Friday, June 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Fat Girl on a Plane

YA Review: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly deVos (Harlequin Teen, $18.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212538)

Fashion blogger Cookie Vonn is the daughter of a famous supermodel--she could even be "Leslie Vonn Tate's doppelganger," except that she weighs 330 pounds. Cookie has just scored an interview with her idol, designer Gareth Miller, at her first ever fashion preview. En route through Chicago, however, flight attendants decide she needs a second seat and won't let her leave for New York unless she buys one. Mortified (and down an interview opportunity), Cookie decides she's "done being the fat girl on the plane" and joins NutriNation. Slowly, the pounds come off. When Cookie does finally meet Gareth Miller (on a plane, no less), he introduces himself with a joke about a woman who's too fat to fly! Cookie still intends to design plus-size clothes that let women "look and feel great," so when, as a PR ploy, Gareth is convinced to "launch a plus-size capsule collection" with her, Cookie seizes the opportunity.

But if Cookie thought her life would be perfect as a thin person, she has to rethink that. She's still feuding with "snothead" nemesis Kennes Butterfield; can't get anything going with her longtime crush, Tommy Weston; her parents remain mostly absent; and attending Parsons for fashion design continues to be financially out of reach. She's not even sure she likes the way people look at her now that she's thin.

Cookie is a strong character, one whom readers will enjoy accompanying on her journey of self-discovery. Engagingly told, alternating chapters go back and forth in time, allowing the author to contrast the way Cookie is treated when she's heavy and after she's lost weight. Kelly deVos, who, like Cookie, was also once "declared too fat to fly," says it best in her compelling note at the outset: "It's what's inside us that counts." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: When 17-year-old Cookie, the daughter of a famous supermodel and fashion devotee herself, is forced to buy a second seat on an airplane, she vows to lose weight and take the fashion world by storm.

Friday, June 15, 2018

June Recommendations


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!


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?


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


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.


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.


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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April Recommendations


In BLOOD WATER PAINT, by Joy McCullough, seventeen-year-old painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, works as her father’s apprentice in 17th-century Rome, where women are merely "beauty/ for consumption.” When she’s raped by the man giving her art lessons, she immediately understands: "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing…." Artemisia brings charges against her rapist even though she knows it's unlikely she will win. This is historical fiction about an iconic painter, based on transcripts from her trial. Told in luminous verse, it tackles issues of gender and power in a way that is relevant today. (YA)

In DREAD NATION, by Justina Ireland, life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn’t “started to walk” in Gettysburg two days after she was born. Jane, aged seventeen, attends Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls just outside Baltimore, where she learns the fine art of killing “shamblers” who have terrorized the country since the War Between the States. When Jane, along with ex-beau Jackson Keats and fellow student (and nemesis) Katherine Deveraux, stumbles upon a plot that has white families and their black Attendants going missing, the trio find themselves captured and loaded aboard a train bound for a Survivalist compound in Kansas. There, they encounter a society based on the message of “securing the safety of white Christian men and women,” and restoring the nation to “its former glory.” Witty, subversive, and full of action, this is another story about power--and lack of it —that should be relevant to readers today. Great characters. I’m hoping for a sequel! (YA)

TESS OF THE ROAD, by Rachel Hartman, is the first in a fantasy duology by the author of Seraphina and Shadow Scale. When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, her energetic attempts to discover "the mystical origins of babies" disappoint her devout mama, and Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven. Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court. She has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family from poverty. When eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that she might finally be free to pursue her own interests, but after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, a convent becomes Tess's only apparent option. That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion” and she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. She meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. This is the same world as the Seraphina books, but this time we get to know the unquenchable Tess, whose life has so far been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Three thumbs up! (YA)

Picture Books:

With delightful illustrations, rhythm, rhyme, and lots and lots of onomatopoeia, WATERSONG, written by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Richard Smythe, follows one fox through a rainstorm and out the other side. Really fun to read aloud!

Poems by Nikki Giovanni, art by Ashely Bryan, what more can I say? I AM LOVED will “lyric you in lilacs” as you feast on its sumptuous spread.

