Monday, August 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--A Festival of Ghosts

YA Review: A Festival of Ghosts

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander, illus. by Kelly Murphy (Margaret K. McElderry, $17.99 hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781481469180)

Rosa Diaz is a ghost appeasement specialist, just like her mom. The two live in a "cozy basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library," where their official job is to deal with books that are "too haunted." But ever since the "huge circle of copper" placed around Ingot by its founder, Bartholomew Theosophras Barron, was broken, Rosa and her new friend, Jasper Chevalier, spend a lot of time traveling around town, quieting ghosts and restless spirits.

The previously "library-schooled" Rosa begins attending classes at Ingot Public School to perform the "emergency appeasements" her mother is certain the school will need. She's not worried when, on her first day, small hauntings become evident, including a chalkboard that displays "[e]very mark ever made on it." But when the voices of six students--and the principal--are stolen by ghosts in the water fountain, Rosa and Jasper know they have to find the key to appeasing Ingot's restless dead. As if that weren't enough work for two middle-graders, Rosa worries that she's being haunted by the spirit of her dad, and Jasper is determined to reopen the Ingot Renaissance Festival, even though the grounds have been taken over by dueling ghosts.

A Festival of Ghosts, Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place, is as strong as the first, with Murphy's dynamic pencil illustrations scattered throughout. Rosa and Jasper have all the makings of a terrific literary duo and as the pair grow more comfortable with each other, they affectionately banter their way through all the supernatural tasks, whether they are communicating with ghosts or keeping one step ahead of the people who believe in banishing ghosts forever. Here's hoping for a third book that's just as good! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: The ghosts are back in Ingot, and Rosa and Jasper have their hands full trying to appease them in William Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August Recommendations


In THE PARKER INHERITANCE, by Varian Johnson, twelve-year-old Candice Miller, "just a girl trying to get through a horrible summer,” is plunged into a mystery when she finds a letter in the attic. Left behind by her grandmother, who lost her job with the city ten years earlier in a mysterious scandal involving buried treasure, Candace and her new friend Brandon decide to solve the puzzle, clear her grandmother’s name, and maybe find some cash in the process. THE PARKER INHERITANCE is a whip-smart mystery that delves into race relations while spooling out a page-turning plot that takes its inspiration from a classic, The Westing Game. (MG)

THUNDERHEAD, by Neal Shusterman, is the worthy sequel to series opener and recent Printz Honor Book, SCYTHE. In this installment, rogue “fallen apprentice” Rowan has gone "off-grid" and is operating as Scythe Lucifer, illegally gleaning scythes who don’t deserve to wear the honored robes. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra forges her own path. She gleans humanity on her own terms--with compassion--and unwittingly becomes the leader for a new generation of scythes. When nasty Scythe Goddard reappears from the dead, can monumental destruction be far behind? Read the first book and then enjoy this follow up, which explains more of the reasoning behind a “perfect” society ruled and managed by the Thunderhead. (YA)

Easy Readers:

MR. MONKEY BAKES A CAKE, by Jeff Mack, features the titular monkey, way too many bananas, and a grand plan. What could go wrong? Action-packed and full of fun, the clever antics and effective repetition are perfect for drawing in emerging readers. Kids will love the ups and downs of Mr. Monkey’s wacky day in and out of the kitchen.

In SERGIO RUZZIER’S FOX AND CHICK: THE PARTY, by—yup—Sergio Ruzzier, Fox and Chick’s very different personalities lead to a series of gentle, endearing adventures. When Fox tries to read, he's interrupted by the irrepressible Chick, who would rather have a party in Fox’s bathroom. When Fox gathers vegetables to make soup, Chick is too full of advice. And when Fox wants to paint a landscape, the twitchy Chick tries to convince him that a painting with a chick in it would be more exciting. Ruzzier’s distinctive character design and colors make FOX AND CHICK really stand out.

Picture Books:

 “Deep in the woods/is a house/just a house/that once was/but now isn’t/a home.” Two kids explore the ins and outs, pasts and present, of this house, in the very wonderful A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS. Julie Fogliano’s gorgeous, nuanced language is matched by Lane Smith's equally gorgeous, equally nuanced, art.

