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


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.


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.