Friday, December 23, 2016

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill


ABOUT THE BOOK

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.


REVIEW

I was a bit reluctant to read this book for a couple of reasons.  One, I've heard so many good things about it that I didn't want to be disappointed.  Second, the story seemed kind of weird.  But I ended up loving it.  The character development is fabulous, and not just surrounding the main character Luna.  Antain, the young man who wants to protect his family, Xan, the witch who adopts Luna, and the madwoman, all play important parts in the story and get their fair share of attention.  Barnhill's books are known, at least in my mind, for being unusual and unique.  This book definitely lives up to that standard.  I did find the mother telling her child stories at the beginning and several other occasions throughout the book rather intriguing.  It reinforced the myths that the people living in the Protectorate had been lead to believe.  I think what I found most impressive was the intricate plotting that eventually led the main characters to each other and the answers they were seeking.  I knew going in that at least some of the various characters would meet up, what was fascinating was the way it happened.  And the way that magic was woven into the story and the various characters lives, especially Luna's and Xans's.

In addition to just being a great story, the themes running through the book are very thought-provoking, at least for me.  The themes of kindness versus power and control, along with themes about growing up and making decisions, and then the most impressive theme of all, living with the consequences of the choices we make.  All of these themes make this a book well worth reading and discussing.  And after all of that, there is the volcano, the element in the story that none of the characters can control.  This is a book that is well worth all the praise it has been given.  Barnhill has outdone herself with this one.



Thursday, December 22, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: Ghost by Jason Reynolds


ABOUT THE BOOK

A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

REVIEW

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but I'd heard so much about it that I couldn't help wanting to read it.  And now I'm really glad that I did.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Castle Cranshaw (Ghost).  Castle makes for an great narrator as he explains about his father trying to shoot him and his mother, about dealing with a bully, and joining the Defenders track team.  'Ghost' as Castle prefers to be called, all to often reacts first and thinks later, such as when he impulsively steps up to compete with one of the Defenders runners to prove that he can run faster.  Then his anger gets the better of him and he attacks Brandon Simmons, a bully who won't leave him alone.  He makes a couple of other poor decisions as he struggles to cope with the circumstances in which he finds himself.  What I really appreciated in this book are the adults that Ghost has around, supporting and helping him.  Ghost's mother works hard to provide for herself and her son, the principal listens when Ghost explains why he attacked Brandon and applies appropriate punishments for both boys, and Coach, who encourages Ghost to make better choices, as well as offering solid discipline in terms of both character and athletics.  And as Ghost gets to know the other kids on the team, it offers him hope for a better future.

More books like this one are needed.  Books that help kids see themselves and the very real problems that they have to live with, but also windows, that allow other readers to develop empathy for those who face challenges different than their own.  The fact that this is a problem story that doesn't harp on the problems or have a narrator that feels sorry for himself makes the book all the more powerful.  Being under 200 pages also makes it a fairly quick and easy read for reluctant readers.  I also enjoyed the focus on a sport other than football, basketball, or baseball.  I'm glad that Reynolds is going to write more books in this series about the other kids that are on the track team.  I highly recommend this one, it justly deserved to be a National Book Award Finalist and is a great candidate for other upcoming awards.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CHRISTMAS Picture Books!


ABOUT THE BOOK

You've been waiting all year long, and now it's finally Christmas Eve! Is this the year you'll finally catch an elf? Start a new Christmas tradition with this hilarious children's book from the creators of the New York Times best-seller How to Catch a Leprechaun!

"It's Christmas Eve! Hip hip, hooray!
Yes, Santa's coming 'round.
He's bringing toys to girls and boys
in every house in town."

"Some kids have tried to catch him,
but Santa's fast, you see!
So they've set their eyes on a smaller prize,
and now they're after me!"


REVIEW

My first question while reading this book was, why are kids trying to catch the elf who is helping Santa deliver presents?  According to the elf, the kids originally tried to catch Santa but he's too fast so now they aim their traps at the elf.  While the rhyming isn't as smooth or readable as I would have liked it to be, the illustrations are adorable.  Both the elf and Santa are cute and I couldn't help cheering when they escaped each trap.  There is one illustration however that I found a bit puzzling.  In the illustration, the elf is behind Santa's should relieved that the Elf Snatcher 3000 has been dunked in a glass of milk and disabled.  What puzzles me is the way Santa is holding his hands, like he is supposed to be holding something that is no longer there.  I might have thought he was holding the glass of milk, but once the Snatcher hit it, it should have been knocked over.  Puzzling indeed.  But I can see children enjoying the madcap adventures that Santa and the elf have escaping various traps, especially the avalanche of food in the grocery store.  I, however, found myself rather empathizing with the difficult time that Santa and the elf had delivering presents. 


