Wednesday, September 15, 2021

September Recommendations


In MIRROR’S EDGE, by Scott Westerfeld, Frey returns to Shreve to rescue her closest ally, Boss X, and to “shore up the alliance between the rebels and the free cities.” But, she’s also there to oust her father, who “rules with force and lies.” Book 3 of 4, with a great cliffhanger to set up the finale, is set in the same world as the fabulous Uglies series. (MG/YA)

Graphic Novels:

THE OKAY WITCH AND THE HUNGRY SHADOW, by Emma Steinkellner, is an excellent followup to the first Okay Witch book. Moth is still having trouble fitting in at school, so when she comes across a charm that “may transform its wearer into a bolder, more self-assured version of themself with increased powers of persuasion and magnetism,” she can't resist! It’s an engaging story illustrated with engaging art. (MG)

Picture Books:

In BRIGHT STAR, Yuyi Morales uses “the most beautiful things she can find,” including drawings, painted paper, hand-dyed wool yarn, and words—both English and Spanish—to depict her story of a desert borderland, tough yet teeming with life, and a migration stopped by a barbed wire fence. It is a story of love for a child who is learning to find their voice. It is exquisite.

MIMIC MAKERS: BIOMIMICRY INVENTORS INSPIRED BY NATURE, written by Kristin Bott Nordstrom and illustrated by Paul Boston, delivers a fascinating look at how human ingenuity can be inspired by the natural world. Among others, we see how Nakatsu Eiji redesigned Japan’s bullet train after watching kingfishers “plunge like an arrow into the water.” And Yueh-Lin Loo studied the wrinkles and folds of a maple leaf to create a better solar cell. Clear and colorful digital illustrations will help young readers make the connections.

In NORMAN DIDN’T DO IT! (YES, HE DID.), by Ryan T. Higgins, porcupine Norman and his best friend Mildred (a tree) do everything together. From baseball to birdwatching to checkers, it was always “just the two of them.” Until the day another tree shows up. Life isn’t the same, and something just has to be done… Bold, cartoony, digital art shows Norman humorously hitting rock bottom before he figures things out. Kids will love it.

ORIGINAL CAT, COPY CAT, by Sarah Kurpiel, is the appealing story of Pineapple, an only cat whose “sweet routine” is hijacked when Kiwi joins the family. Everywhere Pineapple goes, everything Pineapple does, and every spot Pineapple loves now include Kiwi, in “fast,” “loud,” and “exhausting” ways. But when Pineapple sets this little kitty straight, the quiet of his old routine now has him worried… An uncluttered text and fun, stylized digital illustrations help keep the topic fresh with their Cree translations. The delicate, pastel and pencil illustrations, composited digitally, are brimming with whimsy. It’s a lovely book.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Shelf Awareness--Take Me with You When You Go

YA Review: Take Me with You When You Go

Take Me with You When You Go by David Levithan and Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780525580997)

The captivating Take Me with You When You Go deftly relates the difficult but ultimately uplifting story of a brother and sister who, although they don't have parents they can count on, do have each other--even when one of them unexpectedly runs off.

One morning, 15-year-old Ezra Ahern wakes up to find his sister, Beatrix, gone. She's made her bed ("an exquisite f*** you" to her mom and stepdad) and taken off with money Ezra hid in his room. She's left behind everything else, including Ezra, who must now singlehandedly deal with the rage and abuse from their mom and stepdad. But 18-year-old Bea felt she had to leave; even with high school graduation only two months away, the constant worrying about whether she's "smart enough, brave enough, nice enough, pretty enough, funny enough, enough-enough" became too much. Except now she's alone on the streets, messaging a Mystery Guy and pinning all her hopes on him for the new life she wants so badly.

Levithan (Every Day; The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S.) and Niven (All the Bright Places; Holding Up the Universe) have written a compelling, contemporary portrait of a brother and sister who rely on their love for each other to survive. The novel, told entirely through e-mails between Ezra and Bea, suspensefully and urgently delves into the nuances of parental abuse and the toll it takes on its victims. This novel about a supremely troubled family still somehow manages to remain almost unfailingly optimistic, as the two siblings never stop fighting for each other and for the life they truly deserve. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author

Discover: Younger brother Ezra is left behind to deal with his abusive parents after his 18-year-old sister Bea runs away from home in this compelling, captivating YA novel.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

September's Book of the Month--Raybearer

September’s Book of the Month is RAYBEARER, by Jordan Ifueko.

Tarisai has been raised in isolation at Bhekina House. It’s the home of her mostly-absent mother (The Lady) in the realm of Swana, the second largest region of the vast Arit empire.

Tarisai learns early on that fairies exist and magic is “capricious.” Sneaking off to the savannah one night, she finds that her father is an “alagbato”—a fairy—ensnared so The Lady may have three wishes. First, The Lady demands a stronghold and, second, a child with the alagbato. This child will carry out her third and final wish: this child (Tarisai) will fall in love with the prince of Arit—and kill him.

