Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted was published many years ago, and I have read it several times before.  I read it again for two reasons. One is that we are going to be highlighting it next month for our Library Kids book activity.  The second is that Ms Levine is coming to the Library in May for our Children's Book Festival.  Of course, Ms. Levine has written many books since Ella Enchanted. Her latest is a collection of poetry called, "Forgive Me, I Meant to Do it: False Apology Poems" which I may review here at a later date.  Suffice it to say, it has the same scrappy, attitudinal, style we have come to know and love with Levine's writing.  Of all her books, Ella Enchanted is still one of my favorites.  I heard her talk about it when she was visiting Provo about 10 years ago.  She said that she was reading fairy tales to daughter, and the stereotypical portrayal of the helpless females  bothered her. She is a really spunky New Yorker, although only about 5 feet tall and 100 lbs, dripping wet.  Anyway, she set out create a fairy tale with a stronger female character and ended up winning a Newbery Honor.  It is a great retelling of the Cinderella story, and I recommend it to both boys and girls. (232 p)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

City of Lies by Lian Turner

This the second in the series that began with The Museum of Thieves. I like the first one, but it ended so completely, I wondered what Turner could do with the second one.  In order to make the second story work, Turner takes the children, Goldie, Toadspit and his little sister, Bonnie, out of Museum of Dunt and to a new city that has it's own quirky magic. In that city, there is a Festival of Lies where everyone has to speak and act contrary to their normal manner.There is also a magical "big lie"  floating around the city.  If a townsperson gets caught in a big lie, and asks the right question, and gives the right answer they can be temporarily transported into a state where the lie they said comes true. It is, again, and interesting premise and magic system and Turner comes up with, if not surprising, at least entertaining adventures for the children as they try to locate one another, and defeat the evil forces that have followed them to the new place. (274p)

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Mo's was named Moses when she was saved from a flooded river during a hurricane when she was just a baby.  She is taken in and raised by a quirky but lovable couple who own a diner in a small town in North Carolina.  Things in that town get pretty interesting when there is a murder and Mo's friend, Dale, becomes a suspect.  Mo and Dale form their own detective agency and take on the case to clear Dale's name.  As the kids get closer to solving the mystery the danger to them and their families grows until they find themselves in a race against the murderer, and a hurricane, to save their parent's lives. I like this book because the kids really do act like kids.  They don't do anything amazing and they aren't smarter than the adults.  They just kind of do what they can, and it all works out for the best in the end. This book is full of delightful and interesting characters and the plot twists and turns will keep young readers turning pages until the very end. (312 p)

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

This is a book one of my co-workers suggested for our after school book club.  I was a little hesitant to choose it, thinking that it wouldn't have much appeal for the boys.  After reading it, I think I am going to give it a try.  Piper McCloud is born on the same farm where her father was born, and her father's father.  The McClouds have been very predictable, no-nonsense kind of people for generations, that is, until Piper comes along.  She is a ordinary farm girl in every way, except one.  She can fly. Her parents, trying to maintain normalcy and protect her from public ridicule, encourage her to suppress your flying. Eventually her special ability is discovered, and she is whisked away to a school for kids with exceptional talents.  At first she is excited to develop her flying skills, but after a while, she begins to wonder if there might be a darker purpose for the school. This was a decent  fantasy.  The parents are well drawn, the relationships between the kids at the school are interesting, and there are a couple of unexpected twists along the way.  One thing that I didn't quite buy is the fact Piper ends up having way more social skills than she realistically would have, having been raised alone, with no friends, or even acquaintances her age.  I don't think kids will notice that small shortcoming, and I think there are some fun activities we can do with the book for the book club. (329 p)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Icefall by Matthew Kirby

Solveig is the second daughter of an influential  old Norse war lord/chief.  As the story starts, Solveig and her younger brother and older sister are sent to a secluded lodge at the base of a glacier  as a safety precaution while their father fights the clan of one of the older sister's disgruntled suitors. The children are accompanied by some servants and guards.  Soon after they arrive, more of their father's men join them; the elite berserkers who are their father's most valued fighting men, and their father's bard.  As winter ice seals the water passage to the lodge, it soon becomes apparent that there is a traitor in their midst.  The interaction between the unlikely lodge-mates, each suspecting the other of fowl play, forms the main tension in the story. Solveig, always overshadowed by her more beautiful older sister, and protective of her younger brother, makes friends with both the  bard, and the berserker chief. The relationships between the characters are deliciously complicated.  Solveig wants to trust the other lodgers, but she also fears for her own and her family's safety.  The book is at once and action adventure, a mystery, and a coming of age story. 
I think if I had read the book instead of listening to it, it might have ended up on my starred review list.  Unfortunately, I think the performance of the recorded book dampened my appreciation of the story.  The reader is one of these woman who have a very young sounding voice.  She did a great job interpreting Solveig, the other female characters, and even some of the male characters.  But her performance of the bard character, who ends up being a kind of mentor to Solveig, just didn't work.  He is supposed to be a engaging performer and story teller, but the voice she chose for him made him sound like a whiny prig.  For the first half of the book, I pictured him that way.  Then I began to realize that he was supposed to be charming and persuasive, not ridiculous.  Once I got his character switched in my head, and mentally substituted a different voice for him, the story made a lot more sense. In a nut shell, I recommend the book, but not really the recording.  (325 p)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

