Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, April 25, 2011

What do teens read?

The finalists for Teen Choice Book of the Year, the teen component of the Children's Choice Book Awards, are always partially predictable (romances, fantasy, vampires, and dystopia tend to do well) with a small element of surprise (realistic fiction). Every story has a coming of age component but the environment is often what sets the tale apart. The Teen Choice Book of the Year finalists were selected by around 4,000 teenagers who participated in a poll on If you're dying to see your teenager pick up a book but he or she claims not to have the time and, frankly, isn't interested in your recommendations anyhow, suggest they take a look at this list of peer-recommendations:

Burned (House of Night, Book 7) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast - Read the first chapter!

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy, Book 5) by Richelle Mead

Fang (A Maximum Ride Novel) by James Patterson - Read an excerpt!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I'd like 3 cups of anything but tea right now!

Dear Readers,

I am sorry to have been MIA last week. A funny thing happened on my way to my blog... Actually, it wasn't funny at all. Last Sunday night, as many of you know, 60 Minutes aired an expose on Greg Mortenson. Greg is a co-founder of Central Asia Institute, co-author of the bestselling books, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools and creator of the program Pennies for Peace whereby American children collect pennies, bring them to school and collectively donate them to Central Asia Institute for the development, building and strengthening of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A barrage of unflattering accusations have been hurled at Greg over the last week; claims that the most compelling stories in his books were fabricated, claims that he has mismanaged funds and claims that he has not built all the schools he claims to have built, has not spent the money on them he claimed to have raised for that purpose and that many of those schools that were built are not operating as schools at all. Like so many people, I was deeply saddened and disillusioned by the multitude of claims. I had long ago drunk the kool-aid. Greg Mortenson, as far as I was concerned, was a hero who had energized the masses to think globally and step up to make a difference in the lives of others and, further, to recognize that by bettering someone else's circumstances, we make the world a better place. Greg's mission and vision were based on the belief that education and literacy, particularly of girls, were the most effective tools to bring about global peace. I was such a believer that when someone on my staff suggested some time ago that we honor Greg with the Impact Award at the Children's Choice Book Awards gala, I thought it was the most brilliant idea I had ever heard. When we approached Greg's publisher with our invitation over the summer and Greg accepted, I felt as though I'd won the lottery. Well, the gala is on May 2, just one week away, and Greg Mortenson will not be there. In light of the current accusations and unanswered questions, we agreed it was best to forego the presentation of an Impact Award this year. Our gala will still be a fabulous event that celebrates the children's books that inspire, excite and entertain kids and teens and the talented authors and illustrators that create them. While saddened by the recent developments, we are able to go on, nearly unscathed. But what about the legions of kids who were motivated to break their piggy banks open to participate in Pennies for Peace and what about the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan whose opportunities for education have been jeopardized. Greg Mortenson may or may not have done some bad things but what is incontrovertible is the fact that he raised awareness of a serious and critically important issue and people responded. My hope is that we, as a global community, hold onto the good and do not become so distrustful that it causes us to stop trying to help others. Each and every person really can and should step up and make a difference.

Before leaving you last week, I was working my way toward blogging about each of the finalists for the Children's Choice Books Awards. As you'll recall, voting closes on Friday, April 29. That means it's not too late so if you know kids who haven't voted, please encourage them to visit and vote now! Every vote counts!

In connection with my hope of what will emerge from the Greg Mortenson debacle, I'd like to introduce you to a 6th grader who gets it; who actually utters, "I'm DESTINED FOR GREATNESS". He knows this because a fortune cookie told him so. His name is Nate and he's the star of Big Nate: In a Class By Himself and the other Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce. He's funny and his antics are a riot. Good for him for believing he is destined for greatness - I hope he uses his power for good!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Jeff!

When I look at the faces of my beautiful daughters, I see their dad, my husband Jeff. They all look very much like him. Beyond their looks, each has some of his very best qualities too. Like their dad, these girls are very smart and very down to earth, each has a goofy sense of humor and they are genuinely compassionate. Jeff is an aggressive antitrust attorney so it's easy to overlook his tremendous compassion for others but Jeff helps people in need on a regular basis (he has been known to help crazy old men cross the street and he helps people up after they've fallen on the street, which seems to happen a lot). He is a good soul and he has a good soul. He also has a lower patience threshold than anyone I've ever known; that is, anyone until our daughters were born. Jeff is a great guy whom I love very, very much and I get a total kick seeing elements of him in each of our daughters.

