Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Everything On a Waffle by Polly Horvath

This is an older book and I have read it before. I came back to it because I wanted to compare it to a book I was reviewing for SLJ. It got a lot of attention 10 years ago when it won a Newbery Honor. Polly Horvath's books are a little quirky, but she is good at making memorable characters. Somehow she makes the characters familiar without being stereotypical. In this story Primrose lives happily with her fisherman father and her mother, until one day when both of her parents are lost at sea in a storm. Everyone believes her parents to be dead, accept Primrose who knows deep in her heart they are alive. Primrose goes to live with her bachelor uncle in a new town. There she meets all kinds of interesting characters, including Mrs. Bowzer who is the owner, and cook at a local restaurant. Mrs. Bowzer's no nonsense advise, and yummy recipes (included at the end of each chapter) helps Primrose cope with her quickly changing life. This is a quick and amusing read with a happy ending. (150 p)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Savvy by Ingrid Law

This book received the Newbery Honor award back in 2009, but somehow I missed it until just this year. Benjamin suggested it might be a good read aloud, so we read it a chapter a night as a family. It was a great chapter a night book, because the chapters are quite short, and we are pretty busy people. In this version of reality, there is a family in which each person has a special Savvy. One of the family can cause electrical activity, while another can capture radio waves in jars. The people of the family "get" their Savvy on their thirteenth birthday, and the main character of the story, Mibs, is excited as her birthday approaches, and wonders what her savvy will be. Then, just two days before her birthday, her father is in a terrible car accident and is in a coma. Mibs and her siblings are left in the care of a neighbor who doesn't know about their special gifts. When Mib's birthday comes, she believes that her gift will help her father, so she stows away on a bible delivery bus to try to get to the city where he is. Most of the book consists of the crazy bus trip with Mibs, her older brother, her younger brother, and two neighbor kids. The bus takes some unexpected detours, the kids meet some interesting people, and learn more about each other and themselves. I can see why this was a Newbery contender. The story is fast and funny, the characterizations are rich and fully developed, and the story contains some thought provoking philosophical questions . (342 p.)

Brixton Brothers: Ghost Writer Secret by Mac Barnett

I enjoyed the first Brixton Brothers novel so much, I checked out the second one. In this book, Steve has become famous because of his first case. As a result an eccentric millionaire asks him to guard a precious diamond. Then he receives a letter from the writer of his favorite detective series saying he is in trouble and needs Steve's help. Along with his "Chum" Dana, they have to try to find the kidnapped author, keep the diamond away from the "B"syndicate all while trying to hide the fact that they are ditching school from their parents. This book turned out to be just as much fun as the first. It has some fun chase scenes, and unexpected plot turns. Once again, the author is totally making fun of the Hardy Boys every chance he gets. (226 p.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Penderwidks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

I was trying to remember if I have ever blogged about the Penderwicks before. I checked and I haven't so here is a chance to introduce my fans to a delightful series. The first book is called The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy and it won a National Book Award in 2005. When I first read it, I was enchanted. It reads like an old fashion children's book like Anne of Green Gables, or Five Little Peppers and How they Grew. It is about a family of sisters who live with their widowed father. In the first book the family goes to stay in a summer house for vacation, and while there they meet a boy, Jeffery, and are able to save him from being sent to military school by his domineering mother. The relationships between the sisters are so sweet and the girls have fun and different personalities. It is great to read a book where siblings look out for each other and are kind to each other. In the second book, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the girls and their father are back home, and their aunt is trying to get the father to start dating. The girls have to deflect undesirable girl friends, while looking for the perfect match for their father. This one has some very funny scenes and some sisterly conflicts that have to be overcome. I liked the second and I like this third book as well. In this one it is summer again, and the three younger sisters go to a beach house for a vacation, but the oldest sister is invited to vacation with a friend. It is an interesting study of how family roles change when one person is absent. This series is a good low/ high series. If there were a little girl, maybe second or third grade, who was a really good reader, this would be a great series for them. It is also fun for nostalgic adults who grew up on the older children's classics. (295 p)

The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

I guess there is one advantage of being up in the middle of the night. I can get caught up on my reading blog. ; )

After the Sorceress, I was ready to not read fantasy. I was also ready for something short. This is what I came up with and I am so glad I did. In this story, Steve (not Steven) is an avid reader of children's detective stories. When his teacher assigns him to do a report on American Needlework, he suddenly finds himself involved with his own mystery in which he is everyone's top suspect. To clear his name his must use all the sleuthing skills he has learned from the 50 year old detective novels and their accompanying handbook. This is a clever satire of the Hardy Boys books and a total hoot. The author is spot on with every Hardy Boys cliche ever written. I don't know how funny it would be for someone who hadn't read the older stuff, but for those who have, it is loads of fun.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Sorceress by Michael Scott

Awe, Man! This is the third book in a series that started with The Alchemist and The Magician. If you have been following my blog you know that I liked The Alchemist, though I thought it a little cliche, and I liked The Magician even better. But this book has the same problem that often plagues authors when they have their first successful series. It badly needed to be edited! When the first books do well, the authors think they are hot stuff, and they know their editors will take their next book no matter what. So they refuse to be edited. Somehow, Mr. Scott thought we hadn't read his other two books. He had to go back over all that had happened before. He retold the whole story, and rehashed all the facts he had introduced in the first two books, over and over again. Each character had to be amazed, all over again, that the stories they used to think were fantasy were, in actuality, real. There were really only four new characters introduced, three good guys and a bad guy. Shakespeare was a little funny because he kept quoting his own plays, but the others were not that interesting. In all honesty, the book would have been way better if it had been cut down to 300 pages instead of 500. I just checked Scott's webpage and there are at least 3 more in the series. The next one, though not as long as this one, is over 400 pages. So I think I am done with this series unless someone else reads the rest of them and tells me the third book was the worst one. (512 p.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Starred Reviews

A couple of reviews ago, I mentioned that if I had a ranking system, I would give the book a starred review. Since then I thought, "Why not." It might be helpful for you few who know about and read the blog if you could search for my favorite books. So I am instituting a star system. It is simple. If a book is one of my favorites of those I have read lately, it will get a star. Of course, typing a star is a little challenging, so I will use a capital "S". It could stand for "Star" or "Superior" or whatever. I will go back and add them right now. Check the side bar to see my new "S" ranked books.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

