Saturday, June 24, 2017

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Cover image for Star scoutsAvani has moved to a new town and is having a hard time fitting in with her new Flower Scouts group.  All they want to talk about is boys and makeup, and make fun of Avani because she used to compete in rodeos.  Then one night, Avani is mistakenly transported to another planet where she meet Mabel, a friendly alien, and the Star Scouts.  Although they look very different from Avani, she soon fits right in.  Her main problem now is how to convince her father to let her go across the universe to Camp Andromeda.

This is a delightful science fiction twist on the old "new girl at a new school" theme. Lawrence's story and illustrations are full of action and humor. Avani gets to do so many fun things, readers will be wishing they could be Star Scouts as well. Parents should be forewarned that Lawrence doesn't have any reservations about potty humor.  One of the classes at the camp is "Alien Scatology" and one of the campers makes a robot named "Goose" that pinches people's butts.  Of course, that just adds to the book's appeal to the target audience.  (185 p.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao

Cover image for Bronze and Sunflower
(Unfortunate Cover)
In rural China during the Cultural Revolution, Sunflower meets a mute country boy named Bronze while her father works at a cadre school (a place where city folks were sent to learn the virtues of hard labor). When her father dies, Sunflower is adopted by Bronze's family. Although they are very poor, the family loves Sunflower and make great sacrifices so that she can go to school and have a good life. She, in turn, comes to love her new family, and especially her new brother, with all her heart.

This is a book that has received a lot of starred reviews this year. It is a good book for the kind of reader who wants to totally immerse themselves in another time and culture for a while. No one who didn't live in a small Chinese town could have written the story with so much detail and intimacy. Cao is Chinese, and this book is a translation from Chinese.  There is a real Asian flavor, a sense of the importance of community working together and of individuals sacrificing for the good of the whole that you don't find in Western writing. I am glad I read it. That said, I found it a little slow. The story covers 5 years in Sunflower's life, and it seemed that long by the time I finished it. The other issue is the ending. What is up with the ending???  (You will have to read it to find out what I mean by that.)   Still, I can see why it got good reviews, and it is a solid addition to multicultural literature for children. (386 p.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mighty Zodiac #1: Starfall

Cover image for The Mighty Zodiac. StarfallOne of the Guardian Dragons has died and left part of the world unprotected.  It is up to the zodiac animals to find the magic stars that will turn their master, Master Long, into the new guardian dragon, but first they must defeat the evil shadow rabbits.

This was a fun adaptation of Chinese folk tales.  The animal characters remind me a little of the animals in Disney's Robin Hood.  The illustrations are all in full color, and tell the story with energy. This book is pretty devoid of subtlety.  As I read it the voice in my head kept slipping into the announcer voice from the old live-action Batman TV show.  It has been amazing to me as I have read more graphic novels, what a range there is in style and "voice" in the illustrations.  This one is not sophisticated, but I think 8 year old boys (or superhero fan girls) would love it and then play Mighty Zodiac pretend games during recess for a long time afterward. (148 p.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Adventurer's Guide to Successfull Escapes by Wade Albert White

Cover image for The adventurer's guide to successful escapesAnne is an orphan waiting for her 13th birthday so she can leave the orphanage forever.  She hopes that she and her friend, Penelope, will be accepted into a questing school, but there is little chance of that--or at least that is what they think.   The day before Anne's birthday she and Penelope are  recruited by a school and given their first quest. They receive one more addition to her team, a boy names Hiro, and together they face seeming insurmountable odds to pursue their goal.

A lot of books I choose to read because they received starred reviews.  This one did not.  It is a B-level fantasy at best, but it was entertaining.  The author added some steam punk elements that were fun and there is good chemistry between the three children.  The main shortcoming is that the quest that was supposed to be impossibly difficult was really not very difficult at all.  If that was a high level quest, a low level quest probably requires the student to successfully make it to the bathroom and back.  Still, it is a fun story and I would recommend it to younger children who are good readers, who want a longer book but can't handle emotional intensity yet.  (374 p.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

Cover image for The trouble with chickens : a J.J. Tully mysteryChildren's book lovers will probably recognize the name of Doreen Cronin as the author of several very successful picture books, including Click Clack Moo and Diary of a Spider.  This is (I believe) her first attempt at writing longer fiction. 

J.J. used to be a rescue dog, but now lives as an "outdoors" dog on a farm.  He tries to keep his rescue skills alive by protecting the other farm animals.  When a  mother hen comes to him and explains that one of her babies has gone missing, J.J. is on the case. 

This was cute.  J.J. talks like an old fashion gum shoe detective.  There are some funny moments when the rival house dog tries to look cool, but is foiled by the cone around his neck.  The baby chicks turn out to be more intelligent than they seem at first.  It was not an awesome novel, but a decently amusing one for a 6 or 7 year old. (114 p.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Phantom 'Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Cover image for The phantom tollboothThe other day I was feeling guilty because I had never read the children's fantasy classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.  When I saw it was available on OverDrive I jumped at the opportunity to assuage my guilt.

Milo is bored of everything.  Then one day a large toy arrives at his house with his name on it.  It is a tollbooth, like those you see at the entrance to a toll road.  It comes with an instruction book and some coins to pay the toll. Once Milo pays the toll, he is whisked away in his little toy electric car into a world of fantasy. 

This book has a similar flavor to Alice in Wonderland.  There is not really a strong plot, and Milo is not a well developed character, but the people and creatures he meets are interesting enough to carry the book.  They are all personifications of plays on words (e.g. the "watchdog" on the cover) and there are many puns and much snappy patter.  I know people for whom this was their favorite book as a child, though contemporary children might not know some of the old fashion terms used in the puns (it was written in the '60's). None the less, I found it amusing and am glad I read it.  (279 p.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

Cover image for NightlightsI haven't been keeping up with my comic book.  This is one that receive starred reviews.

Sandy likes to draw, and her drawing helps her escape into the world of imagination. One day she meets a girl, Morfie, who admires her artwork. That night, Morfie haunts Sandy's dreams as a hungry specter who wants to eat Sandy's imagination. Lines between reality and fancy are blurred until they become dangerously thin.

