The Dinosaur Hunters is a novella that takes place in the world Patrick Samphire created for his Secrets of the Dragon Tomb series. The first book in the series is one of my favorite reads of this year. If you haven't read it, you should. You should also get your hands on this prequel novella that gives a wonderful glimpse into other elements of the world Samphire created and introduces a fabulous heroine.
Harriet George is determined to rescue her brother in law Bertram from his own stupidity. Bertram has bumbled his way along as a police inspector, but as rumors of a famous jewel thief no can catch coming to Tharsis City begin to spread, Bertram finds himself volunteered to capture the criminal. Harriet knows he will be unsuccessful and this will end his career leaving the family destitute. Harriet, disguised as a boy, goes along with Bertram on an expedition to hunt dinosaurs with the person believed to be the target of the famous jewel thief. The jewel thief does indeed strike, but he is not the only criminal lurking in the shadows of the hunt. Soon Harriet and Bertram find themselves investigating a murder while trying to not get eaten by the dinosaurs their expedition is there to hunt.
As a novella, The Dinosaur Hunters is a short quick read. Yet I was impressed with how much character development Samphire was able to do with the limited pages. Harriet is a force to be reckoned with. She is smart though far out of her element. She has no investigative training or much idea of how to handle a weapon. What she does have in abundance is instinct, common sense, and the ability to think quickly on her feet. I hope that this novella is the just the first we get of her in this series and that she will feature in one of the novels later.
The other characters are fairly standard for a mystery of this type, but I had no trouble keeping them straight in my head. None of them were forgettable. The plot is one of those mysteries that I love: a small group of people cut off for the most part and everyone is a suspect. The plot takes several twists along the way. I enjoyed every one of them and the ending was incredibly satisfying. The dinosaurs the expedition is hunting gave a whole other edge of danger and adventure to the story. I enjoyed seeing their place in the Martian world and connection to earth's fossils further explored.
This is a perfect introduction to the world Samphire has built if you are looking for one, and a must read for anyone who has read and enjoyed The Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.
The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout has languished on my TBR for the longest time. A few weeks ago Sarah Prineas asked on Twitter if I had read it (I can't remember in relation to what). I almost responded, "No, but I plan to get to it someday." I stopped and thought, "Why wait though?" I then put it immediately on hold. I'm very happy I did because it is a wonderful adventure and I'm kicking myself for not having picked it up earlier.
Fisher wakes up covered in goo emerging from a birthing pod. He is aware he is newly born. He knows the world is dangerous. He realizes he is also in imminent danger and it is his duty to survive. Shortly after his emergence into the world, Fisher is found by a robot whose job it is to keep him alive. Fisher is part of the Ark-a place designed to preserve the human species so that they may survive following the devastation they wrought on the planet. The robot, who Fisher names Click, downloaded the Fisher profile into Fisher and activated his birth when the Ark was attacked from an unknown source. Fisher is the only survivor of the Ark's devastation. After exploring his world and discovering how much has evolved, Fisher learns there was more than one Ark and sets off to find if there are any other humans. He travels with Click and a wooly mammoth who acts like a giant dog. Fisher discovers that animals have changed in strange and unpredictable ways and that these organisms aren't the only things evolving. There is something far more sinister out there that is convinced it knows exactly what is right for Fisher-whether he agrees or not.
Whoa boy. This book has so much going for it. It is short, fast paced, full of adventure, and has a sly humor. We all know how I feel about survival stories and I LOVED this book. That should say something. Part of that is due to Fisher not completely being alone as he survives. For a robot, Click is a pretty fantastic foil. Their interactions and the eventual relationship that develops between them is wonderful. Fisher as a main character is wonderful. He is "born" as a tween and is naturally endowed with all of the snark, inquisitiveness combined with caution, and longing for a place to belong that is trademark of the age. Click for his part is quite the snarkbot himself. The banter between the two is excellent with Click acting as teacher, parent, mentor to the confused Fisher.
The world Fisher is exploring is new and different enough to make for fascinating reading too. Eekhout uses his words well. He uses them economically while still providing enough imagery to convey the world Fisher inhabits. He changes things just enough that they are familiar to the reader yet come with a new type of danger and edge. I really liked the way he made the safe not quite so safe anymore too.