This sequel is just as fun as the first, Leviathan. If you haven't read that one yet, you might want to miss this review because it will contain spoilers. With the Austrians and British working together The Leviathan makes it to Istanbul, but the British do not receive the welcome they had hoped for. Istanbul is full of Germans, and the Sultan has just made a German military officer the head of the Navy. Dr. Barlow and the Leviathan must switch to plan B which includes sabotage. Alek and the Austrians have a plan of their own. Alek is able to escape the Leviathan with his chief engineer, but instead of disappearing into the wilds of Turkey, as his aid, Volga, had suggested, he finds himself involved with Turkish rebels, seeking to over throw the government. This book has new machines and new "Beasties." There are exciting battle scenes and a cute love, or rather, crush triangle. I am so glad the final book, Goliath, is out. I just put it on hold. (485 p)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Cute Picture Books

I read through some cute picture books at the library today. I don't have time to fully blog each one, but here is a quick mention. Sorry the pictures are in the wrong order.

A Friend for Einstein: The Smallest Stallion by Charlie Cantrell
This is a picture book about the world's smallest horse. It is illustrated with bright color photographs of Einstein and his friends. He is so cute it is worth checking out the book if only to look at the pictures.

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett
Just as the farmer takes a baby pig home from the market, the queen accidentally drops her new baby daughter out the window. The two exchange places with amusing consequences.

Just Because by Rebbecca Elliot
This is a sweet picture book about why a boy loves his handicapped sister. It made me think of some special handicapped children I know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull

Here is another short biography by Kathleen Krull. Once again, I like her writing style, and I like that fact that she does a "warts and all" approach to the depiction of her characters. But as with her biography of Leonardo DaVinci, I don't like the fact that she tries to make the case that Newton was gay. The only evidence she puts forth is that he never married, and he had several close friends that were male. Why does that make him gay? Can't people have close friendships without there being a sexual component? Anyway, I am about to give up on Kathleen Krull.

On the other hand, this biography helped me appreciate what an awesome intellect Newton had. He came up with all his most famous ideas during one summer when he was 24 years old, and then spent the rest of his life investigating and polishing them. That one man could have such an expansive world view in so many topics is amazing. He made major, world changing, discoveries in physics, optics, astronomy and mathematics. (126 p.)

The Black Arrow by Rober Louis Stevenson

Here I am reading more Robert Louis Stevenson. I just can't help it. I love the language and all the swashbuckling adventure. There is something quaint in the total lack of political correctness. The girl is stereotypically female, and our hero, Dick, is stereotypically heroic. The noblemen are corrupt and the commoners are simple. I must admit that I didn't like this one as well as Kidnapped or Treasure Island. This one is about the War of the Roses. Our hero, Dick starts out on one side of the conflict, and then switches to the other for a while before deciding they are all daft together. In the end he takes his sweetheart, marries her, and they go off to live on a farm together. A child would have to be quite a medieval geek to enjoy this one. (328p.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

About a year ago Scott Westerfield came to the Provo Library as part of our teen book festival. I wanted to read Leviathan before he came, but all the copies of his book were checked out with a holds list as long as your arm. I finally got a hold of Leviathan and I am so glad I did. What a fun and fascinating romp it is. This is another in the "Steam Punk" genre, set in an alternate WWI. The young prince of Austria, Alec, has to escape his home in the middle of the night when his parents are killed by assassins. With a small crew of loyal supporters, he flees in a large mechanical walker. The Germans and their allies has developed advanced mechanical war machines (think Star Wars, ice planet of Hoth). The British, on the other hand, have discovered the secrets of DNA and have created biological monstrosities as their weapons of choice, including a large, zeppelin-like, floating, whale called Leviathan. The battle lines are drawn between the "Beasties" on one side, the "Clankers" on the other. One of the "crewman" on the Leviathan is really a girl, going by the name of Dillan, who has disguised herself as a boy because she wanted to join the airship's crew. Of course, the young prince and Dillan meet up and become friends. I won't say anymore. You have to read it yourself. I have entirely enjoyed this one. It is so imaginative and the characters are interesting and fully realized. The only drawback is that the first book comes to an end without really ending. Luckily the second book, Behemoth, is already out so you can jump right into it after you finish the first. If I had a ranking system I would give this book a starred review. (440 p)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I got behind on my reading blog this week because I had book reviews due today. I got them sent in by about 2:00, so now I can catch up on my blog.

The City of Ember is not a new book, and I have read it before. I read it again this week because it was the topic of my after school program today. It was fun to read it again. It really is a interesting and well crafted story with a somewhat fresh premise. Lina lives in a world where the only light comes from street and house lamps, and most of the food comes from cans. It is the only world she has ever known, so she doesn't recognize the importance of small changes in her city. Some light bulbs go out and aren't replaced, and some kinds of food are no longer available at the stores. With the help of a friend, a boy named Doon, she begins to realize that her city is in danger of running out of everything. She and Doon decide they need to find a way out of Ember and find a better, brighter place they have both dreamed about.

It is fun to imagine what life in an underground city might be like. At my after school program today, I had the kids paint pictures of what they thought Ember might be like with glow-in-the-dark paint. Then we had a black light for them to shine on their pictures. As I made the sample of a picture, I just naturally drew the houses with slanted roofs. Then I thought, wait, if there was no rain or snow, there would be no reason for houses to have pitched roofs. This book makes you think about what life might be like in a different and strange environment. It is a tribute to the staying power of this book that even now, 8 years after its publication, all 15 copies of the book that the Library owns are checked out. (270 p)

The Magician by Michael Scott

This is the second in the series "The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel". My son had told me that the second in the series was better than the first. He was right. The first book, The Alchemist, that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, was a fun story, but Scott kept using plot devices that were pretty cliche. Scott seems to have hit his stride with this book. It is fresher and the characters are more fully realized. In this story the main characters, Sophie and Josh Newman, meet even more famous people who are immortals, some good and some bad. One of my favorite characters in this book is Machiavelli. He is a bad guy, but deliciously complicated and very classy, just as one would imagine the writer of The Prince to be. There are some good battle scenes and new monsters. There is also conflict between the siblings because Josh is jealous of Sophie's newly acquired magical powers. This is a promising round two and I am eager to read #3. (464 p.)

