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Showing posts from 2017

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani and Sarah Hutt, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi, 162 pp, RL: Middle School

It rankles me when I see things marketed specifically to girls. Mostly because I am not the kind of girl those stereotypically "girl" things appeal to and neither is my daughter. And, probably, neither are millions of girls. But, the reality is that sometimes you need to use shorthand or symbols or certain colors to get a message across, to market an idea. And messages and ideas can be gender specific, as I learned when I read the introduction to Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani, founder of girls who code. While running for congress in 2010, Saujani visited many public schools and noticed that, in every computer lab, there were, "dozens of boys learning to code and training to be tech innovators. BUT THERE WERE BARELY ANY GIRLS!" Then she throws out this disturbing statistic: "By 2020, there will be 1.4 million open jobs in computing. These jobs are some of the country's highest-paying and fastest-growing career paths. B…

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch, 144 pp, RL 4

As I said in my review ofGirls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani , founder of https://girlswhocode.com/"target="_blank">girls who code, it rankles me when I see things marketed specifically to girls. But, after reading Saujani's intro to her book and doing a little research into the disparity between the growing number of jobs and low numbers of women working in the field of computer science, I am ALL IN! As Saujani says in her introduction toThe Friendship Code, "I realized that there was a need for books that described what it's like to actuallybea girl who codes. I always say, 'You can't be what you can't see.' And that's true for books, too! We need to read stories about girls who look like us in order to be inspired to try something new." As you can see by the cover illustration by http://alkemystudio.com/andrea-d-fernandez/"target="_blank">Andrea Fernandez, the characters in Th…

Colette's Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

Isabelle Arsenault'sillustration style is unique and, with her new picture bookColette's Lost Petshe proves she is a unique storyteller as well. Colette's family moves to Mile End, a city neighborhood of apartment buildings, narrow back yards and alleys. With a firm and frustrated, "For the last time, NO PET!" her mother sends Colette out into the backyard and tells her to explore her new neighborhood. Running into two boys in the alley, Colette begins spinning a story about a lost pet she is looking for. The more questions the curious kids ask, the bigger the story gets, and the more kids get involved. Soon, Colette is part of a pack of kids winding through the neighborhood looking for her "truly amazing" lost pet. When Colette's mother calls her in for dinner, she sadly begins to comply. Maybe she thinks they know she was making up a story, maybe she thinks they won't want to be friends with her if she doesn't need them to help look for he…

Time Shifters by Chris Grine, 272 pp, RL 4

In 2014 I reviewed Chickenhare by Chris Grine and LOVED it. The hero, Chickenhare, is a curiosity, a mash-up creature who, along with his best buddy, a rare, bearded turtle named Abe, is handed off to a collector (and taxidermist) of exotic animals. Hopefully, someday, the sequel, Fire in the Hole, will be reissued with color by Graphix, just like Chickenhare was. Happily, Grine is working on a new series, Time Shifters, in the meantime.
Like Kazu Kibuishi's Amuletseries, Time Shifters begins with a tragedy. Luke and his older brother and best friend, Kyle, are exploring in the woods behind their home when an accident happens. A year later, and Luke is still grieving. But, when he sees a flash of light in the forest where his brother died, he heads out to investigate. Grine's illustration style is vivid, alternating between close-up emotional displays and detailed geographic illustrations.
Through a series of mishaps, Luke ends up with a device clamped onto his arm that allows t…

Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetrio, 272pp, RL 4

Confession: When I read the flap for Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou I thought I was in for a When You Reach Me time travel story and got really excited. And, while the man who lives in apartment 1986 really does love the 80s and collects all kinds of artifacts from that period, there is no mysterious time travel, just the mystery of families and frustrations.
And, while I am very glad that I read it, Apartment 1986 is the kind of book I usually pass on. Middle grade novels with first person narrators going through family struggles are hard to get right. I find they are either too solemn, too quirky or both. However, there is something about the voice of narrator Callie Vitalis that, even in her naivete, is charming. Maybe it's because, from the first page of the book, Callie is all about mindset, a concept that is huge in the educational world (and my house) and says things like, "I sort of flounce out of the store, and because I have been practicing my flouncing, I thin…