The plot is fast paced and moves from one problem Fisher encounters to another as he journeys to find a human companion. In many ways this is the familiar hero-quest story except in the future with robots as companion instead of bards. It works incredibly well. The peril in the book is incredibly real. There is an insidious force at work trying to stop Fisher from accomplishing his goals and this culminates in a spectacular battle in the end.
I am so glad I finally read this because my son is now almost exactly the right age for it and this is exactly the sort of story he goes for. YAY! (And thank you for the prompting, Sarah.)...more
For some reason I have lately been out of the loop when it comes to books published by Random House. I think this is because they've been rather noncommittal about putting the children's catalogues up on Edelweiss. As a result, I did not know about this upcoming title until the author, David Neilsen, contacted me to see if I wanted an ARC. I immediately said yes, because Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom sounded like a creepily fun book. And so it is.
The children of Hardscrabble street have used an old abandoned brick house as an imaginative play area for years. When it finally sells, they mourn the loss. Jerry, Gail, and Nancy inform the mysterious new owner of this when they meet him on his first day in town. After Dr. Fell moves in, he builds a large intricate playground that is the stuff of childhood dreams. All of the children in the neighborhood immediately begin to play on it. Soon children from other neighborhoods are coming too. The playground is constantly full of children who have the inevitable accidents. When this occurs, Dr. Fell swoops them up and fixes their injuries. The parents are as enamored of him as their children. Before long, the entire town is under his spell. Everyone except for Jerry, Gail, and Nancy who are somehow immune to Dr. Fell's winning ways and the only ones who realize something has gone very very wrong in their ideal little town.
Jerry and Gail are siblings. Nancy is Gail's best friend. Jerry is two years younger than the girls, but his mind is sharp and he is well able to keep up with them. Nancy is outspoken, courageous, and snarky. She puts up with Jerry because he's Gail's brother but rarely misses a chance to insult him. Gail is the quiet one who usually goes with the flow and does not like conflict or causing trouble. Together the three kids are a truly great team. They go to great lengths to protect each other from the spell Dr. Fell weaves. Their determination to save each other and their town strong. I liked how much they needed each other too. This is one of those books you find frequently in MG fantasy where the adults are (mostly) of no use and the children are the ones who get to save the day. These books are popular with kids because the love this concept. They want to be heroes and losing themselves in a story like this allows them to be. I think kids are going to particularly enjoy this one due to the way the danger manifests itself.
Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is a quick read with a fast paced plot. Nielsen does not waste his words and each one is put to good use. There are chapter endings that beg the reader to keep going and the sentence level writing is truly excellent. It has a perfect cadence and rhythm. This is a book that begs to be read aloud. I particularly enjoyed how well the novel balances creepy with humor. It is incredibly Dahl-esque in that way. There are lines that are laugh out loud funny and moments of spine tingling terror. It is the sort of terror most kids love, the kind that makes them feel afraid while knowing they are still safe. The humor helps with this. It is exactly the right sort of book to hand 3rd through 6th graders who enjoy such things.
I highly recommend this one. Teachers should keep it mind for an October read aloud. The cover and length of the book make it an easy sell to kids and it is one they won't be disappointed in. I can not wait to share it with my son because I know he will love it. I don't say that lightly about him. He is incredibly choosy about his books.
I read an ARC I received courtesy of the author. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is on sale August 9th from Crown Books for Young Readers....more
This is an incredibly well done story about a girl who falls into an old well during a mean club initiation orchestrated by girls at her new school. OThis is an incredibly well done story about a girl who falls into an old well during a mean club initiation orchestrated by girls at her new school. Once Kammie is in the well, she has a lot of time to think about her life, and Rivers balances what is happening in the now with flashbacks Kammie has to what brought her to the place she now finds herself. The plot is definitely not linear and jumps around a lot. This could be confusing but it should be because it is a perfect reflection of Kammie's turmoil as she waits for a rescue that may not come. It is a short read and I think it will be an easy sell with its target audience. ...more
I enjoyed Brian Ferrey's The Vengekeep Prophecies trilogy, but missed that he had a new book out until I stumbled on The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse in the library. I checked it out and then received some encouragement to bump it up my pile from a friend, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Princess Jeniah will become Queen far sooner than anyone was expecting. Yes, the rulers of Monarchy tend to die younger than most, but everyone assumed there would be more time to prepare Jeniah than this. As Jeniah's training hastily begins, she is shown her entire kingdom from atop a tower and gets her first glimpse of Dreadwillow Carse. She is warned never to go there for if a ruler of Monarchy goes to the Carse, the monarchy will fall. In the village next to the Carse there lives a girl named Aon who has a deep secret. She can feel sadness, pain, and mourning where everyone else in the kingdom can only feel joy and happiness. The Carse is a refuge to Aon who goes there to shed her sadness even though it repulses her at the same time it welcomes her. When the girls meet by chance, they strike a deal. Aon will explore the Carse on Jeniah's behalf if Jeniah frees her father from the mysterious service he was conscripted into for the kingdom. Through exchanged letters, the girls become friends. When Aon ventures into the heart of the Carse and doesn't return, Jeniah must decide whether to risk Monarchy to save her friend.