In 1962 the Cuban missile crisis scared the begeebees out of every American.  What was it like to be a child back then? That is the question Wiles endeavors to answer in this  historical fiction/documentary.  Franny Chapman's father is a military pilot stationed in Virginia.  Franny's sister is just starting college and her little brother wants to be an astronaut.  Franny's uncle has serious PTS from WWII and is a source of extreme embarrassment to Franny when he starts to dig a bomb shelter in her front yard.  Then on October 16th J F Kennedy makes his historic announcement that Cuba has nuclear missiles pointed at the US.  All her other problems pale as she contemplates the possibility that she won't live to see her next Halloween. Between chapters of the story, Wiles inserts historical facts and culture bits reflecting the mood of the 60's.  There is a lot about how children were taught to duck and cover if there were a bombing.  There are also fairly long excerpts from Kennedy's speeches, and extended biographies of prominent historical figures of the time period.  It was all well written and tightly woven together.  It brought  back memories from my early childhood in the 60's.  Yet, with all that, I didn't like the book.  I have been trying to figure out why and I think I have it.  The tension never lets up.  It just builds and builds and the reader gets emotionally tired.  I think Wiles was trying to recreate the tension everyone felt during the crisis, but who wants to relive a crisis? Wiles needs to take a lesson from Shakespeare.  He always follows his most emotionally intense scenes with a bit a comic relief.  That is what this book needed.  It needed a bit of comic relief. That is just my opinion.  Two of my librarian friends at work loved it, and another couldn't get through it, so it was an even split.(377 p)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sammy Keyes and the Night of the Skulls by Wendelin Van Draanen is another long series that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  The first book in the series, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief,  is actually my least favorite.  Ms Van Draanen had a little difficulty settling into the characters.  But by the second book, things were off and running. So if you want to start the series, know that it is worth plowing through the first one to get to the others. The premise is that Sammy is an early teen (preteen in the first book) who lives with her grandmother in a senior high rise.  The fact that she lives there has to remain a secret because the place is government subsidized for seniors only.  Sammy has to sneak up and down the fire escape, sleep on the couch, and hide all her stuff so anyone visiting during the day won't suspect.  Sammy is a modern Nancy Drew.  Somehow she manages to get involved with one major criminal investigation after another.  Like Nancy Drew she has a cast of friends that help her with her cases.  A nice thing about the books, is that Ms Van Draanen uses the stories to take on interesting social and ethical questions.  In this one Sammy and her friends take a short cut through a grave yard on Halloween night and come across a grave robber.  During the adventure Sammy becomes acquainted with different cultural traditions surrounding death, like the Mexican Day of the Dead and Brazilian Day of Skulls.  It is a side theme, and Ms Van Draanen is good about not making the "morals" heavy handed, but just having them develop naturally with the plot.  The books have fun adventure, snappy dialog and interesting mysteries.  I do have to put in a caveat.  About half way through the series, Sammy acquires a boyfriend.  They don't do anything but an occasional hug or kiss, but 13 is pretty young, in my opinion, for even that level of intimacy. (304 p.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ranger's Apprentice Book 8: the Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

My 15 year old son heard me listening to this book on CD and asked what I was listening to.  When I told him he scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head.  "Really?  Have you listened to all the others, too?"  I had to admit that I had.  "But, mom, they are like: And then he drew his broad sword with one smooth motion and blocked the killing strike just inches from his head." (this he said in a mock-serious narrator voice) "I know." I said, "But I just like them."  

Of course that made me think: why have I enjoyed this series enough that I am on # 8 and still going strong.  I think the key is strong, interesting characters.  Halt, Will, and Horace are all different, but well defined and likable.  They are like the Harry Potter characters in that way.  I feel like I know them, and often when they do something in the story, I think to myself, "oh, yeah, it is just like Horace to do something like that."  Even the secondary figures are well drawn.  Alice, Gilian, Baron Arald, Lady Pauline, etc all have unique personalities.

The story lines are good, too.  OK, I have to admit the general story line is pretty much the same each time.  They go out on an adventure, and they meet the bad guys.  They seem to lose ground, but come out on top in the end.  But there is quite a bit of variation.  Flanagan takes on different social issues in each book. In this episode, Halt goes back to the country where he was born.  We find out that he really is from the royal family of Clonmel, and why he had to leave. Flanagan also deals with religious scams and explores how and why they work.   Flanagan's pacing is good.  He includes interesting details about being a ranger and a warrior. The reader of the recorded version, John Keating, is fun to listen to because he is good with accents. It was a fun book, and a great series for the kind of kids who breeze through a couple of fantasy books a week.   Hey, this series will keep them busy for a month or more. (358 p)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

As I perused the shelf at the library I saw this book and thought, "Wow, I didn't know John Grisham wrote anything for kids."  John Grisham, of course, is a hugely famous writer of legal thrillers.  Several of his books have been made in movies, and he has sold hundreds of millions of copies world wide. But being a good writer for adults doesn't necessarily make you a good writer for children, as this book proves. 

In this book, Theodore is the son of two lawyers.  He has grown up hanging around the court house, and is obsessed with the law and everything related to court.  It is an interesting and fresh premise.  I think the problem is that Mr. Grisham knows the law too well.  He asked himself, "what could a child realistically do to influence a real court case?", and the answer is, "not much."  That is exactly what Theodore does.  He gives legal advice to his friends whose dogs get caught by animal control, or whose parents are in foreclosure. But in the main case of the book, a murder trial, the whole book consists of him trying to get the courage to tell someone that he knows of a surprise witness.  Once he does, the adults take over, and he watches as they resolve the issue.  It is all very reasonable and realistic, but not very interesting. There is even a goon in the book, that suspects that Theodore is about to ruin his client's defense, but all he does is glare at the boy.  He doesn't even say anything threatening. Anyway, there is probably some boy, just like Theodore, who is a total legal geek, who will love this book. Most young readers would do better with Alex Rider, or Sammy Keyes. (263 p)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Jennifer, called Fer, rides a regular school bus to a regular school, like any other girl.  But she has always felt more at home in the forest around the farm where she lives with her grandmother.  One day she saves a strange boy from a pack of wolves.  The boy, Robin, is from another world, and Fer follows him back through "the way" to the place where her mother had been the true lady of the land.  Now that world is threatened by an evil force, and the longer Fer stays there, the more she realizes that it is her job to cleanse the land of the evil and set things to rights. This is a good, standard kind of strong girl fantasy.  Fer starts out as an unruly kid who doesn't fit but as the story progresses she gradually comes to recognize and accept her own power and the responsibility that goes with it.  She is  a likable character, and one that fantasy-loving girls will easily relate with.  The writing is fairly good, too, with nice description and flow.  The story ends, but is clearly the first of a series. (265  p)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Six Days by Phillip Webb

In a post apocalyptic England, British Scavs (short for scavengers) search through the ruins of London under the watchful eye of the Vlad (Russian) army.  They have been looking for "The Artifact" for a hundred years, though no one is sure what the artifact is.  Cass's little brother, Wilbur (both Scavs) thinks he has some clues to where the artifact might be.  While following one of them, he meets an odd boy, Peyto, in the tower of Big Ben.  Cass and Wilbur help the stranger get past the Vlad guards and out of the city, where they meet up with Peyto's friend, Erin.  Cass discovers that her two new friends are from a space ship and they, too, are looking for the artifact which was lost from the ship centuries before.  The four friends discover they only have 6 days to find the artifact, save the ship, and the world from utter destruction. 

