Sunday, December 31, 2017

Undefeated by Steven Sheinkin

Cover image for Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football teamJim Thorpe was the son two mixed American Indian/European parents. He attended the Carlisle Indian School which had as its purpose to eradicate the "Indian" part of its students. Jim hated school and often ran away, until he was recruited to be on the school's track team.  From there he joined the football team and under the coaching of Pop Warner, the team became one of the best collegiate teams in the country. Recognizing Jim's amazing athletic talent, Warner encouraged Jim to try out for the 1912 Olympic team.  He made it onto the team and ended up winning the gold in the pentathlon and decathlon. Soon afterward, his medals were stripped from him when it was discovered that he had played minor league baseball, and was therefore considered a professional instead of amateur athlete. He, nevertheless, went on to play professional baseball and then helped start the National Football League.

I have very little interest in sports in general, and football in particular, so the fact that I really enjoyed this book, even though it is rather long, is a testament to Sheinkin's writing skill.  Sheinkin talks about the effects of the cultural annihilation practiced at the Indian schools at the time.  He also explores the complicated relationship between Pratt, the head of the Carlisle School, Pop Warner, the coach, and the students like Thorpe.  He spends a lot of time describing how Warner helped football evolve from an unrestrained brawn brawl on the field to the complex and much safer game it is today.  It really was a fascinating read and I am sure I will be recommending it to the sports kids that come into the library. (2017, 280 p)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Cover image for Me and Marvin GardensObe Devlin lives on the land his parents and grandparents lived on.  He feels connected to the land, and goes out to the creek every day to pick up trash and keep things nice.  As a new housing development grows on what used to be Devlin land, Obe mourns and tries desperately to hold on to everything he has lost.  Then one day he finds an amazing animal near the new subdivision.  It is unlike anything he or anyone else has ever seen before.  He instinctively feels that he must protect it, but as he learns more about the creature, he realizes that protecting it is going to be harder than he could have imagined.

This book is on our Newbery list, but only had one starred review.  I guess it is getting some buzz in the blogosphere and is on the Junior Library Guild list.  Part of its appeal is that it deals with a current issue, loss of green space because of development. There is also an element of wish fulfillment for adults reading the book (and these reviews and stars come from adult readers)  in that Obe is the kind of kid parents wish kids were "now days."  He prefers playing outside to inside, and doesn't follow the "in" crowd or play computer games.  I liked the book pretty well, but the animal that eats plastic and poops toxic waste was just a bit too much of a stretch for me.  It may be on our Newbery list, but I don't consider it a real contender. (2017, 243 p.)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barkley Moore

Cover image for The stars beneath our feetLolly lives in Harlem, and is grieving because his brother has recently been killed in gang related violence.  Lolly struggles with anger and sadness, and his only relief is when he loses himself creating Lego structures.  For Christmas his mother's partner brings him a huge bag of Legos, and he uses them to create a magnificent Lego world in an empty room in a rec center where he spends time after school.  His Legos lead him to an unlikely friendship and his art gives him an anchor that helps him navigate the storms of his grief. 

This book got starred reviews everywhere this year.  It think it is because it feels like a really authentic look at life in the projects in Harlem.  In the book the social pressure for Lolly and his friends to join a gang is intense.  The ones that get through it are those that have something else to cling to, like Lolly's Lego art or his friend's violin playing.  I enjoyed this book and think it has a shot at he Newbery this year, but it didn't have the literary beauty of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, and Beyond the Bright Sea.  My personal favorite, I'm Just no Good at Rhyming, is probably a long shot. (294 p. 2017)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok

Cover image for The wonderlingThe main character in this story starts life with only a number as a name.  Number 13 is a groundling, a creature that is part animal and part human.  Number 13 has a fox's face, but is missing an ear.  He is friendly and hopeless in a Dickensian orphanage. Then he meets a new orphan, Trinket, and with her friendship, he finds the courage to take charge of his life and confront an evil that threatens the happiness of the whole country.

This was another very fanciful fantasy.  I think I liked the story better than either The Glass Town Game or Furthermore, because it isn't as random or outrageous as the other two. Both Arthur (Number 13) and Trinket are very likable characters and the ending is satisfying. Unfortunately the writing is a little uneven. Most of it was fine, but there were places that I thought to myself, "oh, that was worded awkwardly." Still, it would work well as a read aloud for a family with a variety of ages listening in, though, at 450 p. perhaps it is a little long for that. It is a good choice for the kids who like Redwall.  (2017)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Dam Keeper

Cover image for The dam keeper. Book oneThe dam keeper is a young pig who inherited the job from his father.  The dam he maintains doesn't keep water out, but instead keeps a dark and evil mist from invading his walled city.  He has maintained the dam so long, that people in the town have stopped appreciating the sacrifice he makes to keep them safe. Then one day a gigantic wave of mist slams into the city, and the Dam Keeper is swept into the deadly land beyond the city wall.

This is kind of a dark and brooding graphic novel that got some starred reviews this year. It is apparently based on a short film, but it is fine to read even if you haven't seen the film. The illustration is stunning, and the story is clearly the opener for a series. I am intrigued that they used kind of a rolly-polly pig as the main character.  It actually makes the whole story more suspenseful to juxtapose the goofy looking pig with the serious content.  I will be eager to see the next one when it comes out. (153 p. 2017)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

Cover image for FurthermoreAlice lives in the land of Farenwood where people get magical power from the land and the plants they eat.  In Farenwood color represents magical prowess, but Alice was born almost completely devoid of color, which makes her something of an outcast.  When Alice faces her 13th year and her "surrender" where she is supposed to be given a important task to complete for the community, she instead embarks on a journey with a village boy, Oliver, into the wildly magical land of Furthermore in hopes of finding her long lost father.

