Review - Bad Taste In Boys (Kate Grable #1) by Carrie Harris

Title: Bad Taste In Boys, Kate Grable, book 1
Author: Carrie Harris
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: 2011
Genre: Zombie, YA
Other books in the series:
Bad Yeti, book #1.5
Bad Hair Day, book #2

How I Got It: the library

Goodreads Summary: 
Someone's been a very bad zombie.
Kate Grable is horrified to find out that the football coach has given the team steroids. Worse yet, the steroids are having an unexpected effect, turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless flesh-eating zombies. No one is safe--not her cute crush Aaron, not her dorky brother, Jonah . . . not even Kate! She's got to find an antidote--before her entire high school ends up eating each other. So Kate, her best girlfriend, Rocky, and Aaron stage a frantic battle to save their town . . . and stay hormonally human.

Yeah! First zombie book not to make me jumpy or give me bad dreams! Awesome for me, but if you're looking for a scary zombie book, this is not it.

Kate Grable is a former social outcast. She was the super smart nerd who had freaky epileptic seizures, was generally a bad dresser. She saw herself as a social outcast, her peers saw her as intimidatingly smart and quiet (and probably also as a bad dresser with scary seizures.) She became then became the unlikely friend of two gorgeous and popular girls. "Unlikely" because Kate never would have expected Rocky or Kiki to notice her. But they're nice girls who wanted to be her friend and they pry Kate out of her shell. So now Kate dress better and invited to parties, hasn't had a seizure in over a year, but she's still 'Kate'. She's always a little bit afraid that she will lose her new social life.

Kate wants to get into a great Pre-Med program, so she volunteers as the varsity football team's manager in order to get experience and pump up her high school resume. A lot of the things she does, like checking sprains and breaks, seems way outside of what any school would let her do. (Unless they don't mind leaving themselves open for a lawsuit.) I think this part of the story could have been handled in a more believable way and Kate would have still been the super smart, overachieving, observant, and ethical character that she was. Kate herself is really what makes this silly and over-the-top story work: she's smart, driven, and wants to do the right thing. She notices unmarked vials in the First Aid cabinet. She knows that no medicine should be unmarked, she works with the doctor who volunteers with the team so she knows the med inventory, and these vials shouldn't be in there. She immediately assumes the coach is giving players steroids. It might be a jump in logic (but the team is horrible and needs all the help it can get) and Kate collects evidence and sends it to the absent team doctor. (Unfortunately he's delivering babies and never has a chance to see what Kate has sent.) I really liked that she was trying to get help from more knowledgable and experienced people instead of running around shouting accusations. But Kate soon notices people acting strangely, and as evidence piles up she reluctantly admits she might be dealing with zombies. She's off to find a cure (hopefully), make sure her friends don't get hurt, and maybe survive long enough to talk to that hottie Aaron (squee!).

It seemed that Bad Taste in Boys was trying to be a combination of funny zombie book like Kirsty McKay's Undead and the humorous suspense and mystery of Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool series, but it falls short of the mark. The humor is definitely there but the suspense is lacking. In fact, the suspense is pretty much nonexistent. Kate's friends are blasé about helping to prevent the zombie apocalypse. There is one point where Kate needs Rocky's help and is telling her the plan while Rocky puts on makeup. She's totally cool that there are zombies and the student body might start eating each other during the pep rally.  I probably would have stabbed myself in the eye in shock if a bomb like that had been dropped on me.  But, nope, Rocky is all fine and dandy and fixes her lipgloss. Kate thinks KiKi is infected so she jumps on her and injects her with what she hopes is an antidote. Turns out she's not infected, but she totally laughs off having been injected with something strange.  In fact, other than her brother and his dorky LARPer friends, nobody seems concerned about the weirdness around them. The ending is incredibly tidy but it works with the overall tone of the story. My serious zombie readers don't really care for Bad Taste in Boys, but the kids just looking for something fun or fast say it's not bad.

