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Showing posts from October, 2017

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag, 224 pp, RL 4

Witch Boy byMolly Ostertagis the story of Aster, a boy growing up in a magical community where power (but not necessarily ability and talent) is divided along gender lines. Boys, "grow up to be shapeshifters; girls into witches. No exceptions." Aster finds himself impossibly drawn to witchcraft, secretly observing the lessons his Aunt Vervain gives to the girls while facing bullying from the boys, who are beginning to discover their animal spirits. When one of the boys goes missing during shapeshifting practice, Aster believes he can find him - using witchery. As Aster struggles with his passion for witchery and the idea of breaking a longstanding tradition, he learns a dark family secret while also making friends with someone outside his community, Charlie. Charlie is laid up with a broken leg, forced to shoot hoops from her seat in a lawn chair in the driveway. Recognizing that there is something different about Aster, she is very accepting and interested in his world. Oste…

Thornhill by Pam Smy, 544 pp, RL 5

Thornhill by Pam Smy is a stunning book - one of those books I dearly wish my 11-year-old-self had been able to read. A ghost story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, Thornhill is a book that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading it. Thornhill, whichis a gorgeously designed book - from the book case with the silhouette of Thornhill raised, to the beautifully illustrated endpapers and the matte black pages that separate the dual plots, is also a heavily illustrated book with one story line playing out in illustrations only, much like Brian Selznick's masterful trilogy - The Invention of Hugo Cabret,  Wonderstruck and The MarvelsThornhill begins with a one page diary entry from 1982 then moves quickly into the illustrated story of Ella, which is set in 2017. Careful "reading" of Ella's illustrated story reveals clues about her lonely life - an absent mother, a workaholic father and lots of time alone in a new town. Outside Ella's wind…

Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein

I almost passed on Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein. But, his Newbery honor winning book, Interrupting Chicken has long been a story time staple of mine so I decided to give his newest book the library test and read it out loud to a few different groups of kids. The minute I started reading Ice Boy out loud, the weirdness of an anthropomorphized cube of ice heading out on an adventure evaporated (pun intended) and I saw the brilliance of this curious picture book. Ice Boy wants to explore the world outside the freezer in a big way, starting his adventure at the beach, where he becomes Water Boy. Washing up on big swell, he soaks someone's towel. As he basks in the sun, he begins to steam... This leads to a journey high in the sky as Vapor Boy. A storm returns him to his original form of Ice Boy, hurtling him back to earth where he has the good fortune to land in a glass of water - right next to his parents! The whole cycle starts all over again, this time for the parents and son, after t…

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, 40 pp, RL 3

The Pomegranate Witch, written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler is AMAZING!!! First of all, Doyen pulls of a rare feat in the world of kid's books - she has written a rhyming story that (not since the superb Bill Peet) is glorious! There are no contrivances, no made up words to make the rhymes work, no clunky sentences. She has a true gift for language and her word choices are delightful. Her story is exciting, suspenseful, magical and just plain neat. I read it out loud over and over to students and never got tired of it! Wheeler's illustrations are pure magic as well. Her palette is muted, allowing the red of the pomegranates to pop and her characters are marvelous - every child stands out. While there is a witch and Halloween night is part of the story, The Pomegranate Witch is a book you will want to read all year round. On the edge of town is a dilapidated farmhouse where a gnarled, old pomegranate tree is filled with lovely, red globes. Rumors drift around…

Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry, 208 pp, RL 4

Graveyard Shakes is the fantastic debut graphic novel from Laura Terry, a graduate of Pratt and the Center for Cartoon Studies. Graveyard Shakes is a marvelous mix of beautiful illustrations, fantastic characters and a surprising plot that moves quickly and leaves you wanting more! Victoria and Katia Trost have gone from being homeschooled on their remote family farm to being boarders at Bexley Academy. Victoria is excited and anxious to find her place while younger Katia is determined to be herself, even, or especially if, it means being a Lone Wolf. At the nearby cemetery, Little Ghost, the ghost of a young boy, eschews the haunting high jinks of his peers for time with Modie, a curious boy being kept alive by his father, Nikola. Victoria tries her best to fit in and find a way for Katia to comfortably fit in, signing herself up for soccer tryouts and her sister for chamber orchestra auditions but it backfires. Katia disappears in the face of an oncoming blizzard and Victoria heads af…

