Monday, December 23, 2013

Presidents as Tough Guys

This is the time of year when bloggers post their Favorites of 2013 lists or Best Books for the Holidays lists but the Iron Guy, never afraid to do things differently, is going to do something, well, different. I'm going to recommend a couple of biographies. These would make great reading over the break. As well as doing some fun reading like Unstoppable: No Where to Run, it's good sometimes to read about real-life people and learn from the great lives they led. Two of the best biographies I've read in a long time are To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Doreen Rappaport and Lincoln: A Photobiography by the great Russell Freedman. (BTW, this blog post also appears in the Nonfiction Monday blog)

The first one is brand new; in fact, I got it just a couple of days ago. It's a terrific story of a remarkable man.
Theodore Roosevelt was, in some ways, one of the toughest guys ever in the White House. He herded cattle for three years in the Dakotas, led the Rough Riders in the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War and galloped around Washington DC every morning on horseback. but he didn't start out that way. Teddy was a sickly child--he "coughed, sneezed, wheezed, had raging fevers, and hardly ate. His asthma was so bad that he had to sleep sitting up in bed or in a big chair." But he didn't let that stop him. He lifted weights, climbed mountains and exercised enough to build his body into health. He also read "books about the soldiers at Valley Forge and frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone" saying, "I felt a great admiration for men who were fearless. I had a great desire to be like them." As a politician and president, he fearlessly took on corrupt police departments, city governments and business monopolies. Not only that, he explored the western wilderness, fell in love with and preserved much of the great outdoor USA as National Parks. TR lived an epic life and this is an epic book. The story is interesting and the illustrations are great. And it's a Good Quick Read. I finished it in about a half hour, but it has stayed with me. What a guy! What a story! What a book! And it's a fun read too--just wait until you read about the giant tortoise escapin in his college dorm room!

The other book is older (it came out in 1987) but it's still good. In fact, it's one of the most remarkable books I've read this year. Lincoln: A Photobiography is another epic story about an epic life. Abraham Lincoln was the essential American success story; the poor uneducated boy who became President. He was born in the middle of nowhere to parents "who couldn't read or write at all." but decided to educate himself out of poverty. He borrowed books whenever he could and read all the time. He would even "carry a book out to the field with him, so he could read at the end of each plow furrow while the horse was getting its breath." Eventually he learned law and went into politics. Not only was he physically tough ("his hard physical had given him a tough, lean boy with muscular arms like steel cables") but he was morally and mentally tough, taking on things that would have crushed many other men. He kept the country going during the Civil War when most everyone wanted to give up, fought tirelessly to end slavery, endured criticism for years (being called once "the original gorilla") and all this time having to fight against sever depression. But, in the end, he triumphed. He won the war, ended slavery and became the most respected man of his time. Until his tragic end. I need to say it again--What a guy! What a story! And what a book!! Russell Friedman is a powerful writer and really brings this tremendous story to life. I've read a lot about Abraham Lincoln but still found myself turning page after page to keep reading this incredible story. And it won the Newbery award for best kids' book of the year in 1988. Rightly so.

And do you what these two great men had in common? Other facing up to great challenges? Other than leaving their worlds better places? Other than bringing themselves up out of bad childhood situations?





That's right, guys. One of the ways they brought themselves out bad circumstances was reading books. Roosevelt inspired himself with books about soldiers and frontiersmen. Lincoln read books and educated himself into a better life. READING CHANGES LIVES. Remember that. That's why I run this blog. Get books into your hands, boys, and who knows what you could accomplish.

Well, thanks for letting onto my soapbox. If you want to read about how reading changes lives, click on the "Being Teddy Roosevelt" tab under this post under this post and see my review of that terrific book. If you'd like to read about another book by Russell Freedman (about Valley Forge!), click on the "Russell Freedman" tab. Same thing if you want to learn about more biographies.

 I hope all of you have a great holiday season.
 And be sure to write in to us!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unstoppable--More 39 Clues Excitement!

The votes are all in from the Battle Bunny vs Barbarian Battle Bear poll and guess what--we had a tie!! So neither of them won! Would that mean they'd be locked in everlasting battle? I was afraid that would happen but then the quick-thinking Iron Guy did what he does best--he got out the right book. Battle Bunny got into it so much that he forgot his plans for world domination.