This is an intensely fantastical magical world, so much so that I was at first put off by it.  My old brain can't do the imaginative acrobatics it used to be able to do (or maybe I never was very imaginative). I almost gave up about 100 pages in, but I pressed on, and as I did I began to be more attached to the characters, and that carried me through to the end.  The book reminded me a little of the Glass Town Game I read a little while ago, or like Alice in Wonderland.  The magical elements were really random, without a lot of apparent rhyme or reason.  This book got starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus when it came out, I am guessing mostly because of the strong characterizations and creative use of language.  I read it this week because the sequel, Whichwood, is on my Starred Reviews list for this year.  I may have to take a break before I read the next one to give my imagination muscles a rest.(2016. 401 p.)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Cover image for PatinaPatty hates to lose.  She has lost a lot in her short lifetime.  She lost her father and later her home when her mother lost her legs to diabetes.  Now Patty and her sister live with their auntie, and Patty is starting to find friendship and purpose on an elite track team. Will her drive to win drive away the people who matter most?

This is a companion volume to Reynold's award winning book, Ghost.  Ghost appears in this book, but this book can also stand alone.  I liked this book and I think it deserved all the starred reviews it got, but I don't think it is quite as noteworthy as Ghost.  Even though Patina's life is complicated, she doesn't really have to work through any kind of major moral dilemma.  She learns to be a team player, but nothing like what Ghost went through.  Still, it was an enjoyable read, and a good choice for girls who like sports. (2017, 233p.)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson

Cover image for The real McCoysMoxie McCoy is a grade school age detective. She has read all of the Abigail Adams, Girl Detective novels multiple times and has the sleuthing thing down pat.  When the school's stuffed owl mascot, Eddie, is stolen, Moxie is on the case.  She is sure that if she solves the mystery she will get the top Eddie award.  But is she the best McCoy for the task?

This book has an interesting format.  Each page has illustrations and creative type setting, a little like the Geronimo Stilton books, but in black and white.  I would call it a "highly illustrated" book, but it isn't quite like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dork Diary because the illustrations are more incorporated with the text.  It think it will be a good transition book for readers who are trying to move from graphic novels to more text dense literature.

Besides the format, the story is cute.  Moxie's eagerness is charmingly exasperating to all the adults in her life.  Under it all, she is is kind and lonely girl, looking for a friend.  I think the books multiple starred reviews are well deserved.  (2017, 322 p.)

Image result for The real mcCoys Swanson

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ashes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley

Cover image for Ashes to AshevilleFella and Zany are two girls that were raised as sisters.  Their mothers are a Lesbian couple who had wanted to be married, but didn't live where and when such marriages were legal.  When Mama Lacy dies, Mama Shannon is unable to get custody of Fella, since she is not a blood relation, so the family is broken up. The story begins when Zany, who is 16, comes to get Mama Lacy's ashes so that she can scatter them in their old home town as per their mother's dying wish.  Fella (age 12) comes along for the wild road trip.

Of course the whole purpose of this book is to show that families with same gender parents are still families.  It was written before the 2015 ruling that made all same gender marriages legal. It was an enjoyable read, with alternating funny and tender moments. Although some of their adventures are a little over the top, the personalities of the sisters are very believable and sympathetic. 

I think it is good that LGBT themes are no longer taboo in children's literature.  It helps children and parents learn about and come to grips with a new reality in our society.  The thing is, it is all out of proportion. Less than 5% of Americans identify as part of the LGBT community. Right now way more that 5% of characters in children's realistic literature are LGBT or have LGBT parents.  I guess they are trying to make up for lost time. (2017, 243 p.)

 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Cover image for Orphan IslandJinny has grown up on a secluded island populated by nine orphans.  Every year a boat comes bringing a new child, and taking the oldest of the orphans away.  The new "oldest" orphan takes charge of the new child and teaches him/her the ways of the island.  When it is Jinny's turn to be the oldest, she is uncomfortable with her new responsibility, and begins to question the status quo of their life on the island, with disastrous results.

This is one of the books on our Newbery list, but I did not enjoy it at all.  The first half was fine, but as the story went on the main character got more and more whiny.  I found myself dreading listening to it, so I turned the playback speed up just so I could get through the end. The ending was artsy, and infuriatingly ambiguous. It reminded me of "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.  Actually, it is kind of like an anti-Giver. Both are Utopian societies, but one is civilized while one is more primitive.  In one the adults are in control and in the other there are only the kids.   Jonas is an unselfish, likable guy, while Jinny is a selfish, annoying girl. Anyway, I am finished and can go on to something I might actually enjoy.(2017, 269p)

I'm Just Not Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris

Cover image for I'm just no good at rhyming and other nonsense for mischievous kids and immature grown-upsOk, I just finished my new favorite book of the year.  Yes, this one has made it to top spot on Newbery hopefuls. This is a collection of poems that are amazingly clever and funny, reminiscent of Shel Silverstein for a modern audience.  Some of concrete poems but most (despite the title) are rhyming and actually have good meter.  One or two are rather touching, but most are silly or down right irreverent.  All are smart, and clever (oh so, so, so, clever).  Lane's Smith's illustrations perfectly compliment the tone of the poems, and there are several places where the author and illustrator exchange playful patter.  I totally want to do this for a Girls Read book club next year. (see previous post.) (2017, 221 pages)

(Carol, I if you still read my blog, Ghetty would love this book.)


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam Troy Castro

Cover image for Gustav Gloom and the People TakerGuess what? I get to do parent/child book club at the library again!  This time I am doing the girl's group.  The person who was doing it before had scheduled to do Coraline next month.  I really disliked Coraline, thinking that it was way too scary.  So I asked if I could do another book.  My boss wanted me to do a book from the Horror genre so I looked through our pre-existing book club sets and chose this one.

Fernie's father is a safety inspector and is paranoid about everything.  In contrast, Fernie, her sister, Pearlie, and their mother are born adventurers.  When they move into a new house, Fernie's father is concerned about the dark spooky house across the street.  Its only (living) resident is a boy named Gustav who always looks sad.  One night Fernie's cat runs across the street and into the yard of the spooky house.  Fernie runs after it, and begins a creepy and sometimes terrifying adventure where she meets the People Taker,  his Beast, and makes a new friend, Gustav.

