Monday, May 15, 2017

May Recommendations

Novels:

In MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY, by John David Anderson, three boys must come to terms with the cancer diagnosis of a very special teacher. Faced with the prospect of not getting to say goodbye, they execute a complicated mission to visit her in the hospital, and learn an awful lot along the way. Told in alternating points of view, the subplots coalesce into a rewarding story that is funny, deep, and completely “frawsome." (MG)

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS, by Emily Barr, refers to the only thing 17-year-old Flora can remember since doctors removed her brain tumor when she was 10: kissing Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, at his going away party. Flora knows if she can just find Drake her brain will work again, so she follows him from England to Svalbard, Norway. Barr does a terrific job showing how disorienting life is for Flora, who can only remember things for two or three hours at a time. But she perseveres, inspired by writing on her hand which reminds her “Flora, be brave.” (YA)

A LIST OF CAGES, by Robin Roe, is the incredibly moving story of high school senior Adam Blake and his onetime foster brother, Julian. Julian is having trouble dealing with everyone and everything in his freshman year, and the school counselor assigns Adam to draw him out. Julian’s got lots of secrets, and plenty of trouble, and the stakes rise for both boys as Adam tries to help. Reminiscent of Good Night, Mr. Tom, and The War that Saved my Life, and just as heart-wrenchingly wonderful. (YA)


Picture Books:

A PERFECT DAY, by Lane Smith, is a beautifully produced picture book from Roaring Brook Press, written and illustrated by a master of the genre. A perfect day for cat, dog, chickadee, and squirrel gets turned around when Bear arrives on the scene, eager to enjoy his own perfect day.

BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE, by Antoinette Portis, shows how the more things are different on planet Boborp, the more they are just like on Earth. Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies, but teef are long and tempers are short, and stuff needs to be worked out!

ALL EARS, ALL EYES, by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, is a bedtime poem by the legendary editor that demands to be read aloud. Full of romping, chomping, whoo-whoooing, with crick-crick-crickets chirring, this poem delves into the dim-dimming woods and, with the help of nightfall-colored watercolor and digital art, soothes us to sleep.

--Lynn

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Philomel, $15.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9780399547010)

Flora Banks is 17 years old, but she knows this only because it's written on her hand. She can't remember anything that's happened since she was 10, when a brain tumor left her unable to make new memories. Flora writes lots of things on her hand, like "Don't drink alcohol" at the party for her best friend Paige's boyfriend, Drake, who leaves tomorrow for Svalbard, Norway. But Flora does have a cup of wine, and she winds up on the beach kissing Drake. And, incredibly, Flora remembers!

Unfortunately, Paige finds out. When Flora's parents leave for Paris to be with Flora's dying brother, Jacob, they think Paige will "babysit" Flora. Except Paige doesn't want anything to do with Flora anymore. Flora knows that if she can just find Drake, her brain will work again, so before long she has written enough notes on her hand, in her notebook and on her phone to enable her to buy a plane ticket from Cornwall, England, to Svalbard, where she intends to kiss Drake and "remember it to infinity."

Flora's resourcefulness in overcoming her disability, along with her determination to gain some measure of autonomy from overprotective parents, makes her a strong and appealing character. In her YA debut, Emily Barr (author of the adult novel Backpack) does a terrific job portraying how disorienting life must be for someone who can't remember what she does for more than two or three hours at a time. Life is always a mystery, yet Flora persists. Certainly, the most important advice she can give herself is etched right onto her hand: "Flora, be brave." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Kissing Drake is the only thing 17-year-old amnesiac Flora remembers since before the brain tumor when she was 10, and she's sure finding him will be her key to healing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May's Book of the Month--The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Book of the Month for May is this year’s Newbery-winning fantasy, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, by Kelly Barnhill.

On the annual Day of Sacrifice, Elders of the Protectorate (also called the City of Sorrows by some) collect the first baby born each year as an offering to appease an evil Witch. Except the Witch isn’t really evil, and she doesn’t understand why babies keep appearing in the woods. Instead of devouring them, Witch Xan takes them to grateful families on the other side of the forest.