And what book was it? You guessed it-- Unstoppable: Nowhere to Run by Jude Watson. It's the first book in the newest 39 Clues series. And it's good!

Amy and Dan Cahill are back but now they're facing their greatest challenge yet. A big media mogul named J. Rutherford Pierce has sent his minions to photo Dan and Amy and smear their names in his tabloids. And muscular goons are following them--and nearly killing them! J. Rutherford Pierce looks unnaturally healthy. He put together a huge media empire in 6 months, when he had failed at all his businesses before. How did he get to be so crafty and smart? And why his goons super strong? Why don't they get tired? Is it possible that Pierce found the formula to the Cahill serum? If so, he truly is unstoppable! That's bad news for the rest of the world. Are Dan, Amy and friends even able to stop the unstoppable. For the world's sake, they'll have to! Otherwise--well, it's too terrible to think of what will happen!

This book has all the things we guys love about The 39 Clues--fast-paced action, narrow escapes, ultra-bad villains, old secrets hidden in cryptic codes and exotic locations. All our friends are back too; Jake and Atticus, Ian Kabra, Jonah Wizard and Hamilton Holt, as well as new ones like Pony, the ultimate computer geek. And new villains too, like J. Rutherford Pierce and Waldo, who is really April, the ultimate computer hacker. Plus, as always, there's a coded message. Can you crack it, guys? (hint--Greek alphabet)
I really enjoyed this one and hope the rest of the books in this series will be as good. I was, frankly, disappointed in the last book of the Cahills vs Vespers series--too many loose ends and no real background to Vespers One's identity and no explanation of how the Doomdsay device worked--but the first book in that series was really good. I was disappointed when that series, that started out so well, ended the way it did. I hope this one stays as good as this first book. But if they are--well, we have a really fun ride ahead!

I know this book has been out for a while but, if you haven't read it, it would be great to have over the holiday break. If you haven't read The 39 Clues, start with The Maze of Bones and read the whole series. The 39 Clues website too. it's a lot of fun! What a great way to spend all those days between now and the day after New Year.

And are there any 39 Clues fans out there? Any Agents? If so, what branch are you? I don't mind saying that I'm a Tomas. Just the right branch for the IRON GUY!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Battle Bunny Invades the Library!!

I was in the library, minding my own business and reading one of my favorites

when I heard a voice say, "Today is my special day and I will take over the world!" I looked behind me and saw

Battle Bunny!!

"I'm the Iron Guy and I'll stop you!" I said as I prepared to defend my library.

But, with his special powers on his special day, even the Iron Guy wasn't tough enough.

I thought the library was doomed until I heard another voice say, "Unhand my friend!" We looked up and saw

Birthdayarbarian Battle Bear!!

The two enemies squared off--but who will win?

Will Battle Bunny take over the library and the world?? Or will Barbarian Battle Bear stop his evil plans?

 Only YOU can decide!! 

Vote on the poll on the left-hand side of the page. I'll leave it up through December 15. On December 16, I'll let you know whether Battle Bunny or Barbarian Battle Bear wins. So vote, guys--the fate of the library and the world is in your hands!!

UPDATE--OK, the battle between the two titans is still raging, so I'll extend the deadline. The poll will now stay open through December 19. VOTE!!! And may the best battle animal win!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

You're Never Too Old for Battle Bunny!

Even though the holiday season is upon us and Thanksgiving is past, I'm still thankful for great writers like Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett who consistently give guys hilarious books. Mr. Scieszka has, of course, made us laugh and thrill with the Time Warp Trio series and also The Stinky Cheese Man. Mac Barnett has earned his Guy Reading stars with the Brixton Brothers mysteries as well as Count the Monkeys. This time they've combined their tremendous talents (along with marvelous illustrator Matthew Myers) and given us Battle Bunny, one of the most fun and original things I've read in a long time.

