Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book review - Dream On, Amber

Title: Dream On, Amber
Author: Emma Shevah
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Secrets of Selkie Bay by Shelley Moore Thomas
                     All the Answers by Kate Messner
Summary: Amber has never had close friends. Going into middle school, she's afraid making friends will be harder than ever. She's Japanese Italian, very short for her age, has a "ridiculous" name, and her cell phone is seriously outdated. She's beginning to feel her father's absence in a big way, especially now that her sister, Bella, expects their father to show up for her birthday. It's up to Amber to solve their problems.

My opinion: The first year of middle school is a great source for material in middle grade novels. sixth grade tends to be when many things change: new classmates, new school, new expectations, new pressures. Kids start looking at themselves and others differently. Shevah handles this deftly, showing us a girl beginning to take on new responsibilities while still responding to situations and stresses in a child-like way (she does, after all, invent an imaginary dad to talk to). And like many young people, she does her best to work through her problems without adult involvement. With a largely realistic ending, this is a book I can easily see giving to young girls.

More information: Dream On, Amber releases October 6.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book review - I Crawl Through It

Title: I Crawl Through It
Author: A.S. King
Genre: magical realism/surrealism
Similar books: There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake
                     The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgewick
so very odd

Summary: Meet four teens who are barely coping with the stress and pain in their lives. Stanzi feels like two people. She wears her lab coat all of the time and dissects frogs daily. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter so he can fly somewhere his genius will be appreciated. China has swallowed herself. The only voice she has is her poems. After all, it is difficult for a stomach or a tongue to speak. Lansdale lies constantly causing her hair to grow, sometimes feet every day. Is there any way for them to make it through testing, bomb threats, and interactions with their distant parents?

My opinion: Seriously, guys, this is one weird read. Don't get me wrong; King pulls it off. The last few chapters make the previous 300 pages of weirdness completely worthwhile. Just know that it is a long, strange road and that weirdness is likely to be too much for many readers.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pick 6: classics

Retellings seem to be a perennial feature in youth lit. It's a trend that I wholeheartedly support. I read every one I can get my hands on. Here are six books published in the last six months that are either direct retellings or in some way directly influenced by classical literature.

6 new classically influenced novels

1. Spelled by Betsy Schow (inspired by the Oz books among others)

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas (a retelling of Beauty and the Beast)

3. Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola

4. Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell (a retelling of Cinderella)

5. Fable Comics edited by Chris Duffy

6. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet by Ian Lendler

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book review - Secret Coders

Title: Secret Coders
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Genre: graphic novel/sci-fi
Similar books: March Grand Prix by Kean Soo
                     How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me From Robots, Traitors, and Missy the Cruel by Jennifer Brown
pretty cool
Summary: Hopper has just started school at Stately Academy and things are not going well. Her efforts to be accepted by the basketball players have fallen flat. She seems to get into trouble at every turn. And something strange is going on with creepy birds and mysterious numbers posted around campus. Hopper and her new (maybe) friend Nikhil are determined to find out what is really going on at Stately Academy.

My opinion: The plot of this graphic novel introduces kids to coding and programming. It is a very basic introduction, but by representing these concepts visually, with real world actions, a very abstract concept is made more easily understood. My favorite feature of this novel is the end of each chapter where the action pauses and encourages the reader to problem solve and work out the coding for what the characters are doing. I look forward to seeing how the plot develops with future volumes.

More information: Secret Coders releases September 29.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Hi friends. I wanted to let you know that my presence on this blog will be spotty for a while and is likely to stop entirely for a couple of weeks at the end of October and into the beginning of November. I am currently preparing for an out of state move, so my blogging time is limited and I will be without internet for at least a couple of weeks. I hope to return to blogging again full time towards the end of November.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book review - Beastly Bones

Note: Beastly Bones is a sequel. See my review of the first book, Jackaby, here.
Title: Beastly Bones
Author: William Ritter
Genre: fantasy/mystery
Similar books: The Diviners by Libba Bray
                     The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
A most excellent sequel
Summary: Abigail Rook and her employer, the enigmatic Jackaby, set out to investigate the origin of a litter of shape-shifting kittens. Before long their investigation is complicated by mysterious murders that look like accidents, a missing fossil, and violent attacks from an unidentified monster. It will take both of their strengths, as well as the help of old and new friends alike, to solve this mystery.

My opinion: It is hard to believe this is only Ritter's second novel. The plot is cohesive and the characters well-developed. It's atmospheric while keeping the plot moving. Unlike some sequels, this doesn't suffer from any level of sophomore slump. It has it's own, complete and compelling plot while also setting up a larger conspiracy based plot to be played out in future volumes. And it amazes me how Ritter incorporates a wide variety of mythical creatures in a real world, historic setting. If you are a fan of Sherlock or Doctor Who (especially if you like both) check out the Jackaby series.