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora, is one of my favorite kind of books, one where the kids know better than the adult, but the adult is not presented as a buffoon. The student's in Mr. Stricter's class narrate the story, with understandable concern with Ohora's humor-filled illustrations bringing a retro feel to the book. I love Ohora's illustrations but, not wanting to give away too much about the surprise of the book, I haven't included too many illustrations here.
Black endpapers call to mind a blackboard where the life cycle of a frog has been drawn in chalk. Except for one small difference you have to make sure you don't miss. The Teacher's Pet begins, "On the day the science project hatched, our whole class was amazed. We'd never seen Mr. Stricter so excited. 'I always wanted a pet,' he said." Mr. Stricter tells his students they can keep one of the tadpoles for a class pet and they choose …

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder, 269 pp, RL 4

Before I begin writing my own review of a book often before I even begin reading a book, I will read a handful of other reviews from a few different sources I have found to be reliable. I didn't do that with Orphan Island, the newest book by Laurel Snyder, with evocative cover and map art by David Lichtfield. I just jumped right in, slate (mostly) blank, and I'm so glad I did. Orphan Island is so many things, stirs up so many feelings and calls to mind so many moments and memories. With her writing, her world building and her protagonist Jinny, Laurel Snyder reminded me more powerfully and intimately what it felt like to be at the cusp of adolescence more than any book I have ever read, more than any trip down Memory Lane flipping through a photo album. Reading Orphan Island made me remember what it felt like to be headed into a world I could could not see ahead of me, but only imagine. What it felt like to live in a world  - and a body - that seemed to be breaking apart and g…

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, 352pp, RL: 5

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor came out in 2011 with superb cover art by Jillian Tamaki, co-creator, with her cousin, Mariko Tamaki, of the award winning graphic novel This One Summer. This year, in anticipation of the sequel, Akata Warrior, due out this fall, the amazingGreg Ruth created amazing covers for both books. I was working as a bookseller when Akata Witchcame out and put it on my mental to-be-read list. And, while it took me six years to circle back to it, I am so glad that I did.

In this post-Harry Potter world, it's hard not to read a novel about a child who discovers latent magical powers and goes on to fight evil without thinking about Hogwarts even a little bit. Akata Witch was published post-Potter and shares some similar elements (knives instead of wands, Lambs instead of Muggles, a funky train instead of the knight bus, an epic magical sporting match) with Harry's magical world and it was hard not to think of one realm while reading about the other. Okorafor…

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Nothing Rhymes with Orange is Adam Rex's first authored and illustrated picture book since 2014. In the last three years he has illustrated books written by Neil Gaiman and Mac Barnett and written books illustrated by Christian Robinson and Scott Campbell. And, while I love everything that Rex does, especially his middle grade novels like The True Meaning of Smekday (which the movie Home was very loosely based on), I am happy to see his sense of humor on display in both the words and illustrations of this new picture book.
As a kid, I remember being so amused and amazed to learn that there were a handful of words in the English language for which there is no rhyming match. Rex takes this factoid to the next level, anthropomorphizing collaged photographs of fruit by inking facial features, arms and legs on them, then letting them take center stage.