Here's what you need to know before you start--this book has not been messed up!!! Some one did not come into the library and go crazy with a Sharpie! The idea is that this book was originally one of the sugary-sweet, cutesy-wootsy picture books about a sweet little bunny on his birthday--the kind of book that's OK to get when you're four years old. However, some good-intentioned grandmother gave it to a boy named Alex, who is obviously too old for it. Yet the grandmother apparently still thinks he's four! Alex, who is a good boy I'm sure, probably received it graciously but quickly got tired of it, went to his room, crossed out parts and wrote his own story in there. And what a story it is--just the kind any GUY would like!! The cute little bunny is now Battle Bunny and starts off through the woods (chopping through the woods instead of hopping through them), mentally enslaving the other woodland animals in his evil plan to take over the world. No one can stop him!! The president is desperate and calls the one person who may be tough enough to end the evil scheme-and that person is ALEX! But can he fight off all the other woodland animals?? Will battle Bunny actually dominate the world??

YOU HAVE GOT TO READ THIS, GUYS! It's funny!! Don't worry that it's in the picture book section; you'll be really glad once you find it. Go and check out Battle Bunny--before he comes and chops through your woods!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Turkey Is Thankful for Great Guys and Gals!

Yes, guys, this blog has a lot of great and good people who've supported us over the years but I'd like to highlight three in particular. The first is Michael, who has been telling about terrific books for--well, it's been a very long time!! He's been sending first-rate reviews for so long that I've lost count of the years. He always finds the coolest books and gives us the straight scoop about what he's read, not being afraid to say if a book's good or not. Thanks, Michael!!!

The second is Sammer. You may have seen his recent interview with author T. A. Barron. That was truly a great achievement! He has also told us about good reads for a long time and we really appreciate it.

The third is the wonderful Ms. Yingling.  She's a middle school librarian who runs the Ms. Yingling Reads bog and has written back and forth to us for many, many years, supported guy reading with a weekly Guy Friday section on her blog and even let me interview her earlier this year. Many, many thanks!!

And to all the 110 followers of this blog, to all the great Charlotte Mecklenburg Library staff who support this blog, my friends Bill in Columbia, SC and Fred in Lynchburg, VA, the people at Eastover Elementary School who work with the Read to Achieve club and to all the authors who give us these terrific books I say-----


Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This Turkey is Thankful For...

It's that time of year when the Iron Guy stops to think about all the many things to thankful for. There are indeed many reasons to give thanks this 2013:

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, like the pilgrims of old, has survived a long hard season. Like the pilgrims, we often wondered if we would make it over the last three years but, thanks to some very wise leadership, we've come through it and are in much better shape. The economy in Charlotte has stabilized and the library is on much better ground. We have hired more people and expanded our hours. We are still not up to our old levels of funding and staffing, of course, and I am still so busy that I don't much time for blogging but things are a LOT better than they were three years ago. And we've got a truly cool new logo.

 The Carolina Panthers are now 7--3!!! Woo-hoo!!!!! Who would have ever believed it, especially after their pitiful beginning back in September?

The Iron Guy shows his Panthers Pride

 And there are so many good new books that I can hardly tell where to start. Well, how about one that's right for the season? It's What Was the First Thanksgiving by Joan Holub. This is one of the Who Was... or What Was...? series of books. The Who Was...are biographies and the What Was... are histories. This is the first one I've read and it was good. Have you ever really read the story of the first Thanksgiving? It's adventure--storms at sea, starving in the cold, Native Americans appearing out of nowhere and the settlers not knowing if they will attack or be friendly. And you'll learn about interesting people--Squanto, Massasoit, William Bradford and Sarah Hale. And you'll learn more things--what did the ships look like? What did they really have for that first meal? (did you it lasted three days??)And it's a Good Quick Read. I read the whole thing in less than an hour and enjoyed it. You will too. If you need info for a report, want to learn something for yourself or just want a good  read, this book is for you.

OK, I hope to post about some more good books this week. But if I do or don't, have a GREAT THANKSGIVING!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sammer Meets T. A. Barron!

Hey, everyone, exciting news! Our old and good friend Sammer got to spend a whole afternoon on October 14 with a favorite author, T. A. Barron, the man who wrote the Merlin series. In fact, as you'll see, Sammer got to meet Mr. Barron because our boy writes for this blog! Good things can happen when you contribute regularly to us! Anyway, Mr. Barron made an appearance that evening at Park Road Books here in Charlotte. Sammer was there and so was I.  Mr. Barron was very interesting, talking about writing his books, following dreams and how minature dragons can be powerful. I'll say more about that later, but first let's hear from Sammer. Not only did he spend the afternoon with Mr. Barron, but he also did an interview! Let's hear it, Sammer:

