Monday, January 15, 2018

January Recommendations


THE SECRET OF NIGHTINGALE WOOD, by Lucy Strange: When 12-year-old Henrietta (Henry) and her family move to the English countryside, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But, after the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Mama is kept sedated and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. When nasty Doctor Hardy takes baby Piglet away, Henry is determined to save her family, even when the adults question her own sanity. Strange's debut is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale, probably my favorite mid-grade of 2017. (MG)

THE WAR I FINALLY WON, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is the follow up to Newbery Honor book The War that Saved My Life. Ada finally gets surgery to repair her club foot. But the war is still on and people keep dying. “Iron-faced” Lady Thornton offers Ada, Jamie, and Susan a cottage to live in after Susan’s house is bombed, but then the British army requisitions Lady Thornton’s home, and she moves in too. Along with her daughter, Maggie, and a Jewish girl from Germany. A German! Ada is a remarkable character and this second book is a worthy follow up to the first. (MG)

THORNHILL, a graphic novel by Pam Smy, tells two parallel stories. Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute in 1982. Ella, in 2017, is also lonely, having just moved into a new house, with no mother and a father who’s always working. When Ella glimpses a girl’s face in the window of run-down, abandoned Thornhill, she begins to investigate. Mary’s story is told in diary entries, Ella’s in atmospheric black and white art. Echoes of Jane Eyre lend creepiness and foreboding to this ghostly tale. (MG/YA)

Picture Books:

ON A MAGICAL DO-NOTHING DAY, by Beatrice Alemagna, is the story of how a kid, stuck in a cabin with his mom, his electronic game taken away, begins to explore. Outside, in the rain, he discovers a (real) word full of (real) treasures. You’ve got to see this art!

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH A GHOST, by Rebecca Green, is your handy guide for creating “a lifelong (and beyond) friendship” if you’re lucky enough to be found by a ghost. Charming art illuminates detailed instructions that are funny and sweet.

AFTER THE FALL: HOW HUMPTY DUMPTY GOT BACK UP AGAIN, by Caldecott winner Dan Santat, is a powerful story about not giving in to your fears. It takes place after Humpty falls from his wall, after all the king’s men DO manage to put him (mostly) back together again. Humpty really wants to be up on that wall again, high above the city, but he’s afraid of heights. The ending will knock your socks off!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Dear Girl

PB Review: Dear Girl

Dear Girl by Paris Rosenthal and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Holly Hatam (HarperCollins, $17.99 hardcover, 40p., 9780062422507)

Beloved children's author Amy Kraus Rosenthal and her daughter, Paris, offer young readers plenty of uplifting, empowering advice in the form of a series of letters shared by a mom to her "Dear Girl." They tell readers to "[k]eep that arm raised! You have smart things to say!" and "[i]f your instinct is telling you to say no, say no, you know?" The message to young girls is clear: be bold and find your own way.

These timeless bits of wisdom encourage all kids to celebrate what makes them distinctive, from freckles to birthmarks to hair color. Girls are advised to accept a wide range of feelings, whether they need "a good cry" or a friend or a moment to dance. And, just as importantly, the letters promote taking time to experience the wonder of rainbows, crazy handshakes and coloring outside the lines.

Holly Hatam's art is lighthearted and energetic, with a variety of textures and techniques employed to demonstrate pointers that are both practical and full of whimsy. Amy Kraus Rosenthal died in 2017, but this collection is no weepy farewell. Adults may realize how bittersweet it is for the book to end "Most of all, dear girl who I love, know that you can always always always... turn to me." But readers of any age will want to return again and again because, as the authors advise, "Whenever you need an encouraging boost, remember you can turn to any page in this book." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.  

Discover: Letters from a mom to a young girl emphasize empowerment and self-acceptance.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January's Book of the Month--Leave Me Alone!

January's Book of the Month is a 2017 Caldecott Honor Book, LEAVE ME ALONE! by Vera Brosgol.

