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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Cover image for The stonekeeperStarting in January I have been assigned to order for our comics/graphic novels section.  This is an area where I have not read widely.  So just as when I was assigned to intermediate (to which I am not assigned any more, by the way) I am going to try to read a comic/graphic novel a week to become acquainted with the collection.  I read Ghosts last month, by Telgemeier, who is one of our most popular graphic novel authors.  This week I decided to read one of the Amulet series.  It is also one of our most popular graphic novel series.

Emily and Navin more into an old house with their mother after their father dies in a car accident.  The house used to belong to Emily's great grandfather. Emily and Navin soon discover their grandfather's lab where they find a magical amulet. Soon after Emily puts it on, monsters come and steal her mother away.  With the help of some of her great grandfather's robots, Emily and Navin try to rescue their mother.

This was an engaging read with really good pacing.  I was pulled right along and hardly put the book down before I was finished. Of course, it doesn't take long to read because there are only a few words per page, so it is a great choice for a struggling reader.  (185 p.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

Cover image for The Eye of ZoltarIn this third adventure of the Last Dragonslayer, Jenny receives a visit from The Mighty Shandar.  He informs her that she must find the legendary Eye of Zoltar, a magical stone, within a few weeks, or he will kill her two dragon friends.  Before she leaves on her search, she is given another commission, this time from the Queen.  She is to take the spoiled brat of a princess with her in hopes that it will improve the princess's character.  Together with her almost-boy-friend, Perkins, they set off into a dangerous neighboring country on what seems like quest doomed from the very start.

I am not sure why I like this series so much.  It is just so funny and clever in a very satirical way. I am sure 80% of the humor is totally lost on children.  It makes fun of modern culture, especially modern British culture, including government bureaucracy, pop culture, and corporate power.  Jenny is plucky, but not in a perky way. She may rolls her eyes, but she is up for anything if it will help a friend.  Warning, this is not the last book in the series, it ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, and it came out in 2014.  I hope Fforde really does write the next book or I might have to buy a pint of Breyers and eat myself into oblivion. (405 p.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Jolley Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon by Jonny Duddle

Cover image for The Jolley-Rogers and the ghostly galleonMatilda is a girl that lives in a coastal town that has been plagued by pirates. She is friends with Jim Lad who is the son of the captain of the Jolley Roger, a fairly friendly pirate ship and crew.  When the Jolley Roger is accused of the theft of valuables from the village museum, Matilde and Jim Lad set out to discover who the real culprits are and how to stop them.

This is an intermediate that has received some starred reviews.  I didn't think it was particularly spectacular, but it was a cute story appropriate for the 2nd-3rd grade target audience.  It has a little bit of danger, a little swashbuckling, but mostly, just a successful completion of a mission.  It has cute cartoony illustrations that match the lighthearted mood of the writing. (123 p.)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Cover image for A long walk to water : a novelThis historical novel based on a true story follows the lives of two children from Sudan.  In alternating chapters the reader watches Salva, who in 1985 flees civil war to become one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, and Nya, who in 2009 spends 8 hours a day walking to and from a pond to get water for her family.  Salva ends up spending a decade in various refugee camps and sees terrible war atrocities.  Nya sees her little sister get sick from contaminated water during the dry season when the pond becomes muddy.  Both of their stories come together in a wonderful and hopeful ending.

This was one of my favorite books I have read in a long time.  This is interesting, because in some ways it was just as harsh as Wolf Hollow (which I hated).  The difference is that in the end, all the children's efforts come to a positive fruition. Another reason I enjoyed it is that my son, who is working with a lot of refugees in Germany/Austria/Switzerland, has heard stories very much like the ones in the book.  It is so good to get out of our secure middle-class America world and take a peak into another, very real, current, life experience from another culture.   (121 p.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Skunked by Jacqueline Kelly

Cover image for Skunked! : Calpurnia Tate, girl vetHere is an intermediate featuring the characters from the Calpurnia Tate series.  When Travis, Calpurnia's animal loving brother, finds a baby skunk, he just can't leave it to die in the forest.  He brings it home and hides it in the barn, hoping to raise it as a pet.  Calpurnia thinks he is crazy, but has a soft spot for her kindhearted brother.  Stink and mayhem ensue as they try to care for the skunk (and later, skunks, plural), without their parents finding out. 

This intermediate got some starred reviews, and with good reason.  It is just a fun, simple story, with several funny scenes.  The sweet sibling relationship that permeates the whole is an added bonus.  I will recommend this to kids who like Akimbo and the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. (106 p.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Forbidden Library by Django Wxler

Cover image for The forbidden libraryAlice is a bookish girl with a practical mind who lives alone with her father.  One day she happens to see her father talking to a being who looks like a fairy.  Two weeks later word comes that her father has been lost a sea.  Alice is sent to live with her "uncle," the keeper of mysterious library.  Through a series of events she discovers that she is a "reader," someone who can enter some kinds of magic books just by reading them.  Her "uncle" is a master reader and wants to take her on as an apprentice. Dangers lurk in every corner of the library, and Alice does not know whom to trust.  Could it be her "uncle" who sent her father to his death, or is it possible her father might still be alive?  Alice is determined to find out.

So this is the second book I read in a month about a magic library.  It was a decent and slightly creepy fantasy, maybe not as intense as the MacHale book, but more intriguing.  Alice and the supporting characters are very complex, and even by the end of the book it is not clear who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  I think it is a fairly promising series opener.  (376 p.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

Cover image for When the sea turned to silverPinmei is a shy little mouse of a girl who lives with her grandmother, the storyteller. When the evil emperor kidnaps Pinmei's grandmother Pinmei must overcome her shyness and embark on a quest to get her grandmother back.  As she does she slowly begins to realize that the legendary stories her grandmother told her are based on reality and her best friend, Yishan, is more than he seems.

This is the third a series that began with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  Like the others this one can stand alone, but readers of the other stories will recognize characters and events that happened in the earlier books that are now legends in this book.  Lin uses a lot of Chinese folktales in her books and it is amazing how she weaves the stories with her plot so the reader discovers they are all interconnected in the end. This is another book that is on our Newbery List.  I wouldn't be disappointed if it wins, but I would be surprised.  It is a little slow moving, and it is very much like the others in the series. Although it is certainly a great book, does not stand out enough to be "the most distinguished" book of the year. (370 p.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Cover image for Wolf Hollow : a novelAnnabelle has a pretty nice life in a rural town in the 1940's until Betty moves in. Betty is a cruel and violent bully who beats Annabelle and threatens her younger brothers. Annabelle has a friend and ally who helps protect her from Betty named Jacob.  He is a WWI vet who lives as a hermit, and has a quiet and sensitive nature. When Betty turns up missing the town blames Jacob, and it is up to Annabelle to try to prove his innocence.

So this book is the top of lots of Newbery lists.  Granted, it is probably the most literary of the books on the list, that is to say there is more in it that a high school English teachers might ask students to write a paper about than any of the other children's books this year.  It has the nice language, the foreshadowing, the moral and ethical issues, the symbolism that English teachers love.  I, however hated the book.  It was just too harsh and brutal. (spoiler alert, don't read on if you don't want spoilers) I started to read it back in October, but put it down when Betty kills a dove as a means of intimidation. I didn't want to read more, but it is on my mock Newbery list and I heard it was my boss's top pick, so I picked it back up and in the next chapter the little girl gets blinded by a rock.  I am thinking, ok, so maybe the brutality is over, but then later, they find Betty impaled and bleeding to death and in the end Toby gets shot by the police. So not a single happy thing happens in this book.  It is just all awfulness. (291 p.)