I really appreciate it when people take chances, to try something new or di...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
I really appreciate it when people take chances, to try something new or different, and I really appreciate author Avi (and his publishers) for going out on a limb and producing a book that will challenge its targeted reading audience. This book, "Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?" is written completely as dialog only. No "he said" "she said". No narrative description of the characters or the locations. And Avi doesn't do this just be different. He does this because it is completely in line with the major object of his book.
Set in 1945, Frankie Wattleson is an extreme fan of radio shows. Whether at school, or hanging out with his best friend, he turns everything in to a radio show, even telling his friend how to respond, and giving himself a more radio-show type of name ("Chet Barker"). Frankie's uncle has returned from the war, wounded and withdrawn. Frankie's teacher gets word that her fiancée was killed in action. Frankie decides he needs to get Miss Gomez (his teacher) and Tom (his uncle) together. Meanwhile, Frankie's parents have rented out a room in the house to bring in extra income. Frankie is sure that the boarder is actually an evil scientist and continually sneaks in to look for proof. Frankie's grades suffer because of his inability to focus on schoolwork when he instead is always thinking about radio shows.
This idea for a story is really fun and it's a great way to introduce an impressionable audience to the wonderful world of radio shows (which can be much more dynamic than the biggest blockbuster movie). The story is nicely developed, though the WWII themes seem to 'date' this book (even though it wasn't written then ... perhaps this speaks well to Avi's ability to capture the feeling of an era extremely well.
And so it is perfectly in line with the story and the era and the characters that Avi has written this book entirely in dialog as if it were a radio play. But it's also extremely challenging. It makes the reader work, rather unnecessarily. Do we need to have to pause or stop our reading to identify who is speaking or where we are? Most of the time, Avi makes this abundantly clear through the source of the dialog and I was quite impressed with his ability to do so. But those few times when it wasn't clear, it simply became frustrating.
A few times I thought it might be fun to record this book as a radio play -- he even calls his chapters "episodes" -- but while the book is written entirely in dialog, that does NOT mean it is written as a radio script. A radio script would identify the name of the speaker and include the one thing that is really crucial to radio and missing from a novelized version of radio ... sound effects. The wonderful world of radio is filled with sound that helps create atmosphere and set the scene. A book of nothing but dialog misses this. I missed this.
As a tremendous fan of radio shows, I really appreciated this book. As a reader of YA books, I really appreciated the daring. But as a reader looking for a book to read, I found the task of reading nothing but dialog challenging when it didn't need to be so.
Looking for a good book? Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? is a delightful novel of old-time radio shows, written entirely in dialog that may challenge the reader unnecessarily.(less)
Oliver and the Seawigs is a delightful, flight of fancy fantasy.
Author Philip Reeve has captured the imagination of a young reader quite well in this story of Oliver Crisp, a ten-year-old who was born into a life of adventure. His parents are explorers of a voracious sort. They can't NOT explore if there's something that captures their attention. They try to settle down, buying an old seaside home. One morning Oliver wakes up to discover that his parents are gone. He wanders down to the shore only to discover a series of islands that he couldn't remember being there the day before. Knowing his parents must be exploring one of them, he decides to head home and wait for them. The next morning, still with no sign of his parents, Oliver discovers that all the islands he saw the day before are gone, except for one smaller island. Taking a small boat to the island, Oliver befriends an albatross by the name of Mr. Culpeper, and a near-sighted, off-key-singing mermaid by the name of Iris. And the islands...? The islands are Rambling Islands, currently making their way to a big gathering where one island will be selected the winner in a 'seawig' contest (the islands pick up scraps of ocean debris [sunken ships, etc] to wear as decorative wigs). Oliver knows his parents must be trapped on one of the islands and is in a hurry to get to them. He passes through the Sarcastic Sea (where kelp make sarcastic comments) and sea monkeys (actual monkeys popped from seaweed) are sent to stop him.
As you can see, it is highly inventive and imaginative journey for Oliver and the readers.
The book is lavishly illustrated by Sarah McIntyre with whimsical drawings that perfectly capture the mood. The full and double page spreads are busy with eye-popping characters that will make adults chuckle and have children staring for a long time, absorbing all that is going on.
One aspect of the story bothered me, though. Oliver is clearly our hero and the one to whom our children readers will be drawn to, and yet Oliver does one not so nice thing. Oliver makes fun of another character. Oliver meets a young boy by the name of Stacey, who becomes Oliver's nemesis as he will do what he can to keep Oliver from getting to his parents. Oliver makes fun of Stacey for having a girl's name. More than once. And this made me twinge. Like it or not, belittling someone is bullying, and bullying is a hot topic in schools and education. It just doesn't seem right that the hero of the story should be allowed to tease someone else for their name. Ten year olds get teased enough for all sorts of things. We don't need to get the impression that this okay because our heroic character in a funny book does it.
There were times I found the book to be just a little dull. Some of the 'stops' on Oliver's trek to the seawig competition really slowed the pace of the story. The 'sea monkeys' was one of the biggest culprits here, though the stop in the Sarcastic Sea was another. The ideas here were clever, though both probably appeal more to the adults reading the story than to the children.
Looking for a good book? The story in Oliver and the Seawigs was fun and clever, but it's the art that will hold the young reader's interest.(less)
I am not particularly familiar with Avi, though I recognize his name as a p...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
I am not particularly familiar with Avi, though I recognize his name as a prominent author in the YA/Children's Book field. What I don't know is whether this is a departure from his other writings, or if this is in line with the bulk of his cannon.
The story is a dark fantasy. Some sort of dark, supernatural beings, Kurbs, living deep beneath Manhattan island have loaned the island to humans. Every year, the humans must find and return a particular power source to the Kurbs, otherwise the city will be frozen and destroyed. It's actually quite a fun story ... dark and mysterious with the occasional bit of whimsy and flights of fantasy (literally) thrown in. This could very easily have been written as a novel, rather than as a graphic novel, and quite possibly it would have come across just a little bit better.
The art, by Brian Floca, is a very mixed bag. The black and white, pen-and-ink panel drawings are well suited to the dark fantasy nature of the story ... most of the time. For the scenes with the blind man, Underton, and the Kurbs, and the occasional city-scape wide shot, the art is really beautiful and enhancing. But when the story is featuring the young boy Carlos, or the girl, Sarah, the artwork is weak. Very very often it appears to be a rough sketch, rather than a finished work of art. And Sarah and her mother look SO much alike (I get it... the resemblance is important!) that it was sometimes confusing who was in the panel.