There were some things from this story that were pretty far out there. It seemed pretty improbable to me that a whole Russian army would be dispatched for 100 years to look for an object that no one had ever seen and no one knew exactly what it did.  That is a lot of resources to throw at a rumor. Then, when the kids find the artifact, it is in the British Museum.  As the children walk through the deserted building, all of the displays and artifacts are sitting, intact, under a layer of dust. So we are to believe that London had been desolate for 100 years, but no one had ransacked the museum?  Also, the museum is full of hundreds of cats.  So what had the cats been eating for the last 100 years?

Despite the logical issues, I liked the book.  The characters were interesting and strong.  I enjoyed the voice of Cass, who speaks with a strong Cockney dialect and had a really spunky personality. Webb also tackled some interesting ethical issues in the final confrontation.  The reader should beware that their is a pretty high body count in this book, so it is not for the squeamish of heart. Over all it was a pretty good sci-fi for early teens. (336 p)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery

And so continues the fun started with The Mysterious Howling.  In this episode the Ashton family moves to London temporarily while the Ashton manor undergoes repairs (necessitated by the events at the Christmas Party the previous book).  In London Miss Lumley is eager to visit all the educations sites with the children. On their first day there they meet two important characters, a gypsy that fortells ominous dangers for the children, and a young handsome playwrite who soon becomes devoted to the children and their pretty governess. This book has more of the kind of witty fun found in the first.  The reader learns a little more about why Lord Ashton is interested in the children, and we get a few hints about Miss Lumley's own past.   Actually, this book doesn't progress the overall story very much, but it was fun and I am eager to read the third.  (313 p)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

Penelope Lumley is a Victorian orphan (or so we presume) ho grew up in a school for poor bright girls.  Upon graduation from the school, she takes a position as a governess at grandiose mansion in the English countryside.  She soon discovers that her three charges are children who had recently been discovered in the woods on the estate.  The children have been raised by wolves and when she first meets them they have decidedly doggy behaviors,  have never worn clothing, and speak with barks and growls.  Undaunted, the plucky Miss Lumley takes them under her wing and starts to teach them the art of being human. There are some very funny scenes where Miss Lumley is faced with the dubious tasks to teaching the two boys how to put on trousers, trying to get all three children to stop chasing squirrels, and how to teach them to say "socially useful phrases" at the appropriate times.  The mistress of the mansion does not like the children and does not understand why her husband of six months wants to keep them. Miss Lumley wonders this as well, and begins to believe there are sinister motives afoot. This was a delightful read.  I chuckled all the way through.  The juxtaposition of the prim and proper Miss Lumley with the wild but endearing children is handled so well and the all the side characters are funny and interesting.  The only drawback to the book is that it closes with many unanswered questions.  Never fear, there is a sequel and I will read it as soon as I get a chance. (267 p)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

This book got a lot of attention when it came out two years ago.  I think it was released when the last Harry Potter movie was the big event of the year, and this is definitely a book that would be comfortable on a "If you liked Harry Potter" list.  Goldie is a girl who lives in a society that is super protective of their children.  They are so protective that children are required to be tethered to their parents with a chain until they are 13 years old.  Goldie loves her parents, but longs to be free of the tether.  On her Separation Day there is a bombing and the separation ceremony is canceled.  Goldie escapes her bonds anyway and runs away to hide  in the city.  She finds her way to a "Museum" that, she soon discovers, holds magical forces from the past. When political strife threatens the Museum, she works desperately with her new found friends to keep the ancient evils from breaking loose and flooding into the city.  It is a solidly written fantasy with good pacing and interesting characters.  I find the whole premise of the over protective society to be an interesting one.  It made me ask myself if modern society is over protective or under protective.  In some ways I think it is both.  Children are often not allowed to go out and play unsupervised like I did as a child. It is considered too dangerous.  On the other hand, children are exposed to unprecedented levels of violence and other mature material on TV and on the internet.   I think, perhaps, we are too physically protective, and not spiritually protective enough.  Anyway, it was a fun read and I will probably read the next one in the trilogy. (312 p.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

At the library where I work, I teach an after school program for kids age 8-12.  The third week of each month we do an activity based on a book.  I do the activity with my friend and co-worker, Sheila Nielson, and she suggested this book for the month of October.  The Bliss family have been bakers for generations.  They have a special cook book that contains recipes with magical powers.  When the Bliss parents are called to a nearby city to help put down a flu epidemic with their croissants, the children are left to run the Bliss bakery on their own.  The day after their parents leave, their "Aunt Lily" shows up on the doorstep and volunteers to help them while their parents are gone.  Rose, the second child and oldest daughter, is suspicious of Tia Lily, but is also eager to try some of the magical recipes her parents use. The recipes don't go well, and one humorous calamity after another befalls Calamity Falls (the town here they live) because of recipes gone wrong.  The author does a good job with pacing and plot line.  At first the mishaps are relatively small and contained, but then they get bigger and more ridiculous until the final climax is utterly silly and involves everyone in town. I think a 8-10 year old would think it was hilarious.  What the author doesn't do as well is characterization.  The point of view character, Rose, is supposed to be going through internal turmoil because he wants to be beautiful and powerful like her aunt, Lily, but she senses that what Aunt Lily is wanting to do with the magical recipes is unethical and unwise. Yet I am never convinced that Rose is a real person.  She swings too easily and too dramatically from one state of mind to another.  It isn't believable in the end when she is considering leaving her family and becoming a TV star with her aunt. She was clearly a character made to fit the plot, instead of having the plot arise out of the character.  Despite that observation, I am not sorry we chose the book for a program theme.  There is so much we can do with the magical recipe idea in terms of games and activities. It should be a fun event. (374 p)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Scumble by Ingrid Law

This is the second in the series that started with the Newbery Honor book, Savvy.  I liked Savvy and even read it aloud to my family.  This book was different, but I liked it as well.  Ledger Kale is a cousin to the savvy characters in the first book.  The story starts on his 13th birthday when he receives his special ability, his savvy, which seems to be the power to destroy things made out of metal.  At first his savvy is uncontrollable and he causes a lot of damage, so his parents leave him at his uncle's farm to give him time to learn to control, or scumble, his talent. While there he meets the daughter of the local financial czar and together they get into a great deal of trouble.  During the summer Ledge learns to control not only his savvy, but also his fear and anger, and saves the family farm in the process. At first Ledger's "voice" was a little distracting.  The author has him use a lot of quaint similes and metaphors  and they sounded a little too contrived to me.  As the story went on I got used to them, and I ended up liking the main character pretty much.  His frustration as he tries to learn to control himself is something I think all kids and even adults go through at some time in their lives, but of course, on a less spectacular level.  Law surrounds Ledge with enough interesting characters, and puts him through enough funny high jinx that a reader might not even realize they have learned a lesson about self control.(400 p.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Isn't it amazing when an author hits a home run the first time they come up to bat.  Gail Carson Levine did it with Ella Enchanted, Kate diCamillo did it with Because of Winn Dixie, and Palacio does it here with Wonder.