THE FISH AND THE CAT, by Marianne Dubuc, is a wordless picture book, featuring an undaunted cat chasing an elusive fish through water, air, and outer space. Dubuc’s appealingly stylized art perfectly captures the nature of her cat (while her fish defies categorization!) in this unhurried pursuit through realms of imagination. Quirky with plenty of charm.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Heart Forger

YA Review: The Heart Forger

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco (Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99 hardcover, 528p., ages 14-up, 9781492635857)

By the conclusion of The Bone Witch, Tea had tamed the monstrous, three-headed dragon-like daeva known as the azi and led the capture of one of the Faceless, Aenah, a bone witch turned fully to the Dark. In the story's alternate thread, which features an older, wiser Tea preparing to take revenge on those who have wronged her, she raised her lover from the dead to become one of her familiars.

In this second installment of the series, Tea and her brother Fox (her first familiar) visit the kingdom of Odalia to search for her mentor Mykaela's heartsglass. Like all the children in Odalia, on Mykaela's 13th birthday, her emotional core was spelled into a magical case to keep it safe from treachery and heartache. Years ago, the adult Mykaela foolishly gave her heart (and heartsglass) to King Vanor, knowing that if he rejected her but kept the heartsglass, she would die. Even though Tea is an extremely powerful necromancer, she cannot compel the dead King Vanor to reveal where he hid Mykkie's glass. And, as she works to save her mentor, Tea finds herself fearful of her own growing abilities, worried she may, like Aenah, come to "crave... the Dark beyond her own limits." When the prince of Odalia falls victim to a sleeping disease, Tea begins yet another hopefully heroic journey to find a cure. Meanwhile, in the alternate thread, future-Tea invades the kingdom of Daanoris, bent on harming old enemies, Faceless and royal alike.

Chupeco has crafted a glorious world for her twisting, turning plot, rich with magic, exotic beasts, romance and treachery. The alternating narratives are masterfully designed, drawing readers ever closer to their inevitable convergence. A mesmerizing tale, this sequel is even stronger than its precursor. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this sequel to The Bone Witch, 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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tyler Johnson Was Here

YA Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780316440776)

Home for 17-year-old Marvin Johnson and his twin brother, Tyler, is Sterling Point, a "hood" defined by "[s]treetlights smoldering in a fog of cannabis smoke, potholes mazing the roads, gravel driveways, and garden gnomes with bullet holes." But, for Marvin, "the ugliness... is its own kind of beautiful. So, [he's] learned to embrace it." In reality, he has no choice. His mother struggles to support the three of them, while his father, wrongly accused of a crime, is in jail. And now Tyler is hanging around with Johntae, a "notorious drug dealer," bully and gang member, looking for a way to help pay the bills and send Marvin to college.

Marvin's excellent grades and test scores lead him to believe he can get out. He sits through honors classes "meant for the white folks" in hopes of making it into MIT. He and his best friends, Ivy and G-mo, are "high ability geeks" who don't want any trouble. But, recently, violence has come to the neighborhood, with police beating and shooting unarmed young black men, accusing them of crimes they didn't commit.

When Marvin and his friends go to one of Johntae's parties to keep an eye on Tyler, it's broken up by gunshots and Tyler goes missing. He's later found dead, and in the aftermath, Marvin himself feels like he'll "f*cking die from brokenness and rage." Suddenly, MIT doesn't seem like a chance he deserves--it's more important that he do something to stop the hateful, racist messages popping up on social media in response to Tyler's death. Uncompromising and intense, this heart-wrenching novel sends out an anguished cry for justice to all who are willing to hear. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: 17-year-old Marvin Johnson's world falls apart when his twin brother gets involved with a drug dealer and then disappears.

Monday, April 2, 2018

April's Book of the Month--Far From The Tree

April’s Book of the Month is the recent National Book Award winner, FAR FROM THE TREE, by Robin Benway. This heartfelt homage to the wonderful messiness of families follows three teenagers, all with the same birth mother, as they meet at particularly crucial points in all of their lives.