The beginning of the story is packed with a great deal of set-up information and thus it is a fiction story, lavishly illustrated, and then becomes the graphic novel. This change in format was confusing at first.
Underton is trying to get ahold of the Kurbs' power source, which appears as a normal New York City subway token. But the token holds magical powers that offer some potential for personal power, which is why Underton wants it so badly. Underton displays a bit of supernatural power himself (which I don't recall being explained) and is a delightful (in a frightening way) 'bad guy.'
The whimsical fantasy is a treat (Underton is carried away by a large flock of pigeons and Carlos and Sarah chase after him in a motor-less glider), but it comes a bit out of nowhere. A couple more fantasy scenes like this might have helped the arc of this otherwise very dark and disturbing story.
I liked a lot of what was here, but it never felt fully realized. The basic story was interesting, but got caught up in aspects of the minor storylines that weren't as interesting. And the art never felt finished. It looks as if Avi and Brian Floca were trying to sell this story on 'spec'; they threw it together in draft style, with the occasional strong piece of art to show how it could look, hoping to get the go-ahead to make a finished version. Only this became the finished version.
Looking for a good book? City of Light, City of Dark, a re-issued graphic novel by Avi and Brian Floca, shows the beginnings of a good story as a graphic novel, but neither story, nor art, are fleshed out well. (less)
Comparison's to Harry Potter are going to be inevitable as The Iron Trial deals with a young man going to a magician's school to learn how to use (and control) his magic abilities. There's also a prophecy about the return of a 'bad' magician and a group of students thrown together who become friends and rely on one another's talents. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
The similarities run throughout the book, but as I was reflecting on this it occurred to me that the primary reader that this book is targeted toward is typically young enough that s/he will not have remembered the first few Harry Potter books. They may have read them, but more likely, they will be familiar with the movies more than the books. And in the grand scheme of things, if the similarities are what draw the young reader, ultimately it is the quality of the story-telling that will hold the reader. Fortunately, the story moves along swiftly and the plotting will hold the reader's interest.
Callum Hunt is a young man about to take his entrance exams for a magic school. Callum's father is encouraging Call to fail the exams so that he will not be admitted. Call does everything he can to fail and becomes the laughingstock of the students and no one wants to be near him. But as the entrance list is announced, Call is not only in, but will be taught by the best of the teachers (which earns Call scorn by some of the students who wanted that position for themselves). At his father's encouragement, Call works to get expelled, but slowly, and certainly not unexpectedly, he comes to like where he is and the other students he is learning with. As the school year progresses, Call finds a letter from his father to his teacher, encouraging the teacher to 'bind' his magic so that Call will never be able to perform magic. Call also meets an older student who many believe may be the fulfillment of a prophecy. And the appearance of a dreaded evil sets a number of things in motion that promise a whole series of books.
It took me a little bit to get involved in the story. The premise of trying NOT to get in to the school didn't work well for me. I understood what it was trying to set up, but I think I understood that within the first few paragraphs, and so it dragged on. It seemed pretty clear that Callum would be in the school or there probably wouldn't be a book, and so to spend much time on this was counter-productive.
I very much liked the style in which the students (at least those in Call's group) were taught. This somehow felt more 'real' to me for magic, rather than sitting in classrooms the way our students do. Call's ability to strike out on his own and even steal a few things from his teacher's room never felt too believable, and the confrontation with the evil character(s) didn't quite build to the climax that it should have and was a little too easily resolved.
And yet ...
And yet I was completely in to the book. The characters, and the situations they were in, felt completely believable and likeable, and these two components will carry a book (and a series) a long way. I DO want to know what happens to Call, given some of the information he's received and the choices he has to make. I'd like to know what magic he'll learn in his second year, and how his friends will support (or turn on) him.
We know that I am not a fan of books that don't have endings ... books that are so clearly pieces of a larger story that you have to read more books in order to get the conclusion. We'll see some of that here, of course, since this is the first book in the Magisterium series. But the book does a good job of wrapping up the internal story while keeping the door open for more books with an overarching story. Yes, there are a few too many questions left unanswered to be a solid, stand-alone book.
In the meantime, I'm hooked and I want to read more.
Looking for a good book? Book 1 in the new Magisterium series, The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, begins a fantasy series you won't want to miss, and brings a new school of magic that you will want to attend. (less)
I was really excited to read this book ... enough so that I bumped it way...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.75 of 5
I was really excited to read this book ... enough so that I bumped it way up on my reading schedule ... but am disappointed in the outcome. This book feels like a very one-note story that grew a bit tedious.
The story: Twelve-year-old Gabriel Finley's father has been missing for a number of years and Gabriel now lives with his aunt. On his twelfth birthday, Gabriel discovers that he has a magical bond with a raven, Paladin, and he has the ability to talk with ravens. It is said that his father also possessed unique abilities. With the help of his raven Paladin, his wacky neighbor Abby, and the live-in house-guest Pamela, Gabriel must travel to the secret underground city of Aviapolis to confront his evil uncle and rescue his father.
There's a very nice touch of Norse mythology here with Huginn and Muninn (Odin's ravens) spurring on the initial mystery that Gabriel becomes embroiled in. Unfortunately, other than establishing a premise, this is nothing more than a nod to the Norse mythology, rather than an integral part of the story.
There is very little character development and no character growth. The story climax comes with Gabriel making an important decision but it does not build to suggest that this is a turning point or moment of character growth. He is a twelve-year-old for whom the idea of special abilities and magic seem very second nature. Abby and Pamela are slightly more interesting than Gabriel. Abby is a fairly stereotypical 'wacky' character, comfortable with being different and more open to variety and the unusual. For her, this journey seems a natural progression. Pamela is slightly more interesting in that she comes from a home with a very domineering mother. For her the challenge is to step outside of the normal and do something unusual and unexpected. This is conflict, and conflict is what creates interesting stories. Unfortunately, her conflict is a minor portion of the story.