One year, though, things don’t go as planned. A mother refuses to willingly hand over her baby. She goes mad with grief, and is imprisoned by the Sisters in a tower. Xan becomes charmed by this infant, and accidentally allows her to become enmagicked by the moon. Since an enmagicked child would be too dangerous to leave with just anyone, Xan brings little Luna home to raise. The swamp monster, Glerk, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian, make up the rest of Luna’s devoted new family.

Luna’s magic is so strong that she does indeed become dangerous. Trees turn into birds, goats grow wings, and Glerk becomes a bunny. Desperate, Xan binds the magic until Luna can be taught to contain it. Except that the spell goes a bit awry, and Luna has no idea what magic is until just before her thirteenth birthday, when it begins to leak out of her with increasing strength. At this time, too, Xan’s magic drastically wanes, the slumbering volcano begins to awaken, the madwoman escapes her tower, the Sorrow Eater leaves on a mission of death, and another couple in the Protectorate refuses to give up their baby. Also, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon grows up!

Kelly Barnhill has written a number of notable fantasies, beginning with The Mostly True Story of Jack, and more recently The Witch’s Boy. Though her work deals with matters of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, her characters are usually nuanced and multidimensional. And there is always plenty of love, adventure, and magic.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is a neatly woven, thought-provoking fantasy with an uplifting message: The world is good. Go see it.

--Lynn

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress, illus. by Matthew Rockefeller (Delacorte, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781101940051)

Twelve-year-old Sebastian comes from "a family of pragmatic minds." He's confident that the choices he makes are all logical, until the day he takes a wrong turn down an alley and discovers the "wondrous, strange, sometimes itchy" Explorers Society. After rescuing a pig wearing a teeny hat, Sebastian finds himself working after school at the nonsensical society, supervised by the pig. When resident adventurers insist that the obedient boy do something inappropriate, Sebastian (with the pig's help) sneaks a mysterious wooden box home from the society. Inside are mementos of the wild exploits of a team of explorers, the Filipendulous Five. Sebastian wonders why the box was hidden away, and why he has never heard this group mentioned at the society.

Meanwhile, an orphan named Evie, who lives at the "uninteresting and uninspiring" Wayward School, is bored out of her mind. Her only change of scene is dinner each week at the beige home of a boring couple, until one evening a nasty gunman with his jaw wired shut joins them. Evie escapes with a letter from the grandfather she has never known, and instructions to find the Explorers Society. Thus begins a partnership between Evie and Sebastian to find Evie's grandfather, who's also one of the Filipendulous Five.

Narrated with a smart, brisk tone and plenty of snark, Canadian author Adrienne Kress's (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman) series debut The Door in the Alley packs plenty of twists, turns and danger. Matthew Rockefeller's wonderfully detailed b&w art enriches both the playfulness and the mayhem. As a parting shot from the narrator, the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.
 

Discover: Twelve-year-old Sebastian teams up with orphan Evie to find her grandfather, a member of a mysteriously missing group of explorers, the Filipendous Five.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Speed of Life--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: Speed of Life

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9781492654490)

Sofia Wolfe isn't depressed, she's sad. And who wouldn't be? Her mom died nine months ago, and by now everyone, even best friend Kiki, expects her to have bounced back. Most people at the private, all-girls school Sofia attends in New York City are kind, but others treat her as though her mom's death "might be contagious."

At 14, Sofia has other changes to cope with, too. Kiki recently turned into a "boy magnet." The girls are all getting their periods. And Sofia worries she may be the only one in her class who has never kissed a boy. She knows she can talk to her gynecologist dad, but these kinds of things were so much easier with her mom. She begins writing to Dear Kate, a popular advice columnist at Fifteen magazine. Sofia needs someone to ask all of her "superpersonal" questions, especially now that her dad is showing signs of moving on. She thinks he may even be dating. When she finds out that Dad's new girlfriend is Dear Kate herself, Sofia is mortified.

