The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Here’s the author’s website, but I did not find any book trailers.This is a fan-made video trailer.

Summary from goodreads.com: Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

Personal Reaction: Mature content similar to Stuck in Neutral‘s obsession with female anatomy, but with a sign language Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew-ish cameo) twist. It was very dark, yet engrossing.

Any Cautions: I read Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator (also by Berk) a few years ago. My summary notes for that title are – HS only. I laughed, but this book is packed full of penis humor and “that’s what your mother said” jokes. This book has similar YA humor. HS math teacher’s physical relationship with football captain and his posting of trophy snapshots from his conquests online should be taken into consideration for recommendations.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Bullying, hearing impaired history/education, coal mining

Connections to other books: I like the smart/witty characters with a snarky attitude. Try Berk’s other books or Neutral by Trueman mentioned above. John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines or The Boxer and the Spy by Parker, are good, too. For middle grades, go with Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by Grisham, I,Q by Smith or The Last Thing I Remember by Klavan (completely awesome). Non-fiction companions: Signing Illustrated and Growing Up in Coal Country.

Items to display with book: “Deaf child in area” sign, a box  of Hamburger Helper? I have never heard of a texting device called a Crony, but if you can find one (I guess any kind of tablet will do) or a photo, it would be cool; or, a printout of a text conversation from book. Fake beard & moustache, dark glasses. Private notebook.  Lump of coal. Map of (northeastern) Pennsylvania. Football helmet. Fake Facebook page for Leigha or Purple. Stuffed black dog. Pack of fanned out playing cards (party invitations), especially face cards.

Food items connected to story: Anything will do, served on a cafeteria tray for that extra touch – pizza, fried ravioli, ice cream, hamburgers, broccoli casserole

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Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex

Here’s the author’s website  which includes three videos (2 “Vampire Hunters” shorts and one infomercial for “Re-Vamp”). I did not find any book trailers online, but this video is a Skype interview with the author about writing the book.

Summary: Doug is turned into a vampire by another newbie vampire crazed with bloodlust. That vampire is hot, Doug is not and is now worried about spending all eternity as a dweeb. While trying to find a balance to his new life without hurting anyone, his best friend Jay tries to help him sift through the myths. Meanwhile, Sejal is a new guest student from India who is trying to forget an incident from her previous addiction to the Internet and make a new, “good” life for herself in the States. Doug becomes obsessed with Sejal. Doug is tracked by the production crew of a reality tv show “Vampire Hunters.” Things go wrong.

Personal Reaction: The good – I had no idea that the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was still captivating the teen set after all these years. There’s typical adolescent obsession with who-likes-whom and it is not much of an issue whether the couples are hetero- or homosexual. There are dead and undead with various orientations. The bad – I thought maybe I might be able to like Doug’s character… but then I never really did, so it’s hard for me to praise the story. I was practically wanting to reach into the book and beat him with a stick for being so slow in the bloodmobile. He has constant foot-in-mouth disease when it comes to treating Jay with true friendship. I actually liked Sejal’s storyline more than Doug’s.

Any Cautions: The f-word is used (not often, but enough), a few instances of underage drinking.

Curriculum or discussion topics: online & offline bullying, LGBT lit, internet addiction

Items to display with book: vampire fangs, Rocky Horror poster, vlog/blog example, civil war soldier photo, stuffed bat or wolf, fake tv commercial or print ad for “Vampire Hunters,” and theater bulletin for “West Side Story”

Food items connected to story: pizza, any red liquid beverage will do (V-8, dark punch, etc.)

The Door of No Return by Sarah Mussi

Door of No Return

original date book read: October 18, 2011

Author’s website, no video book trailer found.

Summary (from author’s site): Zac lives with his grandfather, Pops. When Pops is killed by muggers, Zac is devastated. Dumped with foster parents, then in an orphanage, Zac stumbles from trouble to trouble, but the one thing he hangs on to is Pops’ obsession with their family history and his ambition to go to Ghana in search of a ransom paid by a descendant 200 years earlier, to keep his son from slavery – a ransom stolen by British government agents at the time, which then disappeared. At least, Zac thinks, he can keep faith with Pops by continuing his quest. So Zac wangles his own way to Ghana.

Alone and far from home, he discovers that Pops’ death and everything since is part of a wider plan by some shadowy others, also connected to the lost ransom. In a web of intrigue, deception, betrayal, skulduggery and murder that reaches out of the past to entrap everyone in the present, Zac’s quest culminates in a perilous voyage to the Door of No Return in the walls of the ancient slave fort – through which the slaves were once herded to the boats that would take them across the ocean, on a journey many of them would never survive.

Personal Reaction: British setting will make slang issues a minor stumbling block for American readers. Present day mystery of descendant of Ghanain prince battling to bring evidence of British government participation in slave trading = MI5 vs.  teen! I liked it. I think middle schoolers might find it too long/complicated to hold their interest, but it’s not a content issue. Recommended for hs.

