Friday, November 30, 2012

Picture books mini-reviews 20

Rocket Writes a Story
by Tad Hills
Schwartz & Wade
July 2012

I thought this was a cute little story about writer's block, the revision process, and how a sweet puppy eventually befriends an owl.

This book might be a little lengthy for the preschool set, but could be just right for those kindergartners or even 1st graders who are starting to unravel the mystery of putting words together in a written story for the first time.

A nice follow-up to Rocket Learns to Read.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Back to Front and Upside Down
by Claire Alexander
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
September 2012

In this sweet little story, classroom animals get over their fear of asking for help when they're not sure of their letters. This book seems like perfect encouragement for struggling new readers. I thought this might be a dyslexia book (and it could be read that way I suppose) but any child who's ever gotten frustrated with learning to write should enjoy this one. I don't know if I'd read this with children who already enjoy reading though - why plant ideas that reading and writing are hard if you don't have to?

I borrowed this book from the library.

Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show
by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Dan Santat
Harry N. Abrams
September 2012

Kel Gilligan daringly, shockingly, amazingly tackles what many kids might find impossible: eating broccoli, using the potty, taking a bath, not interrupting his mother on the phone, and almost manages getting to bed as well. Astonishing! The illustrations in this book were made with "Adobe Photoshop and with 100% fearlessness." Dan Santat's slightly squared off illustrations are expressive with lots of boy appeal. There are fun little details like crayon scribbles on the walls of the family's home, and pictures of Kel wearing a T-shirt that says, "I (Heart) Danger." Funny, funny stuff.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Return of the Library Dragon
by Carmen Agra Deedy
Peachtree Publishers
September 2012

This was fun, I guess. It's an ode to how wonderful books and libraries are. (I loved the endpages with plenty of pro-library quotes.) As expected, the new librarian reassures the retiring library dragon that she'll care for the books, and won't get rid of all paper books in favor of technology. I was sad to see the anti-computer message. Cybrary? I don't think we use that term, except for a brief while at the turn of the century. It's not an either/or dichotomy with e-books and paper books. You can have both! I don't think that fully came across. You know what sticks in my craw about this book - it makes you feel bad. Like even if you are a book lover, you don't love them enough. Who needs that kind of guilt trip?

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Waiting on Catherine

Yay! I loved Jane by April Lindner. I can't wait for this one, I really can't!

by April Lindner
January 2013

A forbidden romance. A modern mystery. Wuthering Heights as you've never seen it before. 

 Catherine is tired of struggling musicians befriending her just so they can get a gig at her Dad's famous Manhattan club, The Underground. Then she meets mysterious Hence, an unbelievably passionate and talented musician on the brink of success. As their relationship grows, both are swept away in a fiery romance. But when their love is tested by a cruel whim of fate, will pride keep them apart? 

Chelsea has always believed that her mom died of a sudden illness, until she finds a letter her dad has kept from her for years -- a letter from her mom, Catherine, who didn't die: She disappeared. Driven by unanswered questions, Chelsea sets out to look for her -- starting with the return address on the letter: The Underground. Told in two voices, twenty years apart, Catherine interweaves a timeless forbidden romance with a compelling modern mystery.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Think books

This is really neat. Really makes you think, eh?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Picture books mini-reviews 19

Dixie and the School Trip
by Grace Gilman, illustrated by Sarah McConnell
June 2012

What is it with adorable, rambunctious dogs lately? Seems like everywhere you turn, there's another series for kids featuring a hapless canine. Dixie the Dog keeps Carl, Biscuit and Marley in good company. In this installment, Dixie the Dog sneaks aboard for a school trip to the dinosaur museum and creates chaos by leaving bones everywhere. Hilarity ensues.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Pony Scouts: The Trail Ride
by Catherine Hapka, illustrated by Anne Kennedy
June 2012

Naughty pony scouts sneak out for a trail ride by themselves! Annie knows it's not the right thing to do, but goes along anyway. Fortunately, when the girls become lost, she remembers to let the ponies take the lead.