ABOUT THE BOOK

A group of misfit holiday decorations come vividly to life as they try to make their way home for the holidays in this enchanting and heartwarming picture book from Scott Santoro.

The houses on Candy Cane Lane have some of the most spectacular holiday decorations around, so when a winter storm hits and damages some of the festive lawn ornaments, the residents simply can’t allow the broken figures to ruin their prized displays. Many end up in the trash, including a scuffed choirboy who is sure he’ll never have a chance to bring holiday cheer to the lane again. That is, until a little girl in the only undecorated house on the block saves him and gives him a special spot on her lawn.

But when a misunderstanding the next morning sends the choirboy off to the dump, he’ll have to team up with a plucky group of other discarded lawn ornaments to find his way back to the little girl and the one place everyone wants to be during the holiday season—home.

With classic holiday spirit and illustrations as merry and bright as any holiday display, Scott Santoro brings Candy Cane Lane to life for readers of all ages.


REVIEW

When you combine a bunch of damages lawn ornaments,  a blizzard, and the hopeful heart of a young girl, you end up with a story that's more than a bit magical.  Candy Cane Lane is known for the number of Christmas decorations they display on and around their houses.  Every house is decorated to the max, all except for one.  The young girl that lives inside knows her father can't afford such decorations, but she longs to have just one.  After a blizzard sweeps through the area, ornaments are blown hither and yon.  The girl finds a young choir boy decoration in a dumpster the next day and is delighted to take it home with her.  But her father throws it away.  When the choir boy ends up at the dump, he joins forces with a ghost and a broken reindeer to find a way back to the girl's house.  But it takes the help of other damaged decorations and a giant to provide a way for everyone to enjoy the holidays.  The animated illustrations give this book a rather cartoonish feel, but the themes of acceptance and finding a place to belong shine through sweetly.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Hope and joy radiate from the pages of Robert Sabuda’s new pop-up book celebrating the Nativity.

Long ago in the town of Bethlehem, on a bright and starry night, a baby was born, a child who was called the son of God. Announced by an angel, born in a humble manger, laid in a bed of straw, visited by shepherds and wise men—the age-old, awe-inspiring story of the birth of Jesus is lovingly brought to life by master pop-up artist Robert Sabuda in six gorgeously imagined scenes, culminating in a 3-D manger sheltering humans and beasts, guarded by an angel above. Glinting with touches of gold and pearlescent foil, The Christmas Story is a visual feast, a holiday treasure to be shared with the whole family.


REVIEW

Robert Sabuda has created a beautifully designed retelling of the Nativity.  While the story does not quote directly from the scriptures, it's clear that the Bible was referenced.  Also, while my personal beliefs do not completely line-up with the portrayal here (in the book the angels have wings, and the three wise men visit Mary and child in the stable), the account is mostly consistent with the Bible story.  But it's the gorgeous pop-ups that take center stage here.  My favorites were the pop-out star that the wise men follow, and the stable where Joseph and Mary take refuge.  Sabuda has once again created a beautiful book.

Monday, December 19, 2016

MMGM: The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz


ABOUT THE BOOK
 
An exciting and hilarious medieval adventure from the bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm.

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout by illustrator Hatem Aly and filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor's Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.

Beautifully illustrated throughout! Includes a detailed historical note and bibliography.


REVIEW

To be honest, I'm still processing this book.  There were things I really liked about it, and other things I wasn't so sure about.  Gidwitz does a fabulous job telling the story.  Using secondary characters to tell the story gives the events of the story a rather unusual perspective or perspectives, I should say.  The way the inquisitor's story eventually merges with that of the children makes for an interesting subplot.  But of course, the focus is indeed on the children and the experiences that bring them together.  

