Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking Refuge by Irene Watts and Kathryn Shoemaker

Cover image for Seeking refuge : a graphic novelHere is a very different graphic novel from the ones I have reviewed this month.  This is a story about a Jewish German girl who is evacuated from Germany right before the instigation of concentration camps.  She is sent to England, but has no family there to take her, so she is passed from home to home.  In some she is treated as a servant, in others she is expected to take the place of a diseased daughter.  None of the hosts respect her religious background or understand her longing to be reunited with her mother again.

This is a touching and sober historical fiction story.  The pictures are done in black and white pencil sketches and monochrome coloring reinforces the serious mood of the story.  This could be a good companion graphic novel to Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.  In some ways it is more culturally balanced because it shows that the British, although they helped the refugees, were not 100% hospitable.  It would be interesting for a group to read both and then compare and contrast them. (134 p.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Cover image for Star scoutsAvani has moved to a new town and is having a hard time fitting in with her new Flower Scouts group.  All they want to talk about is boys and makeup, and make fun of Avani because she used to compete in rodeos.  Then one night, Avani is mistakenly transported to another planet where she meet Mabel, a friendly alien, and the Star Scouts.  Although they look very different from Avani, she soon fits right in.  Her main problem now is how to convince her father to let her go across the universe to Camp Andromeda.

This is a delightful science fiction twist on the old "new girl at a new school" theme. Lawrence's story and illustrations are full of action and humor. Avani gets to do so many fun things, readers will be wishing they could be Star Scouts as well. Parents should be forewarned that Lawrence doesn't have any reservations about potty humor.  One of the classes at the camp is "Alien Scatology" and one of the campers makes a robot named "Goose" that pinches people's butts.  Of course, that just adds to the book's appeal to the target audience.  (185 p.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao

Cover image for Bronze and Sunflower
(Unfortunate Cover)
In rural China during the Cultural Revolution, Sunflower meets a mute country boy named Bronze while her father works at a cadre school (a place where city folks were sent to learn the virtues of hard labor). When her father dies, Sunflower is adopted by Bronze's family. Although they are very poor, the family loves Sunflower and make great sacrifices so that she can go to school and have a good life. She, in turn, comes to love her new family, and especially her new brother, with all her heart.

This is a book that has received a lot of starred reviews this year. It is a good book for the kind of reader who wants to totally immerse themselves in another time and culture for a while. No one who didn't live in a small Chinese town could have written the story with so much detail and intimacy. Cao is Chinese, and this book is a translation from Chinese.  There is a real Asian flavor, a sense of the importance of community working together and of individuals sacrificing for the good of the whole that you don't find in Western writing. I am glad I read it. That said, I found it a little slow. The story covers 5 years in Sunflower's life, and it seemed that long by the time I finished it. The other issue is the ending. What is up with the ending???  (You will have to read it to find out what I mean by that.)   Still, I can see why it got good reviews, and it is a solid addition to multicultural literature for children. (386 p.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mighty Zodiac #1: Starfall

Cover image for The Mighty Zodiac. StarfallOne of the Guardian Dragons has died and left part of the world unprotected.  It is up to the zodiac animals to find the magic stars that will turn their master, Master Long, into the new guardian dragon, but first they must defeat the evil shadow rabbits.

This was a fun adaptation of Chinese folk tales.  The animal characters remind me a little of the animals in Disney's Robin Hood.  The illustrations are all in full color, and tell the story with energy. This book is pretty devoid of subtlety.  As I read it the voice in my head kept slipping into the announcer voice from the old live-action Batman TV show.  It has been amazing to me as I have read more graphic novels, what a range there is in style and "voice" in the illustrations.  This one is not sophisticated, but I think 8 year old boys (or superhero fan girls) would love it and then play Mighty Zodiac pretend games during recess for a long time afterward. (148 p.)


Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Adventurer's Guide to Successfull Escapes by Wade Albert White

Cover image for The adventurer's guide to successful escapesAnne is an orphan waiting for her 13th birthday so she can leave the orphanage forever.  She hopes that she and her friend, Penelope, will be accepted into a questing school, but there is little chance of that--or at least that is what they think.   The day before Anne's birthday she and Penelope are  recruited by a school and given their first quest. They receive one more addition to her team, a boy names Hiro, and together they face seeming insurmountable odds to pursue their goal.

A lot of books I choose to read because they received starred reviews.  This one did not.  It is a B-level fantasy at best, but it was entertaining.  The author added some steam punk elements that were fun and there is good chemistry between the three children.  The main shortcoming is that the quest that was supposed to be impossibly difficult was really not very difficult at all.  If that was a high level quest, a low level quest probably requires the student to successfully make it to the bathroom and back.  Still, it is a fun story and I would recommend it to younger children who are good readers, who want a longer book but can't handle emotional intensity yet.  (374 p.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

Cover image for The trouble with chickens : a J.J. Tully mysteryChildren's book lovers will probably recognize the name of Doreen Cronin as the author of several very successful picture books, including Click Clack Moo and Diary of a Spider.  This is (I believe) her first attempt at writing longer fiction. 

J.J. used to be a rescue dog, but now lives as an "outdoors" dog on a farm.  He tries to keep his rescue skills alive by protecting the other farm animals.  When a  mother hen comes to him and explains that one of her babies has gone missing, J.J. is on the case. 

This was cute.  J.J. talks like an old fashion gum shoe detective.  There are some funny moments when the rival house dog tries to look cool, but is foiled by the cone around his neck.  The baby chicks turn out to be more intelligent than they seem at first.  It was not an awesome novel, but a decently amusing one for a 6 or 7 year old. (114 p.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Phantom 'Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Cover image for The phantom tollboothThe other day I was feeling guilty because I had never read the children's fantasy classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.  When I saw it was available on OverDrive I jumped at the opportunity to assuage my guilt.

Milo is bored of everything.  Then one day a large toy arrives at his house with his name on it.  It is a tollbooth, like those you see at the entrance to a toll road.  It comes with an instruction book and some coins to pay the toll. Once Milo pays the toll, he is whisked away in his little toy electric car into a world of fantasy. 

This book has a similar flavor to Alice in Wonderland.  There is not really a strong plot, and Milo is not a well developed character, but the people and creatures he meets are interesting enough to carry the book.  They are all personifications of plays on words (e.g. the "watchdog" on the cover) and there are many puns and much snappy patter.  I know people for whom this was their favorite book as a child, though contemporary children might not know some of the old fashion terms used in the puns (it was written in the '60's). None the less, I found it amusing and am glad I read it.  (279 p.)