This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel all done in eye-popping color. It is also slightly creepy which, I think, will increase it's appeal to the target audience.  It ends on a cliffhanger, so I expect we will be seeing a sequel soon. (54 p.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

Cover image for Save me a seatIn India, Ravi was the top student and the best a cricket.  Now on the first day in his new school in the United States, he finds that he is no longer a star. At his old school he would have never associated with a kid like Joe, who is big and awkward, and has a learning disability.  Now the two boys find themselves thrown together in the same remedial class, united because they are both victims of the same bully and in need of a friend.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was sweet and both of the main characters were very sympathetic.  The chapters in the book alternate between Ravi's and Joe's point of view and are written by Varadarajan and Weeks respectively.  I liked that in the end the authors included both a glossary for kids unfamiliar with Indian terms, and one for kids unfamiliar with American terms.  This is a heartwarming read for those who like the books of R. J. Palacio and Lisa Graff. (216 p.)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale

Doreen was born with a squirrel tale and the ability to talk with squirrels.  Her parents always urged her to keep her tale hidden so that other kids don't feel bad that they don't have one, but when Doreen moves to a new state and starts at a new middle school, she finds it hard to make friends, and to keep her amazing Squirrel Girl abilities a secret.

Cover image for The unbeatable Squirrel Girl : squirrel meets worldI was pleased to see that Shannon Hale was contracted to write this one: First, because I thought she would keep it clean, and second I hoped it would actually have good writing and character development. My first hope was certainly realized.  This is a book I would feel totally OK giving to an 8 year old girl.  The second was mostly realized.  The book is written well enough that the target audience will love it.  Not only does Doreen have a squirrel's tale and strength, she also has a squirrel's chipper, slightly hyper personality.  Her parents are super sweet, too. That said, I didn't think Hale really ever connected personally with her character.  Doreen remained a cartoon character to me.  I didn't ever think she was a real person with real feelings. Maybe that is what Hale was going for, but I would have enjoyed a little more depth. Still, as I said, I am not sorry I read it, and I am pretty sure kids are going to love it. (324 p.)

(There was one incredibly funny part that makes reading the book totally worth it.  At one point Doreen exchanges texts with Tony Stark (Ironman) and they are so funny.  I won't say more, but, yep, I laughed pretty hard.)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

Cover image for The dark prophecyIn this second of the Trials of Apollo series, Apollo is traveling with Leo Valdez and Calipso to try to find Meg and the second oracle.  They follow clues to the American Midwest.  There they find a safe haven for Demigods and mythical creatures, but they also find the second evil emperor of the Triumvirate.  Everything leads up to an epic battle.

I must admit, I am finally getting tired of these.  They really are very much alike.  In this one the thing that bugged me is that Apollo spent so much time telling about his various past love affairs that went wrong.  I didn't want to hear about how he treated this or that human/god with cavalier sexual disrespect. Of course, there was the normal fast-paced action and snappy patter, but I think I am done.  Bye, bye, Apollo. (though I might read the next Magnum Chase .) (414 p.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

This is a story published by Disney that is a companion story to Beauty and the Beast. The story takes place between the time the Belle first arrives at the castle and the time that Belle and the Beast dance and the Beast lets Belle go.

Image result for Beauty and the Beast lost in a bookThe story starts with a scene where two sisters, Love and Death are playing chess and discussing Belle and the Beast.  They argue about whether Love or Death will win out in this instance and end up making a wager.  For the rest of the story Death is actively trying to thwart Belle's growing attachment to the Beast by creating an alternate reality, called Nevermore, that Belle can access through a magic book in the Beast's library.  In Nevermore Belle can have all her heart's desires. She knows it isn't real, but the Countess (Death) promises that is could someday become real. Belle is torn between the friends and the glamorous life she finds in Nevermore and her growing friendships with Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, and Cogsworth in the real world.

If you are thinking that this is a cute book you could read aloud to your five-year-old Disney-princess-loving daughter, think again.  This has some seriously intense and creepy scenes.  The final scene when Belle  figures out what Nevermore and the Countess are, nearly rivals Gaiman's Coraline in creepiness.  That said, I liked this book. The pacing dragged a little in the middle, but I thought overall it was well crafted.  Donnelly shows Belle and the Beast laying the foundations of a real relationship and it makes Belle's declaration of love for the Beast that occurs at the end of the movie much more believable. I will give this book to kids ages 10+ who really like the new Beauty and the Beast movie. (341 p.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard

Cover image for Becoming BachAt the library we have been assigned to prepare book talks that we can video record for the school librarians.  We must choose one picture book, one nonfiction, one intermediate or comic book and one fiction novel.  The books have to have been published in the last year. 

For my nonfiction I found this beautifully illustrated picture book biography in which Leonard gives the reader a glimpse into the early life and musical legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach. The spare text --there are only a few lines per page-- is written in first person, as if Bach is telling his own story. He relates how he was orphaned at a young age and was raised by an older brother.  He became a professional musician quite young, and lived his whole life within 200 miles of his birthplace. The text is good and very accessible, but the thing that makes this book amazing is the illustrations. Leonard is clearly trying to portray with color and line the beauty and complexity of Bach's music. Sometimes multi-colored musical staves, or flowery patterns, swirl through the illustrations.  In other pictures, the images themselves are made with musical notes.  I think Leonard does a great job suggesting Bach's music, and I think it would be wonderful to read the book with some of Bach's music playing in the background. (32 p.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Cover image for Murder is bad manners : a Wells & Wong mysteryThis is the first in a new children's mystery series set in 1933 England.  Hazel Wong is from Hong Kong and has come to boarding school in England.  She is befriended by one of the most popular girls in her grade, Daisy Wells, and they form a secret detective agency.  Their first big case comes when Hazel finds the body of one of their teachers lying in the gymnasium. Hazel runs to get help, but when they return, the body is gone. Hazel and Daisy are amazed when the administration claims that the teacher simply quit her job and life at the school goes on as if nothing sinister has happened.  Daisy and Hazel decide that it is up to them to solve the crime.

This book, and the other two in the series have all received starred reviews. Daisy and Hazel are complex characters.  Hazel has to deal with racial prejudice, and Daisy is rather controlling and over ambitious.  The reader senses that Hazel and Daisy's relationship is not entirely healthy, but Hazel is just grateful to have any friend, so she is willing to do things for Daisy she wouldn't otherwise do.  The mystery is also rather complex.  The reader gets to see into the varied lives of all the teachers who are the suspects in the case.  I should have seen the final solution, but I must admit I did not. Once it was revealed I could see that Stevens had given ample clues to the solution, but I had missed them.  It is pretty good mystery writing.  I will probably read more in the series. (307p.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for Sprig muslinI went on a cruise, and decided to have some very light reading for the trip.  So I chose--you guessed it--Georgette Heyer. 

