Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March Recommendations

Novels:

In The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, Xan rescues baby Luna from the woods. But Xan is a witch and Luna accidentally drinks moonlight, filling her with powerful magic. Pitted against them are a nearby town who thinks Xan is evil, a Council of Elders who really IS evil, and a Sorrow Eater wth a masterful plan. Fun, original fantasy, and winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal. (MG)

In The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, Natasha’s family is scheduled to be deported to Jamaica this very night. Daniel has an interview to get into Yale—his family wants him to attend but he’s not so sure. When they meet in NYC, Daniel spends the day convincing Natasha they are fated to fall in love. It's told in multiple POVs, including Natasha's and Daniel's, but we also hear the random and not so random thoughts of people they come into contact with. An extremely engaging story about life, love, fate, and the universe. (YA)

And in The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco, Tea learns she is a bone witch on the day of her brother Fox’s funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. With Fox along as her familiar, headstrong Tea is hustled to the capital city to be taught to manage her power. She learns to dance, fight, and navigate political intrigue in the district’s teahouses, but ultimately she will be sent to fight the “strange and terrible” monsters which haunt the land. This is fantasy world-building at its best, and includes a colorful cast of characters. First in a series. (YA)


Picture Books:

Egg, by Kevin Henkes, features three eggs that hatch and one that doesn’t. There’s lots of waiting, pecking, and three fun surprises. Design-wise, this book is a comfortable square shape, and is illustrated in Easter candy (or dyed-egg!) colors.

The Journey, by Francesca Sanna, is the moving story of a mother and her two children fleeing from one unnamed country to another. Narrated by one of the children, it’s a beautiful and timely book about refugees, appropriate for the picture book crowd.

Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell, tells the wordless (except for sounds) story of a girl and a wolf. Each is lost in the snow, and each wants to get home to a loving family. It’s interesting how expressive these scribbly-line paintings are!

--Lynn

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Bone Witch--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781492635826)

Tea learns she is a "bone witch" on the day of her brother Fox's funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. While witches are fairly commonplace in the Eight Kingdoms, bone witches, or Dark asha, are feared and reviled for their ability to control the dead. Nevertheless, they wield their "complicated and exclusive and implacable" death magic to keep people safe from the daeva--"strange and terrible monsters" commanded by servants of the traitorous False Prince. Twelve-year-old Tea discovers she commands her new-found magic with ease.

Along with Fox, now serving as her familiar, Tea is hustled to the capital city by Lady Mykaela, another Dark asha, to be trained to manage her power. The headstrong Tea takes her place in House Valerian, where she learns to dance, fight and navigate political intrigue in the district's teahouses. Tea's growing awareness of the price Dark asha pay to control the daeva makes her increasingly wary of dedicating her life to the endeavor. But when a particularly fierce daeva wreaks havoc during a ceremony, Tea steps in to save Lady Mykaela and takes her own craft to a much more dangerous place.

The Bone Witch is fantasy world-building at its best, and Rin Chupeco (The Girl from the Well; The Suffering) has created a strong and colorful cast of characters to inhabit that realm. Interspersed with Tea's narrative are short chapters describing her future exile "at the end of the world." Readers will feel the impending doom in this enticing, highly original fantasy, but must wait until the sequel for answers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this strikingly original fantasy, 12-year-old Tea learns she is a powerful "bone witch" who can control the dead.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March's Book of the Month--Wolf Hollow

March's Book of the Month is WOLF HOLLOW, by Lauren Wolk. This impeccably crafted, wonderfully heartfelt middle grade story was recently awarded a Newbery Honor. I love that it's sophisticated, yet still feels accessible to young readers.

Twelve-year-old Annabelle lives a quiet life in rural Pennsylvania, until Betty Glengarry shows up with all of her cruel, bullying ways. Annabelle must protect her two small brothers, and also shell-shocked World War l veteran, Toby, even when town sentiment tries to dictate otherwise. Annabelle’s courage and compassion will touch readers as she learns to stand up for what she knows is right in this pitch-perfect coming of age story.