One of the things I really appreciated about this book is it is a friendship tale documenting a wonderful bond between girls who appear vastly different but need each other. It is excellent fantasy too, but at its core it's the tale of two girls and their bonds to each other, their pasts, and the people of Monarchy. Jeniah has never had anyone her age to share her thoughts and sorrows with, because no one in Monarchy excepting the royal family is supposed to feel anything but joy. She is surprised to learn that Aon can too, but quickly embraces this and begins to open up to her. Aon has never been able to confess her secret to anyone for fear of what they will think. While she fears she overstepped herself confessing to Jeniah, she too soon finds comfort in having someone who understands. I loved how their relationship developed through letters too. The story moves back and forth between the girls alternating chapters. I enjoyed the way Farrey wove them together. Sometimes they overlapped and we were seeing the same scene again but from an entirely different perspective. I thoroughly loved both of the girls, their views on the world, how they dealt with their emotions, and their bravery which manifested in different ways.
The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is a stand alone MG fantasy and a quick read. Hallelujah. Please, give us more of these. The pacing of the story is pretty near to perfect moving the reader quickly along and conveying information at exactly the right points and in the right ways. It is part mystery. What is the Carse? Why is it there? Why is it so dangerous to the Monarchy? Why is Aon able to overcome the aversion everyone else has to going inside? The answers to these questions are given slow and the girls have to piece them all together. The revelation and final conflict that results is equal parts creepy and staggering moral dilemma. Through that Farrey was able to weave some interesting themes about the power of fear and the idea of joy without the despair. There is a lot of good food for thought or discussion here. Not many details of the world are given, and I do think the world building is the book's weakest point. The only places in Monarchy mentioned are the palace, the Carse (near Aon's village), and the village itself-all of these are so close together that traveling between them happens incredibly quickly. I did find myself wondering about the rest of the country, it's neighbors, and how exactly all that worked. But that is a minor complaint about a book that has many more strengths to recommend it.
For readers who enjoy friendship stories and fantasy adventures, The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse is a must have....more
I was so excited when I stumbled upon this in the new arrivals section of the library. I typically love Lindsey Leavitt's books. I also typically loveI was so excited when I stumbled upon this in the new arrivals section of the library. I typically love Lindsey Leavitt's books. I also typically love epistolary novels. This is should have been right up my alley. It is a wonderful concept. Two best friends find themselves only sharing one class in their first year of middle school so they exchange a notebook every day, writing back and forth about what their thinking and feeling. As they begin to try new things and make new friends, their friendship faces challenges. It is an age old story, but there is always room for a new one as new middle schoolers face this problem every year. The issue with this book is about 150 page too long. Many of the journal entries are rambling and could have used more editing. There will still be an audience for this book, but I was hoping to like it more myself. ...more
This is a creepy fantasy based on folklore not often seen in western publishing, particularly children's books. It reads on the younger end of the MGThis is a creepy fantasy based on folklore not often seen in western publishing, particularly children's books. It reads on the younger end of the MG scale, and it is the perfect book to hand to children who enjoy being slightly scared. Honestly the cover for it is perfect. It is going to attract exactly the audience that is ready for the contents. Like most MG books, at its core this is a story about friendship and community. Baptiste winds these into her story very well and I loved the island setting. ...more
A cute, fun story about summer camp and branching out into things that challenge you. I think MG readers will laugh at a lot of the scenarios that ariA cute, fun story about summer camp and branching out into things that challenge you. I think MG readers will laugh at a lot of the scenarios that arise. I felt the characterization was a little flat and the character's actions predictable, but most of the target audience won't have those quibbles. There is nothing ground breaking here, but it is fairly well written as a whole and does what it intends to well. It is a good short read for summer vacation. ...more
I almost want to start a whole new shelf just for this "middle-grade-except-not-really".