Jeanne, a young peasant girl who has visions of the future has to flee her home when she joins forces with Gwenforte, the resurrected dog who saved her life as a baby.  Knights have been sent to kill the dog and destroy the grave because the locals have been reported 'worshipping' the animal.  William is sent away from the monastery that has been his home for eleven years after he breaks a stone bench with his fist (he's a very large biracial boy with half African roots, which leads him to stand out in medieval France).  And poor Jewish Jacob flees his home when his village is set aflame by some cruel and misguided so-called Christian youth.  The children do not trust each other at first since they come from such different backgrounds.  

It's the way the children learn to befriend and trust each other despite their drastic differences that really made the book for me.  It wasn't the miracles or special abilities that made the children stand out the most to me, it was the way they overcame the prejudices of the time to care about and support each other.  This allows them to unite to accomplish an almost impossible task, a task that puts them at great risk of martyrdom when they anger the Queen Mother and King of France.

I can't really review the illustrations because the e-book didn't really do them justice, but they looked like the sort of illumination that monks used to create books during the Middle Ages.  

While some of the events of the story are a bit fantastical as they are based on legends (depending on your religious beliefs), other parts of the story are based on actual fact.  It was fascinating to read the author's note explaining the real parts of the story, the legends merged into the story, and the inspiration that led the author to write the story in the first place.

Religion does play a key role in this story, several religions as a matter of fact: Christian predominately but also Judaism and Islam.  I did find it odd that there was so much swearing using God's name considering the beliefs of the characters.  And the portrayal of Christianity was a study in contrasts with some of the characters behaving in a Christlike manner and others not much at all.  It's the relationships between the children that offers hope for a world that didn't accept differences and tended to encourage the use of force in getting others to agree with you.

While I enjoyed the book for the most part, I'm not sure how many children will pick this book up.  Historical fiction is a hard sell at the best of times.  An historical novel based in the Middle Ages that's as long as this one is, with such strong religious themes running through it, makes it a difficult book to get children to pick up. I'd be interesting in hearing the opinions of children who've read the book.

Friday, December 16, 2016

TWO NUTCRACKER PICTURE BOOKS


ABOUT THE BOOK

The New York City Ballet presents a classic ballet tale for a modern ballet lover with George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, a holiday favorite.

The New York City Ballet is known for showcasing classic stories of the ballet with their trademark stylish and modern sensibility. For the first time, this beloved holiday story is told based on George Balanchine’s quintessential production. The storyline of this gorgeous picture book mimics the choreography of the famous ballet and the illustrations are inspired by the backdrops and scenery from the actual production.

The New York City Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker is considered to be “the” leading production in the world. A holiday tradition for many families, now readers who can’t travel to New York will be able to experience this colorful celebratory story. A must-have for every aspiring ballerina’s library and a holiday tradition for every family’s bookshelf.


REVIEW

It's been a long time since I've seen the Nutcracker ballet, so it was fun to read this picture book based on that ballet.  I was a bit surprised that the main character's name was Marie and not Clara, but the story remained pretty much how I remembered it.  The broken Nutcracker coming to life to fight the Mouse King, and the trip to The Land of Sweets, and all the beautiful dancing that is so much a part of the story.  Being based on the ballet, the illustrator chose to create illustrations that reflect that, so all of the characters look like dancers and are in dance positions throughout the story.  The illustrations are elegant and sweet, perfect for sharing with younger children, especially since Marie and her Prince are fairly young in the story.  The fun facts at the end of the story as well as the background on the creation of the ballet was informative and interesting to me.  A fun version of the story that would work well with younger readers who are in to dancing.  In fact it would be fun to stop and act out some of the dancing sequences.


ABOUT THE BOOK

An exquisite gift edition of The Nutcracker captures the spirit of the Christmas ballet in elegant illustrations—and delivers a glorious pop-up finale.

The Nutcracker is one of the world’s most popular ballets, telling the captivating story of Clara and the Nutcracker prince as they journey into a land of fantasy. Inspired by Marius Petipa’s sets for the original production of the ballet, Niroot Puttapipat’s delicate silhouette illustrations dance across pale, watercolor-washed backgrounds in a unique interpretation. Starkly beautiful, this keepsake edition evokes all the magic and anticipation of Christmas Eve as Clara and the prince waltz between worlds—and culminates in a 3-D spread bringing the dreamlike Land of Sweets to life.