Adopted sixteen-year-old Grace has just had a baby. She’s devastated, but she knows she must put her own daughter up for adoption, too. After hunting obsessively for the perfect parents for “Peach,” she realizes she needs to find her birth mother, "a woman who had maybe hurt (and maybe was still hurting) like Grace was hurting now.” She talks to her parents and finds out, although she has grown up an only child, she has biological siblings. Two of them, in fact, and one, a girl, lives only twenty minutes away.

 Maya is younger than Grace, even while she’s the older sister in her adoptive family. Though much loved, she and Lauren (biological daughter, conceived soon after Maya was brought home) have been watching their parents' marriage implode for years, helped along by their mother’s escalating drinking. The girls find her passed out in the bathroom shortly after their dad finally moves into his own apartment. She’s sent to rehab, and mostly absent during a time when Maya could really use a mom around.

Older brother Joaquin is the only one of the three who has not been adopted. He’s gone through the foster care system and it's left him with plenty of scars. Right now, he’s living with a great couple now who really seem to want to adopt him, but Joaquin can’t afford to let himself believe it will work out. When Grace brings the three of them together, they embark on an emotional journey to find themselves and, in the process, they find the meaning of family.

At times funny, at times heartbreaking, FAR FROM THE TREE digs deeply into many kinds of family bonds on its way to a satisfying conclusion.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

March Recommendations


YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR, by Mitali Perkins, is a multigenerational story beginning with two sisters, Sonia and Tara Das, who move from London to New York with their family. Their Bengali traditions and people’s expectations make it difficult for them to fit in. The story follows as they grow into themselves and fall in love, and then follows their children as they do the same. It’s in these later chapters that we actually learn more about the girls mother, through the eyes of her grandchildren. It’s a lovely look at the way one family thrives while balancing the old and the new. (YA)

TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER, by Tamora Pierce, is the first book in The Numair Chronicles. It begins the origin story of a powerful mage who previously appeared in Pierce’s Wild Magic (of The Immortals series). Ten-year-old Arram Draper is a talented student at the Imperial University’s School for Mages. He’s been moved ahead two terms, but he’s still bored. Until the day he taps into “the strange shove of power” within, loses control of his Gift, and nearly drowns his entire class. Together with “leftover prince” Ozorne Tasikhe, and Varice Kingsford, the three friends are seen as “the most rapidly advancing students in the Lower Academy,” brought together by “[s]ome special thread.” Pierce is a wonderful writer. (YA)

In THE CRUEL PRINCE, by Holly Black, when a tall stranger mysteriously appears in the home of seven-year-old twins Jude and Taryn, "as if stepping between one shadow and the next," he proceeds to murder their parents right in front of them. Then he whisks away the twins and their older half-fey sister, Vivi, to live with him in Faerie. Now seventeen, Jude knows that life as a mortal in Faerie will never be easy. When she’s recruited to spy for Prince Dain, she takes the opportunity to prove herself and is drawn into dangerous games of power and intrigue. Fabulous, fabulous fantasy!!!! (YA)

Picture Books:

WHEN I AM BIG, by Maria Dek, is a beautifully illustrated counting book. From the beginning, where the narrator will be "really big, like 1 big giant!” all the way up to the lovely finish for the number 25, this book perfectly channels the magic of a child’s imagination. Gorgeous color, design, and whimsy from the creator of A Walk in the Forest.

OWL BAT BAT OWL, by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, is a wordless picture book showing how Mama Owl worries for her babies when a bat family moves into their tree. The babies want to play. And then it gets windy… A sweet reminder not to prejudge others, and a good example of how to write an engaging book that’s got a message.

