Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wicked Like a Wildfire--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: Wicked Like a Wildfire

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $17.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9780062436832, August 15, 2017)

In Wicked Like a Wildfire, Lana Popovic's gorgeous debut, the women of Iris's family are all witches who pass down a dangerous legacy of magic, some even dying for the beauty they create.

Iris remembers that the world of her childhood had been "brilliant and blazing and alive from every angle." Using her gleam (what her mother called "eating the moon"), Iris could make the whole world "explode into fractal fireworks." Twin sister Malina's gleam allowed her to harmonize three vocals by herself, creating "the precise pitch of wonder." But when a neighbor witnessed the seven-year-old twins and their mother, Jasmina, producing magic in their backyard, Jasmina put an end to the nighttime practices and forbade the use of magic ever again. That moment set Iris on a course of resentment and spite and, in turn, sparked a terrible, decade-long coldness from Jasmina.

Now 17, Iris feels like a thing apart, a "prickly offshoot" of the charm, grace and easy beauty her mother and sister share--the power to bloom had been her only way to feel both special and connected to the women in her family. One evening, Iris gets spectacularly wasted at a party and offers to "make a galaxy out of the ceiling" for an attractive new boy. Extremely hungover the next morning, she goes to work at Jasmina's café, where the appearance of a mysterious woman with striking white hair upsets Jasmina. When the woman leaves, Jasmina (who never drinks) gets stinking drunk and "weirdly lovey" with her black sheep daughter. The next day Iris arrives at the café to find blood everywhere and her mother's chest smashed in. Though Jasmina has no pulse and no heartbeat, something is keeping her from dying, keeping her faintly alive but moaning in relentless pain. And women begin appearing, women who also wield the gleam and issue conflicting demands of loyalty. Iris and Malina know they need to untangle the roots of their obscure family tree, so they set off with close friends (and brother and sister) Luka and Nikoleta on a road trip to find answers. Who was the white-haired woman? Who are these women with the gleam? And who was the new boy who let Iris make him a galaxy? What the teens find is a deadly curse passed down through the generations.

Popovic weaves a "wild and beautiful" tale, a contemporary world so seemingly different from our own that references to a "modern age full of mundane things" seem strangely out of place. The magic is old, going back to pre-Indo-European tribes and one woman who is at the heart of it all: a witch, a god, or both. Yet Iris's struggles with her mother ring true to any age, and the drive to create beauty feels universal. Readers will revel in the evocative language and sensory details that feel a time and place apart, in this first of a planned duology. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Twins Iris and Malina are forbidden to use their magic, but when their mother is attacked, they must make sense of a deadly curse and the family of witches they never knew they had.

Monday, July 10, 2017

July Recommendations

Novels:

In THE DOORMAN’S REPOSE, by Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka, Mr. Bunchley opens the door for the many quirky inhabitants of his grand old (and equally quirky) apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Each inhabitant has a story--even some of the building's less human residents have a tale to tell, including  mouse families Brownback and Whitefoot, and Otis the elevator. A charming look at kindness and diversity.  (MG, but a wonderful read aloud for all ages)

In SPEED OF LIFE, by teen advice columnist Carol Weston, 14-year-old Sofia Wolfe's mom died nine months ago, all the other girls are getting their periods, and Sofia worries she may be the only one in her class who has never kissed a boy. 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 dating. But then she finds out that Dad's new girlfriend is Dear Kate herself! (Upper MG)

MIDNIGHT AT THE ELECTRIC, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, tells how sixteen-year-old Adri, preparing to colonize Mars in 2065, finds her life is surprisingly interconnected with two women from long ago. While unpacking at the home of Lily, a newly discovered elderly cousin, Adri discovers a mysterious postcard, journal, and bundle of letters. Through them she learns about Catherine and the dust storms of 1934, as well as Lenore over in England at the end of World War I. They are linked by family ties, friendship, and a tortoise named Galapagos. (YA)

Picture books:

MADELINE FINN AND THE LIBRARY DOG, by Lisa Papp, features a little girl who does not like to read. Sentences get stuck in her mouth like peanut butter, and sometimes the other kids giggle. But Madeline really, really wants a gold star for reading aloud in class. When she is paired with beautiful, patient, library dog Bonnie, she learns not to be afraid of making mistakes.

A HAT FOR MRS. GOLDMAN, with words by Michelle Edwards and pictures by G. Brian Karas, uses knitting to showcase the pleasures of a good deed well done. Mrs. Goldman knits hats for friends and neighbors, to keep their keppies warm, and Sophia makes the pom-poms. But when Mrs. Goldman’s own keppie is cold, Sophia is determined to knit her the most special hat in the world. 

In Korea, Hee Jun is ordinary. A regular boy, playing and laughing and bossing his sister around. When his father moves the family to West Virginia, Hee Jun, his little sister, and even his grandmother struggle to find their way. A PIECE OF HOME, written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, is a heartfelt look at finding a bit of ordinary in a strange, new place.