It really depends on what you're looking for in a zombie book. Bad Taste in Boys is not scary, but it has its funny moments. The side characters act ridiculously at times, but Kate is a pretty good character. Plus, Bad Taste in Boys is a lightning fast read which is what most of my students are looking for. If you're in the mood for light and fluffy zombie action then Bad Taste in Boys is a good choice. But get this one from the library.

Related Links & Reviews: (It seems everybody else really liked it.)
Smash Attack Reads review
Fictitious Delicious review
The Crazy Bookwork review

Get Graphic - The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier

Title: The Unsinkable Walker Bean
Author & Illustrator: Aaron Renier
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: August 2010
Genre: Graphic Novel, Middle Grades, YA

How I Got It: from the library

Goodreads Summary:
Walker Bean never wanted to be a high-seas pirate waging a pitched battle against the forces of the deep. It just worked out that way.

Mild, meek, and a little geeky, Walker is always happiest in his grandfather’s workshop, messing around with his inventions. But when his beloved grandfather is struck by an ancient curse, it falls on Walker to return an accursed pearl skull to the witches who created it—and his path will be strewn with pirates, magical machines, ancient lore, and deadly peril.

Author/illustrator Aaron Renier brings everything he has to this swashbuckling adventure story. Drawing from sources as disparate as Tintin, Treasure Island, and Harry Potter, Renier has woven together a breathless tale that will leave readers’ ears ringing from the cannon-shot and their eyes dazzled from the glowing stares of sea-witches.
I purchased The Unsinkable Walker Bean for students who enjoyed the Tintin books. (The Tintin comics are insanely popular with our elementary and upper school students.) It was supposed to have action, adventure, mystery, magic, and general swashbuckling awesomeness. It delivered.

The story starts out with Walker's grandfather telling him how atlantis was destroyed by giant evil sea creatures, sisters that had the body of a lobster and the head of a woman.  They would suck on the bones of their victims and their magic would coat the bones creating giant creepy magical bone-pearls. The sisters stacked the bone-pearls to create a giant wall in which they could see the past, present, and future. Not just anyone could see into these pearls, the person had to have blood as thick as the witches in order to survive the ordeal. When we next see the grandfather he's green with illness and dying. It seems he's stumbled across one of the bone pearls (in this case a talking skull) in his travels and was cursed when he looked upon it. Grandfather shoved the magic skull in a bag and barely made it home. He wants his Walker's father to take the skull to an island chain and throw it back in the ocean or everyone will be doomed. Walker's father is a greedy drunk and has already lined up a buyer for the skull. The Grandfather knows his son is week and he charges Walker with safeguarding the skull and ensuring that it is returned to the ocean.

Then there are pirates, incompetent navy sailors (Walker's dad is one), crazy inventions, a bad guy that smells like pickles, an AWESOME pirate ship with a garden growing on it, dogs, bears, sword fights, underwater rescues, mayhem... The Unsinkable Walker Bean totally delivered on the action and fun I was looking for. The story is jam packed with ideas and hints at future plots, but it works. 

As great as the story is the illustrations are a style that is hit or miss with my kids. I compare The Unsinkable Walker Bean to the Tintin books, but these illustrations are pretty far from the clean and stylized look of Tintin. Personally I hate the drawing style used in The Unsinkable Walker Bean, can't stand it. A lot of students will flip through the books and I can tell they don't like the pictures, other kids are willing to go with it. I try to point out the great underwater illustrations and the super ugly lobster mermaid witches, that tends to close the deal. 

I tell my students that if they can get past the unattractive illustrations then they are going to love The Unsinkable Walker Bean. Just flipping through the book they can see monsters, sword fights, that awesome section with the star covered tarp over the boat, the shipwrecks, MONSTERS! The Unsinkable Walker Bean has a lot going for it, and a lot going on, but the story comes together successfully. I've not yet had a student read the book and not like it. This is a nice solid read for those who enjoy Tintin or boy's adventure stories.