I got to meet T.A. Barron because we are friends with people who work at Park Road Books. They know I like his books.  So when they knew he was coming, they called me.  They offered to let me spend the day with him and to interview him because I write for the library blog Boys Rule! Boys Read!
I was very excited.  I also got an advance copy of his newest book Atlantis Rising.  It is very good and I have read it and reviewed it on the blog.
We first went and ate lunch at Sir Edmond Halley’s.  While we ate, I interviewed him. 
My experience with T.A Barron was amazing. He had very good details in his regular speech. It was almost like he was writing a story right then and there.  T.A Barron was taller than I expected. In his picture he is wearing a jacket so it makes him seem short. But when you meet him, he is about five times bigger than you would expect.
We also talked about parts of his books that I liked. He asked me if I knew that a character in one book was Merlin in disguise.  And he also said he knew for five years a secret about a character before he could put it in his book.
Here’s my interview.

Sam:  What made you want to write about Merlin and Atlantis?
TABarron:  Both Merlin and Atlantis are among the most cherished characters and stories out of myth. Both have many centuries of song, story, and legend—every form of storytelling—but both have a gap.
Merlin, whom we know from the Celtic tradition, when his story was written down from the oral tradition in the 5th or 6th century AD by a monk, and from the Welsh story known as  the Mabinogion, has had his story told and Yet almost every time he appears in this rich and luminous and beautiful tapestry of myth, he is an old person. The hole in that tapestry was his youth.
It was my job as a writer to fill in this hole, to attach it to the other stories, but to be original at the same time.  Merlin, who is so wise in all the legends and myth, gains his wisdom from experiencing human frailties and greatness not on just one side.  He has both dark and light inside, which is why he can be such as great mentor.
Tamwyn’s greatest wisdom involves embracing both sides. He has to be compassionate and tolerant, both of which are important for wisdom,
Atlantis is the same principle; we have heard about Atlantis for more than 2,000 years, since the ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote about its destruction. But how did the place become so magical? What was its creation story?
Plato’s story is a parable about how a very successful society fell into its own destructiveness. It is a morality tale. So now that name Atlantis is a symbol for any lost paradise.
I worked for 17 years on Merlin’s story. And when I finished, I wondered what myth would capture my attention and call to me. What appeared was the Atlantis story, which also had a gap that became my task as a writer to fill.  It’s been fun. In The Ancient One, I got to draw on a lot of Native American lore.

Sam:  What inspires you as a writer?
TABarron:  Nothing inspires me more than talking with bright, intelligent young people. I have five at home, my five children.  But being out in nature also inspires me. It was no accident that I was drawn to Merlin. He’s a Druid.
The Hero’s journey also never fails to lift my spirits.   A hero is a person who has to dig deep to save not just themselves but the world.  They have to have courage, perseverance, hope, faith, and honor. But it has to be earned.  And the journey is all about that.
Good fiction must be true. It must be authentic. That needing to be true is especially true in fantasy. Not that the events actually happen, but that there is enough detail  to feel authentic, so that the reader is willing to allow the book and characters to be a part of their lives.
In the first few pages of the first Merlin book, when he as a young boy washes up on the beach, I had to make sure that all five senses were present on the first page so the reader would believe. 

Sam: When did you decide to be an author, and why?
TABarron:  I first had that dream when I was 7 or 8 and was sitting under the apple tree on my parents’ ranch. I wanted to write. By age 9 I had started my own magazine, called “The Idiot’s Odyssey.”  It was all about exposes of secret truths. I wrote one on what went on the teacher’s lounge—and got in a heap of trouble for doing so, because what I made up was too close to the truth!
I never really believed I could do it [be a writer], but I knew it would be the happiest life for me.  My big influence was my mom, who read aloud at home to us all the time.
After college, I went to England to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.  I travelled widely, in Asia and Africa, dong all sorts of odd jobs. I was a roof thatcher and a luggage carrier at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. And during that time I wrote my first novel.  When I got back to Oxford, I sent out my manuscript to 32 different publishers, expecting that one of them would publish my novel, and then I could move to a mountain cabin and write.
In one month I got 32 rejections. Some were pretty brutal. My dream was shot. So I moved to New York City and worked for a company that invested in environmental issues. But I got up early every morning and wrote. I sat in the back of meetings and wrote.
I liked my job, but I didn’t love it. So one night I had a long talk with my wife, who was very supportive.  And the next day, I went into work and gave a big speech called an annual report, because I was the president of the company at that time. And when I finished, I said, “And by the way, I quit. I am moving back to Colorado to write books.”
That was 23 years and 25 books ago.
If you have a dream, it is essential that you follow that dream.