--Lynn

Monday, July 3, 2017

July's Book of the Month--Du Iz Tak?

July’s Book of the Month is the 2017 winner of the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award and a Caldecott Honor book, DU IZ TAK? by writer/illustrator Carson Ellis.

Conveyed through exquisite illustrations and dialog in a made-up language, DU IZ TAK? follows the progress of a small plant unfurling amid the passing of seasons. Among other minute whimsies, we behold a fort, a transformation, and some top hat-wearing bugs. Ellis provides plenty of small-scale narrative which plays out between the different insects who come and go within this small patch of land, including a web-spinning caterpillar and a menacing spider who gets his comeuppance.

With her gorgeous colors and attention to detail, Ellis has created a unique, delicate, and fantastic universe. But it’s the addition of the invented language that makes this book truly outstanding, giving readers even more reason to linger as they try to decode the buggy discourse.

And, once again, I am interested in how a good book is made better by a high production value. The large format and thick, creamy pages help this book stand out. Candlewick has produced another winner!

--Lynn

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Apprentice Witch--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: The Apprentice Witch

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol (Chicken House/Scholastic, $16.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9781338118582, July 25, 2017)

Arianwyn Gribble is mortified when her magical assessment by the Civil Witchcraft Authority goes horribly wrong. Instead of focusing on the four cardinal glyphs, her mind is taken over by a larger, bolder symbol, an impossible one that "didn't really exist except in her imagination." The evaluation gauge undergoes a power surge and fails to pick up the required level of magical energy. Arianwyn's humiliating result is officially classified as "ungraded." Instead of the bright silver star of a fully trained witch, a "dull bronze disc" is pinned to her coat. The moon brooch identifies her as an apprentice who "has not yet reached the maturity of her powers."

Nevertheless, her service is needed (it helps that Grandmother, on the Council of Elders, has some say in the matter). Arianwyn takes a position in the small town of Lull, near the Great Wood. Rich in natural magic, "a quiet and pleasant town to live in," Lull has been without a witch for many years and is willing to welcome an apprentice. Provided, as the mayor puts it, she can "fulfill her role without incident." But Lull is not as idyllic as Mayor Belcher advertises. En route to the town, Arianwyn finds herself fighting off a dangerous dark spirit creature. When she begins a spell to banish it, the mysterious glyph flashes before her eyes and her mind goes blank. Arianwyn and her fellow passengers scramble to escape, leaving the dark spirit stunned but not banished. Worse, she may have created a dangerous rift, an opening into the world "anything could get through from the void." Arianwyn is sure that her performance could not have been more pathetic.

Settling into her new home, a musty charm shop named the Spellorium, Arianwyn manages to make charms and deal with the less dangerous beasts that plague the neighborhood. Gradually, she grows more confident and the townsfolk come to accept her. She enjoys the staunch support of best friend Salle (who was involved in the initial melee with the dark creature), and a strange kinship with the other spirit creatures she encounters. Even her district supervisor, while initially skeptical, begins to understand that some great power lurks within the awkward apprentice. All seems to be going well until the mayor's niece arrives, none other than sneaky, cruel Gimma Alverston who taunted Arianwyn mercilessly in school. Something huge, dark and twisted is haunting the Great Wood, and dangerous patches of hex mold are spreading about the area. And why does Arianwyn keep seeing visions of that strange, "tempting and terrifying" glyph?

Feeling at once fresh and familiar, James Nicol's enchanting debut will charm fans of Jennifer Nielsen, J.K. Rowling and Eva Ibbotson. The world of The Apprentice Witch is comfortable, funny and well-imagined. Underneath all the magic, fey creatures and monsters, Arianwyn's struggles with self-doubt will ring true with readers. A few loose plot points hint at a sequel, but this one stands strongly on its own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Distracted by a mysterious magical glyph, a witch-in-training fails her evaluation and is sent off to a remote town, in disgrace, as an ungraded apprentice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Girl in Between--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The Girl in Between

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll (Kathy Dawson/Penguin, $16.99 hardcover, 256p., ages 12-up, 9780735228603)

The only thing that the unnamed, "invisible" girl who narrates this lyrical yet chilling novel wants is a safe place for her and Ma to live, off the streets, where the Authorities can't get them. Because the last time they were sleeping in an alley, when Ma was still drinking and using drugs, the Authorities came to take the girl away.

Now, they live in an old mill they call the Castle. Even though the mill has broken windows and rotten floors, it's the best place they've had since the day Ma and Gran had a massive fight, Ma packed her backpack and they left Gran's. As long as they're together, they'll be fine. But the girl has to remember not to stress Ma out. She doesn't want her to go back to drinking and getting what she needs from Monkey Man, a frightening drug dealer Ma sometimes works for. There's another danger looming, too. The Authorities are planning to tear down the mill to make room for new buildings, just as they've done across the road.