This was cute, with a sprinkling of scary and exciting.  It is a good mix of the three at an appropriate level for the age group I am working with (9-12 and their parent).  I plan to talk about elements of horror writing and illustrating, and I think we will do either shadow pictures or puppets for a craft. (226 p. 2012)


Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sands of Shark Island by Alexander Smith

Cover image for The sands of Shark IslandIn this second book in the School Ship Tobermory series, the happy crew head off for an adventure in the Caribbean.  There they swim, kite surf, and become involved with another exciting and dangerous rescue mission.

This is not on my Mock Newbery list, but it was a delightful break from the more "acclaimed" books.  Completely free from angst and full of wish fulfillment, this is just as delightful and frothy as the first in the series.  If I had three children, ages 7, 5, and 3 this is a book I would love to read aloud to them.  The kids in the book aren't perfect but they are respectful of their elders, and actually go to them for help.  Do you know how rare that is in children's lit? (2017, 243 p.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson

Cover image for Fault lines in the Constitution : the framers, their fights, and the flaws that affect us todayThis is an informational book that is getting a lot of attention this fall.  In it the authors talk about some of the provisions of the Constitution that have made it difficult for the government to run smoothly.  There are chapters on the Electoral College, the uneven representation in Congress, the difficulty in making amendments and others.  In each chapter they discuss how the provision started and specific troubles is has caused in modern times. They end each chapter, and the whole book, with ideas of how the Constitution could be improved.

In all honesty, I can't really see kids picking this off the shelf. What kid wants to read a 235 page book about the Constitution? I could also see a lot of conservative parents getting upset about this.  When I was young no teacher or textbook would have pointed out how badly the Constitution works. This book is practically calling for a its repeal.  Still, I feel like I understand the different provisions of the document much better than before I read this book.  The authors are really straight forward and clear in how they explained things.  If I were a parent of a 7th grader, I might bribe them over the summer to read this just because it would help them in all the rest of their social studies classes. (2017, 235 p.)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander et alii.

Cover image for Out of wonder : poems celebrating poetsIn this book Kwame Alexander and two other authors write poems honoring other famous poets.  Some of the poems are "after the style" of the poets they honor, and some just say nice things about them.  The poetry is mostly free verse, and is quite good.  This one is also on our Newbery list, but we are wondering if it is ineligible because one of the three authors is Canadian.

Actually I am thinking it is a contender for Caldecott as well as for Newbery.  The illustrations bold and colorful and do a good job of suggesting the time period and personality of the featured authors, while still maintaining a common thread the holds the book together. (40 p. 2017)


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Schlitz

Cover image for Princess Cora and the crocodilePrincess Cora has parents that want her to be the best princess ever.  As a result they hover over her life, making sure that every moment is spent in the "productive" pursuit of excellence.  Then one day Cora receives a crocodile from her Fairy Godmother.  He is very intelligent.  He decides that that best way to help Cora is to switch places with her.  For a day he goes to the geography and fencing lessons, while Cora has the chance to go outside to play. 

This book is border-line chapter book and picture book.  We put it in our picture book section, but it could have gone in the Intermediates as well.  This is also on our Newbery list.  I am not sure why.  It was a cute story and all, well written with a good message, but it certainly was not at the level of some of the other books I have read this year.  (72 p. 2017)

Monday, November 27, 2017

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis

Cover image for You may already be a winnerOlivia lives with her mother and little sister in a trailer park.  Her father has gone, but Olivia keeps sending him emails, hoping that he will read them and come home.  Olivia's mother works cleaning houses, but there isn't enough money to pay for daycare for Berkeley, so Olivia stays home and watches her sister instead of going to school.  Despite everything Olivia is pretty happy with her life until one day a boy comes down the walking path and into her life.  After that day things start to get crazy, and Olivia walks a fine line, juggling her family's challenges like a performer on a tightrope. 

I read this book because it is by a local author who visited the library.  It is set in my home town, and it was interesting to read the names of familiar places on almost every page.  Ellis had a few writing ticks that bothered me, but I mostly enjoyed the book.  I think of some of the kids that come in the library and wonder if they live the kind of "at risk" life the Olivia deals with.  I have known some that I believe do and I admire them for their strength and courage. (347 p.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Where's Halmoni by Julie Kim

Cover image for Where's Halmoni?
Joon and Noona are looking for their Grandmother (Halmoni) when they walk through a magic door into a mythical Korean landscape.  There they meet characters from Korean mythology, the Moon Rabbit, the Dokkebi, the Gumiho, and the Tiger.  Using their wits, they outsmart the Dokkebi and the Tiger, and make it back to their grandmother's home, where Halmoni is safe and sound.

When I first saw reviews about this book I didn't know if it was a comic book or a picture book.  It is borderline, but I think I made the right choice putting it in the Comics section.  There are four little sub stories, and all the words are in conversation bubbles.  It is beautifully illustrated in full color and the story is engaging. At the end Kim talks about the traditional Korean creatures, and also includes an interpretation of the Korean characters that are sprinkled throughout the story.  This is a charming introduction to some basic Korean folktale tropes. (unpag. 2017)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Cover image for The war I finally wonThis story picks right up where The War that Saved My Life left off.  Ada gets her club foot operated on and rejoices in her new mobility.  Lady Thorton offers to let her, Susan and Jamie live in her servant's cottage.  Everything is going well, until Lady Thorton's home is seized by the military, and Lady Thorton comes to live with Susan and Ada.  Their relationship is bumpy, but as they suffer the trials of England during WWII, they slowly come to understand each other.