August is a boy with a major deformity of his face.  He has never attended school, mostly because he had been in and out of the hospital since he was born, having undergone more than two dozen reconstructive surgeries. Finally, at age 11, he is strong enough to try school.  At first he is very nervous.  His face is so misshapen that is sometimes scares people.  His class mates at school do not know what to think of him and are afraid to even touch him.  But a few of the children reach out to Auggie, and over the school year his courage inspires admiration and friendship from his peers.  This book is so well written.  The characters seem completely authentic and the boy, Auggie, and his family are so likable   The story doesn't candy coat things.  It shows how painful it can be to be "not normal" and how people can be cruel both intentionally and unintentionally. Although the book is honest, it is not a big downer.  The overall tone is upbeat and the author portrays those kids who are willing to overlook Auggie's disfigurement as real heroes.  There is a lot of talk around my library that this as a strong contender for this year's Newbery. I hope so.  I would love it if every kid in the country would read this book. (315 p)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke is a German author who became internationally known for her first book The Thief Lord. Since then she has written several fantasy novels and a couple of picture books that have done very well.  With this book she has clearly moved into the teen genre. This is darker and edgier than any of her other books I have read.  Jacob Reckless' father disappeared when Jacob was just a boy.  When Jacob was a pre-teen he discovered that a mirror in his father's office leads to another world.  When the main action of the story starts, Jacob has been moving between the two worlds for several years, sometimes living in the real world, but in many ways preferring the mirror world. The mirror world holds the fairy tale stories and legends from this world, but they don't necessarily have happy endings.  Jacob works as a treasure finder, recovering glass slippers, Rapunzel hair, and other magical items for wealthy customers. One day Jacob's little brother follows him into the mirror world, and is poisoned by an evil fairy.  The throughout the rest of the book Jacob tries to discover a way to keep his brother from turning into a stone creature because of the fairy's poison. Jacob has a girl friend who can shape shift into a fox. Jacob's brother, Will, also has a girl friend who follows him into the mirror world.  The relationships between the four main characters are complicated and interesting. The politics of the mirror world are also interesting, and readers will recognize repeated references to twisted fairy tales.  One reason the book is not really appropriate for grade school age children is that there are several references to Jacob's affairs with several female characters, but it is all on the level of innuendo. Overall it wasn't a bad fantasy read, but I liked some of Funke's other books better. (394 p) 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffery Brown

I was looking through the new book cart today, and came across a delightful bit of humor. What if Darth Vader had known about Luke as a child and had decided to try to be a good dad.  This answer is in the form of a short comic/picture book.  Each page is a snap shot from an alternate Star Wars reality, where Vader is interacting with the 4 year old Luke.  This sideways look at Star Wars is so funny it made me laugh out loud more than once.  Brown manages to weave in quotes from all the Star Wars movies, but puts them in a new parental setting.  For example, little Luke is trick or treating, dressed as a storm trooper,  and the lady at the door says, "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?"  On other pages Brown just takes typical scenes from fatherhood, and translates them into a Star Wars groove. On one page, the little Luke is asleep in his dad's arms, and Vader is thinking, "My arm is totally asleep". That has probably happened to most young dads, but somehow it is more humorous coming from Vader's black helmet. The illustrations are just as funny as the text with every page packed full of Star Wars cliche.  Boys old and young are going to like this one but be warned, there is some potty humor. (picture book)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Deedy and Randall Wright

Carmen Deedy is a wonderful author and storyteller.  I have seen her perform at the Timpanogos Story Telling Festival.  She has written some amazing picture books.  The range from quite serious and touching (14 Cows for America) to silly and fun (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach).  This is one of her first chapter books and it fits into the latter category.

Skilly is a cat who manages to get adopted by the owner of an eating establishment in Victorian England.  The the inn owner, Henry, takes Skilly on as mouser, but Skilly doesn't like to eat mice.  Instead he makes a bargain with the mice to supply him with his favorite food, cheese, in return for protection.   Skilly becomes friends with the mouse leader, Pip, and together they fend off a less friendly cats and ultimately solve the mystery of the Queen's missing tower raven.  One of the regular patrons of the inn is Charles Dickens and there are all kinds of cute references to famous Dickens quotes. This one is similar in flavor and reading level to Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowery, and like that, is a great book for low age/ high reading level readers. It would also be a fun read aloud for families with young children. (228 p)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson

11 year old Jack and his mother planned one last camping trip before school started.  But on the way to the camp ground, Jack and his mother quarrel, and when Jack wakes up in his tent the next morning, his mother, the car, and all her camping equipment are gone.  Jack is not as surprised as most children would have been.  Jack's mother has left him before for short periods of time. So he waits, but she never returns.  Finally he decides to make his way from Main to his home in Boston on his own.  The book is an account of how he makes his way, finds food, shelter and transportation so it is kind of a urban survival story.  It is also a story about a child dealing with his mother's mental illness. Flashbacks show how, over time, Jack learns to cope with his mother's "Spinning Times" when she loses all sense of propriety and goes off on wild tangents. Jack is a sympathetic character.  He is both intelligent, but realistically 11 years old. He makes what, to a child, would seem to be logical plans that then go wrong. Over the course of the book he gradually accepts the fact that his mother can't take care of him anymore, and that there are other people he can turn to for help.  (275p)

Winter Pony by Ian Lawrence

There are some kids, usually girls, who love books about horses.  I am not one of them.  I never did go "horse crazy" as a child.  I would not have normally picked up a book with a beautiful white horse on the front.  But this book is by Ian Lawrence, and I would basically ready anything by Ian Lawrence because he is an amazing writer and storyteller.  His book, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, is one of my all time favorite books.

