Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Cover image for Half a chanceLucy has moved to a new town on a lake in New Hampshire.  She and her mom will be living there alone for a few months while her dad, a famous photographer, is doing a photo shoot in another state. Lucy is also a photographer and when she hears about a photo contest her dad is judging, she decides to secretly enter.  After her dad leaves, she quickly becomes friends with the boy next door, Nate, who is visiting his grandmother for the summer.  Together they get involved in helping Nate's grandmother keep track of the loons for a bird preservation group. She tells Nate about the contest and he decides to help her find things to photograph. As Lucy and Nate search for good pictures, and keep track of the loons, Lucy takes a great picture that Nate finds offensive.  Lucy has to decide if winning the photography contest is worth risking her friendship with Nate. This is kind of a melancholy book, but I got really caught up in it.  It explores very complex relationships and difficult ethical questions.  The author spends a lot of space talking about different photo compositions and techniques, which slows down the action a little, but might be interesting to someone who is into photography. This isn't a book for a reluctant reader, but is a good choice for child who is a little more mature and tired of fluffier stuff. (218p)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue: An Origami Yoda Book

Cover image for Princess Labelmaker to the rescue : an Origami Yoda bookThe kids at McQuarrie Middle School are back, suffering through the incredibly boring and inane FunTime test prep program. To fight the evil FunTime empire, they have formed a "Rebel Alliance."  Kids that used to be opponents are now united, each with their own origami puppet based on a Star Wars character. Will their combined force be enough to triumph over the powerful Principal Rabbski, or is she, as Yoda suggests, secretly sympathetic of the rebel cause?  This is the 5th installment in the hilarious Origami Yoda series. As in the others in the series the book is formatted as a "case file" written by the kids, and illustrated with doodles and cartoons by the students.  I think I may have skipped one of the series, but I wasn't too lost and understood the plot just fine. Angleberger does a good job of developing both the characters and the plot over the larger multi-book story arch.  These are such good books for the kids who are stuck on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but are ready to make one more step toward less illustrated books. 184 p.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Cover image for Sky jumpersHope lives in a post apocalyptic town in the American Midwest.  Green bombs have destroyed the cities, and most of the people and technology, but have left no lingering radiation.  They have also left a gas called "the Bomb's Breath" that is poisonous and more dense than regular air.  All the adults are afraid to go near the pockets of Bomb's Breath but the kids have figured out that if they hold their breath, they can jump through it and fall so slowly it is like flying. This understanding of the Bomb's Breath comes in handy when bandits invade the city and try to steal their most valuable commodity, antibiotics. 

I thought this was an interesting take on a post WWIII world.  The war had taken place just 40 years earlier, so the older people in town remembered having technology and a highly populated world, but the kids had only heard stories.  I had to raise my eyebrows a bit when the story asserted that the green bombs had altered the characteristics of metal world wide, so that it had lost its strength and they had to make everything out of wood or stone.  Not sure how that worked.  Still, the story wasn't really about surviving after the bomb, it was about a little girl who uses her courage and strength to save her family and town.  It was a fun read and an interesting setting and I look forward to reading the second in the series (which I just realized came out in September but I haven't ordered for the library yet.  Oops.  I will get it ordered today.)  275 p.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Cover image for The true blue scouts of Sugar Man SwampChap Brayburn lives on the edge of the Bayou Tourterelle,with his mother in a little pie shop.  Bingo and J'miah, two faithful scout racoons, live in the old DeSoto deep in the tangle of the swamp. Sony Boy Boucoup and Jaeger Stitch want to turn the Bayou into a large alligator wrestling theme park.  The wild hogs, Buzzie and Clydine, want to tear the Sugar Man swamp apart and trample all the wild sugarcane.  When the swamp and Bayou are threatened both Chap and the racoon scouts go into action.  It seems like an impossible task to save their beloved home, but Chap and the racoons are willing to do whatever it takes even if that means waking up the old Sugar Man himself.

This book is a delight.  It is the most entertaining book I have read in a long time.  The narrative sounds like an old southern yarn told sitting on the front stoop, but the plot is deceptively complicated. The stories of the racoons and Chap run parallel.  The Raccoons don't know about Chap and the plan to develop the swamp.  Chap doesn't know about the Racoons and the terrible hogs, but the two sets of heroes end up inadvertently working together and helping each other. Appelt has created such a well crafted story, endearing and courageous protagonists, and deliciously evil and humorous villains.  This is a great family read aloud and would appeal to a wide range of ages.(326 p)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

Cover image for The golden hourRowan and Nina are still reeling from the death of their mother when they are sent to live with their "great-aunts" in Maine.  There they meet a set of twins Xanthe and Xavier, and with them they stumble across a strange resort where people can make a reservation to travel to another time and place.  Nina sneaks away to another time without telling Rowan, and, frightened for her safety, Rowan, and the other two follow after her into Paris in the time of the storming of the Bastille.

This is a thinly veiled ploy to teach children about the French Revolution. While in France, Rowan meets Marie Antoinette, King Louis, Robespierre, and other Revolutionary superstars.  That said, it was quite well done.  While in France, Xavier mingles with the commoners, while Rowan masquerades as a nobleman so the reader gets to see both sides of the revolution with a fairly unbiased eye. The story is not only about history. While Rowan is searching Paris for Nina, he is working out his own grief issues about his mother.  This was better than I expected and I would be willing to read the others in the series. (259 p)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Cover image for Fly awayI have a new goal to read more recently released books and here is my most recent one.  Lucy and her family are on their way to North Dakota to help their Aunt.  A flooding river is threatening her farm and they want to help with sandbags and moral support. While they are at their aunt's house, Lucy's little brother Teddy creeps into her room after dark and sings a little song to her.  It is something he does every night and hearing his little sweet voice gives her comfort as the storm rages.  She sings a song to him, and even though she can't carry a tune, and would never sing in front of anyone else, Teddy likes her song. The next day, as the flood waters near the house, Teddy turns up missing.  Frantic, Lucy must decide whether to use her embarrassing singing voice to try to find him.

Ms Maclachlan won the Newbery medal for Sarah Plain and Tall which I loved.  She is really good at portraying sweet and strong sibling relationships like the one between Lucy and Teddy. This is a short story;  I read the 110 pages in an hour. I am not quite sure who the intended audience is. It could be put in the intermediate section because of its length and the ages of the characters, but I don't think that age would be very interested in it.  It is more like a short story for middle grade age range.