Sunday, May 31, 2015

Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon

Cover image for Joshua DreadIt would be a challenge to be the kid of a pair of superheroes, but what if your parents were super villains instead? Joshua's parents, the Dread Duo, are always working away in their secret lab trying to find ways to destroy the world. Josh loves his parents, but is not necessarily pleased with their career choices. Being a son of super villains means Josh has to keep his identity a secret. That becomes more of a problem when his own super power starts to emerge.  The situation is further complicated when a new girl, Sophie, moves into the school who seems to have a super power, too.  Could he have finally found a friend with whom he can share his secret, or is her arrival in town related to a rash of super villain disappearances?  This is a cute new twist on the very popular Super Hero theme.  Josh, Sophie, and their ungyfted friend, Milton, are all likeable characters, and Bacon has a lot of fun with superhero stereotypes.  If you like this one, #2 and #3 are already published. I am eager to give them a try.(258 p.)

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

Cover image for What we found in the sofa and how it saved the worldOne day River, Freak and Fiona find an old green sofa outside near their bus stop.  They decide to search underneath the cushions, and find a rare, zucchini colored crayon.  It is a collector's item, worth thousands on Ebay, but their consciences lead them to return it to the owner of the house where they found the couch.  When they do, they are caught up in an intergalactic plot to take over the world. The crayon, and the pluck of the three pre-teens are the keys to preventing an alien invasion.

I read this book because one of my librarian friends raved about it when it first came out in 2013.  It is a silly book, but very cleverly written.  There are a lot of lines that have hidden zingers that just made me smile. Clark has a good sense of comic timing.  It would seem like a character was about to get caught, or fall to their death or something, then at the last minute something funny would happen to save them.  If you are looking for a book to read aloud this summer, this is one that could appeal to a variety of ages. (355 p)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Crossover by Alexander Kwame

Cover image for The crossoverJosh and Jordan Bell are middle-school-aged twins who are both basketball proteges.  The boys make an unstoppable team on court and are leading their school in a undefeated season.  The twins have always been close, until a new girl moves into town.  Jordan's growing relationship with the new girl forces a wedge between the brothers. At the same time both boys worry about their father who used to be a pro ball player, but now suffers from health problems.  When Josh's hurt feelings lead him to make a bad choice, more than the basketball championship is at risk.

This book won both the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King honor award this year.  I always try to guess the winner each year, but this one came out of the blue.  I thought for sure Rain Reign would win because it was the first book to deal well with autism.  I am so glad this one won instead.  This book is a gift to teachers, librarians and reluctant readers.  The book is written in free verse, but much of it is basically written in rap and it is really well done. Imagine what we used to call a "jock" (do they use that term anymore?  Am I dating myself?) who is assigned to read a Newbery winner.  The poor kid has never read a full length novel in his life, but pours over copied of Sports Illustrated.  The kid rolls his eyes and sighs, but the librarian says, "I have the book for you."  So the kid gets the book, looks at the cover, and shrugs.  His mood changes from "oh no" to "ok" and he starts to read.  Soon he is talking about the book to other kids on the team and showing them parts.  It is brilliant!  Kwame not only wrote a book that will reach a whole new demographic, he helped me look at the "rap" culture differently.  Ok, there is a lot of trashy rap out there, but reading this book helped me see for the first time why the kind of rap that is boastful could appeal to a ghetto culture.  So much is against a kid growing up on the streets, but boasting rap gives them a chance to do positive self talk that is cool.  The rhythm and the clever word choice makes it cool.

 I guess I have been gushing.  It was a well written book, (and a good audio recording if you want to listen to it) and I am glad it won the Newbery. (237 p)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

Ok, here is the other book I was having a hard time getting through.

Cover image for MonstrousKymera is like Frankenstein's Monster, patched together from parts of different animals while having a human head and mind. She awakens with only part of her human memories.  She knows how to talk and basic vocabulary, but she remembers nothing about her life before she was remade.  Her "father"  tells her she used to be his daughter who was killed by an evil wizard. He has  resurrected her in her part human, part animal form so that she will have the unusual powers she will need to rescue the other girls of their town who have been sickened and who are being taken by the Wizard, one by one, for his evil purposes. She embraces her role as savior of the girls with enthusiasm and nightly sneaks into the "wizard's dungeon" and "saves" a girl by bringing her back to her "father". You can see the problem here, right? And so can the reader, hundreds of pages before Kym figures it out.  Even after Kym finds bones buried under her rose garden, body parts in freezers in her dad's laboratory, and even a whole dead girl, she is still in denial that she has, all along, been helping the very wizard she thought she was fighting.