This is the story of the ill fated attempt of the Englishman, Robert Falcon Scott, to be the first man to reach the south pole.  He was racing the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen in 1910-1911.  Admundsen used dog sleds, but Scott decided to use motor vehicles, dogs, and ponies.  This story is told from the point of view of one of the ponies whom them men named James Pig. He was born a wild pony in Russia and was captured and used in a mine for several years before he was purchased by Scott's party.  As it turned out all of Scott's ponies were old and broken down before Scott's agent purchased them. As they make their way south one after another of the ponies come to an unfortunate end.  It is a heart wrenching book, but a beautiful book, too.  Lawrence is so good at depicting deep emotion without sounding sappy.  The core of the book is James Pig's relationship with his handler, Patrick.  It was difficult for the horse to trust a human because he had been mistreated in the mines. During the trek Patrick shows the pony kindness after kindness, until in the end James Pig would have done anything for the man.

I liked the book and it made me cry, but there was one thing that bothered me just a little bit.  Lawrence anthropomorphised the horse a little too much.  The pony understood things about human culture that he couldn't have known with his limited experience with people.  Lawrence depicted him as if he were a human in a horse's body instead of a horse.  Still, the book was so well written that I was willing to forgive the one shortcoming. (246 p)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Red Blazer Girls: the Vanishing Violin by Michael D. Beil is the second in the Red Blazer Girls series.  This series is a modern incarnation of the Nancy Drew type novels, except instead of having one female detective, Beil has a group of four friends that work on mysteries together.  There is a lot here that grade school reader girls will like. The girls are intelligent and popular.  There is a little bit of romance and a little bit of rule breaking, but not too much.  The girls each have their own abilities, and they each get their moment in the sun as they solve the mysteries.  The clues are written in such a way that the reader can try to solve them, too.  In this one someone decides they are going to make an elaborate set of puzzles clues for the girls.  If they can solve them, one of the girls will be given a valuable violin.  As the girls work on the clues, another violin is stolen from a violin shop near the coffee shop where the girls hang out.  The girls then have two mysteries to solve, one that is a game, and the other that is a real crime. Beil does a good job of writing age and gender appropriate snappy dialog of the characters.  They sound like pre-teen girls that would be fun to hang with. Everything about the story is an idealized, improbable, every-12 -year-old-sleuth's wish-come-true type of adventure. (329 p)

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

Charlie Jackson is cool, he's smart, he's popular, and the cutest girl in his grade has a crush on him.  But Charlie does not like to read, so he has a long standing agreement with his friend, Timmy, to read books for him, and tell him a detailed summary of the plot. Then the unthinkable happens.  Timmy develops a crush on a girl, and with it a conscious.  He decides he isn't going to cheat for Charlie any more, and Charlie finds himself scrambling to find a replacement. It is amazing, and funny, what lengths Charlie will go to to avoid doing his reading assignment.  Of course, in the end he gets caught and has to face the dire consequences. guess after reading Schooled I was still in the mood for school books.  I not not much of a fan of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and this one looks like it is catering to the market, but I decided to read it anyway.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  The reason why I like this book better than Wimpy Kid is that Charlie is actually really socially intelligent.  Maybe because I was so socially awkward as a teen myself, I find it painful to read about kids who are socially backward. Charlie, however, is popular and cool.  I also liked it because the author resisted the temptation to have Charlie end up discovering the joy of reading in the end.  Charlie ends the book disliking reading as much as he did in the beginning. He faces the consequences of his decisions, but he doesn't have a miraculous conversion.  Some kids never do. Greenwald does a good job of communicating that not being a reader makes a lot of things in life harder, but it is not the end of the world.  As much as I hate to admit it, you can still be a good person and have a good life, even if you are not a reader. (220 p)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Cap, short for Capricorn, has lived with his grandma on a communal farm all his life. The community where he lives is a remnant of the 60's nature/hippy movement. He has never watched TV, he has never handled money, and has never even had a hair cut.  When he is 13 years old his grandmother breaks her hip, and he is put into a foster home and sent to a public middle school.  Of course, he is utterly bewildered by his introduction into the modern world and quickly becomes the target of all the 8th grade jokes. The funny thing is that he is so oblivious to social norms that he hardly realizes that he is being ridiculed.  He is a pure example of the 60's nonviolent, peace-love-harmony principles, and he gradually wins over one student after another. This is a story reminiscent of Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli, but it is a lot less melancholy.  It is serious in places, but it is also really funny, and the ending is upbeat and hopeful.

At my library we do a monthly book club for kids age 9-12.  This is the book we have chosen for the kids to read for the book club in September--a kind of "back to school" selection.  The book has a lot of potential for group discussion and fun activity ideas.  We just have to do some kind of tie-dye craft and ti-chi game. It should be a fun program to plan.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vidia and the Fairy Crown and Lily's Pesky Plant

These are two short chapter books in the Disney Fairies series by Laura Driscoll and Kirsten Larsen.  One area where children's literature has gotten a lot more fun in the past 20 years is in the intermediate readers.  I would have loved books like this when I was in second or third grade.  In the first book, Vidia, a rather disagreeable fairy, is accused of steeling the Queen's crown.  She carefully follows clues to try to clear her name.  In the second, a garden fairy named Lily finds an unusual seed and plants it.  The plant that results causes all kinds of problems for the fairy kingdom.  It smells bad and the pollen gives everyone allergies.  The other fairies want to cut the plant down, and Lily has to decide where her loyalties lie, with her beloved plants or with the other fairies.  The authors of the stories do a good job of balancing the desire to make the stories have happy endings, and the desire to be not be too sappy.  I especially liked the fact that Vidia stays pretty grouchy, even after she receives help from a very sweet fairy, Prilla.  I am not a huge fan of the Disney brand, but these are a fun choice for little girls who are ready to move from early readers to something a little longer. (112 p and 110 p)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rip Tide by Kat Falls

Here is the sequels to one of my starred books, Dark Life. It follows the story of our hero, Ty, and his girl of choice, Gemma as they try to survive in the chaotic world of undersea settlements in a post apocalyptic earth.  In this story Ty's parents are kidnapped as they try to sell food to "surfs." Ty is determined to find his parents and follows their trail through a path of corruption, greed and violence.  While on the trail, Ty discovers a plot that is taking the lives of hundreds of less fortunate sea dwellers.  This story is a bit darker than Dark Life.  Falls explores how society can exploit the less fortunate while government looks the other way. It was a good story, and as in the first book, the depiction of human adaptation to undersea life was very creative and interesting.  I liked it but it doesn't quite make it on my starred book list. (304 p)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paul Klee by Mike Venezia and Paul Klee by Jill Laidlaw

