Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Cover image for The bicycle spyMarcel loves bicycle riding and dreams of one day competing in the Tour de France. Unfortunately the Tour has been canceled the last 3 years because of WWII.  Marcel keeps his riding dreams alive by using his bike to make deliveries for his parents who own a bakery shop. One day he discovers that his deliveries are more important than he could have imagined.  He tries to keep the truth about his parent's "deliveries" a secret, even from his new friend, Delphine.  Little does he know that his parent's secret work, and his bike riding skill, may some day save Delphine's family's lives.

I was so happy to read this new WWII historical fiction for grade-school-age readers. Marcel is a believable 10 year old boy who does things that a boy that age could conceivably do to save his friend. Best of all, McDonough does a good job of keeping the description of the fate of Jews during the war at an age appropriate level. I feel like I will be recommending this book a lot to kids who need to read a historical fiction. This is a great choice for children who liked Number the Stars, or The Snow Treasure.197 p.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Going Wild by Lisa McMann

Cover image for Going wildCharlie (short for Charlotte) is not pleased to be moving from Chicago to Arizona, especially in the middle of the school year.  She soon, however, makes friends with Maria, who, like her, plays soccer, and Maria's computer geek friend, Mac.  Things are going along great until strange things start happening during soccer practice.  Charlie has bursts of speed and strength that seem super-human.  She figures out that the new abilities are connected to a sports bracelet she mysteriously received in the mail on the day she left Chicago.  As she explores her new powers she has no idea how much danger the bracelet will bring to her and her new friends.

This is the first in a new series by the author of the successful The Unwanteds series. It is a pretty standard "discovering you have special powers" book like a host of others that have come out over the last decade. The characters are likeable enough, and there is plenty of fast paced action.  The book ends without much resolution, so don't even start if you are not committed to read the whole series. 375 p.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Star on Stormy Mountain by Gill Lewis

Cover image for Star on Stormy MountainStar is a student at the Puppy Academy.  Her mother is a champion sheep dog, and everyone expects Star to be one, too.  Unfortunately, Star doesn't seem to have what it takes to herd sheep.  She is too fast and reckless, but she keeps on trying.  On the day of the mountain sheep herding class, a storm comes up.  The other puppies race back to the lodge, but Star realizes there are lambs and humans still lost in the storm.  Will her fast feet and reckless courage help her help them?

This is my intermediate of the week. It is a cute story written on a good level for an emerging novel reader. Cartoon illustrations scattered throughout add to the book's kid appeal.  There are other books in the Puppy Academy series, and it seems like they are all about puppies discovering their true vocation.  It is an old theme, aptly presented here for a new generation. (115 p.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Cover image for Roller girlAstrid has been best friends with Nicole since first grade, but that starts to change when the girls watch a roller derby match together.  Astrid instantly wants to become a roller girl, but Nicole finds the experience distasteful.  Astrid signs up for a summer roller camp, and is surprised and hurt with Nicole opts to go to dance camp with bossy Rachel instead.  Things don't immediately get better once roller camp starts. Roller skating on the team is much more difficult than Astrid had anticipated, and she comes home each day bruised and exhausted.  Does Astrid have what it takes to become an awesome roller derby star like her idol Rainbow Bite?

This graphic novel was a Newbery Honor winner this year. It is also the Mother/Daughter book club book for this month.  I think is is a pretty good choice for both.  It deals with issues that most kids face as they transition into puberty; changing relationships with friends, changing relationships with parents, and a quest to establish one's own identity.  The plot element of the roller derby, something most children will have never heard of, adds a fresh and interesting vehicle to explore these issues. It will be interesting to discuss this with the mothers and daughters this week.  (239 p.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Cover image for Maybe a foxSylvie is one year older than her sister Jules. Their mother died a number of years before but they live pretty happily with their father on a big piece of wooded land in Vermont. One day there is a accident and Sylvie is killed.  As Jules and her father cope with another crushing loss in their family, a baby fox is born in the woods near their house.  The fox is connected with Sylvie and Jules somehow, and ends up having an important role to play in Jule's life.

Kathi Appelt is an amazing writer.  She portrays Jules' grief in aching terms and the way that Jules tries to deal with her grief is very believable for a character her age. Like Ghost,(see below), this is getting a lot of critical attention, but I actually liked Ghost better.  I felt like Appelt stuck in a couple too many social issues.  Not only is Jules dealing with the death of her sister, and the earlier death of her mother, but her best friend's brother is dealing with grief because of his friend who died while they were both serving in Afghanistan.  This brother of the friend also has a spirit animal, which is a giant mountain cat that is thought to be extinct.  If they had left out the friend's brother, the giant cat, and Afghanistan I think I would have liked the whole story better.  Still the writing is pretty amazing, so for that reason I can see why it has received some good reviews. (272 p.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ghost by Jason Reynold

Cover image for GhostCastle Crenshaw (he goes by Ghost) lives in a rough neighborhood.  His dad is serving time and his mom barely makes enough to put food on the table.  Ghost can't stay out of trouble at school, but when he gets a chance to be on an elite track team he is motivated to keep in step both on the field and in class.  For the first time he feels like he is a part of something, but when his past and his poor decisions catch up with him, he is at risk of losing it all.