Because of Kym's extreme naivete and the slow pace of the plot I almost stopped 1/3 of the way through, but I decided, as the fiction purchaser for the library, I better finish it to decide whether it needs to be moved into the YA section.  It is very dark and very violent.  It is not only the wizard who is killing and cutting up people.  At times, when Kym's animal instincts take over, she rips apart battalions of soldiers with her bare claws and emerges from the battle covered with blood and panting.  There is a high, bloody, body count, some of them little girls cut up in pieces.  It is horrendous.  And yet it has this cute little girl monster on the cover, clearly targeted at 10-12 year-olds.   I still haven't decided whether to move it or not.  I think I will try to (with my boss's approval).  Nothing about the book warns an unsuspecting reader of what lies inside. (424p)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for The reluctant widowElinor was raised to affluence, but when her father gambles away the family fortune, and then commits suicide, Elinor's comfortable life comes tumbling down.   She is forced to consider becoming a governess to support herself.  As she arrives in an unfamiliar town to take up her first position, she accidentally goes away in the wrong carriage and ends up at the wrong estate.  There she meets Lord Carlyon who believes she is a woman he hired to marry his wastrel nephew Eustace Cheviot. When the mistake is discovered, Carlyon convinces Elinor, against her better judgement, to marry his nephew, who has been mortally wounded.  The marriage ceremony takes place, Eustace dies, and Elinor finds herself a widow to a man she never knew.  She soon discovers that as Mrs. Cheviot she has inherited a dilapidated estate, a very attentive extended family,  and a role in an international espionage mystery. 

Of course, this is not a children's novel.  It is a period romance, and was a perfect delight to read.  It is how I managed to get through the other two novels I was trying to read, but didn't like.  I would read the distasteful novels until I couldn't stand it, and then treat myself to a couple of chapters of Georgette Heyer. It never failed to put a smile on my face.  (316 p)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

Cover image for Deep blueIt has been a long time since I posted.  I started a book, got a third the way through, and had to quit because the writing was so bad.  Then I started two other longish books, neither of which I particularly liked.  It takes longer to get through a book if you don't like it.

This was one of the books.  Serafina is a mermaid princess, just about to go through a rite of passage marking her ascension to the thrown.  As soon as the ceremony is over her kingdom is attacked and she sees her mother, the queen, (this is a matriarchal society) mortally wounded.  She is forced to flee by advisers who want to preserve the royal line.  Thus she starts a quest to find and stop the evil force that is terrorizing all of the Mer-kingdoms.  During her quest  she meets 5 other mermaidens  who, like her, have been lead by dreams to seek out the sea witches for help.  It sounds like a good story, right?  In many ways it is.  The plot is interesting and well paced, and Serafina is endearing and has good character development.  The problem is that Donnelly keeps forgetting that this is all taking place under water. Almost every chapter something happens that made me think, "wait, how does that work in this setting?" and it jerked me from the excitement and flow of the story.  For examples, repeatedly in the story they drink tea from cups, or eat stew from bowls.  How could you drink any liquid under water without it just diffusing in the water?  Sometimes it talks of a drop of blood running down the person's hand, or a tear filling their eye.  The author never really embraces her setting.  It would have been so fun if she had and was able to show us how merpeople drink tea. And where was her editor to catch all this? I kept thinking of my friend, Sheila, who wrote another mermaid story, Forbidden Sea.  She wouldn't have made these mistakes.  (340 p)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Cover image for The red pencilAmira lives in a farm town in Darfur.  She helps her mother care for their farm animals and her younger siblings.  One day the Janjaweed come, burn her town, and kill her father. She must flee with her family to a refugee camp. Although the camp is crowded and the food and living conditions are horrible, she gets her first chance to learn to read and write and first begins to dream of going to school.  This is a very difficult and serious topic for children, but Pinkney makes the story child accessible by writing in free verse.  The poetic form allows Pinkney to show the reader only brief flashes of disturbing images, and linger on descriptions of life on Amira's farm and in the camp.  One of the themes of the book is the power of art to heal the soul.  The story is illustrated with black and white drawings, done in a child-like hand, that show how Amira sees her world as she draws with her red pencil. The recorded book was read by the author.  She does a pretty good job, and she has a nice, expressive, resonant voice but part of me wanted to hear a more authentic African accent. Overall, it was a good book and I can see why it got a lot of attention last year, but I am not sure who I would give it to.  "Here, cute little girl, here is a story about a girl, just your age, who survives a mass genocide, only to end up in a refugee camp."  My own daughter went through a stage in third grade where she wanted to read holocaust survivor books, so I guess there is someone out there under 13 who might like this book. 308 p.