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Showing posts from October, 2016

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, 416pp, RL: TEEN

The Raven Boys  by Maggie Stiefvater came out in 2012 to rave reviews and awards. The fourth and final book in The Raven Cycle, The Raven King, just came out this April. I'm a pretty late to this bandwagon, but if you are not already on it and you like psychic phenomena, Welsh kings and/or private school boys, jump on NOW.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the psychic world and, slightly less so, the spiritual world. ESP and ghosts were my thing, with maybe some spells thrown in. This was well before Harry Potter, the Long Island Medium or Wiccan being an (almost) household word, so I was not especially well informed. But, The Raven Boys should be deeply satisfying to any young reader today with similar tastes. I know my 13-year-old self would have been obsessed with it and probably slept with it under my pillow.
16-year-old Blue Sargent lives at 300 Fox Way in Henrietta, Virginia with her mother, Maura, and assorted aunts, cousins and friends, all of whom are women who have ass…

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet, 400 pp, RL 4

I reviewed and really enjoyed Anne Nesbet's debut novel, The Cabinet of Earth. It was exciting to read a middle grade fantasy novel set in Paris and I found the magic that Nesbet created for this story exciting and out of the ordinary. Nesbet followed with A Box of Gargoyles, a companion to her first book, then The Wrinkled Crown, another fantasy with the feel of a traditional fairy tale, albeit one with political undertones. It surprised me to find that Nesbet's new book, Cloud and Wallfish, is set in East Germany in 1989 and centers around the hard won friendship between an American boy with a paralyzing stutter and a curious girl who has been sent to live with her grandmother. Like what I imagine life in the German Democratic Republic prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall must have been like, Cloud and Wallfish is a quiet, secretive book that requests patience from readers. This patience will be rewarded, like the page turn that reveals the meaning to the title of this marve…

What Is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna

There is something about the sensibility of picture books I read that are created by an Italian, French, Spanish and even British author/illustrators. They seem to take kids a bit more seriously, sharing ideas without talking down to the audience. There is no saccharine, no talking down to the audience. The illustrations even have a fine art feel to them at times. So, when you open the covers of What Is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna, author and illustrator of the charming The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy, you know you are in for something a little different.








What is a child? Alemagna begins by telling readers and listeners something they probably already know, "A child is a small person." But, "they are only small for a little while, then they grow up." Children are in a hurry to grow up, sometimes they are happy and feel free when they grow up and sometimes they find it hard to be grown-up. Sometimes Alemagna's text seems written for adults, other times, you…

The Great Antonio by Elise Gravel, 64pp, RL 2

The Great Antonio is Elise Gravel's loving tribute to Antonio Barichievich, the Croatian born strong man who was a Montreal fixture for many years. The Great Antonio is also yet another superb beginning reader from the fantastic TOON Books. Gravel begins this fanciful story of the life of this giant of a man speculating about his possible parentage and wondering about his childhood in Croatia. This may seem like an odd subject for a beginning reader, but Gravel tells Antonio's story with a playful tone that is immediately engaging.

To show readers just how HUGE Antonio was, she shows his clothes (a cat could sleep in his shoe, but it was quite smelly) and his eating habits. She also shows reader the various opponents he wrestled and the many enormous, heaving things he lifted and pulled.



Antonio was larger than life and stories about him border on the unbelievable. Reading Gravel's author notes at the end of the book helped me get a perspective on this strange - for a beginn…

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield, 288 pp, RL 4

I absolutely love the concept for Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by the genius Gary Northfield! If I had to nutshell it, I'd say, think Terry Deary's Horrible Histories meets 13 Story Tree House. Julius is a hilarious character living in a time period that makes for some crazy adventures. Northfield layers in the history, from using Roman numerals for the page numbers to giving characters Roman names, as well as the names of famous Romans, and using Latin and the historically accurate names for the fights, fighters, arenas and more that appear in this book. There is even a tutorial on how to read Roman numerals and a glossary at the back of the book!
Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! begins in African plains at a watering hole, called the Lake of Doom by Julius, that he does not want to be at. Actually, the book begins with Julius schooling readers about what zebras are really like, burps and all. It stinks (an illustration shows a yak pooping in the lake) is "s…