Just the thing for pony-crazed readers. This delivers a serious message with a gentle touch.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Animals in the Outhouse
by Anya Frolich, illustrated by Gergley Kiss
Sky Pony Press
June 2012

This is a funny book on an unusual topic featuring quirky toilet humor. An overambitious forest ranger puts an outhouse in the forest for the animals to use. Professor Grunter the boar feels a bit uncertain about this new device, so he decides he'll just tell everyone he's already used it... and then see how it goes for everyone else. One after another, each animal unsuccessfully tries, while not admitting it to the others. "Professor Gunter was the last in line. Fortunately, everyone else had left by now. In fact, most of them left rather in a hurry - heading for their favorite pooping spots in the forest, no doubt."

I loved the end-papers. What a great bonus. The opening pages show the forest ranger driving off with his blue outhouse. The back of the book features a map of the forest with all the animals in their habitats. This book was translated from the original German.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Jonathan and Martha
by Petr Horacek
Phaidon Press
April 2012
Here's a cute and funny story about two worms who learn to share... and end up falling in love.
The textured collage is reminiscent of Eric Carle, up to and including some die-cut and fold-over pages. This was a hit at storytime! I highly recommend this gem.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Waiting on Falling Kingdoms

Oh man. I am a sucker for high fantasy. Count me in on this one.

Falling Kingdoms
by Morgan Rhodes
December 2012

In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power--brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished--and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past--and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword...

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Crave review

by Melissa Darnell
October 2011

First line: The last day I was fully human started out like any other April Monday in East Texas.

Savannah Colbert is a total outcast in her small Texas town. Her grandmother is a stereotypical "iron fist in a velvet glove" Southern lady, and her mother is mentally and emotionally checked out as she focuses on her work at home business. Savannah's town seems full of secrets. Rumor has it that the influential and wealthy members of town are all part of a "Clann" with magical abilities: including her longtime childhood crush, Tristan.

I was a bit confused by the emotional highs and lows of the main character: she hates her dance classes, because she's so clumsy, even as she longs to impress her distant and aloof divorced father. But then, she loves dance, because it's her passion and the only thing she feels like she's good at. That part kind of didn't flow for me.

Savannah struggles with her mysterious physical symptoms and fears about what will happen as she struggles to integrate her vampire and magical heritage. Naturally, her new powers bring perfect physical coordination (which she must hide, lest she be discovered) and irresistible charm for most human males. In the meantime, Tristan works on mastering his magical powers, and his worries of letting his family down with his forbidden romance.

This book clocks in at a lengthy 416 pages, but despite the relatively slow moving plot, it still moved quickly for me, because of the intense relationship between Savannah and Tristan. I'll put this in the hands of paranormal romance fans who are sick of triangles.

Compare to:
Blue Bloods - Melissa de la Cruz
The Mephisto Covenant - Trinity Fagan
Misfit - Jon Skovan

Beautiful Creatures - Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Picture books mini-reviews 18

I'm Not Tired Yet!
by Marianne Richmond
March 2012

This one didn't sparkle for me. The story features painterly acrylic and canvas illustrations. Ralphie thinks of every excuse possible not to go to bed - there's a bug on the rug, there's a monster behind the closet shelves, a mosquito buzzing in his ear, etc. His mom solves the problem by giving him a different animal themed snuggle - a fish kiss, a gorilla hug, a polar bear cuddle, etc. Usually a rhyming story will really enchant me, but this effort felt a bit forced. Still, children may appreciate the large-scale of the illustrations and the funny prank Ralphie plays in the end. I did really like the polka-dot endpapers.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Carl and the Sick Puppy
by Alexandra Day
Square Fish
June 2012

 Very simple sentences, and a thin plot are suited to the earliest of readers. As you can probably guess, as is typical in many goofy dog early readers, Carl gets in over his head taking care of a bossy sick puppy, but at the end of the day, all turns out well. Intelligent, but not too anthropomorphized animals make for a pleasant story. This just won't compare to the sublime original, but Day's illustrations of loveable Rottweiler Carl are as lovely as ever.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Beach Feet
by Kiyomi Konagaya, illustrated by Saito Masamitsu, translated by Yuki Kaneko
Enchanted Lion Books
May 2012

This Japanese import features loose pastels as a boy enjoys his day at the beach. Child-like wonder at the ocean comes across very clearly in this delightful translation. Artistically, there are several interesting changes in perspective. The most unique page is when readers get a view from the boy's sandy toes looking upwards.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Iris Wall, Cracker Cowgirl
by Carol Matthews Rey, Eldon Lux
Pelican Publishing Company
February 2012

Here is a title that should be of interest for Florida historians. The book features rough-textured watercolors and lengthy prose on a true-life cowgirl.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Waiting on Undeadly

This sounds like a zombified version of The House of Night series. Could be good!

by Michele Vail
Harlequin Teen
November 2012

The day I turned 16, my boyfriend-to-be died. I brought him back to life. Then things got a little weird...