It’s interesting to me that the author chooses to use a prologue to introduce readers to Annabelle’s story. In it, adult narrator Annabelle indicates she is looking back at her own childhood and describing, as she puts it, the way that, at age twelve, she learns to lie. The device allows Wolk to use a more adult tone throughout, which suits the quiet yet strong Annabelle very well. There’s a bit of an epilogue, too, which brings us back to grown Annabelle describing how that year, the year she turned twelve, she also learned to tell the truth.

This haunting, yet hopeful, story shows the power of one young girl acting on her convictions. It’s an important message, artfully imparted.

--Lynn

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February Recommendations

Novels:

Full of suspense, GORILLA DAWN, by Gill Lewis, takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Imara is a child soldier enslaved by a gang of murderous rebels. Bobo stumbles into camp while searching for his father, a wildlife park ranger who disappeared while trying to protect a family of gorillas. When the leader of the gang sets up an illegal mine, his buyer wants a baby gorilla as part of the deal. Despite the danger, Imara and Bobo know they must return the newly captured baby gorilla to the wild. (MG)

A TANGLE OF GOLD, by Jaclyn Moriarty, is the third and final book of the Colors of Madeleine trilogy. In this completely original fantasy series, we see two worlds occurring side by side. In the Kingdom of Cello, where magic exists and colors manifest as storms, the royal family has gone missing. Access to the World occurs through small, seemingly random cracks, though travel between the two places is forbidden. It’s a good thing rules don’t stop Madeleine (in the World) and Elliot (in Cello) from getting to know each other. Charming and funny. (YA)

And in GOLDENHAND, Garth Nix continues his fabulous Abhorsen series (including the Abhorsen trilogy of Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, their prequel, Clariel, and the novella Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case). In Goldenhand, Lirael serves as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. When she finds Nicholas after he is attacked by a Free Magic creature, she takes him to the Clayr’s Glacier to heal. But when she gets a message from her dead mother, delivered by a strange girl from the North, she learns that a huge battle is looming. One that must be fought both in the Old Kingdom and in the river of Death. (YA)


Picture books:

OOPS, POUNCE, QUICK, RUN! AN ALPHABET CAPER, by Mike Twohy is great fun. It’s one word per page, beginning with a little mouse who is Asleep. A Ball bounces in, which he Catches, and then the Dog shows up! Cartoon illustrations enhance the playful text.

GRUMPY PANTS, by Claire Messer, is about a penguin who is in a really bad mood. He stomps and shakes and scowls until, little by little, he figures out how to make things better. Blocky illustrations with lots of primary colors make this an attractive package. (The penguin in Penguin Problems, by Jory John and Lane Smith, is grumpy, too!)

FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, was awarded a Caldecott Honor last month. The text is a poem about slaves in Louisiana counting down the days of the week until Sundays, when they are allowed half a day off to gather, dance, sing, and temporarily escape their cares and oppression. The powerful illustrations are full of color, pattern, and movement.


--Lynn

Friday, February 3, 2017

Gorilla Dawn--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: Gorilla Dawn

Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis, illus. by Susan Meyer (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $16.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 9-13, 9781481486576)

In the forested wilderness of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Imara is a child soldier, or kadogo, held captive by a gang of murderous rebels. In her role as Spirit Child, she "turns enemy bullets into rain," or so the rebels believe, keeping them safe as they raid villages and evade government troops. When Black Mamba, leader of the gang, sets up a mine for coltan, a mineral essential for "every computer and cell phone in the world," his buyer wants a baby gorilla as part of the deal. The gang locates a nearby gorilla family, kills the great silverback, and steals his baby for the sale.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Bobo is searching for his father, a wildlife park ranger who disappeared while trying to protect these same gorillas. When Bobo stumbles into the Mamba camp, he, too, is enslaved by the rebels. Bobo continues to seek clues about his father even as he teaches Imara how to care for the gorilla baby. Despite intense danger, both he and Imara know they must return the gorilla to the wild.

