Nerd Camp 2.0 Review & Giveaway

Nerd Camp 2.0
by Elissa Brent Weissman
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 6, 2014)

Description from GoodReads:
Gabe is happily headed back to Nerd Camp, but can he handle a cool-kid invasion?

For Gabe, the equation for ideal summer bliss equals six glorious weeks of vigorous learning immersion at the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment; aka, Nerd Camp. Last year was amazing, and this summer will be even better.

At least, that's what Gabe thinks until a new variable is introduced: Zack, Gabe's cool stepbrother, was supposed to attend a camp nearby, but in the aftermath of a recent wildfire, Zack's camp and nerd camp will be sharing territory. As these two very different worlds collide, will both camps - and both stepbrothers - survive the summer?

My thoughts on the book:
This is the time of the year that I start making lists of books for summer reading. I have a list for my 7 year old niece.  Some we will read together and others that I hope she will read independently.  Recently, I was at a school book fair and I was book talking titles for summer reading materials for students.  Though Nerd Camp 2.0 wasn't available at this particular book fair, it is a book that I would certainly add to my summer reading recommendations.

Gabe is returning to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment (SCGE) or Nerd Camp for another summer of nerdy fun.  This year, Gabe's new stepbrother Zack will also be going to camp, but due to an unfortunate wildfire, Zack's camp will be on the same property as Gabe's. Summer camp, siblings, and friends with different opinions results in some hilarious situations and also coming to new understanding of one another.  And there's a tiny bit of middle grade romance thrown in.

Nerd Camp 2.0 alternates between Zack and Gabe's Points of View.   In the beginning, I had to laugh about Gabe's description of his head gear and how he used baseball cards to help the band be less itchy. I remember wearing head gear and immensely hating it.  I wasn't aware that kids had to still wear head gear when they had braces. Zack, on the other hand, is still puzzled by Gabe, though he definitely appreciates some of Gabe's unique abilities like figuring out how to convince their parents to let Zack go to sleep-away camp. 

Though I appreciated the relationship between Zack and Gabe and the struggles they had as step-brothers and as siblings with very different personalities and interests, I realize that many readers will find more enjoyment from the funny situations and pranks that the characters get into.   It almost seems like a prerequisite for a book about camp to have pranks and rivalries.  And well, you will have to read it to find out how it turns out. 

If you have not read Nerd Camp, I would suggest trying that one out first.  Nerd Camp does provide a little background, but Nerd Camp 2.0 can also be read on its own.

More about Elissa Brent Weissman:
Elissa Brent Weissman never wore head gear, but she did have braces for over five years. Now a proud nerd, she is the author of many books about smart kids, including The Short Seller, Standing for Socks, and The Trouble with Mark Hopper. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her nerdy husband (who did wear head gear!) and their two super cool nerds-in-training. Learn more at

Elissa wanted readers to have some Nerd Camp fun and provided us with a Logic Puzzle.  Read the puzzle and the hint.  Figure out the answer and enter to win a special Nerd Camp Prize Pack. (Note: Though we would love to pick a winner that completed the puzzle correctly, please still enter to win.) 

Kayak Conundrum 

Gabe, Zack, Wesley, and Nikhil all kayaked across the lake to Dead Man’s Island. When they got in their kayaks to go back to camp, they discovered that one of the kayaks had sprung a leak. Now they’ll have to get back in one kayak, and the kayak only holds two people.
* Gabe can kayak across the lake in 1 minute. 
* Zack can kayak across in 2 minutes. 
* Nikhil takes 5 minutes to cross, just to be safe. 
* Wesley is so bad at kayaking, it takes him 10 minutes to cross.
* When two people go together, they can go only go as fast as the slower person. (If Gabe and Wesley kayak together, it will take them 10 minutes.) 
* To make matters worse, it’s getting dark, and they only have one flashlight. That means that when two people go across to camp, one person will have to kayak back to Dead Man’s Island with the flashlight. The batteries in the flashlight will last exactly 17 minutes. 
How can they all get back to camp before the batteries in the flashlight run out?

Hint: Someone at camp needs to bring the flashlight back to Dead Man’s Island, but it doesn’t have to be one of the people who made the most recent trip to camp.

One lucky reader will have a chance to win a Nerd Camp Prize Pack including Nerd Camp and Nerd Camp 2.0 and a specially designed retainer case.