WHY AM I ME? with words by Paige Britt and pictures by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, is an expressive, child-friendly meditation on what makes us who we are. With questions like “Why am I me…and not you?” and “If I were someone else, who would I be?” this stunning book, illustrated with acrylic paint, colored pencil, and collage, will have readers wondering, too.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Blood Water Paint

YA Review: Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (Dutton, $17.99 hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780735232112)

Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi lives for the moments when she connects "the brush to the paint to [her] breath to the canvas." Her father, Orazio Gentileschi, is a professional painter of "mediocre" talent. Artemisia labors as his apprentice, touching up his commissions with "strokes/of [her] own choosing," while always striving to better her craft. It's Artemisia's skill that brings in the clients who pay for their bread, but she's virtually invisible, as Orazio Gentileschi, rather than Artemisia, signs the finished art. "

In this "world of men"--17th-century Rome--women are merely "beauty/ for consumption." So when Agostino Tassi, who's been engaged to give her art lessons, actually seems interested in Artemisia's skill, she's easily smitten. All too soon, though, "Tino" shows his real interest is in taking Artemisia for his mistress. Devastated, the girl spurns him, and Tassi rapes her: "I've no authority," the fictional Artemisia recounts, "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing..../ The sudden realization/ of what's going to happen next/ descends."

The real Artemisia brought charges against Agostino Tassi, even though she knew it was unlikely she would win. This piece of historical fiction, told in luminous verse and based on transcripts from that trial, tackles issues of gender and power in a way that is relevant today. In the novel, Artemisia's mother, before her death, told her daughter stories of two women, Susanna and Judith, who triumphed over the monumental injustices they faced because of their gender. Susanna and Judith serve as Artemisia's spiritual mentors, and from them she draws strength to paint her own path. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI."

Discover: Seventeen-year-old Artemisia Gentileschi struggles to make her way as a woman and a painter in a time where women are seen as little more than property.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tempests and Slaughter

YA Review: Tempests and Slaughter

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Random House, $18.99, hardcover, 480p., ages 10-14, 9780375847110)

Ten-year-old Arram Draper doesn't have any friends at the Imperial University's School for Mages. Though he's a talented student who has been moved ahead two terms, he's still bored--until the day he taps into "the strange shove of power" within, loses control of his Gift and nearly drowns his entire class. Headmaster Cosmas recognizes that Arram needs to be given a more "engaging" schedule to keep him out of trouble, and moves the boy into a new dormitory with "leftover prince" Ozorne Tasikhe, the emperor's nephew and fourth in line for the throne (therefore not likely to ascend to it). Together with Varice Kingsford, "the most beautiful girl [Arram] had ever seen," they form an inseparable trio. Headmaster Cosmas confides in Arram that he believes the three are "the most rapidly advancing students in the Lower Academy" and have been brought together by "[s]ome special thread."

As Arram's studies progress, his talents become more prominent. He meets Enzi, god of the river crocodiles, who warns Arram that he has "a destiny"--a part to play in "the battle one day." Not long after Arram hears this prophecy, a teacher is found dead and secrets and lies begin to surface. Heirs to the throne are dying, and suddenly Ozorne is not so far down the line of succession. Tempests and Slaughter, the first book in the Numair Chronicles, begins the origin story of a powerful mage who previously appeared in Pierce's Wild Magic (the Immortals Quartet). This new saga, with its deeply compelling characters and nuanced magical world, will surely attract new fans while welcoming back the old. This is first-class fantasy from a master writer. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Mage scholar Arram Draper develops his extraordinarily powerful Gift while learning to deal with schoolmates, teachers and political intrigue in his roommate's royal family.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March's Book of the Month--Long Way Down

March’s Book Talk book is LONG WAY DOWN, by Jason Reynolds. LONG WAY DOWN was recently named a Newbery Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and the audio (narrated by the author) won an Odyssey Honor at the ALA Awards this year.

LONG WAY DOWN tells the story of fifteen-year-old Will, whose brother Shawn has just been shot. The sadness feels like a tooth, “somewhere in the back,/ one of the big/ important ones,” has been ripped out and now there’s a “new empty space,/ where you know/ a tooth is supposed to be/ but ain’t no more.” After all the screaming, and the sirens, and the questions, Will knows that it’s up to him to follow The Rules: no crying, no snitching, and, finally, “[i]f someone you love/ gets killed/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them.” Will finds his brother’s gun, and gets on the elevator to look for the kid he’s sure is responsible for his brother’s death. But on his way down to the lobby, Will is joined by some very important ghosts who make him question everything he thinks he knows.