This one is classic Heyer.  A slightly more mature wealthy gentleman, Sir Gareth Ludlow, decides that it is his duty to marry, even though his heart was lost long ago when the fiance of his youth died before they could wed.  He chooses to propose to an old friend, Hester, who is also a confirmed old maid.  On the way to propose he meets a young girl, Amanda (age 17) who has run away from home and clearly needs a protector.  It is quite a scandal when he arrives to propose to Hester with the amazingly beautiful Amanda in tow. Amanda turns out to be rather headstrong and creative in her attempts to free herself from Gareth's protection.  Will Gareth fall for the fiery upstart, or will he remain true to the quiet and faithful Hester?  You never know with Heyer and I wasn't sure which way she was going to take it until about 2/3s the way through.  

All Heyer's leading men are the same, and there isn't much variety in her women as well, but as long as you expect and embrace that, it is just fun to see what variations Heyer comes up with using the same ingredients.  There were some truly funny scenes in this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (268 p.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

Cover image for The creeping shadowThis is the fourth installment of the Lockwood and Co series.  In this one Lucy has left the agency because of the premonition she received at the end of book 3.  She is successful as an independent agent, but her life is empty and her only friend is The Skull. When Lockwood comes to her door begging her to come back and help them with "just one case" he doesn't have to twist her arm very hard.  Their case is a request by Penelope Fittes herself to tackle the ghost of a famous cannibal.  That case leads to another, and soon they are battling the biggest and scariest phenomenon they have ever faced.

This story does not disappoint Lockwood and Co fans at all. All the main characters develop in their relationships with each other, and readers get few more hints at the ultimate cause of "The Problem."  Stroud is a master at crafting both characters and plots, balancing intensity and humor so that readers are biting their nails one minute, and laughing out loud the next.  I can hardly wait for the next one to come out (probably in the fall.) (445 p.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snow White by Matt Phelan

Cover image for Snow WhiteThis graphic novel got a lot of attention last year during Mock Caldecotts.  It is a retelling of the story of Snow White set during the depression.  It has very few words--I read the whole thing in about 1/2 hr, but the art work is stunning. Snow is the daughter of wealthy stock market investor. After her mother dies, her father marries a glitzy Broadway star. Then the stock market fails and Snow's family is left penniless. Snow's step mother disposes of her husband by means of a poisoned drink and then sends Snow off to boarding school.  When Snow graduates and returns home, her step mother is jealous of her beauty and hires a stage hand to kill her.  He can't bring himself to do it, and urges her to flee.  Snow is befriended by a group of street kids but they are unable to protect her from her jealous stepmother.  When they find her unconscious body, the put her in a sparkly department store window display out of respect for her kindness to them.  She is discovered by a police man, officer Prince, who revives her.  It is all very clever and works quite well.  Phelan's illustrations are primarily black and white, but capture the time period and drama of the story perfectly. This book is a little dark, and isn't really appropriate for small children, but for older kids up to adult, it is well worth the read. (216 p.)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke

Cover image for Zita the spacegirl. Book 1, Far from homeZita and her friend, Joseph are playing in the forest when they find a newly formed impact crater.  At the bottom they find a shiny red devise.  Joseph warns Zita not to push the button on it, but she does and as a result Joseph gets sucked into another world.  Zita decides to go after him and finds herself on a world full of creatures of all shapes and sizes.  The only other human she meets is the mysterious Piper and he agrees to help her find her friend, but can he be trusted?

This is another graphic novel series that is popular for lovers of action adventure science fiction.  Zita is a solid character and she meets several endearing side kicks along the way. The color illustrations are great and the whole story is imaginative and entertaining.  This is the first of a three book series. (182 p.)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor

Cover image for All rise for the Honorable Perry T. CookPerry was born at the Blue River minimum security correctional facility when his mother was still a teenager.  He was allowed to live at the facility because the warden was his official foster parent.  Then, one day a new district attorney discovers that he has been living at the facility and goes on a crusade to try to "free" him.  Perry loves being able to live with his mother, and has close friends among both the staff and the residents of the facility, so he is not happy when he gets yanked away. He is a good boy, and, with the help of some friends, works through legitimate channels to try to find a way to be reunited with his mother again.

Here is another book about a nice boy trying to work through a difficult problem.  It had a similar feeling to the one I just read, The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. In that book, the reader comes to sympathize with residents of a nursing home, and in this the reader comes to see the prison inmates in a new light.  In the book Perry does an oral history project where he collects the stories of some of the inmates. Some of the inmates received really long sentences for just momentary lapses in judgement.  It makes me wonder how true-to-life the stories are.  I kind of wish there was an afterward that said that the stories of the inmates were based on real cases and sentences.  The inmates, Perry, his friend Zoey and Perry's foster parents all have well developed and interesting personalities. Although this book is well written and got good reviews, I am not sure if many kids would pick it up on their own.  It is one librarians will have to promote or I am afraid it won't circulate much. The Mother/Son book club  at our library will be doing this book in the fall.  (381 p)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Into the Lion's Den: a Devlin Quick Mystery by Linda Fairstein

Cover image for Into the lion's denDevlin Quick is the daughter of the NYC police commissioner.  She, like her mother, has a nose for crime solving, so when a  friend believes she has seen a page cut out of a valuable book in the NYC Public Library, Devlin is on the case.