The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan, 88pp, RL4

Patricia MacLachlan is a big name in kid's books. Author of the Newbery winner, Sarah Plain and Tall, a classroom staple, as well as many other novels and picture books, I have reviewed only two of her books. The title of her newest book, The Poet's Dog, hooked me immediately. As did the length of the book. As a librarian at a school where the majority of students are English Language learners who are not reading at grade level, short books like this give them a sense of accomplishment needed to persevere with longer books. As an adult reader, I found The Poet's Dog to be alternately charming and frustrating, not sure what to make of this book. In the end, I decided to read it as a fairy tale and that helped quiet the the questioning voices in my head, allowing me to enjoy MacLachlan's book as I know young readers will.
The Poet's Dog begins with a haiku-like verse, "Dogs speak words/ But only poets/ And children/ Hear." This is the magical premise that su…

Box by Min Flyte, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

Boxby Min Flyte with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw is about one of my favorite things - boxes. Building cardboard box forts as a kid and for my kids, as well as smaller cardboard box houses for dolls and toys, is  and long has been one of my favorite things to do. With Box, Flyte and Beardshaw have created a marvelous story and exploration that little listeners will love. Best of all, and crucial for a book in which boxes are the star, there are TONS of flaps to lift and boxes to peek inside!



Unfortunately, I could not find any illustrations to show you just how fantastically the flaps compliment the illustrations and story so I'll just have to describe them. Thomas, Alice, Sam and Nancy each have a box. What is inside each box? A drum, a blanket, a tricycle and more boxes! Five flaps lift to reveal a toy mouse sleeping in a cozy little box. After the boxes are emptied, of course they need to be played with every bit as much as the things that were inside! Imaginations take o…

Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies

Sometimes I will do a cold reading to a class of kids when I want to get a group opinion on a picture book. Occasionally, I will love a picture book that I read in the silence of my own home and it falls flat when I read it out loud to a group of kids. And vice versa. More than once I have not been moved by a picture book only to have the audience go crazy for it. I read Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by the marvelous Benji Davies (author and illustrator of Grandad's Island), out loud without even cracking the spine first, to two classes of kindergarteners and it was a hit - for all of us. Also an Octopus turned out to be a special treat for me because it is a book about story telling and how to tell a story, something dear to my heart. This is especially so since I became the librarian in a school where more than two-thirds of the student body are English language learners, less than two-thirds are reading at grade level and very few…

I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino

Dan Yaccarino has written a picture book that really speaks to me. I Am A Story tells the story of, well, storytelling, with the story as narrator. As Frank Viva writes in his review, it's "kind of a historical biography of storytelling." Yaccarino uses a bright, primary palette for his illustrations, with the colors evoking and connecting different time periods. I Am a Story is the perfect book for a librarian and teacher, especially for someone who works in a school where character education is a major pillar of our curriculum. I Am a Story solidifies my belief that stories connect us and form the foundation of a community, a culture. While words can divide us, I think that ultimately, story telling unites us.

Yaccarino begins his book, "I am a story. I was told around a campfire." From there we are off on a journey that visits the highlights (and some low points) of the varied and long history of storytelling. From carvings and pictographs to tapestries and i…

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown, 224 pp, RL 4

Jeffrey Brown is the author of the first three fantastic Jedi Academy books, as well as many other hilarious books in which Darth Vader copes with hand-son fatherhood. Now, following another passion of his, he has created a graphic novel series Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, featuring siblings, Lucy and Andy, their clan, and some prehistoric creatures.
If you have read any of Brown's other books, then you know he is fantastic when it comes to creating engaging characters. Although I came of age with it, I'm not a fan of Star Wars, yet I found Brown's Jedi Academy books completely enthralling precisely because of the characters he populated this world with. In Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, we meet the tween siblings, their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Luba, and their baby brother Danny. Margaret and Phil, teens who are part of the clan, and the creaky old Mr. Daryl. As the older sister, Lucy can seem like a know-it-all, at least to Andy. In a funny twist, Brown gives Lucy some insight…