Our kids love it when we tell them our stories - what we were like and what we were up to when we were kids. Jeff is notorious (within the confines of our nuclear family circle) for beginning stories with "When daddy was a little boy..." Parenthood has given Jeff a much needed motivator to connect with his inner child and, like at least one of our daughters, he can't seem to get through a story that begins with "When daddy was a little boy" without erupting into fits of laughter.So Happy Birthday Jeff! Kids and laughter are keeping you young and fun.

If you've been following this blog then you know that I am linking each post to a book that is a finalist for the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards, the only national awards program for books where the finalists and winners are selected by children and teens. There is one book on the 5th-6th Grade Book of the Year list that is just too perfect for this post. In Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book1), we meet Sadie and Carter, 2 siblings who have lived apart for several years. They do not know each other very well, they do not know themselves very well and they learn that they never knew their parents very well either. Readers learn that they have inherited many qualities from their father and at the ages of 12 and 14, they are only just beginning to figure it all out. Sadie and Carter learn that they were descended from ancient pharaohs,  that they have god-like powers and that their earthly bodies are temporarily inhabited by Egyptian gods. Turns out the apples do not fall too far from the tree; their father, Dr. Julius Kane, also has magical powers. He is an Egyptian magician who is a host of the god Osiris, god of the Afterlife, the underworld and the dead. Rick Riordan's books get devoured in my household and it's easy to see why!

As a side note and yet completely relevant to this topic, you may recall from a prior post that, last summer,  my kids and Jeff all agreed that he might actually be Zeus. It turns out that Zeus had many mortal and immortal offspring. I can't help but wonder which are being hosted by my daughters. I'm thinking they are among the following:

APHRODITE The Goddess of Love was, according to some, a daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Dione (most accounts, however, say she was born in the sea from the severed genitals of Ouranos).

ATHENE The Goddess of Warcraft, Wisdom and Craft was sprung directly from the head of Zeus. Her mother was the Titaness Metis whom Zeus had swallowed whole in pregnancy.

EIRENE The Goddess of Peace, one of the three Horai, was a daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Themis.

EUNOMIA The Goddess of Good Governance, one of the three Horai, was a daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Themis.

HARMONIA The Goddess of Harmony was, according to one author, a daughter of Zeus and the Pleiad Elektra (the usual account makes her a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite who was only fostered by the Pleiad).

HEBE The Goddess of Youth was a daughter of Zeus and Hera.

PERSEPHONE The Goddess of the Underworld and Renewal of Spring was a daughter of Zeus and Demeter (or, according to one account, of Zeus and Styx).

Could be true! :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

He ain't heavy, he's my brother

Some time ago, I was asked if my kids mind being the subject of  my blog posts. The truth is quite the opposite. They keep tabs and object only when they feel they've been underrepresented (or, more accurately, if someone else has been overrepresented). I think I always knew that and respect them enough to keep the truly private material private so I have never had any reservations about sharing their antics in this way and have yet to be accused of misrepresenting anyone. Nobody has even been upset about disproportionate representation lately so I've been feeling pretty good about the balanced way I've handled this blog. Until today. Would you believe that today's objection came not from one of my kids but, rather, from one of my brothers?! He felt the need to call my attention to the fact that our other brother has been mentioned in 2 of the last 4 blog posts and he has not. The objection came by way of an email entitled "Unfair". OMG! I know he was only partly joking. Ahhhhh... sibling rivalry!

In fairness, let me tell you a little bit about my underrepresented brother. He's a great guy, a great father, a loyal football fan, a genius, a fabulous uncle to his nieces, the first and best hypochondriac I ever knew, and the kid who, growing up, was determined to develop many varied interests. He played hockey and rode a bike and went to camp and learned to cook beef bourguignon and had a great vocabulary, particularly when it came to describing his various ailments (he was the only 6 year old I knew that used words like "contusion", "laceration" and "hematoma"). He was a huge Beatles fan and was determined to unlock the musical magic within himself. For a short time, he had dreams of starting a band of his own. He pounded on drums for a while and then turned his focus to violin. Oy!