But Tarisai is strong-willed like her mother, and determined to choose her own path. She has much to learn about her place in the world outside Bhekina House and the politics of a disharmonious empire, but she enjoys the love of good friends and a magical gift from her father. Intrigue, corruption, secrets—and magic—abound.

RAYBEARER is an exceptional fantasy and a pure pleasure to read. It features a strong voice, compelling characters, and intricate world-building. The best thing yet? The second book in the duology, REDEMPTOR, is already out, so no waiting!


Monday, August 30, 2021

Shelf Awareness--Eyes of the Forest

YA Review: Eyes of the Forest

Eyes of the Forest by April Henry (Holt, 272p., ages 12-up, 9781250234087)

Eyes of the Forest by April Henry (The Lonely Dead) is a suspenseful, captivating look at what may happen when a fantasy world becomes too real for some of its fans.

When 10-year-old Bridget's mom was dying of cancer, Bridget spent hours reading aloud from R.M. Haldon's Swords and Shadows series to ease the pain for them both. At 12, red-headed and "milk-pale" Bridget impressed the fantasy writer at a signing with her "encyclopedic knowledge" of his books and was hired to keep track of the myriad details for him. Now 17, Bridget still works for him, using her own database to keep everything straight. But Bob Haldon has writer's block and, despite clamor from readers, the series finale isn't forthcoming. Then Derrick, a LARPer and Haldon's "biggest fan," meets his idol, whom he finds drunk and despondent. Derrick and Bob hatch a plan to get the author writing again but things go "horribly wrong," and Bob ends up "in an isolated cabin, injured, shackled. No one but his captors [knowing] where he [is]." Bridget becomes increasingly worried and, since no one takes her fears seriously, begins an investigation of her own.

Henry's engaging and often thrilling narrative is told from multiple points of view, allowing readers close access to the motivations of all her main characters. She expertly examines the darker side of the culture of fandom, including pressures it puts on creators, and how fans themselves get out of hand. Ultimately, it's Bridget who, though completely submerged in the world of Swords and Shadows, manages to save the day by acting IRL. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Discover: Seventeen-year-old Bridget must leave fantasy behind when her favorite author is kidnapped by an overzealous fan in this suspenseful story.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Shelf Awareness--Kaleidoscope

MG/YA Review: Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 208p., ages 10-up, 9781338777246, September 21, 2021)

Kaleidoscope, a transcendent offering by the Caldecott Medal-winning Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret; Wonderstruck; The Marvels), is infused with different kinds of seemingly ordinary magics: time and space, friendship and love, science and fairy tale. Selznick's eighth work as an author and illustrator is formatted as a collection of 24 interconnected, nonlinear stories in which the whole vision is far greater than the sum of each of its gorgeous parts.

In the opening story, the first-person narrator turns 13 years old and makes off with a ship. They and their friend James sail "past the pillars of Hercules into the West Ocean." A fierce storm carries the pair to the moon, where they're enlisted to help the king in his battle against the sun. After "fighting among the stars for centuries," the narrator returns to Earth alone (James remains behind as the new King of the Moon), to find that only a few days have passed on Earth and they are being blamed for James's death. In the second story, the narrator is a giant who forms a friendship with the human boy James, a person "no bigger than the end of my finger." Though they don't speak the same language, the pair bond over books. And in the third, the narrator is a winged creature exiled to an island 300 years ago. When the narrator rescues a shipwrecked boy, they give the boy access to their personal library, where the boy finds that "everything that happens can be found" in one of the books. The boy learns that the island is really a "heartbroken giant" who "died at the edge of the sea... and for a hundred years the wind blew salt, and sand, and soil, and seeds across his giant body until it became a mountain."

As Selznick himself says in his author's note, "certain themes and images... reappear... gardens and butterflies, apples, angels, fires, trees, friendships, islands, keys, shipwrecks, grief, and love." With them, the author has created a magical place where everything changes except, of course, those few things which stay constant. The relationship between the narrator and James is at the heart of all, and the deeply connected pair love--and are in love--in various ways throughout. Selznick's signature meticulous and heavily cross-hatched pencil illustrations, both abstract and realistic, grace the beginning and end of each brief story. This lovely, ethereal work hopefully makes a case for what the King of the Moon wisely proclaims: "without dreams, everything dies." --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Shelf Talker: Caldecott-winner Selznick offers a spellbinding, nonlinear portrait of intense friendship and love that transcends time and space.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

August Recommendations


In the middle-grade novel JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA, by Shakirah Bourne, the only thing ten-year-old Josephine loves more than playing cricket (or watching a good match) is sliming her daddy’s girlfriends with fish guts to scare them away. So far, with the help of her best—and only—friend Ahkai, she’s been successful. But when strange and beautiful Mariss arrives on the scene, Josephine finds herself up against a foe she thinks might be more sea spirit than human. Bourne juggles multiple plot threads with ease, creating a story that’s full of heart and humming with magic.