Yes, it is yet another much hyped and lauded MG book of 2016 II almost want to start a whole new shelf just for this "middle-grade-except-not-really".
Yes, it is yet another much hyped and lauded MG book of 2016 I don't like. It will be easy for many to dismiss me as simply having a contrary year, but really why the love for this book in the kidlit world? It is extremely well written. It is not a book for children though. I'm not saying this in a way that means "teacher book" like I would call Pax or that it's like a Pixar movie in book form like I would call Hokey Pokey. It is an adult literary fiction novel never mind the age of the protagonist. You know how the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley could technically be sold as MG because of Flavia's age? Yeah. I think any one who has read those books is in agreement their placement in adult mystery fiction is right. Just because this book is about bullying and a young protagonist doesn't make it MG. It's non-linear in many places, it meanders in stream of consciousness thought, it wallows in the misery of human existence, and is hopeless hopeless hopeless. It is everything I hate about adult lit fic. It exemplifies all the reasons why I spend my time reading (actual) children's fiction and only read genre fiction when I read adult. I won't be recommending this to anyone, but if depressing adult fiction is your jam, you may want to try it. ...more
This is a great book to hand to 3rd-5th graders who love stories of magic, friendship, and family. I enjoyed the relationship between Maddy a3.5 stars
This is a great book to hand to 3rd-5th graders who love stories of magic, friendship, and family. I enjoyed the relationship between Maddy and her grandmother most of all. This is a story rich in history and tradition. The bayou setting is beautiful, detailed, and feels exactly as I imagine the bayou to be. The books only real weakness is its pacing. There are parts that are a little too slow and others that feel rushed. This may have been intentional for the plot, but it made for a disconcerting reading experience at times. ...more
This is a story of a young orphan adopted and moved to a village where strange things happen and her guardian warns of tricksters. After making a newThis is a story of a young orphan adopted and moved to a village where strange things happen and her guardian warns of tricksters. After making a new friend, Mary begins to wonder if she can trust her new guardian and what exactly is happening in the strange small village she now calls home. This is a lovely story reminiscent of many that have come before it, but that has its own special tone and feel. The characters are delightful and bring the tale to vibrant life. This is a great addition for any elementary classroom or library. ...more
I always enjoy Kate Messner's books. They make me laugh and cry. I always make it a priority when a new one comes out. I followed the controversy that accompanied the release of The Seventh Wish closely. I reference that, because as someone who read all of Kate's blog posts (and the comments on them) before reading the book, I found my reading affected by it. That in turn will affect this review. I'm going to attempt to do it in two parts. What you can expect if you go into the book with no knowledge of said controversy, and what you can expect if you do. Either way, you are getting another excellent heartfelt book from a talented thoughtful writer.
Charlie is a seventh grader with a passion for Irish dancing, great friends, and a plan to earn more money to buy the best solo dancing dress she possibly can. She often feels the least important in her family. Her older sister Abby has always gotten a lot of attention because of stomach issues. Then it was her senior year and now she's off at college. Between her parents worrying about college tuition and working more, Charlie can feel lost in the shuffle. But she knows she has a good life and her problems aren't all that great. When she catches a magical fish that offers a wish if she sets it free, Charlie makes two hasty wishes just for fun. She is flabbergasted when they actually come true. Soon she is returning regularly to the lake to catch her fish and get more wishes for her friends and family. Some of the wishes have funny results. Some are not so funny, and Charlie learns to be careful with her words. Then something happens with her sister that no amount of careful wishing can fix no matter how hard Charlie tries.
