Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bad Hair Day by Sarah Mlynowski

Cover image for Bad hair dayThis week I disassembled, painted, and reassembled the two puppet stages at work. It took more than 3 hours and while I was working on that project I listened to another book in the Whatever After series. In this one Abby is bummed because she got ninth place in the class spelling bee. To cheer her up Jonah suggests they travel through the mirror and they end up in the story of Rapunzel.  In the process of meeting Rapunzel they accidentally ruin her beautiful hair. Rapunzel is devastated because she had placed her self esteem on her hair. Abby and Jonah help her realize that there is more to her than just how her hair looks.  Of course, their experience helps Abby feel better about herself as well.

The books in this series are fluffy and fun with a little bit of a moral to them.  They are a good choice for reluctant readers and those who like light fairy tale retellings. They are also good background noise for a middle-age librarian working on a tedious project. (165 p.)

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Curse of the Boggin by D.J. MacHale

Cover image for Curse of the BogginSomehow this week I got hold of two books about magical libraries.  This first one is about Marcus, who was orphaned at a young age, and is being raised by step-parents.  One day he starts having random supernatural experiences.  As he tries to figure out what is going on he finds out that his birth parents left him a large brass key that opens the door to a magical library.  In the library are histories of supernatural experiences, some of which are still being written.  He finds out that his parent's story is one of these and, with the help of friends, tries to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion by battling with the powerful and wicked Boggin.

This is a pretty intense and creepy fantasy.  Of course, we wouldn't have expected anything else from the author of the Pendragon series. Marcus and his friends are interesting enough as characters, but the strength of the book is in its fast paced, running-away-in-terror, action scenes.  Give this to the reader who likes Lockwood and Co and the Gordon Korman action fantasies.  (242p.)

Ghosts by Reina Telgemeier

Cover image for GhostsCat and her family move to northern California because Cat's sister, Maya, needs a more humid climate because of Cystic Fibrosis.  In their new town there is a strong tradition of interactions with ghosts, culminating with the Day of the Dead celebration in November.  Cat is not at all interested in becoming more acquainted with the dear departed, but Maya is fascinated with them, and that is what frightens Cat most. 

This is a graphic novel that is also on a lot of Newbery lists.  It is not without controversy, though.  The story draws heavily on Hispanic traditions, but Telgemeier is not Hispanic. So can a writer write about a culture they are not part of?  Of course they can.  Should they get an award for it?  Maybe or maybe not.  I must admit the cultural appropriation did bother me a bit. The book made it seem like all Hispanics talk with ghosts.  I can also see why the book got good reviews.  It is well done, and it deals with an important issue of making peace with death. (239 p.)

I have been reassigned to order the graphic novel section of my library, so I will be reading a more graphic novels going forward.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm

Beans Curry lives in depression era Key West Florida.  He is always looking for a way to earn a buck.  He tries collecting cans from the dump, or selling tree sap for gum.  When things get worse financially at home, he resorts to less ethical means, but eventually learns that running with the Wrong crowd has its consequences.

This is another book that is on many of the Newbery lists and it is primarily because Beans is such an intriguing figure. He starts out pretty a-moral, doing whatever it takes to make things work, but through the story he figures out that there really is a difference between right and wrong.  He is also amazing charming, with the kind of personality that makes other kids want to be his friend, and grownups trust him (even when he isn't very worthy of their trust).  Didn't we all know a kid like that when we were young?  This might not be my first choice for Newbery, but if it won, I wouldn't be too sad. (195 p.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Lawrence Yep

Cover image for A dragon's guide to the care and feeding of humansWhen her aunt Amelia passes away, Winnie and mother move into their ancestral home. What Winnie knows and her mother doesn't is that with the estate comes a dragon named Miss Drake.  Miss Drake considered aunt Amelia to be her beloved pet and called her, Fluffy, and was very sad at her passing.  The kindly, but stern dragon is not sure she is ready to take on another pet, especially such a young one, but she soon comes to admire Winnie's intelligence and pluck.

