Sunday, July 15, 2018

July Recommendations


I’ve gone back and reread two of my all-time favorite fantasies, GRACELING, and companion book (prequel?) FIRE, by Kristin Cashore. In Graceling, Katsa has been used as King Randa’s weapon for years. Her powerful killing Grace makes her virtually impossible to defeat. But Katsa has had enough, and she's formed a secret council to try to make amends. When she rescues an elderly Leonid man from the neighboring kingdom of Sunder, she meets Prince Po, whose Grace of fighting is similar to Katsa’s own. The two set off to solve the mystery of who kidnapped the grandfather and end up on a life and death mission to save the heir to the Monsean throne. Thrilling adventures and a completely satisfying romance, set in a superbly crafted world. (YA)

In FIRE, the kingdom of the Dells is verging on war, with rebel lords amassing armies to unseat young king Nash. Fire is a human monster—able to read minds, though she doesn’t care to use her power if she can possibly help it. Her father had certainly used his, though, contributing greatly to the current state of crisis in the Dells. When Prince Brigan arrives to take her to King City to help the royal family, she has to decide whether her convictions are worth the possible downfall of the kingdom. An equally satisfying romance fills the pages of this companion book, and it also sheds light on the origins of King Leck, from GRACELING. If you haven’t read these books, which conclude with BITTERBLUE, you’ve waited long enough! (YA)

Board Book:

HI! by Ethan Long, is simple yet effective. A series of neatly-rendered animals says hello: "Hoo! Moo! Growl! Howl!” and so on. It comes full circle and there’s a cute finish. The board book format makes it perfect for babies, and also for kids who are ready to think about learning to read.

Picture Books:

In I AM A CAT, by Galia Bernstein, Simon thinks he’s a cat, but Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger disagree. Even though he’s small, Simon sets them straight. Kids will love it.

THERE MIGHT BE LOBSTERS, by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk, stars a small dog named Sukie who is afraid of everything that can go wrong at the beach. She wants to sit safely while her human, Eleanor, has all the fun. But when her stuffed monkey gets a little too close to the water....

ALL THE ANIMALS WHERE I LIVE, by Philip C. Stead, is an example of a picture book that breaks "the rules." It’s quiet, it rambles, and there’s no child—or child-like—protagonist. And yet it’s a beautiful example of the art of picture book-making. There’s plenty to discover as Stead describes his new home in a satisfyingly roundabout way.


Monday, July 2, 2018

July's Book of the Month

July’s Book the Month is the 2018 Newbery Medal winner, HELLO, UNIVERSE, by Erin Entrada Kelly.

In this story, four middle school kids, along with a very important little sister, collide during the course of one fateful day.

Shy Virgil feels like a Grand Failure. He's misunderstood by his outgoing, athletic family, and can’t seem to learn his multiplication tables. And, even though he’s sure he’s meant to be friends with Valencia Somerset from school, it’s been a whole year and he's never managed to utter a word to her.

Valencia is trying to convince herself she’ll have a nice, lazy summer, feeding the stray dog in the woods near her house, sketching, and taking notes on squirrel behavior. Who needs friends, anyway?

Kaori, “a proud Gemini,” runs a psychic business, with help from her younger sister Gen, offering spiritual guidance and interpreting dreams for other kids.

And Chet is a bully who's been horrible to both Virgil and Valencia. Virgil thinks of him as the Bull: "Always ready to charge, always fired up to call Virgil a retard or a pansy.”

When Virgil runs into Chet on his way to Kaori’s house on that first day of summer, Chett pulls a horrible prank and events quickly spiral out of control.