REVIEW

I was expected this version of the Nutcracker to be more like the ballet, which I am more familiar with.  But this version is quite different.  This book is based on the original ballet produced by Marius Petipa.  I wasn't familiar with this version when I picked up the book.    But the book is beautifully put together.  While the text is longer than most picture books, or at least it feels that way because the book has fewer pages than most picture books (to make room for the pop-up at the end).  The shadow illustrations are gorgeous and highly detailed. The pop-up dance scene at the end is impressive. In this version, Clara helps save the nutcracker prince from the Mouse King and as a reward, he takes her to his home, the Land of Sweets where she dances away the night.  When she returns home she meets Dr. Drosselmeyer's nephew who is "handsome enough to be a prince."  For those interested in a version of the story closer to the original, I can highly recommend this one.
 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

CHRISTMAS BOARD BOOKS Reviews


ABOUT THE BOOK

Pip the gnome gets help decorating the Christmas tree from his friends robin, rabbit and mouse. Discover the beautiful, natural things they bring: a red apple, soft woollen thread, golden straw and a bright, shiney rosehip. Colourful illustrations and simple words introduce very young children to the joy of preparing for Christmas. Soft, wintery colours illuminate the day from morning to dusk, ending with the candle-lit tree. Perfect for bedtime during Advent, the story ends as we say 'Happy Christmas Pip'.

REVIEW

This short board book provides a sweet way to introduce the concept of tree decorating to little ones.  Pip and each of his friends contribute something from his/her home to add to the tree. This is a sweet story of friendship and sharing as each friend adds to the tree.  The soft pastels create a gentleness that makes it work well for the youngest listeners.  With slightly older listeners it might be fun to discuss what he/she would like to add to the tree. 


ABOUT THE BOOK


A merry Christmas twist on the favorite nursery rhyme “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”!

The itsy bitsy reindeer worked up in Santa’s shop,
helping the elves to do their Christmas job.
Building the toys and singing songs of joy,
as they wrapped all of the presents for every girl and boy.


The itsy bitsy reindeer spreads holiday cheer as he helps Santa’s Workshop get ready for Christmas. Little ones will love this fresh holiday spin on the classic nursery rhyme, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”!


REVIEW

The adorable illustrations are the real winner in this sweet board book.  The itsy bitsy reindeer helps the elves get everything ready for Santa to deliver to good little girls and boys.  This book makes for a sweet little read for the youngest listeners. The bright colors and highlighted words make this book great for sharing.  The little reindeer helps paint toys, pull carts of toys, and wrap presents, all in preparation for 'the best night of the year.' 


ABOUT THE BOOK


From bestselling author Angela DiTerlizzi comes a lighthearted and sweet Christmas board book perfect for little elves and Santa fans everywhere!

I’m seeking a Santa
And everyone knows…
Your eyes must be bright
With red cheeks and red nose
Should have a fur hat
Wear a warm, woolen suit
Bring a big bag

For all of the loot

The search for Santa is on at the North Pole as elves, reindeer, and more share their Christmas spirit before finding the perfect St. Nick.


REVIEW

Seeking a Santa describes what qualities Santa needs to have in order to get the job.  Naturally this includes things such as red cheeks and nosy, fur hat, cozy suit, a love for snow and the North Pole, and an ability to tell naughty from nice.  The bright, colorful illustrations are bound to attract the gaze of a young listener with lots of cute elves and other characters to be talked about.  This book makes for a cute introduction to the idea of Santa Claus, who he is and what he does.

Monday, December 12, 2016

MMGM: Moo by Sharon Creech


ABOUT THE BOOK

Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.


REVIEW

Ever since I first read Love That Dog, I've looked forward to reading Sharon Creech's novels in verse.  I've developed a greater appreciation for this style of writing stories as I've gotten older.  I'm not sure I would have like it as much as a child, but I have heard a number of students tell me they also like Love That Dog, so I'm thinking I could probably get them to like this book as well.  Reena is a great narrator as she describes for the reader her experiences moving from a really big city to a very rural town in Maine.  The culture shock she and her brother, Luke, experience is especially well depicted in their interactions with their neighbor Mrs. Falala and her animals.  When Reena and Luke get 'volunteered' by their parents to help Mrs. Falala take care of her animals, the kids are definitely in over their heads and a bit resentful at first.  Especially since Mrs. Falala is a rather unusual lady and their first interactions with her weren't particularly enjoyable.  But as Reena learns to take care of the animals, especially Zora, a rather, feisty, stubborn, cow, her confidence starts to grow and she develops an interest in showing the cow at the upcoming fair.  Some of the poetry hear reads more like prose, while other poems do an excellent job of creating strong emotion and atmosphere at key moments of the story.  Ms. Creech has definitely created another winning combination here of great characters, a surprisingly simple yet thoughtful storyline, and a fantastic setting.  I would definitely put this book on my list of Newbery contenders for 2017.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale


ABOUT THE BOOK

Even monster-battling princesses get tired sometimes! But a peaceful time away is hard to find as the humorous New York Times best-selling series continues.