Author George Hagen seems to struggle with what sort of story this is to be. It appears that he would like to create a wonderful fantasy world, but is uncomfortable leaving behind what he knows. We test the magical waters with the fun, walking desk, and the first time Gabriel learns that he can communicate with the ravens, but then we even out and the 'magic' goes away.
I mentioned at the top that this felt like a one-note story, and that note is riddles. Being clever with asking and answering riddles is nothing new to readers. J.R.R. Tolkien does it in The Hobbit. But I felt like we were constantly being reminded how clever Hagen is with all his riddles (though at the same time, none of these riddles appeared to be new). I'd much rather read an exciting story than a story filled with clever riddles.
The book leaves a wide open door for a sequel. While I'm not particularly keen on this book, I can see the potential in the sequel. Deeper, stronger characters will go a long way in helping make the sequel a stronger book.
This book is written for the teen/pre-teen reader and I fear that most will struggle with maintaining an interest.
Looking for a good book? Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is a predictable, slow-moving fantasy that needs some stronger characters to make the story more interesting. (less)
How do you hook early readers who are raised in a culture of social media a...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
How do you hook early readers who are raised in a culture of social media and at-your-finger-tips-videos? You hook them with books such as this, Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan.
Roan is in his second year of Jedi training and young Roan deals with everything that the average middle schooler has to deal with ... bullies, fickle friendships, teachers who seem to have it in for you, and cafeteria food! It's kind of the same plot as so many other pre-teen readers books, but of course with one major difference: Roan is hoping to become a Jedi Knight and there are a plethora of Star Wars references tossed in to the mix.
One interesting aspect of this book was that it didn't always follow a straight narrative line. The storyline was interrupted (or amended) by Roan's journal entries, school newspaper pages, "Things Yoda Said This Week," twitter-type discussion posts, etc. It is all clearly designed to capture the feel of a modern student, and it does this quite well.
Although not specifically described as a graphic novel, that is precisely what this is. The main story is done in comic book format with multiple panels per page, and even the additional pieces have the same style of drawing to them. This is a graphic novel, and as such, the perfect vehicle for the target audience.
The art in this book is very much a comic book, or even a comic strip style, aimed at the elementary school readers. Very cartoonish, meaning friendly and un-threatening and whimsical at all times. It works very nicely.
What doesn't work (for me), is the lettering. Wow ... who ever talks about 'lettering' in a graphic novel? While I assume the decision to hand-letter, or hand-write, this book was done to keep the book feeling as though it were being written by a twelve-year-old, or to connect with the twelve-year-old reader, the book is actually difficult to read because of this. I am making the assumption that this was done by hand rather than choosing a hand-writing font, as I can't see consistency in the individual letters. I read this book in electronic form, on a 10" tablet screen, and reviewed it again on a large computer screen, both which are likely larger than the print format, and there were times I had difficulty making out the words. Making something physically difficult to read is never a good obstacle.
The characters were fun and the cast of students each seemed just different enough to provide some variety, but over-all most elementary school readers will be able to identify with the trials and tribulations of school, and anyone who's already taken the step to pick this up will love the Star Wars universe as presented here.
This is only year two and so clearly there is the opportunity for Roan and his friends to continue their education and for young readers to continue to have fun.
Looking for a good book? Elementary school readers will love to be able to identify with their 'peers' in the Star Wars universe as they begin their Jedi Knight training in this graphic novel. (less)
The Newbery Medalis the top prize in American literature for children. Hav...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
The Newbery Medal is the top prize in American literature for children. Having read a great number of Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books, I can tell you that there's a common ingredient among them all. That ingredient is 'education.' Every book I've read finds a way to teach the reader a little something in the course of the story. Jennifer L. Holm, a three-time Newbery Honor winner, keeps that tradition alive in her latest book, The Fourteenth Goldfish.
The story, briefly: Eleven year old Ellie is entering middle school. That alone can be a frightening change for a young girl. But Ellie gets even more change in her life when her grandfather comes to stay and has to go to school with her because he is now a teenaged boy. You read that correctly! Her grandfather, a scientist, has discovered the means to reverse the aging process and he is living proof. He's confident it will win him the Nobel Prize. But first he has to get his project and notes from his lab, which is difficult to do since he is no longer the aged scientist with the proper credentials.
Ellie takes after her grandfather, showing an interest in science and scientific discovery. With help from her grandfather, Ellie (and the reader) learns a little about Robert Oppenheimer, Jonas Salk, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie. Ellie's mother is a theatre teacher/director and so we get the beautiful balance between the creative world and the world of facts and figures, with Ellie caught in between. In addition to learn a little about science and scientists through the course of the book, we also learn just a little bit about J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, as well as Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. Author Holm beautifully captures the essence of the this book in a poignant scene near the end using Our Town to question some the of the ethics of science. This scene is worth the price of the book.
Although basically science fiction (Ellie's grandfather is now a teenager), Holm has based this scientific discovery on current science! Ellie's grandfather (Melvin) makes the discovery of anti-aging through his studying of jellyfish. Coincidently, I am also reading the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, which features a 2012 New York Times Magazine article, "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?" by Nathaniel Rich which details the science behind Melvin's 'discovery.'
The book is beautifully written, easy to read, and most certainly a contender for the Newbery Medal. Ellie's fears of losing her best friend doesn't play as well as Holm intends. Ellie displays concern over losing her best friend because of their lack of spending time together, but because we never see them together in the first place, this one aspect is constantly told to us, rather than shown to us. And because Ellie is busy with her own story-line, we never get the sense that she's missing her friend ... again, we have to be told that she is. I can over-look this because Ellie's and Melvin's story is fascinating. I do have one large problem and one small problem with the book, however.
The small problem: some simple science. How is it that Melvin is a teenager? We don't really learn how the process of his experiment worked to set him at that age. Is he aging backward? Did he revert to an infant and age to his present persona? He has all the memories of his older self but is in the his own teenage body. How and why did he choose this age? It's a small concern, and one easy to overlook for the sake of a (science) fiction book.
My bigger concern is also, potentially arguable ... illegal entry and theft.
Because Melvin can't get in to the building where his research was being done -- he is chased off by security guards for being an intruding kid (and we later learn the real reason for his key-card not working) -- he enlists Ellie's help and then some of Ellie's friends to find a way in to the building to take the experiment. There are multiple attempts, and with each one I felt as though we were reading about Ellie's descent into crime. I couldn't shake that feeling and it definitely disrupted an otherwise really beautiful tale.
