Thursday, November 28, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The story is told from the point of view of Ivan, an adult male gorilla that has spent most of his live in a cage in a mall.  He is friends with some other mall animals, including a dog called Bob and an Elephant called Stella.  The mall is struggling financially, so the mall owner, Max, jumps at the opportunity to acquire a baby elephant to add to the show.  Ruby brings new life and enthusiasm to the mall menagerie, and both Stella and Ivan become very attached to her.  When Stella becomes ill and is about to die, she makes Ivan promise he will find a way to get Ruby out of the mall and into a proper zoo.  Ivan likes to draw, so he uses his artistic skills to send a message to the world that Ruby needs a better home.
Cover image for The one and only Ivan
This was the Newbery winner for this year.  I didn't read it for a while after it was released, because I had heard it was kind of sad and I wasn't really ever in a mood to read a sad book.  It was a little sad, but I ended up liking the book.  Ms Applegate does a good job creating a believable voice for Ivan and the other animals.  The book is based on a true story, and she really explores all the complicated emotions animals in that kind of situation might have.  I can see why a committee of adults would choose it for an award.  It would be a great book for a grade school or even junior high reading groups to read and discuss.  There are so many ethical questions it brings up, but also questions about friendship, leaving a familiar place to make a better start, and non-violent protest.  I don't know how many kids would pick it up and read it for fun. The cover is nothings special  and it starts a little slowly.  Once they got into it, they would probably enjoy it. (305p)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pendragon Book Two: the Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale

Cover image for Pendragon. Lost city of FaarAfter coming to grips with the fact that his a traveler, Bobby Pendragon plunges into his second adventure, literally.  He arrives on the water planet of Cloral, and becomes fast friends with the future traveler from Cloral, Spader.  He and his mentor, Press, wait for St Dayne to play his hand, and when he does, it's terrible.  St. Dayne has manages to poison the food supply, and Press, Bobby and Spader go on a quest to find the one city, Faar, that might save the whole world. St Dayne is looking for the lost city of Faar as well, and it becomes a race to see who will triumph in the end.

This book had much the same flavor as the first book. Bobby and his fellow travelers face what seem to be insurmountable odds, and somehow win in the end.  In this one, though, Bobby starts to move from being an apprentice to being a mentor.  With the help of Lore, he helps Spader begin to see what it means to be a traveler.  I like the book alright, but I am not sure I will read another. They just haven't hooked me.   (224 p)

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner

Cover image for Marty McGuireMarty McGuire would rather be catching frogs with the boys than playing dress-up with the girls.  She is, therefore, not pleased when she gets the part of the princess in the class production of "The Frog Prince".  Luckily one of her frog hunting buddies has the part of the frog, and together they decide to spice up the production with a little some help from nature.  In the process Marty discovers that being a princess and a naturalist don't have to be mutually exclusive.  This is a fun little intermediate reader.  Plenty of tomboys out there will relate with Marty's affinity with muddy sneakers and love of Jane Goodall.(129 p.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Cover image for The extraordinary education of Nicholas BenedictNicholas Benedict is the adult leader and mentor of The Mysterious Benedict Society in the series of the same name.  This prequel to that series answers the question, "What about Nicholas Benedict; where did he come from and what was it like for him growing up with narcolepsy?" The story starts when Nicholas is a 9 year old orphan with amazing intellect and an interesting disability. He has narcolepsy which makes him go to sleep whenever he has strong emotions.  He also has a photographic memory and an IQ that is off the charts.  His disability and his intelligence make  him a target for bullies and he has spent his whole life in one orphanage after another, just trying to get by.  As the book starts Nicholas is moving to a new orphanage, full of hope that this one will be different and he can make a new start.  On his first day there he does find a new friend, but he also angers the local bullies, the "Spiders".  Nicholas soon discovers that there is a lost treasure to be found at the orphanage.  Along with his one friend, he must outsmart the Spiders while he and John search for clues to the whereabouts of the treasure. I enjoyed the first three books about the Mysterious Benedict Society, but I think I like this one best of all.  In the other books there is a super-villain who is trying to take over the world with a strange and amazing machine.  It is a fun story, but not at all realistic.  In this book there is nothing fantastical, just a really smart boy using his brain to solve problems in his life.  My favorite thing about the story is that Nicholas gradually decides to take charge of his life, stop being a victim and start looking beyond himself to help others. Although this is the 4th book in the series, the storyline is not connected to the other three and it works fine to read it as a stand alone, before the others, or after the other three. (470 p).

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

Cover image for The BoneshakerThe year is 1913 and Natalie lives in a small town near a crossroads. The crossroads is a place where the boundary between realities is thin, and where Old Tom once challenged the devil to a contest on the guitar, and won.  It is also the place where there used to be a town that was destroyed by a devastating plague. Natalie grew up with the stories of what had happened at the crossroads, but never really believe them until a medicine show rolls into town. Much of the show makes her feel that something is not right, and soon she begins to see things from the past. As she gradually realizes what is happening, and how her family is caught up in it, she also begins to see that she is the only hope her little town has if they want to keep horrible things from their history from repeating.

I started this book clear back at the beginning of October.  It was a great October read--kind of spooky, without being violent or gory.  It is a well crafted story, and the characters are intense and satisfying.  The word craft is pretty good too, with many a well turned phrase.  I am not a big fan of spooky stories, but as scary stories go, this one is a pretty good one. I will give a warning, though.  Some might object to this book because the bad guy is Satan incarnate.  If you are skittish about that kind of thing, this is not a good choice for you. (372 p)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mr. and Mrs Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire, by Polly Horvath

Cover image for Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-- detectives extraordinaire!
Madeline lives on Hornby Island, Canada with her very "New Age" (aka Hippy) parents.  Madeline is not like her parents, and takes responsibility for her own education and well being.  One day her parents are stolen away by a troop of criminal foxes.  As Madeline goes to try to find them, she meets up with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who are amateur detectives. Madeline discovers that she can understand Rabbit language, and accepts the Bunny's help to discover and rescue her parents.   This is an extremely silly book.  There is a lot of "tongue in cheek" humor about hippies, society and life in general. There is also a great deal of snappy dialog between the two bunnies. The story is not without a little tenderness. Although Madeline is resourceful and independent, she finds herself enjoying the kind mothering of Mrs Bunny, something she never got from her own mother.  I am not sure who the target audience is for this book.  I might recommend it for a child who is quite young, but a good reader.  That demographic, however, would miss a lot of the jokes.  Maybe a book for an adult to read to an intelligent younger child.  The child would enjoy the silliness, and the adult could chuckle at the jokes. (248 p)