This is the first in a new child detective series.  I liked it okay but I didn't love it.  Devlin is a strong girl character, but I didn't like how she was cavalier about rules.  She seems pretty a-moral, and her friends have to keep reminding her that breaking the rules really isn't OK. What's more, her mother, the Police Commissioner, who you would think would be uber-strict about such things, was actually rather permissive. After Devlin totally disobeys her mother, and almost gets herself killed, her mother just beams with pride at her brave little daughter. I could see how kids might like it.  Devlin gets to do all kinds of cool things, and never gets in trouble, so in that way it is a wish fulfillment story.  Still, I don't imagine I will bother reading any more in the series. (312 p.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones by Wendelin Van Draanen

Cover image for The secret life of Lincoln JonesLincoln and his mother escaped an abusive situation and have started a new life in a new town. Lincoln's mother has a job as a caregiver at a nursing home, and every day after school Lincoln goes to Brookside and spends his afternoons with his mother and the residents. The home cares for Alzheimer's patients, and things can get pretty crazy sometimes, but Lincoln admires how his mother and the other caregivers take care of the "oldies".  Life is more complicated at school.  Lincoln is so afraid that the other kids will find out where he spends his afternoons, that he keeps to himself and spends all his free time writing stories in his notebooks.  Then Candy shows up, noses her way into Lincoln's life, and everything changes.

I really like Van Draanen.  I think I would be willing to read about anything she wrote.  Lincoln is one of the nicest kids in recent literature.  He isn't perfect, or goody goody, but he is just a nice boy who is making his way through a rough situation.  Van Draanen's descriptions of the residents of the home is sometimes humorous, but always sympathetic. Interestingly, she often parallel's the resident's behavior with the behavior of the kids at Lincoln's school.  This is a great read, and I wish it had received more national attention.  261 p.(maybe the cover is partially to blame.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hilo #3: The Great Big Boom by Judd Winik

Cover image for The great big boomSo here is number three in the Hilo series.  I looked back at my review records, all three in the series have received starred review, which is rare for comic books.  They really are a delight.  In this one Hilo and DJ must find a way to figure out where Gina was taken at the end of book 2.  They find her on the home world of their new friend, Polly, the warrior cat.  Polly's clan is in trouble and Hilo and DJ stay to help bring peace to their world. In the process, DJ learns more about friendship, and Hilo learns more about his past. (193 p)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Force Awakens, a Junior Novelization by Michael Kogge

Image result for the force awakens junior novelThis is just what the title suggests.  It is a retelling of the movie, The Force Awakens, written for a middle grade audience.  It was surprisingly well done. The story is true to the movie, but adds a few little details that were left out of the movie. For instance, how does Poe Dameron get back to the rebel base?   How did Rey learn to fly a star fighter?  What happened to Finn before his fateful battle at Jakku?  You can find the answers in this book.  Kogge keeps the degree of detail for the combat scenes appropriate for the target age group.  He resists making Rey and Finn's relationship a romance, and keeps it at a friendship. I actually haven't ordered the paper form of this book for my collection yet, but I will when I get back to work tomorrow. (192 p.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hilo 2: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick

Cover image for Saving the whole wide worldHere is the second in the Hilo comics series.  In this one Hilo returns to Earth and moves in next door to DJ. He Constructs a fake grandparent so the onlookers won't wonder why a kid is living alone and a secret lab where he monitors openings to the void through which evil minions might invade the earth. When a destructive force greater than any they have yet encountered lands near DJ's house, Hilo, Gina and DJ will need all the help they can get to defeat it.

These are really fun action comics that will appeal to both the Avatar crowd and the Calvin and Hobbes readers.  Hilo is so chipper and likeable that he is hard to resist.  Winik manages a nice balance of plot, character development and action.The third in the series received a starred review so that is next on my comic book reading list. (192 p.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cover image for Cinder Cinder is a teenage cyborg  and some say she is the best mechanic in New Bejing.  She lives with a guardian who basically owns her, and her two daughters.  One of the daughters is Cinder's friend, but the other is as cold-hearted as her mother.  One day Prince Kai comes to Cinder's stall at the bazaar and asks if she can fix his droid.  Soon Cinder is sucked into castle intrigue involving a devastating plague, an evil lunar queen, and the mystery of Cinder's own origins.

As much as I love children's literature, sometimes I crave for something written for an older audience.  I had heard of this series because Ms Meyer came and spoke at the library a while ago.  When I saw this on my OverDrive app I decided I would try it.  It turned out to be a really fun read.  There is a little more intensity than a middle grade novel.  YA novelists have no qualms with killing off major characters, and the descriptions of the plague wards are not at all cheery, but Cinder is a endearing strong female character, and her crush on Kai and his crush on her is pretty adorable.  I will probably read the next in the series when I get tired of Kiddie Lit again.(390 p.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

Cover image for The King of KazooBing's familiar, a bluebird named Gypsy, brings troubling news.  There is a new hole in Mount Kazoo, and Bing has a feeling it is something sinister.  Her father, King Cornelius, is too busy trying to improve his public image to listen, until he realizes that saving the people from whatever danger lurks in the mountain will bring him the fame and glory he craves.  As they set off on their quest, Bing wonders if her biggest problem isn't the earthquakes, the wild Kroakers, or even the giant homicidal robot, but her father's king-sized ego.

This graphic novel is a bit sillier than the ones I have read recently.  It is funny and action packed, so I think it will have a pretty broad appeal.  Feuti does a good job with his visual storytelling, and it is nice that his illustrations are in color.  It isn't my favorite of the graphic novels I have read this year.  but I will probably end up recommending it to kids who liked Baby Mouse, Adventure Time or some of the other more less serious graphic novels.(203 p.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Cover image for Word of mouseIsaiah is the smallest, and perhaps the most cowardly of all the mice at the "horrible place," a research laboratory. It is amazing, therefore, that when 97 genetically altered mice try to escape, Isaiah is the only one who is not caught.  Despite his bright blue color, he is accepted into a nearby mischief, or mouse family group, and discovers that his scientifically augmented abilities come in handy in the outside world.  He soon finds that he has become a leader among mice, but what he really wants is to find a way to free his family from the lab.  In the end it is not his agility, his intelligence, or even his ability to speak with humans, but his ability to look past differences with an open heart that is the key to his success.

This book was about what you would expect form Patterson/Grabenstein.  There is a lot that would appeal to children, but it seemed a little heavy handed and melodramatic to me. Part of that impression might be because of the reader in the audiobook I listened to.  His inflection was a little over-the-top.  Because I listened to the book instead of reading it I didn't see any of the illustrations, but the story worked fine without them.  This is a good book for kids who are transitioning from intermediate to longer fiction who like animal stories and haven't yet developed a sophisticated taste in literature.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

Cover image for The castle in the mistTess and Max are sent to live with a maiden aunt in England while their father works as a war correspondent in Afghanistan, and their mother recovers from an illness.  Tess finds a old key near the ruins of a castle near their aunt's country home.  The key is magic, and when Tess uses it to open a rusty gate, it leads her into a world when the castle was the home of young Lord William, his nurse, Marie, and a number of house servants.  Tess and Max visit William a number of times and have sometimes enchanting, sometimes frightening adventures.  Both William and Tess have the same wish, that they can be reunited with their parents, and it is up to Tess to make the wish come true.