This book was a very satisfying conclusion to the first book.  In it we see Ada come full circle, from a refugee girl who was at the same time needy, and unwilling to accept care, to someone who is caring and able to help others.  Bradley does a wonderful job portraying complex personalities, relationships and settings.  After finishing the book the reader feels like they got an authentic peek at life during WWII in England.  This one is on a lot of potential Newbery lists, but it doesn't really stand alone.  It doesn't make sense unless you read the first book, so I don't know if it can really win.  (2017, 385 p.)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Threads of Blue by Suzanne LaFleur

Cover image for Threads of blueThis is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World.  It picks up right where the last one left off with Matilde in a small fisherman's boat, fleeing from her country which has been overrun by an enemy nation.  She arrives in a country which is an ally to her's and finds herself in a refugee camp.  After a few weeks she is reunited with her youth intelligence agency, but struggles to find something she can do.  After her experience with the POW Reiner, she doesn't want to participate in anything that will result in anyone's death.  She is also struggling with her relationship with her friend, Megs because Megs felt abandoned by her when she went back to help Reiner.  Eventually Matilde finds a way to help the war effort, and repair her broken friendship.

I enjoyed this book as much as the first.  It is written with such sensitivity, and insight into the moral issues faced at the time of war.  Again I found myself wishing that LaFleur had set the story in the real world, instead of made-up countries.  I don't know how to classify this book.  It feels like a historical fiction.  It doesn't have any fantastic elements, no magic or time travel or anything.  But it is not set in any real place or time.  I will call it historical fiction for the sake of my blog because I think people who like historical fiction would like it. (203 p. 2017)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Countdown to the Mock Newbery

Our Library is having a Mock Newbery activity in February.  This week we finalized our reading list for the event.  The list was assembled by the head of the Children's Department. She made a spread sheet to determine what would go on the list.  Books got one point for each starred review, plus points if they are nominated for other awards, like the National Book Award.  Then they got a point if they were features on "Heavy Medal" the SLJ Newbery blog, recommended by the library director, or if they were one of the favorites of the lady who was making the list.  The top 15 scores were put on the list.  From what I have seen it is a pretty good list.  These really are the books everyone is talking about.  There is only one book I would add, Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley, which just got it's 5th starred review.

Here is the List
Alexander, Kwame                    Out of Wonder
Applegate, Katherine                 Wishtree
Bradley, Kimberley                    The War I Finally Won
Grimes, Nikki                            One Last Word
Harris, Chris                              I'm Just No Good at Rhyming
Heiligman, Deborah                    Vincent and Theo
Kelly, Erin Entrada                      Hello, Universe
King, A.S.                                  Me and Marvin Gardens
Ruby, Laura                               The Shadow Cipher (York #1)
Schlitz, Laura Amy                      Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Sheinkin, Steve                          Undefeated
Snyder, Laurel                            Orphan Island
Spinelli, Jerry                             The Warden's Daughter
Williams-Garcia, Rita                  Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Wolk, Lauren                             Beyond the Bright Sea

If you are an avid reader of my blog, you will know that I have already read and blogged many of these.  I am going to try to read the rest before February.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

Cover image for The big bad foxA scrawny fox keeps trying to steel a hen from the hen house.  When he keeps failing, his friend, the wolf, convinces him to take some eggs, hatch them, the then fatten them up.  They plan to eat them when they get big enough.  When the eggs hatch, the three chicks think the fox is their mother.  Gradually the fox gets attached to the chicks, and finds himself protecting them from the wolf.

This is a cute graphic novel that shows that families can come in many shapes.  The fox's transformation from predator to parent is gradual, and at times pretty funny.  I admired the author's courage to be subtle.  He trusted that the reader would get that the Fox was getting attached to the chicks, without showing the attachment too soon.   This is a great choice for either boys or girls and both younger and older grade school ages. (2017, 187 p.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Slider by Pete Hautman

Cover image for SliderDavid has an older sister who is a straight A student, and a younger brother who has sever autism.  He feels like he isn't good at anything, except competitive eating.  He can down a whole pizza in three minutes.  He follows other competitive eaters' careers, and when a memento from a famous hot dog eating competition comes available on a online auction website, he borrows his mother's credit card to bid on it.  He accidentally bids more than he planned, and decides to enter a major eating competition to earn money so he can pay back his mother.

This is another on my starred reviews list.  It got stars because David's relationship with his autistic brother is very sweet.  He is the only one in his family that really pays attention to his brother and figures out what he needs.  That part of the book I enjoyed.  The descriptions of the competitive eating, and David's training to expand his stomach and shove pizza down his mouth as fast as he can, was hard for me to read.  I am someone who is really sensitive about healthy eating and all of that I found rather revolting.  I could see how a 5th grade boy might be fascinated by it, and I will probably recommend the book to that demographic. (2017, 272 p.)

This past week I was listening to this and The Class Town Game, and I didn't really like either of them very much.  I was glad to move on to Threads of Blue, which I enjoyed better.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Cover image for All's faire in middle schoolHere is another Victoria Jamieson graphic novel.  In this one a girl who has been home schooled goes to middle school for the first time.  Her family works at a medieval festival every summer, and are totally in to it.  When Imogene is faced with middle school peer pressure, she has to decide between doing what she loves with her family, and fitting in with the popular crowd at school.

Does this sound like a familiar plot line to you?  Of course.  There isn't really much that is original here.  Still, it was a decent graphic novel.  It is well drawn, and the behind the scenes workings of the Medieval Faire are kind of interesting.  Kids who liked all the similar girl realistic fiction graphic novels, like Smile, Roller Girl, or Real Friends, will like this one. (2017, 241 p.)

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Glass Town Game by Catherine Valente

Cover image for The Glass Town gameWhat if children's pretend games came alive?  In this thickly layered and deeply imaginative story the remaining children in the Bronte family, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell, have developed a very complicated and ongoing pretend game in their Yorkshire home. When it is time for the older girls to go to a dismal boarding school, the children find that they have the opportunity to take a magic train to visit the world they have created. They seize at the chance, but soon find that their pretend wars and battles are much more frightening when they are real.

