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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June's Book of the Month--Freedom in Congo Square

June’s Book of the Month is the Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, Zolotow Award-winning, New York Times Best Illustrated book, FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE.

This moving collaboration from poet Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie uses evocative rhyming couplets and vibrant art to describe a tradition begun by slaves in 1800s New Orleans which continues to this very day.

“Mondays there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop.” Art and text portray slaves endlessly engaged in a wide variety of plantation tasks. “Week in, week out, from sun to sun,” slaves hoed, planted, bricked and baked according to the whims of their masters. Weatherford shows how life was defined by this relentless list of chores that “was no ways fair.” Readers will glimpse the toil, fear, and despair slaves experienced as they worked their way through the week, each day bringing them one step closer to Sunday and the promise of an afternoon “half free” in Congo Square.

According to a forward by Freddi Williams Evans and an author’s note by Weatherford, Sundays in Louisiana were holy days, when even slaves had time away from work. At first they were allowed to gather at various locations within New Orleans, but later were allotted one specific field just outside the city limits. In time, this became known as Congo Square. Enslaved Africans as well as their free counterparts met here to sing, dance and play traditional African music. While African language and even musical instruments were banned elsewhere in the United States, in Congo Square “African rhythms, culture, and customs had free expression and were preserved.” News was shared, goods bought and sold, and African religious beliefs practiced. Every Sunday afternoon, slaves came together in Congo Square for “a taste of freedom.”

Working in tandem with Weatherford’s words, Christie’s strong lines serve to keep his figures caged. His art reinforces how, from Monday through Saturday, these workers toiled with backs bent, confined to their jobs. But, come Sunday, his stiff, sharply-angled slaves metamorphose into long-limbed dancers. They whirl through Congo Square, bursting with color and life. Masks, drums, and other African motifs decorate the pages now, and even the type comes alive and swirls across the page.

Readers of all ages will find much to admire as they enjoy this gorgeous collaboration which celebrates what may well be the origins of jazz music in America.

--Lynn

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Doorman's Repose--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: The Doorman's Repose

The Doorman's Repose by Chris Raschka (New York Review Children's Collection, $17.95 hardcover, 175p., ages 10-14, 9781681371009)

Two stories about Mr. Bunchley, the new doorman at 777 Garden Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, frame this endearing, imaginative collection by Caldecott Award winner Chris Raschka.

Mr. Bunchley, who goes against the grain himself by preferring to talk flowers over baseball, opens the door to reveal the quirky inhabitants of this grand old (and equally quirky) apartment building, a "neo-proto-Aztec-Egyptian-Gothic"-style affair. Fred is the mysterious veteran of "some kind of war" who regulates gravity with pigeons. Myrna Murray-Burdett is the building's requisite resident opera singer ("lyric soprano"). And Victoria is a second grader whose fascination with plumbing helps save a depressed boiler named Liesl. Each inhabitant has a story, and each story is told with the utmost care and respect. Even some of the building's less human residents get their turn. Stories of the mouse families Brownback and Whitefoot are likewise captivating to readers, and Otis the elevator also gets to have his say.

In The Doorman's Repose, readers are reminded that everyone (indeed, every thing!) has a history, but kindness is prequel to understanding. Raschka's (Yo! Yes?; Home at Last; A Ball for Daisy) black-and-white art is beautifully offbeat and expressive. His intertwining tales wind through time, from apartment to apartment, and emphasize the bonds among various residents who have more in common than the "unseen world" of pipes that snake through their building. As Mr. Bunchley so nicely puts it, "This city is more interconnected than the loops of yarn in your grandmother's sweater." A wonderful story for all ages. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Intertwining tales about the residents and doorman of 777 Garden Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side make up this charmingly sophisticated collection.