Looking for a good book? The Fourteenth Goldfish is a remarkable and beautiful story that offers up some insightful questions of ethics. This will be a strong contender for the Newbery Medal. (less)
The second book in the Disaster Strikes series is "Tornado Alley." The story t...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5/5
The second book in the Disaster Strikes series is "Tornado Alley." The story takes place on a large ranch in Oklahoma. Wyatt, his friends Joshua and Jackson, and Wyatt's cousin Alison are out fishing at a pond when a storm moves in quickly, and produces a monster tornado. They manage to get to a storm cellar, but Alison runs toward the barn (and toward the tornado) to get her dog. They don't have time to flee the barn, so they cling to the bottom of a tractor when the tornado is on top of them, tearing the barn apart and tossing them around. As Wyatt says to Joshua and Jackson later, "Thank goodness the barn didn't collapse or we actually would have been goners."
The kids upright some tossed-about four-wheelers and head out to look for Wyatt's father. Just as they find, driving toward them, they watch another tornado develop right between them. The new tornado is headed their way and, unable to outrun it, they lie flat in a ravine. They soon realize, though, that the tornado isn't headed their way after all, and as they stand to see what's happening, they see Wyatt's father's truck get tossed around by the tornado. Wyatt's father is injured, but alive, and Alison performs first aid -- something she learned in Girl Scouts.
Joshua and Jackson, with Wyatt's help, go looking for their parents; their home is nearly demolished. They rush in to an unsafe, damaged home. They first have to rescue Joshua who is hanging from a collapsed stair-case, and then the parents, who are trapped in their cellar from debris against their exits.
Like the first book in the series, we manage to get a number of potential concerns from a tornado, not just the tornado itself. Here it's mainly debris and unsafe structures due to the damage. But also, as in the first book, we have youngsters doing things that they shouldn't, putting themselves in harm's way. But these instances felt 'real' in the sense that they are what kids their age would likely have to deal with or how they might truly react.
The 'story' book-ending the disaster didn't really work. I think it was supposed to be about Wyatt not looking forward to entertaining his cousin Alison and his coming to accept her and actually look forward to visiting her in New York at the end of the book. But it was so casual, almost tossed off at the beginning, that it never had anything to develop. Fortunately, the real story is the dealing with the natural disaster.
The fact pages "More About Tornados" is interesting and probably just about right for an early reader.
Looking for a good book? This early-reader adventure will keep readers turning pages and teach a few things about what to watch out for when a tornado is imminent.(less)
One of the things that has always drawn me to books for younger readers is th...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.25/5
One of the things that has always drawn me to books for younger readers is the opportunity (or challenge) to teach, or share information, in an entertaining and exciting story. This new Disaster Strikes series is a little more overt in its educational aspect (emergency preparedness), but it is still a fiction story at its heart, with a disaster as the springboard for the story's action.
In Disaster Strikes #1: Earthquake Shock, author Marlane Kennedy sets her story in Los Angeles where Joey Flores is skate-boarding with his peers Fiona, Kevin, and Dillon. Joey and Dillon are not the best of friends, and when Joey's mother appears to drive Joey home, Dillon teases Joey. However, with Dillon's help, Joey manages to convince his mother that they will all be leaving the skate park soon and that he'll be safe walking home.
As the four friends start home, a major earthquake rumbles, dramatically moving the land where they are and crumbling an overpass that they are passing beneath. They get separated by the fallen concrete. Joey and Fiona are concerned that Kevin and Dillon may have been crushed. It isn't safe for them to walk over the concrete as it may shift in an aftershock, so they hurry around the overpass. They find Dillon, alive, but trapped beneath some concrete. Rescuing Dillon, and finding Kevin, they continue on, wondering if they will even have homes to return to. They find a little girl, wandering lost. When they find the girl's mother, the girl nearly runs from their arms and across a live, downed power wire, until Joey saves her. They make it to their homes, but due to concerns about ruptured gas lines, they spend a night in a nearby shelter.
A lot clearly happens in the brief eleven chapters of this early-reader book. But that's okay. The story moves along quickly and packs in quite a bit. However, because of this, the troubled relationship between Joey and Dillon didn't play out very well and was mostly unnecessary.
Because of the didactic nature of the book, I have concerns over one issue. When Joey and Fiona find Dillon with his leg trapped under some rubble, Joey climbs in, head first, under the rubbleto see how Dillon is trapped. He squirms around, uses a knife to cut Dillon's pant leg to free him. If Fiona and Dillon hadn't then both pulled one of Joey's legs, he would have then been crushed as the rubble shifted. But just moments earlier, Joey himself notes that the rubble could shift and they should stay clear of it. Yet he only pauses briefly to weigh the concerns of climbing completely under. The narrator notes: "But that was a risk Joey had to take." Really? I don't think so. I think I would have to have some serious conversations with my children about this. Risking one's life for someone else's legs doesn't seem a fair trade-off. Dillon's legs may have been crushed if the rubble shifted, but he wouldn't have been killed. I think it would have served everyone much better to seek an adult's help, but to stay with Dillon in the process.
Otherwise, the dangers to be on the look-out for are well described both in the fiction portion of the book, as well as in a few pages of earthquake facts. Those who don't live in earthquake areas are sure to learn something about earthquakes and their dangers, and those who do live in high-earthquake areas will likely be reminded of a few things.
But don't go crawling under concrete rubble!
Looking for a good book? This early-reader adventure will entertain and teach a few things about what to watch out for when in an earthquake.(less)
Bullying in schools is a hot-button topic these days so it is not surprising tha...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5
Bullying in schools is a hot-button topic these days so it is not surprising that we will see a number of books targeting the bullying topic. EKHO: Evil Kid Hunting Organization, is one of the latest, using a spy genre style to entice the younger readers.