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d'Harcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d'Harcout is technically for young readers, but I think many adults, including myself, could benefit from it. Full color reproductions of twenty-three masterpieces from museums around the world cover different eras and styles from 1300 BC Egyptian papyrus to twentieth century abstract expressionism. The trim size of this book is huge, which perfectly suits the subject matter. Each two page spread presents the work of art and the items from the painting for readers to find. I love this because it encourages slowing down and really looking at a work of art. I have been to more than a few museums and watched people pause then move on at a rapid pace. In fact, a study from 2001 conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed that the average time spend looking at a painting was 17 seconds. And this was before everyone had a smartphone and the accompanying diminished attention span. Another fantastic feature of Art Up Close is the fact …

Windows by Julia Denos, illustrated by E. B. Goodale

Windows by Julia DenosE.B. Goodale is a gift. Through words and pictures, Denos and Goodale capture that magical feeling that you get when the sun is setting and you can just see into homes as you walk down the street - that feeling of being connected, being part of the world, feeling happy because you see other other people in their homes, safe and content, with the knowledge that you, too, will soon be safe and content. I almost don't want to say anything more about Windows because it's a joy to discover it and experience it for the first time. Denos's text is perfectly spare. The illustrations do most of the storytelling, with Denos's words gently directing the reader's eye or imagination. Perhaps because she herself is an artist who has illustrated many children's book covers and picture books, her first authored and illustrated picture book, Swatchdebuting last year, Denos possesses an understanding of how the words and illustrations work together that shi…

Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor, 496 pp, RL TEEN

Earlier this year I reviewed a book I had long wanted to read, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. While I wish I had read it right away when it was published in 2011, I am grateful that my wait time to read more about the adventures of Sunny Nwazue in Akata Warrior was (less than) six months and not six years! The world that Okorafor creates is all consuming and the struggles, and challenges that Sunny faces in the world of the Leopard People (those with magic) and the world of the Lambs (those without) is so stunningly crafted that I can see it in my imagination. When I go to look up Nigerian foods, places and people online to give context to what I am reading, Okorafor's writing has already front loaded the vital details.
Akata Witch found Sunny, an albino with feet in two worlds, literally, slowly, painfully, blindly, discovering her powers as a Leopard Person and learning her way in the world of the Leopard People while also fighting a powerful, magical serial killer. With Sugar Cr…

Little Red AND Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin

I love fairy tales. But I don't always love the way they are retold. However, Little Red and Rapunzel, written and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin are the right combination of striking illustrations and an dash of girl power!
It's nothing new to empower the heroine of a fairy tale, but I still haven't tired of it! In Little Red, Woollvin starts off with the familiar story, sending Red into the woods with cake and a warning. There are always two things I am looking for when I read a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood - what happens to Grandma and how does the wolf meet his end? In Woollvin's retelling, Grandma does get eaten. However, when Little Red peeks in the window of Grandma's house upon arrival, she sees the "badly disguised wolf." And, while this "might have scared some little girls," not Little Red.  She makes a plan and heads inside. We see Little Red with an axe in her hand and, on the final page, we see her heading home, a fur coat havi…

Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi

Andrea Tsurumi's debut picture book, Accident! is absolutely fantastic - both for the detailed, action-packed, adorable, animal filled illustrations AND the superb message at the end of the book. Every page of Accident! is a treat to read and pore over, her artistic style, color palette and skill at character creation is pure delight. You can see the accident coming before the story starts and the suspense is exciting and (if you are an adult who ha tried to have stain-free furniture) excruciating. When Lola the armadillo spills juice on the nice, white comfy chair, she decides to hide out in the library until she is an adult. As she races to hide, she is joined by friends who have also been the cause of accidents.
As the friends try to escape the messes they have made, readers are treated to accidents happening all over town. Tsurumi has a superb sense of humor and it is a joy to pore over every single page of Accident! There is a bull in a china shop, a puffer fish baker who expan…

Giant Pants by Ye Old Mark Fearing

Mark Fearing is the author of a graphic novel I love and reviewed in 2012, Earthling!. I also ordered three copies for the shelves of my school library a few years ago and it's always checked out (and adored) by my students. As much as I love Earthling!, I was a little unsure of Giant Pants when I read it to myself at home. Reading it out loud to a class of kids changed my first impression completely! Fearing takes a kind of silly giant with a temper (and a habit for misplacing things) and sets him in the middle of a magical kingdom filled with all the fairy tale creatures kids (and me) know and love. 
Belbum (great name, right?) is a giant. When he loses his ONLY pair of pants, he is in quite a spot. The last thing he wants to do is go into town in his underpants to ask the tailor to sew him a new pair of pants.

Belbum decides to borrow pants from one of his friends. While equal in size, Polyphemus the cyclops only has a toga to offer and Belbum needs pants. Old Grint the gnome can…