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


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.


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.