Singing rhyming songs about themselves and the wonderful things you can do with all the fruits, Orange is in the wings making comments an…

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli & Mariachiara Di Giorgio

I completely and totally adore Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio and have read it over and over, finding something new that makes me smile every time. A wordless picture book, some pages of Professional Crocodile have panels, like a graphic novel, moving the story along, and some pages present one illustration spread over two pages. The watercolor and charcoal/pencil/crayon illustrations allow for broad sweeps of color, tight details and a warm  palette. And, Professional Crocodile keeps readers wondering throughout the book, just what is this crocodile's profession? The surprise reveal, which I will not divulge here (but I can tell you that it is so clever and surprising I guarantee you will love it as much as I do) at the end is utterly delightful and one that will send you back to the start to read again. 
The premise of Professional Crocodile is a simple one. Over the course of this marvelous book, we watch a crocodile wake up, get dressed and…

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh, 288 pp, RL 4

Why is Spirit Hunters, the first book in a new series by Ellen Oh (founder of We Need Diverse Books, a "grassroots organization of children's book lovers that advocated essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.") so awesome? Where do I begin? First, Spirit Hunters is a really, truly, chillingly scary ghost story for middle grade readers. And if you don't already know this, writing a scary ghost story for middle grade readers takes A LOT of finesse and Oh delivers on finesse. Like writing mysteries for kids, writing ghost stories for kids requires removing a lot of adult elements from the story. Unfortunately, it is these adult elements that often make the story exciting. Mysteries need murders and bad people, and so do ghost stories, and, like I said, it's tricky business getting that right in a kid's book. Up to now, Mary Downing Hahn is the only author I know of who…

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova, 241 pp, RL 4

With brave, Svetlana Chmakova cements her place on the shelves next to Raina Telgemeier, proving once again that she is a gifted chronicler of the lives of tweens. In awkward, we met Peppi (short for Penelope) Torres, newly arrived at Berrybrook Middle School and navigates the challenges of avoiding the mean kids, finding her tribe and struggling through a challenging class. With brave, Chmakova returns to Berrybrook Middle School where Jensen Graham takes center stage. Jensen is going to save the world someday from a zombie apocalypse, if the effects of sunspots (Jensen's greatest fear) don't destroy the earth first. Jensen also plans to become an astronaut and discover the ruins of an ancient civilization while exploring Mars. However, his immediate, everyday goals are usually to make it from class to class without attracting the attention of the mean kids and making it through class without attracting the attention of his teachers. The high point of his day comes after schoo…

Lemons by Melissa Savage, 320 pp, RL 4

I am a huge fan of cryptids (animals that people believe are real, yet their existence has not been definitively  proven) and was so excited when I discovered that Lemons by Melissa Savage is set in the Willow Creek, California, the Bigfoot capitol of the world just a few years after the famous Patterson-Gilman footage of an unidentified subject (looking very much like Bigfoot) was filmed in 1967. I was less excited when I learned that Lemonade Liberty Witt, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Lemons has just lost her mother and been sent to live with a grandfather she never knew. A deceased parent is a prevalent plot point in middle grade fiction, regardless of genre. Absent parents make so many things possible in a kid's book, whether it's travel to another world or a trip down the block. In today's reality, adults play a huge part in children's lives and are always around, in the form of parent, teacher and caregiver. From the perspective of a young reader, a book wi…

The Next Best Junior Chef: Book 1 Lights, Camera, Cook! by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrations by Aurélie Blard-Quintard, 192 pp, RL 3

Next Best Junior Chefis the new trilogy written by Charise Mericle Harper and illustrated by Aurélie Blard-Quintard. While there are a few chapter books and middle grade novels that come each year with cooking and baking as important plot points, this trilogy stands out for so many great reasons. I am a huge fan of books about food, cooking shows and competition cooking shows. I have watched every reality food show on Netflix and Hulu (although I draw the line at cupcake competition shows, even if my favorite fictional television show foodie, Dev Shah, hosts the equally fictional Clash of the Cupcakes) and have even been known to turn on the Great British Baking Show in my library before school and at recess. Reading Lights, Camera, Cook!, I almost felt like Harper wrote this book just for me. Now I can talk to my students as enthusiastically about a foodie book as I do about foodie television shows. And, having watched so many shows (including Master Chef Junior and Chopped Junior) I…