Showing posts from August, 2017

Jack and the Beanstalk AND Little Red Riding Hood by Ed Bryan

I love fairy tales and little kids love fairy tales. When I read them out loud to my students, even the kindergarteners seem to instinctively know the stories and want to hear them again and again. However, there are a lot of fairy tale books out there and they are not all created equal. For a connoisseur of fairy tales, it's a challenge to get the illustrations and retelling just right. And then there is the audience. While I would read Paul O. Zelinsky's Caldecott winning Rapunzel out loud to third graders, I wouldn't read it to first graders. The beautiful, painterly illustrations would be lost on them, as would the pace of the storytelling. Creating a fairy tale for very young audiences that maintains the integrity of the original without watering down the story too much is a fine balance. Ed Bryan and his quartet of fairy tales published by Nosy Crow, a independent British publisher of children's books that is also an imprint of the superlative Candlewick Press, b…

Scythe: Arc of a Scythe Book 1 by Neal Shusterman, 448 pp, RL: TEEN

Neal Shusterman is a prolific author of YA and middle grade novels and, while I have only read one other book by him, I can tell you that he is a talented, thought provoking writer with a supreme gift for world building. A few years ago I reviewed Unwind, the first book in the Unwind Dystology, and I still think about the world he created often. Shusterman's chilling dystopian setting for this series is post Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver, but pre Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games. Gifted as he is, Shusterman recognized that a decade of dystopian YA novels called for something different. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly he said of his new series, Arc of a Scythe,
After a decade of teen dystopia, I wanted to do something that flipped it upside down. Rather than a tale of a dystopian world, I thought, "What would be the consequences of a truly perfect world?" A world without war, poverty, crime or disease. A world where we've found solutions to all our …

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Play Date by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, 96 pp, RL 2

It's been three years since Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham brought Princess Magnolia and her awesome alter-ego (and fantastic Halloween costume) into the world. And it's such a better place since then! Just today, I had a first grader (who was a kindergartener but a few months ago) come to check out the second book in the series,The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party. I asked her if she could read the words and was about to put an easier book in her hand when she launched into this amazing explanation of how, even though she couldn't read the words, she loved the pictures in the book, especially the birthday party. I keep a stash of paperback books to give to students and I just happened to have the very book she was rapturously describing at hand. I wrote her name in it and handed it to her knowing that she would pore over this book, again and again until she could read it. There are so many noteworthy, marvelous, special things about this series, b…

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez, 304pp, RL 4

I am so completely in love with The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. Pérez takes a typical middle school plot - new girl, new school, where does she fit in and can she survive the mean girls, and gives it layer upon layer or depth, detail and rich storytelling, character development and perfect pace, making it an unforgettable novel that I hope will be read by millions of kids. Be sure to visit Celia's website where she shares her Inspiration Board and Playlist created while writing this book!
María Luisa O'Neill-Morales, or, as she prefers, Malú, thinks she is one thing and one thing only - punk. She loves being with her dad (her parents are divorced) at his record store, listening to punk bands, skateboarding and making zines, "self-published booklets, like homemade magazines, and they can be about anything - not just punk." But, Malú is also the daughter of Professor Magaly Morales, or, as Malú calls her, SuperMexican. Malú, who prefers not to speak Spanish,…

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 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 Andrea Fernandez, the characters inThe Friendship Code are diverse - both in cultures and interests. And, I am happy to report that both the fiction and non-fiction books in the…

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…