Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Cover image for A handful of starsLily lives in a small town in Maine, famous for its wild blueberries.  She doesn't usually get to know the migrant workers who come each summer to pick the blueberries, but this year she meets Salma when the girl from Florida saves Lily's blind dog from running into danger.  The two girls become fast friends, and together make a bold plan to earn money for an eye surgery for Lily's dog.  When Salma hears about the annual Blueberry Queen competition, she decides to enter, hoping to win money for college. As both girls make solid plans to obtain their goals, they have to overcome prejudice and fear and come to grips with their own feelings of loss.

This is a short, sweet story of friendship. Of course, there were a bucket load of social issues, but they were not too heavy handed.  A couple of things felt a little off to me.  Lily's friend, Hannah, had been Blueberry Queen the year before, but it sounded like they were only in Junior High.  I had always associated beauty pageants with older teens, on 12 or 13-year-olds.  I also thought the story resolved a little too easily.  Those are pretty small things, and, all in all, I liked it and I can think of a couple of our regular little girl patrons that I would give it to. (184 p)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Switch by Ingrid Law

Cover image for SwitchIn this third story of the Beaumont family, Gypsy, the second to youngest, is wrestling with her new savvy (think special magical power) of seeing into people's futures.  One day her power allows her to see her grandmother fall from a tall clock tower.  Soon after she has this premonition, her family experiences a savvy switch.  Her brother who used to be able to be invisible, suddenly is a fire starter.  Her mother, who used to be perfect in almost every household job, is now a klutz, and Gypsy's finds she is able to stop time for everyone but herself.  Still reeling from the switch, her family travels to Denver to bring their grandmother, who suffers from dementia, home.  While there, Gypsy's main goal is to keep her grandmother far away from clock towers, but she finds that it is much harder than she could have ever imagined.

I have enjoyed this series.  The stories have an element of magic, but really they are each about family relationships and about kids learning to use self control to direct their lives.  This story, in particular, deals nicely with the challenges of having a loved one with dementia.  Law leaves the ending open to one more book.  (356 p,)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Nomad by William Alexander

Cover image for NomadGabriel Fuentes is the 12-year-old ambassador for the planet Earth to the Universe, chosen because of his skills in diplomacy and his ability to understand other people.  In this second adventure he is in a race against time to stop the evil Outlasts from destroying even more inhabited planets in our galaxy. He teams up with the ambassador from the the nomadic people, the Kaen, and a previous ambassador from Earth, Nadia, in a daring attempt to find out more about the Outlasts. Too late he discovers that by trying to communicate with them, he has made Earth their next target.

This is my favorite recent children's science fiction series.  Alexander's world building is fresh and interesting, and his characters are fully realized and likeable.  Most of all, I like that fact that Gabe and his allies use observation, wits and careful handling of social situations instead of violence to solve problems. There is plenty of action and excitement, but very little fighting.  In the real world, problems are rarely solved by doing battle physically.  This book models, in a non-preachy way, how to try to empathize, negotiate, and find workable and mutually beneficial solutions to problems. (264 p)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Samurai by Caroline Leavitt

Cover image for SamuraiI am doing an after school program this week about Samurai and Ninjas.  In preparation I read this short nonfiction book about Samurai.  It is a pretty simple text, accessible to a good 2nd grade reader on up, but it has a lot of interesting facts.  The illustrations are pretty good too, most of them reproductions of historical photos or art work.  Diane read through the book as well, and she said the facts seemed to gibe with what she learned in her Japanese history and culture classes in college.  So, if you need a short but interesting nonfiction on a historical topic, this is not a bad choice. (32 p)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Cover image for The league of beastly dreadfuls
One day two women show up at Anastasia's school and take her away.  They tell her that her parents are in the hospital, and they are going to see them, but instead of taking Anastasia to the hospital, they take her to their house. At first she believes that the ladies are her long lost great aunts.  The longer she stays in the spooky, ex-insane asylum they call home, the more she realizes that her "aunts" are not all that they seem.  Lucky Anastasia gets to know two other children who are inmates in her "aunts'" home, and together they plot their daring escape. 

This is a story after the style of Lemony Snicket. It is suspenseful and creepy in a silly, tongue-in-cheek kind of way and the author is not above a bit of potty humor.  Anastasia and her two accomplices are likeable enough. Grant includes a bit of quirky magic that becomes more important as the story progresses. I think I liked it better than the first Series of Unfortunate Events book.  I will probably read book 2. (294 p)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Crown of Three by J.D. Rinehart

Cover image for Crown of threeHere is a new high fantasy series which starts, as almost all high fantasy does, with a prophecy.  A kingdom is ruled by a cruel and warmongering king.  The prophecy states that when this king has triplets, and the three children overthrow their father, then peace will return.  When the triplets are born the king plans to have them killed, but a kindly magician makes sure that they are well hidden, and convinces the king that they have died.  The three, two boys and a girl, grow up in very different circumstances, but through the help of a secret organization, called trident, eventually come to learn of their destiny and their own amazing powers.

So, this is not going to be the next "Harry Potter" but it is a decent read for those who like high fantasy.  The three main characters are likable enough and they each have cool special abilities.There are a few places where the answer to a problem is obvious to the reader, but somehow the characters take a long time to see it, but that doesn't really ruin the story too much.  I have to add a warning here.  There is a good deal of gore in this book, with a high body count in the various battles throughout. If a young reader is at all bothered by violence, or prone to nightmares, you might want to skip this one. (407p)

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Cover image for Circus MirandusMicah has lived with his grandfather since his parents died.  He loves his grandfather, especially the stories he tells about Circus Mirandus, a mythical place he claims to have visited as a boy.  Micah always figured that the stories were just made up.  When his grandfather gets gravely ill, Micah discovers that the stories about Circus Mirandus are true and that the "Man Who Bends Light" owes Micah's grandfather a miracle.  Micah's grandfather is too ill to retrieve the miracle himself, so he sends Micah to Circus Mirandus to get it for him.

I know several librarians that say that this was their favorite book last year.  It is wonderfully written with a sweet relationship between Micah and his grandfather, and a deliciously and fully developed fantasy world of the circus.  I liked that the characters at the circus have personalities and issues like anyone would.  It somehow makes it seem more realistic than if they had been idealized, flat characters.  I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the ending. There was an obvious different ending option and I think the book would have been stronger if Beasley would have taken it.  Still, it was a great book, part Wizard of Oz and part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, that I will be recommending to young readers on a regular basis from now on.(292 p)