This was a darling book, much lighter and more playful than other books I have read by Yep.  The relationship between the dragon and Winnie is delightful and the magical world that Yep creates is charming.  This is a great choice as a read aloud for a family with younger children (maybe 4-8), or for a child who is young but has a high reading level.  (152p.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale, or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Cover image for The inquisitor's tale, or, The three magical children and their holy dogIn the tradition of the Canterbury Tales, the first half of this story is told by different people who are sitting in an inn recounting their experiences with the titular characters.  The story is set in Medieval France and the main characters are Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visionary seizures, William, a mixed racial young monk who is very large and preternaturally strong, and Jacob, who is a Jewish boy with the gift of healing.  As the three make their way in the world, fate leads them to meet and go on a quest that will eventually lead them to glory or death.

This book is all over the potential Newbery lists and got starred reviews just about everywhere.  It is irreverent and funny, but also deep and enchanting.  It is interesting to read a book that deals with Christian mythology and folktales instead of Greek or Norse.  I liked it a lot, but I am not sure how I feel about the ending.  I thought it was a bit of a Deo-ex-machina, and I didn't at all see it coming. It will be very interesting to see if it gets any awards next month. (363 p.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

One Half From the East by Nadia Hashmi

Cover image for One half from the eastWhen Obayda's father is injured in a bombing in Kabul, her family decides to move to a small village so they can be closer to extended family who can take care of them while her father recovers.  When they move, it is decided that Obayda will become a bacha posh, a girl dressed as a boy, to bring good luck to the family and eventually to be able to get a job to help with family finances. It is a huge adjustment for Obayda to become Obayd, and at first she doesn't do a very convincing job. Then she meet another bacha posh, and she teaches Obayda how to enjoy the freedom of being a boy.  She is just beginning to enjoy her new role, when something happens to bring it all to an abrupt end. 

I love books that allow me to take a peek into a totally different culture.  This story is so interesting to me, and Obayda is a very sympathetic character.  There is an underlying and very obvious political message about how girls are oppressed in some middle eastern cultures, but Hashmi lets it arise naturally through the story, so it doesn't feel heavy handed.  This is a great choice for people who like the books of Gloria Whelan, like Homeless Bird. (256 p.)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

Cover image for Juana & LucasJuana lives in Columbia and her best friend is her dog Lucas.  She loves her mother, she loves her school friend, and she likes her teacher.  She is a pretty good student, until they start learning English at school.  English is just too crazy, and the "th" sound tickles her tongue.  She wonders why she even needs to learn English.

Here is an intermediate book that has received starred reviews and deservedly so. It is even on some of the potential Newbery lists.  The writing is fun and full of energy.  There are a lot of Spanish words inserted into the text, but their meanings are clear from context. The illustrations on every page have a lot of kid appeal. I think non-native English speakers will love it, but native English speakers will, too, and it will help them understand a little the challenge of learning our wacky language.  I don't think this one will win the Newbery, but I wouldn't be surprised if it wins the Geisel  (the award for the best early reader) or at least a Belpre (for best book showing the Latin American experience) (88 p.)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Cover image for The girl who drank the moon Luna's life starts out in sorrow. As the last child born before the "Day of Sacrifice" she is destined to be given over to the terrible Witch who lives in the forest as an offering to ensure the well-being of the whole village for another year. Instead of being destroyed, however, Luna is "enmagicked" by the kindly witch and raised as her granddaughter. Meanwhile Luna's bereaved mother and a discontented council member strive to bring an end to the annual sacrifice and to the evil force behind it.

Here is a book that is on every Mock Newbery list I have seen this year, and rightly so. The writing and carefully woven plot stand out among other books I have read recently. All that said, I didn't love, love, love, the book. I didn't really feel that I got to know the main character, Luna, very much. She seems more like a literary devise than a real person. The book as a whole is very artsy, but I think that some committees like the artsy, literary, books. I will probably recommend this book to the veteran fantasy readers as something different and emotionally sophisticated. (388 p.)