Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book review - Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl

Title: An Extra-Ordinary Girl
Author: Gina Bellisario
Genre: superhero
Similar books: Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko
                     The Gumazing Gum Girl!: Chews Your Destiny by Rhode Montijo
Super cute

Summary (provided by publisher): Ellie is super excited for first day at Winkopolis Elementary School. After spending her whole life being homeschooled by super-genius inventor parents, she can't wait to hang out with normal kids and learn normal things. But Ellie soon learns that her super powers make her stand out in a not-so-super way. Can she save the world and fit in with her new friends? Or is blending in the one thing this superhero can't do?
For ages 6-8. From the new Ellie Ultra series.

My opinion: This is a cute story with substance behind it. Ellie goes through the full cycle of fitting in with her peers: liking everything about herself, realizing that things she saw as positives may be viewed as negatives by others, changing herself in order to be accepted, and eventually fully embracing herself once more. It's a simple story, given the target age group, but the writing is strong. The plot and limited illustrations are appealing.

More Information: Ellie Ultra: An Extra-Ordinary Girl releases September 1.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ornaments already (sigh)

It's still August and temperatures around here are still topping out in the 80s but craft fair season is just weeks away. So I find myself working on Christmas ornaments lately. Here are a few new designs I've been trying out.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book review - The Changelings

Title: The Changelings
Author: Christina Soontornvat
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Wrong Side of Magic by Janette Rallison
                     The Peddler's Road by Matthew Cody

Summary(provided by publisher): Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.
Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

My opinion: I'm not entirely sure this book has enough world-building. Fantasy novels depend on the reader's ability to understand a fictional location. We get a simple explanation here but nothing with any depth. I'd have liked a better understanding of the world of Avahlon, it's intricacies and the way humans and faeries relate to one another.
On the positive side, characters have a decent level of depth. The grow in small ways, begin to understand one another better.
I'd say its a good choice for budding fantasy fans, less so for those who already read the genre intensively.

More information: The Changelings releases September 1.
Advanced reader copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pick 6: History

I'm a fan of historical fiction for all ages, but especially for middle grade readers. I've always found historical fiction to be a good way to make a personal connection with a history lesson. It personalizes dry facts. Here are six historical fiction books, mostly for middle grade readers, published in the last six months.

6 New Historical novels

1. Tru and Nelle by G Neri

2. Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

3. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

4. Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

5. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyce

6. Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book review - Seven Riddles to Nowhere

Title: Seven Riddles to Nowhere
Author: A.J.Cattapan
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Hunt for the Missing Spy by Penny Warner
                     Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A nice, gentle story

Summary(provided by publisher): For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Because of a tragic event that took place when he was five-years-old, seventh grader Kameron Boyd can't make himself speak to adults when he steps outside his home. Kam's mom hopes his new school will cure his talking issues, but just as he starts to feel comfortable, financial problems threaten the school’s existence.
Then a letter arrives with the opportunity to change everything. Kam learns that he and several others have been selected as potential heirs to a fortune. He just has to solve a series of seven riddles to find the treasure before the other students. If he succeeds, he’ll become heir to a fortune that could save his school.
The riddles send Kam on a scavenger hunt through the churches of Chicago. But solving them won’t be easy. With the school’s bully as one of the other potential heirs, Kam and his friends must decipher the hidden meanings in artwork and avoid the mysterious men following them in a quest to not only keep the school open, but keep Kam’s hopes for recovering his voice alive.

My Opinion: There are a lot of positives in this book. It has religious overtones without being forceful about it, telling the reader what to believe. The central core of characters is clearly, if not particularly deeply, defined. The plot is largely clear and logical. And I like the idea of seeing your town, even areas you know, through a new perspective. While some understanding of Catholicism is helpful to fully appreciate this novel it isn't absolutely necessary. Its a simple story without a great deal of depth but a solid read for young middle graders.

