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)

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Cover image for The great treehouse warWinnie's parents, who are both PhD's, get a divorce and then compete for Winnie's attention and approval.  Each parent tries to outdo the other in celebrating obscure holidays.  Winnie is so busy celebrating national "eraser" day or "hug your cat" day that she can't do her homework, and is at risk of failing 5th grade.  Her parents allow her to spend one night a week in a tree house that stands between their two properties.  Winnie finally decides to hide out in the tree house until her parents agree to come together and listen to her demands for a more reasonable life style.  When her nine friends hear that she is hiding out in the tree house, they decide to join her until their own parents agree to meet their individual demands.

This is a pretty silly story.  It is the same flavor as the Wayside School stories, or the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths. It is a satire meant to highlight in a humorous way common family and social issues. It is not my favorite kind of writing and I almost didn't make it through it.  I am glad I stuck with it.  In the end Winnie uses her powers of observation to figure out what her friends really need, instead of what they say they want.  That is such an important concept, the idea that what someone really needs is not necessarily what they think they need, it kind of redeemed the book for me.(272 p.)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Harry Miller's Run by Salvatore Rubbino

Cover image for Harry Miller's runLiam wants to go to the park with his friend, Jacksie, and practice for a upcoming foot race.  Instead, his mother urges Liam to come with her to help an elderly neighbor, Harry Miller, who is moving from his house to a care facility. When Harry hears that Liam is preparing for a race, he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he and his friends ran 13 miles from Newcastle to South Shields, just for fun, one perfect sunny day.

This book got several starred reviews.  It is quite short, but full or nostalgia and heart. The way that Harry tells his story would make any adult long for earlier, simpler days when kids could spend the whole day running around on their own.  I originally put this in intermediate fiction because of its length and because it is illustrated throughout.  I think I will move it into regular children's fiction because Harry speaks with an accent and uses a lot of slang from northern British Isles.  A early reader would only get frustrated trying to read this story.  So the problem remains, who will read this story?  It is best suited for an adult to read to a child and then discuss it with them.  Unless librarians actively promote this one it will sit on the shelf, an undiscovered gem. (64 p)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Flunked by Jen Calonita

Cover image for FlunkedGilly is a thief and a pickpocket, but she only steals to help feed her family.  One day she gets caught taking a hair clip from a royal and is sentenced to go to Fairytale Reform School, who's head mistress is the Cinderella's wicked step-mother.  In fact all of the teachers are "reformed" fairy tale villains; Red Riding Hood's wolf, the sea witch, the wicked queen in Snow White, etc.  Gilly, and her new friends, Jax and Kayla, want to figure out if their teachers really are reformed or if there is a sinister plot brewing within the walls of the school.

This is a light middle grade fantasy that will appeal to kids who liked Colfer's The Land of Stories series.  Gilly is the typical spunky girl character who is likable, brave and impetuous. The book has a pretty predictable plot, but I must admit I didn't know if Flora, the head mistress, was a good guy or a bad guy until the end.  This was released back in 2015 and there are sequels that I may read if I get the chance. (244 p.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Making Scents by Arthur Yorinks

Cover image for Making scentsHere is another graphic novel that got starred reviews. Mickey's parents have a business as blood hound handlers, and Mickey is raised to treat the dogs as his brothers.  He struggles at first to keep up, and because his sense of smell isn't as good as his dog brothers, but eventually he learns to track smells pretty well. When his parents die suddenly he is sent to live with an aunt and uncle who do not like dogs.  His uncle especially does not like or trust children, and Mickey's oddities make it even harder for them to get along.