Charles Dickens: The Man Who Had Great Expectations by Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley is a wonderful nonfiction writer. She has written dozens of these short picture book biographies of famous women and men. I actually personally own several of them. This is a nice illustrated biography of Charles Dickens. Dickens' life is remarkably like one of his novels. He was born to a middle class family and started in a respectable school at a young age. Then his family fell on hard times and eventually his father was put in debtor's prison. Dickens had to leave school and work in a factory to support himself at age 12. Later his father received an inheritance, so that he was released from prison, but he didn't send his son back to school right away. He worked in the factory, 10 hours a day, for two years as a young teen. It is terrible to think of, but it gave the boy, and later the man, amazing material that found its way into his stories. As a young writer he quickly rose to fame and wealth, far above his original social status. Stanley's writing is interesting and engaging. She is careful with her research and doesn't introduce too much fictionalization. This book has full color illustrations on each page that seem to be well researched and historically accurate. Reading this book made me want to go back and read some of the Dickens' novels that I never got around to before. (45 p.)

John Smith Escapes Again! by Rosalyn Schanzer

There is a lot of great short illustrated nonfiction out there. This is a fun little biography of John Smith. Most of us only know the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, but before Smith even got to America his had amazing adventures. He served as a soldier in the Netherlands, helping Protestants fight against Catholics. Later he accidentally ended up on ship full of Catholics, and was thrown over board. He was rescued by a bunch of pirates, and joined their crew for a while. He joined the Austrian army that were fighting Turks, was captured during battle and became a slave. It just goes on and on. It is hard to count how many times this guy was shipwrecked. The book is illustrated on every page with bright and humorous cartoon pictures. This is a great choice for a 9 or 10 year old reluctant reader boy. (62 p)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney

When my daughter was in 4th grade she took a district writing assessment. She scored well in every category except "voice." As a young mother and new librarian, I didn't really know what they meant by "voice." I went to the teacher to ask, and didn't get a very satisfactory explanation. Hundreds of book reviews later (I have now written over 200 book reviews for SLJ alone) I think I know what "voice" is, and this book has it in abundance. This is a historical fiction about three kids, Hibernia, Willie, and Otis, who live in Depression Era New York state. All them them have dreams and all are dealing with issues at home. The thing that brings them together is listening to the Joe Lewis fights on the radio. There is not a whole lot of plot to the story, but the children's voices are so real, interesting and sympathetic, the reader can't help but feel invested in the story. One thing I like about the story is that even though the children are black, living in a black neighborhood, the book is not about overcoming racism. It is just a glance into the life of some kids who develop a friendship and overcome their challenges. (278 p)

P.S. In case you are wondering if there is any relation, Andrea is the wife of well known author and illustrator, Brian Pinkney.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Alchemist: the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

This book gets brownie points right off the bat for having a very cool cover. The author was also very clever, because it has two main characters, twin brother and sister, Josh and Sophie. That way the book can appeal to either boys or girls. In this story the world is populated by humani, or regular humans, immortals, or humans who have somehow become immortal, and the ancient ones, creatures and characters from myth and legend who really exist, but keep themselves a secret from the humani. Josh and Sophie are regular teens who live in San Francisco. Josh is working for a man who calls himself, Nick Flemming, but who is really the legendary alchemist, Nicolas Flamel. Flamel has kept himself and his wife alive for centuries by brewing the elixir of life found in a magical book. When evil immortals steal the book, Sophie and Josh are sucked into a world of magic and danger they never knew existed. One fun thing about the story is that the "immortals" are all famous people from history, and all the "ancient ones" are versions of ancient gods and goddesses from a variety of cultural mythologies. This is the first in a series, and is full of fantasy cliche. Still, it is fast paced and fun with an interesting and novel magic system. Benjamin has read the whole series and assures me that they get even better as they go along, so I have already started book 2. (375 p)

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

When you see the title of this book, you think it is going to have something to do with the Tale of Two Cities, but it doesn't. It is a story about a girl. Elodie, who travels to a new city in hopes of becoming an apprentice to some traveling "mansioners" or players. When she arrives she discovers that she does not have enough money to pay the apprentice fees, so she starts working for a dragon named Meenore. In this town there are, of course, two castles. One is owned by the king who is human, and the other by a duke, who is a shape shifting Ogre. The dragon is a detective, and Elodie gets to use her mansioning skills to help him discover who is trying to kill the king and the ogre.

Gail Carson Levine is best known for her retelling of well known fairy tales, most notably, Ella Enchanted and The Princess Tales. Elodie, in this book, is like all of her female protagonists. She is clever and brave, yet caring and loyal.The story is kind of odd, a fairytale mystery, but it is well written and interesting. At the heart of the story is the friendship that slowly develops between Elodie, Meenore and the ogre. Levine ends the book well, but leave the door open for sequels. I don't think this is Levine's best book, but it is fun and worth the effort. (328 p)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Do you know what "Steampunk" is? I was at a conference yesterday where an author was speaking and she said that librarians know what Steampunk is, but nobody else does. Steampunk is a trendy genre right now; science fiction set in a pseudo-historical setting, often Victorian England. The book I reviewed last Winter, Larklight, falls into that category, and so does this book. Fever is a girl who lives in England in the far distant future, but in her time England has lost most of its technology and has reverted back to conditions mirroring the 1800's. Fever is the only girl in a colony of engineers, having been raised by them as a foundling. The colony is run by strict rules of logic. No emotion of frills of any kind are allowed because they are seen as distractions. The book starts when Fever has her first assignment outside of the colony and becomes aware of the very illogical world of the low-life of the city. While in the city, she stumbles on clues about her own identity and how she came to live with the engineers. At the same time, the city comes under attack by outside forces that travel from city to city in moving buildings. The Engineers decide to side with the invaders because of their advanced technology, but Fever must decide which side she is on. I was half way through the book before I realized that it is a pre-quil to Reeve's Mortal Engines series. Reeve has an amazing imagination and is able to paint the most outlandish and creative realities in believable hues. I think the key to his success is his ability to create realistic and complex characters. Since the characters move and function in the incredible world, we are able to go along with them. This is definitely a YA book and has a fairly high violence level and body count. It also ends without really ending, and there are at least two more books about Fever in the works. Still, it is worth reading, especially for those who have enjoyed Reeve's other books. (325 p.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

This was an interesting book. About half way through I almost gave up on it. I dislike books about teens that are socially inept, because I was a socially inept teen and reading about them brings back bad memories and makes me feel embarrassed about myself all over again. I stuck it out and finished the book. There were some things I liked about this book, and others that didn't quite work for me.