More Information: Seven Riddles to Nowhere releases August 31.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Harry Potter charms

I was messing around with polymer clay and made these little charms. Not really sure what I'm going to do with them but I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Picture books for everyone

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin

This is a picture book unlike any other you'll experience. The pages are all black with a few lines of white text each. The illustrations are texture based instead of visual. It explores colors with the other senses, describing tastes, smells, and textures that one might associate with each color. Young kids will enjoy simply running their fingers over the braille text and textured illustrations. Use it with older kids to spark a discussion of perspectives and alternate ways of experiencing the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book review - 100 Days

Title: 100 Days
Author: Nicole McInnes
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Painless by S.A. Harazin
                     Anthem for Jackson Dawes by Celia Bryce
Not as good as I'd hoped

Summary(provided by publisher): Agnes doesn't know it, but she only has one hundred days left to live. When she was just a baby, she was diagnosed with Progeria, a rare disease that causes her body to age at roughly ten times the normal rate. Now nearly sixteen years old, Agnes has already exceeded her life expectancy.
Moira has been Agnes’s best friend and protector since they were in elementary school. Due to her disorder, Agnes is still physically small, but Moira is big. Too big for her own liking. So big that people call her names. With her goth makeup and all-black clothes, Moira acts like she doesn’t care. But she does.
Boone was friends with both girls in the past, but that was a long time ago—before he did the thing that turned Agnes and Moira against him, before his dad died, before his mom got too sad to leave the house.
An unexpected event brings Agnes and Moira back together with Boone, but when romantic feelings start to develop, the trio’s friendship is put to the test.

My opinion: This is probably the first book I've ever heard of that had a character with progeria, so I had high hopes. I was disappointed. Agnes is too well adjusted. She talks about wanting to have a normal teen experience but she's very accepting of her limits. She never gets frustrated, never wishes for more. Her disease seems to be the entire definition of her character. Mostly she serves as a foil for Moira and Boone. Her presence forces them to face their personality flaws and fears. They grow as people - Agnes doesn't. She doesn't even get a satisfying ending, a final arc. She just ends. The characters skew a little young and the plot lacks the depth and emotional complexity I've come to expect from teen novels. With the simple plot and lack of character development I'd have an easier time accepting it if it were aimed at a middle grade audience rather than teens.

More Information: 100 Days releases August 23.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A miniature TARDIS

Ages ago, I bought a little wooden box at a discount store. The sort of wooden box you give to small children to paint. At under a dollar, I figured I'd think of something to do with it. Then I stuck it in my craft supplies and essentially forgot about it.
I'm not sure what made me think of it this week but suddenly I knew how I wanted to use it. It makes a snazzy TARDIS. And with a couple of peg dolls for occupants, well...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Book review - The Wrong Side of Magic

Title: The Wrong Side of Magic
Author: Janette Rallison
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance
                     Lost in Lexicon by Pendred Noyce
far exceeded expectations

Summary(provided by publisher): Eleven-year-old Hudson stopped believing in magic long ago. Until the day he is whisked away to the magical land of Logos—a land ruled by words, thoughts, and memories. A fairy might ferry you across the river for the price of one memory, or it's possible freshly baked homonyms will be on sale two for the price of one, and look out for snarky unicorns, as they are sure to judge the pure of heart. Upon arrival, Hudson is quickly saddled with a troll curse, and only his friend Charlotte can help rid him of the curse. But lo and behold she has an agenda of her own—find and rescue the missing Princess of Logos.

My opinion: I didn't think I would like this one very much. A regular kid being thrown into a magical world is nothing new. And a world based on words? I just couldn't see how it would work without focusing entirely on the gimmick to the detriment of plot and character development. It works surprisingly well, in part because it doesn't take itself too seriously. It is apparent from the moment when we first beet the stuck-up unicorns with British accents that this isn't your typical fantasy novel. It really explores our relationship with language in depth as well, not to mention admirable character traits and a person's ability to change. I wouldn't say that you could use it as part of a unit on grammar - the exploration is not that detailed. While the standard fantasy elements of the plot resolve in a rather predictable manner, it's charming and funny enough to keep the reader engaged.