This looks like a silly graphic novel from the outside, but actually deals with serious issues of loss and mourning, and questions of learning to accept people as they are.  Mickey's relationship with his parents, aunt and uncle are complicated and, in a way, authentic.  It is Mickey's willingness to keep on trying when relationships are hard that makes him an endearing character and this a worthwhile graphic novel. (99 p.)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Little Mermaid (graphic novel by Metaphrog)

Cover image for The little mermaidI am trying to catch up my list of graphic novels that received starred reviews. This one is a beautifully illustrated version of the traditional Little Mermaid story done in a graphic novel format. Although the text is fairly minimal, the illustrations do a great job of portraying the complicated emotions of the Mermaid as she watches the love she had hoped and sacrificed for go to another.  This is not the Disney form of the story.  In the end she loses everything, though the author suggests that her fate as sea foam does have a positive spiritual potential. Still, with all of the "follow your dreams" stories for children, it is good to have one that reminds readers that sacrificing everything for "true love" doesn't always have the "happily ever after" ending one imagines. This a pretty good introduction to the old precautionary tale for a new generation. (Added plus, all the mermaids wear a shirts instead of a shell bikini tops throughout.) (66 p.)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pretty by Justin Sayre

Cover image for PrettySome of the girls at school think that Sophie has everything.  She is pretty, popular, and has a innate sense of style.  What they don't know is that she spends every evening wondering, in fear, what her drunken mother might do next.  After an especially bad episode, Sophie's mother goes on a business trip and Sophie's aunt comes to look after her.  For the first time in years she is not worrying about her mother.  She thinks her life will be perfect but it isn't.  She is trying to juggle having her first boyfriend, a wavering relationship with her best friend (who is also a boy) and dealing with another friend's jealousy.  Most of all she is dreading what will happen when her mother returns.

I read this book because one of the other librarians read it and wondered if it belonged in the YA section instead of the children's section.  It is a bit gritty.  Sayre's description of Sophie's difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother is painfully realistic. Also, Sophie, although only 13, gets caught up in some kissing sessions with her first boyfriend, whom she isn't really sure that she even "like" likes that much.  Still, I think I will leave it in the children's section.  I have personally known kids as young as Sophie who become the "responsible" ones who take care of troubled parents.  One of them might be glad to read a story like this one, that is full of hope that there are people out there who might be willing and able to help them.  This is a companion novel to Sayre's novel "Husky" which I haven't read yet.  This one was good enough that I want to go back and read that. (222 p.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Joplin Wishing by Diane Stanley

Cover image for Joplin, wishingJoplin's grandfather, a famous author, has died, and her mother isn't taking it very well.  When they visit her grandfather's home, Joplin is allowed to choose one item as a keepsake. Joplin finds a tin with the pieces of an old Dutch china platter in it.  It is so beautifully painted that a friend of the family agrees to arrange to have it restored.  One day as Joplin is gazing at the picture of the girl on the platter, she wishes for a friend.  That starts a series of events that lead Joplin to friendship, family, time travel and magic.

I am a fan of Diane Stanley.  She started out as a writer of informational books about historical figures.  Then she branched out and wrote some nice historical fantasies.  I think this is the first time she has written a contemporary fantasy, but of course it does have some historical elements. The book got starred reviews and I enjoyed it.  One or two of the characters seemed a bit too perfect to me--too good to be true-- but it made for a nice, light, fast read with an interesting plot.  It was just what I needed after "The Boy on the Wooden Box" and "Pretty."  (oops, I think I haven't blogged Pretty yet.  I will do that one next.)  The book reminded me of  "When Your Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead but with not quite as realistically drawn characters. (255 p.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Faraway Island by Annika Thor

Cover image for A faraway islandStephie and Nellie are Jewish girls from Vienna who are transported from Austria to Sweden when Hitler invades.  They are assigned to stay with two sisters on an island.  Nellie stays with the younger, kindly sister who has several children of her own.  Stephanie goes to live with the older sister who is cold and stern.  As the two girls struggle to learn the new language and fit into a new culture,  Nellie thrives, but Stephie has a harder time.