In the book, Bindy is really brilliant and she likes doing well at school. She is a bit arrogant, so none of the other kids like her much and are often unkind to her. All of her life she tries to be nice, anyway, but her junior year she decides to fight back and tell all the kids in her FAB class (social skills class) just what she thinks of them. Of course, that just makes things worse. As the year continues she begins to let her school work slip. She is often sick and becomes spacey and disoriented. During the same time, she begins to figure out how arrogant she has been, and starts building tentative friendships with the other kids. Then the book goes cock-eyed. The kids in her FAB group begin to believe that the reason she is so sick and spacey is because she has been poisoned. The question of whether she is poisoned or not takes up the last third of the book.

What I liked about the book was how well the author represented Bindy's fall into mental illness. It was an interesting psychological study. She also did a good job portraying the other kids. She manages to make it clear how Bindy could think of them as horrible, when they really were pretty normal kids. Something that didn't work was the format of the book. It was written as if it were a collection of documents, rather than a narrative. Some of it is Bindy's journal, but other are supposed to be memos and phone messages that characters write to each other. Also, Moriarty has Bindy write "transcripts" of what other people say. It is just too improbable. Teens don't really write memos to each other and copy down transcripts of what other people are saying, even really smart teens. Avi did a better job of using documents to tell a story in his book Nothing But the Truth.

This is definitely a teen book, not recommended for anyone under 13 or so. Some teens might really like it, but I wasn't really won over. (494 p)

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Buccaneers by Ian Lawrence

I enjoyed The Seance so much that I decided to read another Ian Lawrence book. This book is actually the 3rd in a series that includes, The Wreckers, and The Smugglers. I didn't realize it was in that series when I started it. I had read The Wreckers before, but I haven't read The Smugglers. Still, this story is only slightly dependent on the earlier books, and can be enjoyed as a stand alone. Lawrence must do huge amounts of research before he writes his books. Just as The Seance faithfully reproduces the 1920's, and The Lord of The Nutcracker Men recreates the time of WWI, this book totally recreates life on a merchant ship during the early 1900's. And like those other books, this is one thrilling adventure sequence after another. This book reminded me a lot of Treasure Island. A teenage boy, John Spenser, goes on his first sea voyage on a ship owned by his father. Early on in the voyage, they come across a sailor in a life boat, far from land, and bring him aboard. Some of the crew fear that he is a Jonah, (i.e. bad luck) but he turns out to be invaluable when the merchant ship happens to come across a ruthless pirate and his terrible crew. This book has it all, cannon battles, storms at sea, and buried treasure. This is another great historical fiction for boys. (244 p)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Legend of Saint Valentine by Sidney Kuhn

I don't usually choose books published through vanity press. A vanity press is a company that, for a fee, will publish your book and distribute it to Amazon and local book stores. There are some books that started out in a vanity press, and were later picked up by a major publisher, most notably is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Usually vanity press books, because they have not gone through the rigorous selection and editing process, are not as good as books published through major publishing houses. This book, The Legend of Saint Valentine, was written by the friend of a friend so I said I would read it.

I must admit I actually liked the book. It takes the various legends about Saint Valentine and reconciles them into a person who is a Zorro-like Roman vigilante. It is a fun view of the historical character about which we really have very little information. Unfortunately the book does have some of issues that are commonly found in vanity press. In the forward of the book the author states that this book is the first of a series. Mr. Kuhn obviously put a great deal of effort into creating the book, so I want to give some suggestions that will make his future writing more polished. So Mr. Kuhn, if you are reading this, know that I am writing this with admiration for your accomplishment and best wishes for your future endeavors.

Dear Mr. Kuhn
There are few things you could change with very little effort that would instantly and greatly improve the readability of your book. First of all, for some reason, you decided to put and extra space between each paragraph. Visually that chops up and slows down the narrative. You can add an extra space if there is a change of scene, but certainly not more than once a chapter. Likewise, restating the characters each chapter also slowed the chopped up the narrative. You can have a character list at the end of the book, but not at each chapter break.

The other suggestions I am going to make are not as easy to fix, but I think it could be done. One is to keep track of your target audience. The parts of the story about the children sound like they are written for a reader that is about 8 or 9 years old, but the parts of the story that about the political intrigue of third century Rome are more at an adult level. I am impressed with your knowledge of the details of Roman geography and political systems, but few 8-9 year-olds would be willing to wade through all the technical jargon and political monologuing.

Finally, you need to change how you think about your narrative. In your writing you are trying to explain what is happening. You give exact and detailed descriptions, as if you were explaining a crime scene to a policeman and wanted to get all the facts right. Good storytelling doesn't explain a situation, it recreates it. It gives you just enough detail that you can see what the character sees, and notice what the character would notice.

Ok, this blog is getting really long, but I want to explain what I mean. I am going to copy a paragraph from the book, and then suggest a rewriting of it.

From the book:
"Valentine immediately flinched and shot up straight in the saddle of the horse, which reared up on its hind leg, letting out a loud whinny. When the horse came back down the children could see that Valentine had a complete look of awe and wonder on his face. He began immediately grabbing underneath his breastplate and searching through his clothes, which reminded Caleb of what Valentine did in the storehouse. "

My revised version:
"Valentine flinched and straitened in his saddle. The horse reared and Valentine struggled to calm it, yet his eyes stayed riveted on the children. His hand flew under his breastplate and he groped through his tunic, searching for something. Caleb had seen him do that before, in the storehouse."

So how did I make the changes? First of all take out almost all adverbs. Most verbs are strong enough that adding words like "suddenly" or "immediately" just weakens them. Then tell what the character sees, and let the reader interpret from that what the character is feeling. How do we know when someone is feeling awe and wonder? They keep staring at something even though their horse is rearing.