Monday, May 15, 2017

May Recommendations

Novels:

In MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY, by John David Anderson, three boys must come to terms with the cancer diagnosis of a very special teacher. Faced with the prospect of not getting to say goodbye, they execute a complicated mission to visit her in the hospital, and learn an awful lot along the way. Told in alternating points of view, the subplots coalesce into a rewarding story that is funny, deep, and completely “frawsome." (MG)

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS, by Emily Barr, refers to the only thing 17-year-old Flora can remember since doctors removed her brain tumor when she was 10: kissing Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, at his going away party. Flora knows if she can just find Drake her brain will work again, so she follows him from England to Svalbard, Norway. Barr does a terrific job showing how disorienting life is for Flora, who can only remember things for two or three hours at a time. But she perseveres, inspired by writing on her hand which reminds her “Flora, be brave.” (YA)

A LIST OF CAGES, by Robin Roe, is the incredibly moving story of high school senior Adam Blake and his onetime foster brother, Julian. Julian is having trouble dealing with everyone and everything in his freshman year, and the school counselor assigns Adam to draw him out. Julian’s got lots of secrets, and plenty of trouble, and the stakes rise for both boys as Adam tries to help. Reminiscent of Good Night, Mr. Tom, and The War that Saved my Life, and just as heart-wrenchingly wonderful. (YA)


Picture Books:

A PERFECT DAY, by Lane Smith, is a beautifully produced picture book from Roaring Brook Press, written and illustrated by a master of the genre. A perfect day for cat, dog, chickadee, and squirrel gets turned around when Bear arrives on the scene, eager to enjoy his own perfect day.

BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE, by Antoinette Portis, shows how the more things are different on planet Boborp, the more they are just like on Earth. Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies, but teef are long and tempers are short, and stuff needs to be worked out!

ALL EARS, ALL EYES, by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson, is a bedtime poem by the legendary editor that demands to be read aloud. Full of romping, chomping, whoo-whoooing, with crick-crick-crickets chirring, this poem delves into the dim-dimming woods and, with the help of nightfall-colored watercolor and digital art, soothes us to sleep.

--Lynn

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Philomel, $15.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9780399547010)

Flora Banks is 17 years old, but she knows this only because it's written on her hand. She can't remember anything that's happened since she was 10, when a brain tumor left her unable to make new memories. Flora writes lots of things on her hand, like "Don't drink alcohol" at the party for her best friend Paige's boyfriend, Drake, who leaves tomorrow for Svalbard, Norway. But Flora does have a cup of wine, and she winds up on the beach kissing Drake. And, incredibly, Flora remembers!

Unfortunately, Paige finds out. When Flora's parents leave for Paris to be with Flora's dying brother, Jacob, they think Paige will "babysit" Flora. Except Paige doesn't want anything to do with Flora anymore. Flora knows that if she can just find Drake, her brain will work again, so before long she has written enough notes on her hand, in her notebook and on her phone to enable her to buy a plane ticket from Cornwall, England, to Svalbard, where she intends to kiss Drake and "remember it to infinity."

Flora's resourcefulness in overcoming her disability, along with her determination to gain some measure of autonomy from overprotective parents, makes her a strong and appealing character. In her YA debut, Emily Barr (author of the adult novel Backpack) does a terrific job portraying how disorienting life must be for someone who can't remember what she does for more than two or three hours at a time. Life is always a mystery, yet Flora persists. Certainly, the most important advice she can give herself is etched right onto her hand: "Flora, be brave." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Kissing Drake is the only thing 17-year-old amnesiac Flora remembers since before the brain tumor when she was 10, and she's sure finding him will be her key to healing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May's Book of the Month--The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Book of the Month for May is this year’s Newbery-winning fantasy, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, by Kelly Barnhill.

On the annual Day of Sacrifice, Elders of the Protectorate (also called the City of Sorrows by some) collect the first baby born each year as an offering to appease an evil Witch. Except the Witch isn’t really evil, and she doesn’t understand why babies keep appearing in the woods. Instead of devouring them, Witch Xan takes them to grateful families on the other side of the forest.

One year, though, things don’t go as planned. A mother refuses to willingly hand over her baby. She goes mad with grief, and is imprisoned by the Sisters in a tower. Xan becomes charmed by this infant, and accidentally allows her to become enmagicked by the moon. Since an enmagicked child would be too dangerous to leave with just anyone, Xan brings little Luna home to raise. The swamp monster, Glerk, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian, make up the rest of Luna’s devoted new family.