This book has received a bunch of good reviews but it was a bit much for me.  It was to dense, and too long.  There were some sparkling moments.  I especially liked when the girls were at the ball trying to convince The Duke of Wellington, and Lord Byron to help them.  But most of the book was a bit of a slog for me.  In fact, when I turned my play back speed to 1.4 I actually enjoyed the book more, even though it made the reader sound like she were on a java trip. I was trying to decide to whom I would give this book.  I would probably recommend it to an adult who was an avid reader, liked the Bronte sisters,  and loved Alice in Wonderland. (2017, 535 p.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Philip Stead and Mark Twain

Cover image for The purloining of Prince OleomargarineThe origin of this book is more interesting than its story.  Mark Twain mentioned in one of his journals that his kid's would always bug him to tell a story before they went to bed.  Once when the family was in Paris, the story Twain told was so good he wrote some notes about it so that he could write it up later.  Recently some Twain scholars found the notes, but they were pretty sketchy and incomplete.  They contracted Philip Stead to fill in and complete the story and Erin Stead to do the illustrations.

The story itself is pretty random.  It reminds me of the stories my husband used to make up for my kids.  Johnny lives with an overbearing father. When he father asks him to go to town and sell his pet chicken for some food, Johnny starts on an adventure that includes magic beans, talking animals, and a spoiled rotten prince.  The book is illustrated with colored pictures throughout.  I wasn't thrilled with the audio recording.  It was full cast, but the producers were not 100% consistent with which actors where reading which parts.  It was fairly distracting.  This book got several starred reviews, but I think it is because of where it came from instead of its actual content. (2017, 151 p.)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Dragon's Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Lawrence Yep

Cover image for A dragon's guide to making your human smarterIn this second in the "Dragon's Guide" series. In this one Winnie is about to start school in the Sprigg's Academy for both magical and non-magical people.  She is nervous, but under Miss Drake's watchful eye, she makes friends and discovers that the power of intellect and cleverness is its own kind of magic. 

This is a cute series for kids who like Cowell's How to Train Your Dragon series, or Mylnowsky's Whatever After series.  There is an element of wish fulfillment in it.  Who wouldn't like to take science from Sir Isaac Newton, or have a chat with the Lock Ness Monster.? It is pretty light and would be appropriate for advanced younger readers. It is interesting to me that Yep would write such a series so late in his career when his earlier stuff was rather serious.  (2016, 294 p.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Castle In the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

Cover image for Castle in the stars : the space race of 1869Seraphin's mother is a scientist who dies trying to prove that aether exists.  Months after her hot air balloon crash, someone finds her flight log and discovers that she did reach the aether level before she died.  That discovery and the belief that the aether can be used to power engines that could take a ship to outer space, fuels a race between enemy nations to be the first to make a aether ship.  Seraphin's father is recruited by the king of Bavaria to design his aether ship, but Seraphin suspects that there is a Prussian spy in the castle trying to steal the plans.

This was a fun graphic novel, drawn in a steam punk, 1800's, style.  It reminded me a little of the novel, Larklight by Philip Reeve.  In both stories the universe is as the people thought it was in the 1800's where the universe is filled with aether, and other planets in our solar system are inhabited.  It is also written like a melodrama, so much so, that the villain even has a long curled mustache like Snidely Whiplash. It is the first in a series, and like the old penny dramas of the 1800's it ends on a cliffhanger.  I think readers of other popular steam punk graphic novels will enjoy this one as well.  The book was originally published in France in 2014, but was translated into English this year.  (60 p. 2014, 2017)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Great Art Caper by Victoria Jamieson

Cover image for The great art caperSunflower, GW, and Barry are each class pets at Daisy  P. Flugelhorn Elementary. Each night they get out of their cages and have fun together.  One night GW decides to make a special card for his favorite class member, Carina.  But to do that he and his friends need to get to the Art Room which means sneaking past the evil mouse, Harriet, and her minions.


Last week Victoria Jamieson came to speak at the library.  I had read her Newbery honor book, Roller Girl, but I decided to read another.  This one is cute and remarkably funny. I laughed out loud more than once.  This is a great choice for younger graphic novel readers; perfect for second or third grade girls or boys. (62 p., 2017)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Cover image for WishtreeRed, an old red maple tree, has long served as the neighborhood "wishtree."  People write notes on pieces of paper or cloth at attach them to her branches each May Day.  Red is a wise old tree and does what she can to watch over the animals that live in her hollows and the neighbor children who live in the houses on either side of her.  When one of the children, a middle-eastern girl named Samar, wishes for a real friend, Red determines to do all she can to bring Samar and the boy across the yard, together, even if it means breaking some rules.

This is a shamelessly moralistic story.  We have the "save the trees" message on one hand, and the "be kind to immigrants" message on the other.  These are both important messages, but I thought Applegate was just too heavy handed with them here.  That said, I must admit that I did start to tear up at one point near the end of the book.  I guess, if anyone can do heavy handed moralizing well, it is Katherine Applegate. 

There is a saying that when times are easy, the Newbery committee chooses an edgy book, and when times are rough, the committee chooses a feel-good book.  Well, things have been pretty rough this year.  Will this be a Newbery contender?  Maybe, but it is not as well written as either Clayton Byrde, or Beyond the Bright Sea. (2017, 215 p.)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

Cover image for Beautiful blue worldTwo girls, Matilde and Megs have grown up together in the same small town.  They are best friends, and both of them worry about their families when war with a nearby country comes close to home.  All the children their age are given the opportunity to take a test that would qualify them to work for the military.  The families of those who qualify will be given a monthly allowance, and the children are promised a college education after their service is over. Both girls sign up for the test, hoping to help their struggling families, but only Matilde is chosen.  She is taken to a "school" where gifted children try to predict troop movements, or other strategic elements of the war.  Matilde has a hard time figuring out what she has to offer to this junior think tank, until she is assigned to talk to a POW from the other army.  Getting to know him shakes all the beliefs she thought she had about "the enemy."

This book wasn't anything like I expected by looking at the cover.  I thought it would be a sweet story of two friends who try to save the environment or something. Instead this is a chilling portrayal of life in a war zone.  It deals with some really heavy moral and ethical questions about warfare.  LaFleur resists giving any easy answers.  She leaves it to Matilde and the reader to figure out what is right and wrong. I thought the book was well done, but I wonder why LaFluer set it in a fictional country.  The story would have worked set in Norway or Sweden during one of the world wars.  I guess she was more interested in exploring the moral questions surrounding war than writing an accurate portrayal of a historical war. (2016, 210 p.)