More information: Beastly Bones releases September 22.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Picture books for everyone

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas

I've read this book now to several groups of varying age and it never fails to entertain. Firstly, you have the subversion of the classic wolf/pig relationship. Secondly, the whole book is a study in escalation. Our heroes begin with a brick house and work their way up the spectrum of building supplies to concrete with razor wire and a state of the art security system. Of course, the pig can't blow down such materials with his breath so he works with a sledgehammer, pneumatic drill, even dynamite. These modern materials never fail to spark laughter in kids and adults alike. It maintains and old-fashioned tone making those sly, over the top lines all the more clever. Additionally, the illustrations are a detailed delight and it teaches a lesson in kindness and redemption.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Human Body Theater

Title: Human Body Theater
Author: Maris Wicks

I expected this book to be a quick overview of each organ and it's role in the human body. I was quite pleased, then, to see the level of detail it provides. Even as an adult I now have a much clearer understanding of how each body system works individually and in concert with the others to keep the body functioning. With the cartoony style, it is very visually appealing. We recently discovered that our library has very little in the way of anatomy books. This is the perfect book to remedy that problem.

More information: Human Body Theater releases October 6.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book review - The Thing About Jellyfish

Title: The Thing About Jellyfish
Author: Ali Benjamin
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner
                     The Question of Miracles by Elana Arnold
very nice
Summary: After her best friend drowns, Suzy finds herself alone at school and trying to understand things. Her friend was a very good swimmer. Drowning just doesn't make sense to her. A trip to the aquarium introduces Suzy to a deadly species of jellyfish. Now she's on a mission: to learn all she can about jellyfish and prove that her friend's death wasn't a simple drowning.

My opinion: This book has all kinds of great science facts that might just inspire kids to do some research of their own. And apart from science, it's addressing a number of important topics. Yes, it's a story about grief but it's also about friendships changing in the middle school years as kids develop at different rates. Plus, there's this exploration of different forms of communication and how when we stop filling silence with chatter, we truly notice what is going on around us. It's not a fun read but thoughtful and well-researched.

More information: The Thing About Jellyfish releases September 22.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book review - Pieces of Why

Title: Pieces of Why
Author: K.L. Going
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Zebra Forest by Adina Gewirtz
                     The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
Rather excellent
Summary: Tia has always taken joy in singing with her New Orleans youth choir. It is the bright spot of living with her overworked and emotionally distant mother in a bad neighborhood. Singing has always been her answer to the bad stuff. When a shooting happens outside the church where her choir practices, though, she feels as if she's lost her music. For the first time, she questions the realities of her life and learns the truth about the crime that sent her father to prison.

My opinion: We don't often think about the family members of the perpetrators of a crime. They, too, are victimized by their loved one's actions. That is part of the focus of this novel: the guilt and pain of a violent criminal's family. The other, almost larger, part is the idea that trauma can steal our passions from us. While this book isn't action heavy, it has plenty of exploration of our emotional worlds which become particularly complicated at puberty (as the main characters in this novel find themselves). While the situation in this novel is not one that most middle schoolers will find themselves in, the emotional situation is more universal.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Books on screen

Because of Winn-Dixie
 There are a lot of minor differences between the book and the movie (most notably, AnnaSophia Robb is in no way the red-head that the book describes and Dave Matthews doesn't really pull off the slow, socially awkward Otis). For the most part the differences, while annoying, don't really damage the integrity of the story. It is, in fact, far more dramatic for Winn-Dixie to show up at the very end of the party rather than waiting at the house when Opal and the Preacher return. Most notably, and most confusing for me, was the addition of two new characters: the sheriff and the head of the trailer park. While these characters added humor and drama as well as introducing small amounts of exposition that had previously been expressed through narration, I'm not sure those elements were necessary, nor did they feel as fully fleshed as the other characters. And given that a major focus of the book was the sorrows that we all experience, I didn't feel like those sorrows really came through in the movie. In this case, you're far better off reading the book than bothering with the movie.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Non-fiction book review - For the Right to Learn

Title: For the Right to Learn
Author: Rebecca Langston-George

I'd been thinking recently that our library needs a kid's biography of Malala and then I came across this book. I've read Malala's story before, of course, but it's never been so clear to me as in this book. The simple prose is easy to understand. The illustrations are very appealing - clear and not overly graphic making them suitable for young readers. This is an excellent addition to any library collection.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book review - The Seventh Most Important Thing

Title: The Seventh Most Important Thing
Author: Shelley Pearsall
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books: Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
                     What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays
nice, but a little odd

Summary: In a moment of frustration, Arthur threw a brick at the Junk Man, hitting him in the arm. Arthur expects to be sent to juvie. Luckily, the Junk Man speaks to the judge on his behalf and Arthur is sentenced to probation instead: 120 hours helping the Junk Man with his mysterious project. Arthur will be spending his weekend hunting for light bulbs, foil, mirrors, cardboard, coffee cans, glass bottles, and wood. He thinks the Junk Man is crazy. He's about to discover a much more amazing secret.