Luna’s magic is so strong that she does indeed become dangerous. Trees turn into birds, goats grow wings, and Glerk becomes a bunny. Desperate, Xan binds the magic until Luna can be taught to contain it. Except that the spell goes a bit awry, and Luna has no idea what magic is until just before her thirteenth birthday, when it begins to leak out of her with increasing strength. At this time, too, Xan’s magic drastically wanes, the slumbering volcano begins to awaken, the madwoman escapes her tower, the Sorrow Eater leaves on a mission of death, and another couple in the Protectorate refuses to give up their baby. Also, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon grows up!

Kelly Barnhill has written a number of notable fantasies, beginning with The Mostly True Story of Jack, and more recently The Witch’s Boy. Though her work deals with matters of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, her characters are usually nuanced and multidimensional. And there is always plenty of love, adventure, and magic.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is a neatly woven, thought-provoking fantasy with an uplifting message: The world is good. Go see it.

--Lynn

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress, illus. by Matthew Rockefeller (Delacorte, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781101940051)

Twelve-year-old Sebastian comes from "a family of pragmatic minds." He's confident that the choices he makes are all logical, until the day he takes a wrong turn down an alley and discovers the "wondrous, strange, sometimes itchy" Explorers Society. After rescuing a pig wearing a teeny hat, Sebastian finds himself working after school at the nonsensical society, supervised by the pig. When resident adventurers insist that the obedient boy do something inappropriate, Sebastian (with the pig's help) sneaks a mysterious wooden box home from the society. Inside are mementos of the wild exploits of a team of explorers, the Filipendulous Five. Sebastian wonders why the box was hidden away, and why he has never heard this group mentioned at the society.

Meanwhile, an orphan named Evie, who lives at the "uninteresting and uninspiring" Wayward School, is bored out of her mind. Her only change of scene is dinner each week at the beige home of a boring couple, until one evening a nasty gunman with his jaw wired shut joins them. Evie escapes with a letter from the grandfather she has never known, and instructions to find the Explorers Society. Thus begins a partnership between Evie and Sebastian to find Evie's grandfather, who's also one of the Filipendulous Five.

Narrated with a smart, brisk tone and plenty of snark, Canadian author Adrienne Kress's (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman) series debut The Door in the Alley packs plenty of twists, turns and danger. Matthew Rockefeller's wonderfully detailed b&w art enriches both the playfulness and the mayhem. As a parting shot from the narrator, the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.
 

Discover: Twelve-year-old Sebastian teams up with orphan Evie to find her grandfather, a member of a mysteriously missing group of explorers, the Filipendous Five.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Speed of Life--Shelf Awareness

MG Review: Speed of Life

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9781492654490)

Sofia Wolfe isn't depressed, she's sad. And who wouldn't be? Her mom died nine months ago, and by now everyone, even best friend Kiki, expects her to have bounced back. Most people at the private, all-girls school Sofia attends in New York City are kind, but others treat her as though her mom's death "might be contagious."

At 14, Sofia has other changes to cope with, too. Kiki recently turned into a "boy magnet." The girls are all getting their periods. And Sofia worries she may be the only one in her class who has never kissed a boy. She knows she can talk to her gynecologist dad, but these kinds of things were so much easier with her mom. 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 showing signs of moving on. She thinks he may even be dating. When she finds out that Dad's new girlfriend is Dear Kate herself, Sofia is mortified.

Author Carol Weston (Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You; Ava and Pip) has been the voice of "Dear Carol" at Girls' Life magazine since 1994. She draws on her many years of experience to tackle tough issues with honesty and humor. Death and grieving, self-esteem, "bras, periods, cliques, and crushes" are all addressed head-on in this engaging novel. Readers will enjoy spending a pivotal year with Sofia, as she learns to find comfort in life's changes, both big and small. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: After her mom dies, 14-year-old Sofia has to cope with many changes, including finding out her dad is dating the advice columnist Sofia has been writing to.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Recommendations

Novels:

In MY SISTER ROSA, by Justine Larbalestier, 17 year old Che’s little sister Rosa looks like a doll, but she’s not. She’s a dangerous psychopath, and Che’s the only one who knows. Their parents are in denial, but it looks like Rosa’s games might spiral out of control now that the family is starting over in NYC. Terrific suspense and great characters, this is a real page-turner. (YA)