NIGHT OUT, by Daniel Miyares, showcases stellar art in almost wordless book about a lonely boy who accepts an invitation to a fantastical nighttime party, where he meets some unlikely friends. A magical twist at the end will leave readers sighing with satisfaction.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Grace and Fury

YA Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780316471411)

Serina Tessaro has spent her entire life training to become a Grace, a woman handpicked by the Heir to serve as Viridia's "highest standard of beauty, elegance, and obedience." If chosen, Serina will live in the palace, "go to glittering balls and want for nothing"--she'll never have to work as a servant or a seamstress or be forced into marrying the highest bidder. Serina's sister, Nomi, on the other hand, can't accept that the choices for women are so limited, and she doesn't understand how becoming "a possession for [the Heir] to own" is better than those other options, anyway. Despite her opinions, when Serina goes to the city of Bellaqua to "vie for this honor," Nomi goes along as handmaiden.

On their first night, as Serina is being introduced at the Heir's ball, Nomi sneaks into the palace library. Even though women are forbidden to read, Nomi has been taught, and she steals a book that reminds her of home--then immediately runs into the Heir. Although terrified, she responds defiantly to his rude questioning; the Heir, seemingly angry, proceeds to his ball. When he announces his top choices, though, Nomi is stunned to find that she, not Serina, has been named a Grace. Worse, Serina is caught with Nomi's stolen book and is banished to the nightmarish Mount Ruin. Nomi must find a way to rescue her sister while appearing to embrace her new role at the palace.

Grace and Fury's blend of fantasy, feminism and political thriller will likely appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, Marie Rutkoski's Winner trilogy and Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. The dual narratives create plenty of suspense, and the growth and transformation of these two sisters is engrossing. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In a country where women have few options, Serina competes to become a revered Grace, but all her well-laid plans for the future crumble when her rebellious sister is chosen instead.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August's Book of the Month

August's Book of the Month is WE ARE OKAY, by Nina LaCour. It won the ALA's Printz Award this year.

Marin is spending her first winter break at her college dorm in upstate NY. It's a far cry from the California sunshine and her Ocean Beach home in the Bay area. Her beloved gramps died just before the term started, and Marin fled from the secrets he left behind. Now, bruised and battered, she's trying to put herself together again. But first she’s got to make it through a visit from Mabel, her former best friend? lover? sort-of-sister? without falling apart, and possibly mend some important fences along the way.

Present tense passages of Marin in NY, as she’s joined by Mabel, alternate with past tense reminiscences of her possibly “weird" family life with Gramps. WE ARE OKAY is a lovingly-crafted, deftly-woven look at grief and healing. It’s raw and honest, lonely, sad and hopeful. I was transported.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Shelf Awareness--I'm Not Missing

YA Review: I'm Not Missing

I'm Not Missing by Carrie Fountain (Flatiron, $18.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781250132512)

Ever since Syd showed up in Miranda's third grade class in Las Cruces, N. Mex., the two girls have been best friends. They became even closer the summer before high school, when Syd's mother left rehab and "hightailed it to Colorado." Miranda could relate, as her own mom had taken off seven years earlier. Syd and Miranda performed a symbolic ritual of "honor and blood," swearing "to never stray from the other, and to never go after [their] mothers." Then, in the middle of senior year, Syd vanishes. She had been waiting to hear about her early admission to Stanford as the culmination of an elaborate Escape Plan, and suddenly she is "[g]one, not missing," and it's "as if Syd had never existed."

Miranda is forced to recognize "a basic truth about [her] life": content all these years to exist in the shadow of Syd's "superstar light," she has no idea "what to do or how to be or even what to look at" without her best friend by her side. Rather than walk alone past Nick, the boy she's been in love with for three years, the one who stood her up for prom, she skips class. But Nick has a secret that involves both Syd and Miranda, and he reaches out to her to talk.