Good luck, Mr. Kuhn. I hope this has been helpful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Seance by Ian Lawrence

I have been a fan of Ian Lawrence for a long time. One of my favorite books ever is his Lord of the Nutcracker Men. Ian Lawrence is good at writing suspense and this book is full of it. A boy, Scooter, is the son of a Madam King, Physic Medium. It is Scooter's job to be behind the scenes, making the special effects that make his mother's seances realistic. One day Harry Houdini comes to town. Scooter thinks Houdini is the "bees knees" but Houdini has a vendetta against fake mediums. Houdini and Scooter strike up a strange friendship and end up working together to solve a murder. Lawrence does a great job capturing the atmosphere of the 1920's and the mania of the Houdini craze. The story is full of great 1920's characters and the descriptions of how both Scooter and Houdini put on their performances is fascinating. The plot is really well constructed, with clues and red herrings in every chapter. This is a great choice for someone who needs to read a historical fiction, but isn't a huge historical fiction fan. Too bad it has such an unfortunate cover. (262 p)

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I had 5 SLJ reviews due yesterday and that ate up all my spare time. I have been reading/listening to some good books so I will try to get caught up today.

This book started a little slow, but once it got going it was a decent fantasy/mystery. A boy, Henry, goes to live with his aunt, uncle, and female cousins because his parents have been kidnapped while working as archaeologists in a foreign country. He is given the attic for his bedroom and a few nights after he moves in chunks of plaster start falling off the wall and Henry discovers 99 cupboards hidden underneath the plaster. With the help of his slightly pushy and adventurous cousin, Henrietta, he discovers that each cupboard is the door to another world. Unwittingly, by unlocking the cupboards, he lets evil forces into his own world, and he finds himself in a battle to save his family. Since this is the first is a trilogy, Henry's victory at the end of the book is only a partial one. This is a pretty standard upper grade school fantasy. I like the idea of the cupboards as a mode of transportation to another world. It is reminiscent of the Narnian wardrobe. I also really liked the personality of the Uncle. At one point he is trying to get into a locked door. He starts out with tools, moves on to an ax and finally a chain saw. It made me laugh out loud. I totally know men who would do that. (289 p)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo

This is the first book in a spin off series from the Charlie Bone series. Charlie Bone was one of those series that appeared at the height of the Harry Potter craze. Charlie finds out that he has magical powers, so he gets sent to a school for magical people--sound familiar? I only got through 2 of the Charlie Bone books, but when this new series came out I thought I would give it a try, especially since I had just read two realistic fiction books full of social issues and I was ready for a fantasy. This series explores the life story of the "Red King" a legendary figure in the Charlie Bone world. It is a B level fantasy. There is not much character development, but the story has a lot of elements that young fantasy readers enjoy. Timoken and his sister Zobayda grow up as the prince and princess of a hidden kingdom. They have to flee for their lives when their kingdom is invaded by evil demons looking for a magical artifact that was given to Timoken at his birth. The rest of the book Timoken and his sister wander around the world, discovering new magical talents as they go, looking for a true home. The plot is probably more interesting if you read all of the Charlie Bone books, but I haven't and I still thought it was OK. ( 207 p)

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett

Blue Balliett (pronounced bal ee et) first burst on the children's book market with her very successful mystery novel Chasing Vermeer. That was followed by two sequels. In some ways this new book is very much like the other series. In all of them children come across a mystery related to a famous historical artifact that is in peril. Through research and spunk the children solve the mystery and save the artifact. I think this book, The Danger Box, is her best yet. It is not part of the earlier series and has a whole new cast of characters. The main character in this book is fascinating, and really likeable. Zoomy is a 12 year old boy with some kind of mental handicap, maybe Aspergers, and a vision problem. Abandoned by his mother at birth, he lives with his grandparents in a small town. This boy has a challenge living in a world where sudden changed upset him, and he can only see things that are very close to his face. With the help of loving grandparents, who teach him coping skills and build a safe haven around him, he is able to be high functioning. Of course, that is what I, as an adult, see in the book. Younger readers will watch while he, and his new friend, Lorrol, unravel the mystery surrounded an old notebook, and save it from disappearing into the hands of a thief. If you are the kind of parent or teacher who wants their child to learn something from what they read, this is a great choice. It is tough to write a book that is both educational and really and truly entertaining, but Balliett pulls it off here. (306 p)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Pam Muñoz Ryan is an amazing crafter of words. She is a word artist, and it is probably nowhere more apparent than in this book. Why do the best writers always write sad books? This is a historical/biographical fiction based on the life of a famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Neruda was an assumed name. As a child he was called Neftali Reyes. In the book Neftali is a very shy sensitive boy. He lives with a loving stepmother, but a harsh, overbearing father. The relationship between father and son is achingly painful and all too realistic. Ryan manages to make it clear that the father really does love his son, and wants the best for him, but what he thinks is the best is to toughen the boy so he will survive in the adult world. In reality he crushes the boy's spirit, so Neftali cannot even talk to his father without stuttering. The Father heaps on him verbal abuse and makes him do things that are physically and emotionally battering. The boy is terrified of his father, but still wants to win his approval. Ryan's portrayal captures the complicated mix of emotions so that it rends your heart strings. Since Neftali grows up to be a famous poet, Ryan infuses the narrative with poetry--some of her own and some of Neruda's. It would take a very sensitive child to enjoy this book, but I think many adults would appreciate the honesty and artistry of the writing. (376 p)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Buttermilk Hill by Ruth White

It is sad that there are so many books about kids dealing with divorce. About 40% of all marriages in the US have ended in divorce, so I guess it really is a situation that a lot of kids deal with. In this book, set in the 1970's, Piper thinks her life is just about ideal. She lives in a small town wither her father and mother, and near her grandparents and her best friend, who is also her aunt. Then one day her father leaves and Piper's family slowly falls apart. I like the way the character deals with the divorce. She doesn't whack out or do anything mean or stupid. She is hurt by each of her parents, but she deals with her hurt by calling on friends and extended family for support. The book follows Piper for a number of years, and shows that things really do get easier to deal with over time. I think this is a good book to share with a child who is dealing with a divorce situation, either their own, or a friend's situation. (167 p.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci by Kathleen Krull