I read this book because I appreciated the Boy on the Wooden Box so much, I wasn't ready to leave the time period yet.  I thought this would be a good choice because it is a Bacheldor award winner.  I was wrong.  After reading the harrowing and terrible trials that Leon went through, the girls in this book just come off as whiny.  "Oh, boo, hoo, I don't have any friends," while staying in a comfortable house with plenty to eat and the chance to go to school.  Meanwhile the kid in the other book is being beaten, starving, and seeing people get shot right before his eyes. Of course, this is an unfair comparison.  They are just two books about two different things, and The Faraway Island is just fine for what it is, but I don't recommend you read them back to back as I did. (247p)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Cover image for The boy on the wooden box : how the impossible became possible...on Schindler's listThis is a moving story of how the author survived Hitler's invasion of Poland. Leyson was 11 when the war started and 15 when the Jews of Krackow were placed in a Jewish ghetto.  He survived brutality and starvation because of the kindness and courage of the owner of the factory where his father worked, Oskar Schindler.  This memoir is a tribute to Schindler and to the unconquerable human spirit.

The catalog entry states that this is the only memoir written by one of the Jews saved on Schindler's list.  Leyson was also the youngest person on the list. It is an amazing story and all the more powerful because it is autobiographical instead of fictional.  My daughter once went through a period when she loved reading Holocaust stories.  If you know of a mature child, teen, or adult, who is interested in that kind of thing, this is an excellent choice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe

Cover image for Grandfather and the moon"Memere's" grandfather is devastated when his beloved wife dies.  He sinks into silent depression.  Memere tries to get him interested in life again by entering a contest to travel to the moon. She wins the contest, but wonders whether even this will break through her grandfather's wall of grief.

This is an interesting "graphic novel."  It isn't a comic book style graphic novel with boxes and word bubbles.  It is just an illustrated story that is longer than a picture book.  It doesn't have much text, only a sentence or two on most pages but with a couple of pages with several paragraphs.  I believe it was originally published in Canada.  I am guessing from the author's name that she is a French Canadian.  The book certainly has a French feel to it.  The text is lyrical, even poetic, and the mood is surreal. I could see a teacher reading this book in class and then leading a discussion about the meaning and symbolism in the story.  I am guessing this book is not going to circulate a lot.  It is a bit too "out there" for most young American readers. It might be a good one to give to a kid who has to read a book with 100 pages, who is a struggling reader. (100 p.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Ranger's Apprentice, The Lost Stories by John Flanagan

Cover image for The lost storiesOk, so I went and read another Ranger's Apprentice book.  This one is a collection of short stories.  Some of them fall chronologically between book 10 and 12 (the publisher calls this book 11).  Other stories look back to the past and fill in some gaps left in earlier stories.  The one I was most interested in was the story of when Crowley and Halt met.  I was hoping it would explain what happened in Ibernia that made Halt leave, but it didn't.  It just picks up when Halt was already in Araluen and meets Crowley in a bar. I guess you get the earlier story in "The Royal Ranger."  Still, I enjoyed the book. I think Flanagan may have written it thinking it would be the end of the series.  A lot of loose ends were tied up, people get married and live happily ever after, etc. I think I will treat it that way.  I think I am officially done with the series, at least for now. (422 p.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Deep Trouble

Cover image for Star vs the forces of evil. Deep troubleStar Butterfly's friend Pony Head has been accused of stealing a tiara, and Star is determined to prove she is innocent.  Along the way, Star and Marco travel to various realms, meet an array of monsters, and seem to forget their original purpose. In the end they return a makeup compact to Pony Head which is really a telephone, but Pony Head doesn't care because she got a new one.

Here is an example of the kind of book that gives comic books a bad name.  Not only is this just stupid, it didn't even make sense.  I couldn't really tell what what happening, and it didn't really care to know. The pictures were colorful, and maybe if I was familiar with the TV show on which the comic is based it would make more sense to me.  Still, I can't really recommend the book I read. (92 p)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Cavern of Secrets by Linda Sue Park

Image result for cavern of secrets parkThis the second in the series that began with The Forest of Wonders.  This one starts with Raffa, Kuma and Garith with their animal friends in the wilderness hiding from the Chancellor.  They each decide it is time to return to their families, but when they do they are met with unpleasant surprises.  Soon Raffa is using his apothecary skills to try to prevent another attack on the peasants by the evil Chancellor.