The old woman of this tale lives in a small village, in a small house, but her very big family makes it just about impossible to sit quietly and knit. And knit she must. So she packs her things in a sack and leaves. She travels to a forest (which has curious bears). She climbs a mountain (which has hungry goats). And she even reaches the moon (inhabited by aliens who want to examine her with scanners that go “beep boop"). But don’t worry, she finds the perfect place to finish her knitting. Though it's not all that long before she thinks twice about her new situation.

This Russian-tinged story is an imaginative take on classic fairy tales, but the material is fresh and new in Brosgol’s hands. Much like Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse, LEAVE ME ALONE! feels like it’s been created by someone who wants to bring her own spin on the classics to a modern audience. The color of the art is stunning, and Brosgol makes good use of the white of her pages, too. The old woman’s facial expressions are priceless. Did I mention it’s funny? And absurd. And . . . a winner!


Friday, December 22, 2017

Shelf Awareness--Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

MG Review: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown, $16.99 hardcover, 96p., ages 8-12, 9780316475112)

Originally begun as a social media project during Black History Month, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History highlights courageous African American women who broke new ground by following their dreams--women who persevered, didn't listen to "no" and found success despite overwhelming odds. Bessie Coleman was denied entry to "every aviation school in America," so she moved to France and "became the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot's license." Phillis Wheatley was "the first African American woman poet ever to be published." Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who attended "a private school in Massachusetts," became "the first African American woman physician in the country." And, at 80 years of age, Alma Woodsey Thomas had her colorful paintings exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "the first-ever solo exhibition of an African American woman artist at one of America's most important art museums."

The short, engaging biographies are accompanied by charming portraits. Each woman, depicted in clothing and costumes reflective of her time and vocation, seems to be looking within, mustering the strength necessary to persevere in the face of daunting odds. Backgrounds are minimal, rendered mostly in pale shades, which leaves the focus on the women and helps ground them in history. Debut author Vashti Harrison created Little Leaders with her younger self in mind, but she hopes readers of every background will find these stories compelling. Little Leaders will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of high achievers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: This collection of mini-biographies highlights 40 extraordinary African American women.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December Recommendations


In SONG OF THE CURRENT, by Sarah Tolcser, Caroline Oresteia comes from a long line of wherry folk, who listen when the river god speaks in the language of small things. But the river god hasn’t called her yet, and she’s afraid he never will. When her father is arrested for refusing to carry a shipment for the Margravina’s soldiers, Caroline knows she’s ready to take the helm of the family boat. Romance, magic, and a strong heroine make this one fun read. (YA)

FAR FROM THE TREE, by Robin Benway, recently won the National Book Award in the YA category. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are siblings who share the same birth mother. When Grace has a baby at sixteen, who she puts up for adoption, she suddenly needs to find out about her biological family. (YA)

THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE, by Cynthia Hand, is a witty modern take on A Christmas Carol. Mean girl Holly Chase is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, but chooses to ignore their warnings until it’s too late. She ends up working for top-secret Project Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Past, trying to get others to mend their ways before it’s too late. She's bored out of her mind, until one year a Scrooge turns out to be totally hot… (YA)

Picture books:

TONY, by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, depicts the quiet beauty of a long ago, pre-dawn ritual: a horse named Tony, "all white,/ large, sturdy,/ with wide gentle eyes/ and a ton of love,” pulls a wagon loaded with milk, butter, and eggs, and is met every morning by the narrator. Exquisite!

In FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, by Matt Forrest Esenwine, illustrated by Fred Koehler, three kids, having a sleepover in a tree house, find that their flashlight beam "opens up the night.” The rhyming text takes the kids (and readers) on a spectacular adventure, and the art has plenty of details to pore over in this ode to imagination.