Last week I reviewed a book about Paul Klee for SLJ. As part of my preparation for writing that review, I read two other children's biographies about Klee.  The Venezia one is part of a series of biographies of world artists called "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists."  They are targeted at early grade children with large font and only a few sentences per page.  They are illustrated with color reproductions of famous artwork surrounded by cartoons.  The people in the cartoons make, often humorous, comments about the artwork.  It is a great series for introducing 2nd or 3rd graders to artists.  (32 p)

The other biography is targeted at a slightly older age group.  It is from a series called "Artists and Their Time" and it gives more historical background than the Venezia.  It was obviously created with report writers in mind and has a glossary, time lines, and lots of extra information boxes on every page.(46 p)

There is a lot of abstract art that I really like and Klee was a pretty typical Abstract artist. In my opinion, an abstract artist has to prove they have the skill and talent to do realistic art before he/she breaks away to do the abstract stuff. Klee was doing good realistic sketches while he was still in high school.  He broke away from that fairly early, and got involved with avant guarde groups from Germany and Russia.  One thing I respect about Klee is that not all his work looks the same.  You see something form Jackson Polluck or Georgia O'Keefe and you know instantly who the artist was.  Klee was always trying something new. I don't like everything he did, but some of it connects with me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mee-An and the Magic Serpent by Baba Wague Diakite

This is a charming folktale written by a native of Mali. A beautiful young girl is looking for a perfect man to marry.  She has plenty of suitors, but always finds a flaw.  Finally a serpent magically disguises himself as a perfect man and marries Mee-An.  Luckly, Mee-An's sister knows magic, and she discovers the serpent's plan to fatten up and eat his wife.  The two girls are able to escape on the back of a giant black heron.  The illustrations are also done by Diakite and give an interesting view of the people, animals and landscape of Mali.  I think that picture books can be a wonderful way to teach children about other cultures.  If I were still doing daycare, I would read the book to the children, and then we would look up Mali on the map.  If I wanted to expand the activity, we could look up a native African recipe or food to eat for lunch, and then try to draw a picture in the same style as the ones in the book. (picture book)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Messenger by Lois Lowry

This is the third book in the series that began with The Giver.  In this book the little boy from the second book, Matty, has grown up and is now a teen living with Kira's father in The Village.   The Village used to be  a place of refuge for outcasts from other communities, but things have begun to change.  Some of the residents have become more materialistic and selfish, and threaten to close the boarders.  The forest reflects the changes in the community, and has become more menacing and dangerous. Kira's father, The Seer, asks Matty to travel back to his old home and bring his daughter, Kira back to him.  They both understand that it might be the last chance for them to be reunited.

I really liked The Giver, and I liked Gathering Blue, but this book just doesn't hang together well.  There are things that happen that are not really explained and I finished the book feeling rather unsatisfied.  I have heard that Ms Lowry is coming out with another in the series this fall, even though this book came out clear back in 2004.  I hope it will tie up and explain some of the loose ends. (169 p.)

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

I usually read children's books because I am a children's librarian, plus I really do like children's literature.  Every once in a while I get a Christie craving, and indulge in a Miss Marple Mystery.  In this one a wealthy man drops down dead at his office in London.  Then a few days later his wife, and then his servant die as well.  Each of the victims have peculiar evidence on them when they are found.  The man has rye in his pocket and the maid has a clothes pin on her nose.  It takes a shrewd old lady to make the connection with the well known nursery rhyme and figure out who would perpetrate such an unusual set of murders.

I have been trying to figure out what makes the Agatha Christie mysteries so fun to read.  First of all,  all of the victims and suspects are not particularly likable.  As a reader you are not emotionally attached to any of them, so you can view the murder with a disinterested curiosity. The most likable characters, namely Miss Marple and whomever she is working with to solve the crime, (this time an inspector) are the ones that the reader cares about, and since you know that it is a certain kind of mystery, you know they will figure it all out in the end.  Of course, Christie is a master if giving the reader just enough clues and false clues to make the puzzle interesting and challenging. Still, I have found that, more times than not, if I choose the least likely suspect at the beginning, I am usually right at the end.  Anyway, it was a fun and fast read. (185p.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

You have to love Rick Riordan.  I have said it before, I think he is the best fantasy action writer out there for kids right now.  This latest in his Heroes of Olympus series is very much like his other Percy Jackson books.  Demi-gods are thrown together.  There is a quest during which they bond and learn more about their powers.  In the end they are victorious.  Even though these are starting to get formulaic they are still loads of fun.  It is especially fun for me, a Humanities major with an emphasis in Latin, to see how Riordan has portrayed the Roman demi-god camp.  I think he was right on the dot in the way he portrayed how they used the senate, and the importance of politics in Roman society. Of course, Riordan did a big set up for the final book in the series, and I am totally eager to read it. (521 p.)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce

This is a new series featuring the imaginary heroes from childhood.  In this one Nicholas starts the story as a swashbuckling bandit, but is changed by his love of a little girl into the kind and magical St. Nicholas all children know.  In the process Nicholas and Katherine (the little girl) must team up with the good wizard, Ombric, and the mysterious spectral boy to fend of the evil powers of the Nightmare King.  It is a very imaginative story.  When I was a very little girl growing up on the Wasatch Front in Utah, I used to look up at the outline of the trees along the crest of the mountains and I thought it was the Pioneers Crossing the Plains.  I had heard about the "pioneers crossing the plains" all my short life, and the silhouette looked just like what I had heard about, so I thought there were pioneers up there perpetually walking with their animals and pulling their handcarts.  That is the kind of imagination this book calls upon.  If a child has that kind of imagination, this is a wonderful story full of excitement, courage and heart. The book is lavishly illustrated and full of warm reassurances that if we can only believe nothing really bad will ever happen to us. The other books in the series, "The Guardians," feature the Easter Bunny and the Man In the Moon. (228 p)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

As I read the first quarter of this book I groaned inwardly.  It started out sounding rather cheesy.  Ms McMann made some mistakes that I believe are common with inexperienced writers. The book starts with a boy, Alex, who is about to be "eliminated."  In the society all children are watched from birth.  As they approach age 13 they are categorized as Necessary, Wanted or Unwanted.  Those that are unwanted are taken to a lake of boiling oil and thrown in. In the book the families of the "Unwanteds" hand their children over to death without much fuss. The children who are unwanteds walk to their death without protest. So here is problem #1. For the rest of the book the characters act like pretty normal, rational human beings.  The giving over of the children to death is so contrary to normal behavior it defies belief. In other words, I did not think their was enough support in the story that I would believe that parents and children would act that way. The author needed to convince me more that this would happen in that world. 
As the children walk to their supposed death, and the gate of the city is closed behind them, they are suddenly magically transported in to a world more wonderful than they ever knew exited. The children see bright colors and experience music and art for the first time. So here is problem #2.  The author records their response to their miraculous rescue as a group.  Except for one dissenter child, all the children act in tandem.  They gasp as a group, they look around wide eyed as a group. The author even suggests that they are all thinking the same thing at the same time.  So that is a tidy way to relate that part of the story, but in real life people do not act in tandem. They have similar feelings and reactions, but if someone tells us they are feeling the and doing the exact same thing at the same time, we do not believe them. It would have worked better if the reader would have seen Alex's thoughts, and seen through Alex's eyes what one or two of the other children were doing.  Then the reader would naturally extrapolate that the group as a whole were having similar feelings.  Does that make sense?  

