Monday, January 30, 2017

Mayday by Karen Harrington

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

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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Radiant Child: the Story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat

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

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

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Connect the Stars by Marisa De Los Santos and David Teague

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Jolley Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon by Jonny Duddle

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

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Skunked by Jacqueline Kelly

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Forbidden Library by Django Wxler

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

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

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

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

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