More information: The Wrong Side of Magic releases August 23.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Books on screen

The Giver

I could spend pages detailing the minutiae of how the book and the movie differ in this instance, all of the things that the movie messed up. Rather than nit-picking, though, I'd like to look at the bigger picture, how the message differs. And it all starts with the decision to make Jonas older.
At first, this seems like a relatively minor issue. Movies adjust details like this all the time. The developmental difference between 12 and 18 is significant, though. By making Jonas 12, Lowry accomplished a number of things. Firstly, it marked the community as "other". We're accustomed to facing a change in life, setting out on adult responsibilities, at 18. This is easy for us to understand and allows us to identify with Jonas in the movie. Seeing Jonas taking on such a level of responsibility at 12 is the first flag to the reader that something is wrong in this society. He is literally having to grow up too soon. Also, by making Jonas 12, his awakening to emotions and cultural memory is a clear parallel to puberty.
My other major issue is with the portrayal of the community. The book shows us a flawed but stable society. No, they don't have choice or colors or even real emotion, but they don't know any better and are entirely satisfied with their lives. They lack emotional pain or conflict. It's a peaceful place. Superficially, this is the case in the movie though we see a number of examples of discord, of governmental machinations. There is a sense of menace and foreboding in the community in the movie that simply isn't present in the book.
This all comes together to affect my final complaint: emotional impact. The book is very much about Jonas' inner journey, his slow awakening to all that is missing from their lives and his inability to stay once he knows the truth. It is his story so when he leaves, though there is danger of being discovered for a time, the final pages are still only about him. I'd go so far as to say that we only see Fiona and Asher in the early part of the novel to serve as a comparison to Jonas and the way he changes. The movie give Jonas a love interest with Fiona and interpersonal conflict with Asher. Obviously this is meant to make the plot more external and thus more cinematic but it does, then, weaken the original point of the novel. We see both Fiona and Asher choose loyalty to their friend over obedience, something they shouldn't be capable of per what we are told by the movie, as they get injections to suppress all emotions. Asher in particular should not be capable of that level of loyalty as he, unlike Fiona, has not skipped and injection. And it's not just these two. We see even Lily express a small rebellion in the final scenes. The final scenes of the book and the movie are vastly different, telling completely different stories.
If you haven't experienced either version of The Giver, you might be satisfied with the movie. If you, like me, enjoyed the book I wouldn't put it high on the list of adaptations to watch.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book review - Fuzzy

Title: Fuzzy
Author: Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger
Genre: Sci-fi
Similar books: Eager by Helen Fox
                     Scrap City by D. S. Thornton
good fun

Summary(provided by publisher): From the minds of Tom Angleberger, the New York Times bestselling author of the wildly popular Origami Yoda series, and Paul Dellinger, an adult science-fiction writer, comes a funny middle school story with a memorable robot title character. Reluctant readers and robot lovers in elementary and middle school will enjoy this fast-paced read that shows just how strange a place middle school can be, particularly when the new student is a state-of-the-art robot.
When Max—Maxine Zealster—befriends her new robot classmate Fuzzy, part of Vanguard One Middle School's new Robot Integration Program, she helps him learn everything he needs to know about surviving middle school—the good, the bad, and the really, really, ugly. Little do they know that surviving sixth grade is going to become a true matter of life and death, because Vanguard has an evil presence at its heart: a digital student evaluation system named BARBARA that might be taking its mission to shape the perfect student to extremes!
With a strong female main character who will appeal to all readers, Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger's new novel offers readers a fresh take on robots. Fuzzy will find its place in the emerging category of bestselling books featuring robots, including Jon Scieszka' s Frank Einstein series and James Patterson's House of Robots.

My opinion: I like that this book doesn't moralize too hard. Yes, it shows the perils of artificial intelligence. Or, more accurately, of flawed intelligence. Barbara becomes a danger, to be certain, but this is the result of flawed programming, a bug rather than an inherent danger in A.I. since Fuzzy, endowed with far more capacity for intelligence and self direction, is no real danger at all. It also stress the importance of all kinds of life, the value of intelligence. Even Barbara, clearly dangerous, is not destroyed but re-purposed. The condemnation of standarized testing is a little heavy handed but not to the point of becoming irritating. An entertaining and thought provoking read, it might make a good selection for a middle grade book club.

More information: Fuzzy releases August 16.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Yoshi earrings

I threw these together last week while working on some small charms. My current plan is to put them onto earring wires though it is entirely possible that some other plan will strike me before I get around to assembling them.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight: Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

When you're looking for adventurous, well-plotted, beautifully drawn graphic novels for middle-graders, start with Ben Hatke. His Zita the Spacegirl series set a young girl on an unexpected and dangerous journey. This new book (the first in a series) does the same for a male protagonist. It has sword-play, magic, and dangerous plants. This is only an introductory volume, so the plot isn't particularly clear thus far. If history holds true, though, the future volumes of this series will not disappoint. Expect this series to capture the attention of young readers.