And in THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT, by Akiko Miyakoshi, a city-dwelling bunny in her mother’s arms is carried “through the quiet streets,” catching glimpses of neighbors who are already home. Evocative text and a gorgeously rendered world where animals live in apartment buildings.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Shelf Awareness--The Cruel Prince

YA Review: The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Little, Brown, $18.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780316310277, January 2, 2018)

A tall stranger mysteriously appears in the home of seven-year-old twins Jude and Taryn, "as if stepping between one shadow and the next." He proceeds to murder their parents in front of them, then whisks away the twins and their older sister, Vivi, to live with him in Faerie. Although the twins are human, Vivi, with her "split-pupiled gaze" and the "lightly furred points of her ears," is the stranger's heir, fathered when the girls' mother was his wife. Before Mom renounced her vows, that is, and escaped Faerie with her unborn child.

Now Jude is 17, and being raised like "a trueborn child of Faerie." She is frequently reminded by the fey servants how fortunate she is that her adoptive father, Madoc, treats all three sisters as Gentry, because to most of the Folk she will always be "a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood." Even after being given True Sight and charms to resist most enchantments, Jude knows that life as a mortal in Faerie will never be easy. Regardless, she feels at home there and revels in the spectacle, pageantry and "beautiful nightmare" of the Faerie Court.

Determined to win a place at Court through skill rather than marriage, she hones her bladesmanship. She aims to be granted a knighthood, and with it a place in one of the royals' personal guards. This would allow her "a kind of power, a kind of protection." For a time, her biggest obstacle is brutal Prince Cardan, the sixth child of High King Eldred, and his nasty friends Valerian, Nicasia and Locke, who despise Jude and Taryn for the crime of being human. Insults, violence, threats of ensorcellment and near drowning are some of the indignities the sisters endure before the stakes begin to rise. High King Eldred, who "has lost his taste for bloodshed," decides it's time to "abdicate his throne in favor of one of his children." Madoc denies Jude the right to try for a knighthood, leaving her with a desperate need to prove she's not weak. When she is recruited to spy for third-born Prince Dain, she takes the opportunity to prove herself and is drawn into dangerous games of Faerie power and intrigue.

Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown; Doll Bones; The Darkest Part of the Forest) works her magic with this story, effortlessly giving all things fey a thoroughly modern sensibility. With The Cruel Prince, she introduces a stunning new series, full of all the glamour and brutality that Faerie can deliver. Secret strategies, twisted loyalties, love, lust and betrayal all come into play as Jude struggles to find her way among the Folk. And ultimately only she can decide how far she is willing to go to save her family, the royal line and possibly the whole of Faerie itself. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Seventeen-year-old mortal Jude vies for power as she struggles to live among the stronger, more beautiful and deeply wicked inhabitants of Faerie.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December's Book of the Month--My Sister Rosa

Hello! December’s Book of the Month is the wonderfully dark and creepy psychological thriller, MY SISTER ROSA, by Justine Larbalestier:

Che’s sister Rosa may look like a doll, with her big blue eyes, dimples, and blonde ringlets, but Che knows she’s no doll. She’s a ticking time bomb, call it "psychopathy, sociopathy, personality disorder, evil, or the devil within.” The trouble is that Che and Rosa’s parents don’t believe there’s anything wrong. Clever Rosa lets only Che see her dangerous side. He’s always got to be paying attention so she won’t set things on fire or kill small animals for the fun of it.

When the family moves to New York, “city of angry police and constant emergencies,” Che knows Rosa will be delighted with all the new opportunities to wreak her increasingly damaging havoc. She preys on the twin daughters of her parents' new business partners, as well as insinuating herself—menacingly-- into Che’s budding relationship with a woman he meets at his gym. Seventeen-year-old Che does his best, but his brilliant sister remains two steps ahead of him and his parents never seem to notice or care.

Larbalestier builds a complex portrait of a troubled child, a troubled family, and a whole lot of trouble for the mostly innocent bystanders they encounter. New York City serves as a vibrant and diverse backdrop, filled with believable secondary characters and opportunities for trouble of all kinds.

This is one creepy and thoroughly addicting book!