This book is pretty similar to the first in the series.  There are some good interpersonal relationships, and some interesting chemistry. It ends on a pretty bad cliff hanger, so don't even try it until you are willing to commit to the next book as well. This is a decent middle-grade fantasy series, but no star.   (309 p.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Smart Trust by Stephen M.R.Covey and Greg Link

Cover image for Smart trust : creating prosperity, energy and joy in a low-trust worldMy director gave a copy of this book to each member of the Executive Management Team and asked us to read it.  Our city has followed the Speed of Trust program for several years, and this book is a follow-up of that program.  It talks about several elements of "Smart Trust" and gives lots (and lots and lots) of examples of each one.  The principles are good.  They have even helped me in my personal relationships.  The book is a bit hard to get through.  There is just one example after another of "look how wonderful this company is" and "look at the wonderful things that company did."  It is clearly meant to be motivational rather than just informational. I kind of wish they had looked at it more evenly, and shown some counter examples, like, "if you trust the wrong person you can get totally messed up." Still, it was an okay book and I am glad I read it. (296 p.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Speed of Life by Carol Weston

Cover image for Speed of lifeBoth Sofia and her father are just going through the motions, dealing with their own grief after Sofia's mother dies. Sofia starts to write to a advise columnist, Dear Kate, as a way to deal with the crushing and confusing emotions in her new "motherless" life.  Then she notices that her father has become less depressed, and figures out that he is seeing someone.  Sofia feels betrayed at first, but soon learns to care for her father's new girlfriend, Kate, the same one Sofia had been writing.  Kate's own teenage daughter is another matter.  Can she and Sofia ever learn to be friends?

This book received a lot of starred reviews, and for good reason.  It looks at life squarely, but not without hope.  Sofia, and those around her all have difficult things they are working through, but there is always the promise that things will get better.  I liked the book, but I am moving it to the Young Adult section.  It really is a YA book, not a kid's book.  It deals with a lot of mature themes, and has quite a bit of mature language in it.  (239 p.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

Cover image for The crooked sixpenceWhile Ivy and Seb are staying with their grandmother while their parents travel for work, they are suddenly thrown into the world of the "uncommoners", people who can feel the magic in random everyday objects.  They attend an "uncommon" market day and soon come to find out that their family has a sordid past and that the actions of their ancestors have put them at risk in this new world.  Ivy and Seb work with a few new friends to learn the truth about their family's past as they try to defeat the dark forces within the Uncommon government.

I ended up listening to this in two pieces.  I listened to the first half about 2 months ago, and then ran out of time.  Then I had to put the book on hold, etc, and finally got to listen to the second half.  That might be the reason I found the story a bit confusing. There were a lot of characters and a lot of locations. The whole book the main characters were rushing about getting themselves in different predicament, and then escaping from them. The hole book was long on action and adventure, but short on actual plot and character development.  It was an Ok middle grade fiction, but certainly not something I am rushing to recommend to everyone I meet.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Cover image for The epic fail of Arturo ZamoraHere is another book that totally transports the reader into a new culture.  Arturo and his large extended family live in a small town in Florida.  When their family run restaurant is threatened by a developer who wants to put up high rise apartments, Arturo, his family, and his new found friend, Carmen, find strength from the words of Arturo's grandparents, and the Cuban Poet, Jose Marti, to face the threat to their family business.

This is a heart warming story. Arturo's family feels authentic, and Arturo's relationship with his grandmother is touching.  Readers who come from a large close family will have much to chuckle over in the story, while those who don't can get a glimpse into the sweet and challenging life of those who do.  My only concern with the book is that I thought Cartaya demonized the developer too much. I am sure many developers actually have very ethical motivations. Wanting to build an upscale apartment complex does not make one evil.  That said, this is a great addition to literature portraying the Latino experience and I expect to see it on some of the award lists next winter.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan

Image result for the tournament at gorlanThis is the first in a series that is a prequel to The Ranger's Apprentice series.  In this one Halt and Crowley are young men fighting against the evil Morgarath who is plotting to overthrow good King Oswald. Morgarath has dismissed all the rangers who are loyal to Oswald and has replaced them with his own men.  Halt and Crowley unite the dismissed rangers and make plans to confront Morgarath at the annual Tournament at Gorlan.