After battling monsters all night, a sleepy Princess in Black decides that she needs a vacation. After all, the Goat Avenger, a new hero who looks oddly familiar, has offered to protect the goats while she takes a much needed break. The very next day Princess Magnolia rides her bicycle to the seaside, where the air is salty, the sun is shiny, and the sea is as blue as monster fur. But just as Princess Magnolia is about to take a nap on her hammock, she hears a "ROAR!" Seriously? A monster? On the perfect beach? Impossible! Could a sea monster really ruin this vacation for the Princess in Black?


REVIEW

I am delighted to highlight this new book in one of my very favorite series.  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, along with LeUyen Pham have created a truly winning series.  In this volume, the Princess in Black has discovered that one of the downsides to having a double identity is very little sleep.  Frankly, she's exhausted, and when the Goat Avenger suggests she take a vacation while he watches out for monsters, she's more than happy to agree.  Unfortunately, once she's at the beach, things take a turn for the worse when a sea monster shows up to create chaos.  Can the Princess in Black save the day again or will she stay in hiding with her friend Princess Sneezewort?  Once again, the Hales and Pham have created the perfect book.  A delightful text with great read a loud potential (lots of sound effects built right in) and the gorgeous illustrations that highlight poor Princess Marigold's utter exhaustion.  I felt tired just looking at her. I especially love the fact that Princess Marigold is a pink-loving sweetheart and a black-wearing monster fighter at the same time. So often society tells kids they need to fit into one neat box or another, with no cross-over between them.  But in reality no one fits into a nice, neat little box, and these books demonstrate that to perfection. I'm sorry I'm gushing, but I really do love this series.  If you haven't tried it yet I highly recommend that you do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

CALDECOTT CONTENDERS, Part 2


REVIEW

McDonnell has created an amusing book that looks like an ipad.  The theme of the book isn't hard to guess once you look closely at the cover illustration.  Tek, a young 'cave' boy with a beard (his father hasn't invented shaving cream yet), is obsessed with his video games, tablet, and phone.  In fact, he is so focused on his technology that he refuses to even leave his cave.  Despite the efforts of his parents and his best friend, Larry (a crocodile?), Tek misses out on the evolving world, including the Ice Age, and the appearance of dinosaurs.  It isn't until the local volcano erupts and disrupts Tek's entire world that he starts to see the world around him and the wonders it contains.  The design of this book is fabulous.  The first half of the book looks just like an ipad screen, even including a number pad page.  Once Tek starts seeing and experiencing the world around him, the design of the book changes.  Tek's beard also adds humor as do the parents comments and the fact that Larry carries around a basketball, wishing Tek would come play with him.


REVIEW

A young boy comes across a ship's captain who is heartbroken because his ship is in such poor shape.  The peg-legged boy decides to help his friend gather the supplies he needs to fix up his ship by swapping or bargaining for what they need.  They start one one red button off the sailor's coat, which they trade for two teacups.  The two teacups are traded for three coils of rope.  Two coils of rope are then traded for six oars and so on and so forth until the boy and the sailor (and a monkey) have visited a bunch of islands and gathered all the supplies they need.  The fun incorporation of math (it would be fun to have children see if they can figure out just what supplies the two still have once they are done trading) and the detailed illustrations make for a delightful read.  The judicious use of color also has an important role in leading the reader's eyes to certain aspects of the story.  It would be lots of fun though to see what young readers/listeners notice once they look beyond the obvious.  There is so much to see and do with this book that it's a real winner in my book.  Beyond the obvious connections to economics and math are connections to creativity and friendship and determination.  And the fantastically detailed illustrations make it a real possibility for the Caldecott as well.