We, as human beings have a limited ability to take in detail.  We don't  perceive everything with which we come in contact.  When we see a tree, we don't look at every leaf on every branch.  We see a few leaves on one branch, and then we notice that there are more, so we assume that the other leaves and branches are like the one we looked at more closely.  The part suggests the whole. The opening scenes of the book would have worked better if McMann would have given us the part in more detail, and then just suggested the whole.

OK, that was long winded.  The rest of the book got better, and I actually enjoyed the story.  The magic system was based on art.  The children learn fighting spells that are associated with painting, singing, dancing and acting, which I thought was kind of fun. The interpersonal relationships were quite complicated. How does one feel toward your family if they gave you up to be killed without regret? Reader beware that in the final battle some of the children face their own parents and siblings, and the family members try to kill each other. So if that bothers you you might want to skip this one. (390 p.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

This was an interesting little story.  It starts with a grown woman, looking at a picture from her childhood.  She remembers two boys, brothers, who came as immigrants from Mongolia to her school in Bootle, England thirty years earlier.  The first day they are at the school they choose her as their "good guide" and she accepts the appointment with gusto.  She helps them learn to fit in, dress normally, and play football. Then, one day the boys don't show up at school. She goes to look for them and they meet and take an almost mystical journey to a nature reserve in a nearby town.  After the adventure she leads them back home, only to have them be deported soon after.  The story is a little odd, and the characters are quirky, but the whole is charming and engaging.  There were a few scenes where I laughed out loud.  For Americans it is a different look at illegal immigration. (42 p) 

The Kind of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Oh, delicious, delicious! My faithful followers will know that I really liked the first two books in this series, The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. This book now confirms Eugenides as one of my favorite characters in children's literature.  The book starts, as the other two did, with someone in jail.  This time it is not Eugenides, but a young soldier, Costis.  He is in jail because he punched the new king of Attolia, Eugenides, in the face, and he knows he must die.  However, Eugenides pardons Costis and makes him his personal attendant. Costis soon discovers that the reprieve is only a partial one, as Eugenides finds endless ways to try Costis' patience and loyalty. Like all of Attolia, Costis hates the new king because they believe that he stole the crown and the queen. As Costis watches the new king as he blunders his way around the court, he begins to wonder if there is more to Eugenides than meets the eye.  Admitedly, this book starts a little slowly.  Costis is just not as interesting of a point of view character as Eugenides.  But it gets so wonderful in the middle.  There are some really priceless scenes that I savored in my mind for days afterward. Turner does a great job showing how Eugenides transforms from a man to a king, and how his love for the queen transforms her from a tyrant back into a woman. (387 p)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Of Mice and Magic by David Farland

This is a book by a local publisher and author. It was a cute story about a boy who gets changed into a mouse by a mouse wizard, and goes on a quest to save all the mice in the world who are caged in pet shops.  The characters in the book are surprisingly complex, and Farland does a good job of creating a voice for each.  My main problem with the book is that Farland writes in superlative.  Whenever a character gets upset they are weeping, or trembling or shaking with emotion.  There is no subtlety.  This creates two problems.  First, the author cannot build up emotion to an emotional climax because it is so high from the beginning.  Second, the reader gets emotionally tired out early in the book, and after that it is easy to just laugh when the character is shaking with rage, or weeping with despair yet again.  I think children might not be bothered by this particular writing deficiency as much as adults, and will probably enjoy the creative story and premise. (276 p)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen is an interesting guy.  He doesn't do public appearances very often because he is rather reclusive and likes to take long solitary trips in the wilderness.  We were lucky at the Provo Library to get him to visit a few years ago and he spoke just like he writes with a no-frills, warts-and-all frankness that is miles away from any attempts at "political correctness."  This is a different kind of book for him and a different kind of Revolutionary War narrative than I have ever read.  He states in an author note that he was trying to write an unvarnished view of what the Revolutionary War was like.  I get the feeling that he believes that children's books often over romanticize that war more than, perhaps, other wars because it is connected with the founding of our nation and our national identity.  In this story, a boy, Samuel, lives on the frontier.  One day while he is out hunting a group of Hessian mercenaries come and slaughter most of the people in his little town, and take his parents captive. Samuel sets off on a perilous trip to try to free his parents from the British.  In between each chapter Paulsen includes often gruesome historical facts about how British treated prisoners, and how many died in overcrowded prison camps and the like.  It is a book that will appeal to boys and really does offer a whole new perspective on the Revolutionary war. (164 p)

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerrlizzi

DiTerlizzi is most famous for his series, The Spiderwick Chronicles. This book is like that series in  some ways.  It is a short fast read, and deals with a child discovering that magical creatures are real.  This book, however, is much less intense and scary than the Spiderwick Chronicles. Kenny is the son of a simple farmer.  One day the farmer comes home all a blither because he has seen a dragon on their property. Kenny is an adventurous young rabbit (yes, the family are rabbits) and he goes to the hill to see the dragon for himself.  The dragon, Grahame, turns out to be kind, intelligent, and cultured, and Kenny and he become instant friends. Not everyone in the village feels as friendly to Grahame, so the King calls on his famous dragon slayer, Sir George, to dispatch the creature.  It is up to Kenny to find a way to keep the town from hurting Grahame, and visa versa.  This is a cute, non-threatening adventure story. Kenny, Grahame, Kenny's parents, and even George have comfortable, likeable personalities. This book is a good choice for kids who like How to Train Your Dragon as either a read alone, or read aloud. (151 p)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