If readers like the original Ranger's Apprentice, they will like this series.  It is really just more of the same.  Crowley replaces Will in the snappy patter with Halt, but otherwise, it is the same formula: clever tactics and combat skills, close masculine relationships, castles, horses, and knights etc.  I am not sure why I like these books so much.  Even as I was listening to this one I was tempted to go back and listen to the original series again.  I think it is the strong characters I like, and also the swagger.  There is a lot of swagger but Flanagan adds a good dose of humor, too.  I had hoped this book would explain how Halt left Ibernia and was trained as a ranger, but the forward explains that that story can be found in The Lost Stories (Which is #11 in the Ranger's Apprentice series.  I think I stopped at #10). So now I have that book on hold. (384 p.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands

Cover image for Mark of the plagueThis is a second in a series that began with The Blackthorn Key.  In this one Christopher is living in his old master's workshop while plague rages through London.  Christopher wants to help, but since he has no master, and is still an apprentice, he is not allowed to sell medicines. He and his friend, Tom, barely get by. One day Christopher hears about a strange "prophet" who is going around town foretelling who will get the plague next.  Christopher soon begins to wonder what and who the "Prophet" really is and what connection he might have to Christopher's old master.  His snooping brings him, Tom, and their new friend, Sally, into terrible danger.

I liked the first Blackthorn Key book and I may like this one even better.  It has the puzzles and well crafted mystery of the first book, without as much violence. Christopher, Tom and Sally are all great characters with wonderful chemistry. The details about the plague are interesting, and,as with the first book, the historical and scientific facts seems to be well researched. (529 p.)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Cover image for The birchbark houseOmakayas is a Objiwa girl who lives on an island in the Great Lakes in the 1840's.  This book follows the course of her life for one year.  Her father is a fir trapper and is gone most of the time.  All of the members of the family have their own responsibilities to do. Omakayas isn't as good at beading as her older sister, or as cute as her younger brothers, but she has a special connection with animals, especially a mother bear that lives near by and two bear cubs. Watching her granddaughter's affinity with nature, Omakayas' grandmother wonders if Omakayas has what it takes to become a healer like herself. 

I have been meaning to read this series for a long time. All of the installments have received starred reviews in the major journals.  The stars are well deserved and I am going to be recommending this to lots of people in the future.  It is like "Little House in the Big Woods" from a Native American point of view--interesting and tender, and full of family values.  I just noticed that it first came out in 1999, so it is older than I thought, but the most recent installment of the series (#5) just came out last year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking Refuge by Irene Watts and Kathryn Shoemaker

Cover image for Seeking refuge : a graphic novelHere is a very different graphic novel from the ones I have reviewed this month.  This is a story about a Jewish German girl who is evacuated from Germany right before the instigation of concentration camps.  She is sent to England, but has no family there to take her, so she is passed from home to home.  In some she is treated as a servant, in others she is expected to take the place of a diseased daughter.  None of the hosts respect her religious background or understand her longing to be reunited with her mother again.

This is a touching and sober historical fiction story.  The pictures are done in black and white pencil sketches and monochrome coloring reinforces the serious mood of the story.  This could be a good companion graphic novel to Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.  In some ways it is more culturally balanced because it shows that the British, although they helped the refugees, were not 100% hospitable.  It would be interesting for a group to read both and then compare and contrast them. (134 p.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

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

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bronze and Sunflower by Wenxuan Cao

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Mighty Zodiac #1: Starfall

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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

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

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Phantom 'Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale

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

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

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

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

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard

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

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

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

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snow White by Matt Phelan

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke

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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones by Wendelin Van Draanen

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hilo #3: The Great Big Boom by Judd Winik

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Force Awakens, a Junior Novelization by Michael Kogge

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hilo 2: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

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

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

News Prints by Ru Xu

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

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