Mighty Jack releases September 6.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book review - Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion

Title: Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion
Author: R. A. Spratt
Genre: Mystery
Similar books: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey
                          The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
a fun and straight-forward mystery

Summary(provided by publisher): Friday Barnes, girl detective, is... under arrest?!
Getting arrested was the last thing Friday expected after solving the swamp-yeti mystery at her boarding school. But she better clear her name fast! She’s got new cases to investigate, like a scandalous quiche bake-off, a decades old mystery buried in her school’s backyard, and why the new boy, Christopher, is being so nice to her.
More adventures and intrigue ensue in Friday Barnes, Under Suspicion, the second book in the illustrated Friday Barnes mystery series, starring a genius detective with the brains (and social skills) of Sherlock Holmes.

My opinion: I was rather fond of the quirkiness that was the first Friday Barnes book and that quirkiness carries over into this volume. Each book has a low level of humor, simple mysteries, and just a basic level of characterization. It's no great literature or even a complex exploration of the detective genre. Just plain entertainment. My main complaint, and I suspect that it will bother others, is that each book ends with an entirely unnecessary and contextually out of place "to be continued" cliff hanger. This smacks of marketing rather than genuine storytelling.

More Information: Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion releases August 9.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Mind Boggling Numbers

Mind Boggling Numbers by Michael J. Rosen

This is not the first book of this sort I've ever seen. Young readers are often fascinated by big numbers and it can be fun for authors to try to explain them. The comparrisons in this book can be a bit odd at times (how many whales to span a distance, how many pints of lemonade to fill a swimming pool) but where it really shines is in the math. Rosen fully explains the math used to find each answer. At the very least, this is a fun argument to give to the kid who claims that word problems are boring.

Mind Boggling Numbers releases September 1.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book review - Still a Work in Progress

Title: Still a Work in Progress
Author: Jo Knowles
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
                     Far From Fair by Elana K Arnold
Slow to start, but then it blew me away

Summary(provided by publisher): In a return to middle-grade fiction, master of perspectives Jo Knowles depicts a younger sibling struggling to maintain his everyday life when his older sister is in crisis.
Noah is just trying to make it through seventh grade. The girls are confusing, the homework is boring, and even his friends are starting to bug him. Not to mention that his older sister, Emma, has been acting pretty strange, even though Noah thought she’d been doing better ever since the Thing They Don’t Talk About. The only place he really feels at peace is in art class, with a block of clay in his hands. As it becomes clear through Emma’s ever-stricter food rules and regulations that she’s not really doing better at all, the normal seventh-grade year Noah was hoping for begins to seem pretty unattainable. In an affecting and realistic novel with bright spots of humor, Jo Knowles captures the complexities of navigating middle school while feeling helpless in the face of a family crisis.

My opinion: Initially I wasn't sold on this book. It was predictable, odd, and with an unconvincing narrator. It was clear where the plot was headed and was relying too heavily on gross-out humor and odd quirks to distinguish itself. And then Emma's storyline took it's inevitable turn and everything changed. After that, I was completely emotionally engaged. I felt Noah's suffering so keenly. His confusion, his anger, his despair. It's all right there on the surface for use to feel with him. Knowles doesn't try too hard to give us answers. The only goal is to get the family to a slightly healthier emotional place. 
The ideal target audience for this book is perhaps hard to decide, exactly, but it's worth looking for the right reader.
Advance reader copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Righting a wrong

I got this journal some time ago. It works really well as a sketchbook: unlined pages, hard cover, and a perfect size for carrying. In fact, the only thing I don't like about it is this illustration on the cover.
 I have no objections to the use of Hedwig. She's a decent symbol of the Harry Potter series. No, objection is with this particular drawing. It's a little awkwardly drawn with the offset beak and lumpy body.  Plus between the pose and the facial expression she looks a little furtive, like she's up to something less than honorable. And what's with the dog collar? I decided the only solution was to draw my own version and paste it over top. My drawing doesn't completely cover the original so I may, at some future date, add some black paint around the edges. Even without that, though, I think my version has given Hedwig back just a little bit of her dignity.