I think the form of the novel is pretty brilliant. Telling it in free-verse and, for the most part, during a one minute elevator ride allows the author to cut straight to the heart of his story. The riders who join Will form a chain of violence, and readers will feel all the pain, panic, and despair that drive him to believe he must follow the same Rules that got these ghosts from his past killed. The ambiguous finish hints at a possible end to the seemingly inevitable cycle of violence. Hope is good.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--A Couch for Llama

PB Review: A Couch for Llama

A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert (Sterling, $16.95 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9781454925118)

This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.

Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.

The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When a family tries to bring a perfect new couch home from the store, it falls off the car, landing at the feet of a very startled llama.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

February Recommendations

WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING, by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, is a work of stunning picture book magic. Beginning with a close up of a little girl going to bed, the artist pulls back to depict a night full of wonder taking place around her while she sleeps. Johnson’s world is a fantastical blend of human and animal, city and nature, all of it vibrantly portrayed.

A WALK IN THE FOREST, by Maria Dek, follows a boy as he spends a day in “the best playground ever,” where he can shout, follow footprints, find treasure, and maybe meet a fox. As with the book talked about above, gorgeous art brings magic into the picture.

In spare, rhyming text, MY FAMILY FOUR FLOORS UP, written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Celia Krampien, describes the simple joys of a girl walking to the park with her dad and her "small brown pup.” Swinging and playing in the sandbox come to an end when a storm blows in, but there’s still the pleasure of “splash, splash, splashing in the tub” to look forward to, along with supper, a story, and bed. A sweet read-aloud for younger kids.

In A COUCH FOR LLAMA, by Leah Gilbert, the Lago family needs a new couch so they drive to the store to buy a replacement. Unfortunately, on the way home it flies off the top of their car and into a field. Where Llama finds it. At first, he’s not sure what to do with a couch but, by the time the Lagos have come back to claim their errant furniture, Llama has figured it out. The illustrations of Llama bouncing and twirling on the couch are not to be missed!

In I WANT TO BE IN A SCARY STORY, by Sean Taylor with illustrations by Jean Jullien, Little Monster finds he's afraid of all the spooky stuff, so he and the narrator try to put him in a funny story instead. This interactive picture book, with its brightly colored, cartoony illustrations, manages to be scary, funny, surprising, AND adorable!

LOVE, by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long. Well. This incredible partnership of gorgeous prose and stunning art somehow manages to be an homage to so many different kinds of love and ways there are to experience it, while also somehow feeling like a love poem to America. Not to be missed.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tess of the Road

YA Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House, $18.99 hardcover, 544p., ages 13-up, 9781101931288, February 27, 2018)

When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, she becomes "immoderately obsessed" with "the mystical origins of babies." Tess's energetic attempts to discover the mechanics behind brother Ned's birth disappoint her very devout, very unhappy mama, who gives her a spanking "for the ages." Mama requires "the wicked punished," and years of spankings have let Tess know she is "singularly and spectacularly flawed." Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven.

Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court, tamping down her more "esoteric interests." Tess (now with a much more thorough understanding of those "mystical origins of babies") has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, mild, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family. Since it was discovered that their father's first wife was a dragon in human form ("illegal five times over"), he was stripped of his license to practice law and the family has suffered much ill fortune. When the very eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that "[a]fter two years at court, diligently securing her family's future," she might be set free. But Mama wants her sent to a convent and, after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, the abhorrent plan becomes Tess's only apparent option. 

That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion"--she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. On the way, she meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. Pathka's quest is an old dream of Tess and the two agree to adventure together. Eager to be rid of her past, Tess disguises herself and desperately tries to keep the unbidden voice of her mother--accusatory, destructive and quoting vindictive saints--out of her head.

Tess of the Road, first in a duology, is a companion book to Seraphina and Shadow Scale, which introduced Tess's half-dragon half sister. Now, author Rachel Hartman returns to this same world to share the story of fully human Tess, whose life has been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Her growing awareness of the inequality and unfairness she has been subjected to, along with an unfolding sense of herself and her potential, will captivate any reader. Tess's ultimately unquenchable spirit, her struggles and adventures--be they at home or on the road--are a delight. --Lynn Beckerblogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Tess's spirit has been crushed by the weight of her mother's vindictive saints, but when Mama decides to send her to a convent, Tess runs off to make her own way.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February's Book of the Month--All the Wind in the World

February’s Book of the Month is the lyrical, magical YA novel ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, by Samantha Mabry.

