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Showing posts from August, 2015

The Chronicles of the Black Tulip: The Vanishing Island, Book 1, by Barry Wolverton, 338 pp, RL 4

In 2012 I reviewed Neversink, a superb, Watership Down-esque tale of animals living in the Arctic Circle by Barry Wolverton. I've been waiting three years to see what he does next and The Vanishing Island, the first book in the Chronicles of the Black Tulip series is every bit as exciting as Neversink and inventively set in the alternate past of 1599!
As The Vanishing Island begins, we meet twelve-year-old Bren Owen, resident of Map. The town of Map is the "dirtiest, noisiest, smelliest city in all of Britannia," which is an alternate version of England. Being the home of McNally's Map Emporium, naturally, Map is also a vital port in the age of exploration, which is dominated by the the Netherlands and their Dutch Bicycle & Tulip Company. As the son of a map draftsman, a dull job with no room for advancement, Bren is desperate to leave Map for a life at sea and makes his third attempt at stowing away as the book begins. When his plans go awry, Bren finds himse…

Baba Yaga's Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll, 136 pp, RL 4

Baba Yaga's Assistant is the superlative new graphic novel written by Marika McCoola and illustrated by Emily Carroll, who brought us the eerily wonderful graphic Through the Woods. I am a HUGE fan of fairy tales (my secret dream is to get a PhD in fairy tales and write a killer dissertation...) and always excited to see a story that features one of the lesser known (to Americans) characters like Baba Yaga in a story. Most recently, Baba Yaga has appeared in Gregory Maguire's epic Russian fairy tale mash-up, The Egg and the Spoon. Baba Yaga also turns out in Michael Buckley's brilliant Sisters Grimm series and she appears in one of the wonderful Tashi chapter books that are a must read.
Baba Yaga, for those of you who don't know her, is a witch from Slavic folklore. She lives in the forest in a house that walks on chicken legs and she flies around in a giant mortar and pestle. She is older than anyone knows, has iron teeth, and her favorite thing to eat is children. In …

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is the first work of narrative non-fiction for Laurel Snyder, author of several picture books and middle grade novels. Illustrated by Julie Morstad, the cover of Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlovadrew me in instantly, even though I never made it past rudimentary ballet classes as a very young child and the most I know about this Russian dancer is how to make the dessert named after her. But Morstad's cover made me want to know more. Snyder's mellifluous text kept me reading.


Born in Tsarist Russia, Anna's life changes when her mother takes her in a sleigh through the snow to see the ballet. Snyder writes, "A sleeping beauty opens her eyes. . . and so does Anna. Her feet wake up! Her skin prickles. There is a song, suddenly, inside her.




"Shirt, shirt, laundry," becomes Anna's internal song as she helps her mother, a poor laundry woman, and dances to her song. When she is eight, Anna auditions for the Imperial B…

The Elephantom by Ross Collins

Ross Collins is a prolific illustrator (and author) of picture books, chapter books and novels for kids. His newest picture book, The Elephantom, is a huge hit in the U.K. and it's been adapted into a play by the Royal National Theater that's also a huge hit! After reading The Elephantom, I can see why.

The narrator of The Elephantom, a very cute little girl - Collins has a way with how he draws kids that is quite adorable - begins the story by telling reader she has an elephantom who showed up one Tuesday after dinner and, "to be honest, he's starting to bug me." A phantom elephant in your house might seem like fun, unless he's the kind of elephantom who rides a scooter up the stairs at night and eats all the peanut butter, forcing your mom to make spinach sandwiches. Even worse, on Friday's the elephantom has his friends over.
When the smell of the elephantom dung gets to be too much, the narrator turns to grandma for help. After all, "she has lots o…

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Leo: A Ghost Story is Mac Barnett's fourteenth picture book (two of which have won the Caldecott Honor Medal) in six years. That might seem like a lot for an author/illustrator, but not necessarily for a picture book author. While I tend to prefer picture books where the author is also the illustrator, Barnett's books are favorites of mine and I love seeing his unique story telling style brought to life on the page by a stellar roster of illustrators. Leo: A Ghost Storyis Barnett's first book with the fabulous new(ish) illustrator Christian Robinson and they are perfectly paired here.
Leo: A Ghost Storybegins in an empty house with the words, "This is Leo. Most people cannot see him." The page turn reads,
"But you can. Leo is a ghost." I love how the text immediately includes the reader in the story in an exciting, almost conspiratorial sort of way while also assuring, with the illustration, that Leo is a friendly ghost. To further reassure readers, we le…

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 317 pp, RL 4

Jennifer Nielsen is the author of the widely praised Ascendance Trilogy, set in a kingdom on the verge of civil war. Neilsen is also the author of the Mark of the Thief trilogy set in Ancient Rome that combines history, fantasy and fast paced action. Nielsen's newest book, A Night Divided, is a stand-alone work of historical fiction set in a time and place that is rarely visited in children's literature - East Berlin during the cold war. Narrated by Gerta Lowe, A Night Divided is rich with quotes from historical and literary figures from Goethe and Bertolt Brecht to John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev. Nielsen ends A Night Divided, chillingly, with the German proverb, "History repeats itself."
Gerta Lowe is eight when her life changes dramatically. On the morning of August 13, 1961, she wakes to find that a "prison had been built around us as we slept," leaving her family divided by what becomes the Berlin Wall. Gerta's father, Aldous, and her brother D…