Charlie. One thing I always really appreciate about Messner's books is the authenticity in the voices of her middle school characters. Charlie is a girl with a lot of enthusiasm. She has good friends, and she is a good friend in return. She has moments of resentment and jealousy, but for the most part she loves life and all the people who are in her small beautiful world full of ice flowers, Irish dancing, zany science projects, and freezing cold fishing on the lake. Her parents are truly wonderful and active too. Even when Charlie is feeling resentful toward them for their priorities taking over her dancing, she knows she is loved and cared for. The way Messner introduces and deals with their family tragedy is incredibly well done. For savvy adults (who don't know anything about the book but what is on the jacket flap), what is coming may seem obvious. I think it will knock a good many kids over with shock, which I think is part of the importance in what Messner was doing here. Because it knocks Charlie over with shock. Those kind of things aren't supposed to happen in her world. Messner handled the fallout sensitively, and Charlie was able to mourn, grieve, feel anger, guilt, and shame and still be Charlie. She still wanted to dance her heart out. She still wanted a space with her friends that had nothing to do with the turmoil in her family. In the end, this is a book full of hope, humor, love, and life, but with the reality that life doesn't always go the way we plan.
If you are looking for a book with a lot of family, friendship, dancing, and just a touch of magic, The Seventh Wish is exactly the right book for you.
Okay, now if you want to know my thoughts on the spoilery part of this book that caused the controversy keep reading. If not, click away.
Nearly halfway through the book Charlie's parents get a phone call from Abby's college. She is in the infirmary after being brought there by her roommates. She has admitted to them that the reason she can not breath properly is because she has been doing Heroin. That is what has caused people some upset. This is a very frank look at drug addiction and how it impacts a family, but it is handled appropriately for the target age audience. (Middle Grade-which in publisher speak means as young as 8 or 4th grade) Yes, I mean I firmly believe this is exactly a perfect book for 4th-6th graders. Abby's addiction is not explored in grotesque detail. What the reader sees is the impact that addiction has on her life and the lives of the people she loves. As I said above, a lot of kids will be floored because just like Charlie they don't think Heroin addiction is something a salutatorian, math and science whiz, athletic college girl is going to have a problem with. For other kids, this book is going to show them they are not alone. That there are other families out there suffering the same way their family does. BOTH of these groups are incredibly important and will benefit from picking this up.
As a former fifth grade public school teacher who watched her students go through D.A.R.E., I especially liked how Messner incorporated Charlie's feelings on that into this. Charlie reflects on how the people doing drugs in the videos and books in D.A.R.E. looked sketchy and hung out in sketchy places. You would know to avoid them if you saw them on the street. How do you know the dangers lurking in a pill someone just like you at school offers you to help you stay awake to study for exams? Because that's the start of Abby's addiction. Taking Adderal. Which, you know, is not unheard of for kids to be offered on a middle school (or possibly elementary) bus or school yard. It's commonly prescribed medicine after all. Medicine given to children who go to school. I think this is so important. Abby's dangerous friend is a sorority girl. It highlights how very real and very close substance abuse is to everyone.
The impact of this is exactly real enough to be felt without overwhelming the hope and magic of Charlie's full story. Abby is a huge part of Charlie's life and this has a major impact on her, but I can not stress enough how well Messner balanced harsh realities with the magic of Charlie's exuberant personality and rendered the whole thing important and serious in exactly the sort of way 9-12 year olds are developmentally ready to take it in.
It is a book I would not hesitate to put in my classroom library if I were still teaching. It would make a really great read aloud too. It will certainly be one I give regularly in recommendations....more
I was really hoping that 2016 would be different than 2015 when it came to me and super hyped beloved by the kidlit powers that be MG books. If Pax by Sara Pennypacker is any indication, I'm still going to be one of the minority dissenters. So be it. Honestly, I could write an entire post about the sort of books that get the most attention and promotion from said powers and what that says about the priorities of the kidlit elite, but for today I will stick to my thoughts on this particular book.
Pax is a fox who was rescued as a helpless kit whose family was killed by a boy named Peter. His entire life has been knowing Peter and Peter's care for him. Then one day they drive to a distant place, Peter starts a game of fetch, and then drives off with his father. Leaving Pax alone to fend for himself for the first time ever. Pax is in denial and stays close to the road hoping for Peter's return. But soon the events in the forest and the lives of the other foxes draw him in and he begins to form new ties and learn to be a fox in the wild. Meanwhile, Peter realizes he did a terrible thing following his father's instructions to abandon Pax. He sets off to find him despite the distance separating them and the looming war that has him now living with his grandfather while his father volunteers to serve in the military. Injured in his journey, Peter is taken in by Vola, a lonely hermit woman who is an injured veteran of a war herself. They help each other get back on their feet before Peter sets back out to reunite with his fox.