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Awakening Joy by James Baraz

Cover image for Awakening joy : 10 steps that will put you on the road to real happinessThis is one I read aloud together with my husband.  Baraz and his co-author Shoshona Alexander discuss 10 steps to finding joy. The steps are loosely based on Buddhist philosophy, but the authors keep things pretty non-sectarian, and quote from a variety of religious leaders in their text.  They take example from the lives of participants in their Awakening Joy retreats.  I found the book every interesting and enlightening. If everyone in the world practiced the ideas the authors set forth, the world would be a better place and everyone would be happier.  I think this would be a good first introduction to modern American Buddhist philosophy for someone who is new to the topic. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Cover image for SylvesterI got a whole month ahead on my library book blog posts, so it was time for a treat.  This is pretty basic Georgette Heyer.  Sylvester is a rich and eligible bachelor with no interest in romance.  He decides that it is his duty to get married, so he goes in search of a young woman who was promised to him at birth.  He finds Phoebe to be dull in looks and personality. However, as he gets to know her, he finds she has a hidden wit and self sufficiency.  She is an author, as well, and had previously modeled one of her villains on Sylvester himself.  As their relationship gets closer, she lives in constant dread that he will read her book and take both offence and social retribution. 

I enjoyed this one.  It is cleaner than some of Heyer's other books.  There is no implication that Sylvester has had previous conquests.  It is one of the books where they seem to hate each other, then suddenly they are in love and ready to get married.  Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am just sad that I am starting to have exhausted all of my Georgette Heyer options. (1957. 348 p,)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lemons by Melissa Savage

Cover image for LemonsA girl named Lemonade goes to live with her grandfather after her mother's death, and meets a Big-Foot obsessed boy, Tobin.  Tobin inducts Lem into his Big Foot Detective Agency and as they search for the illusive creature, they work through the bigger issues in their own lives.

This was a pretty typical "orphaned girl in a new home" book with a little cryptozoological twist.  All through the book the reader is never sure if Big Foot is real in this world or if the kids are just chasing wild stories.  Lemonade and Tobin are both quirky and endearing and their slowly developing friendship is fun to watch.  It was a cute book and I will likely recommend it to a few of the humorous realistic (kind of) fiction readers I know who come into the library. (2017, 308 p.)


Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy

Cover image for Laser Moose and Rabbit BoyMoose and Rabbit are just hanging out in the forest when they find an alien space ship.  Moose, who is super paranoid, shoots the space ship with his laser vision.  (Yep, for some reason, the moose has laser vision.)  Rabbit, who is an incurable optimist,  approaches and aliens and discovers they are friendly, so Moose and Rabbit help them repair their ship.  That is the first story in this rather silly and random comic book.  I don't even remember why I checked it out.  It isn't on my "starred" graphic novel list.  Even though it was silly, it could appeal to a 7 or 8 year old reluctant reader.  The stories and the characters are simple and mildly amusing.  The pictures are in color and communicate the stories really well.  So, sure, why not have a moose who can shoot lasers out of his eyes? (2016, 142 p.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Cover image for Tumble & BlueBlue Montgomery is taken to his grandmother's house in the Okefenokee  swamp and unceremoniously dropped off by his race car driving father. The Montgomerys each have an unbreakable fate, either good or bad, and Blue's is that he always looses.  Once every 100 years an opportunity arises for one of the Montgomerys to change their fate, and Blue is determined he will be the one.  While waiting for the appointed day, Blue meets Tumble, a girl who is obsessed with being a hero.  When Tumble discovers Blue's curse, she is determined to help him break it.  Things are not as straight forward as they seem, and soon both children find themselves in more danger than they could have imagined.

This book is getting starred reviews all over the place.  It is by the author of Circus Mirandus, which got a lot a attention a few years ago.  It is an interesting fantasy with very complex emotional elements.  It explores the nature of good and evil, fate and self determination, and emphases that there are always reasons behind other's behaviors.  Like Circus Mirandus, I wasn't completely pleased with the ending, but I can see the genius (maybe evil genius) behind it. This is a great book for a parent/child book club because it is entertaining but also rather deep.  I don't really see it winning the Newbery, but it could be an honor. (2017, 390 p.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

Cover image for The door in the alleySebastian loves to follow rules and always does his best to please his parents and his teachers.  Then one day he sees a door in an alley and a pig with a little hat that intrigue him.  Meanwhile, an orphaned girl, Evie, is enduring another dinner with two of the most boring people Evie could imagine, when they are attacked by some frightening thugs.  Right before the house she is in explodes, one of Evie's hosts gives her a letter from her grandfather whom Evie thought was dead.  The letter is a cry for help.  Both Evie's letter and the pig with the little hat lead the two children to the Explorer's Society, a mysterious organization that holds the key to finding Evie's grandfather.

This was a fun and lighthearted adventure with kid appeal.  Kress's writing is quirky and has a lot of personality and humor.  Sebastian and Evie are likable characters as are the unique adult members of the society.  Of course, this is the first in a series, and it is entertaining enough I might read the next. (2017, 305 p.)


Monday, October 9, 2017

Ada's Ideas by Fiona Robinson

Cover image for Ada's ideas : the story of Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmerThis is a fun little picture book biography I read about Ada Lovelace.  She was the estranged daughter of Lord Byron.  Her mother, Lady Wentworth, left Lord Byron soon after Ada was born, and raised her daughter to be well educated so she wouldn't end up like her flighty father.  Ana was good at math, and as a young person was introduced to Charles Babbage.  There was a great deal of mutual respect between the two, and when Babbage created his mechanical general purpose computer, he asked Ada to create the algorithm for it.  As a result, some consider her to be the first "computer programmer" even though she lived more than a century before modern computers were created.

