Showing posts from May, 2013

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones, 304 pp, RL 4

If you have been following my blog for a while, it's no secret that fantasy - kid's fantasy - is my favorite genre, and one that I really only began exploring in a post-Harry Potter world. There wasn't much fantasy when I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. Working as a children's bookseller beginning in 1995, it was easy to track the influence of JK Rowling's work on the world of children's literature when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in the US in 1997. Even better, though, was the impetus it gave me to explore authors who had been writing for this genre all along that I had never heard of, like Brits Eva Ibottoson, Joan Aiken and Diana Wynne Jones, to name a few. And, while there are plenty of post-Potter Americans contributing amazing books to the genre of fantasy for kids and setting their stories squarely on American soil, there is just something about a work of fantasy by an author from the UK that feels more genuine than a…

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: Revised and Updated Edition by Diana Wynne Jones, 234 pp, RL 5

The inimitable, irreplaceable Diana Wynne Jones was inspired to create The Tough Guide to Fantasyland : The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel late in 1994 when, as she says, "I was recovering from surgery, a situation I found myself in rather often during that decade." Knowing that she was bored and impatient, her friend John Clute, who, along with John Grant, are the authors of the The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, first published in book form in 1997 and now available on line, suggested that she help work through the projected entries for the encyclopedia. Working with Chris Bell, she helped to decide which entries were necessary or made sense and provide examples. When they came to the proposed entry, "Nunnery," they both shouted in unison, "Nunneries are for sacking! There is usually one survivor." Diana went on to say, "You know, most of these books are so much the same that I could write the guidebook for the country they happen in." And a book…

Dragon's Fat Cat, story and pictures by Dav Pilkey 48pp RL1

I first posted this review in September of 2008, when my blog was barely a month old and I was racing to write reviews of all my favorite (and my children's) books. A new comment on these books reminded me how wonderful and rare they are and I decided to repost this review and hopefully introduce a whole new generation of emerging readers to these superb books! If you already know the DRAGON books, scroll to the bottom of this review for more titles from Pilkey that are perfect for new readers.

This is exactly the kind of book that I wish there were more of - a first grade level reading book with chapters, that LOOKS like a chapter book and not a picture book or beginning to read book. I see so many kids every day at work who are reading at a first grade level but want to read something that looks like a Magic Tree House book, not an easy reader. While the "Dragon" books are a little bit larger in trim size than a traditional 2nd grade level chapter book, they do have …

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, 512 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was published in July of 2012 and has received a lot of well deserved attention since then, including the Morris Award for a debut book by a first-time author writing for teens. I struggled to write this review and put it off for weeks, in part because this book is so well written and engrossing, but also because I listened to the audio book (brilliantly narrated by Mandy Williams and Justine Eyre) and do not have the text in front of me. This is problematic because Rachel Hartman has a truly imaginative gift for language and Seraphina is rich with names like Lucian Kiggs, Comonot, Glisselda, Pesavolta and Okra Carmine. There are the Ityasaari, a race of human-dragon hybrids, there are Porphyrian Philosophers and houppelandes. And, while Hartman didn't invent the word "houppelande," I'd never heard it before and anytime it was part of the story I found myself turning the word over and over in my mouth like a piece of hard candy. Fortunatel…

P.S. Be Eleven, by Rita Williams Garcia, 274 pp, RL 4

With her new book, P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia picks up where  her multiple-award winning One Crazy Summer, began and ended - with the Gaither sisters, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern, on a Boeing 727 flying across the country. This time, the girls are flying home from a month-long visit in Oakland, CA, with a mother they hadn't seen in seven years. And, even though they were only gone 28 days, the home they return to on Herkimer Street in Brooklyn is full of changes.
Besides the anticipation of turning twelve before the calendar year is out, Delphine has the sixth grade dance and the fact that, after the gangly Ellis Carter, she is the tallest girl in her class, to worry about. But she is looking forward to her year with Miss Honeywell, a cool, young teacher who, supposedly, was sent home to change when she wore a bell bottomed pantsuit to school the year before. And then there is The Jackson 5. At the insistence of Delphine's sometimes-friend Lucy Raleigh, the sisters sne…

Line 135 by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine

Line 135 is by Germano Zulloand Albertine, the European duo who brought us Little Bird, which is translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Enchanted Lion BooksLine 135 begins, "There are two places I belong in the world. The first place I belong is my house in the city. The second place I belong is my grandmother's house in the country."