There are some things I like about this biography, and some things, or actually one thing, that I don't like. Kathleen Krull is quite a good nonfiction writer. Her language is natural and flows nicely. It almost sounds colloquial, but is formal enough to not be condescending. She writes about interesting stuff, and she gives a balanced view of people (she primarily writes biography) showing their good side and bad side. This biography focuses on da Vinci as a scientist instead of an artist. She spends a lot of time talking about his notebooks and all the amazing things that can be found in them. The thing I didn't like about this biography is that she includes a discussion about da Vinci's sexual orientation. She believes, (as, I believe, many modern scholars do) that da Vinci was gay. Now, that might be an interesting discussion in a biography of da Vinci written for adults, but I just don't think it is appropriate for a book written for children. Some kids might be street wise and world savvy enough to be interested in that little tidbit, but not all children are. I don't think da Vinci's sex life has a huge bearing on his accomplishments as an artist or scientist. He never wrote about it in his notebooks or proclaimed it publicly. What gives a children's biographer the right to do so. (124 p)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

When I was a kid we had a card game called, "Authors." It was a simple "Old Maid" kind of game where you collected 4 books by a famous author to make a set. The one with the most sets at the end of the game wins. It was a great game, too, because from it I learn a lot of famous authors and their most well known works. One of the authors in the game was Robert Louis Stevenson and one of his cards was Kidnapped. I really enjoyed Treasure Island, so when I saw this book this week I decided to give it a try. It was originally written in 1886 as an adventure book for boys, and it deals with the conflict between the British King George and the Scottish clans in the 1750's. I can see why a Victorian boy would have loved this book. It is full of all the kinds of adventures like sword fights, a shipwreck, long forced marches, treacherous relations, that still populate adventure fiction. The main character, David Balfore, is orphaned, so he goes to find his uncle who reportedly owns a big estate. When David meets his uncle he begins to suspect that he, David, is the rightful heir instead of his old miserly uncle. Of course, this is the case, and to prevent David from inheriting, the uncle pays a sea captain to capture David and sell him into slavery in America. David then goes through a book full of adventures, escaping the ship and making his way home through Scotland with the help of a rebel-rouser, Allen Breck, who is wanted for rebellion against the crown. It sounds like a great book for boys, right? The only problem is that it is full of Scottish dialect. By the end of the book the reader is totally conversant with Scottish terms like "ken" and "bairn". For modern boys it would take a really confident reader, maybe one who has read all of the "Redwall" series by Brian Jacques, to get through it (230 p).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Lemonade War by Jaqueline Davies

I will start right off by saying I did not like this book. I can see what the author was trying to do. I understand why a publisher might decide to have it published, but I personally didn't like it. It is a story about a brother and sister who are only 14 months apart in age. The younger sister is academically gifted and is going to skip a grade. This is really threatening to the older brother who struggles academically. His sister is going to be in his grade and he is afraid she will make him look like a dork. So all of a sudden the two siblings, who have historically gotten along really well, start being very mean to each other. The whole book is one big family fight. The two kids decide to have a contest who can earn the most money selling lemonade. The book, in addition to being a family drama story, is also a math puzzle book. The reader can follow along while the math smart Jesse figures out the profit margin if she sells her lemonade for 50 cents a cup. The reader learns about franchising, undercutting, value adding and a number of other financial terms. It is very education, I'm sure.

Here are the main things that bugged me. 1. The kids were so mean to each other. 2. The sister was so bright, but the brother was academically a little slow. In my experience, when one kid in a family is that bright, the other isn't going to be dumb. 3. At the end the kids make up and everything is all right again. I don't think, after being so mean, kids could get over it so easily. I think in a real family, if two siblings treated each other that badly, their relationship would be damaged for a long time, maybe for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, that was a bit of a rant. The writing wasn't bad, and the plot was well paced. Someone else probably would like it. (173 p)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

As with most of the books I "read" I actually listened to this book. I downloaded the MP3 version from Net Library and listened to it as I did my housework. On Net Library they only had the title as I wrote it above. As I was listening to it, I thought, wow, this is a pretty good adventure story. It has the feeling of Captains Courageous or Call it Courage (both excellent historical adventures every boy should read). --spoiler alert--A young teen, named Manjiro, is out on a Japanese fishing boat when it gets caught in a large storm. The boat is shipwrecked on a small island and the survivors are eventually picked up by an American whaling ship. At that time Japan was very isolationists. Foreign boats straying into their ports were not treated well, so the whalers drop the castaways in Hawaii. The captain comes to like the young boy, however, and adopts him as his son. He takes him back to America and the boy learns English and goes to school. Eventually he returns to Japan, just in time to be the interpreter when Admiral Perry lands in Japan and is instrumental in establishing the first Japanese and American diplomatic relationship. When they got to the part in the story when Manjiro goes to the California gold rush and gets enough gold to finance his return to Japan, I thought to myself, "Ok, that is a bit much. I wonder why the author thought she had to add the California gold rush into an already on-the-edge-of-unbelievable story?" When I got to the end of the book, there was an author's note that stated that all the major events of the story, including the California gold rush stuff, were based on a true story, I couldn't believe it. This Manjiro guy led an amazing life! I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. This is a great new historical adventure and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Benjamin Franklin, An American Genius by Brandon Marie Miller

Once again, I didn't include the entire title in the heading. The whole title is, Benjamin Franklin, American Genius: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities. This is one of the "His Life and 21 Activities" series published by Chicago Review Press. If you are a home schooler, this is a great series to discover. They are fairly extensive children's biographies, but they also include hands-on activities that go with the information in the text. I have read several in this series and they have all been well written and interesting. The activities are well chosen, too. Some are craft ideas and others are just educational activities. In this book there is one activity is about making glycerine soap (Franklin's parents were soap makers) and another explains experiments using static electricity.

Benjamin Franklin was such an amazing man. If you want to be inspired about how awesome the founding fathers where, read about Benjamin Franklin. Unlike most of the others, he didn't start out as an aristocrat. Through diligence, intelligence, good humor and discipline, he worked his way up from being a printer's apprentice to being one of the wealthiest and best known men in the Colonies. This book highlights his achievements, but also mentions his faults, so the reader gets a pretty even view of his life.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

