Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen

Cover image for Mrs. Smith's Spy School for GirlsAbby Hunter is not happy when her mother tells her that she will soon be going to a boarding school.  Once there, however, she makes friends who share her love of sneaking around and trying to solve mysteries.  One day as she is eves dropping on the Head Mistress of the school, Mrs. Smith, she discovers that Mrs. Smith is running a spy school within the boarding school, and that she recruits prospective spies from the boarding school student body.  Abby is recruited and finds herself on her first mission, but can she be sure who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys?

There are really a lot of spy school type books out there.  This one offers the action, drama and suspense one would expect from the genre.  In some spy books, the child comes with a full set of super skills, but that is not the case here.  On her very first stakeout, Abby gets so scared she passes out cold.  In the end, though, she gains enough courage and skill to be successful and to see herself as a real agent.  I think it is Abby's imperfections that will endear her to young readers.  This was a fun read and almost certainly the beginning of a promising series. (2017, 295p.)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stranger and Stranger by Rob Reger

Image result for stranger and stranger by regerEmily and her mother are moving to a new town, and Emily isn't happy about it.  Once she gets there, she plans to pull a prank on her new neighbors by duplicating them all, and then laughing at the confusion it causes.  However, her plan backfires and the only one she manages to duplicate is herself.  Is the world ready for two Emily Stranges?  Is Emily?

Here is the second book in the quirky series I started because I was tired of the "critically acclaimed" books I had been reading for the last few months.  I rather enjoyed the first one, but this second wasn't as good.  It still had the fun kind of goth/noir feel, and there was a little mystery to solve, but it just got a bit too "out there" for me. There were too many times when even a stretch, a looong stretch, of the imagination wasn't enough to make something work in my mind.  I won't say more because of not wanting to be a spoiler but I will say I am not really planning on reading any more in the series. (2010, 272 p.)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Meg and her family have been without their father for a number of years.  He is an astrophysicist who disappeared mysteriously while doing one of his experiments.  Now Meg, although very bright, is struggling with school, and unhappy with herself.  Then one day her brilliant, almost clairvoyant, 5-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, introduces her and a friend, Calvin, to three beings who take them on an adventure through the galaxy to find their missing father.

Cover image for A wrinkle in timeThis is, of course, not a recent book.  In fact, it won the Newbery medal the year before I was born.  I read it this month because I was asked to do an after school program about it because of the release of the new movie.  At first I didn't know what to talk about at the program but as I did research about the timing of its publication, I came to find out some interesting things.  Here is what I learned:

It is really the only Sci-Fi book to ever win the Newbery (unless you call, The Giver, and When You Reach Me sci-fi, which they are, kind of, but not in the same way.)

The September before it won the Newbery, Kennedy gave his "Let's go to the Moon" speech that caught the imagination and galvanized the resolve of the nation about the space program.

The very next month was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the scariest episode in the cold war, our nation's efforts to "stop the spread of Communism."

 So if you mix the excitement about space travel, and the fear of the spread of Communism together, then you get, "A Wrinkle In Time."

I also found out that is has been one of the most "banned books" of all time.  That is strange to me because it is usually the conservative Christian Right the wants to ban books, and this book quotes the Bible several times.  But I guess that is why they wanted to ban it.  It quotes scripture, but puts it on the level of other famous philosophies. At the same time the three "witches" are acting like God figures. It was seen as setting up "other gods" instead of the Christian God. 

In preparation for my class I watched the 2006 made-for-TV movie of A Wrinkle in Time.  Then on Saturday I went to see the new movie.  If you are looking for a movie that reflects the book, watch the older one.  That said, I liked the new one too.  It didn't follow the plot of the book very closely, but some of the same spirit was there, and many of the scenes were very beautiful.  I liked it (and the other movie, and the book) because Meg is a hero not because she can fight and wield a sword like Wonder Woman, but because she can love her little brother so much that she is willing to overcome her own insecurities and risk everything to save him.  In the end it is precisely that love that has the power to free him from darkness.  (262 p. 1962)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Cover image for Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
This is the second in the series that started with Mighty Jack.  In this one Jack and Lilly go through a magic passage in search of Jack's sister, Maddy, who has been stolen by a plant monster.  They end up in a different world and have to fight giants and Goblins to get themselves and Maddy home. Jack is impulsive and totally focused on saving Maddy. Lilly tells him to be more cautious, and in the end it is she who suffers because of his impulsiveness. Nevertheless, working together they not only save themselves, but also make things better for many others.

