Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May Recommendations

Novels:

In THE BOY, THE BIRD, & THE COFFIN MAKER, Allora is a town where "fish jump out of the sea and straight into your mouth.” A magical town, where trouble never finds you. Except, sadly for young Tito Bonito and his little bird, stories like this are greatly exaggerated. Tito finds himself starving, stealing food from a kindly old coffin-maker who lives alone on a hill. But there really is magic in Allora, and eventually Tito and his wonderful bird, along with Alberto the coffin-maker, make the most of it. This is a gentle fable, with wonderful use of magical realism, promoting the strength of kindness. (MG)

BOB, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, is a mystery about who—and what—the short, green, bald (but slightly fuzzy) not-zombie Bob really is, why he’s in Livy’s closet, and why he’s wearing that chicken suit. Also, why Livy can’t remember much of anything about her last visit to Gran Nicholas’s house in Australia, five yeas ago. The magic runs deep, the story is sweet. (MG)

THE BOOK OF DUST, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage is a terrific start to Philip Pullman’s new, three-volume prequel to his epic three-volume saga, HIS DARK MATERIALS (THE GOLDEN COMPASS, THE AMBER SPYGLASS, and THE SUBTLE KNIFE). In this newest story, Lyra is a baby, consigned for her safety to the small Priory of St. Rosamund. Malcolm lives across the river at his parents' inn, the Trout, where he hears a great many things. When agents of the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the Church, begin hunting for Lyra, it falls to Malcolm and kitchen maid, Alice, to keep her safe. If you’ve missed any of the books in Pullman’s series, run, don’t walk, and read them all. He’s a terrific storyteller. (Upper MG/YA)


Picture Books:

One of the most best approaches to nonfiction I’ve seen in a while is HELLO HELLO, by Brendan Wenzel (THEY ALL SAW A CAT). A fun, rhyming text, and art made using a variety of media, introduces readers to many different animals by calling attention to their attributes: black and white or color, stripes or spots, size, shape, etc. An author’s note explains that many of these creatures are endangered, and asks readers to find out more about them. And, finally, all 92 animals are numbered and identified in the back. This is a beautiful book from start to finish.

THEY SAY BLUE, by Jillian Tamaki, features a girl thinking deeply about her world, through the colors she sees, and a few that she doesn’t. It’s a gorgeously produced picture book debut by an artist who won multiple awards for her graphic novel THIS ONE SUMMER a few years ago.


Easy Reader:

PIG AND CAT ARE PALS, by Douglas Florian, is extremely appealing and I’m not entirely sure why. The illustrations are scrabbly and kid-like, the palette is full of pink and gray. And chartreuse! But it’s an incredibly skillful job. Dog and Pig like to do all kinds of things together. But when Dog shows up, Cat feels left out. Never fear—these animals do the right thing.


--Lynn

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May's Book of the Month--A Different Pond

May’s Book of the Month is A DIFFERENT POND, written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui. A quiet story about an early morning fishing trip becomes so much more, in the hands of author and poet Bao Phi, and illustrator Thi Bui, who earned a Caldecott Honor for her work on it.

“Hours before the sun comes up,” a boy and his father dress, pack food, visit the bait shop, and drive to a pond, where they spend the chilly, pre-dawn hours fishing and talking. The boy does his part by making a fire, but he’d rather not bait the hook. His father isn’t upset. The boy learns why, even with two jobs, the man still needs to fish for their dinner: “Everything in America costs a lot of money.” As they eat their bologna sandwiches, they talk about another pond where Dad fished when he was growing up in Vietnam. The boy wonders “what the trees look like at that other pond, in the country [his] dad comes from.” The strong bond shared by the whole family is evident, and we see that they all work hard to contribute what they can.

 Thi Bui’s illustrations are stunning, mostly done in blues, yellow, and ocher. She uses graphic novel panels (often set within larger double spreads for spot art) so she can fill her pages with color and still have them be easily read. Her backgrounds are detailed and her faces expressive.

Like much good art, A DIFFERENT POND feels both intensely personal, and completely universal, at the same time.

 --Lynn

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker

Children's Review: The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker

The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods, illus. by Anuska Allepuz (Philomel, $16.99 hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9780525515210, May 15, 2018)

Allora is a town where "fish jump out of the sea and straight into your mouth." A town where "you never get cold because even in winter the sun keeps the snow away." And, best of all, Allora is a town "so far away from everything else," he will never find them again.

