The Last Kids on Earth

My latest read, also a nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, is so popular with my students that I had to buy a new copy and read it quickly before adding it to my library collection. After reading it myself, I can see what all the fuss is about.

The Last Kids on Earth, the first book in a series written by Max Brallier and illustrated by Douglas Holgate, is a hilariously funny look at a world that has been taken over by monsters and zombies. Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like a premise for a funny book, but it totally works here. That’s primarily because of the voice of the main character, Jack Sullivan, and the awesome illustrations peppered throughout the book. You’ll see what I mean when you give this book a whirl.

Move over, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You’ve got some serious competition here.

Jack Sullivan didn’t set out to be an action hero, but it just can’t be helped when the world is ravaged by the monster apocalypse. Alone and on the lookout for his best friend, Jack lives in a tricked-out treehouse, and he occupies his time by completing increasingly dangerous, self-imposed challenges–or Feats of Apocalyptic Success. Anything to keep monsters, zombies, and boredom at bay.

Unfortunately for Jack (who has endured more than his share of misfortune already), he’s attracted the attention of the worst monster he’s ever encountered, a fearsome creature called Blarg. Jack’s going to require some help to defeat Blarg–if that’s even possible–so he needs Quint, his best friend and a scientific genius, more than ever. Luckily, things are about to look up a bit for Jack.

Jack eventually reunites with Quint, and the two really get to work on making their treehouse home into a true fortress. We’re talking spikes, catapults, bottle-rocket launchers, and much more. They even have a souped up vehicle called Big Mama with monster-fighting capabilities. And when they team up with Dirk, a reformed school bully, and Rover, a lovable dog-like monster, these guys may just be unstoppable. Jack may finally have what he needs to complete his ultimate Feat of Apocalyptic Success–rescuing June Del Toro, his longtime crush.

Jack is sure that June is still out there somewhere, a damsel is distress just waiting for him to save her. He and his crew go on a search for June in their old middle school, but they’re not exactly prepared for what they find. It seems that June doesn’t really need rescuing. (She’s saved herself, thank you very much.)

June is a warrior in her own right, and she somewhat reluctantly agrees to join forces with Jack and company…and just in the nick of time, too. The ferocious Blarg is making a beeline for Jack, and he’ll need all the help he can get to defeat this big baddie.

Will Jack and friends be able to destroy Blarg so they can get back to their regularly scheduled monster apocalypse? Stay tuned to find out!


Given that this is the first book in a series, I’m pretty sure you can guess how the action in The Last Kids on Earth turns out. Read it anyway. The humor alone makes this book worth reading, whether you can predict the ending or not.

When it comes to using this book in a classroom setting, I can see this being hugely popular as a read-aloud, especially in 4th or 5th grades, maybe even in middle school classrooms. Kids (and adults) are sure to laugh out loud, and they’ll experience a truly stellar example of a character’s voice driving a story.

I am 100% terrified of zombies, but I couldn’t get enough of this book, and I’m eager to read the second installment, The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade. (Yippee. More zombies.) If book two is anything like the first, I’m sure I’ll be highly entertained. It’s already out, and I have several new copies in the library, so I’ll read it in the near future.

According to Goodreads, there should be at least one more book in this series, The Last Kids on Earth and the Nightmare King. It should be out on September 26th of this year. If that’s the case, I’ll make a run to the bookstore as soon as I can to get a bunch of copies for my students…and myself, of course.

If you’d like to learn more about The Last Kids on Earth, visit author Max Brallier’s website. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It gives a bit more information on this book than I covered in my post. Enjoy!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

Today, in an effort to escape election coverage, I dove into a bit of fiction. (I fully intend to get back to that as soon as I finish this post.) My latest read was the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Double Down. This is the eleventh offering in this wildly popular series, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Greg Heffley begins his latest diary by wondering if the world really does revolve around him. Just in case he’s the star of some Truman Show-like experiment, he plays to the invisible cameras around him, makes plans to cash in on his fame later, and wonders if everyone around him is actually an actor…or a robot. And even if he’s not the focus of some lame TV show, Greg is sure that someone is out there watching him…and that’s kind of creepy when he really thinks about it.

Greg is also visiting his school’s book fair. Surely his mom won’t mind if he doesn’t buy actual books at the book fair, right? (Wrong.) When he’s forced to return all of the junk he purchased, he decides to buy the Spineticklers series by I.M. Spooky. His mom isn’t exactly thrilled with this either, but he figures that reading is reading.

