some very real and heavy issues: race, bullying, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, and loss. But the story moves quickly, and through Stanley’s eyes we get glimpses of each of these topics without letting any of them overwhelm us. The race issue is there, but rarely talked about. It mostly comes up just before the fistfight, with the boys making references to Zero being Stanley’s slave. Although Stanley does make one other off-handed mention of it when he first lets the reader know that half of the boys in the group are black and half of them are white and there’s even one lone hispanic boy. For the most part, the boys all co-exist with absolutely no problems or even mention of their races. Zero is dealing with the loss of his mother, although it is unclear if she is only missing or dead. Stanley is bullied, but again it isn’t talked about in great detail. Just enough to let you know that it was something that bothered him and something that he makes reference to when seeing how the boys interact with each other at the camp. Both Stanley and Zero face the idea of homelessness, Zero having lived it and Stanley’s parents dealing with the threat of it at any time. The book handles all of these topics well, not dwelling very long on any of them and focusing more on the story at hand than anything else. And Stanley’s story is a good one that certainly ends well.

Themes: Coming of age, Making new friends, Loss, Bullying, Race, Homelessness, Illiteracy

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery award winner, 1999; National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 1998

Other Media: Was also adapted into a film in 2003.

Main Characters:

Stanley Yelnats: The 4th of his name, he is a very unlucky boy in a family of very unlucky men. Stanley has grown up with being bullied at school and is eventually sent to a juvenile detention facility for a crime he did not commit. More than anything, Stanley just wants to fit in with the boys in his newly assigned group. And he does, for a little while.

Zero: Hector Zeroni is a very small kid. And he likes digging holes, or at least he says he does. Eventually we learn that he and Stanley are connected in more ways than one, but most importantly it was Zero who stole the shoes that landed Stanley at Camp Green Lake.

Bibliographic Info:

Sachar, L. (1998) Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Can a curse really last for over 100 years? Stanley Yelants seems to be proof that it can.