Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Recommendations


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!


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January's Book of the Month--Thunder Boy Jr.

Happy New Year!

January’s Book of the month is Thunder Boy Jr., written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Thunder Boy Smith Jr. loves his dad but hates that they share a name. Why can’t he be Sam, the way his mom had wanted? People call his dad Big Thunder, like "a storm filling up the sky." Jr. gets called Little Thunder, which sounds “like a burp or a fart.” He wants a name of his own, one that celebrates his own life and accomplishments. There are so many possibilities! Finally, Big Thunder reads his son’s heart, and Little Thunder gets a new name that celebrates both their love AND individuality.

Alexie’s text is lyrical without wasting words. His narrator, Little Thunder, is appealing and full of life, with interjections in speech bubbles adding humor to this heartfelt story. And Morales uses textures scanned from wood and brick in her art, to build an appealing, stylized world. On every page, this team’s efforts combine to portray the pride and silliness, but most importantly, the affection that binds this family.

It’s a terrific package, and has landed on many Best of 2016 lists. Headed for a Caldecott or Golden Kite? Regardless, it should find its way to many story times.

Have you read Thunder Boy Jr.? What do you think?


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Frostblood--Shelf Awareness Pro

YA Review: Frostblood

Frostblood by Elly Blake (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316273251, January 10, 2017)

Elly Blake's Frostblood Saga series debut is an exciting fantasy of polar opposites in which darkness vies with light, and ice with fire.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood from a remote mountain village, born with the ability to conjure "a river of heat"--and even fire--from "the well of flame [she'd] found in [her] deepest self." Her skin is unusually hot, and she has to be careful not to ignite things when her temper gets the best of her. Unfortunately, she lives in a land where the ruling class of Frostbloods wields ice, "a power in complete opposition" to Ruby's. The Frostbloods, under the reign of ruthless, tyrannical King Rasmus--the Frost King--have all but killed off the Firebloods they despise. Ruby's very existence endangers her village.

Ruby desperately wants to learn more about her gift, but with her grandmother gone, there is no one left to teach her properly. Before she can practice enough to gain any measure of control, the Frost King's soldiers discover and capture her. They kill her mother, destroy her village, and lock Ruby in Blackcreek Prison, where the cruel, drunken Frostblood guards throw buckets of freezing water on her, merely to watch her hot skin hiss and steam.

When a pair of Frostbloods breaks into the prison and offers Ruby sanctuary, eventual freedom and the chance to avenge her mother's death by killing the Frost King, she warily accepts. According to Brother Thistle, who runs an abbey dedicated to the god of the north wind Fors, and Arcus, the mysterious, hooded young man who lives there, Ruby may well be "the most powerful Fireblood left in the kingdom." Arcus and Brother Thistle begin training Ruby to master her gift so she can complete her task. In the process, Ruby and Arcus's teasing banter starts to heat up. The sparks that fly between them may not be unexpected, but they are fun to witness, especially as Ruby keeps glimpsing the handsome features of the "conceited icicle" beneath his ever-present hood, and his nicknames for her ("Lady Firebrand, "Thorn in My Backside," "my raging inferno") begin to escalate.

Their plan is abruptly accelerated when Ruby is betrayed by a monk, captured by Rasmus's soldiers and taken to the king's palace, where she begins to learn the true depths of the Frost King's cruelty. Forced to fight in his arena for the court's amusement, Ruby wonders whether she is the peacemaking "child of light" from an old prophecy, or rather a tool of the darkness.

At its core, Frostblood is the story of a young woman's struggle to understand herself, her power and her role in a world that loathes her. Ruby's first-person voice is powerful and passionate, and readers will want to know what's next for her in the Frostblood Saga. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Shelf Talker: This teen love story, wittily narrated by Love herself, follows a high school senior and bona fide Romantic through a series of amorous entanglements.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Recommendations


I continue to enjoy the most excellent JACKABY series, by William Ritter. The title character, Mr. R. F. Jackaby, is a detective and a Seer of supernatural beings. In book three, called GHOSTLY ECHOES, narrator Abigail Rook and her boss, Jackaby, are investigating the decade-old murder case of their landlady, Jenny Cavanaugh, who is now a ghost. This world contains beings of all sorts, from vampires to chameleomorphs to Abigail’s half-man, half-hound boyfriend, Charlie. (YA)

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, by Adam Gidwitz, is a loose adaptation of the Joan of Arc story, told by multiple narrators in the style of The Canterbury Tales for kids. It features Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future (and a resurrected dog), William, a young monk with extraordinary strength, and Jacob, a Jewish boy who is a miraculous healer. This clever, engaging tale is also populated by good monks, bad monks, King Louis IX of France, an angel, and a farting dragon. It’s an excellent read!! (MG)

HEARTLESS, by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles), is a prequel to Alice in Wonderland, telling the backstory of the Queen of Hearts. Catherine is a noble young lady, who has caught the eye of the King of Hearts, but all she wants is to open a bakery, where she can sell her delectable treats to the kingdom. When she meets the mysterious and sexy Jester, things get even more complicated. Fun and absurdist, as it should be. (YA)

Picture books:

OWL SEES OWL, by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey, is a sweet, spare reverso poem, accompanied by rich illustrations of a young owl's nighttime flight. It’s a cozy read, and a literary treat.

THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES, by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Erin Stead, tells the story of the gentle man who watches the waves. He is tasked with opening any bottle found at sea, and making sure to deliver it. He loves his job, but wonders if he will ever receive a message himself. Stead perfectly evokes the dreamy text with her signature woodblock print, oil pastel, and pencil art.

And, finally, VIRGINIA WOLF by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a fantastically creative take on depression, inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell. One day, young Virginia wakes feeling wolfish. Her older sister tries to make everything better, but nothing works until Virginia growls that she wants to fly to Bloomsbury, a perfect place to defy the doldrums. Art is the answer!


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann, trans. by David Henry Wilson (North South, $19.95 hardcover, 128p., ages 6-9, 9780735842625)

Armstrong is the inventive, lavishly illustrated history of a 1950s-era New York City mouse who is fascinated by the moon, a companion book to German author-illustrator Torben Kuhlmann's Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse.

Every night, this little mouse gazes through his "iron tube full of glass lenses" at the starry sky. Though the other mice believe the moon is made of cheese ("as yellow as Gouda, then as white as Camembert"), the little mouse tries hard to convince them it's actually stone. When he receives a mysterious, "mouse-sized" invitation to the Smithsonian, he hops on a train to Washington, D.C. In a basement underneath galleries of "human inventions," the little mouse discovers artifacts of the long-forgotten history of mouse aviation and vows to be the first mouse on the moon. So, on July 21, 1969, when the first humans walked on the surface of the moon, one extraordinary little mouse had already beaten them there! A whimsical take on space-travel history. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: German author-illustrator Torben Kuhlmann's richly imagined drawings distinguish this inspiring story of a mouse inventor on a mission to the moon.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December's Book of the Month--Raymie Nightingale

December’s Book of the Month is RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE, by the astonishing Kate DiCamillo. How does she do it: write book after strong book, all different, and all worthwhile?

Raymie Clarke is determined to learn how to twirl a baton. She’s got to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, so her father will read about her in the newspaper, leave the dental hygienist he ran off with, and come back home. But even though baton twirling lessons do not go as planned, Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante (daughter of the famous Flying Elefantes) and Beverly Tapinski (lock picker extraordinaire). Louisiana dubs them the Three Rancheros, “bound to each other through thick and thin.” Despite Beverly’s rather persistent grumbling, good-deed-doing ensues (sort of), as well as lots of adventures and insights into the human condition. Ramie’s soul expands and contracts as she considers such existential questions as the meaning of life, and the role of story.

There is not one misplaced or casual word in this book. Each statement is elegantly crafted and contributes to the whole. It’s been said that each chapter of Because of Winn-Dixie could stand alone as a short story—while reading RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE, I felt like the entire novel was a short story. Everything single thing is important, and circles back around. It’s funny, and it’s wry, and it’s chock full of wisdom that will likely go over the heads of many readers who are enjoying the darkly zany plot line. But maybe they will find it again, maybe even years later and, looking through, be amazed at all that’s packed in here.

Have you read RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE? What do you think?


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November Recommendations

Have you read anything fun lately? Here are some of my recent favorites:


WOLF HOLLOW, by Lauren Wolk, is one of my very favorite books of 2016. 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 the shell-shocked WWl 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. (MG)

Delia Sherman (Changeling) has written another amusing, offbeat magical fantasy in THE EVIL WIZARD SMALLBONE. When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle in the middle of a blizzard, he takes refuge at a magical shop called Evil Wizard Books. The resident wizard makes Nick his apprentice, but refuses to teach him any magic. Luckily the bookstore does so instead. Nearby residents include a town of eerily similar people (supposedly under the protection of Nick’s master, the Evil Wizard Smallbone) as well as the Evil Wizard Fidelou with his pack of evil shape-shifting bikers. A fun story examining whether an evil wizard can also be good, the qualities necessary for success, and the importance of writing one’s own story. (MG)

With intriguing, flawed characters and a gripping storyline, WRECKED, by Maria Padian, explores a college rape case in which alcohol is involved, evidence is scarce, and social-media insults are flying. Alternating chapters reflect the perspectives of Haley, roommate of the accuser, and Richard, housemate of the accused, who are also—very inconveniently—developing a sweet, stormy, and wholly believable romance. Powerful, suspenseful, and timely—don't miss this one! (YA)

Picture Books

ONE DAY, THE END: Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories, written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler, takes a fascinating look at what happens when a picture book text is pared down to its barest essentials, allowing the illustrations to provide all of the—fun-- details. It’s worth studying just for that, but it’s also a completely entertaining homage to the art of storytelling itself.

THEY ALL SAW A CAT, by Brendan Wenzel, is a beautifully illustrated musing on perspective, specifically the many different ways a roaming kitty appears to the many different animals—and one human—who encounter it.

In A CHILD OF BOOKS, artists Oliver Jeffers (The Day the Crayons  Quit) and Sam Winston use typography, watercolor, pencil, and digital collage to create a magical story celebrating the power of imagination. It's a stunning collaboration by for the older picture book crowd to enjoy.