I really liked this one.  It has an old fashion feel, like the Edith.Nesbit novels of early 1900's.  The children are kind and gracious to each other, and their adventures are fanciful and imaginative.  I was worried that it would have a really sad ending, but Ephron did a good job of making the story feel like it has a satisfying and positive resolution.  (167 p.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

News Prints by Ru Xu

Cover image for NewsprintsBlue is an aggressive newsie in the coastal town of Nautelene. None of the other orphans know Blue's secret; she isn't a boy, as she appears, but is a girl who dresses as a boy so she can work and try to pay her own way.  One day Blue meets a enigmatic inventor, Jack, who takes her on as an apprentice.  She also meets another street kid, Crow, who, like her, hides a secret.  Little does Blue know that Jack also has a secret that ultimately connects Blue and Crow to the future of Natalene's looming war.

Here is a new "steam punk" series for those who like Kibuishi's Amulet   Blue is an appealing strong-girl character who is both tough and kind.  Xu's full-color illustrations do a great job at establishing the personalities of the characters and setting the tone of the story, while keeping up the breathless pace and high action of the plot. I think I like this one just as much as the first Amulet I read, maybe a little more because it doesn't have the "stuffed animal" style sidekicks that seem a little silly to me (but maybe kids really like the silly sidekicks, I don't know.) I did, at times, have a hard time keeping track of who was whom among the supporting cast in this book. Still, this is a good solid choice for the astute graphic novel connoisseur.  (198 p.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park

Cover image for Forest of wondersThis is the first in a new series, "Wing and Claw". Raffa lives with his parents and extended family in a town by the "Forest of Wonders."  His family are apothecaries, and Raffa has a special gift for mixing up curative poultices and infusions.  One day he finds a rare red vine and when he feeds it to an injured bat, the bat suddenly gains the ability to speak.  The leader of the Commons, the ruling class, invites Raffa and his family to the wealthy political seat to work on a special project.  With the help of newfound friends, Raffa figures out what the special project is and who is behind its evil purpose.

Linda Sue Park won the Newbery with A Single Shard, but has written quite a few other children's novels.  This is a pretty good middle grade fantasy.  A couple of times I wondered if the main character was going to do something stupid, but Raffa manages to avoid the worst mistakes.  Raffa's friends and family members are well drawn and complex characters. Each has ethical dilemma's and Park resists the temptation to draw a clear line between right and wrong.  I didn't love love love this book, but I might be interested in reading the next in the series when it is released. (242 p.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Cover image for See you in the cosmosAn 11 year old boy, Alex, lives with his mother in Colorado.  His mother has "quiet" days when she doesn't feel well enough to leave the house, and Alex takes responsibility for doing the cooking and shopping for both of them.  Alex is in love with the idea of rockets and space travel, and he saves money from his job helping at a gas station to buy a train ticket to New Mexico so he can attend a amateur rocket launch.  He manages to travel with his dog, Carl Segan.  At the convention he makes friends with two college guys, who, when they discover he has traveled alone, take him under their wing. After the launch, Alex receives word that his father might be alive and living in Las Vegas.  Alex and the two college guys start a wild road trip in search of answers about Alex's family.

This is an interesting book.  It is written as a series of recordings that Alex makes on his "golden I-Pod" (a reference to the golden record sent in the Mars probe).  Cheng writes them as a kind of "stream of experience" where anything that might have been picked up in a live recording is written into the narrative.  It feels raw, unfiltered, and achingly realistic.  The thing that saves that book from being too "raw" is that Alex, although he has been terribly neglected by a non-functional family, has a really buoyant and likeable personality.  Terrible things happen, and he bounces back and looks on the bright side.  I listened to the book on recording.  It is produced with a full cast and with sound effects.  I am pretty sure this one will be a candidate for the Odyssey award (for best recorded books) this year.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Hilo: The Boy who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

Cover image for The boy who crashed to EarthHere is my graphic novel for the week.  I chose it because the 3rd in the series just got a starred review last month.  This one got starred reviews when it came out in 2015

One day, D.J. sees an explosion in a field near his house.  When he goes to investigate he finds a blond boy lying in a crater with only silver underpants on.  He takes the boy home and soon suspects that the boy, Hilo, is not from this world.  Hilo doesn't understand the most simple things, like what is appropriate to eat, but has an irresistibly cheerful attitude. D.J finds him some clothes and food and lets him stay at his house.  The next day Hilo follows D.J. to school and causes all kinds of embarrassment, especially when D.J. realizes his old best friend, Gina, has just moved back into town after having been away for a number of years. Things get even more interesting when their town is attacked by a giant robot. 

Don't you love comic books.  You go from having a fairly normal school story to fighting giant robot insects at the turn of a page.  I actually enjoyed this book pretty much.  Hilo is a really likeable character, and D.J. and Gina make pretty good sidekicks.  I look forward to reading the next book.(191 p.)

Flying Lessons and Other Stories

Cover image for Flying lessons & other storiesThis is the children's fiction book that has received the most starred reviews so far this year.  It is a collection of short stories by some famous children's authors that each deal with diversity.  I listened to the book electronically. Each story has different narrators and producers.  Some are read by the author, and some are doing by voice actors.  This collection is part of a campaign called, "We need diverse books."  I liked the fact that the stories presented children from a variety of races, cultures, and abilities, but none of the stories was really about, "Whoa is me, it is so tough to be _________"  They were mostly just a slice of real life for a black person in a white city, or a boy in a wheel chair, or girl making a new friend from a different culture,  etc.  My favorite story was the title story, mostly because I could relate with the main character.  He is a boy who is really good at academics, but not very good socially.  He wants to make friends, but doesn't know how and he lacks confidence to even try.  The author really pegged what it felt like to be me as a child, and to some extent, still me today.  The fact that the boy was half Indian, half white American, visiting Spain with his grandmother, didn't obscure the common humanity I felt with the character. I think this is the main strength of this collection; a feeling that, in the end, we have more in common than we think. (218 p)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Drawing Lesson by Mark Crilley

