Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Cover image for Flora & Ulysses : the illuminated adventuresFlora Bell is a lonely little girl whose parents are divorced.  One day she sees her neighbor accidentally suck up a squirrel in a vacuum cleaner.  At first they think that the squirrel is dead, but quick-thinking Flora administers CPR on the squirrel and it revives.  Somehow the trip through the vacuum alters something in the squirrel's head, and it gains special powers.  It (Ulysses) can suddenly understand the humans, it has super strength, it can type, it can fly, but most of all, it loves Flora.  Flora loves Ulysses, too, but her mother does not, and wants to do away with the creature.  In Flora's attempts to save Ulysses, she meets a new friends, helps her father laugh for the first time in a long time, and ultimately helps her mother remember that Flora is the most important thing in her life.

This is a cute little book. Flora Ulysses escapades are funny and the relationships between Flora, her father, and her new friend, William, are sweet. I am not sure I would have awarded it the Newbery Medal, but I like that fact that it is very child appropriate, even though it does deal with some complicated family relationships. This is DiCamillo's third Newbery winner.   All three are about children who bond with animals and the animals help them with their relationships.  I like Because of Winn Dixie best, then The Tale of Despereaux, and this one takes third. Still, it is will make a good read aloud, or kids will enjoy reading it themselves.  (231 p)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska

Cover image for Shadow of a bullManolo is the son of a great bull fighter from Andalusia, Spain.  His father, Juan Olivar, faced his first bull when he was only 12, fought bravely for 10 years, and then died from a goring in the ring. Now Manolo is approaching his own 12th birthday, and all the townspeople expect him to be a great bull fighter like his father. But Manolo has a secret: he is a coward.  He doesn't want to be a bull fighter, but he knows he must face his bull at age 12 or lose his honor and disgrace his family name. As the months march on toward his 12th birthday, Manolo must face his fear and decide what it really means to be a man.

This is an old, old Newbery winner.  It is so old it was written the year that I was born.  I was always put off by the subject matter, so I had never gotten around to reading it. I finally picked it up off of the shelf, and I am so glad I did.  It is amazingly well written.  It reminds me of other great classic "coming of age" novels like Call it Courage, and Captains Courageous.  Ms Wojciechowska really knows bull fighting as well.  The detail and insight she brings to this ethically complicated sport are really fascinating. This book would never have been published today but it is a great one to share with your favorite 12 year old boy.  There are so many ethical and moral issues and Manolo is such a good, moral and sympathetic character, you could talk about it around the dinner table for weeks. (165 p)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fake Mustache : or, how Jodie O'Rodeo and her wonder horse (and some nerdy kid) saved the U.S. Presidential election from a mad genius criminal mastermind, By Tom Angleberger

Cover image for Fake mustache : or, how Jodie O'Rodeo and her wonder horse (and some nerdy kid) saved the U.S. Presidential election from a mad genius criminal mastermind Lenny Flem regrets the fateful day when he loans his best friend, Casper, ten bucks to buy a fake mustache.  The mustache, which has hypnotic power, takes over Casper's will and turns him into an evil mastermind.  Lenny is the only one who is not affected by its hypnotic power, so it is up to him to stop Facco Mustachio (Casper in disguise) from taking over the country.  Luckily Lenny finds an ally in Jodie who used to be a TV child star, and still has awesome rodeo skills. Together they battle the hypnotized body builders, librarians, and pastry cooks to bring Casper back to his senses.

Silliness is the name of the game in this outrageous story.  But it is not silly silliness.  It is clever, intelligent and very funny silliness that will charm kids of all ages.  This book has it all; crazy disguises, funny--and sometimes slightly gross--gadgets, over-the-top action sequences, and a little hint of romance. Tom Angleberger is brilliant. (196 p)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger

Cover image for The secret of the Fortune WookieeIn this third installment in the Origami Yoda books, Dwight has left McQuarrie Middle School and enrolled in Tippett Academy.  The kids at McQuarrie are missing the origami Yoda's unfailing wisdom, until Sara shows up with a paper fortune teller shaped like Chewbacca.  Chewbacca's advice, as interpreted by Han Foldo, seems almost as good as Yoda's. Are Dwight's Yoda powers so strong that they work, even without Dwight there?  And what about Dwight?  He seems to be changing into a normal boy, but is he really happy at Tippett's?  These are the questions Tommy sets out to answer in his third casebook.

For Origami Yoda fans, this is more of the same with a healthy dose of junior high high jinx and a sprinkling of really good advice.  It is not the end of the series, and much of the plot is leading up to the ultimate battle to save the school from standardized test prep in upcoming episodes. (190 p)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath

Cover image for One year in Coal Harbor
This is the second adventure of Primrose, a young teen who lives in a remote Canadian fishing town.  In her first adventure Everything on a Waffle Primrose waits faithfully for her parents to return from a shipwreck at sea.  In this book, her parents are back, but it is not the end of Primrose's worries. She worries about her uncle and his relationship to Kate, the owner of the local diner.  She worries about the plans to clear cut the forest on the mountain above her town, and she worries about her new friend, Ked, who has come as a foster child to live with her beloved Bert and Evie.  With the love and support of her friends and family, she navigates all her worries and comes through the year, a little older and a little wiser.  Like the first book, the message of this story is that, in some way or another, everything will work out alright.  It may not be as you hope, but it will be OK.  It is such a refreshing message, and one that is increasingly hard to find in children's literature.  Horvath is the master of making quirky and endearing characters. Kate with her french cooking, the uncle with his wild financial schemes, and Evie with her mini marshmallows adds a lot of humor to a sometimes rather serious story. I especially enjoyed the depiction of the town meeting where the entire host of peculiar citizens come together in all their hilarious glory. If you liked the first book, this one will not disappoint. (216 p)