The story is relatively simple...a group of fourth graders, at the start of the school year think that perhaps they'll have an easier time as most of the bullies have moved on to the middle school. Unfortunately, there are still two bullies in the school who do a masterful job of picking on the nerds and geeks and smaller kids in school. Elvis is a smart young man, and with his close friends, Levi, Jackson, and Jordy, they form EKHO ... Evil Kid Hunting Organization ... a group dedicated to protecting the picked-upon and to find ways to stop the bullying. They throw themselves completely into this organization, setting up a website, issuing missions, and declaring levels of membership. It doesn't take long for most of the school to want to become members. A new girl moves in to the school but allies herself with the bullies; a new teacher in the school is acting strange; the bullies fight back by hacking EKHO's website and planning a major event. EKHO needs to infiltrate the bullies and their only hope is a girl whom Elvis has a crush on. Will she betray Elvis and EKHO?
We adults tell our children to stand up to bullying, but we forget what it's like to look at someone who is bigger, stronger, and angry, because as adults that doesn't happen to us too often. To our children, it tends to happen every day. EKHO works on the premise that there is strength in numbers, or at least that there is moral support behind the individual who stands up to the bullying. Our hero Elvis comes across as a young man who most likely would have stood up against the bullies even without the support of his friends and his club, which makes him the perfect leader for the group.
I don't know any youngster who doesn't imagine themself as a spy at some time, and for this reason, the idea that these elementary students become spies, complete with secret missions, in order to put a stop to bullying, or at least stand up for one another, is a sure-fire winner. What fifth grader wouldn't want to be a member of an EKHO-like organization? The fact that this story is based on true events (thanks, Max!) is certainly something to be proud of and to hopefully emulate.
My ARC of this book was an early edition which included a fair amount of cursing or language that seemed ill-suited for the reading level. For any of us with children in school, we know that the language isn't un-realistic, but as so much of the book promotes behavior that is something to live up to or emulate, the foul language was a deterrent. I've contacted the publisher (and the author) and was told that the publisher had concerns about the language as well and that it has been removed in the final published version. I did follow-up with a specific list of questionable words (not everything I objected to is a 'curse' word) but the list specifically was not addressed. It is possible that words such as 'douche' and 'dick' are still there as adjectives to describe other characters, though I hope, for the sake of book sales, that other terms have been found.
The story has a positive slant, addresses important issues to our youth, and promotes creativity and the concern of helping others. How can you not like or appreciate any of that?
Looking for a good book? EHKO is a wonderful book for middle grade readers looking for support and to be empowered to do something about school bullying.(less)
Children's books are often didactic; teaching lessons in (hopefully) creative an...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5
Children's books are often didactic; teaching lessons in (hopefully) creative and entertaining ways. I can recall, just off the top of my head, books about using the potty, or Everyone Poops, and even recently I reviewed The Kissing Hand, in which a youngster learns it is okay to leave the nest. This teaching-lesson children's book, Is a Worry Worrying You?, by authors Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz, with illustrations by Marie LeTourneau, takes on a challenge by anthropomorphizing a 'feeling.'
The book starts right out and asks the question, "What is a worry, anyway?"
The answer comes on the next pages with, "A worry is a thought that stops you from having fun, from feeling good, from being happy."
Excellent! That seems an appropriate, succinct definition for a children's book. In the next page it tells a little more ... that you needn't bother looking for a worry, because it is invisible. And if the book built more on this premise I'd be much more, solidly behind the book, but this is where it takes off on a tangent, in my opinion.
First, let's recognize that while the book tells the children that a worry is invisible, we are clearly seeing a tangible, artists representation of a Worry. A dark, fearsome blue creature that looks as though it might have been an understudy for Where the Wild Things Are. If a worry is invisible, why are we seeing it?
The story goes on to identify different types of worry, which, when you think about it, is hard to do. How would you describe 'worry' to a child? I'm not sure that I could define worry, but I'm also not sure that the definitions within are 'worry' as much as they are 'fear.' If a monster moves in under your bed and you're afraid to go to bed at night...is that a worry, or is that fear? A friend gets hurt and comes to you for help and you don't know what to do. Is that worry, or is that a feeling of helplessness?
For a child who might be prone to anxiety/worry, it seems that this book might actually hurt, rather than be helpful. The drawings can be a bit dark, and the suggested 'worries' are equal parts humorous and fearsome (okay...it's absurd to think that a rhinoceros might be walking down the street toward me...but if it did ... I'd be more than just worried)!
I like (mostly) the six pages near the end that offer suggestions on how to deal with a worry. Offering suggestions of other things to do to take the child's mind off the concern, or simply facing the situation or talking about it with someone. These seem like effective means of dealing with a child's worry. Though I wasn't too keen on seeing children nailing a board across a doorway in a house, sealing the not-so-invisible Worry in a separate room. But I very much like that the authors suggest that we face the worries (even though it also suggests to hide a worry away).
The art is appropriately children's-book-cartoonish, although a little on the dark side. I am also not sure why we have to see a 'Worry' as something tangible, and a bit frightening, at that.
It's an admirable challenge... to write a children's picture book about 'worry.' I don't know what other options are out there. I can imagine myself picking this up and reading it to my children, but perhaps only once, as I'm not convinced it would help.
Looking for a good book? If you are dealing with a child with anxiety or worry issues, this might help, but it's darkness (in story and art) may prove less than comforting.(less)
This is it! This is the next generation of children's book classics.
I am new to the world of Claude and his friend Sir Bobblysock (Oh how I love that name and character!), and I absolutely adored this book!
From the humorously original silliness (he wears suntan lotion and whipped cream at the beach) to the many adventures Claude and Sir Bobblysock are involved in (a sandcastle building contest; rescuing a swimmer from a shark; and an adventure with pirates), this book moves along nicely, entertains on every page, and is simply down-right fun.
We are charmed right from the start, when we learn that: "Claude lives in his house with two people who are too tall to fit on this page. They are called Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes..." and even the appearance of a shark and pirates, the book stays whimsical.
The art is perfectly cartoonish with a two-color art format that harkens back to the classics of Virginia Lee Burton (for its simple coloring, not its style).
Children will fall in love with Claude, and the only down side to that is that there will become a Claude marketing gimmick, inundating the toy shelves with Claude merchandise (this will be good for Alex T. Smith, but likely glut the market). Yes...this is that good that I'm surprised there isn't a television series already in the works.
The story and art are perfectly adapted for children, but there is just enough sprinkling of humor that the adults will pick up on to keep it interesting for those parents who enjoy reading aloud to their children.
I'm sad I don't have children of the appropriate age for this book, but I have plenty of nieces and nephews, and some day there will be grandchildren, who I can promise will know of Claude and Sir Bobblysock.