Thanks, Sammer, for sharing! And you did a very good job with that interview. We are very proud of you!
And, as I said, Mr. Barron, was very interesting and extremely friendly and autographed a program for us:
"To the boys of Charlotte--Boys Rule, Boys Read!" Ain't it the truth! Thanks, Mr. Barron and thanks again, Sammer. Keep in touch, both of you!
PS--if you want to see Sammer's review of Atlantis Rising, click here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Michael--Missing Two Infinity Rings?

Once again, our old friend Michael has sent us reviews of truly cool-sounding books. He's never afraid to tell us what he really thinks (like a real MANLY MAN), so let's get the scoop from him:

The Missing, book 6
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
      Jonah, Katherine, and Chip have been kidnapped by a missing kid from history! That's a little different. The kid has also kidnapped his would-be sister from history. Who are they? Alexei and Anastasia Romanov, from the year 1918. Their father, the former tsar, and their whole family have been kept under house arrest, and little do they know that they're going to be executed that night. The Elucidator that Alexei kidnapped them with was from Gary and Hosge, who got him working for them on a basis of lies. They've dumbed down thus Elicidator, so they're all stuck in 1918! So the team decides to rescue the entire Romanov family, not because it alters history, but because they believe that this is the way time is supposed to go; that even original time is wrong. Things really pick up when Gary and Hodge themselves return! Don't miss this epic story, much better than Caught. And the last book, Revealed, is set to come out... some time. 

The Infinity Ring, book 4
Curse of the Ancients
by Matt de la Peña
      Dak, Sera, and Riq have gone to the Maya Indian culture in the seventh century. I can't say much about the plot as just one thing could ruin the book. But it is better than the last one, as the travelers go to the same place twice, but a thousand years apart, and the two periods intertwine. Also, Sera remembers what she saw when she warped to the Cataclysm, and she and Riq deal with conflicting emotions that determine what kind of person they are. Also, this book has some pretty good action. It's a step in the right direction for this 39 Clues copycat series. Book 5, Cave of Wonders, comes soon.

The Infinity Ring, book 5
Cave of Wonders
by Matthew J. Kirby
      The fifth book, but ninth installment in the Infinity Ring series. This time, the three travelers are faced with the destruction of Baghdad in 1258. Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, has taken many cities and hasn't lost a battle yet. And now he's coming for Baghdad! What's the big deal? There's a huge library in Baghdad in 1258. It's called the House of Wisdom, and in it is Aristotle's writings about the Prime Break, the Break that will make or break all of history. But according to history, Hulagu burned the library! Sera, Dak, and Riq must save the book before it's too late! Personally, I think the series is stepping up a notch in this book. The author did a great job of adding suspense with wild animals and chases, and he also added some originality to the series (finally!) with the probability that the trio will have to return to the present at some point. Although they didn't in this book, I hope they will in a future book and not in an online episode. Plus, the more Dak's parents and Riq's possible non-existence are mentioned, the more this series separates itself from The 39 Clues. And even know the book had no guns in it, it was still very exciting. Finally, a book in this series has my recommendation, and I actually enjoyed this one. I just really wish they would stop doing the online thing. Ain't nobody got time for that! Anyway, book 6, Behind Enemy Lines, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, is coming soon. And in conclusion, I want to say that I have high expectations for this book, because it is a World War II spy novel! Plus, as the series has improved a little with each book, I hope and expect this one to be the best one yet!
Michael Lanier
Pianist, guitarist, banjoist, autoharpist, jaw harpist, ukeist, mandolinist 

Thanks, Michael! You've been good about sticking with both these series even when they didn't start off well. I thought the Missing books would be just another time-travel series and the second book sure looked that way. And I thought Infinity Ring would be a 39 Clues knock-off. But you're telling us that they're getting better as the go along and I'm glad. Take  a look at these, guys, and see if he's right! Keep up the good work, Michael. Can't wait to hear from you again!