Sadly for the boy and "his little bird and only friend," his mum's stories about Allora are exaggerations. One year after their arrival, his mother has died, and young Tito Bonito is cold, hungry and stealing food from kindly coffin maker Alberto. Some 30 years ago, a plague struck Allora, and Alberto lost his entire family to "the sickness." Now the old man lives alone in his quiet house, building coffins during the day so the dead may rest comfortably, and working on his own coffin at night. When Tito and his bird find their way to him, Alberto's somber routine begins to change.

After setting a trap to catch the thief, Alberto is surprised to discover that the culprit is a child whose face has the likeness "of a woman he had buried five weeks before." Even though Tito flees, the old man vows to solve the mystery of who is caring for this frightened boy, and to help "as best [he] can." Alberto begins leaving food out, and Tito grows comfortable enough to come back every day. He joins the coffin maker in his workshop, learning, talking, working, "and for the first time in thirty years, the room [echoes] with two voices instead of one." But Tito is still "absolutely terrified" about something, and it takes nearly dying in a bitter storm before he fully accepts the new home Alberto so freely offers.

Just as Allora is a town of "impossibilities," where you "tilt your head toward the sky to see magic every day and deep into every night," so is the legendary Isola Mountain, in a story Alberto reads to Tito each evening. Isola is a place of enchantment, home to trees made of silver, flowers made of rubies and blades of grass made of emeralds. But perhaps most fantastical of all things in Matilda Woods's delightful novel is Tito's "bright little bird," Fia, whose eyes flicker gold when she spies gentle Alberto for the first time. When the reason for Tito's fears materializes, Fia brings all of the magic of Isola to bear in forging a solution.

Woods has penned a gentle fable, one rich in hope that promotes the strength of kindness. Her magical realism nods to the likes of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, perfectly tailoring the genre for a middle-grade audience. Anuska Allepuz's whimsical illustrations add to the magical feel. Sweet, earnest and not to be missed. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Lonely Alberto's days are transformed when a young, scared boy and his magical bird become part of his life.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Dread Nation

YA Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Balzer & Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780062570604)

Life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn't "rose up and started to walk" in Gettysburg two days after she was born. As a black child born to "the richest white woman in Haller County, Kentucky," Jane might have become a "proper house girl" or even "taken Aunt Aggie's place as House Negro." Instead, now 17-year-old Jane attends Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls, located just outside of Baltimore. She and her classmates learn the fine art of killing the undead ("shamblers") who have terrorized the country since the end of the War Between the States. Jane's education at Miss Preston's is important: a trained student from Miss Preston's may be hired as an Attendant to a fashionable white woman. As an Attendant, Jane will keep "her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors." The War may be over, but the popular Survivalist Party freely compares black people with "apes" and "livestock" while it focuses on "securing the safety of white Christian men and women" and restoring the nation to "its former glory."

When sweet-talking, also multiracial ex-beau Jackson Keats asks Jane to help him find his missing sister, Jane sneaks out of school accompanied by her "passing light" classmate and nemesis, Katherine Deveraux. In their search, the two girls and Jackson find themselves swept up in a plot wherein white families and Attendants are going missing. Witty and subversive, Ireland deftly tackles important issues from our nation's past and present. Themes of racism, power and humanity are blended into this action-packed adventure with a cast of well-developed characters who practically jump off the page. A neat conclusion ties up most plot points, but readers will hope for a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Since the onset of the undead plague, black and indigenous peoples are being trained to protect white Christians who are struggling to re-impose pre-Civil War values on the nation.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April Recommendations

Novels:

In BLOOD WATER PAINT, by Joy McCullough, seventeen-year-old painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, works as her father’s apprentice in 17th-century Rome, where women are merely "beauty/ for consumption.” When she’s raped by the man giving her art lessons, she immediately understands: "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing…." Artemisia brings charges against her rapist even though she knows it's unlikely she will win. This is historical fiction about an iconic painter, based on transcripts from her trial. Told in luminous verse, it tackles issues of gender and power in a way that is relevant today. (YA)

In DREAD NATION, by Justina Ireland, life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn’t “started to walk” in Gettysburg two days after she was born. Jane, aged seventeen, attends Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls just outside Baltimore, where she learns the fine art of killing “shamblers” who have terrorized the country since the War Between the States. When Jane, along with ex-beau Jackson Keats and fellow student (and nemesis) Katherine Deveraux, stumbles upon a plot that has white families and their black Attendants going missing, the trio find themselves captured and loaded aboard a train bound for a Survivalist compound in Kansas. There, they encounter a society based on the message of “securing the safety of white Christian men and women,” and restoring the nation to “its former glory.” Witty, subversive, and full of action, this is another story about power--and lack of it —that should be relevant to readers today. Great characters. I’m hoping for a sequel! (YA)

TESS OF THE ROAD, by Rachel Hartman, is the first in a fantasy duology by the author of Seraphina and Shadow Scale. When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, her energetic attempts to discover "the mystical origins of babies" disappoint her devout mama, and Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven. Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court. She has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family from poverty. When eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that she might finally be free to pursue her own interests, but after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, a convent becomes Tess's only apparent option. That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion” and she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. She meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. This is the same world as the Seraphina books, but this time we get to know the unquenchable Tess, whose life has so far been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Three thumbs up! (YA)


Picture Books:

With delightful illustrations, rhythm, rhyme, and lots and lots of onomatopoeia, WATERSONG, written by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Richard Smythe, follows one fox through a rainstorm and out the other side. Really fun to read aloud!