Looking for a good book? Claude at the Beach is currently my pick for children's book of the year. It's a guaranteed classic (along the lines of Curious George) that will entertain and teach children for generations to come.(less)
I just love this sort of children's picture book. It is history, a topic that isn't easily found, and the art is bold and eye-catching.
In twenty-four...moreI just love this sort of children's picture book. It is history, a topic that isn't easily found, and the art is bold and eye-catching.
In twenty-four pages, or less, author Vanita Oelschlager manages to encapsulate the creation and conditions of the Pullman Porter ... the valet/servant who worked on the sleeper (Pullman) train cars. She records it without romanticizing it and without dwelling on the short-comings of such a job. It is a remarkable bit of writing.
The art, by Mike Blanc, is striking and bold, though just a little uneven. There are mostly some fabulous, knockout art pages (such as almost any of the pages within a Pullman car, of the Porter carrying bags or shining shoes), and there are pages that come across as very flat (such as the porter tossing something out the window or the distant look at the train).
There were two small issues I had with this beautiful book.
1) In the narration, it says that "trains were carrying Americans from Boston and New York west to Chicago and St. Louis, and south to Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle." I've read this passage four, maybe five times to see what I'm reading incorrectly. South? To Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle? Did these trains go up in to Canada and come down?
2) There was one page of art with men lined up to apply for a Pullman Porter job, and every single man in line is standing in the same way, with a hand in the pocket and the shirt sleeve rolled up, almost to the elbow. Even the first time I read through this, I just felt something was 'wrong.' It lacked a realistic sense of action (even if that action was 'waiting'). In every other panel of art, there was an accomplished sense of action (even the page of the sleeping Porter!).
These two details aside, this is the sort of book I'd be delighted to have on my bookshelf and would pull out to read with some frequency when my children were younger. I highly recommend this book.
Looking for a good book? The Pullman Porter is a beautiful and wonderfully concise, but informative, picture book about a uniquely American job. Libraries, schools, and anyone who likes having quality picture books on their shelves should have this.(less)
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse is a gorgeously illustrated picture book....moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse is a gorgeously illustrated picture book. The artwork is so beautiful that I found that I sometimes just get lost, staring at the pictures.
The story centers around a French mouse who one day discovered that he was all alone. Al the other mice had abandoned him or had been exterminated. The mouse wanted to live in the safety of others of its kind, so he planned to leave France, but getting away proved to be difficult. Cats patrolled the docks and owls hunted from the skies. Seeing a bat, the mouse decided that it, too, should be able to fly and goes about piecing together wings, then a motor, in order to be able to navigate to America.
It is a very cute story, and one sure to keep children listening (when they're not looking at the beautiful pictures).
One thing that absolutely amazed me is the ability of author/artist Torben Kuhlmann to create a mouse that was engaged in human-like activities (scavenging and building an airplane) and yet constantly looking like an average, ordinary mouse. Other than the actions taken, this mouse was not anthropomorphized or made like some sort of mouse/human hybrid. It was any cellar mouse that happened to have a sprocket or gear attached to its back, or happened to be wearing aviators goggles. I know this will sound strange, but you must see it for yourself. Just tremendous!
In addition to the art and simple, but engaging story, Kuhlmann manages to infuse a little history, hinting that Charles Lindbergh saw the tale of the flying mouse and it was that which prompted him to fly his Spirit of St. Louis.
The math and history almost work.... the book suggests that the mouse trap was a new invention. A contraption that nearly wiped out the mouse population of France. The book also suggests it gave a young Charles Lindbergh his idea to fly across the ocean. The mouse trap was invented (patented, as pictured) in 1894. Lindbergh flew across the ocean in 1927. This would put Lindbergh in his late 30's (if he was looking at a current poster about the mouse), which of course isn't quite right.
It's a quibble of a point, I know, but I also know that if I were reading this to my children, that's the first question they would ask me, "Was the mouse trap really invented when Lindbergh was born?"
All in all, this is a really stunning book (I loved the page with the owls looking at the newspaper!). It will be treasured by reader and listener alike.
Looking for a good book? This is a fantastic picture book that will appeal to the adults who read it aloud, and the children who listen and look. It is a must have!(less)
The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères is a cute picture book of slender, sophisticat...moreThis review originally printed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5
The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères is a cute picture book of slender, sophisticated mice that will capture a child's attention and quietly teach a lesson as well.
Short and sweet, this book features lots of repetition that is helpful and engaging for children. The story: a family of mice run a restaurant. A restaurant reviewer is about to arrive to try their famous cheese soup. The father and head chef discovers that he needs to run to the store to pick up ingredients and the brothers run around, a bit frantic, trying to prepare the soup for the reviewer. The calm sister saves the day among the frantic, frenetic brothers.
I found this quite cute, and the repetition will make it fun to read aloud, but it's not likely to be read more than two or three times in a household (unless someone had a special affinity for mice or for all things French). My children's bookshelves are filled with books like this. And that's okay! It's nice to have a wide selection on hand (for the reader, if not for the children!).
It's pretty to look at and it's sweet in the telling, but the story leaves a little bit to be desired. As the children to whom this story is read get older, the book poses some uncomfortable questions: Why didn't they let the sister make the soup before? How could the sister do all the soup if every brother could only do a little bit? Why did the dad have to go to the store if they really had everything they needed?
Looking for a good book? The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères is the sort of picture book that you might want to give (or get) as a gift for reading to toddlers.(less)
A graphic novel for younger readers! In my mind, the age group that this book is...moreThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.0
A graphic novel for younger readers! In my mind, the age group that this book is targeted toward, is the perfect age for graphic novels (8-12 year olds) -- build a story with structure, using both images and dialog, to help develop a love for reading.
Cleopatra in Space is a fantasy/sci-fi/adventure tale using the historically recognized figure of Queen Cleopatra, when she was only a teenager. The idea is wonderful, and Mike Maihack's art is a perfect blend of Cartoon Network, anime, and Scooby-Doo-style comics.
But what is the purpose of using a historical figure if you're not going to actually play on that history? Other than that she's waiting for her turn as ruler, there's nothing here that suggests that its being Cleopatra is important to the story (perhaps that comes in to play in the next book, which doesn't come out until next year).