Line 135 is as much a book about traveling and moving from one place to another as it is about how we choose to see the world, with the young narrator's wonderful outlook gradually influencing the geography around her as the train travels to its destination.
The narrator tells us that one day she will travel in every direction and "know the entire world." She also tells us that her mother and grandmother say this is impossible, that she it too small to know the entire world. And that it is "difficult enough to know yourself." She tells us that she doesn't always understand her mother and grandmother, who tell her t…

Signed By: Zelda, by Kate Feiffer, 232 pp, RL 4

SIGNED BY ZELDA is now in paperback!

Kate Feiffer'sSigned by: Zelda (with wonderful cover art by Kelly Murphy) is her second novel for young readers and comes on the heels of nine pictures books, four of which are illustrated by her father, the great Jules Feiffer. Besides her own great track record as a children's book author and her wonderful lineage, I was intrigued by Signed by: Zelda because one of the main characters is a budding graphologist!
Feiffer brings together two very different eleven-year-olds, a talking pigeon and Grandma Zelda who has lived an amazing life all over the world but has not left her apartment in over a year. Lucy, the graphologist, is the daughter of a surgeon and a teacher and she and her parents have moved from Savannah, GA to New York City for her mom's "great job at a great children's hospital." Lucy immediately notices that "great" has become a throwaway (a word that you use when you don't want to say what you r…

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, 218 pp, RL 4

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garica, as you can see by crowd of awards (Coretta Scott King Award, Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Medal, Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist - basically the most prestigious awards for children's literature there are), has been very read and loved since it was published in 2010. I have not read the gold medal winner for 2010, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, but I think it must have been EXTREMELY hard to be a Newbery judge that year... Before I write another word, I listened to the audio book of One Crazy Summer and I need to acknowledge the supreme narration skills of Sisi Aisha Johnson. As someone who listens to copious amounts of audio books, I have my favorites, usually narrators who can create voices for a range of characters. Johnson masterfully created distinct voices for the three sisters, including that of Fern, the seven-year-old, as well as several male characters who were part of the story. Delphine, the oldes…

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe, 216 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe is a gem! I am a tremendous fan of Smile and Drama by the exceptional Raina Telegemeier but have been frustrated by the fact that I have yet to find graphic novels that are similar to her work. With Peanut, I have finally found that book! Halliday and Hoppe tell the story of a girl who finds herself starting sophomore year of high school in a new town. Like Telgemeier, Halliday and Hoppe create characters who feel very real and has quirks and qualities that enrich the plot and I hope there are more graphic novels from this team coming in the very near future. Although this story is set in a high school, I have given the book a MIDDLE GRADE rating. There is a romantic relationship, but it is very sweet and chaste in nature with only one on-page kiss. And, there are two mean girls who make some pretty snide comments, but there are no obscenities.

Sadie and her mom move often and when she learns that she will be starting her sophomore year at Plainf…

Primates : The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks, 144 pp, RL 3

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas is written by Jim Ottaviani, who's very cool website, G.T. Labs, has the tagline, "Comics about scientists? What a dangerous experiment!" Ottaviani, among other books, is the author of Feynman, a biographical graphic novel about the Nobel Prize winning scientist who did stuff with quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and other things I can't even begin to understand, as well as work on the Manhattan Project (he makes an appearance in Ellen Klages's amazing book about this time, The Green Glass Sea, told from the perspective of the daughter of one of the scientists working on the project). Primates is wonderfully illustrated by Maris Wicks.
Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas was called "Trimates" at one time and I think that is important to keep in mind when reading this unique biography. As a completely ignorant reader - I have re…