I am a children's librarian, so most of what I read are children's books. Every once in a while, I get hankering for a more mature book, and the author I choose most often is Agatha Christie. I like the Miss Marple mysteries the best. The librarians in that side of the library call them cozy mysteries, nothing too creepy or gory. In this one, Miss Marble, an elderly English spinster from St. Mary Meade in England, goes on a vacation in the West Indies. While there she meets several charming couples, old and young, and everything seems idyllic, if a little boring. Then one of the older gentlemen is found dead in his bungalow, and Miss Marple wonders if he really died of heart disease as the local medical community thinks. As she begins to use her special old lady powers to investigate the incident, others are found dead. In the end it is a race against time and Miss Marple must keep her wits about her to prevent the final murder. The Miss Marple mysteries are so much fun. I really relate with the sweet old lady who is outwardly innocuous, but inwardly she is as sharp as her knitting needles. (245 p)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Here is a new book by Meg Cabot (author of Princess Diaries which is one of my least favorite of the books she has written). This is definitely a teen novel, and targeted, I think, at those who liked the Twilight series. Pierce is the daughter of a wealthy oil mogul. When she is 15 she falls into her family's swimming pool in the middle of the winter, and gets tangled in the pool cover. There she dies, and then finds herself on the other side, waiting to get on a boat to "a better place." She is confused and disoriented, so she approaches the young and handsome man who seems to be in charge of the place, and asks for help. He falls in love with her and through a series of events, she is able to escape the underworld and return to her body and be resuscitated. After Pierce recovers from the accident, whenever she is in trouble, John (the death deity) rushes into the mortal world to try to save her, sometimes nearly killing those who threaten her. Pierce is both afraid of and attracted to John and she doesn't know what to do about his continued attentions. This was a fairly gripping book, and the reader, like the character, is never quite sure how Pierce feels about John. I really couldn't foresee how the book would end, and for good reason. It ended as a terrible cliff hanger. Only a mega-famous writer like Meg Cabot can get away with ending the first book in a series that way. Often publishers want the first book to have a fairly satisfying ending, so that if it doesn't do well, they can decide not to publish the sequel. When Meg Cabot writes something there is never a doubt as to whether it will do well, so she is free to leave a cliff hanger and the poor readers have to wait X amount of months to find out whether Pierce is going to leave her earthly life and become John's consort in Hades. This really is a good read, but it has some mature themes and I don't recommend it for anyone under, say, 13. I kind of suggest, however, if you want to read it, wait until the second one is out, so you can read them back to back and won't be left in long and tortuous suspense. (304 p.)

The Name of this Book is a Secret by Pseudonumous Bosch

This a an odd little book. It is one of the books in which the narrator addressed the reader directly. The narrator starts by telling the reader that there isn't much he can say about the story because if it got out that the reader knew the whole secret they would be in danger. Of course, then the narrator goes on to tell the story, but occasionally he stops and say things like, "I can't really tell you the name of the school the children attended, but just imagine it was a grade school just like yours." The main characters, Cass and Max Ernest come across a box that contains some mysterious vials and learn that it once belonged to an old magician who had recently died in a suspicious house fire. They set out to discover what happened to the magician, and stumble on a society of evil alchemists with the power of prolonging their youth. It is a bit random. I think the demographic who would enjoy this book are children in the 3rd or 4th grade who are pretty confident readers. Older grade school kids might find it a bit silly. It was a fun read, but not as fun as N.E.R.D.s by Michael Buckley which has a similar narrator reader interaction. (360 p.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

This book is pretty classic Spinelli. Of course, Spinelli is a well known author and winner of the Newbery award for Maniac McGee. What he does best is write about children dealing with life's problems. In this book David, age 9, is mourning his mother's death, and Primrose, age 13, is dealing with a dysfunctional mother. Both are grumpy and touchy, but they cling to each other and eventually they learn to give to each other what they need most. Another thing that Spinelli does really well is to show children moving through the city scape. In this book the two children sneak out at night and go dumpster diving. It is a little disturbing to me that the kids in the story never have anything really bad happen to them while they are out wandering the streets all night. Adults will see this as a very risky behavior, but to children it may seem like a interesting and grand adventure. I am afraid that it might encourage young readers to try it. Despite this, it was a book that I liked. Spinelli is such a master a characterization and he respects the fact that children have deep emotions. His kids are so realistic your heart just aches for them. You can see them struggling bravely, but in a believable, kid-like manner. (224p)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bell Teal by Ann Martin

Anyone who is over about 30 should recognize the name of Ann Martin. She was the writer of the hugely popular and never ending Babysitter's Club books. Many of us librarians considered her a barely better than average mass market series writer. Then a few years ago she started coming out with some stand alone books that were quite good, and what's more surprising, very serious. This is just such a book. Belle Teal lives in a rural southern town during the beginning of school integration. Belle is one of the only students in her class that makes friends with the new black boy in her class. With staunch loyalty she tries to help the other kids see that he is just another kid. Racism is not the only issue in the book. As in almost all other "social issue" books, Belle's mother is a single parent. Belle's grandmother who babysits her while her mother is at work is starting to go senile. Of course, in these kinds of books there is always the friend who is the victim of child abuse. So this book has all the elements found in all the social issue books, but it is a good read and nothing very terrible happens. I was especially sensitive to the depiction of the grandmother. Some things Martin got right, like when the grandmother asks the same question the same way over and over again. Other things didn't seem quite right. The grandmother would call Belle her uncle's name. I don't think a senile person would mix genders like that. She might forget the child's name, or think she was her mother, but senile people can still tell a girl is a girl. Anyway, Belle is a very likeable person in the story. I was glad that the author resisted the temptation to have the bad guy child abuser do something really terrible to the black family. (214 p)

Horton Halfpott...by Tom Angleberger

I didn't include the full title of this book above because I wasn't sure it would fit. It is Horton Halfpott, or, The fiendish mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. It is a great title and a very funny book. I was excited to see it come out. I loved Angleberger's Origami Yoda. This book is very different from that, but it is so much fun. Horton is a dishwasher in the castle of Lady Luggertuck. She is normally a grumpy and difficult mistress, but one day she decides to loosen her corset. It makes her a little less grumpy, and the repercussions of "the loosening" are felt throughout the castle. Her son, Luther, is not happy about "the loosening," decides to try to make everyone as miserable as they were before. He devises a diabolical plan and it is up to Horton and his friends to try to stop him. The tone of the entire book is tongue in cheek. The names of the characters are hilarious, and Angleberger includes several sequences of very well written physical humor (people falling in the muck and that sort of thing). Behind it all, however, is very clever wit and quite pointed satire. I loved the bit about the Lady Luggertuck's perfume. This would be a great one to read aloud but kids will also like reading it themselves. (206 p)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse is known for her novels written in verse. Her poem/novel, Out of the Dust, won the Newbery in 1998 (?). I was a little intrigued to find this one written in prose so I decided to give it a try. Hannah is a Jewish girl who lives in Boston in 1918. During that year a terrible flu epidemic hit Boston and in the story people are dying all around Hannah. When her sisters and the aunt that takes care of them get the flu, her aunt tells Hannah to flee the city and save herself. Hannah boards a train, intending to go to a relative's house, but instead she is stricken with the flu and becomes delirious. She is taken to a charity hospital where she meets a wonderful older German man who takes care of her for a while. It is a beautifully written story. The prose has much of poetry in it. The relationship between Hannah and the old man is so sweet. The descriptions of the fear and tragedy caused by the epidemic are vivid but not overpoweringly depressing.