In Gorilla Dawn, author (and veterinarian) Gill Lewis (One White Dolphin) provides a microcosm of human interconnectedness with the planet, and an author's note explains how the forests drive global weather patterns and regulate air and water quality. On top of the eco-perspective, Lewis infuses her novel with excitement and suspense, as the kadogo grapple with death on a daily basis. Amidst the brutality, it is the tenderness growing in Imara as she opens her heart to the baby gorilla that distinguishes this powerful, multifaceted story. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this suspenseful middle-grade novel, a girl enslaved by a Congolese gang learns to be as brutal as her captors--until a baby gorilla is brought into camp.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

February's Book of the Month--All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK, by Leslie Connor, was one of my favorite middle-grade novels of 2016, a year filled with especially strong middle-grade titles.

Eleven-year-old Perry Cook, born and raised in the minimum security prison where his mom serves a term for manslaughter, knows all about family. In addition to his mom, Perry has grown up with plenty of loving, supportive people in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility. This includes the warden, foreman, and many of the inmates (“rezzes”). Perry’s life isn’t conventional by any means. But Blue River is for nonviolent offenders, and the author shows us the people behind the mistakes they have made. When a DA with an agenda decides Perry needs a “real” family, he separates the boy from the only home he has ever known.

Perry is an extraordinary character, as is his entire supporting cast. From Warden Dougherty, who okays the unusual arrangement, to Big Ed and Mr. Halsey, to Perry’s mom Jessica, best friend Zoey, teacher Ms. Maya, new lunchroom cashier Miss Jenrik, and even the deplorable DA Thomas VanLeer, these are fully-realized characters that have a mighty story to tell. Connor has written a feel-good novel that stands up to repeated readings.

--Lynn

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Recommendations

Novels:

GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS, by Kate Beasley, features a powerhouse of a fifth grade character. When Gertie’s estranged mother’s house goes on the market, Gertie decides that being the greatest fifth grader in the universe will keep her mom from leaving. But when perfect Mary Sue Spivey arrives, fresh from Hollywood with a movie director dad, Gertie’s plans go south pretty quickly. Chock full of fun, with plenty of action and heart, this one’s a winner! Spot illustrations are by Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki. (MG)

THE CREEPING SHADOW, the fourth Lockwood & Co. book by Jonathan Stroud, is every bit as much dark fun as the first three. Psychic Investigator Lucy Carlyle has been out on her own for a while, but when Lockwood & Co. need her special Listener skills for a particularly gruesome assignment, she agrees to work with them. Then Lucy’s valuable ghost-jar is stolen, and she finds she needs the help of her old crew to uncover the secret behind a recent spate of haunted relic robberies. Plenty of thrills and chills, sarcastic snark, and lots (and lots) of ghosts! (upper MG)

CROOKED KINGDOM, by Leigh Bardugo, is a follow-up to the very wonderful Six of Crows. Set in the same imaginative world as Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, this duology is just as strong as the original three books, and maybe even more so. Kaz Brekker is leader of a gang of misfit thieves and murderers who have been double-crossed after pulling off the heist of the century. This plays like a version of Ocean’s Eleven with the addition of Grisha superpowers, a horribly addictive drug known as jurda parem, and an especially valuable hostage. Great characters, smart, non-stop action, imaginative setting: these books have it all! (YA)


Picture Books:

LITTLE PENGUINS, with words by Cynthia Rylant and pictures by Christian Robinson, describes the experience of a family of penguins frolicking in the first snowstorm of the season. The perfect combination of spare, lyrical prose and distinctive illustrations (cut paper collage and acrylic paint applied in various ways) make this a standout.

Since it’s winter, we have another penguin book, PENGUIN PROBLEMS, by Jory John with illustrations by Lane Smith. It’s mostly stream-of-consciousness complaining by one pretty funny penguin, with the addition of some pearls of wisdom from an unlikely source. Kids should love it.

DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis features a plethora of whimsical creatures who follow the progress of a small plant unfurling. Told entirely in a made-up language, there is plenty of fun and beautiful art to be enjoyed here.

Happy reading!

--Lynn