As the days and weeks pass, Greg navigates life as best he can. He wonders about where his mom has stashed the coveted Halloween candy, he dodges the geese that are terrorizing his neighborhood, he deals with a sick pig who’s eaten too much candy corn, he reflects on the lies people tell, and he decides to join the school band in order to get invited to a party. (The band nerd in me is laughing like crazy at that last one.)

Even with all of that going on, Greg’s mom is on his case to broaden his horizons. She worries that playing video games all the time is making his brain go mushy, so she urges him to make new friends, study harder, do chores, and think about what he wants to do with his life. (She’s not too impressed with his idea to be a video game tester when he grows up.) Greg gets the bright idea to make a movie inspired by the Spineticklers books, but, as is so often the case with Greg, nothing works out according to plan.


Like the ten books before it, kids are sure to adore this Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. (I bought ten copies for my library, and they were gone within a day.) It’s funny, fast, and completely relatable, no matter what your current age.

As a school librarian, I found Greg’s take on the book fair to be hilarious…especially since mine starts this week. As a band nerd, I wanted to smack him upside the head for not realizing just how awesome band is. (Seriously, band kids are the best kids in any school.)

At any rate, I’m sure Double Down will be as popular as the other books and will have readers clamoring for more. I’m guessing we’ll see another DoaWK book around this time next year. News of future books will likely be announced first on the Wimpy Kid website or YouTube channel.

Speaking of YouTube, here’s a Double Down teaser I found on the Wimpy Kid channel. Check it out for an additional peek at this fun book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

As you may know, a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book was released yesterday. After I voted, I rushed to my closest bookstore and purchased ten copies for my school library. (I’m fully aware that this is probably not enough.) Before I took the books to school, though, I sat down to read this ninth installment, The Long Haul.

In The Long Haul, Greg Heffley is about to take part in that most dreaded of family activities–the road trip. Greg’s Mom thinks this will be the greatest summer activity in the world, and she’s billing it as a vacation and learning experience all rolled into one. Well, it’s definitely a learning experience, but I doubt dear old Mom had these lessons in mind…

From rundown hotels to lost wallets and cell phones to destructive pigs to unfortunate car mishaps, the Heffley family goes through loads of mayhem and madness on this most epic of road trips. Everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong on this horrible vacation.

Crammed in the back of the family van, Greg tells readers all about his vacation misadventures, and readers young and old will find it all too easy to sympathize with Greg’s plight. (Who hasn’t endured a heinous family road trip?!)

Will Greg and his family make it out of this with their sanity intact? Can anything go right for them during this trip? What more could they possibly endure?

Join Greg Heffley on yet another wild ride when you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul!

_______________

I don’t have to do a whole lot to sell this book to my students. Setting it out on the shelf is usually enough. I do plan to tell them, though, that The Long Haul is probably my favorite of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It’s just so relatable, no matter what the reader’s age may be. I can remember long car rides with my family–my sister and I fighting over the smallest things, my parents getting more irritated by the minute, all of us fussing about my dad’s choice in music, having no escape from all the togetherness. Oftentimes, we needed another vacation from our vacation. I think lots of readers–like myself–will be able to see themselves in everything that goes wrong with the Heffleys’ road trip.

I’m sure we’ll see more of Greg Heffley and his infamous diary in the future. The Long Haul didn’t wrap up in a nice, neat little bow, so be on the lookout for another book this time next year.

For all things Diary of a Wimpy Kid, be sure to visit wimpykid.com. For a quick look at The Long Haul, you may also want to take a peek at the video below. You can find loads more videos on the Wimpy Kid YouTube channel. Enjoy!

Who Could That Be at This Hour?

I don’t know what made me pick up Lemony Snicket’s latest book, Who Could That Be at This Hour?, the first volume in the new All the Wrong Questions series.  Maybe I was in the mood for something completely different from anything I’d read recently.  Maybe I wanted to be totally befuddled.  In any case, different and confusing is what I got with this book.  The writing is kind of standard Lemony Snicket fare–it feels like the author is talking directly to the reader, and there’s quite a bit of sarcasm and understated humor involved.  The main character’s voice–in this case, Lemony Snicket himself–is very distinctive and engaging.  The story itself also captivates the reader.  At its core, it is a mystery, but I must admit that nothing is really solved in this book.  In fact, so much remains hidden at the end, that the reader absolutely MUST read the next book, or he/she will remain in a state of confusion for the foreseeable future.  (I have no idea when the next book will be out, so, of course, my confusion remains.)