Poems by Nikki Giovanni, art by Ashely Bryan, what more can I say? I AM LOVED will “lyric you in lilacs” as you feast on its sumptuous spread.

THE FISH AND THE CAT, by Marianne Dubuc, is a wordless picture book, featuring an undaunted cat chasing an elusive fish through water, air, and outer space. Dubuc’s appealingly stylized art perfectly captures the nature of her cat (while her fish defies categorization!) in this unhurried pursuit through realms of imagination. Quirky with plenty of charm.


--Lynn

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Heart Forger

YA Review: The Heart Forger

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99 hardcover, 528p., ages 14-up, 9781492635857)

By the conclusion of The Bone Witch, Tea had tamed the monstrous, three-headed dragon-like daeva known as the azi and led the capture of one of the Faceless, Aenah, a bone witch turned fully to the Dark. In the story's alternate thread, which features an older, wiser Tea preparing to take revenge on those who have wronged her, she raised her lover from the dead to become one of her familiars.

In this second installment of the series, Tea and her brother Fox (her first familiar) visit the kingdom of Odalia to search for her mentor Mykaela's heartsglass. Like all the children in Odalia, on Mykaela's 13th birthday, her emotional core was spelled into a magical case to keep it safe from treachery and heartache. Years ago, the adult Mykaela foolishly gave her heart (and heartsglass) to King Vanor, knowing that if he rejected her but kept the heartsglass, she would die. Even though Tea is an extremely powerful necromancer, she cannot compel the dead King Vanor to reveal where he hid Mykkie's glass. And, as she works to save her mentor, Tea finds herself fearful of her own growing abilities, worried she may, like Aenah, come to "crave... the Dark beyond her own limits." When the prince of Odalia falls victim to a sleeping disease, Tea begins yet another hopefully heroic journey to find a cure. Meanwhile, in the alternate thread, future-Tea invades the kingdom of Daanoris, bent on harming old enemies, Faceless and royal alike.

Chupeco has crafted a glorious world for her twisting, turning plot, rich with magic, exotic beasts, romance and treachery. The alternating narratives are masterfully designed, drawing readers ever closer to their inevitable convergence. A mesmerizing tale, this sequel is even stronger than its precursor. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this sequel to The Bone Witch, Tea struggles to keep the eight kingdoms safe from monstrous daevas as well as from the dangerous Faceless Dark asha who seek power and immortality.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tyler Johnson Was Here

YA Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780316440776)

Home for 17-year-old Marvin Johnson and his twin brother, Tyler, is Sterling Point, a "hood" defined by "[s]treetlights smoldering in a fog of cannabis smoke, potholes mazing the roads, gravel driveways, and garden gnomes with bullet holes." But, for Marvin, "the ugliness... is its own kind of beautiful. So, [he's] learned to embrace it." In reality, he has no choice. His mother struggles to support the three of them, while his father, wrongly accused of a crime, is in jail. And now Tyler is hanging around with Johntae, a "notorious drug dealer," bully and gang member, looking for a way to help pay the bills and send Marvin to college.

Marvin's excellent grades and test scores lead him to believe he can get out. He sits through honors classes "meant for the white folks" in hopes of making it into MIT. He and his best friends, Ivy and G-mo, are "high ability geeks" who don't want any trouble. But, recently, violence has come to the neighborhood, with police beating and shooting unarmed young black men, accusing them of crimes they didn't commit.

When Marvin and his friends go to one of Johntae's parties to keep an eye on Tyler, it's broken up by gunshots and Tyler goes missing. He's later found dead, and in the aftermath, Marvin himself feels like he'll "f*cking die from brokenness and rage." Suddenly, MIT doesn't seem like a chance he deserves--it's more important that he do something to stop the hateful, racist messages popping up on social media in response to Tyler's death. Uncompromising and intense, this heart-wrenching novel sends out an anguished cry for justice to all who are willing to hear. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: 17-year-old Marvin Johnson's world falls apart when his twin brother gets involved with a drug dealer and then disappears.