 

Since I started this blog a year after reading this book, I may have to come back later to finish up this post after I read it again and keep notes on the details…

Curriculum or discussion topics: The slave trade in Ghana

Connections to other books:

Items to display with book: Ghana flag, historical photographs of slave forts

Food items connected to story

 

Tales From a Second Hand Wand Shoppe by Robert P. Wills

Author’s etsy (where you can buy a wand to go along with your book), no video book trailer found.

Summary: (from Amazon.com) They were the Best of Gnomes, They were the Worse of Gnomes.
Two Gnomes – Grimbledung and Drimblerod- are just trying to get along in life when their worlds collide. Drimblerod runs a moderately reputable Second Hand Wand Shop that does pretty well at moving inventory. Grimbledung runs a disreputable Second Hand Wand Wagon that he moves regularly to avoid the authorities.
Everything changes when they combine their talents:
City ordinances are broken. Neighbors are annoyed. The Constable becomes involved. Even the Magician’s Guild sends over some Enforcers to deal with them. Things are looking up for the Gnomes!
From multi-headed travelers looking for a good time, to Half-Orcs just trying to obey their mates, everyone seems to come to the Second Hand Wand Shoppe to either buy or sell a wand. Along for the ride are a neurotic Jousting Dummy, an immortal (so far) Rat, a Trolless who runs the Tavern and Restaurant across the street, a Dwarf next door with (alleged) Mob ties, and the Head Mistress of the local School of Magic (with definite Mob ties).
Did we mention the Halfling Army that’s out for blood? They’ll have to deal with them as well!

The author has done very well in mastering the way to communicate the tone of each character’s personality through the written word! I had a few good chuckles, especially from Rat. Even the unspoken “body” language of Dummy is perfect. If you child is good at “hearing” the tone while reading, then this will work. If not, then use it as a read-aloud so you both can enjoy it while teaching the skill! The illustrations are good enough for the kids – as an adult, I wanted more texture (maybe an occasional color-plate like in Breathed’s Flawed Dogs).

Cautions? Yes, the gnomes drink beer and have a hangover. Yes, Dimblerod has a thing for big females… Because it’s so much fun, I want to recommend it to all ages, but the humor is kind of like watching the movie Shrek – much of it is for the adults. Even if the kids don’t get it, they still enjoyed it, right?

Items to display with book: Wands, wands, wands. Any kind of gnome figurine or halloween mask. Stuffed rat (or a real one, if you’ve got it.) You could make some Gatherer Division patches and/or an Abyssmal box.

Food items connected to story: Tea, Toast & jam, stew, eggs, grits, there’s so much served at Big Julie’s school you can use too.

Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Rock Island Line: Conversations Over Chicken and Dumplings by Michelle Dobbs

Links: Author’s website  No video trailer found. After reading the book, you might enjoy this audio version of the Rock Island Line song featured in the story by Lead Belly. There are other versions available.

From Wikipedia:

Rock Island Line” is an American blues/folk song first recorded by John Lomax in 1934 as sung by inmates in an Arkansas State Prison, and later popularized by Lead Belly.[1] Many versions have been recorded by other artists, most significantly the world-wide hit version in the mid-1950s by Lonnie Donegan. The song is ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

Book Summary: Lilly is growing up in 1920’s Illinois in a poor railroad town but a tightly-knit, successful black family. Her innocent childhood with her best friend Lois (also discriminated against, but for being American Indian) contains a touch of comedy as neither girl knows where babies come from and Lilly is determined to buy a baby brother. Lilly grows up and eventually does discover how babies are born and how they die.

Personal Reaction: Because the book encompasses most of Lilly’s lifetime, I cannot say I would recommend it to middle graders due to the adult topics that arise (nothing graphic), but I liked it as a personal choice. I loved the bonfires and the character of Lee. I was shocked at Papa’s confession and the tragedy of Pearl and Maggie.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Racism, personal responsibility, family values. Author has book club discussion questions posted on her website.

Connections to other books: Out Of The Dust and Witness by Hesse, Bud, Not Buddy by Curtis, A Long Way From Chicago by Peck; The Great Depression and World War II by Carlisle, Al Capone’s Chicago by Yancey, maybe a few of those decade chronicles-type books for 20’s and on… like The 1930s from the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz by Feinstein

Items to display with book: Railroad set or model train, photos of Depression era Illinois, spelling book, big brown dusty oxford school shoes, Jazz or Blues records (on a phonograph if you can score one), bell jar full of pennies, baby doll or diapers

Food items connected to story: Chicken every which way (fried, roasted, sandwiches, soup, potpie, & dumplings); pot luck party foods (lima beans, casseroles, cakes, biscuits) lemonade, etc.