Let me say this first: The sentence level writing of this book is remarkable. The language, imagery, and sentence structure is beautiful. If we wanted to laude books solely on how poetic they are, I would be throwing the world's biggest party for this one. But that's not why I read books. It's always a nice plus, but it's not enough to make me love a book on its own.
Regular readers of this blog know that I don't go in for animal stories much. My dislike of them is, however, proportionate to how much the animals are acting like humans. This is not the case here. The foxes are very much foxes. I loved the foxes. In fact, if this book had been all about the foxes my feelings would be very different. Pax learning to hunt and succeeding. My heart. His relationship with all the other foxes and how he begins to take care of them. My heart. The fox community and the way the human incursion is impacting them is so well done. The foxes are real characters you can feel for. The themes of broken humanity and its affect on everything shown through their eyes are subtilely rendered.
The humans ruin everything.
This is funny because that is literally the theme of the book, but for me the human characters ruined the book. Peter is as flat a character as you can find. He is a prop. Vola swoops in to teach him things, but ends up needing him just as much. She imparts wisdom. He teaches her to live again. Sound heartwarming? It possibly could have been if their chapters weren't filled with rambling dialogue intended to whack the reader upside the head with the moral of the story. Enough already. I got it. Humans suck. War sucks. The military is Evil. I. Got. It. Already. All subtlety and nuance were tossed out the window in these chapters. The book's pacing also takes a hit as these chapters are longer (or perhaps just feet longer?), and I kept wanting them to stop talking and get back to the foxes. It was a very strange position for me to be in. Character matters to me more than any other part of a book though. This book failed on every level with human characters. I have some issues with the relationship dynamics here too. One thing I have to amusedly appreciate about this section is how much Pennypacker was able to put the word "damned" into a book for children merely by using the Haitian-Creole form of the word.
The end of the book is annoying as well. There is a certain amount of closure to both personal journeys of fox and boy, but one can not ignore the fact they are both still in the middle of an area about to erupt into a full out military battle. (Peter will probably be fine. My expectations for the foxes are less hopeful. Sadly I'm more invested in their welfare.) The book's setting is completely undefined, however it has a very dystopian feel to it. There are enough hints to know it is in a future North America. A war is about to be fought with the "west" over a lack of water. (It's definitely North America because coyotes play an integral part in the plot.) I'm not giving this a genre tag as a result. It's not contemporary or historical. I can't label it sci-fi despite the future aspect because it's not really sci-fi. And yes, this was frustrating and distracting to me for a good 1/3 of the book. Being confused about where/when I am in a story distracts from my being able to lose myself in the story. That combined with how bored and annoyed I was by Peter's chapters left me more than a little underwhelmed overall.
My experience reading Pax was eerily similar to my experience watching the Pixar movie Wall-E. It is the same story and themes, but with foxes instead of robots. (Pax is Wall-E. Bristle is Eve. Exactly.) Do you know how many kids I know who actually enjoy Wall-E? It's a small list. So who is this book for? To me it feels very much like one of those books adults want to give to kids so they will Learn an Important Lesson about life. Could it win the 2017 Newbery? Absolutely. I think that is the very reason it was published. There are some books I read, and automatically think, "This is medal bait." That is a far cry from me reading a book and thinking, "This deserves a medal." For me this goes squarely in the former category.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Pax is on sale now....more
I found A Snicker of Magic to be enjoyable and good to hand to students, but I wasn't as big a fan as a lot of other teacher/librarians. Still I wanteI found A Snicker of Magic to be enjoyable and good to hand to students, but I wasn't as big a fan as a lot of other teacher/librarians. Still I wanted to give Lloyd another chance to wow me. This did not wow me. A quarter of the way through the book there was still no coherent plot and the characters were so flat I couldn't bother myself to read the rest of the book even though it's not really that long. Lloyd's style involves a sentimentality that I find nauseating (this was a problem for me in her first book too), but this book seemed to contain a piece of fortune cookie wisdom on every page. I've never rolled my eyes so many times in 50 pages in my life. I know that this book will find an audience who loves it just as A Snicker of Magic did. That audience just doesn't include me. ...more
Emma Shevah's Dream on Amber was a gem of a book I discovered as a Round One Cybils panelist for MG Realistic fiction last year. It quickly became one of my favorite MG reads of the year. As such, I was excited to get to read her 2016 release, Dara Palmer's Major Drama, early.