Today's book is selected in honor of my darling brother. Zebrafish, a 5th-6th Grade Book of the Year finalist for the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards is the story of Vita Escolar who starts a rock band with bandmates who don't actually play instruments. Yet, they evolve as a group and grow as a community. Their individual stories are compelling. We learn that one of the bandmates has leukemia. The band, Zebrafish, holds a fundraising concert to help her hospital get the medical equipment it needs.The book happens to be partly sponsored by Generation Cures of Children's Hospital Boston, a philanthropic movement that teaches tweens to use their powers for good. Some of the proceeds from this book go to fund research for the hospital.

Monday, April 11, 2011


We talk a lot about klutziness and clumsiness in my home. Each of our daughters has her own sense of style and her own type of gracefulness. However, each one is also at least a little bit accident prone and, thankfully, good-natured about it. I think the "it could happen" factor was a powerful tool for me when I began reading Raina Telgemeier's graphic memoir Smile, a 5th-6th Grade Book of the Year finalist in the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards.As I kept reading and rooting for the protagonist, it struck me that Raina Telgemeier is like a Judy Blume in the age of graphic novels. I love this story and I love the way it's told. Our twin daughters are in 6th grade and wear braces just like the very real protagonist, Raina. Thankfully they've (so far) been spared the dental trauma she undergoes but trauma knows no limits when you're 12; everything is traumatic. I actually don't want to give anything away regarding this book - just encourage your middle grade kids to read it. You and they won't be sorry!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Talkin' 'bout my generation

Every generation has its name, its jargon and its cultural mindset, reflected in its cult classic movies, television shows and books. After the Lost Generation, the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation (children of the Great Depression), the Baby Boomers were born beginning in 1946. They were such an enormous part of the U.S. population back then that they changed everything. The smaller generation that followed seemed to have little identity compared to the boomers, so they became known as Generation X and sometimes called the Baby Busters. They were followed by Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, Generation Next, Net Generation and Echo Boomers. The children born in the late 90's and early 2000s are Generation Z, also known as Generation I, or Internet Generation. No big surprise there!

When I was a kid, my brothers and I watched television classics like Eight is Enough, Happy Days and Star Trek. We read The Outsiders and I read everything by Judy Blume. We used words like "cool", "nerd", and "spaz" and catch phrases like "may the force be with you" from a popular movie at the time (:)). My older brother used to say "dy-no-mite" like Jimmie JJ Walker on the television show Good Times.

My own kids speak in "abbreves". No word is too short to be abbreviated. They don't quote great films all that frequently but they quote television shows like Modern Family and music lyrics by Ke$ha routinely. They can't figure out how we ever survived without cell phones, email and texting. So many great books have been written for and appreciated by kids of this generation and new books are being created for them all the time. This is, after all, the generation of Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games. But there is one book that is like an anthem for this generation and it just so happens to be a 5th-6th Grade Book of the Year finalist for the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards. The book is Lane Smith's It's a Book. Fifth and sixth graders should not be put off by the fact that this is a picture book. It's a clever and irreverent picture book; with humor perfect for the middle grade age group and pretty well any age group. It has been called a "delightful manifesto on behalf of print in the digital age" and that it is. The characters are a mouse, a monkey and a tech-savvy jackass and it's one of those gems that you can't help but walk away quoting. Just as scores of school children know the first line of Charlotte's Web by heart and quote it with fondness, everyone who reads It's a Book will remember the last line and quote it with gusto.

Friday, April 8, 2011


I typically blog at night after I've finished a day of work and an evening of homework help. I think it's important to know yourself and I feel that I know myself reasonably well and yet the routine described above is ridiculous considering my early bird and non-night owl nature. In other words, I meant to post to this blog last night but I fell asleep. Sorry!