Author Carol Weston (Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You; Ava and Pip) has been the voice of "Dear Carol" at Girls' Life magazine since 1994. She draws on her many years of experience to tackle tough issues with honesty and humor. Death and grieving, self-esteem, "bras, periods, cliques, and crushes" are all addressed head-on in this engaging novel. Readers will enjoy spending a pivotal year with Sofia, as she learns to find comfort in life's changes, both big and small. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: After her mom dies, 14-year-old Sofia has to cope with many changes, including finding out her dad is dating the advice columnist Sofia has been writing to.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Recommendations

Novels:

In MY SISTER ROSA, by Justine Larbalestier, 17 year old Che’s little sister Rosa looks like a doll, but she’s not. She’s a dangerous psychopath, and Che’s the only one who knows. Their parents are in denial, but it looks like Rosa’s games might spiral out of control now that the family is starting over in NYC. Terrific suspense and great characters, this is a real page-turner. (YA)

Neal Shusterman begins a new fantasy series with his Printz Honor book SCYTHE, which also stands pretty well on its own. In the future, humankind has conquered death, so to keep the population under control, scythes perform this “crucial service for society.” Citra and Rowan are reluctantly apprenticed to Honorable Scythe Faraday. But the art of killing isn’t the only thing these two will need to master in order to survive. Great stuff by the National Book Award winning author of Challenger Deep. (YA)

VASSA IN THE NIGHT, by Sarah Porter, is a modern take on the Russian fairy tale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, set in Brooklyn. At a time when night is getting “bigger and fatter and stronger," Vassa leaves her stepmother and two stepsisters on a mission to the corner store, owned and operated by Babs Yagg, who beheads shoplifters and innocents alike. Good thing Vassa has Erg, a talking doll gifted to her by her dying mother. Dark, twisted, magical, and mesmerizing. (YA)

Picture books:

LEAVE ME ALONE, by Vera Brosgol, is the very witty tale of a very old woman with a very large family who gets very fed up. She takes her knitting and tries to find some privacy. It’s not as easy as it should be. Come for the story, stay for the art!

In LIFE ON MARS, by Jon Agee, a young astronaut is so certain he will find life on Mars that he brings along chocolate cupcakes. Unfortunately, he seems to be wrong. And then he loses his spaceship. This is a terrific example of how funny it can be when words and pictures contradict each other. Jon Agee makes it look easy.

When Priscilla turns six, she becomes obsessed with gorillas. She draws gorilla pictures, writes in her gorilla journal, and performs her own original gorilla dances. She also spends a lot of time in the Thinking Corner at school for not listening to her teacher. But aren’t gorillas always supposed to get their own way? In PRISCILLA GORILLA, Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberly  introduce readers to gorilla-pajama-wearing Priscilla, her parents, and her entire class of gorilla dancing classmates.

--Lynn

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April's Book of the Month--The Sun is Also a Star

April’s Book of the Month is the 2017 Printz Honor winner, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, by Nicola Yoon.

Natasha doesn’t believe in fate. But she’s desperate enough to ask anyone—even fate—to help her find a way to stay in America. She’s been living as an undocumented immigrant since she was eight and her parents moved the family over from Jamaica. Now her father’s DUI means they have to leave New York. Tonight. Natasha repeatedly visits US Citizenship and Immigration Services, hoping for a reprieve so she can stay in “the only place [she] calls home.” Finally, just hours before deportation, she’s handed a long shot: the name of a lawyer known as “the fixer,” and she arranges an appointment for that very day.

Daniel’s on his way to a college admission interview with a “Yale alum.” His parents are determined that Daniel apply there to become a doctor, especially since his brother Charlie’s been suspended from Harvard. But Daniel wants to be a poet and is in no hurry to get to the interview. Unlike pragmatic Natasha, Daniel believes in fate, and love, and when he spies her he knows “it’s definitely a Sign.”

I found Yoon’s characters to be so engaging that, right from the start, I was along for the ride. Natasha and Daniel are are caught up in realities imposed on them by their parents, but are desperate to forge their own futures. Readers will root for both of these kids. Yoon unravels her story mainly through narration by these two appealing protagonists. But their story is also enriched by voices of the people they meet, and lives they touch, in their search for answers. It's a captivating discussion of love, fate and the interconnectedness of the universe.

--Lynn