Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book review - The Spell Thief

Title: The Spell Thief
Author: Tom Percival
Genre: fantasy
Similar Books: Moldylocks and the Three Beards by Noah Z. Jones
                     Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

Summary (provided by publisher): Join Red, Jack, Rapunzel, and Anansi in this fun fairy tale mash-up chapter book series!
Life for Jack is great: he's got a magical talking hen called Betsy, he lives in a town where stories literally grow on trees, and all his best friends live there with him. That is, until Anansi, the new kid in town arrives...
When Jack sees Anansi having a secret meeting with a troll, everything changes. Trolls mean trouble and Jack will stop at nothing to prove that Tale Town is in danger. Even if that means using stolen magic.

My opinion: There were times reading this book that I felt like I had missed something, like there was a story that preceeded it that I had not read. Nothing so vital as to prevent understanding the plot, just little gaps. Apart from that this is an easily understood and interesting take on familiar characters. I especially liked the inclusion of Anansi. Tricksters are great elements especially since traditionally they are neither hero nor villain. The plot is decent, though the moral is a little heavy-handed. A solid choice for kids beginning to read chapter books independently, especially as the text is supported with a healthy dose of illustrations.

More Information: The Spell Thief releases December 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Merciful Minerva!

A few years ago I painted some peg dolls for a craft fair. After the sale, I had a handful of dolls left. Given that there were just a few I though I would reuse them later. This weekend, on a whim, I painted this one. Wonder Woman turned out so well I may have to do a whole series of female superheroes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Happy Thanksgiving to You and Yours

Hi friends. Between work and holiday preparations this week promises to be a busy one. So, I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging. Join me again Monday for my regular blogging schedule.
Hoping this holiday finds safe, warm, and surrounded by people who care about you,


Monday, November 21, 2016

Gobble gobble

While most of my work with Sculpey is focused on Christmas, sometimes it's nice to try something a little different. Like these little turkeys I made for November craft fairs.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Book review - A Boy Called Christmas

Title: A Boy Called Christmas
Author: Matt Haig
Genre: fantasy, humor
Similar books: Suddenly, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
                     The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli
a silly story with heart

Summary (provided by publisher): Before there was Santa Claus, there was a young boy who believed in the impossible. . . . Lemony Snicket meets Elf in this warmhearted Christmas caper.
Eleven-year-old Nikolas—nicknamed “Christmas”—has received only one toy in his life: a doll carved out of a turnip. But he's happy with his turnip doll, because it came from his parents, who love him. Then one day his father goes missing, and Nikolas must travel to the North Pole to save him.
Along the way, Nikolas befriends a surly reindeer, bests a troublesome troll, and discovers a hidden world of enchantment in the frozen village of Elfhelm. But the elves of Elfhelm have troubles of their own: Christmas spirit and goodwill are at an all-time low, and Nikolas may be the only person who can fix things—if only he can reach his father before it's too late. . . .
Sparkling with wit and warmth, A Boy Called Christmas is a cheeky new Christmas classic-in-the-making from acclaimed author Matt Haig and illustrator Chris Mould.

My opinion: Haig takes elements from the life of Saint Nicholas and a variety of Santa Claus stories to create this truly individual novel. While there is magic, it is magic with clear rules and limits. Its a truly funny story. The humor does tend towards the low brow (think reindeer ... releasing... mid-flight) but that will add to the appeal for young readers. It's not all fun and games though. There are some rather serious scenes, some rather grim in fact, which young readers might actually absorb better with a dose of humor. All in all, it's not a book that the average reader will spend much time contemplating or revisiting but with  quirky line drawings and a sharp sense of humor it's pretty entertaining.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Picture books for everyone

Chicken Big by Keith Graves

Given the title, one might expect this book to be a variation on the classic story of Chicken Little. While there are some elements of that story in this one it is so much more. Chicken Big is the story of an abnormally large chicken and his efforts to be accepted by the rest of the flock who don't know what to do with this oddity. So clearly, the heart of the story is accepting other's differences. Graves approaches this lesson not from a soap box but with a heavy dose of humor. The other chickens are, to put it nicely, rather dim, leading to hilarious speculations. I defy anyone not to laugh at their overreactions and speculations (like the assertion that the new chicken must be an elephant). The humor and heart hold up well to repeat reads and there is a heavy visual appeal as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Non-fiction book review - Break the Seige