Cover image for The drawing lesson : a graphic novel that teaches you how to drawHere is an interesting graphic nonfiction.  A young boy, David, sees a woman sitting on a park bench, drawing.  He is impressed with her artwork and begs her to give him a drawing lesson.  The woman, Becky, finally does, and David is so delighted he starts stalking her to get more drawing lessons.  Each lesson is one chapter in the graphic novel.  Becky teaches David about proportions, shading, composition, blank space, and other good basic drawing skills. Becky has David do a sketch, and then she critiques it and suggests improvements. I like the fact that when David gets something off in his drawing, it isn't obviously off, until you look at it closely.  Then you notice what Becky is pointing out.  Each chapter ends with suggests for the reader to try at home.  Reading the book really is a little like receiving personal drawing lessons.  I wonder if this book will appeal to the kids who check out the "How to Draw" books.  One of the reasons the "How to Draw" books are so popular is that they give the artist instant gratification; just follow these 5 simple steps and you have a recognizable picture.  This book takes a little more time commitment, especially if you do the practice suggestions.  I am eager to give it to some of my young artist friends and see if they like it. (137 p.)

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Wearle by Chris D'Lacey

Cover image for The WearleThe Wearle, a race of dragons, has just arrived on Erth (sic).  They have displaced a primitive tribe of the Hom and are hoping to set up a breading ground.  They are also trying to discover what happened to an earlier colony of Wearle that disappeared some years before.  Most of the Hom hate the "scalers" but are powerless to fight them.  One young Hom, Ren, is fascinated with them and makes a bold move to learn more about them.  He inadvertently gets involved with Wearle political intrigue and becomes the key to discovering the grisly fate of the earlier Wearle colony.

D'Lacey is well known for his "Last Dragon Chronicles" series which I have not read, and I believe this story is connected with that.  I kept feeling like I was missing something; that certain revelations were significant, but I didn't understand them. The book mostly made sense on its own, and I recognize that D'Lacey had created a richly imagined fantasy world that many sophisticated fantasy readers would enjoy.  I didn't enjoy it that much.  It was a bit too dark and violent for my taste.  There was a lot of death, dismemberment, and cruelty among the humans and the dragons. The first and second book of D'Lacey's Unicorne Files, which I have read, (or at least I started to read the second one, but stopped) were also too dark for me, so I think I am done with Chris D'Lacey. (284 p.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone By Delia Sherman

Cover image for Evil wizard SmallboneNick runs away from his abusive uncle in hopes of finding a better life for himself. What he finds is a magic bookstore and its owner, who claims to be an evil wizard. The Evil Wizard Smallbone takes Nick as his apprentice, but refused to teach him magic. Instead Nick has to cook and clean and tend the animals. Luckily the bookstore gives Nick just what he needs to handle Smallbone and an even greater threat, the cruel werewolf,  Fidelou.

Sherman has created a delightful magical romp that will appeal to kids who like the fantasies of Michael Buckley and Holly Black.  Nick and Smallbone are both endearingly flawed and the fun of the book is watching them gradually go from being enemies to allies.  Sherman's magic system is interesting and  I was pleasantly surprised that there were plot twists that I hadn't expected.  The book had a satisfying ending, but leaves enough open that readers can hope for a sequel. (408 p.)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman

Cover image for Mission unstoppableTwins, Coke and Pepsi McDonald, have been recruited by secret government agency called the Genius Files.  The purpose for the organization is to use the brightest children's flexible minds to solve the country's problems.  But all Coke and Pep seem to do is try to outwit evil henchmen in bowler hats who keep trying to kill them.  Coke and Pep's parents decide to take a trip across the country by RV to learn more about geography on the way to their aunt's wedding.  As Coke and Pepsi cross the country they are given their first mission, and learn lots of interesting but unimportant facts about America.

This book is the first in the Genius Files series but it seems pretty obvious to me that the writer is no genius.  This is one of the dumbest books I have read in a long time.  It is clear that Gutman's main purpose in writing the book was to tell children about unusual places to see in the US.  At the beginning there is an author's note that all the places described in the book are real.  A lot of time is spent with the characters spouting random facts about the National Yo-yo Museum, or the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas.  After all the geography lessons, there is not much room for plot.

On top of that, the children's behavior is not at all realistic.  After the first time the assassins try to kill them, they seem not at all traumatized but walk home worrying that their parents will be mad at them for being late. Then they seem to forget that happened, and calmly go to school the next day.  The attempts on the kid's lives are completely lame and contrived. At one point the assassins throw them in a pit, hoping they will die of thirst, and are confident that their parents, who are in a car less than a mile away waiting for the kids to return, will not come to look for them in time.  Another time they are in a Spam factory and the assassins try to throw them into an open vat if Spam. Of course, all food factories have meat in open vats with walkways over them.  I could go on.  The final scene where they meet the evil mastermind, and he monologues about why he is trying to kill them is the lamest of all. 

The thing is, I read one of Gutman's "My Weird School" books and it was actually very clever.  So I don't know what was up with this one. (293 p)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Time Museum by Matthew Loux

Here is the first in a new graphic novel series.  Delia, a academic geek, is offered an opportunity to compete for an internship at the Time Museum.  There are five other kids also competing, and they are from different times and places in the world.  After a period of training, the six kids are sent to their first trial, in the time of the dinosaurs.  Not everything goes as planned, and the group has to learn to work together in order to not get eaten.  While in the Cretaceous period, Delia meets a time traveler who is not from the Museum. The same mysterious guy keeps showing up in later trials as well. As the trials continue, the kids have to try to figure out who they can and cannot trust.

This is a fun, action filled, sci-fi that will appeal to kids who like Amulet.  I personally didn't like Loux's the animation style quite as well as Kibuishi's but the story is interesting and exciting, and the characters are endearing. I chose to read this one this week because it is new and I wanted to make sure it was appropriate for the 12-and-under crowd.  It totally is and I think it will be a popular series. (256 p)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Cover image for A boy called ChristmasNicholas lives with his father, Joel, who is a woodcutter in Finland. They are poor, but Nicolas is relatively happy and enjoys spending time in the forest with his dad.  One day some men come and offer Joel a great deal of money if he will help them bring back proof that elves are real.  Joel agrees to go with them, and arranges for Nicolas' aunt to come and watch over him while Joel is gone.  Nicolas' aunt is cruel and abusive so when Joel doesn't return after several months, Nicolas goes on a grand quest to find him.