This is a well drawn graphic novel with plenty of excitement and feats of heroism. Jack and Lilly have endearing flaws and the relationship between them is interesting and complicated. This book brings the story to a satisfying end, but there is a afterward that suggests we haven't seen the last of Mighty Jack. (205 p. 2017)

This is also the last book on my reading list for 2017.  Whoot!  I read all the children's fiction that got at least 3 starred reviews and all the juvenile graphic novels that got at least 1 starred review in 2017.  That ended up being 41 novels, and 31 graphic novels.  I don't plan on repeating the goal this year, but I do plan on keeping up on the latest and greatest.  I have already put on hold some of the 2018 books that have received 3 stars.  So stay tuned.  There is more to come.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Emily the Strange: The Lost Days by Rob Reger

Cover image for The Lost DaysA young teen wakes up on a park bench with no memory of who she is or why she is there.  She has a few objects in her pockets, but no real clue to her identity.  She takes on a fake name, Earwig, and works at a coffee shop to earn food.  Once she is sure of a place to sleep and eat, she begins to try to figure out where she came from and how to find her way back home.  Earwig is a quirky character and eventually she begins to find out there are a lot of other quirky things about the small town she is in. 

This was a fun read well suited for a 11-13 year old.  The story is written as entries in Earwig's journal so the reader is discovering Earwig's past at the same rate as she is.  Sometimes  something happens that is totally unusual, but because the point of view character has amnesia, she doesn't know it is strange.  Then the reader gets the delightful feeling of being "in on the joke." This is not a new book, but a new discovery for me.  There is a sequel and I think I will put it on hold right now.  (2009, 264 p)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis

Cover image for Gorilla dawnImara lives as the "Spirit Child" of of a group of armed raiders in the forests of the Republic of Congo.  They believe that she has prophetic powers because she survived the bite of their patron animal, the Black Mamba snake.  The leader of their group consults with Imara before a raid, and asks her to "bless" his men before they attack a village.  Imara lives in constant fear that the band will lose faith in her spiritual powers, but she also hates the violent life they live.  One day the group captures a young ape in a nature preserve that they plan to sell to an American.  It bonds with Imara and gives her the courage to make a change in her life.

This book is written from the point of three characters, Imara, the gorilla child, Kitwana, and the son of a ranger, Bobo.  Lewis does a good job winding their stories around each other, showing how fate brings them together to help them all find what they are looking for.  I was particularly impressed with Lewis' portrayal of Kitwana.  She obviously did a lot of research about gorillas and how they interact with each other.  This is another good choice for kids who like to read about how kids from other cultures overcome difficult situations but parents should beware that there are some tough situations that might upset sensitive kids. (2017, 408 p.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Cover image for BolivarSibyl lives in New York City where most people are just too busy to notice anything.  Sibyl seems to be the only one who has noticed that her next door neighbor is actually a dinosaur.  No one will believe her, so she tries desperately to get a picture of him.  Bolivar (the dinosaur) is not at all eager to be recognized.  He is afraid that if people knew what he really was, he could never go back to his quiet and pleasantly routine life he enjoys so much.

Here is another book that is hard to pigeonhole.  Parts of it are definitely graphic novel style, but other pages are formatted like an illustrated short story.  It is much longer than the Belinda story, and the pictures are more detailed and done in an illustrative style rather than a cartoon style.  The book is a delight to read as the reader gets caught up in looking for Bolivar on each of the pages, just as Sibyl is looking for him everywhere she goes in the city.  There is also a fun social satire going on,that might be lost on the little kids, but will delight more sophisticated older readers. (224 p. 2017)