Have you ever played the game where one person starts a story, and then then next person has to add on, and then then the next.  We used to play it during road trips when I was a child.  Now imagine the game being played by some of the most famous children's authors of our generation; M.T. Anderson, Natalie Babbit, Susan Cooper, Kate Di Camillo, Steven Kellogg, at others.  You would think that it would end up being the greatest add-on story ever, but in reality, it is amazingly silly.  I think one of the reasons it turned out so silly is that they let Jon Scieszka start the story.  He took the liberty of predicting, in the first chapter, a whole long list of outrageous elements that would appear in the story.  The other authors must have just shook their heads and rolled their eyes, but they charged on and it became more outrageous with every installment. In the story, a set of twins, Joe and Nancy, have been raised in the circus as orphans.  On their 11th birthday they receive a mysterious card that gives clues to their identity and the fate of their parents.  As the story continues they encounter pirates, talking animals, alien eggy things, time travel, and all manner of crazy plot twists.  A child might think it was funny, but for someone who has read a lot of children's literature, it is interesting for other reasons.  As each new author takes up the story it is fun to see that author's style and personality come through.  Some even add references to their own books in the story.  The craziest of the authors was Lemony Snicket.  His chapters were just bizarre, while Katherine Paterson, and Linda Sue Park struggled to bring the story back to some kind of order when it was their turn.  At one point, one of them, (I think it was Linda Sue Park) had one of the characters say something like, "Well, we could wander around having strange adventures for ever, but then our story would never come to an end," a not-so-veiled hint that the other authors needed to get a move on with the plot.  The most amazing part was that one author, (I think it was M.T. Anderson) actually wrote one chapter that was suddenly so touching I almost teared up.  I thought, wow! now there's a good writer.  The story originally appeared on the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance web site, a chapter at a time.  It is an interesting concept, but, as I said, a very silly book. (276 p)

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Heather Dixon is a Utah author.  I heard her speak last year at a librarian conference.  She was cute and bubbly and as part of the conference fee we each received a copy of Entwined. She not only signed every copy, she made us each a bead book mark to go in our copy. Despite this gracious introduction to the author,  I never got around to reading the book until this week.  This is a novelization of the Twelve Dancing Princesses story.  Of course the big challenge when you write a novel based on a fairy tale, is to resolve all the fantastic details and somehow have them make sense.  There are several issues with the Twelve Dancing Princesses story.  How could there be twelve sisters all old enough to go dancing?  Why do they keep going to dance each night?   What is their relationship with the king, their father?  Do they really want to marry their enchanted partners in the end?  Dixon does a reasonably good job dealing with these problems and making the story coherent. I especially liked the fact that the girls actually get to know their future husbands before they decide to marry them. The ending gets very exciting and there is a happy, if a bit improbable, resolution. I have been trying to decide if I like this one better or not as much as Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, another Utah author. George's story stays more true to the original fairy tale. Still, I think I liked them about the same, though they handled the story very differently. It might be a fun exercise for a family to read both books together, and then discuss their similarities and differences. (472 p.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelen Turner

This is the sequel to  The Thief, which I read a little while ago.  The book starts with Gen captured once again by the Queen of Attolia.  She at first wants to execute him, but then decided to do the more traditional punishment for thieves; she cuts off his hand...herself.  His dismemberment throws him into months of depression and mourning, but it throws his country into war with Attolia. After he gets over his slump, Gen hatches his most daring heist yet.  He decides to steal the queen.  Turner is not the greatest writer at language and word craft, but man can she do characters.  All of the main characters, Gen, the Queen of Attolia, the Queen of Edis, Gen's father, they are all fascinating, and the interplay between the characters kept me turning page after page, wondering how it is all going to work out.  I have the third one on hold and can hardly wait.  I think I need to put this series on my list of kid's books that are great for adults.(362 p)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban Urban has an amazing view into a young girl's inner thoughts.  In both her first novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, which won several awards, and this one, we see the main characters' little emotional waves and tides--what they hope and think will happen, and how they feel when it does or doesn't.  In this book 11 year old Mattie lives with her mother, and has moved a lot. She is a shy girl and making friends is agonizing for her.  She and her mother come to live one summer in her mother's family home with her uncle who is a janitor at the local grade school.  Mattie decides that if she can become her uncle's special janitor's helper, she can hang around with him before and after school, and during lunch and she won't have to face the other kids at her new school. She is a sweet and intelligent girl, but is so insecure that any other child would actually like her, especially her new next door neighbor who is older than her and looks like a teenager.  I really liked this book.  It deals with bullying and its aftermath, but that is in the background.  It is really about learning and daring to hope again that someone actually might be willing to be your friend. (152 p)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alchemy and Maggy Swann by Karen Cushman have liked some of Cushman's books and not others.  I liked her Newbery winner, The Midwife's Apprentice, but I didn't like Catherine, Called Birdy.  Both of those books, and this one are about girls trying to make their way in Medieval/Renaissance Europe.  Cushman is really good with the medieval setting and has clearly done her research. She never misses a chance to explain how nasty and filthy London was, with rivers of sewage running down the streets.  She is also good with the language.  While I was reading this one, I kept wanting to say things like "fie," and "naught" in my daily speech. In this story Maggy is sent from the quiet town where she grew up, to London to live with the father she has never known.  Maggy was born lame, and the hustle and bustle of Elizabethan London first overwhelms her. Her cold, uncaring father is an Alchemist and as the story progresses, Maggy begins to suspect he is selling poisons to finance his alchemical research. She must decide if she will attempt to stop an evil plot and risk losing her father to the hangman's noose.  This ended up being one of Cushman's I liked because Maggy is at the same time vulnerable and feisty. The story was believable and Maggy's personality is appropriate to the time period (unlike Catherine, called Birdy, who acts like a modern teen instead of a medieval girl). Most of all I enjoyed the setting and wonderful language. (167 p.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry Lowry shows the lighter side of her talent in this funny satire.  The Willoughby children want to be just like the kids in old fashion books.  The only problem is that all the kids in old fashion books are orphans, and the Willoughby’s have two, fairly unpleasant, parents.  The parents feel about the same as the children, so the challenge for the children is to get rid of their parents, before their parents get rid of them.  There is so much in this book to laugh at and Lowry makes fun of a bunch of stereotypes.  At one point they find a baby on the doorstep.  They take it inside, and show it to their mother.  She doesn't want to keep it, but the one daughter talks about how cute its little curls are.  So the mother takes scissors cuts off all the curls.  Then they all agree that it isn't very cute and take to another house and leave it on their doorstep.  The story is full of funny and clever references to some of the old classics like Anne of Green Gables, and the Bobsy Twins. In the back there is a bibliography of all the references, and a hilarious glossary. (178 p)