This is an origin story about how Nicolas becomes Father Christmas.  It is not all sugar plums and lolly pops.  Nicolas finds out that his father isn't the perfect person he always thought he was. Nicholas has some pretty harrowing experiences, but the tension is lightened by a good dose of humor.  The story is definitely told from a British point of view. Nicolas becomes Father Christmas, not the more American Santa Claus, but even American readers will enjoy the many references to Christmas traditions.(234 p.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Worst Night Ever by Dave Barry

Cover image for The worst night everThis is a sequel book to The Worst Class Trip Ever.  In this one Wyatt and his friend, Matt, have moved on from Junior High to High School.  Wyatt's glory from being a national hero and saving the President of the United States from terrorists has not followed him to his new school.  In fact, early on he falls afoul of the two biggest bullies at school, the Bevin brothers.  To add insult to injury, Wyatt's almost girl friend, Suzanna Delgado, gets swoony whenever the jock Bevins come by. When the Bevin brothers steel Matt's pet ferret and threaten to feed in to their pet snake, Matt and Wyatt break into the Bevin home to save it.  While there they discover a dark and dangerous Bevin family secret,  and suddenly bullying is the least of Wyatt's worries.

I don't know if this book was quite as funny as the first in the series, but it still was a pretty entertaining read.  I love the characterization of Wyatt's mother and father.  I like the sibling relationship between Wyatt and his sister.  Of course, like in The Worst Class Trip Ever, and Science Fair, the book ends with a great extended final action sequence that is both suspenseful and funny. (250 p.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

Cover image for Scar Island
The cover is more light-hearted than the book.
Jonathan has been sent to a reformatory school called Slabhenge on a remote island.  The head master is cruel and abusive of the boys, but Jonathan is so haunted with guilt because of his "crime" he meekly accepts all punishments.  When a freak accident kills all the adults on the island, a social order quickly arises, with a boy, just as cruel as the old head master, at its head.  Jonathan goes along with things at first, but soon finds himself defending other boys and standing up to the leader.  He also begins to realize that their island holds a terrible secret that threatens all their lives. 

When I started this book I thought to myself, I hope this doesn't end out to be another Lord of the Flies.  It did, kind of.  It is a little toned down compared to Lord of the Flies.  The head bully keeps threatening to do terrible things, but something always interrupts the course of events to prevent them from happening.  So the reader gets the idea of intimidation, without having to see the acts of abuse.  This is a good choice for young readers who like a pretty intense psychological drama, with a bunch of mortal peril added in.  It reminded me of The Girl Who Owned a City by Nelson, not in plot but in tone. (249 p)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Big Nate: Flips Out by Lincoln Pierce

Cover image for Big Nate flips outOk, here is my comic book of the week.  Along with Amulet and Smile, Big Nate in one of the most popular comic book series in the library.  In this one Nate gets on the year book staff and decides to use the school camera to take some candid shots.  He asks his best friend, Francis, who is a teacher's pet, to borrow it for him. Unfortunately Nate loses the camera and that gets Francis in trouble.  Nate decides he lost the camera because he is so messy and decides to get hypnotized to make himself super tidy. At first it is great; Nate's grades go up and all the teachers love the improvement.  But then Nate notices some unexpected and unpleasant side affects of not being a slob.

This book has a pretty similar flavor to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  It also has a very similar format, both text and comic panels.  I am not quite sure why Diary of a Wimpy Kid is in the fiction section in our library and the Big Nate books are in comics. Anyway, it was funny, silly, and a really fast read.  I can see why it is popular, especially with the boys. (216 p.)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Arf by Spencer Quinn

Cover image for Arf : a Bowser and Birdie novelThis is the second Birdie and Bowser mystery.  The book starts with a break-in at Birdie's house.  Nothing seems to have been stolen, but someone was clearly looking for something.  Later Birdie meets and befriends a strange young woman with green hair, who also seems to be searching for something.  Things get even more confusing when Birdie's mom starts dating a man who offers to help her find a job. Is he somehow connected with the girl and the robbery?  Poor Bowser can't keep up with it all, but he knows that he loves Birdie and that he is in charge of keeping her safe. 

I enjoyed the first Birdie and Bowser mystery and I enjoyed this one, too. The story is told from Bowser's point of view, and he is a charming doggie character.  Quinn makes sure the reader understands much more than the narrator (Bowser) does, so there is the sense of being "in" on some kind of secret.  I was a little disappointed with the ending of the book.  I thought the resolution was a bit too predictable and convenient. Still, I think it is a series young dog lovers and/or mystery lovers will enjoy. (293 p.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for Faro's daughter
Max Ravenscar is worried because his young cousin has fallen in love with an older woman who works at an elegant gaming house.  The woman, Deborah Grantham, is from a semi-aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times and established the gaming house to avoid utter financial ruin.   Max makes the mistake of offering Miss Grantham a great deal of money in exchange for a promise that she will refuse the nephew's suit.  Miss Grantham is highly offended and seeks a way to get back at Ravenscar for his insolence.  Thus begins a kind of Beatrice and Benedict relationship that ultimately leads to the two falling in love.

Sometimes I am just tired of reading children's books, and feel like I need to treat myself to an adult book.  That was the case this week. This is such a fun read; total literary candy.  If any of you out there want a lighthearted, period romance that is relatively clean (there is some name-calling that refers to terms like "strumpet" but that is about all) and thoroughly entertaining, I don't know anyone better than Georgette Heyer. (282 p.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

Cover image for Freedom over me : eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to lifeHere is one of this year's Newbery Honor books.  Bryan was inspired to write the book when she found a list of items to be auctioned at an 1828 estate sale that included eleven slaves.  Bryan writes two poems for each slave, one that shows how the slave appears on the outside, and one about the slave's inner hopes and dreams.  The 20 poems are well done, and show the slaves as people, and not just victims. The poems are illustrated with bright watercolor and ink drawings, superimposed on reproductions of historical documents related to the slave trade. I don't know if I would have chosen this for a Newbery honor, but I am totally okay with the idea that the award will motivate more people to read this handsome and thoughtful book. (32 p.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

Cover image for The warden's daughterCammie is a 12 year old who lives with her father who is the warden of the local prison.  They actually live in the prison building and Cammie is able to interact with the inmates on a limited basis.  Cammie's mother died saving Cammie from a pedestrian/car accident when Cammie was a toddler, and Cammie desperately misses having a mother.  She decides that one of the inmates who works as a housemaid for the Warden should be her surrogate mother, and tries all the tricks she can think of to try to illicit motherly behavior from the woman.  Her efforts lead to frustration, and ultimately to an emotional crisis, the resolution of which allows Cammie to move forward with her life.