The story is that Cleopatra falls into a time machine and is transported in to the future, where she is anticipated to be the savior of an up-coming battle. She still has to go to school (which she hated in her own time and isn't enjoying any more in the future) and be tested on her skills. Her test turns out to be more than a simple test, of course.
The pictures are beautiful and it's very nice to look at. There are a LOT of action/movement sequences without any dialog, but lots of "SNIK" and "SWISH" and other such onomatopoeic words. A few too many, so that it felt as though we were filling pages of the book rather than advancing a story. Depending on the target age of the reader, this is possibly appropriate.
Life in Ancient Egypt, and life in the future, is pretty much the same, except for the styles of clothing and weapons (and talking cats). I didn't necessarily like this aspect. Again...if we're going to use a true historical figure for the book, why not actually try to capture some of Ancient Egypt, and use it to contrast with how different the future is? Again...is it because the intended age of the reader is young enough that we're trying to relate to them on a social level only?
My biggest 'beef' with a book like this, is the treatment of behavior. We're clearly going for a young audience, one that will most likely be looking at the pictures primarily, and learning to read with the words. But the social behavior of our characters is not something we want to be teaching those same, impressionable readers.
Our heroine, Cleopatra disobeys are teachers. She drugs (albeit with chamomile tea) her tutor. And her best friend gets intentionally kicked out of class so that they can have a great adventure. Is this what our children want in their escapism literature? And what do our pair do once they are truant? They take target practice at a live, sleeping animal from their slingshots. The animal, while a lizard, still looks awfully cute, with the great artwork. A final shot brings a ton of stone crashing down on the animal. As fun as the adventure might be, this is not behavior I'd want my children reading about and admiring.
What is the purpose for a digital clock to read 5:68? If this is targeted toward children, regardless of whether or not we look at time differently in the future, should we at least try to make some things recognizable to our youth?
Looking for a good book? This book has beautiful art, and some interesting ideas for a story, but the execution of character and story are not appropriate for the target audience.(less)
The edition of this book passed in front of me at Open Library and I quickly requested it. I loved the Disney movie and my kids grew up with the VHS a...moreThe edition of this book passed in front of me at Open Library and I quickly requested it. I loved the Disney movie and my kids grew up with the VHS and then the DVD of this film (Jim Dale, famous for his Harry Potter book recordings, co-stars in the film).
The book is a simplified, Golden Books-style adaptation of the film. It does a fine job of telling the story of the movie without giving us much of anything extra (character motivation, location description, etc).
The story tells of a boy who has a dragon for a friend. The dragon, Elliot, is with Pete because Pete 'needs' him. Pete has been sold (from an orphanage) to a family (the Grogans) that abuses him as nothing more than slave labor. Pete and Elliot find themselves in a small New England town called Passamaquoddy. A travelling medicine show owner hears about Elliot and wants him for 'parts.' The Grogan's want their laborer back. A lighthouse keeper's daughter takes Pete in, and he returns the favor by sending Elliot to find her fiance who was lost at sea.
It's really a sweet story, told in classic Disney fashion. I highly recommend the movie, but if you see this book in a sale or on a library shelf, give it a look, but know the movie is better.(less)
I have ALWAYS enjoyed works of the absurd; the theatre of Eugene Ionesco, the stories of Nik...moreOriginally reviewed in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5.
I have ALWAYS enjoyed works of the absurd; the theatre of Eugene Ionesco, the stories of Nikolai Gogol, the books of Roald Dahl. Now I'll include Philippa Dowding to that list!
This book is about twelve year old Jake who is off to visit his grandfather. Jake spends some time with some older kids who live nearby, and who love to tell scary stories that are supposed to be true, about their town. On this particular night, they tell the story about when a local farmer discovered a giant hand, wearing a wedding ring, in the middle of his field, and how giant flies, as large as birds, buzzed the area. Jake doesn't want to believe the story, but when he questions the local adults, they all try to change the subject, even Jake's grandpa! Jake does a little investigating, and gets a little more than he bargained for!
Written for young readers (Fourth grade? Fifth grade?), it manages to treat the reader with respect; it doesn't write 'down' to them, or try to explain every moment. It puts us, reader, in the story by letting us experience what Jake experiences, without explaining it all away. We are just as lost and scared as Jake, and we come to the same conclusions that Jake does (especially what the mysterious white stone is, down in the ground, that he and his grandfather uncovered while digging a post hole). The fear that builds is completely accurate and in line with the sort of fear a twelve year old might have after listening to a scary story.
The best part of the book, however, as I alluded to earlier, is the absurdity that this horrific, spooky story, could actually be true. There is no clear answer. In fact, all the evidence -- physical evidence! -- suggests the tale is true, but Jake also knows that it can't possibly be true, and yet .... This is a great way to maintain creative thinking and a love of reading in our young readers.
I highly recommend this book!
Looking for a good book? Jake and Giant Hand is part mystery, part young-reader-horror, part adventure, which rolled together under Philippa Dowding's creativity, is all genius.(less)
There is such a sweet simplicity to this book, which is all about the animals that nearly every child is familiar with, that it's hard to believe that...moreThere is such a sweet simplicity to this book, which is all about the animals that nearly every child is familiar with, that it's hard to believe that this hasn't been published a hundred times before.
In simple words, and with repetitive phrases (so important in a picture/early reader book) the book tells of some basic differences between dogs and cats (dogs dig holes/cats climb trees). Then it switches to how the animals are similar. Here there's even the moment that will make the children pause, think, and very likely giggle (cats and dogs both like pizza).
There are picture books that adults like to read for their beauty and message, and there are picture books that children will ask to be read again and again and again, and this is a book that will definitely be a child favorite.
The pictures are simple, bright, and bold. They are just right for the book. The reader (and listener) won't need to spend any more time looking at the pictures than it takes to read the words, and vice versa.
My only regret is that the similarities section was so significantly shorter than the differences (four pages of similarity compared to 16 pages of differences). Imagining reading this to my children when they were younger, I would have liked to have shared how the animals in our house are similar (though of course, any book that prompts discussion, even about family pets, is a good thing).
I was very excited to read this book, and I'm sure it will be a hit with parents, teachers, and children.
Looking for a good book? This easy reader picture book will be a much-read book in any home with a toddler!