Sarah Carroll's heartbreaking debut, The Girl in Between, relates a darkly compelling story, albeit one tinged with hope. The girl never doubts her mother's love for her, and spends her time weaving fantastic tales, exploring the mill and hoping that one day Ma will bring them home to Gran's. Even when Ma leaves, even when she's sad and her eyes sink "as deep as the canal that runs past the mill," she always comes back. Eventually. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: An unnamed girl and her alcoholic, drug-using mother are off the streets now, living in an old mill, but they still fear that the Authorities will take the girl away.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Midnight at the Electric--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: Midnight at the Electric

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson (HarperTeen, $17.99 hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9780062393548)

The year is 2065. Sixteen-year-old orphan Adri Ortiz has sacrificed everything for a chance to be one of the lucky few living on Mars, "starting the world over... but with more brains." As a colonist-in-training, she moves to Kansas for her final three months on Earth, into the home of Lily, an elderly cousin she never knew existed. While unpacking at Lily's, Adri discovers a mysterious postcard and, on further investigation, finds a journal and bundle of letters written long ago. They become "the moment she first touched her own history."

Catherine's journal describes how she's been in love with Ellis, their farmhand, forever, but fears the dust storms of 1934 will kill her younger sister, Beezie, coating her lungs until she can't breathe anymore. She understands that it will take courage to save themselves, but Ellis and Mama refuse to leave the farm. When Catherine discovers a postcard and letters sent from England in 1919 by a girl named Lenore, she finds the will to act. Lenore is driven to escape the "suffocating gloom" of her brother Teddy's death in World War I, though she seems unable to come to terms with the grief. Lenore means to sail to America, join her best friend Beth, and make a new life.

In Midnight at the Electric, Jodi Lynn Anderson (My Diary from the Edge of the World; The Vanishing Season) weaves a shining tale of hope in the face of adversity. Her strong, independent women are linked through time by family ties, friendship and the gift of a tortoise named Galapagos. Even while facing "terrible uncertainties," they continue to seek a better life for themselves, their loved ones and, ultimately, the entire human race. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Sixteen-year-old Adri, preparing to colonize Mars in 2065, finds her life is surprisingly interconnected with two women from long ago when old letters come to light.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June Recommendations


CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND, by Rita Williams-Garcia, features young, harmonica-playing Clayton, who loves the blues as much as Cool Papa, his electric guitar-playing grandfather, does. When Cool Papa dies and Clayton’s mom gives away all of Cool Papa’s instruments, Clayton runs off to join the blues band that he and Cool Papa used to jam with. Clayton has adventures and learns a thing or two, but so does his mom. It’s an appealing story about loss and forgiveness. (MG)

In THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE, by Emma Donoghue, nine-year-old Sumac Lottery is a member of a very large, very boisterous, uber-diverse family consisting of two pairs of same-sex parents, seven homeschooled kids with unique interests, and plenty of pets, all living in an old brick mansion in Canada. Enter one grumpy, conservative grandpa who needs to stay with them, after accidentally setting his own house on fire. Sumac finds her familiar world shaken to its core, in this wonderfully zany, clever, heartfelt story. (MG)

Right now I’m finishing up the third book in S. E. Grove’s Mapmaker’s Trilogy, which began with THE GLASS SENTENCE, was followed by THE GOLDEN SPECIFIC, and concludes with THE CRIMSON SKEW. In the Great Disruption of 1799, continents were flung into different time periods and stranded there. Thirteen-year-old Sophia, her cartographer uncle Shadrack, and refugee Theo embark on a series of globe-and-time-trotting adventures to save each other, find Sophia’s parents, and put an end to a terrible war that threatens the stability of New Occident and other civilizations, past, present, and future. This incredible trilogy features rich, layered plots and intricate world building that should satisfy anyone who loves Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. (10-14)

A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s best-selling debut, AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. It’s likewise full of twists and turns, action, adventure, and just enough romance to keep things interesting. In this volume, Laia and Elias are fleeing the city of Serra, trailed by elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, as they make for the notorious Kauf prison to free Laia’s brother Darin. I was relieved to find this installment was less crazy-violent than the first one, but it’s certainly just as thrilling. (YA)

And, finally, I’m on a Jon Agee kick right now. His MY RHINOCEROS is another charming, tongue-in-cheek farce from a picture book master. Having a rhinoceros for a pet is not like having a dog at all. No, instead of chasing balls, or sticks, or frisbees, a rhinoceros will pop balloons and poke holes in kites. It’s more useful than it sounds! Pair this with SPARKY! by Jenny Offil and Chris Appelhans, for some offbeat, new-pet fun. (PB)

--Lynn