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)

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.)