Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February Recommendations


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.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Gorilla Dawn--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: Gorilla Dawn

Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis, illus. by Susan Meyer (Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum, $16.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 9-13, 9781481486576)

In the forested wilderness of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Imara is a child soldier, or kadogo, held captive by a gang of murderous rebels. In her role as Spirit Child, she "turns enemy bullets into rain," or so the rebels believe, keeping them safe as they raid villages and evade government troops. When Black Mamba, leader of the gang, sets up a mine for coltan, a mineral essential for "every computer and cell phone in the world," his buyer wants a baby gorilla as part of the deal. The gang locates a nearby gorilla family, kills the great silverback, and steals his baby for the sale.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Bobo is searching for his father, a wildlife park ranger who disappeared while trying to protect these same gorillas. When Bobo stumbles into the Mamba camp, he, too, is enslaved by the rebels. Bobo continues to seek clues about his father even as he teaches Imara how to care for the gorilla baby. Despite intense danger, both he and Imara know they must return the gorilla to the wild.

In Gorilla Dawn, author (and veterinarian) Gill Lewis (One White Dolphin) provides a microcosm of human interconnectedness with the planet, and an author's note explains how the forests drive global weather patterns and regulate air and water quality. On top of the eco-perspective, Lewis infuses her novel with excitement and suspense, as the kadogo grapple with death on a daily basis. Amidst the brutality, it is the tenderness growing in Imara as she opens her heart to the baby gorilla that distinguishes this powerful, multifaceted story. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this suspenseful middle-grade novel, a girl enslaved by a Congolese gang learns to be as brutal as her captors--until a baby gorilla is brought into camp.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

February's Book of the Month--All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK, by Leslie Connor, was one of my favorite middle-grade novels of 2016, a year filled with especially strong middle-grade titles.

Eleven-year-old Perry Cook, born and raised in the minimum security prison where his mom serves a term for manslaughter, knows all about family. In addition to his mom, Perry has grown up with plenty of loving, supportive people in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility. This includes the warden, foreman, and many of the inmates (“rezzes”). Perry’s life isn’t conventional by any means. But Blue River is for nonviolent offenders, and the author shows us the people behind the mistakes they have made. When a DA with an agenda decides Perry needs a “real” family, he separates the boy from the only home he has ever known.

Perry is an extraordinary character, as is his entire supporting cast. From Warden Dougherty, who okays the unusual arrangement, to Big Ed and Mr. Halsey, to Perry’s mom Jessica, best friend Zoey, teacher Ms. Maya, new lunchroom cashier Miss Jenrik, and even the deplorable DA Thomas VanLeer, these are fully-realized characters that have a mighty story to tell. Connor has written a feel-good novel that stands up to repeated readings.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Recommendations


GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS, by Kate Beasley, features a powerhouse of a fifth grade character. When Gertie’s estranged mother’s house goes on the market, Gertie decides that being the greatest fifth grader in the universe will keep her mom from leaving. But when perfect Mary Sue Spivey arrives, fresh from Hollywood with a movie director dad, Gertie’s plans go south pretty quickly. Chock full of fun, with plenty of action and heart, this one’s a winner! Spot illustrations are by Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki. (MG)

THE CREEPING SHADOW, the fourth Lockwood & Co. book by Jonathan Stroud, is every bit as much dark fun as the first three. Psychic Investigator Lucy Carlyle has been out on her own for a while, but when Lockwood & Co. need her special Listener skills for a particularly gruesome assignment, she agrees to work with them. Then Lucy’s valuable ghost-jar is stolen, and she finds she needs the help of her old crew to uncover the secret behind a recent spate of haunted relic robberies. Plenty of thrills and chills, sarcastic snark, and lots (and lots) of ghosts! (upper MG)

CROOKED KINGDOM, by Leigh Bardugo, is a follow-up to the very wonderful Six of Crows. Set in the same imaginative world as Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, this duology is just as strong as the original three books, and maybe even more so. Kaz Brekker is leader of a gang of misfit thieves and murderers who have been double-crossed after pulling off the heist of the century. This plays like a version of Ocean’s Eleven with the addition of Grisha superpowers, a horribly addictive drug known as jurda parem, and an especially valuable hostage. Great characters, smart, non-stop action, imaginative setting: these books have it all! (YA)

Picture Books:

LITTLE PENGUINS, with words by Cynthia Rylant and pictures by Christian Robinson, describes the experience of a family of penguins frolicking in the first snowstorm of the season. The perfect combination of spare, lyrical prose and distinctive illustrations (cut paper collage and acrylic paint applied in various ways) make this a standout.

Since it’s winter, we have another penguin book, PENGUIN PROBLEMS, by Jory John with illustrations by Lane Smith. It’s mostly stream-of-consciousness complaining by one pretty funny penguin, with the addition of some pearls of wisdom from an unlikely source. Kids should love it.

DU IZ TAK? by Carson Ellis features a plethora of whimsical creatures who follow the progress of a small plant unfurling. Told entirely in a made-up language, there is plenty of fun and beautiful art to be enjoyed here.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

January's Book of the Month--Thunder Boy Jr.

Happy New Year!

January’s Book of the month is Thunder Boy Jr., written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.

Thunder Boy Smith Jr. loves his dad but hates that they share a name. Why can’t he be Sam, the way his mom had wanted? People call his dad Big Thunder, like "a storm filling up the sky." Jr. gets called Little Thunder, which sounds “like a burp or a fart.” He wants a name of his own, one that celebrates his own life and accomplishments. There are so many possibilities! Finally, Big Thunder reads his son’s heart, and Little Thunder gets a new name that celebrates both their love AND individuality.