Dara Palmer has one goal in life: She is going to be a famous actress. A superstar. She will live in Hollywood and everyone will know her name. For now, she is a school girl in England who can't seem to get a part in any of the school plays. It is an outrage. She and her best friend are clearly so much more talented than all of the people who are given starring roles. Aren't they? But the drama teacher says Dara needs work and would benefit from her Drama Class. Dara is horrified, but decides to give it a try. This comes at the same time Dara is beginning to think more about her life in Cambodia before her adoption. She notices that there are no famous actresses that look like her. It feels like all her plans are falling apart. She will have to come up with a way to make her dreams come true.
I was split in two. I was English but I wasn't. I was Cambodian but I wasn't. I was in the family but I wasn't really part of the family. And now my heart was hacked in half as well.
Dara's voice is unique and full of energy. Reading this book is almost exhausting for an introverted person like myself. Shevah did an excellent job of capturing the effervescent, always going, fully engaged with life voice of a dramatic middle grade student. Dara is loud and bright in all of her endeavors. She dresses to fit the part in life she wants to play. She is also incredibly self absorbed and oblivious. The events of the book cause her to open her eyes and start seeing herself and others better. Her conflicted feelings over her adoption and her identity ring true for someone in her situation with her personality. I particularly liked this aspect as we need more books that deal with the feeling of internationally adopted children.
One of the great strengths of Sheva's writing is the way she presents family dynamics. Dara has a wonderful family. Her parents are supportive and understanding. Her older brother Felix is smart and tries to make time for her when she needs it. Her younger sister Georgia (adopted from Russia) is the one member of her family Dara does not get along with. They are completely different people, but as the story progresses, Dara is forced to look at life through her sister's eyes and discovers a lot about both of them. In a lot of ways, the family situation here is very ideal, but it is also realistic. There are squabbles, misunderstandings, and heartache.
I think this will be an enjoyable book for anyone in the target age group. It is written in such a way that the reader falls right into the story. I think most MG readers will feel like they are hearing their own voice or the voice of a friend as they read the prose.
I received an ARC made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via Edelweiss. Dara Palmer's Major Drama is on sale July 5th....more
Books by Nancy Cavanaugh are a hot commodity in the Painter house. My daughter loves them. I can not tell you how many times she has read Always Abigail. This being the case I was excited to see that there was a new book coming from Cavanaugh this year. Just Like Me is a wonderful story about friendship, cultural identity, adoption, and camp.
Julia is spending a week at camp with her "Chinese sisters" Avery and Becca, the two girls who were adopted from the same orphanage as Julia at the same time. Julia is not looking forward to this. She's looking forward even less to journaling about the experience for the woman who organized all three of their adoptions can write about them. Julia is not interested in her Chinese heritage. Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks. Julia likes crafts. Avery and Becca are athletic and competitive. Julia feels pressured. Why should she be friends with these girls just because they were born in the same place? And why should she be interested in Chinese things simply because that's where she was born? Can't she be Irish and Italian too like her adopted parents?
Julia is so tangled up about how she feels about herself and her identity. On one level Julia's struggle is one any middle schooler can relate too. Identity is a tough issue for middle schoolers to wrestle with. However, Julia's struggle is her own. Adopted from another country she doesn't remember, she has to figure out what that will mean in her life. She is also having feelings and thoughts about her birth mother and why she gave her up that lead her construct fantasies in her head she knows aren't true. All of this comes to a climax while she is at camp. Avery and Becca are good friends because they live closer to each other and Julia feels like a third wheel. The three "Chinese sisters" share a cabin with three other girls. Two of those girls are old camp rivals of Avery and Becca. The third is a foster child who is attending the camp for the first time. All six girls are very different and their relationship dynamic is realistic.
The girls do not get along. Not even a little bit. This leads to one disaster after another that gets them in trouble and leads to them losing points in the camp competition. They split themselves into pairs when they have free time. All six of them together are a disaster. But as they have to navigate a couple of punishment tasks together, they gain an appreciation for each other and start to form the loose bonds of friendship. There are some scenes that are exactly what you would imagine finding in a book that takes place at summer camp and it sets exactly the right feel for the book.