REVIEW

A young boy, his little sister, and his parents are off on a trip.  As readers we follow along as the suitcases get packed (including monkey), the taxi is loaded, the airport is navigated, and the plane takes off and arrives.  Each aspect of the journey is documented in the detailed and adorable illustrations.  I think the part of the book I enjoyed the most was looking at all the details in the illustrations.  It's fun to follow sock monkey's journey, as well as a strange shaped fragile package, and several other travelers that appear throughout the book.  Even the cover under the book jacket gives additional details about the travelers.  This book makes for a delightful look at traveling but also a great way to prepare children for traveling by airplane.  With no shortage of fun things to look at and discuss this book makes for a great sharing experience.  While the details of the book are great for one-on-one reading, story times are likely to be a bit more difficult because of all the details.


REVIEW

While this book is not one of my favorites for 2016, it is a cute book and it has appeared on several best of lists, so it is definitely in the running for the ALA Awards.  This story revolves around a duckling who opens a book only to discover that the book doesn't have any pictures, it's all text.  At first this makes him mad and he throws the book.  But afterwords he feels bad and picks it back up and starts to read it.  When a bookworm shows up and asks him if he can read it, he isn't sure at first, but he keeps at it and eventually finds himself creating his own pictures to go with the words.  By the time he is finished, he is thoroughly in love with the book.  Interestingly, the words on the front end papers are in jibberish with a few recognizable words mixed in.  But the back end papers are completely readable.  An interesting symbol of the theme of the book:  that learning to read pure text can be challenging, but worth it in the end.  While the illustrations here aren't my favorite, I can't deny that they are still cute and appealing, and the message is a powerful one.






Monday, December 5, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida


ABOUT THE BOOK

Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training, is frustrated. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation when they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Ninja skills don’t come easily to Little Kunoichi. She needs determination—and a special friend—to unleash her power!

REVIEW

I didn't love this book as much as I was hoping to.  The book is cute enough and the themes are certainly good ones, I just couldn't fully get into the book, and the ending where Little Kunoichi and her friend, Chibi are working to come up with a fancy way to show off their skills did not really resonate with me.  However, the illustrations are adorable, especially when Kunoichi is spying on Chibi Samurai's practice sessions.  And the themes of hard work and persistence with a dash of creativity thrown in are great.   And I loved the fact that Chibi is also struggling at his special school, but refuses to let his small stature or struggles stop him and simply practices harder. And when the two get together to train, they are both the stronger for it.  What I had a problem with though is the fact that Kunoichi and Chibi thought they needed to do something spectacular to wow the crowd instead of just showing their improved skills. Not to mention, what they end up doing seems a bit beyond the abilities of two young children. And the inclusion of a dragon at this point was a bit jarring.  I don't think any of this will bother child readers though, they will be thrilled to see ninja moves in a boat with a pink dragon getting in the way. And a search and find picture for the festival seemed a bit of an odd addition at the end of the story, not that child readers will be bothered by this, they will be delighted to try to find Little Kunoichi and Chibi Samurai.  While the book doesn't quite resonate fully with me, the book is a cute one that is bound to appeal to young ninja lovers.

MMGM: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier/The Tortoise and the Soldier by Michael Foreman


ABOUT THE BOOK

THERE'S SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS TOWN...

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.


REVIEW

This book has created some controversy, which I doubt was the author/illustrator's intention. My overall impression of the book was one of enjoyment.  Telgemeier has created another fun story using her well-known illustrative style.  I have no doubt that many young readers will enjoy the book.  Cat is a great character who struggles to support her ailing little sister, while not wanting to be held back by it.  When Cat discovers that the new city that she and her family have moved to celebrates the holiday of Day of the Dead and celebrates with the ghosts of former friends and family, she's rather freaked out by it, especially after some of the ghosts lead her sister into a trip to the hospital.  But with the help of her family and her new friends, Cat finds a way to face her fears while learning more about the culture and traditions of her new town.  

The concerns I've read about relate to the portrayal of the Latinx community and the Day of the Dead celebration.  The other issue is the use of old mission ruins as the setting for the first appearance of the ghosts and the place where they most commonly come.  Old Missions do carry certain symbolism and memories, often unpleasant memories, for some peoples, especially some First/Native Nations peoples.  The other issue I can't really comment on because my experience with the Day of the Dead is very limited.  How accurate the portrayal is, I don't really know. The same goes for the portrayal of cystic fibrosis, I know very little about it so I cannot confirm or deny it's accuracy.  I did take note in the author's note at the end of the book, that the author did put effort into gathering information about these topics. It's clear from what I've read and seen that reactions to this book may vary widely. That fact needs to be taken into consideration by librarians and other gatekeepers who either select or do not select this book for collection inclusion.