Alexie’s text is lyrical without wasting words. His narrator, Little Thunder, is appealing and full of life, with interjections in speech bubbles adding humor to this heartfelt story. And Morales uses textures scanned from wood and brick in her art, to build an appealing, stylized world. On every page, this team’s efforts combine to portray the pride and silliness, but most importantly, the affection that binds this family.

It’s a terrific package, and has landed on many Best of 2016 lists. Headed for a Caldecott or Golden Kite? Regardless, it should find its way to many story times.

Have you read Thunder Boy Jr.? What do you think?


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Frostblood--Shelf Awareness Pro

YA Review: Frostblood

Frostblood by Elly Blake (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780316273251, January 10, 2017)

Elly Blake's Frostblood Saga series debut is an exciting fantasy of polar opposites in which darkness vies with light, and ice with fire.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby Otrera is a Fireblood from a remote mountain village, born with the ability to conjure "a river of heat"--and even fire--from "the well of flame [she'd] found in [her] deepest self." Her skin is unusually hot, and she has to be careful not to ignite things when her temper gets the best of her. Unfortunately, she lives in a land where the ruling class of Frostbloods wields ice, "a power in complete opposition" to Ruby's. The Frostbloods, under the reign of ruthless, tyrannical King Rasmus--the Frost King--have all but killed off the Firebloods they despise. Ruby's very existence endangers her village.

Ruby desperately wants to learn more about her gift, but with her grandmother gone, there is no one left to teach her properly. Before she can practice enough to gain any measure of control, the Frost King's soldiers discover and capture her. They kill her mother, destroy her village, and lock Ruby in Blackcreek Prison, where the cruel, drunken Frostblood guards throw buckets of freezing water on her, merely to watch her hot skin hiss and steam.

When a pair of Frostbloods breaks into the prison and offers Ruby sanctuary, eventual freedom and the chance to avenge her mother's death by killing the Frost King, she warily accepts. According to Brother Thistle, who runs an abbey dedicated to the god of the north wind Fors, and Arcus, the mysterious, hooded young man who lives there, Ruby may well be "the most powerful Fireblood left in the kingdom." Arcus and Brother Thistle begin training Ruby to master her gift so she can complete her task. In the process, Ruby and Arcus's teasing banter starts to heat up. The sparks that fly between them may not be unexpected, but they are fun to witness, especially as Ruby keeps glimpsing the handsome features of the "conceited icicle" beneath his ever-present hood, and his nicknames for her ("Lady Firebrand, "Thorn in My Backside," "my raging inferno") begin to escalate.

Their plan is abruptly accelerated when Ruby is betrayed by a monk, captured by Rasmus's soldiers and taken to the king's palace, where she begins to learn the true depths of the Frost King's cruelty. Forced to fight in his arena for the court's amusement, Ruby wonders whether she is the peacemaking "child of light" from an old prophecy, or rather a tool of the darkness.

At its core, Frostblood is the story of a young woman's struggle to understand herself, her power and her role in a world that loathes her. Ruby's first-person voice is powerful and passionate, and readers will want to know what's next for her in the Frostblood Saga. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Shelf Talker: This teen love story, wittily narrated by Love herself, follows a high school senior and bona fide Romantic through a series of amorous entanglements.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Recommendations


I continue to enjoy the most excellent JACKABY series, by William Ritter. The title character, Mr. R. F. Jackaby, is a detective and a Seer of supernatural beings. In book three, called GHOSTLY ECHOES, narrator Abigail Rook and her boss, Jackaby, are investigating the decade-old murder case of their landlady, Jenny Cavanaugh, who is now a ghost. This world contains beings of all sorts, from vampires to chameleomorphs to Abigail’s half-man, half-hound boyfriend, Charlie. (YA)

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, by Adam Gidwitz, is a loose adaptation of the Joan of Arc story, told by multiple narrators in the style of The Canterbury Tales for kids. It features Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future (and a resurrected dog), William, a young monk with extraordinary strength, and Jacob, a Jewish boy who is a miraculous healer. This clever, engaging tale is also populated by good monks, bad monks, King Louis IX of France, an angel, and a farting dragon. It’s an excellent read!! (MG)

HEARTLESS, by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles), is a prequel to Alice in Wonderland, telling the backstory of the Queen of Hearts. Catherine is a noble young lady, who has caught the eye of the King of Hearts, but all she wants is to open a bakery, where she can sell her delectable treats to the kingdom. When she meets the mysterious and sexy Jester, things get even more complicated. Fun and absurdist, as it should be. (YA)

Picture books:

OWL SEES OWL, by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey, is a sweet, spare reverso poem, accompanied by rich illustrations of a young owl's nighttime flight. It’s a cozy read, and a literary treat.

THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES, by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Erin Stead, tells the story of the gentle man who watches the waves. He is tasked with opening any bottle found at sea, and making sure to deliver it. He loves his job, but wonders if he will ever receive a message himself. Stead perfectly evokes the dreamy text with her signature woodblock print, oil pastel, and pencil art.

And, finally, VIRGINIA WOLF by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a fantastically creative take on depression, inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell. One day, young Virginia wakes feeling wolfish. Her older sister tries to make everything better, but nothing works until Virginia growls that she wants to fly to Bloomsbury, a perfect place to defy the doldrums. Art is the answer!