Who Could That Be at This Hour? follows a young Lemony Snicket and his mentor, S. Theodora Markson (we don’t know what the S stands for), as they attempt to solve a mystery in a nearly abandoned town, Stain’d-by-the-Sea (which is not “by the sea”).  It is unclear just what Lemony is supposed to learn from Ms. Markson, but it is abundantly clear that he knows much more–about everything–than his mentor.  He figures out pretty quickly that all is not what it seems to be when it comes to this mystery, but he can’t put his finger on what’s going on or what he can do to solve this case.  Maybe he’s asking the wrong questions…

Lemony Snicket’s own past is also a prevalent mystery in this book.  Where are his parents?  Why is he an apprentice to Theodora?  Who–or what–did he leave behind when he ventured on his current quest?  What is his end-game?

In any case, this book is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and readers will spend the entire book wondering what in the world is going on.  Who is the true owner of the object–a rather unimpressive Bombinating Beast statue–that Lemony and Theodora are trying to recover?  Who really hired them in the first place?  Well, that may be kind of complicated, and, even though some questions may be answered in this book, they’re probably the wrong ones.  Readers will have to stay tuned to learn more about Theodora, Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the Bombinating Beast, and what’s really going on with young Lemony Snicket.

For even more confusion and more wrong questions, check out this book trailer from Egmont for Who Could That Be at This Hour?  It captures the tone of this book perfectly.

Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel

*Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the sequel to Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything.  It’s not absolutely essential that you read the first book before this one, but it would definitely help.  Also, the first book is made of awesome, so you need to read it anyway.*

If there is a perfect summer read for kids who just finished the fifth grade, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, written by Steve Cotler and illustrated by Adam McCauley, might just be it.  As a matter of fact, this is an excellent summer read for kids of all ages, especially those of us who have ever been to summer camp!  (It made me fondly recall my own summers at Camp Marietta.)  Everything that made Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything a great read also holds true for this sequel.  Cheesie’s voice is delightful and laugh-out-loud hilarious, and I know my students will love this book as much as they are currently eating up the first one (which is nominated for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award).

In Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, readers follow Cheesie, his best friend Georgie, and a whole cast of characters to Camp Windward (for boys) and Camp Leeward (for girls) in Maine. (Events in this book pick up right where they left off in the first book.  It’s the summer after fifth grade graduation.)  Cheesie is sure that this will be the best summer ever because he and Georgie will be the oldest of the Little Guys at camp. Unfortunately, thanks to events that occurred in the first book, things don’t quite work out the way Cheesie had hoped. Now, Cheesie and Georgie are the youngest in the Big Guys group at camp. (Not a big deal if you’re already kind of big like Georgie, but it’s bad news if you’re already a little guy like Cheesie.)  This presents a whole new set of problems, and the biggest one is probably Kevin Welch, his sister Goon’s boyfriend.

Camp Windward is not off to a stellar start, but Cheesie comes up with a way that might help him to make the best of things.  He challenges Kevin to a Cool Duel.  Whoever is voted the coolest in their cabin at the end of a week is the coolest guy at camp!  Kevin gets out to an early lead, but Cheesie isn’t a quick-witted kid for nothing.  He comes up with a couple of things that are sure to earn him some votes.  But will he get enough votes to win the Cool Duel?  You should definitely read this book to find out!

Even though the Cool Duel is a big part of this book (hence the title), there’s also a lot of other stuff going on:  a dance with the girls from Camp Leeward, sneaking into the computer lab, snakes, a talent show, and the most epic scary story in the known universe.  Cheesie also introduces readers to exciting new words (only a few of which are made up) and questions to ponder.  Cheesie’s website, http://cheesiemack.com/, also plays a big part in this book.  This wonderful site makes this book, like its predecessor, truly interactive. 

All in all, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is the perfect follow-up to the first book, and I can’t wait to see what Cheesie gets up to next!  (FYI, the third book, Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy!, will be out in June of 2013.  I can’t believe I have to wait that long!  Ugh!!!)  I’m working on organizing an author visit with Steve Cotler to Greenville County (South Carolina) elementary schools in February.  I’m so looking forward to having discussions with my students and the author about both of the wonderful Cheesie Mack books and, hopefully, what we can expect in the third!

Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything

I few minutes ago, I finished reading yet another nominated title for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.  The book is Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything written by Steve Cotler and illustrated by Adam McCauley.  I could tell just by the title and cover that the book would be humorous, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how funny it actually was, and, even though the book is geared toward students in upper elementary school, there’s definitely a lot in this book that older readers—including lots of adults—will find enjoyable.  This book is laugh-out-loud funny and will be an easy sell in most libraries.


Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything basically takes place during the span of just a few days—all of them revolving around Cheesie’s fifth grade graduation.  (Cheesie’s real name is Ronald, by the way.)  This book is Cheesie’s account of everything that happened in this short—but action-packed—span of time.  He recounts events that involve mice, BLART sandwiches (which I may just have to make for myself), old pennies, haunted houses, his best friend Georgie, and his horrible sister Goon (June to everyone else).  Peppered throughout the book are interesting facts, words, and side notes that may or may not have anything to do with the story.  Cheesie is a character that a lot of kids will relate to, and they may just learn a little along the way.

This book is a great one for any reader who, well, just likes knowing stuff.  (I am one of those readers.)  Cheesie researches things he doesn’t know a lot about, and he shares what he finds with the reader.  Cheesie is very interested in words and their meanings, and he even makes up his own words.  (This might be a great book for educators to use when teaching lessons on voice, word choice, and using vibrant language.)  There’s even a website that goes with this book, http://cheesiemack.com, that students will enjoy visiting while reading.  (I just visited the site myself, and it’s pretty cool.  I may even use it as a selling point when I booktalk this with my students.)

Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything is, in my opinion, perfect for readers who enjoy books like Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Dan Gutman’s My Weird School Daze series, Jim Benton’s Dear Dumb Diary series, or Rachel Vail’s Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters.  I, for one, plan to push this book to any and all of my students, especially my boys, who are looking for something funny to read.

There is more to come from Cheesie Mack.  A second book, Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, is due out next month.  Hopefully, I’ll have time to read it this summer so that I can share both books with my students when we return in August.

Beauty Queens

Just when I think author Libba Bray cannot outdo herself, she goes and proves me wrong.  I thought her Printz-award-winning novel, Going Bovine, was pure genius, and I thought nothing would be able to top it.  I was mistaken.  Her latest book, Beauty Queens, is absolute perfection, and it hooked me from the very first sentence.  This book is kind of Lost meets Miss Teen USA meets James Bond, and the not-so-tongue-in-cheek pop culture references are alarmingly spot on.  One of my favorite things while reading this book was trying to figure out who the “real life” people were who matched up with the book’s characters.  (More often than not, it wasn’t too difficult.)

A plane full of Miss Teen Dream pageant contestants has crash-landed on a remote island.  Not all of them make it out alive.  How are these girls to survive without drinking water, without food, without shelter, without moisturizer?  Some of the girls are convinced that help is sure to come soon, and they better be ready with their pageant faces on, their talents ready, and their interview answers prepared.  Other girls are more worried about actually, you know, surviving in the wild.

As it becomes clear that help will not be coming anytime soon, the girls, while still doing their best to be the next Miss Teen Dream, take matters into their own hands.  They build shelter, they hunt for food, they develop an irrigation system, and they learn a little about themselves and each other.  In short, they work together and learn that they really can do anything if they put their minds to it.  And that includes figuring out just what is happening on this mysterious island…

You see, things are not as they seem on this island.  Secrets abound–government conspiracies, corporate espionage, other evil villain type stuff–and the Miss Teen Dream contestants will have to face who they are and who they wish to be if they have any hope of uncovering the truth and escaping the island.  Can they become strong women willing to fight for their lives?  (Note:  This becomes even more complicated when a ship full of hot, wannabe pirates enters the picture.  Guys have been known to have an adverse effect on a girl’s brainwaves.)

Join the remaining contestants of the Miss Teen Dream pageant as they discover themselves and what they’re are truly capable of accomplishing.  They’re not just pretty faces!  Enjoy the beauty, madness, hilarity, and suspense when you read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray!

All too often, when a book is as awesome as this one, I have difficulty putting my thoughts into words, and this time is really no exception.  Beauty Queens is a stellar piece of literature that teens and adults will enjoy, and I will be extremely disappointed if this book does not win the Printz award for excellence in young adult literature.  This book, while funny, also made me think about the importance we place on beauty in this culture and how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  Bray also represents the LGBT community in her characters, and the book is stronger for their presence.  All in all, Beauty Queens is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I hope you feel the same way.

For more information on Libba Bray and her wonderful books, visit http://www.libbabray.com/.