Sarah Jac and James have a dream. Even though they work in dusty fields of the American Southwest, they want their own place someday, a ranch on the East Coast where they can work with horses and dip their toes in the ocean. Unfortunately, like so many others, they are stuck harvesting maguey, the plant used to make pulque, mescal or, for the very rich, tequila. It’s the only thing that grows now that more than half the continent is desert, with what water that’s left being “salty, unfiltered, and full of the dust-remains of dead fish and birds.” When Sarah Jac steps in to help a fellow worker and a foreman ends up dying, she and James flee to a strange ranch in Texas where they know they’ll find work. Cursed fields, an owner who hexes his workers, drugged food, and strange injuries are just some of the rumors muttered about The Real Marvelous.

Sarah Jac and James know how dangerous it can be to show weakness to others, so they harden their hearts and trust no one. Even though they’re a couple, they routinely run a scam where James takes up with another woman. But, at The Real Marvelous, when James manages to catch the eye of the owner’s daughter things begin to spiral out of control.

Long-listed for the National Book Award, ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD evokes a tough and gritty landscape where only a lucky few have the means to live a decent life. Author Mabry sets up a terrific conflict when she shoves the temptation to be one of them at James. I think he’s perhaps the most interesting YA love interest I’ve ever read, and Mabry plays it well—do we ever really know what’s going on in the heart and mind of James? Beautiful language, the element of magical realism, and a romance that’s being scoured by the dusty desert make this one heck of a page-turner.


Monday, January 15, 2018

January Recommendations


THE SECRET OF NIGHTINGALE WOOD, by Lucy Strange: When 12-year-old Henrietta (Henry) and her family move to the English countryside, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But, after the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Mama is kept sedated and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. When nasty Doctor Hardy takes baby Piglet away, Henry is determined to save her family, even when the adults question her own sanity. Strange's debut is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale, probably my favorite mid-grade of 2017. (MG)

THE WAR I FINALLY WON, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is the follow up to Newbery Honor book The War that Saved My Life. Ada finally gets surgery to repair her club foot. But the war is still on and people keep dying. “Iron-faced” Lady Thornton offers Ada, Jamie, and Susan a cottage to live in after Susan’s house is bombed, but then the British army requisitions Lady Thornton’s home, and she moves in too. Along with her daughter, Maggie, and a Jewish girl from Germany. A German! Ada is a remarkable character and this second book is a worthy follow up to the first. (MG)

THORNHILL, a graphic novel by Pam Smy, tells two parallel stories. Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute in 1982. Ella, in 2017, is also lonely, having just moved into a new house, with no mother and a father who’s always working. When Ella glimpses a girl’s face in the window of run-down, abandoned Thornhill, she begins to investigate. Mary’s story is told in diary entries, Ella’s in atmospheric black and white art. Echoes of Jane Eyre lend creepiness and foreboding to this ghostly tale. (MG/YA)

Picture Books:

ON A MAGICAL DO-NOTHING DAY, by Beatrice Alemagna, is the story of how a kid, stuck in a cabin with his mom, his electronic game taken away, begins to explore. Outside, in the rain, he discovers a (real) word full of (real) treasures. You’ve got to see this art!

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH A GHOST, by Rebecca Green, is your handy guide for creating “a lifelong (and beyond) friendship” if you’re lucky enough to be found by a ghost. Charming art illuminates detailed instructions that are funny and sweet.

AFTER THE FALL: HOW HUMPTY DUMPTY GOT BACK UP AGAIN, by Caldecott winner Dan Santat, is a powerful story about not giving in to your fears. It takes place after Humpty falls from his wall, after all the king’s men DO manage to put him (mostly) back together again. Humpty really wants to be up on that wall again, high above the city, but he’s afraid of heights. The ending will knock your socks off!