Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia

Cover image for One crazy summerDelphine and her two sisters, Vonetta and Fern, hardly know their mother since she left the family soon after Fern was born.  Their father decides that it is time for the girls to spend some time with her, so they fly from Brooklyn to California.  Their mother, Cecile, is not at all interested in seeing the girls, let alone acting like a parent.  She sends them to the Chinese take out for dinner, and to the Black Panther run community center for a free breakfast. At the community center the girls learn about Black Panther leaders and ideals.  As they come to understand what the Black Panthers are trying to do they build a tenuous relationship with their mother who is a civil rights activist and poet.

This book won a boat load of awards when it was published in 2011. I heard the author speak at the ALSC Institute in Oakland last week.  It was fun to read the book, while in Oakland where the story takes place, and right after hearing the author speak.  It is a well written book and the characters are authentic and interesting.  The girls are plucky but not perfect, and the relationship with the mother is complicated. I am glad that Ms Garcia resists the temptation to write a fairytale-like reconciliation between the girls and their mother at the end. They get to know each other a little better, but that is all.  It was an interesting glimpse into a very foreign (to me) time and culture. (218 p)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Staples

Cover image for Shiva's fireThe day Parvati is born, her father is killed in a cyclone.  The only thing Parvati has of his is statue of a dancing Shiva.  Parvati is drawn to the statue, and as Parvati grows up, she wants to become a dancer. She soon discovers that when she dances miraculous things happen.  She he tries to hide her powers until one day she is invited by a guru to become a religious devotee of the Shiva and learn the traditional forms of dance. Her amazing skill at the dance, and the supernatural things that occur while she dances gains her the mistrust of her peers, but the admiration of the guru.  In the end her dancing skill takes her to the palace to dance for the raja and experience the greatest challenge of her life.

I enjoy books that invite me to experience another culture from the point of view of a native.  That is what this book did.  Even with the supernatural elements, it felt authentic and after I was done reading it I felt like I understood more about India and the worship of Shiva.  Parvati is a likeable character, and the short mini-romance at the end was fun.  It wasn't as good of writing as Gloria Whelan's Homeless Bird but it reminded me a little of it.  They would be a good pair for a book group or school reading circle to read together and then discuss similarities and differences. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swindle by Gordon Korman

Cover image for SwindleHave you ever met a kid that was a natural schemer-- someone who is always coming up with some crazy plan to accomplish this or that grand idea.  That is the kind of kid Griffin is in this story by Gordon Korman.  The book starts with Griffin and his best friend, Ben, sleeping in an old house that is scheduled to be demolished the next day.  Griffin had hoped other kids would join them in an attempt to protest the plans for the piece of land the house was on.  Instead, Griffin finds a old baseball card in an derelict desk drawer that had been left in the house.  He takes the card to a collector, who gives him $100 for it.  The collector, S. Wendell Palomino, then turns around and schedules to auction the card with the starting price of tens of thousands of dollars.  Griffin feels like he has been swindled, so he recruits some friends to try to steel the card back from Palomino.

This was a interesting book.  The kids are clever and persistent, and there are some fun and exciting sequences but it was a little unsettling to me that none of the kids on the final heist team seemed to have very strong qualms about robbing someone's house.  The author is sure to make it so that the heist doesn't pay off like the kids had hoped, but it still pays off in the end, and the kids get into no real trouble for committing a "breaking and entering" robbery that caused real property damage. This could be a good book for a parent and child to read together, and then discuss the ethical issues.  (252 p)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Cover image for A true princessLilia's foster mother is expecting a baby, and Lilia overhears her plan to apprentice Lilia out to a cruel neighbor to make room for the little one.  Lilia decides to escape and is surprised with when her foster brother and sister, Kai and Karina, decide to join her in running away.  The three of them decide to travel together toward the palace of the king to try to find work, but to get there they have to pass through the Bitra Forest, the realm of the Elf King.  They are, of course, captured by the Elf King and the king's daughter claims Kai as her eternal playmate.  To free Kai from the princess, the two girls must find an enchanted broach and give it to the elf princess in exchange for their friend.  The girls come to the palace, and discover that the Queen is searching for a true princess for her son to marry. As the girls work as maids in the castle, and the time limit for finding the broach is running out, they wonder if the whereabouts of the jewel is connected to the strange sleeping chamber where the prospective princesses are taken. This story is an interesting blend of several northern European folk/fairy tales.  Zahler does a good job of combining the stories to make a new seamless tale. The main characters are interesting and likeable, if not terribly deep, and the resolution, if a little too tidy, is at least satisfying. This is a great story for a 3rd or 4th, or even a confident 2nd grade reader girl who likes fairy tales, and is not too worried about plausibility.  (180 p)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper

Cover image for Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake CadetsJeremy Bender is in deep trouble.  He has ruined the engine on his father's vintage speed boat, and he needs some cash fast to get the parts to rebuild it before his father finds out. Jeremy learns that the girls' Cupcake Cadet group is having a model boat racing contest, and he figures he is sure to win the $500 prize money.  There is only one problem.  To enter he has to be a cupcake cadet, and have already earned three achievement badges.  Jeremy convinces his best friend to join him in a scheme to dress up and pretend to be girls so they can join the cadets and win the money.  But being a cadet is not as easy as Jeremy thought.  It turns out that the Cupcake Cadets are no cream puffs.