It is always good to get new biographies of women in the sciences.  One thing I like about Ada is that she made her contribution and raised a family as a proper English lady.  The book has engaging illustrations and would work as a read aloud or as something for a child to read on their own.  It is not really a "report" type biography, but it is a good introduction to an interesting person.  (2016)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegal et alii

Cover image for 5 worlds. Book 1, The sand warriorOona is the least proficient of all the sand dancers.  Her aniforms are always getting away from her.  While chasing one she overhears a council meeting and discovers that her world is in great danger.  The "Chosen One" needs to relight the five beacons before they all parish.  Oona believes her long lost sister is the chosen one,  and with the help of some unlikely friends,  she goes on a desperate quest to find her and bring her back to Crystalia.

This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel fantasy.  It got some starred reviews and will be popular with the "Amulet" crowd.  There is nothing terribly original in the plot line, but somehow we never get tired of the stories of the underdog who discovers hidden potential and uses it to save the world.
 (2017, 248 p.)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Virgil comes home from the last day of school totally dejected.  All year he has been trying to get up the courage to talk to a girl in his class, but was just too shy to go through with it.  At the same time, Valencia, the girl in his class, is struggling with bad dreams about loneliness.  Meanwhile Kaori, a self proclaimed psychic, can feel a stirring in the universe.  Fate, with the help of a guinea pig named Gulliver and a bully named Chet, aligns to bring the three lonely children together and give them the courage to make a difference in their own lives.
Cover image for Hello, universe

This is a darling book.  If you want a light realistic fiction that will make you feel good, this is the book for you.  Virgil, Valencia and Kaori are just such darling kids and the reader is hoping so much that they end up all getting together.  Even Chet is a little bit adorable. The fact that Valencia is deaf, and Virgil has a learning disability, but still they are really good and likable kids is an added plus.  I enjoyed this as much as anything I have read this year.  That said, I don't think it is a Newbery quality, but still, it was a really fun read. (2017, 313 p.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frogkisser by Garth Nix

Cover image for Frogkisser!Princess Anya prefers to  spend her time in the castle library while her older sister, the crown princess, entertains suitors.  When an evil wizard turns her sister's latest prince into a frog, Anya volunteers to find a way to change him back into a human.  She sets out on a quest to find the ingredients for a magic lip balm that will allow her to kiss the green fellow and turn him back into a human even if she is not in love with him. On the way she is joined by friends and allies, and begins to understand that her real quest is much bigger than a well placed smackaroo.

This started out like any middle grade fantasy, but it just got funner and funnier with each chapter.  The amazing thing is that as it got sillier, it also, in a way, got more serious.  Leave it to Garth Nix to make even a frothy middle grade fantasy have a little philosophical punch to it.  Nix's character development is wonderful, as the reader watches Anya slowly accept her own role as a true leader.  This was a good one that fans of Jessica Day George or Gale Carson Levine would enjoy. (385 p. 2017)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

When Crow was an infant, she washed up on the shore of one of the Elizabethan Islands in Massachusetts in a small boat.  She is adopted by kindly hermit, Osh, and raised by him and a neighbor woman, Maggie.  When Crow is twelve, some things happen that make her wonder about where she was born and why she was abandoned.  Even though her curiosity is painful to Osh, he reluctantly helps her in her search for her origins.  Their investigation leads to a nearby island that used to hold a leper colony.
Cover image for Beyond the bright sea
This is written by the same woman who wrote, Wolf Hollow, which I hated.  This one, however, is not nearly as bitter.  Wolk certainly has a way with words, and this book is worth reading just for the wordcraft.  I imagine this book will be on everyone's "Potential Newbery" lists, but I am not sure what child I would give it to.  I think I will mostly recommend it to adults who like to read well written children's literature.  (283 p. 2017) (for some reason I can't get the picture to move where I want it, sorry)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielson

Cover image for Mark of the thiefJennifer Nielsen visited the library last week so I took the opportunity to read one of her books I hadn't read yet.  In this story Nic is a slave in a jewel mine outside of Rome during the reign of Tiberius.  A powerful senator visits the mine a forces Nic to go into a newly discovered cave that is reported to hold Caesar's treasure.  While there Nick retrieves a magic amulet that used to belong to Caesar, and then escapes with the help of a Griffin.  For the rest of the book Nic and the griffin are on the run from greedy senators who want the amulet for its magical powers, while Nic, with the help of a new friend, Aurelia, tries to rescue his beloved sister who has fallen into the clutches of the bad guy.

It was fun to read a story written in an unusual setting.  It is amazing to me that more books are not set in ancient Rome.  Nielsen does a pretty good job describing the gladiatorial games and animal hunt entertainments that were a staple of late Roman decadence.  The story is fast paced and entertaining, and Nic and Aurelia are likable characters.  I did have to smile a bit that Nic's power with the amulet seemed to be conveniently just as big as his circumstances needed at the moment.  Sometimes he has colossal cosmic power and at other times he can't manage the littlest magical task.  Still, it was a fun read and I will probably recommend it to kids who like Percy Jackson or Harry Potter. (2015, 339 p.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi

Oliver lives with his older sister Charity and a neglectful father, in 1700's England.  Charity leaves for London to seek a better life and future, leaving Oliver in the dubious care of his father. One day Oliver's father leaves for London without explanation and severe weather destroys Oliver's home.  Oliver is taken to a Dickensian orphanage, from which he escapes, only to fall in with some thieves.  Oliver, Charity and their father are swept away by the force of fate and the corruption of London to progressively more dire situations. 

I read this book because it received several starred reviews.  I must say I wasn't thrilled.  It had the same problem almost all of Avi's books have.  It fumbles on the finish line.  Once again Avi didn't manage to create a satisfying ending. (heavy sigh).  The book does open one's eyes to the depravity of Victorian England.  I think people who liked "A Series of Unfortunate Events" might like it.  To me it is nowhere near the quality of writing of some of the others I have read lately, like Clayton Byrde and Beyond the Bright Sea. (304 p. 2017)

(I just realized I haven't blogged "Beyond the Bright Sea yet. I will get to that soon.)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Cover image for The lost kingdom of BamarreTwo daughters of an enslaved Bamarre couple are taken by the wife of Lakti ruler.  The youngest, still a baby, is raised as the woman's daughter while the other acts as her handmaiden.  The youngest, Peregrine, is trained to be a warrior and is her Lakti father's pride and joy.  When she discovers that she was born as a Bamarre, and with promptings by a good fairy, she starts on a quest to free her oppressed people.