Related Reviews:
Bren's Book Blog review
100 Scope Notes review

Tots To Teens & in beTween - Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French

Title: Diary of a Wombat
Author: Jackie French
Illustrator: Bruce Whatley
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2002
Format: Hardback/Paperback/Board book
Genre: Picture book, children's book

How I Got It: I bought it

Goodreads Summary: 
Wombats are cuddly-looking, slow-moving Australian animals. Their favorite activities are eating, sleeping, and digging holes. Here, in the words of one unusually articulate wombat, is the tongue-in-cheek account of a busy week; eating, sleeping, digging holes . . . and training its new neighbors, a family of humans, to produce treats on demand. This entertaining book, with its brief, humorous text and hilarious illustrations, will endear the wombat to young children, who may recognize in the determined furry creature some qualities that they share.

I fell in love with Diary of a Wombat when I first started working in elementary libraries. I actually stopped teachers as they walked through and made them it read it (it became a staff favorite). I never liked the way I read this to classes, but it's great one-on-one or in small groups. I always share this book with students and I've made teacher's check it out when they're teaching about diary/journal writing or studying animals. (Really, I'll show up in a classroom, give the teacher the book, explain why it's perfect for them, and tell them they have to use it with their kids.) This is always a hit.

The simple but adorable and funny illustrations wonderfully compliment the story's spare text. And it makes since, wombats don't do much but sleep, eat, and scratch. 

Occasionally they'll take a dust bath (kids loved that) or battle a welcome mat (sorry, 'flat, hairy creature").

Now, that dustbath takes place in front a family barbecuing outside and they look shocked. My students decided that they must have just moved in if they've never noticed the wombat before. It's large and persistent, seems like it would be something hard to miss. Shortly after the dustbath she discovers the welcome mat:

"Discovered flat, hairy creature invading my territory.
Fought major battle with flat, hair creature.
Won the battle. 
Demanded a carrot."

The family gives her a carrot, she loves it, and comes back that night for more carrots. When none are forth coming the wombat chews a hole in the door. Carrots came quickly after that. 

By Thursday the family has been invaded. The wombat knocks over their patio furniture while scratching her back, destroys the trash cans, digs up the garden for a new burrow, knocks over paint cans, and climbs into the car to eat the groceries. the wombat also decides that carrots aren't quite doing the trick, she would now like rolled oats.

"Why would I want carrots when I feel like rolled oats?
Demanded rolled oats instead. Humans failed
to understand my simple request.
Am constantly amazed how dumb humans can be.

Chewed up one pair of boots, three cardboard boxes, 
eleven flowerpots and a garden chair
till they got the message.

Ate rolled oats.
Scratched. Went to sleep."

Eventually the wombat trains the family and decides that humans "make quite good pets". She then digs a new burrow under the house in order to be closer to them. Kids get a huge kick out of humans being good pets.

I cannot tell you how much I love this story. It's so funny, and cute, and it's a great tie in with animal lessons and it's easy to talk about with your child. (Remember, discussing a story is a wonderful way to engage kids in reading, even if they're just explaining what they didn't like about it.) I saw the board book version and snapped it up for my 1 year old's Christmas present.  It is just a great story for kids, so fun, and adorable. You have to read this book.

I LOVE Diary of a Wombat and so will you. Frankly I think you should run out and buy it right now, or at least get it from your library. Right. Now. You will not regret this book.

Meanwhile, on the Internet... #3

I found these Cookbook Markers on Pinterest. I liked how simple they were and figured they could be adapted for the library. (My middle schoolers still love free bookmarks.) I printed them out, laminated the page, and gave them a test drive. I actually do like using them with cookbooks, but they worked well for notebooks, and regular books as well.  They're so simple that we made a template and just printed them out on scrapbook paper.  They're a bit easy to lose but the kids like them a lot.

You can find the Craft and Creativity's free printable HERE. (Swedish and English versions available.)

Tots to Teens & in beTween - This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

Title: This Moose Belongs to Me
Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication Date: August 2012
Format: Paperback
Genre: Picture Books, Children's Book

How I Got It: I purchased it

Goodreads Summary: 
Wilfred owned a moose. He hadn't always owned a moose. The moose came to him a while ago and he knew, just KNEW, that it was meant to be his. He thought he would call him Marcel.