It is wonderful to have a book that deals with the complicated feelings of adopted kids-particularly those who are adopted internationally. I can't think of another book that even tries. Another thing I really appreciated about the book was its mentions of religion. The girls are at a Christian camp. They have Bible study and scripture is quoted a couple of times. This is in no way a book about becoming a Christian or even being one. It is a part of these girls' lives though and so it is included. I love that this was included. So many books completely skip over the part religion plays in so many young people's lives. It was nice to have it there as just as a thing that they do.
Kids who like contemporary friendship stories will enjoy this. It's camp setting is an added bonus I think. It's nice to have a story of this sort that isn't a school story too.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks, via Edelweiss. Just Like Me is on sale April 5....more
This is a quiet book about that centers on complicated family dynamics. It is the second book I've read this year where the protagonist spends the sumThis is a quiet book about that centers on complicated family dynamics. It is the second book I've read this year where the protagonist spends the summer with grandparents they haven't met so that the parents can try and work on their marriage. (The other is Some Kind of Happiness.) As Brave as You is an excellent addition for any school or classroom library and a good book to recommend to kids looking for a summer read that truly feels like summer. It is not quite as good as Reynolds YA books, and it is also longer. I can not figure out why it needed to be this long either. ...more
I always enjoy books by Sarah Weeks. She writes heartfelt, fun, quick MG reads. They are universally easy to book talk and sell. Whenever she has a neI always enjoy books by Sarah Weeks. She writes heartfelt, fun, quick MG reads. They are universally easy to book talk and sell. Whenever she has a new book out, I try to read it as soon as possible. I was even more excited by Save Me a Seat due to its synopsis and format. Sarah Weeks wrote this book with Gita Varadarajan and it follows two boys in their first week of fifth grade.
Ravi is newly arrived in America from India. He is excited about starting a new school. He was at the top of his class in India and an excellent cricket player. He knows he will impress all of his new classmates and teachers. He will begin to make friends and things will be wonderful. Things do not go as Ravi planned however. His teacher implies he may need help with English even though he speaks English just fine. His Math process is completely different. The one person he thought would be his friend turns on him.
Joe is not exited about starting school. After all, he's gone to this school since Kindergarten and knows exactly what to expect from class bully Dillon. It doesn't help that his only two friends moved over the summer and his mom has taken a job as a lunch monitor. Joe always has one eye on Dillon because he's learned from experience the unpleasant results of letting Dillon sneak up on him. Joe knows exactly what is in store for Ravi, and but Ravi doesn't seem to want his help.
Any one familiar with the tropes and stories of MG lit is not going to be surprised by the course this book takes. What makes it special and stand out is the strength of the voices and characterization of both of the boys. The story is told in first person perspective in alternating chapters from each boys' point of view. Individually each boy's story is strong. Through Ravi we get a brilliant picture of what it is like to try to navigate a completely foreign place that you now live. Even though the language barrier is not there because Ravi speaks English (as do many immigrants). Ravi is a bit over confident and grows a lot over the course of the book. Joe has a sensory disorder that makes school hard for him. He is smart but has a hard time focusing. This plus his size as the largest kid in the class makes him a target for the class bully. Joe also grows a lot over the course of the book learning to be more assertive and speak his mind. Eventually the two boys form an alliance with the potential to be a great friendship. Their individual stories are made stronger for being combined. Having both fills in gaps and shows a greater wider picture of the school culture. This is not only a brilliant story telling device abut also serves the larger theme of the story incredibly well. Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
Aside from the boys, my favorite part of this book is the adults. There are fantastic teachers in this book and I found how they worked with the kids to be incredibly accurate. Even better than that is the involvement and care of the parents. Both Ravi and Joe have parents who care deeply for them and want to help even as they come up agains misunderstanding and the boys' push for independence and desire to fix things themselves. As things that take place at school are influenced by home (and vice versa), it was important to see both environments balanced in both boys' stories.
I haven't seen much talk about this book and would love to see more. It is an excellent work of realistic fiction that will work as both a window and a mirror for almost any child. Like most of Weeks's other books, it is short and easy to book talk. I'm really hoping we see more from Varadarajan in the future too....more
It's nice to have a book the deals with immigration issues and the fear many children living in America have every day, but this book is too long andIt's nice to have a book the deals with immigration issues and the fear many children living in America have every day, but this book is too long and needed to be cut down. ...more