My Opinion: Initially, this is a rather odd, if charming, book. That oddness is softened when you learn that the Throne is a real piece of art. So, this seemingly bizarre concept has a root in reality. Is James and odd, perhaps mentally ill, character? Certainly, but that may well have been reality as well. I liked how working on the piece, and even more so finding the materials, was symbolic of Arthur's brokenness and search for meaning. Not the best book I've ever read and perhaps a hard sell to young readers but a nice story if you're willing to stick it out.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Duct tape and a coffee bag

This craft comes from a variety of coincidences. Some time ago I got a bag of coffee. This particular coffee happened to come in a shiny blue bag with an applied label. It begged to be used in a craft, so when the coffee was gone I cleaned out the bag and tucked it away  to use eventually. After several months I finally decided that I wanted to make it into a pouch (probably for pencils since I never carry a clutch purse). I envisioned making the sides out of duct tape. I just didn't have any tape with the right color combination. Then just last week I was given the perfect colored tape. It took a little fiddling but here's the completed pouch.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book review - Everything, Everything

Warning: This review contains mild spoilers!
Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
                     Hold Me like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
a charming page-turner
Summary: Maddy never leaves the house and she's okay with that. Suffering from SCID, she's essentially allergic to the entire world. She's accepted her life as it stands until a new family moves in next door and she sees Olly for the first time. Olly is an enigma and Maddy is fascinated. For the first time, she finds herself thinking of leaving, accepting almost certain death for a day or two of life in the larger world.

Mild spoilers ahead.

My opinion: This book starts out as a fairly standard doomed love story. In some ways, you can't help but wonder of his inaccessibility is part of what attracts Maddy to Olly. So long as they are separated by her illness, he remains perfect and can't let her down. He can be her ideal. Personally, I found Maddy's actions mystifying. She doesn't seem to take the threats to her life very seriously. It was one thing to ask for Olly to be able to visit as her tutor does. Even their brief touches seemed like a halfway reasonable risk. It was her sudden decision to go outside and then to fly to Hawaii, a near certain death sentence, that bothered me. And then, when nothing seemed to hurt her, even the recycled air and close quarters on the plane, my suspension of disbelief began to fail me. Of course, the twist ending resolves many of those concerns with halfway logical explanations. The characters are mostly likeable and believable (though somewhat idealized at times). What really sells this book for me is the format. While the bulk of the book is standard 3rd person omniscient, there are instant message logs, book spoilers, images, and more that really take us into Maddy's world and make this a memorable read. 

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Little Robot

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

This most recent effort from Hatke is probably closer to his Julia's House for Lost Creatures than his Zita the Spacegirl trilogy. This book has sparse dialogue and rather detailed, expansive illustrations. This lends it a deceptively simple air but leaves a great deal of room for interpretation. It is an imaginative tale that leaves us with just as many questions as answers. The illustrations have Hatke's signature appealing style. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Smart and Spineless

Title: Smart and Spineless
Author: Ann Downer

Personally, I'd never really considered the intellectual capacity of most animals, not to mention invertebrates (apart from jellyfish - I'd wondered on more than one occasion how they can even live without brains and with so little body structure). This book was, therefore, pretty eyeopening. It really challenges our perceptions of what makes something intelligent. If worms, with only two brain cells, are capable of learning, we have no choice but to look at all life differently going forward. While the ideas in this book are surprisingly thought-provoking, the vocabulary and the sentence structure is rather easy to understand. Really, it's a good choice for upper elementary school and middle grade kids just looking to learn a few facts about some animals.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book review - Whippoorwill

Title: Whippoorwill
Author: Joseph Monninger
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Stay With Me by Paul Griffin
                     Made of Stars by Kelly York
Nice enough
Summary: Clair has always tried to ignore her neighbors: their comings and goings, their loud arguments, and all of the junk in their yard. Then they chain up a dog in their yard, only paying him attention to occasionally mistreat him. Clair can't stand to see the dog so desperate for attention that he even loves this abuse. Her efforts to help Wally capture the attention Danny, the boy next door, and forges a connection between them that neither expected.

My opinion: This book makes a comparison between dogs and people, this idea that what we put into our pets and our children is largely what we get out of them. So, there are some interesting parallels between Danny and Wally. Meanwhile Monninger also paints a clear contrast between Danny's and Clair's fathers, who's situations are similar but their responses are far different. While the ideas explored in the novel are fascinating, the plot is relatively simple and the characters don't have a great deal of depth. Interesting but predictable.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.