Here are some sources for other reviews:  

School Library Journal Review 
Telgemeier Interview
SLJ Newbery Blog Heavy Metal Discussion
Debbie Reese's Review








ABOUT THE BOOK

As a boy, Henry Friston dreamed of traveling the world. He thought he was signing up for a lifetime of adventure when he joined the Royal Navy. But when World War I begins, it launches the world, and Henry, into turmoil. While facing enemy fire at Gallipoli, Henry discovers the strength he needs to survive in an unexpected source: a tortoise. And so begins the friendship of a lifetime. Based on true events, and with charming illustrations, this story of war, courage, and friendship will win the hearts of readers.

REVIEW

The Tortoise and the Soldier almost reads like nonfiction, except it seems clear from the beginning that the boy telling the story may be an invention of the story.  Foreman explains at the end the circumstances that really led him to Henry and Ali Pasha (the tortoise).  The inclusion of photographs from the real story is great.  As a story about an individual's experiences during World War I, Foreman does a great job.  It was interesting the way he combined that story with the story about the boy wanting to become a journalist.  So in reality there are two stories here, that of the growing friendship between the boy and Henry, the soldier, and his tortoise, and the story of Henry's year at sea on a war ship along with gathering the wounded on shore during the invasion of Turkey where he meets Ali Pasha for the first time.  Not only is it a glimpse of a part of World War I that I haven't read much about, but it's a powerful reminder of the impact that animals, pets, can have on the human psyche.  The soft pastel illustrations help soften the impact of the violence depicted and the illustrator is careful not to make the illustrations too graphic in terms of the wounded.  But it is a story about war, so that can't be avoided entirely.  I found the book appropriate though in terms of middle grade readers, except for maybe the most sensitive of readers who aren't ready to read about death and war quite yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

CALDECOTT CONTENDERS, Part 1


REVIEW

Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day helped open the door to children's books being published with diverse main characters.  While the lack of such diversity remains a problem, the numbers of such books being published continues to grow.  In beautiful poetic language, Andrea Davis Pinkney introduces the reader to the man behind the book.  I didn't even know that Keats had changed his name until reading this book.  I loved getting a glimpse into the man who dared to take a chance, who saw a picture of a cute African-American boy and hung on to it because it touched him.  And then 20-years down the road using that photograph as inspiration when creating his first children's picture book.  It was sweet reading about the encouragement Ezra (Jack) received from his teachers and his concerned father regarding his passion for art.  Despite serious reservations about his son being able to support himself with art, he couldn't deny his son the chance to do what he loved.  And Keats continued to pursue that passion despite the discrimination (he was a Jew) and life challenges that came his way.  The gorgeous illustrations beautifully complement the lyrical verse that both addresses Keats life and references Peter (The Snowy Day's main character).  The wonderful combination of text and illustrations makes for a book that is a work of art unto itself.


REVIEW

Before Morning is one of my absolutely favorite reads this year and I hope it wins an award.  The book is absolutely beautiful.  Beth Krommes and her scratchboard art are favorites of mine.  I always have to get my hands on anything she illustrates.  This particular story uses a minimum of words to share the heartfelt wish of a young girl whose mother is setting off for work as an airline employee.  The girl, through a simply yet profoundly worded invocation, wishes for snow to keep her mother home.  The book truly highlights the power of a young girl's wish and the soft beauty of a snow storm.  Just looking at the different snowflakes scattered through the pages was enjoyable.


REVIEW

Jim LaMarche has long been a favorite illustrator of mine.  His pictures are so gorgeous and serene, especially the nature ones.  In Pond, Matt discovers a small spring in a damaged area that inspires him to try restoring the pond that once existed.  With the help of his friend Pablo, and his sister, Katie, as well as his father, Matt works hard to recreate the pond.  And with hard work and dedication, they succeed.  I found it delightful to watch the pond come back to life.  It was fun spotting the animals as they returned as well as following the kids as they restored an old boat and sailed on the pond.  The illustrations I could have stared at for hours.  In a book that shows the power of the human will to rebuild what people have damaged, the illustrations stand out as much as the pond does.  One of my favorites for the year.