HELLO, UNIVERSE examines many different kinds of relationships: family, friends (how good ones are lost and found), and how bullies and victims get made. There is big-time drama when Chet meets Virgil in the woods, but also plenty of gentle moments. The alternate narrators allow readers a deeper understanding of the motivations of all the characters, rather than judging them on their actions alone. It’s pretty enlightening, and a smart way to approach this engrossing story.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture

PB Review: Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture

Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture by Joshua David Stein, illus. by Julia Rothman (Phaidon Press, $16.95 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780714876313)

"Great things begin with small bricks." This is what Brick's mother tells her when Brick is just a baby, awed by the huge buildings in her city. Prompted to look closer, Brick finds the homes on her street, the fire station, the schoolhouse and the post office are all "made out of bricks just like her." She wonders if there are bricks in all the streets, in all the towns and even "across the ocean, in lands far away?" Most especially, Brick wonders where she, herself, will fit in. "What great thing might she become?"

When Brick sets sail on a wondrous journey, she sees castles scarred by "years of fighting," "fantastic churches," "splendid synagogues" and a "towering Buddhist temple." None feel like home, so she continues on. She visits the Great Wall, apartment buildings and brick homes in towns and country. But nothing is right for Brick. She feels lost until she returns to her mother's earlier advice: great things begin with small bricks.

For anyone who's ever wondered where life will take them, and especially for little ones who can only dream of what the wide world holds, Brick's story will advise and inspire. Each structure she visits is identified as a real place, which grounds the story while also expanding its scope. Illustrations are rendered appropriately in oranges and reds and make excellent use of white space. A delicate black line describes the architecture with dexterity, allowing readers a glimpse of wonders that may await on their own journeys as they root for Brick to succeed on hers. Ultimately, Brick learns she must let go of her worries before reaching a place where she can be part of a "wide and lovely" whole, arriving at what is perhaps, for her, "the perfect place to be." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Young Brick travels to famous brick buildings all over the world in a quest to find out where she belongs.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Fat Girl on a Plane

YA Review: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly deVos (Harlequin Teen, $18.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212538)

Fashion blogger Cookie Vonn is the daughter of a famous supermodel--she could even be "Leslie Vonn Tate's doppelganger," except that she weighs 330 pounds. Cookie has just scored an interview with her idol, designer Gareth Miller, at her first ever fashion preview. En route through Chicago, however, flight attendants decide she needs a second seat and won't let her leave for New York unless she buys one. Mortified (and down an interview opportunity), Cookie decides she's "done being the fat girl on the plane" and joins NutriNation. Slowly, the pounds come off. When Cookie does finally meet Gareth Miller (on a plane, no less), he introduces himself with a joke about a woman who's too fat to fly! Cookie still intends to design plus-size clothes that let women "look and feel great," so when, as a PR ploy, Gareth is convinced to "launch a plus-size capsule collection" with her, Cookie seizes the opportunity.

But if Cookie thought her life would be perfect as a thin person, she has to rethink that. She's still feuding with "snothead" nemesis Kennes Butterfield; can't get anything going with her longtime crush, Tommy Weston; her parents remain mostly absent; and attending Parsons for fashion design continues to be financially out of reach. She's not even sure she likes the way people look at her now that she's thin.

Cookie is a strong character, one whom readers will enjoy accompanying on her journey of self-discovery. Engagingly told, alternating chapters go back and forth in time, allowing the author to contrast the way Cookie is treated when she's heavy and after she's lost weight. Kelly deVos, who, like Cookie, was also once "declared too fat to fly," says it best in her compelling note at the outset: "It's what's inside us that counts." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: When 17-year-old Cookie, the daughter of a famous supermodel and fashion devotee herself, is forced to buy a second seat on an airplane, she vows to lose weight and take the fashion world by storm.