This book has received a lot of starred reviews.  I liked it.  It was an above average social issues novel.  Some social issues novels try to stuff as many different issues as they can into one story.  This story sticks to one, poverty, and handles it in a very sympathetic and believable way.  As I read the book I thought, yeah, this could totally happen, and things like this probably do all the time.  If this ends up winning some awards, I won't be surprised or disappointed. (181 p)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Guys Read True Stories by Jon Scieszka (ed)

Cover image for Guys read. True storiesJon Scieszka is the king of getting to get boys to read.  He has a great Guys Read website, and he has compiled a number of collections of stories especially chosen for boys.  This "True Stories" collection is the first one that I have read.  I must admit, I just picked it up because I had finished my other book, and some books I have on hold hadn't come in yet.  I was going to read a few stories while I was waiting, kind of as a filler book.  Once I got started, though, I found I was really enjoying it.  All the contributors were names I recognized as prominent children's nonfiction writers. There is a wide variety of stories, some, I was surprised to see, written by women.  Some were adventure stories; about being marooned from a ship wreck, getting attacked by a bear in the Rockies, or running Canadian rapids in a canoe.  One was a science story about studying tarantulas in South America another was about growing up in Vietnam with three older brothers.  Some were funny, some suspenseful and some a little gruesome.  All of them were very entertaining.  I think I am going to be recommending these stories and the other Guys Reads books a lot more, especially to reluctant readers.(242 p.)

The Book of Kings by Cynthia Voigt

Cover image for Mister Max : the book of kingsThis is the third and final (?) book in the Mister Max series.  Max now knows that his parents have been forced to play the part of King and Queen in the far off South American country of Andesia.  Max fears that they are in danger and works to find a way that he and his grandmother can travel to Andesia and rescue them.  He finally gets himself a place in a diplomatic expedition to the Andesian king, but when they arrive they find that the political climate in the small country is very complicated and perilous.  It takes all of Max's "solutioneering" power to find a way to save his parents without losing his head. 

This is kind of an odd series. The setting is almost realistic, but not real.  Max's success at pretending to be an adult is almost believable, but not quite.  Especially in this book, there is not a lot of action.  Most of what goes on is going on in Max's head, and in the minds of the other characters as they try to figure out a way through their challenges. Even with all these oddities, I found that I really enjoyed this book and the whole series.  The idea that Max could pass himself off in a host of different adult personas is rather appealing. Voigt fully develops all the characters, and their interactions flow from their complex personalities.  I didn't know if the main Andesian leader was a good guy or a bad guy until the very end, and even then it was a little ambiguous.  I think I will end up giving this book to older readers who have read a lot and are looking for something a little more sophisticated than the average kid's novel. (338 p)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke

Cover image for RuffleclawRuffleclaw is an earth monster who has a strange interest in humans.  One day he decides to explore a human home and meets a little boy, named Tommy.  Tommy decides he kind of likes Ruffleclaw, even though the monster is rude and destructive.  Eventually he convinces his parents to let him keep Ruffleclaw as a pet. 

I chose this as my intermediate of the week because of the author.  Funke has written a lot of good fantasy books that I have enjoyed but I ended up not liking this book very much. The idea is ok.  A little boy becomes attached to a monster who, though uncouth, has some endearing characteristics.  The problem with this story is that the monster has no endearing characteristics.  It really is just rude and destructive.  So I ask myself, would a child like this?  Maybe.  Maybe the idea that a little creature could be totally naughty and still be loved could be really appealing to some child.  Still, I am not going to go out and buy an extra copy of the book for the collection or anything.(102 p.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Where are You Going, Baby Lincoln by Kate DiCamillo

Cover image for Where are you going, baby Lincoln?Baby Lincoln is not really a baby.  She is an old woman who has spent her life living in the shadow of her bossy older sister, Eugenia.  One night Baby Lincoln has a dream that she takes a trip on a train and when she wakes up she decides to make the dream come true.  Although she rarely does things on her own, she bravely packs a bag, goes to the train station and buys a ticket.  Once on the train she meets three people who help her see herself in a new way, but as the trip comes to a close, Baby Lincoln wonders how--and if--she will ever get home.

This is my intermediate book of the week and the third installment of the Tales from Deckawoo Drive.  Like the second, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Racoon, this one is about an adult on a journey of discovery.  It almost feels like this is a children's story that is really written for adults. Many adults will sympathize with Baby Lincoln's quiet struggle to define herself separately from her sister.  It could also be a good story to read to a child who is under the influence of a over-domineering friend.  Either way, the message is clear, but not overbearing and the story is sweet in a subdued kind of way.  (88p)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Red by Liesl Shurtliff

Cover image for Red : the true story of Red Riding HoodThis is the third in a series of fractured fairy tales by Liesl Shurtliff.  In this one Red is the granddaughter of the kindly "Witch of the Woods." Red was born with magical potential, but she can never seem to get her spells right.  When Red's grandmother becomes ill, Red is determined to do whatever it takes to find a cure.  She sets off on a quest and soon meets Goldie, a talkative and annoyingly helpful girl, and Wolf, with whom Red seems to have a special bond.  As the trio investigate one way after another to keep Red's grandmother from dying, Red begins to wonder if there is anything she can or should do to prevent the natural course of her grandmother's life. Like the others in the series, Rump and Jack, this book can stand alone, but Shurtliff's fans will recognize some familiar places and characters from the earlier books.  As in her other books, Shurtliff rifts from one fairy tale theme to another always giving each a healthy and sometimes humorous twist.  Red is a likeable character and even Goldie grows on you with time. Shurtliff leaves the door wide open for another sequel. (243 p.)