Neal Shusterman begins a new fantasy series with his Printz Honor book SCYTHE, which also stands pretty well on its own. In the future, humankind has conquered death, so to keep the population under control, scythes perform this “crucial service for society.” Citra and Rowan are reluctantly apprenticed to Honorable Scythe Faraday. But the art of killing isn’t the only thing these two will need to master in order to survive. Great stuff by the National Book Award winning author of Challenger Deep. (YA)

VASSA IN THE NIGHT, by Sarah Porter, is a modern take on the Russian fairy tale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, set in Brooklyn. At a time when night is getting “bigger and fatter and stronger," Vassa leaves her stepmother and two stepsisters on a mission to the corner store, owned and operated by Babs Yagg, who beheads shoplifters and innocents alike. Good thing Vassa has Erg, a talking doll gifted to her by her dying mother. Dark, twisted, magical, and mesmerizing. (YA)

Picture books:

LEAVE ME ALONE, by Vera Brosgol, is the very witty tale of a very old woman with a very large family who gets very fed up. She takes her knitting and tries to find some privacy. It’s not as easy as it should be. Come for the story, stay for the art!

In LIFE ON MARS, by Jon Agee, a young astronaut is so certain he will find life on Mars that he brings along chocolate cupcakes. Unfortunately, he seems to be wrong. And then he loses his spaceship. This is a terrific example of how funny it can be when words and pictures contradict each other. Jon Agee makes it look easy.

When Priscilla turns six, she becomes obsessed with gorillas. She draws gorilla pictures, writes in her gorilla journal, and performs her own original gorilla dances. She also spends a lot of time in the Thinking Corner at school for not listening to her teacher. But aren’t gorillas always supposed to get their own way? In PRISCILLA GORILLA, Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberly  introduce readers to gorilla-pajama-wearing Priscilla, her parents, and her entire class of gorilla dancing classmates.

--Lynn

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April's Book of the Month--The Sun is Also a Star

April’s Book of the Month is the 2017 Printz Honor winner, THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR, by Nicola Yoon.

Natasha doesn’t believe in fate. But she’s desperate enough to ask anyone—even fate—to help her find a way to stay in America. She’s been living as an undocumented immigrant since she was eight and her parents moved the family over from Jamaica. Now her father’s DUI means they have to leave New York. Tonight. Natasha repeatedly visits US Citizenship and Immigration Services, hoping for a reprieve so she can stay in “the only place [she] calls home.” Finally, just hours before deportation, she’s handed a long shot: the name of a lawyer known as “the fixer,” and she arranges an appointment for that very day.

Daniel’s on his way to a college admission interview with a “Yale alum.” His parents are determined that Daniel apply there to become a doctor, especially since his brother Charlie’s been suspended from Harvard. But Daniel wants to be a poet and is in no hurry to get to the interview. Unlike pragmatic Natasha, Daniel believes in fate, and love, and when he spies her he knows “it’s definitely a Sign.”

I found Yoon’s characters to be so engaging that, right from the start, I was along for the ride. Natasha and Daniel are are caught up in realities imposed on them by their parents, but are desperate to forge their own futures. Readers will root for both of these kids. Yoon unravels her story mainly through narration by these two appealing protagonists. But their story is also enriched by voices of the people they meet, and lives they touch, in their search for answers. It's a captivating discussion of love, fate and the interconnectedness of the universe.

--Lynn

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March Recommendations

Novels:

In The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, Xan rescues baby Luna from the woods. But Xan is a witch and Luna accidentally drinks moonlight, filling her with powerful magic. Pitted against them are a nearby town who thinks Xan is evil, a Council of Elders who really IS evil, and a Sorrow Eater wth a masterful plan. Fun, original fantasy, and winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal. (MG)

In The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon, Natasha’s family is scheduled to be deported to Jamaica this very night. Daniel has an interview to get into Yale—his family wants him to attend but he’s not so sure. When they meet in NYC, Daniel spends the day convincing Natasha they are fated to fall in love. It's told in multiple POVs, including Natasha's and Daniel's, but we also hear the random and not so random thoughts of people they come into contact with. An extremely engaging story about life, love, fate, and the universe. (YA)