This is an interesting mix of the stories of Moses and Rapunzel.  It is classic Levine, with a strong female lead who can kill griffins with the best of them.  There isn't a lot of connection to the earlier book, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, except the setting and the presence of two magical artifacts in both stories.  This is technically a prequel, but you can read the books in any order(2017, 385 p.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Cover image for Originals : how nonconformists move the worldAdam Grant is a social scientist who has studied people who are famous for being original innovators and summarizes his finding in this fairly interesting and readable offering.  Grant supports his main observations with both case studies and research results.  I was impressed with how often he referred to different studies.  He seems to have done a fairly extensive survey of the research in this area.  His examples about well known companies and individuals make the book engaging.

I thought he had some fascinating observations, but sometimes I wondered about his I conclusions.  I think he was too quick to apply principles shown in a small study in much larger applications.  For example, they might have a group of people in a study and they told one group to think of one thought for a few minutes before they did a task, and another group thought another thing for 2 minutes before they did a task and then they would conclude, "group one generated 16 percent more original ideas than the other group."  So question one is, "how to you rate how original an idea is?" Question two is, "how could this possibly relate to what happens in a real corporate setting?"

Beside that objection, I found the book quite interesting and stimulating.  Some of the ideas dovetailed nicely with principles from both Smart Trust, and another book I am reading with my husband called, Awakening Joy. I think if I were the kind to read lots of self-help books, I would begin to trust ideas that seem to appear in many sources.  (322 p.)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Cover image for The shadow cipherTess and Theo Biedermann, and their neighbor, Jamie Cruz, live in one of the historic Morningstarr buildings in an alternate New York City.  The Morninstarrs were a family of brilliant architects and engineers who created smart robots and interactive buildings that permeate the York society.  They also created the Cipher, a puzzle that was supposed to lead to an amazing treasure, but during the 50+ years since their preeminence, no one has been able to solve the puzzle.  When an upstart developer threatens to pull down Tess and Theo's apartment building, the twins team up with Jamie in one last effort to solve the cipher and use the money to save their home.  As they pursue what seems to be a new line of clues, they discover that the world around them is more mysterious and dangerous than they could have imagined.

This book is getting a lot of attention.  It is a fast paced, fresh, steampunk mystery that a lot of readers will enjoy.  I enjoyed it, but there were two ways that I felt it fell short.  The first is that the kids found the answers to the clues way to easily.  The text hinted that there was a reason for that, and if Ruby will explain it in the next book, I will forgive that shortfall.  The second is that after the author initially introduces the three kids, they stop being materially different from each other.  Theo is supposed to be the analytical one, Tess is supposed to be the paranoid one and Jamie is the mechanical one, but after the first three chapters, those distinctions kind of fade into the background, and the kids move as one homogeneous mass from one adventure to another.  It is clear to me that the author thought up the plot first, and then fit the characters into it.  My favorite books are those where the character comes first, and the plot emerges out of the character's...well...character.

That said, I will probably read the next book.  I think the reason this one has received so many starred reviews is that it ends with a really intriguing cliff hanger. Plus, the alternative technology in the world is pretty fun. We will see if the second book lives up to the promise of the first. (476 p.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Cover image for ThornhillThis is the story of two girls, Mary and Ella.  Mary lived in the Thornhill Orphanage in the 1980's.  Ella moves into the house next to Thornhill in the present time.  Ella finds Mary's journal that tells how Mary was brutally bullied by another girl in the orphanage.  As Ella reads, she feels a kinship to Mary because, she too is lonely since her mother's death.  Mary's stories are told as journal entries, but Ella's are told through Hugo Cabret like black and white illustrations.  The book is pretty dark and creepy and I am guessing that is will show up on Banned Books lists in not to long because it suggests (spoiler allert) that the girls both commit suicide in the end.

I brought this book home to read because have to decide whether to keep it in the children's department or not.  It is pretty sad and creepy, but I know some kids that will like it because it is.  I will talk about it to my director to see what she thinks. (544 p.)


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Cover image for Clayton Byrd goes undergroundClayton loves it when he can sneak away with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and jam with the Blues Men in Washington Park.  Then one day, he grandfather is gone. Clayton wants to hold on to anything that reminds him of his beloved grandfather, but his mother seems determined to get rid of everything her father once owned.  When Clayton's mother takes his last memento of his grandfather, Clayton decides to run away and join the Blues Men on the road. Thus begins his adventure in the rich musical culture of New York's underground.

Here is a book that is likely to be on a lot of potential Newbery lists this fall and a shoe in for the Correttta Scott King award. Williams-Garcia is a wonderful word-crafter, and has created totally authentic and sympathetic characters of Clayton, his grandfather and his mother.  She also captures the heart of blues music and the vibrancy of both past and modern urban culture. The thing is, I don't think it will be an easy sell to kids, especially in my community.  The blues and hip hop culture are pretty foreign to them.  I will see what I can do.(166 p.)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Cover image for Real friendsThis is one of the graphic novels that has received starred reviews.  It is a memoir graphic novel, like Telgemeiers "Smile" series, about the struggles Shannon had making friends in grade school.  It is an interesting book to me because it is one of the first books made for a popular audience that portrays a modern Mormon girl. She doesn't say that she is Mormon, only that she goes to church, says family prayers, and believes in Jesus, but anyone raised in the culture will recognize cultural norms. I didn't realize how much it would mean to me to see my own culture in a mainstream children's novel.

That said, it is also a great book about friendship.  Shannon was awkward as a child.  She gets into some toxic relationships at school but eventually manages to make her way through them. She also has difficult conflict with an older sister.  I kept wondering how her sister might feel about the book.  She is portrayed in a pretty negative light, but a note at the end explains how the two sisters were eventually reconciled and have become good friends.  This really is a good choice for readers who liked Smile or Bell's El Deafo. (207p)