This is one of the most sexist children's books I have ever read.  The message is clear.  Girls are smart and capable, while boys are stupid dolts.  The book would have never been published if it were a couple of girls dressing as boys and trying to join the BSA.  It would cause an uproar if girls were portrayed as stupid and the boys were all accomplished and smart.  But since the genders are reversed, it is considered a funny book.

And it is a funny book.  I must admit I found myself laughing out loud more than once.  The two friends play off each other really well, and there is good character development in Jeremy and his female rival, Margaret.  Still, I am not sure who I would give the book to.  I can't see giving it to a boy, because the portrayal of masculinity is so uncomplimentary.  I can't see giving it to girls because the main characters are boys.  A canundrum. (235 p.)

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley

Cover image for The cup and the crownThis is the second in the series that began with The Silver Bowl.  Molly is sent on a quest to find a magical Loving Cup for the King.  Of course, she takes her friends from the earlier story with her.  They find a secret utopian city that had been the home of Molly's grandfather where Molly begins to learn more about the magic her grandfather used to make the Silver Bowl and the Loving Cups. The problem is, the people of the city do not wish Molly and her friends to ever leave because they do not want the whereabouts of the city to become known.  Molly and Tobias recruit the help of some sympathetic citizens to plan their escape.

This is one of the books where the main character's magical abilities grow to solve the problems in the plot.  The main character is in trouble, and suddenly, kazaam! she has the magical ability she needs to get out of the trouble.  As a result, by the end of the book Molly has some awesome and wide ranging magical powers.  That is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes me wonder how powerful she will be by the end of the next book.  She might be practically god-like. Over all, I liked the book and the growing relationship between Molly and Tobias fun.  I will probably read the last one when I get a chance. (344 p)

A View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Cover image for The view from Saturday
Of course, this is an old one. I have read it before but I read it again to my family this month and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is about four children.  Three of them are loosely linked because they have grandparents that all live in the same retirement community. The other is a boy from India who has just moved into the community.  The four are in the same class at school and they have a new teacher who is paraplegic.  They decide to see what they can do to help their teacher feel comfortable returning to class after her terrible accident.  I love books about smart kids who are nice to each other.  The story switches from one viewpoint to another as we follow the kids and their teacher through different situations in their life.  It is a well crafted and really good storytelling and would be a good choice for a parent/child book club or school reading circle. (163 p)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Cover image for Ivy and Bean
One area of my library I am less familiar with is the Intermediate Readers.  These are books that are junior novels, of between 60-120 pages or so. Recently I decided to read a couple so I can do a better job with reader's reference for the intermediate crowd.  Ivy and Bean is a popular intermediate series.  Bean is a confident, outgoing seven year old who has pretty much figured out how to get what she wants in the world.  What she doesn't want is to go and play with the new girl in the neighborhood named Ivy.  Ivy seems boring, always wearing a dress and reading a book.  She hardly talks at school. Then one day as Bean is playing a practical joke on her older sister, Bean and Ivy are thrown together.  As they try to escape the wrath of parents and neighbors, they form a fast bond and are soon each other's best friend.

Cover image for Ivy and Bean and the Ghost That Had to GoIn the sequel, Ivy is convinced there is a ghost in the girl's bathroom at school.  Her vivid description of the phenomenon sparks the imagination of the other students, and soon no one is willing to use the facilities.  Can Ivy and Bean find a way to exorcise the unhappy ghost?

The fun thing about Ivy and Bean is that Barrows has a good feel for the way that 7-year-olds think.  The way the girls come up with plans and believe their imaginations is spot on for the target age group.  The thing I didn't like about Ivy and Bean is that they are not always very nice.  Bean, especially, is pretty devoid of moral scruples and does anything she thinks she has to regardless of whether it is right or wrong.  Bean can be pretty mean to her older sister, and thinks nothing of disobeying or manipulating her parents when it is to her advantage.  This is also age authentic, but it makes it so I didn't like Ivy and Bean as well as I like Clementine.  Clementine gets into a lot of trouble, but it is out of lack of judgement instead of willful disobedience.  The whole time she is at least trying to do what is right and kind.  Ivy and Bean don't even think about being kind.  Some children might enjoy reading about girls with a bit of naughtiness but I liked Clementine better. (112p. and 125p.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Cover image for The mark of the dragonflyThis is a new fantasy/SciFi adventure that has a steampunk feel.  Piper works as a scapper, gleaning valuable items from the space junk that falls to the ground during periodic junk storms.  She also has a talent for repairing mechanical items that other scrappers find.  One day she finds something totally unexpected in the scrap heap, a girl, Anna, who has no memory of where she came from, but who holds amazing technical information in her mind.  The girls soon discover that someone is after Anna, and the escape the scrap town on a train headed for the capital.  On the train Anna and Piper meet the crew, including the young and daring animorph, Gee, and experience thrilling adventures that reveal things about Piper's and Anna's history.  This was a fun and satisfying read with likeable characters and tantalizing plot twists. The pacing boggs down a little in the middle, but picks up nicely again in the end.  Johnson left many (a very many) plot elements dangling and I am eager to read the sequel.  (388 p)