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

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