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.