While, as you know, my blog posts typically combine a mommy/parenting/child issue with a book, the book I intended to highlight last night actually enables me to wrap it all up in a single package. The book, a finalist in the 3th-4th Grade Book of the Year category in this year's Children's Choice Book Awards, is Finally by Wendy Mass. The young protagonist in this book has waited her entire life to turn 12 and has amassed a laundry list of things she's been told she can have and she can do when she is finally that magical age. Here's a real life crazy juxtaposition for you - my twin daughters are 12 years old and each one has a list. Each of my 12 year old daughters, though, has a bucket list - yes, a list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket! Ridiculous, yes! Funny, yes! Par for the course with those two, absolutely! Lists are awesome - they are a great way of self-regulating and organizing our lives. The best thing about a list is that, between lead and wordprocessing, items are erasable. This past spring break, we went to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Both of our 12-year-olds had included a ride on the dreaded Leap of Faith (a water slide featuring a 60 ft. almost-vertical drop from the top of the world-famous and iconic Mayan Temple, propelling riders at a tremendous speed through a clear acrylic tunnel submerged in a shark-filled lagoon) on their lists. After one of the girls bravely faced her fears and, literally, took the plunge, her sister looked at me and said, "you know, Leap of Faith is on my bucket list but I think I might take it off." Amen.

But I digress, back to Rory Swenson and Finally. The story begins with Rory stuck in a drainpipe. The funniest thing about that is that when I read a reference to her circumstances on the back cover, I groaned just a little but when I read the story of how it happened in the book, all I could think was, "Sheesh, that could so easily have been one of my kids!". Rory is a a real kid, Her thoughts, her emotions and her antics are authentic 12-year old stuff. This book is funny and surprising and would be a great choice to cuddle around with your kid, say between the ages of 9 and 12. I have to admit that I am a sucker for a book that ends with a mom's last word, wisdom or insight as this one does, with the mom (and I'm seriously not giving away anything by telling you this) channeling Gandhi and telling Rory, "There is more to life than increasing its speed". Words to live by and a book to enjoy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

King of the castle

When our oldest daughter learned about Greek mythology at school, she would come home and describe the qualities of the different gods to her sisters, who ate it all up.  One day, after describing Hades, lord of the dead and ruler of the underworld, she seemed to go into a trance and then delighted everyone by  reviving in the form of "Queen Hadestia" (the female version of Hades).  In her Hadestia character, she would make her sisters lives a living hell and they couldn’t get enough. Then Percy Jackson entered our home. This genius series created by Rick Riordan captivated our kids. Gods and demi-gods took over their lives for a little while.This past summer, one of our daughters became convinced that Jeff (my husband, her dad) was actually Zeus in mortal's clothing. It didn't take much for her to convince her sisters that this was possible. Jeff loved it and found it frighteningly easy to slip into character. He began to sign his letters to our kids who were away at sleepaway camp, "Zeus". They, in turn, would ask about life on Olympus. The child who came up with this fantasy in the first place insisted it could be true. I finally had to admit that he is king of our castle so who can say for sure that he doesn't rule Olympus in his spare time?

I loved learning mythology when I was younger - the Greek gods, the Roman gods, the Egyptian gods - the stories were fascinating and entertaining. I still feel that way. If you do too, then I invite you to share an amazing experience with your child of any age (I tested this on my own 12 and 15 year olds). Open up Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart's Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes and you'll know what I mean as the soon as the giant pharaoh unfolds and pops out of the pages. This pop up book is not for little kids. It includes a wealth of information about gods and mythology from around the globe together with the most breathtaking and intricate pop-ups imaginable. When my kids turned the page and I knew the castle in the sky atop Olympus was coming, I told them to brace themselves and then thoroughly enjoyed hearing them ooh and aah in unison. Such a great book on such a favorite topic - in a volume that is meant for a shared experience. It's no wonder that the kids (15,000 from across the country) who determined the finalists for the Children's Choice Book Awards chose this one! One entry tells the story of the Polynesian volcano goddess Pele and she seems to come alive as she literally pops out of the book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Let's make a deal

I overheard two of my daughters negotiating earlier this evening. One wanted the other to start helping her out with something after school every day and they were working on a price. They considered whether caring for the dog was a suitable price. WHAT?! They adore our dog but take care of him? Not so much. The one responsibility we have divided among the girls is to make his dinner every night. One daughter was now offering to take over dinner duty once a week for her sister. In the end they decided it wasn't a sufficient price and I think they settled on weekly massages or something like that. But the poor dog! When we first got him, we thought it would be a great opportunity to teach the kids some responsibility. While I still believe getting our beloved Levy was one of the soundest and most wonderful decisions we ever made, I have to admit that things never really panned out on the responsibility end of things. It's no secret who does the most for the dog and I'm surprisingly OK with that. I like to think that, in return, he loves me best but the truth is that he loves us all and I wouldn't change that even if I could. I still think pets are a great opportunity to teach kids responsibility and fully support any parents who see that plan through.