Molly Bartolucci wants to blend in, date hottie Rick and keep her zombie-raising abilities on the down-low. Then the god Anubis chooses her to become a reaper-and she accidentally undoes the work of another reaper, Rath. Within days, she’s shipped off to the Nekyia Academy, an elite school that trains the best necromancers in the world. And her personal reaping tutor? Rath. Who seems to hate her guts.

Rath will be watching closely to be sure she completes her first assignment-reaping Rick, the boy who should have died. The boy she still wants to be with. To make matters worse, students at the academy start turning up catatonic, and accusations fly-against Molly. The only way out of this mess? To go through hell. Literally.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trouble review

by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books
April 2008

First line: Henry Smith's father told him that if you build your house far away enough from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.

 The story contained a lot of very lyrical, writerly language. Beautiful descriptions of the sea, of grief, of the dog, of the mountain (Katahdin) of so many things.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. The protagonist, Henry, from an upper crust New England family, is struggling to come to terms with things after his life falls apart. Franklin, his athletic older brother that he's idolized, is in a horrendous car accident when Cambodian Chay Chouan hits him with his truck. At first, Franklin is in a coma and has lost his arm, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries and passes away. Henry rescues a black dog and together, he and the dog work on healing themselves. As the small town of Blythebury-by-the-Sea erupts in racial tension over the incident, Henry decides to leave town. He plans to hike the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, something his brother always wanted to do, accompanied by his private school classmate, Sanborn. They hitchhike and are picked up by - of all people - Chay, who is also headed out of town. Henry struggles with his grief and anger, but as he gradually realizes that Chay has been in love with his sister Louisa, he manages to forgive Chay for the accident. After a cathartic run-in with some racist Vietnam vets, a hike up Katahdin, the steady devotion of Black Dog and a reunion with his concerned parents, Henry is finally able to achieve some peace.

In many ways, because of the use of allegory, foreshadowing and other literary devices, as well as the heavily all-male perspective, this story reminded me very much of of many of the classics studied in high school such as A Separate Piece, The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I had the feeling that this would be a "boy and dog" book the moment Black Dog came on the scene, but that didn't seem to completely be the case. The other characters, especially Sanborn, end up surprising us with a lot to contribute as well. Schmidt "shines a light" on any potential problems by having the characters bring everything right out in the open. The kids at school tease Henry for giving his dog the most ridiculously obvious name, "Black Dog" and he defends it. Within a few minutes, the name which sounded so silly seems the most natural and perfect name ever. All the plot points wind up tightly, but Schmidt writes skillfully enough to prevent it from seeming too unbelievable. It's a clockwork kind of book. Everything is neccessary. Black Dog turns out to be (of course) Chay's dog, who is now Henry's dog and an important element in healing the grief that troubles them both.

Compare to:
A Separate Piece - John Knowles
Frenchtown Summer - Robert Cormier
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Picture books mini-reviews 17

Can I Just Take a Nap?
by Ron Rauss, illustrated by Rob Shepperson
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman
June 2012

With so many little boys named Aiden (or some variant thereof) these days, the name of the main character, Aiden, is sure to be one of the best loved features of this book.
Other than that, this is a slim offering. Aiden McDoodle is desperate for a nap - but everywhere he looks, even the library, is too noisy. Pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are colorful and packed with lots of funny little details. Could be a good bedtime story choice. If you say it enough, maybe they'll believe it!

I borrowed this book from the library.

My Dad
by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Sean Julian
Good Books
June 2012

Sweet and cozy, this celebrates the admiration a little bear has for his dad. Pleasantly rhyming text and large scale pictures make this book a natural for storytime. There's even room for a gentle fart joke or two. Good for Father's Day, or anytime of year.

