Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse--Shelf Awareness

New review in Shelf Awareness for Readers!

Middle-Grade Review: The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey (Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95 hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9781616205058)

Brian Farrey's (The Vengekeep Prophecies series; With or Without You) haunting middle-grade fantasy explores a peaceful monarchy where all the subjects are perpetually happy. Yet, within its borders, there's a shadowy bog called Dreadwillow Carse, a nasty swampland that smells of "spoiled milk and olive juice" and feeds on sadness.

On the morning she is officially named Queen Ascendant by her dying mother, 12-year-old Princess Jeniah is warned never to enter Dreadwillow Carse, or the monarchy will fall. But Jeniah believes that to be a proper queen she must understand the threat posed by the Carse. Her mostly inscrutable tutor says she is "too strangely clever for her own good."

Nearby in Emberfell, a young girl named Aon Greenlaw, the only one among the ever-merry villagers who feels grief, finds herself drawn to the Carse's gloom. Her mother left long ago, and when her father disappears, too, Aon feels more broken than ever. When Aon and Jeniah meet by chance, they hit it off, "weaving a web of promises and whispers." They make a deal: Aon will explore the Carse in Jeniah's stead, if the princess will find her father. But when Aon doesn't return from her mission, Princess Jeniah must decide whether to go in after her, and risk the welfare of the monarchy.

Told in the alternating viewpoints of Jeniah and Aon, this vivid, philosophical tale investigates what part sadness plays in defining a person, the cost of happiness achieved at the expense of others, and the importance of finding enough courage to make wise choices. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this haunting middle-grade fantasy, Princess Jeniah puts the monarchy at risk when she enters the Dreadwillow Carse, a dark, mysterious swamp that blights the otherwise harmonious realm.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

April Recommendations


Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy) does it again, with SALT TO THE SEA, a beautifully realized portrait of WWII as seen through the eyes of Joanna, Florian, and Emilia, all with secrets, all trying to stay clear of two armies while not starving or freezing to death, and of Alfred, a rather despicable German soldier. All paths converge on the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. Riveting. (YA)

JUST MY LUCK, by Cammie McGovern, is well told, well plotted middle grade fiction, with fun characters you can root for, and an overall sense of humanity-doing-its-best that is very uplifting. Fourth grader Benny is having a tough year, what with his dad's brain injury (not his fault), and having a challenging time in school. McGovern does an excellent job with Benny’s brother, George, who is autistic but not high-achieving. It’s good stuff. (MG)

ANNA AND THE SWALLOW MAN, by Gavriel Savit, is another WWII story. I loved the fairytale feel to this one, and the mythic, evocative writing. It started slowly for me but, as often happens, I’m so very glad that I stuck with it. Anna is just seven when the Germans kill her father, a Polish professor. Alone, Anna turns to the strange protector she dubs the Swallow Man, and they travel through war-torn Polish winters. (YA)

Picture Books:

THE NIGHT GARDENER, by Terry Fan and Eric Fan, is a visual treat. Overnight, a large owl topiary appears in a tree on the otherwise hum-drum Grimloch Lane. As more and more leafy creations appear, the town is transformed by the magic. Wonderful—wouldn’t be surprised if the Caldecott committee looks long and hard at this one.

THE PLAN, words by Alison Paul with pictures by Barbara Lehman, is an interesting conceit that's well-executed. By changing one letter each time, we get a complete story about a girl with a pal, a plan, and a plane. The spare story leaves plenty of room for pondering.

THANK YOU AND GOOD NIGHT, by Patrick McDonnell, is a charming bedtime story. With some winks and nods to Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, we follow three animal friends at a pajama party, helped along by human Maggie. The text is sweet but the illustrations really make this affecting, done in watercolor, pencil, and ink on homemade paper with a simple but perfectly wonderful palette.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recently, I was lucky enough to be in New York City, where I got to visit the Mo Willems exhibit at the NY Historical Society. It was fun, with a lot of insight into how he makes his art. He began in animation, and it's easy to see how that has informed his work. There were sketches and finished art to look at, plus lots of copies of published books to look at. And a bus big enough for anyone to play in!

Monday, April 4, 2016

April's Book of the Month--Last Stop on Market Street

April’s Book of the Month is the Newbery award-winning picture book, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, with words by Matt de la Peña and pictures by Christian Robinson. It’s almost unheard of for a picture book text to be awarded a Newbery or even an honor, with the award typically going to the novel that the ALA panel judges to be the most distinguished piece of writing for children in any given year. So what makes this picture book so special and worthy of this honor?

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET is the story of CJ and his nana taking a bus ride through the city, on their way to serving a meal at their soup kitchen. CJ peppers his nana with questions—why do they wait for the bus when it's raining? why don’t they have a car? why do they always have to go here? and Nana answers by showing him the richness of life exactly as they are living it. The book portrays a diverse, urban, population.

The prose is lovely, with well-placed repetition and descriptive language. Although they are not considered for the Newbery, the illustrations help to elevate this book to the very highest level of art and craftsmanship.

Or so I think! What about you? Do you think that a picture book winning the Newbery might bring older kids, as well as new readers, to the genre?