Chapter Books:

JO JO MAKOONS: THE USED-TO-BE BEST FRIEND, by Dawn Quigley with illustrations by Tara Audibert, features perky main character Jo Jo, who lives on a fictional Ojibwe reservation. Jo Jo has a best friend at home (Mimi, her cat) and a best friend at school (Fern, who isn’t saving her a seat at lunch anymore). When Jo Jo sneaks Mimi to school in her backpack, Mimi helps Jo Jo learn to rhyme (with such gems as “Mimi went pee-pee in the tipi,” which—yes—actually does happen). Jo Jo and Mimi make it home without being discovered, but there is still plenty to learn about, including Jim/Gym and making art that doesn’t insult your classmates. This is great chapter book fun!

Picture Books:

NO PANTS! by Jacob Grant, stars a little boy who is very excited for Party Day. He does everything he’s told—eats oatmeal for breakfast instead of pancakes, puts his bowl in the sink, brushes his teeth, uses the potty, washes his hands—but when it’s time to get dressed, he loudly and determinedly proclaims “NO PANTS!” His dad tries to convince him pants are necessary. Charcoal, crayon, pencil, and cut paper art that’s colored digitally works perfectly, and please make sure to check under the dust cover. This funny book felt completely relatable (at least to my family)!

SOMETHING’S WRONG! written by Jory John with illustrations by Erin Kraan, is another book about leaving home in your underwear. As Jeff the Bear goes about his morning, he’s got a feeling that something’s wrong. He greets deer, frog, and other animals in the forest, yet he remains sure that “something’s…off.” His friend Anders the Bunny helps him rectify the situation, and soon Jeff has his dignity back. This story about the very best kind of friendship is told completely in dialogue, aided by illustrations (which look to be digitally manipulated woodcuts) that pop with personality.

THE RESCUER OF TINY CREATURES, by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, is Roberta, who does a job “nobody else seems to care about.” From bugs on their backs to worms stranded on the sidewalk, these “tiny creatures need friends who can rescue and understand them.” There are downsides, like people who don’t like earthworm slime or snails in their garden, and there’s the occasional dragonfly bite. But Roberta’s ingenuity shines through and eventually she wins herself a classroom full of fans and one likeminded friend. The bold, cartoony art, made with gouache, colored pencils, charcoal, and markers finished digitally, are full of heart.

WE ALL PLAY, by Julie Flett, takes readers on a gentle, alliterative romp with a variety of wild animals, pointing to the interconnectedness of the natural world. Come “chase and chirp…slip and slide…rumble and roll” because “animals play. And we play, too: kimêtawânaw mîna.” There’s a list of all the “hoppers and wigglers and wobblers and wanderers” included near the end, along with their Cree translations. The delicate, pastel and pencil illustrations, composited digitally, are brimming with whimsy. It’s a lovely book.


Monday, August 9, 2021

Shelf Awareness--Small Favors

YA Review: Small Favors

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig (Delacorte Press, 480p., ages 12-up, 9780593306741)

In Small Favors, a gloriously dark fairy tale that's perfectly enhanced with a romantic through line, Ellerie Downing is the "reliable one," the eldest daughter who won't let her family down. Usually she helps Mama, but with her twin brother, Samuel, "sneaking off all summer," she's begun tending the beehives with Papa.

At 18, Ellerie is ready to find her own place in the "wide and wondrous world" beyond Amity Falls. But there are "giant beasts in the woods" that are believed to have killed everyone on the recent supply train headed for the city. Soon the Falls will be cut off, with monsters and winter snows ensuring no one leaves until spring. When a charming stranger--"too attractive by half"--shows up, Ellerie thinks the future she's hoped for may be about to begin. Then tragedy strikes and Papa must get Mama through the woods to a doctor in the city. Ellerie is left behind to protect what's left of her family. With supplies dwindling and townsfolk at each other's throats, the nightmare is only beginning.

Erin A. Craig (House of Salt and Sorrows) has conjured a spellbinding tale of magic and horror. Her formidable protagonist, Ellerie, is a young woman fully capable of carrying her own troubles on her back--and then some. While it enriches the story, Ellerie's romance never derails her own sense of purpose. She's not immune to the darkness but she fights it harder than most. As the town of Amity Falls, which began full of rules and righteousness, deteriorates in the face of a powerful magic, readers may well wonder who the real monsters are in this story. --Lynn Becker, reviewer, blogger, and children's book author.

Discover: When her town is threatened by monstrous creatures, 18-year-old Ellerie must defend her family in this standout blend of fantasy and horror.