And in The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco, Tea learns she is a bone witch on the day of her brother Fox’s funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. With Fox along as her familiar, headstrong Tea is hustled to the capital city to be taught to manage her power. She learns to dance, fight, and navigate political intrigue in the district’s teahouses, but ultimately she will be sent to fight the “strange and terrible” monsters which haunt the land. This is fantasy world-building at its best, and includes a colorful cast of characters. First in a series. (YA)


Picture Books:

Egg, by Kevin Henkes, features three eggs that hatch and one that doesn’t. There’s lots of waiting, pecking, and three fun surprises. Design-wise, this book is a comfortable square shape, and is illustrated in Easter candy (or dyed-egg!) colors.

The Journey, by Francesca Sanna, is the moving story of a mother and her two children fleeing from one unnamed country to another. Narrated by one of the children, it’s a beautiful and timely book about refugees, appropriate for the picture book crowd.

Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell, tells the wordless (except for sounds) story of a girl and a wolf. Each is lost in the snow, and each wants to get home to a loving family. It’s interesting how expressive these scribbly-line paintings are!

--Lynn

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Bone Witch--Shelf Awareness

YA Review: The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99 hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781492635826)

Tea learns she is a "bone witch" on the day of her brother Fox's funeral, when she accidentally raises him from his grave. While witches are fairly commonplace in the Eight Kingdoms, bone witches, or Dark asha, are feared and reviled for their ability to control the dead. Nevertheless, they wield their "complicated and exclusive and implacable" death magic to keep people safe from the daeva--"strange and terrible monsters" commanded by servants of the traitorous False Prince. Twelve-year-old Tea discovers she commands her new-found magic with ease.

Along with Fox, now serving as her familiar, Tea is hustled to the capital city by Lady Mykaela, another Dark asha, to be trained to manage her power. The headstrong Tea takes her place in House Valerian, where she learns to dance, fight and navigate political intrigue in the district's teahouses. Tea's growing awareness of the price Dark asha pay to control the daeva makes her increasingly wary of dedicating her life to the endeavor. But when a particularly fierce daeva wreaks havoc during a ceremony, Tea steps in to save Lady Mykaela and takes her own craft to a much more dangerous place.

The Bone Witch is fantasy world-building at its best, and Rin Chupeco (The Girl from the Well; The Suffering) has created a strong and colorful cast of characters to inhabit that realm. Interspersed with Tea's narrative are short chapters describing her future exile "at the end of the world." Readers will feel the impending doom in this enticing, highly original fantasy, but must wait until the sequel for answers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this strikingly original fantasy, 12-year-old Tea learns she is a powerful "bone witch" who can control the dead.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March's Book of the Month--Wolf Hollow

March's Book of the Month is WOLF HOLLOW, by Lauren Wolk. This impeccably crafted, wonderfully heartfelt middle grade story was recently awarded a Newbery Honor. I love that it's sophisticated, yet still feels accessible to young readers.

Twelve-year-old Annabelle lives a quiet life in rural Pennsylvania, until Betty Glengarry shows up with all of her cruel, bullying ways. Annabelle must protect her two small brothers, and also shell-shocked World War l veteran, Toby, even when town sentiment tries to dictate otherwise. Annabelle’s courage and compassion will touch readers as she learns to stand up for what she knows is right in this pitch-perfect coming of age story.

It’s interesting to me that the author chooses to use a prologue to introduce readers to Annabelle’s story. In it, adult narrator Annabelle indicates she is looking back at her own childhood and describing, as she puts it, the way that, at age twelve, she learns to lie. The device allows Wolk to use a more adult tone throughout, which suits the quiet yet strong Annabelle very well. There’s a bit of an epilogue, too, which brings us back to grown Annabelle describing how that year, the year she turned twelve, she also learned to tell the truth.

This haunting, yet hopeful, story shows the power of one young girl acting on her convictions. It’s an important message, artfully imparted.

--Lynn

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February Recommendations

Novels:

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. The powerful illustrations are full of color, pattern, and movement.


--Lynn

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.

--Lynn

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January Recommendations

Novels:

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!

--Lynn

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?

--Lynn