Most of the time Marcel is very obedient, abiding by the many rules of How to Be a Good Pet. But imagine Wilfred's surprise when one dark day, while deep in the woods, someone else claims the moose as their own...

Wilfred 'owned' a moose. As much as one can own a moose that has wandered into his yard and hangs out because Wilfred feed him apples. 

Courtesy of Oliver Jeffers

He names the moose Marcel, and ties a name tag to an antler. Now that Marcel was a pet, he would have to follow all of the rules for being a good pet. (Wilfred has at least 75 rules for being a good pet, not including the various subsections.) Marcel was pretty good at following some rules, like being quiet while Wilfred listened to records or providing shelter from the rain.

Courtesy of Oliver Jeffers

Marcel tended to wander, ignoring "Rule 7: Going whichever way Wilfred wants to go," as well as "Rule 7 [subsection b]: Maintaing a certain proximity to home." In order not to lose his moose, Wilfred had to follow him.  This required a ball of string since he had a poor sense of direction and the Marcel liked to take walks far from home.

Courtesy of Oliver Jeffers

One day, while Wilfred was telling the moose about their plans for the year "on a particularly long walk" they "made a terrible discovery... Someone else thought they owned the moose." An old lady was talking to the moose and calling him Rodrigo! The moose was very interested in the lady (who was feeding him an apple) and Wilfred became quite upset that his moose might have other owners. He stomps off in a huff and eventually falls down a hill, gets tangled up in his string, and just lays there. He considers and discards several escape plans. (This is a fun two page spread and includes the Penguin and the Bear from The Great Paper Caper as potential rescue options.)

Courtesy of Oliver Jeffers

But luckily the moose came along and "performed Rule 73 brilliantly: rescuing your owner from perilous situations."
Courtesy of Oliver Jeffers

Wilfred forgave him and decided that, just maybe, he'd never really owned the moose anyway.  They became friends and the moose could ignore Wilfred's rules whenever he wished.

I love Oliver Jeffers. Love him. While This Moose Belongs To Me didn't have the same lovely illustrations (in my opinion) that can be found in the Boy and Penguin stories, the story and art were still whimsical, fun, and filled with little gems. I'm not saying the illustrations were bad, I just like the style used in the other books better. This Moose Belongs To Me uses the same scribbly style as Stuck (a fantastic book) but with darker colors and more collage style illustrations. I felt that some of the collaged pages looked a bit muddy. "Muddy" isn't a great word, but the details, and sometimes the text, were hard to discern from the images at times. I prefer crisper illustrations when reading to a class but a smaller group wouldn't have a problem getting all of the visual details in this book. There are still fun elements in the pictures that kids will pick up on.

I've not read this story to a class, but I have read it to kids, and they all quickly pick up on the fact that you can't own a wild animal.  (The Canadian kids all thought Wilfred was insane.)  They enjoyed Wilfred's ridiculous rules and how he thought Marcel was following them when the moose was simply being a moose. Everybody also points out that of course the moose is going to hang out with people who feed him! This Moose Belongs To Me is sweet and silly, a fun read for kids. I think it's also a great one to discuss with your children. Can you own a wild creature?, why do you think Marcel hangs around?, pretty much any question you might have would be a good one to ask your child. Kids love to talk and share their opinion; getting them to think about and discuss the book not only engages them in the story but helps develop literacy skills.

This Moose Belongs To Me was a clever and story with fun details in the illustrations. However, I'm a bit torn between a 3 or 4 star rating. I don't think This Moose Belongs To Me is as good as his other stories but it's still a good story. I'm giving it 4 stars because it's good, but I think that unless Jeffers is an auto buy for you, like he is for me, this is one to pick up from the library.

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My voice came out all squeaky, but he didn't seem to notice. He pushed off the locker and leaned close, his face inches fro mine. I swallowed audibly, overcome by a heady mixture of adoration, lust, and complete and utter terror. Would he kiss me? Did I want him to?

-Carrie Harris, Bad Taste In Boys