Though I have become a dog person, I have a brother who is a cat person and that's good enough for a segue to today's book pick, Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray.  The Bad Kitty books sprinkle scientific/fun facts, generally about cats, throughout the stories. The facts in this one consider cats' stranger anxiety.  Uncle Murray comes to take care of Bad Kitty and Puppy while their owners go away. Uncle Murray and Bad Kitty ("goofy cat") do not click. My favorite part is The Kitty Diaries - diary entries from Bad Kitty after the pets run into a closet to hide from the "monster". We learn that they're in there for 20 minutes but to Bad Kitty it seems like several weeks of torture. When the pets' owners return, Uncle Murray seems to have had a breakdown and mumbles about what nice pets fish make.

There is a fabulous site with book reviews called Sweet on Books that provides a terrific review of this book and even includes discussion questions to engage young readers beyond the book. This site has my favorite description of the Bad Kitty character: "Kitty is part drama queen and part neurotic prone to fits of delusions that are sidesplittingly funny". So true! If your child loves this book, remember to vote at

Monday, April 4, 2011

Baby you can drive my car...

Several years ago, our twin daughters were invited to a biking party in Central Park. They were around 8 years old the first year they were invited to this child's party and were really into their Razor scooters at the time. Since they didn't know how to ride two wheelers, they opted to join in the fun on scooters instead. More power to them! Actually, they really could have used more power. They had to work twice as hard as the kids on bikes and still couldn't keep up.

Jeff and I were a little embarrassed that none of our kids (they were 9, 9 and 11 at the time) knew how to ride a two-wheeler. Neither one of us could remember a time when we didn't know how to ride a two-wheeler. Riding around the neighborhood with friends was a big part of our childhood. Life was different for our Manhattanite children. Without a quiet cul-de-sac or a deserted mall parking lot to practice, we just never found the opportunity to teach them to ride. As a result, they never felt the wind in their hair or the rush as they sped down a hill or the thrill when you lift both hands off the bar. When the same child invited them to another party in Central Park a year later, though, they were determined to learn how to ride bicycles. So a week before the Central Park birthday party, we rented bikes, brought them to a park near our home and taught each of the three girls to ride. They learned remarkably quickly and we started to dream about family bicycle trips. We hastily returned to the bike shop and bought bikes for each of the kids on the spot. The following week, our girls dazzled their friends as they rode laps around Central Park on their new sparkling two-wheelers. Shortly after that, we rode through the park together on a weekend. And that was it. Since the brief time that we were enchanted by our romanticized vision of bicycle rides, the bikes have laid dormant in the storage area of our apartment building. I can't say for sure that any of us will ever ride a bike again. Curiously, though, I'm glad everyone knows how. Certain skills are imperative and the fact that you live in Manhattan should not be a reason to miss out on anything!

Now that we have a 15-year old, the "set of wheels" discussion has taken on a whole new meaning. I remember one of my first "born and bred" New York friends telling me several years ago that he had never learned to drive a car. I remember thinking that was crazy and yet, now that I have a child on the verge, I sometimes find myself wondering if it really is necessary. After all, if she really needs to get anywhere, we have a perfectly good bicycle with her name on it downstairs in the storage locker! To that 15-year old, I say, "Just kidding sweetie". She knows her time will come. And we all know that there's something to be said for putting your pedal to the metal!

Few children's book characters capture the energy and thrill as you transition from bicycle to car (albeit soap box derby car) like the inimitable Babymouse. BabyMouse Burns Rubber, book number 12 in the series created by the sensational sister-brother duo of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, is a finalist for the 3rd to 4th Grade Book of the Year in this year's Children's Choice Book Awards. This is the second Babymouse book to make it in as a finalist in the four years of this program. It's hard not to love Babymouse! In this installment, Babymouse, encouraged by her friend Wilson, decides to realize her dreams of becoming a race car driver. She is self-absorbed, high maintenance and easily distracted but she has a strong moral compass and, ultimately, is the best kind of friend. Long love Babymouse!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

And we're backkkkkkk...