I borrowed this book from the library.
Pearl and Wagner: Five Days Till Summer
by Kate McMullan
May 2012

Pearl and Wagner are beside themselves with nervousness and excitement. It's almost summer! But... it's been such a great year with their teacher Ms. Star. Moving on to Ms. Bean next year sounds scary. Especially when there's a rumor going around that Ms. Bean is mean! Here's a very relatable topic for many youngsters presented in a reassuring way. Ink and watercolor illustrations by Alley depict a diverse crowd of anthropomorphized animals. This book is just right for kids who aren't quite ready for longer chapter books yet.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Happy Like Soccer
by Maribeth Boelts
May 2012

Sierra is sad that her aunt (who is her sole guardian) can't make it to her Saturday soccer games. It's apparent that they live in a bad neighborhood and scrape to get by. After some finagling, her aunt arranges to switch her workday and makes it to the game. After some more finagling, Sierra manages to get another game switched to a Monday in a lot closer to her house. The book features attractive ink and watercolor illustrations. A good choice for diverse communities, who may relate to the story, especially in these tight times. Pair this with A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams to spark some interesting conversations.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Waiting on Ashes of Twilight

I can never get enough of dystopian. This one sounds intriguing.

Ashes of Twilight
by Kassy Taylor
St. Martin's Griffin
November 2012

Wren MacAvoy works as a coal miner for a domed city that was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century to protect the royal blood line of England when astronomers spotted a comet on a collision course with Earth. Humanity would be saved by the most groundbreaking technology of the time. But after nearly 200 years of life beneath the dome, society has become complacent and the coal is running out.  Plus there are those who wonder, is there life outside the dome or is the world still consumed by fire? When one of Wren's friends escapes the confines of the dome, he is burned alive and put on display as a warning to those seeking to disrupt the dome’s way of life. But Alex’s final words are haunting. “The sky is blue.”  What happens next is a whirlwind of adventure, romance, conspiracy and the struggle to stay alive in a world where nothing is as it seems. Wren unwittingly becomes a catalyst for a revolution that destroys the dome and the only way to survive might be to embrace what the entire society has feared their entire existence.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Emerald Atlas review

The Emerald Atlas
by John Stephens
Random House Children's Books
April 2011

This book has a well-deserved reputation as an instant children's classic, and it's easy to see why. The three children, shuffled from orphanage to orphanage finally come under the care of the mysterious Mr. Pym. There are quite a number of comparisons one could make: Harry Potter, The Series of Unfortunate Events, Narnia, Lord of the Rings. So many of the same elements are here, but recombined in a really fresh and wonderful way.

Kate, Michael and Emma's adventure begins when their parents take off, so that they are effectively orphans. This is true in nearly any middle-grade novel. With the adults out of the picture, Kate takes the lead with their small family. Michael is the typical quiet, dreamy middle-child. He has a fascination with dwarves, which plays out in an incredibly satisfying fashion. I loved the dwarves. They were so perfectly Tolkienish - slightly grumpy, fond of breakfast at all hours, proud of their glorious beards.

I also really enjoyed the deliciously timey-wimey elements of the story. The legendary Emerald Atlas that falls into the children's possession allows them to time-travel. They travel forward and back, planting key pieces of information in the past for their future companions to give to them at crucial moments creating multiple mind-bending paradoxes. I gave up on trying to track who they were meeting when, and how exactly that played into the timeline (and alternate timelines). Just enjoy the ride, and check out the sequel, The Fire Chronicle, just released this month.

I purchased a copy of this book.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Read in October

This month I read the following books:

1 Supernaturally - Kiersten White

2 The Willoughbys - Lois Lowry
3 Mad Love - Suzanne Selfors
4 Centauriad #1: Daughter of the Centaurs - Kate Klimo
5 Legacy - Cayla Kluber
6 Seraphina - Rachel Hartman
7 Lies Beneath - Anne Greenwood Brown
8 Beta - Rachel Cohn
9 The Diviners - Libba Bray
10 Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite - Barry Deutsch

Picture credit: Lady with tablet and stylus from Pompeii, artist unknown


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