I was listening to this one on my MP3 player during the same period of time I was reading the Princess of the Midnight Ball (see below). I decided that one difference between children's realistic fiction and children's fantasy is that in the fantasy you are almost always ensured a happy ending. I was never in doubt that the Princesses would be saved in the end. In this book I really had no idea how it would end. The writer could have gone either way. Would Hannah discover her sisters had died and decide to stay with the nice old man, or would she return to Boston and find her sisters alive and well? There are no guaranteed happy endings in historical fiction.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

This was a good book to read after I finished Coraline. It helped get the creepies out of my soul. This is a novelization of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. That was one of my favorite fairy tales when I was a child. I even made an art work based on it and submitted it to the county fair when I was 12. This adaptation stays true to the original story, but fleshes out the details and the characters. One of the details that had bothered me in the original story was the princesses ages. In my childhood picture book, all the princesses looked like young adults and I wondered how they could all be sisters, and be so close in age. In this book, George has dealt with the issue admirably. She explains why the queen had so many girls so quickly. She also explains who the old woman was who gave the gardener the invisibility cloak, and how the girls came under the curse in the first place. The handsome gardener that saves them is very charming and likeable, the oldest sister with whom he falls in love is very charming and likeable. It is just a nice, normal, fairytale-ish book to snuggle with on the couch. (280 p)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This is one of the creepiest children's books I have ever read. It is hard to believe that any child could read it without getting nightmares. Amazingly, however, there is a certain group of children who just love it. I think they are the same kids who liked Goosebumps, or Series of Unfortunate Events.

In the book Coraline is an only child who is often overlooked and ignored by her parents. One day she goes through a magic door and finds herself in a home much like her own, but with an "other mother," and "other father." The counterfeits, who have black buttons for eyes, try to win Coraline's affection by giving her everything she ever wanted, but Coraline senses that she is more like dinner than daughter to them. The other mother catches her real parents, and Coraline must use all her courage and wits to save them. Even though this book is full of very disturbing images, it is really well written. The reader it totally transported into the weird, twisted world of the Other Mother. Coraline is so plucky that you feel sure she will triumph in the end.

I listened to this on CD. It was read by the author. Often books read by the author are not that well done (e.g. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle) because authors are not professional voice actors. In this case, however, I don't think anyone else could have done the story justice. Gaimen's cadence and inflection were utterly important to the delivery of the the plot and characters. (162 p)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

I have read a few horse books that I really liked. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson is a horse book I really enjoyed. This book, however, I had a hard time getting through. It has the most shameless, unadulterated, horse worship I have ever read. William lives in Northern England during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. As a young squire he falls in love with a red horse, named Hosanna. For the rest of the book, Hosanna is the end all and be all of creation. Hosanna passes, temporarily, from owner to owner, but each man who owns him decides to repent of their sins, and become a better person. In the final scene William is fighting a desperate battle during the crusade and men and horses are getting killed one after another. But when Hosanna gets wounded, both Christians and Serisans are so distraught, they stop the battle and work feverishly to save the horse. Admittedly, I am not a pet person. I have never had a strong emotional bond with an animal and maybe if I had I would understand the book better. Other elements of the story were fine. The characters were interesting and complex. Grant's portrayal of the Crusaders was well researched and close to historically accurate. The pacing of the whole book was a bit slow. I just couldn't swallow the fact that the main characters cared so much more about the horse than they did about the other people around them. (277p)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Forbidden Sea by Sheila Nielson

I didn't really read this book this week- I read it nearly a year ago-but I thought about it a lot. It was written by my good friend, and it is doing quite well. The reason I was thinking about it this week was because I made the mermaid's gold collar. I just finished it today. There is more about that on my regular blog.

Forbidden Sea is about a girl who lives on an island off the coast of England. One day her sister is by the sea when something, or someone tries to grab her and drag her under. Adrianne is able to save her sister, but receives some scrapes on her arm during the encounter with what seems to be a mermaid. The as the wounds fail to heal, Adrianne feels the mermaids calling her into the deep. This is a great fantasy read. The main character, Adrianne, is complex and strong but at the same time insecure and vulnerable. It is refreshing to read a fantasy where the main character has such a strong sense of duty to her family, even though her family life is less than ideal. Nielson's mermaid world is well thought out. She obviously spent time thinking about the details and logistics of an underwater existence. I hope there will be a sequel. (296p)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spitting Image by Shutta Crum

Jessie lives in a small poor town in the 60's. When a social philanthropist comes to town, Jessie gets involved with "the President's fight against poverty." She soon finds out that helping the "poor" is more complicated than she could have believed, especially when the "poor" are her friends and neighbors. How do they feel when people see how poor they are and when they receive help and attention from strangers? Jessie's best friend, Robert, is from one of the poorest families. His father is a drunk and his mother has to work all day to support the family. Dickie, who is a bully, has a father who is mean and violent. Jessie doesn't know who her father was, but she wants to find out. When this book came out in 2003 it got a lot of attention. Many librarians had it on their short list for the Newbery Medal. It has all the elements of a Newbery winner. It has more social issues than you can shake a stick at; unwed mother, abusive fathers, neglected children, alcoholism an much more. That said, they are handled well and are not oppressive. The main character is very sympathetic. She is big hearted, but hot headed and has to struggle to keep from getting into fights. The other characters are interesting, dimensional and realistic. The book deals with very difficult issues in a way that is accessible to fairly young children (maybe 6th grade and up). If there is a child, especially a girl, who likes to read social issue books, this is a good choice. Reader beware,-spoiler alert- in the end Jessie finds out that her inception was the result of a rape. Some kids in 6th grade can understand and deal with that kind of plot, but it might be too much for others. (218 p)