Please complete the rafflecopter below with the answer to the logic problem in order to enter. You must be 13 years or older to enter and have a US mailing address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin

by Mina Javaherbin; Illustrated by Renato Alarcão
Candlewick Press (April 8, 2014)
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6056-7

About the book
When Paulo Marcelo Feliciano becomes a soccer star, crowds will cheer his famous name! Then his mother won’t have to work long hours, and he won’t have to work all day on a fishing boat. For now, Paulo takes care of his little sister Maria (she teaches him reading, he teaches her soccer moves) and walks her to school, stopping to give his teammates cheese buns as they set out to shine people’s shoes or perform for the tourist crowd. At day’s end, it’s time to plan the game, where Givo will bounce, Carlos will kick, and Jose will fly! But when Jose falls on his wrist, will the team finally break the rules and let a girl show her stuff? Set in a country whose resilient soccer stars are often shaped by poverty, this uplifting tale of transcending the expected scores a big win for all. 

Just in time for the World Cup, an inspiring story of a Brazilian boy who dreams of being a soccer star -- and the sister who steps in to help his team win a game.

Thoughts on this book
On the title page of Soccer Star, I had to pause over the author's note. Javaherbin shares the following...
In Brazil, some children work hard for a living to overcome a stubborn opponent: poverty. This experience of life's hardship, being engaged in the survival arena from childhood, has helped shape Brazil's solid team of stars shining atop the world of soccer.  My story is an homage to all soccer stars who have risen and continue to rise up from poverty.
Children and poverty. A combination that we are all too frequently aware of and too often afraid to address.  However, Mina Javaherbin brings readers a story of children with a passion for life and soccer despite the poverty surrounding them.  

Told from the perspective of Paulo Marcelo Feliciano, a young boy with dreams of being of soccer star, readers learn of the lives of children in Brazil.  Paulo lives with his sister and mother in a small home. His mother has job, and works very long hours. He and his sister, Maria do what all children do.  They play, and help each other.  However, whereas Maria goes to school, Paulo spends the day fishing and helping Sehnor da Silva.  Throughout their neighborhood, each member of Paulo's soccer team also has a job. Javaherbin ties those jobs into their soccer dreams and contributions. Despite the poverty surrounding them, there is a sense of hope and playfulness in which this story is told.

Soccer Star has an additional layer woven into the story.  The story of Maria who wants to play soccer with her brother and his team. However, the boys keep shutting her out.  The team is only for boys.  When one of the players is injured, Maria has an opportunity to prove herself and to show that girls can play as well as any boy. 

Soccer Star is a special story to share with children.  Javaherbin's text is enhanced by the beautiful paintings of Renato Alarcão.  Look for a copy of Soccer Star at your local library or independent bookstore.

About Mina Javaherbin:
I was born in Iran and moved to the United States many years ago. I live in Southern California with my husband who has played soccer all his life, and nowadays volunteers as a coach at AYSO. We have two children, who also play soccer among many other sports. I believe that even though I have an architectural education, even though I write books, I seem to really be my children’s chauffeur and “food manager” a term they use to make me feel important and in charge! I like to add laundry manager, homework manager, and entertainment manager to the list as well.

Where to find her? website | blog | facebook | twitter  

Book Review: Fortunately, The Milk

Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Skottie Young
Publisher: HarperCollins (September 17, 2013)
Audience: Grades 2nd to 5th
Formats: hardcover, e-book, audiobook
Source: book for review; purchased audiobook
Fiction * Adventure * Fantasy

Description from GoodReads:
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."

"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

My thoughts on this book:
When I heard that Neil Gaiman was reading Fortunately, The Milk, I knew I had to listen to the audiobook.  Gaiman does a great job as the narrator for this story.  As I listened to the audiobook, I couldn't help but imagine Doctor Who as the father, who goes out for milk for his children's breakfast and gets waylaid by a fantastical story. Was the excuse real or just made up?   Fans of Doctor Who will recognize both the analogy (comparison of the Doctor to the father in the book), but also the fact that Gaiman has penned an episode or two of Doctor Who.

Fortunately, The Milk has time travel (albeit questionable at best), dinosaurs, slobbery aliens, pirates/wumpires, and ponies.  The story is a fast-paced, fantastical adventure, definitely imaginative, and would make a great read aloud (especially if you can pull off a British accent), or better yet, just play the audiobook.

Check out the videos below for a taste of Fortunately, The Milk

Watch the Official Book Trailer:

Neil Gaiman reading Fortunately, The Milk.  Gaiman reads Fortunately, The Milk in the audiobook version:

Chris Riddell illustrating Professor Steg from Fortunately, The Milk.  Chris Riddell illustrated the UK version of the book.  Though I enjoyed Skottie Young's illustrations, I would love to find a copy with Riddell's illustrations.

Look for a copy of Fortunately, The Milk at your nearest Indie Bookstore.