Break the Siege by Rob Ives

What kids has never wanted his own catapult? This book makes it fairly easy for that desire to become a reality. The instructions are clear with plenty of illustrations for clarification. Materials are everyday items, meaning that any of the devices in this book are within the grasp of the average reader. There is a little historical background for each siege machine, so it has some education value as well. A great choice for most upper elementary kids.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book review - We Are Still Tornadoes

Title: We Are Still Tornadoes
Author: Michael Kun and Susan Mullen
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
                     Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Summary (provided by publisher): Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it's the 80's after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they've graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.
During their first year apart, Scott and Cath's letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that's clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond.
Co-written by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen, We Are Still Tornadoes is a funny yet deeply moving book--set to an awesome 80's soundtrack--that captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood...and first love.

My opinion: At first I didn't really know what to make of this book, but it quickly won me over. Both Cath and Scott's voices are charming and distinct. Even though the narrative is a series of letters, they are letters that show the perfect level of detail. We get to know secondary characters simply through the description and stories provided by Scott and Cath, to the point that we can begin to predict their behaviors. The setting is spot on. Cultural references place us in the 80's but remain subtle. There is an undercurrent of humor  in each letter that speaks to these characters being lifelong friends but doesn't detract from serious moments and the heart of the novel. The letter format helps to keep the plot moving. While the ending is a little more happily-ever-after than I generally prefer, it remains an enjoyable read and one that I would easily recommend for most teens.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Doctor Who - the exception to the rule

I make no secret of my general disdain for books based on movies and television shows. With a whole world of amazing literature available why would you waste your time on tired rehashing of the same old plot, on books that rely too much on our familiarity with existing characters to the point that there is no personality in dialogue or actions. We've all read them, a hundred and fifty pages of nods back to a block-buster movie. They're never any good.

Except when they are.

I've read a number of Doctor who novels and they never disappoint. Sure, it helps to know the show at least a little. Most of these novels don't spend much time explaining the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, or who the Doctor or his many foes are. But, because the doctor travels throughout time and space, many of these books center on new characters, allowing basic explanations to be naturally incorporated into the plot and giving a chance for character development.

Most recently I read a collection of short stories centered on the 12th Doctor in the United States. Justin Richards' Doctor Who: the American Adventures is  fairly basic but highly entertaining collection of stories appropriate for even middle grade readers.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Christmas ornaments

My craft fair was this weekend so this is probably the last of the Christmas ornaments you'll see from me for a little while. 

This quartet is one I made for a band concert craft fair last year. They didn't sell then but I don't regret making them. Something about hippos playing musical instruments makes me chuckle.
 Penguins are nothing new for me. They've become my default ornament. If all else fails, make a penguin.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Graphic Novel Spotlight - The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow

The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow adapted by Roger Langridge

Today's selection is unusual in that it was originally intended to be a television special. Created by Jim Henson, it was storyboarded, puppet concepts designed, and songs written before it was shelved. Langridge got permission to take those concepts and scripts and adapt them into a graphic novel. Henson's influence is clear in the character designs and the plot. It plays out well on the page and will appeal to young readers, especially those with at least a passing familiarity with the Muppets.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Book review - The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

Title: The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
                     Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Summary (provided by publisher): My secret life is filled with psychic vampires, wheelchair zombies, chain-rattlin' ghosts, and a one-eyed cat. But they're nothing compared to my real-life stalker: a sixth-grade girl named Kandi Kain. . . .
 Lincoln Jones is always working on the latest story he's got going in his notebook. Those stories are his refuge. A place where the hero always prevails and the bad guy goes to jail. Real life is messy and complicated, so Lincoln sticks to fiction and keeps to himself. Which works fine until a nosy girl at his new school starts prying into his private business. She wants to know what he's writing, where he disappears to after school, and why he never talks to anybody. . . .
The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones is a terrifically funny and poignant story about a boy finding the courage to get to know the real characters all around him—and to let them know him.

My opinion: Fantastic writing here. I'm a big fan of Lincoln, the way his mind works. I was easily caught up in his story and his interactions with people, especially the "oldies" at Brookside. Clearly his obsession with his stories is a coping mechanism but it's not overdone. He's still a skilled writer and doesn't stop just because he determines to face reality. There are a lot of subtle secondary messages at play as well, mostly having to do with dignity. Most of the secondary characters are pretty basic but this is not uncommon in middle grade fiction. The biggest selling point for me is that it holds up to repeat reading. there's something more to discover and more importantly to discuss with each read. It would make a great book club selection.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.