Though Miranda is no closer to discovering where Syd has gone, she begins to discover herself. In her debut novel, poet Carrie Fountain writes with grace and fluidity as she reveals twists and turns that are fresh and surprising. Miranda's sweet romance with Nick proceeds in realistic fits and starts as the pair earnestly navigates the rough terrain of love and betrayal. By the end, readers will almost certainly feel hopeful about the prospects of Fountain's very real, very compelling characters. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: High school senior Miranda's best friend suddenly runs away, leaving her alone to deal with life and love.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Letting Go

YA Review: The Letting Go

The Letting Go by Deborah Markus (Sky Pony Press, $16.99 hardcover, 360p., ages 12-up, 9781510734050)

When a dead body shows up at Hawthorn Academy for Independent Young Women, a secluded California school for sensitive, artistic, mostly Ivy League-bound types, Emily doesn't know what to think. She's changed her last name. She's cut ties to almost everybody she ever knew. And she keeps her fellow students away by being "aggressively unpleasant." But Emily fears that this dead body (a murder victim, shot in the back of the head) might be her fault, that the mysterious killing of everybody she's ever loved--parents, friends, even pets--is "starting again."

In an effort to create distance between herself and others, Emily immerses herself in Emily Dickinson's poems, using Dickinson's words as her own. She relentlessly quotes Dickinson on death and dying in her independent study project and believes she'd feel at home in the poet's time, when "death was more ordinary." And now, even though she's played by "the rules" and "everyone [at Hawthorne] was willing to leave [her] the hell alone," the uproar surrounding the dead body has somehow made her appear approachable to new student M. Mischievous and very much alive, M decides she's not going to let Emily's bad behavior chase her away. Much as she wants to, Emily can't let herself forget the danger M is courting by pursuing this friendship.

In The Letting Go, her debut novel, Deborah Markus has created a perfectly tortured main character whose horrible past has forced her to become an "unusually restless shadow." As the mystery of the new murder eats at her, she becomes ever more confused about what is real. Events hurtle toward a terrible and satisfying conclusion in this fascinating literary thriller. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Emily thought she was safe after changing her identity, but when a corpse appears at the front door of her new school, she fears the murders may be starting again.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

July Recommendations


I’ve gone back and reread two of my all-time favorite fantasies, GRACELING, and companion book (prequel?) FIRE, by Kristin Cashore. In Graceling, Katsa has been used as King Randa’s weapon for years. Her powerful killing Grace makes her virtually impossible to defeat. But Katsa has had enough, and she's formed a secret council to try to make amends. When she rescues an elderly Leonid man from the neighboring kingdom of Sunder, she meets Prince Po, whose Grace of fighting is similar to Katsa’s own. The two set off to solve the mystery of who kidnapped the grandfather and end up on a life and death mission to save the heir to the Monsean throne. Thrilling adventures and a completely satisfying romance, set in a superbly crafted world. (YA)

In FIRE, the kingdom of the Dells is verging on war, with rebel lords amassing armies to unseat young king Nash. Fire is a human monster—able to read minds, though she doesn’t care to use her power if she can possibly help it. Her father had certainly used his, though, contributing greatly to the current state of crisis in the Dells. When Prince Brigan arrives to take her to King City to help the royal family, she has to decide whether her convictions are worth the possible downfall of the kingdom. An equally satisfying romance fills the pages of this companion book, and it also sheds light on the origins of King Leck, from GRACELING. If you haven’t read these books, which conclude with BITTERBLUE, you’ve waited long enough! (YA)

Board Book:

HI! by Ethan Long, is simple yet effective. A series of neatly-rendered animals says hello: "Hoo! Moo! Growl! Howl!” and so on. It comes full circle and there’s a cute finish. The board book format makes it perfect for babies, and also for kids who are ready to think about learning to read.

Picture Books:

In I AM A CAT, by Galia Bernstein, Simon thinks he’s a cat, but Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger disagree. Even though he’s small, Simon sets them straight. Kids will love it.

THERE MIGHT BE LOBSTERS, by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk, stars a small dog named Sukie who is afraid of everything that can go wrong at the beach. She wants to sit safely while her human, Eleanor, has all the fun. But when her stuffed monkey gets a little too close to the water....

ALL THE ANIMALS WHERE I LIVE, by Philip C. Stead, is an example of a picture book that breaks "the rules." It’s quiet, it rambles, and there’s no child—or child-like—protagonist. And yet it’s a beautiful example of the art of picture book-making. There’s plenty to discover as Stead describes his new home in a satisfyingly roundabout way.