Friday, June 15, 2018

June Recommendations

Novels:

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!


--Lynn

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?

--Lynn

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.

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.