Book Review: Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment

Author/Illustrator: David A. Adler
Publisher: Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky (September 3, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review
Audience: Second to Fourth Graders
Fiction * Friendship * Eccentricity

Description from GoodReads:
Danny Cohen's new friend is 100% weird.

New to Danny's fourth grade class, Calvin Waffle has a knack for following his classmates around to collect data for his science experiments. He carries jelly beans everywhere, and claims his father is a spy. Danny isn't quite sure just what to make of this quirky newcomer until Calvin reluctantly agrees to help the baseball team. His ability to correctly predict each pitch before it's thrown leads his team to victory and makes him a hero to his new friends.

David Adler, author of the popular Cam Jansen mystery series, creates another memorable character for his readers to befriend. Sure to be a publishing event.

My thoughts on this book:
Calvin Waffle is a bit strange.  He is interested in experiments, such as the one where he watches Danny Cohen for a week and writes down his observations.  Yet, that is only his baseline data.  Calvin must watch Danny for another week but this time he gives Danny jellybeans to put in his pockets. And though Calvin has some odd habits, Danny seems to accept them.  When Danny is paired up with Annie for a school report, that leaves Douglas to have to partner with Calvin. Will Calvin's strange ways hinder Douglas from getting a good grade? Does Calvin really have a father who is a spy or is that just a cover-up for his father leaving Calvin and his mother?

In some ways, this book is just as odd as Calvin.  I don't remember the last time where I read a story and the main characters actually brought homework to a party?!  However, Adler makes it work. He has created characters that readers will like.  There is humor but not so over the top that it becomes too much. And rather than teasing or bullying because someone is different, Danny's Doodles celebrates Calvin, who despite his strange behaviors and comments, actually has something very valuable to add.  I also loved that Danny's mother is an engineer and Calvin's mother has a similar eccentric streak as her son.

Danny's Doodles is a story that second and third graders will enjoy and look forward to reading.  Look for a copy in your local public library or independent bookstore.

For more about author/illustrator, David A. Adler, check out his website. To download an educator's guide for Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment, click here.

Book Review: The Year of Billy Miller

Author: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)
Independent Reading: Second and Third Grade
Read Aloud: First to Third Grade
Source: Purchased Copy
Fiction * Family * Humor * School

Description from GoodReads:
Award-winning, nationally bestselling author Kevin Henkes introduces second-grader Billy Miller in this fast-paced and funny story about friendship, sibling rivalry, and elementary school. The Year of Billy Miller includes black-and-white art by Kevin Henkes and is perfect for fans of the Ramona books, Frindle, by Andrew Clements, and the Clementine series.

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white art by the author, this is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.

My thoughts on this book:
Every once in awhile you need to pick up a book that makes you feel good. I figured that I had read enough Kevin Henkes' books to safely know that this would be one with great characters, a fun story, and maybe even something a bit special.  The Year of Billy Miller was exactly what I was looking for and I am glad I picked it up to read.

What is different about The Year of Billy Miller is rather than be a story that fixates on Billy's issues at school with one classmate or how he struggles with homework or paying attention, readers get insights into the life of this second grader through his relationship with his teacher, father, sister, and mother.  Some readers may believe that there were lost opportunities.  However, I felt as if, Henkes was really doing a character sketch of this very energetic young boy.  He is a typical second grader.  He accidentally misunderstands when a classmate says that her nickname is "Emster" instead hears it as "hamster".  While playing around with two red markers, Billy is worried that maybe his new teacher thinks he is making fun of her and the red chopsticks she uses in her hair.  And when he should be working on his poetry, Billy gets distracted with a water fight, and building a volcano, and even covering his little sister in mud.  As I read through the story, I kept saying "Yes, he is a 2nd grade boy."
There are several things that I love about this book.  Henkes use of language is superb which makes this an ideal read aloud.  Readers will also identify with Billy, his younger sister Sal, and even his father. And where most books feature mom prominently and dad takes a more backseat role, this book is reverse. Dad is an artist who stays at home to work and take care of the kids.  It is his father that cooks during the week and makes fabulous cookies.  Mom, on the other hand, works as at teacher in a high school. And though it is the relationship that Billy has with his dad that you see the most, there are a few scenes with his mom towards the end of the book, which are very touching.

So, what do you do with a book that is clearly written for a particular age group but is also 240 pages?  First, there is a lot of white space and has large type.  It would be a perfect independent read for mid-year second to third grade.  It will also provide kids with that "thicker" book they want to carry around. Second, even more so, it would make a lovely read aloud.  I look forward to sharing this one with students.

Meet Kevin Henkes video by HarperCollins:

Look for The Year of Billy Miller at your public library or independent bookstore.