This is the first book of 2017 that is getting a lot of critical buzz.  It is written from the point of view of the main character, now a grandmother, remembering her life during that critical summer before her 13th birthday.  It is an interesting perspective, because the reader knows that somehow she makes it through the crisis, but doesn't know how.  It also allows the reader to understand why Cammie is so out of control, when the 12-year-old Cammie doesn't understand herself.  Spinelli is a brilliant writer, and the book is masterfully done.  The ending is absolutely glorious.  The only thing I am not sure about is whether it will appeal to children.  It almost feels more like an adult book.  Still, I am guessing this will be on all the Newbery lists come fall. (343 p.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Cover image for SmileRaina is at an age when her parents believe she should get braces.  Right before she is to have them put on she trips and knocks out her two front teeth.  What follows is years of painful orthodontia and school awkwardness because of her messed up smile.  Here is another book that is one of the most popular graphic novels in our library. It was published in 2010, we own 10 copies, and still they are almost never on the shelf.  I can see the kid appeal.  Telgemeier is a great illustrator, with clear strong character portrayal and development.  It is a cute, autobiographical school story about growing up and dealing with all the social angst of a early teenager.  In some ways it is like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but more realistic and less snarky. It is less didactic than El Deafo, but there is a message: you will get through all this. (2013 p.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mayday by Karen Harrington

Wayne Kovak uses random facts like a fencer uses his rapier.  He whips them out in an instant whenever the situation gets too worrisome.  Then several things happen in fairly rapid succession that changes Wayne's life.  His uncle dies in Afghanistan,  Wayne and his mother are in an airplane crash, Wayne is injured so he temporarily loses his voice, and Wayne's ex-drill Sargent grandfather comes to live with him and his mom to help her while she recovers.  At first Wayne can't stand his grandfather, but as time goes on he begins to admire him and see the small ways he shows his love and support for his grandson.

Cover image for MaydayThis was one that was on our Newbery list, but it took me a while to get to it because it is not available as a recorded book. I persisted because it was a favorite last year for both Joella and Carla, women whose opinions I trust.  I am glad I read it, and like the mentioned ladies, sad it didn't get some kind of award.  Wayne is charmingly quirky and his grandfather is endearingly grumpy.  The relationships between Wayne, his father, his mother, his uncle and his friends, old and new, are all drawn with a subtle and sensitive hand.  The tone of the book is more hopeful than some others, especially Wolf Hollow (though that is not a hard distinction to win).  I think that maybe a reason why it didn't win is because the premise is kind of out there.  How many plane crashes are there and how many 11 year old plain crash survivors who lose their voice?  I wonder if the story would have felt more normal if he had just been in a car crash rather than a plane crash? 344 p.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Radiant Child: the Story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat

Cover image for Radiant child : the story of young artist Jean-Michel BasquiatSo here is the Caldecott winner for this year. It is a picture book biography of an urban artist, Jean Michel Basquiat.  Basquiat was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a child he loved to draw wild energetic artwork inspired by what he saw around him in the inner city.  When he got older he became a graffiti artist and finally a recognized modern artist.  He died at age 27 of a drug overdose. 

So this is a lovely role model to set up for children.  A runaway, a criminal and a druggy whose claim to fame was that he was recognized by the art establishment and now his painting are sold posthumously for thousands of dollars. That is just what I want my child or grandchild to do. 

That said, I do respect the illustrations in the book.  I actually like Steptoe's art inspired by Basquiat more than I like Basquiat's art.  Steptoe understands color and texture and how to get maximum impact out of both.  I am surprised this won a Caldecott medal, however, because the book is about an artist but contains absolutely none of his art.  Basquiat's art is not incorporated in the illustrations in any way.  So we are honoring one artist who is honoring another, but doesn't include any of the original artist's work.  That doesn't really make sense to me. I guess it did to the Caldecott Committee.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Cover image for The land of forgotten girlsSol and Ming's mother died when Ming was just a baby.  Even though they were originally born in the Philippines, they now live with a verbally abusive stepmother in Louisiana, USA.  To cope, Sol makes up wildly imaginative stories for her sister about a mystical aunt who travels the world and has grand adventures.  Ming gets so caught up in the stories that she begins to believe the aunt will come and rescue them from their wicked stepmother. Sol is afraid of what will happen when the aunt doesn't show up, but eventually help comes from an unexpected source.  Sol and Ming's situation is tough, but natural resilience and sisterly love help them move forward. Like Beans in  Full of Beans, Sol starts out pretty unconcerned with morality, but develops a moral sense as she begins to see herself as a role-model for her sister.  I was glad the author didn't create a miraculous salvation for the girls at the end. The reader gets a sense that their life will be a bit better and that someone is looking out for them, but there are no easy solutions for their situation. The ending felt realistic and authentic to me, more so than the ending of Connect the Stars. Overall it is another good choice for those rare children who actually like social issue books.(299 p.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Connect the Stars by Marisa De Los Santos and David Teague

Cover image for Connect the starsAaron can remember everything he ever heard or saw.  Audrey can always tell when someone is lying. These sound like cool superpowers, but they actually cause a lot of problems for the two tweens in their respective middle schools. Both Aaron's and Audrey's parents decide they need a break from everyday life and send them to a six week survival camp in the Arizona desert.  On the trek, the two join a host of other quirky kids, each with their hangups and strengths.  As they trudge through punishing heat and become much too familiar with the local cacti, they help each other find new and more constructive ways of looking at the world.  De Los Santos adds a mystery element that helps move the plot along, but this is really a book about becoming okay with what and who you are. It was a nice story and I enjoyed it.  It was maybe not 100% realistic, but it was positive and upbeat, and the message was good: keep on growing up and believe that things will get better.  341p.