Friday, June 15, 2018

June Recommendations


STRANGE THE DREAMER, by Laini Taylor, is set in the same multiverse as her astounding Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. In this new book (first in a duology), orphan and librarian Lazlo Strange is obsessed by the mysterious, magical lost city of Weep. Against all odds, he secures a spot in the contingent of scholars recruited by the Godslayer to journey to the land of his dreams. Love and hate, monsters and gods. No one writes the prose of fantasy as beautifully as Laini Taylor. (YA)

In THE HEART FORGER, by Rin Chupeco, sequel to THE BONE WITCH, sorcerous 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. This second book is even better than the first, featuring a twisting, turning plot that’s rich with magic, exotic beasts, romance and treachery. (YA)

Easy Reader:

In four related chapters, CHARLIE & MOUSE, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes, depicts the antics of two irresistible brothers at home and around their diverse neighborhood. The vocabulary is rich and never condescending, helped along by full color illustrations that do a great job of supporting the text.

Picture Books:

NEW SHOES, by Chris Raschka, is a toddler’s-eye view of how to replace your old worn out pair for bright, comfy new ones. Simple text, great colors, and the fun perspective make this volume really stand out.

Looking for a sweet friendship story? In SAM AND JUMP, by Jennifer K. Mann, Sam and his stuffed bunny, Jump, are best friends. At the beach, Sam meetsThomas, and they play all day, When it’s time to go home, Sam accidentally leaves Jump behind and it’s too late to go back! Spare text and a winning art style make bring this story alive.

BLOBFISH THROWS A PARTY, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Maggie Caton, is the kind of absurd picture book kids should love, especially as a read-aloud. Poor Blobfish lives alone at the bottom of the sea. He wants friends and treats, but when he tries to throw a party, a mad-cap version of the telephone game ensues. It doesn’t look good for Blobfish getting his party, until the aliens show up. Really, it all makes perfect sense!


Sunday, June 3, 2018

June's Book of the Month--Big Cat, Little Cat

“There was a cat
    who lived alone.
Until the day
    a new cat came.”

So begins BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT, by Elisha Cooper. Big cat teaches a little newcomer some very important rules of the house. These two kitties become inseparable: cleaning, climbing, hunting, exploring and doing all the things that cats in the city do. They enjoy years of loving companionship, “[u]ntil the older cat got older and one day he had to go…”

This is a lovely, accessible, and reassuring story about family, letting go, and new beginnings. It’s happy, it’s sad, and it’s ultimately an uplifting circle-of-life story. Kids should be able to handle the emotions explored here, and it's a gentle, accessible way way into a difficult discussion.

The expressive but spare black and white illustrations, with occasional pale orange background, earned Cooper a Newbery Honor for this book.

Have you read BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT? What do you think?


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

YA Review: Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park and Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade, $18.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9781524716196)

In Fatal Throne, seven highly acclaimed writers of young adult literature bring their considerable talents to the legendary saga of Henry VIII and his doomed wives.

"Once upon a time, there were six queens who married the same King, one after the other." The first, Katharine of Aragon, is betrothed to Henry's older brother Arthur as "a flesh-and-blood treaty... between [their] two countries." When Arthur dies, Katharine is wed to "handsome" Henry. Despite her beauty and accomplishments, Katharine's only living child is a girl, rather than the son Henry demands must succeed him. He declares their marriage invalid, banishes her and even forms a new church to have his way. As Katharine realizes--too late--Henry "always gets what he wants. He takes it as his divine right."

The king is "besotted" by second wife Anne Boleyn, until she, too, bears a daughter who lives, rather than a son. Henry accuses Anne of "committing adultery with three men" and she is beheaded. "Sweet Jane" Seymour follows. The king genuinely adores this kind wife whose aim is to "obey and serve," but she dies giving him the male heir he so desires. Aging Henry arranges to marry, in turn, Anna of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katheryn Parr before dying a bloated, malodorous old man, albeit one who "changed the world."

Romance and intrigue dominate these accounts, as do the frustrations of being female in a time when "no woman--not even a Queen--can... show her own power." Each author gives distinguished voice and form to her queen while Anderson's king remains a constant counterpoint. Framed by the terror each queen feels as she awaits judgment, these stories of love, lust, power and intrigue never fail to fascinate. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Seven acclaimed YA authors reimagine the life and loves of King Henry VIII and the turmoil of being one of his six ill-fated queens.