REVIEW

What an amazing book!  Gorgeous illustrations combined with lyrical poetic text make this a great candidate for both the Caldecott Medal and the Sibert Medal, maybe even the Newbery.  Fleming uses poetry to convey information about this unusual and fascinating animal that scientists still know so little about.  The text, while factual, reads like a dramatic adventure story.  I appreciated the fact that Fleming makes it clear what facts about the giant squid have been confirmed and those that still await discovery.  Rohmann's gorgeous pictures highlight the movement and size of this mysterious animal.  And the fold-out page pops out at just the right moment, giving the reader the most complete look at the animal in the whole book.  This strategy creates an air of mystery that perfectly fits with the text and the many unanswered questions scientists still have about this animal.  A winner of a book from cover to cover.

Monday, November 28, 2016

MMGM/NONFICTION MONDAY: Framed! and Choosing Courage


ABOUT THE BOOK

Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.


REVIEW

Framed! had everything that I love about a middle grade mystery.  Great characters! Interesting plot with twists and turns!  And most important of all, a connection to Sherlock Holmes!  Florian Bates uses his T.O.A.S.T. theory to figure people out and solve mysteries.  His Theory of All Small Things states that life can be figured out by paying attention to the small details.  He uses his theory to make friends as well as figure out the best ways to survive middle school.  Moving around frequently with his parents leaves Florian plenty of time to put his theory into action.  But when he meets Margaret and uses his theory to figure her out, she is enthralled with his techniques.  And when they visit the National Gallery where Florian's parents work, they put T.O.A.S.T. into action figuring out all they can about the other visitors.  One visitor in particular stands out though, especially when he shows up more than once under unusual circumstances.  None of that means anything though until Florian finds out that the museum has been robbed. Florian goes with his father to see if he can help figure out the mystery.  And Florian solves the mystery within a couple of hours which catches the eye of the FBI.  But there turns out to be more to the mystery than was originally thought which leads Florian and Margaret deeper into what turns out to be a rather dangerous set of conditions.  Florian and Margaret are fun characters, each with their own quirks.  T.O.A.S.T. turns out to be a rather fascinating way to see the world and the mystery itself takes several sharp turns (including a kidnapping, a mob boss, and a forgery).  This is a fabulous new series for young readers who enjoy a good mystery with dabs of humor spread throughout.


ABOUT THE BOOK

What turns an ordinary person into a hero? What happens in the blink of an eye on a battlefield (or in any dangerous situation) to bring out true courage? The men and women who have been recognized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation know the answers to these questions deep in their hearts. We learn of Jack Lucas, a 13-year-old who kept his real age a secret so he could fight in World War II—where he deliberately fell on a grenade to save his buddies during the Iwo Jima invasion—and Clint Romesha, who almost single-handedly prevented a remote U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan from being taken over by the Taliban. Also included are civilians who have been honored by the Foundation for outstanding acts of bravery in crisis situations: for example, Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher who put herself in danger to disarm a troubled eighth grader before he could turn a gun on his classmates. Adding depth and context are illuminating sidebars throughout and essays on the combat experience and its aftermath: topics such as overcoming fear; a mother mourning her son; and “surviving hell” as a prisoner of war. Back matter includes a glossary and an index.

REVIEW

Peter Collier has collected some amazing stories in this book about heroes.  While many of the accounts shared focus on recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, there are some that don't.  The stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things are particularly touching, such as the middle school teacher who talks down an armed fourteen-year-old, putting her own life on the line for her students.  These kind of stories I find particularly touching in the face of modern day celebrity worship.  The men and women whose stories are told in this book make sacrifices that in many cases are very costly to themselves.  Throwing oneself on top of a grenade to save one's comrades, leaping through heavy gunfire to rescue an injured buddy, enduring years of torture with honor, stepping forward to serve your country after being confined to an internment camp.  It's impossible to read these stories without being touched by the individuals who experienced them.  One commonality among these individuals is that none of them see themselves as a hero, and yet all of them did heroic things.  Since many of these stories involve warfare, there is all too much violence depicted in both actual combat, torture, and recovery, as well as death.  A powerful collection of stories demonstrating the power of sacrifice and courage in doing one's duty.
 
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