The spring break that has delighted my children to no end over the last two weeks draws to its inevitable close this evening. The nagging (my nagging) to get backpacks in order and select clothing for tomorrow is already well underway. At least for tonight, though, it's only quasi-nagging. There is no yelling, just calm and smiles, as the kids bask in the glow of time away and time spent with family - a vacation well spent and thoroughly enjoyed. While Jeff and I did not take two full weeks off, we did go away for a few days all together and enjoyed every minute of it. To those of you whose kids are young enough that that you feel like you need a vacation after every vacation, rest assured that there's a light at the end of that tunnel. When our family takes a beach vacation these days, it's fun and relaxing for each of us.

There is also a subtle joyous undertone this time of year because this is the last big vacation break during the school year and, around here, that means camp will be here before you know it! To get fully and appropriately in the camp spirit, our oldest daughter has a group of camp friends coming over for a reunion next weekend. When the girls were younger, I remember wondering when they would begin to form the deep, enduring friendships that you form at summer camp. I think the turning point for each of our kids was around 11 years old. Some time around then, camp friends started to communicate year round and the bonds began to take hold and strengthen. It's heart-warming to see your kids develop those friendships and exciting to see their self confidence and self assurance develop together with those bonds.

So, I have to admit, the summer camp theme of today's post came to me only partly because of the upcoming sleepover and the constant camp countdown around my home. I'm also focusing on summer camp as part of my pledge to tie each of the next posts to a finalist for this year's Children's Choice Book Awards. If you don't know what I'm talking about, shame on you, but, seriously, click here! Before taking on this evening's selected finalist, I have to share some exciting news about this program. Voting for the 2011 Children's Choice Book Awards has been open 3 weeks so far (it will close on April 29) and we have already received more than 230,000 votes - more votes in just 3 weeks than any other full 6 week total since the program began. If your child hasn't yet voted in the only national book awards program where the winners are selected by children and teens -WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! Take a look at the finalists, read with your child and then send him or her or them here to vote!

So, it turns out that the summer camp theme is the perfect way to introduce both a finalist in the 3rd-4th grade Book of the Year category, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown, as well as the awesome host of this year's live presentation of the Children's Choice Book Awards at a gala event on May 2 in New York City. The author and illustrator of the Lunch Lady books and the host of this year's children's book equivalent of the Academy Awards is the beloved and wonderful Jarrett J. Krosoczka. It turns out that Jarrett is not only the immensely talented creative and comedic genius behind the Lunch Lady series and several more books, but he also deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame of Nicest and Most Generous and All Around Top People in the world of children's books. He is one of the organizers of the River's Family Music Meltdown and Book Bash, the third annual of which was celebrated at the end of March. Jarrett has been taking to the blogosphere, twitter universe and airwaves and promoting the Children's Choice Book Awards program and all of the finalists tirelessly. Now it's time to give him a plug in his capacity as finalist.

If you haven't met the Lunch Lady and you have a child anywhere from Kindergarten through 5th grade, then make it a point to meet her. She investigates and fights crime with a delicious assortment of gadgets, serving up justice along with lunch. In this installment, she has a cookie camera, taco-vision night goggles, an underwater bendy-straw breathing apparatus and a spork phone. This book is the 4th in the series and its focus is on the legendary summer camp swamp monster - the very same monster that stars in spooky stories told late at night around the campfire at every summer camp that ever existed. The Lunch Lady books tell great stories in classic comic book format that kids can't help but love because they're action-packed and hilarious and they have the added bonus of taking parents back to the days of Scooby Doo cartoons and Archie comics. When the Lunch Lady says, "We're Salisbury-staking out the pond!" to her trusty sidekick Betty, I thought back to the days when my brothers and I begged our parents to let us eat TV dinners (we particularly loved Swanson's Salisbury steak - which may well not even be real steak but we loved it and couldn't have cared less). The icing on the cake here is that, aside from the butt-kicking protagonist and a few kooky spoofs, this book offers a somewhat authentic glimpse into summer camp and is a great choice for kids who are considering going to summer camp for the first time.