If you have pre-schoolers or very young elementary school children, you need to have this book.
There are a lot of picture books published every year,...moreIf you have pre-schoolers or very young elementary school children, you need to have this book.
There are a lot of picture books published every year, but to hit on one that will stand the test of time and be sold generation after generation, is a rare book, and one every writer is hoping for. I believe that Audrey Penn found that with The Kissing Hand.
Young Chester Raccoon is nervous about leaving the safety of home to go to school. To reassure him that all is okay, his mother kisses the palm of his hand and tells him that whenever he feels lonely to hold his hand to his cheek and he'll be reminded of the warmth of her love.
This is simple and beautiful and I've never known anyone to regret owning this. My wife and I read the book and used the idea with our own children for many years and still do it on rare occasions. It gets a groan from our nearly-adult teenagers, but you can see that it holds meaning to them.
The artwork is simple and charming and a perfect fit for the book. Slightly stylized, it is often bright and full of friendly creatures in the raccoon world. It is just the sort of art that a youngster enjoys seeing, over and over, during the repetitive readings.
Looking for a good book? If you have children or grand-children, this will be one of the books on your shelf, and you should own it proudly and read it often. (less)
I consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and whe...moreI consider myself to be a moderately well-educated man and I am certainly familiar with the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., and when I first received this review copy of March, a graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement, I was a little less than enthusiastic about reading it. I now wish I had jumped right in to it the moment I received it. This is wonderful!
Congressman John Lewis was an iconic figure in the Civil Rights Movement and is the only living member of the major leadership players at the time. This first of three planned books focusses on Lewis' youth, his desire to attend university, meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., and the beginnings of the peaceful Nashville Student Movement and sit-ins at local cafeterias. I whole-heartedly admit that I learned some very valuable history by reading this. I would also admit that, had this been a 500 page biography of John Lewis or even a history book on the Civil Rights movement, I probably would not have read it, fearing a dull, boring read.
And so...why a graphic novel? I think there are a number of good reasons for this. One: it makes it very easily accessible to a very young reading audience, or even a 'low' reading audience. I can see third graders reading this as part of their school's February reading program. Two: adults are more apt to pick up something that looks quick and simple, rather than a thick non-fiction book (as I admit to). And three: the pictures definitely help set the tone. It's very easy to read about non-violence, but something completely different to see people sitting calmly at a counter while others shout at them.
And let me be clear -- while I talk about the seeming simplicity in a graphic novel, compared to a long historical or biographical treatise, there is nothing 'simple' about this. This manages to be a very thorough look at a complicated time. We get a full sense of the power behind what was happening, while understanding that there's likely more to the story if we wish further study.
This is going to sound strange, but the art was so smooth, so perfectly apt for this book, that I often forgot I was reading/looking at a graphic novel. The pictures were such perfect additions to the story that I never felt that I was detached in any way. I read a lot of comics as a kid and I've read a fair number of graphic novels in the last year, since starting this blog, and I can say that I've never felt this symbiotic relationship between art and story so clearly before. I can't imagine any way of improving upon it.
If there's any down-side to this book (and I'm not sure there is), it would be that it's a book one. Graphic novels have come in some pretty thick volumes , so I can't imagine any reasonable explanation as to why this wasn't produced as one book. The only thought I can give is that the publisher wants to make more money and possibly win more awards by releasing this in installments. It's certainly a common publishing game, and I don't care for it. I subtract some points for this reason.
This book will move you. You will be a better person after reading it and you will have an even better understanding of both the good in humanity and the despicable.
Looking for a good book? This books deserves to be read, shared, and remembered by everyone who can turn a page.
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about read...moreYes!
I will admit to a small bias against poetry. Despite studying it, writing it, promoting it, I've always had a hard time getting excited about reading poetry. So when I flipped this open and saw it was in verse, there was a momentary pause, I put it down and came back to it later. And I'm very glad that I returned to this!
In free verse, this tells the story of the slave, known as "Dave," purchased in 1815. His owner, Harvey Drake, is a potter and he teaches Dave the art of pottery. Harvey also happens to violate the law, and teaches Dave to read and write as well. Dave becomes an expert potter, often marking his pots with bits of writing.
Despite the short, free verse poems, we manage to learn a lot about what it's like to be a slave (having wives sold and sent away; the dangers of knowing too much; etc) and about life in the 1800's and about pottery. It's quite remarkable how much I picked up in this brief volume targeted toward elementary school readers. The writing captures a mood and tone of the era quite well.
I finished the book, feeling richer for what I learned, but also wanting to know more about pottery at this time, slavery and the fight for freedom, and the region in which this clay was found and turned in to pottery. Wanting to learn more is always good (provided it's not because we didn't learn anything).
Looking for a good book? This is all-around a fantastic, quick read. Aimed at young readers, adults should feel enriched after reading it to their children.
This is a delightful comic (graphic) novel for younger readers. What ten year old boy doesn't like the idea of: 1) cracking a code that adults can't c...moreThis is a delightful comic (graphic) novel for younger readers. What ten year old boy doesn't like the idea of: 1) cracking a code that adults can't crack; 2) discovering a heretofore forgotten Egyptian tomb, complete with treasure; 3) having a pet monkey; 4) hanging out with a girl who seems pretty 'cool?'
I still remember when I 'discovered' ancient Egypt in school and learned about the treasures hidden in the pyramids. And of course I had the childhood fantasies of making my own discoveries. This book brought back those memories, and I wondered if it might not play on those same youthful fantasies for a new generation.
The story itself has enough holes in it that it won't stand up to being read by young adults (or older). (WARNING *** POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT **) A simple code that the young Rocket Robinson can break relatively simply? Secret doors and passageways that no one else has found before? Explosions under the Sphinx that do no damage above? Yet there is a story, a plot, here, that is just right for the younger readers to catch on to and stay interested in.
The characters are stock characters. From the in-attentive parent, to the curious young hero, to the bad guys who look like bad guys, everyone is pretty much what you expect them to be on your first meeting them. Once again... this is fine for younger readers who haven't yet been introduced to these characters in books and movies the way the older readers have.
The art seems jarring at first, in its simplicity. When compared to the superhero comics and dark, depressing graphic novels, of the sort I have reviewed recently, this seems almost unprofessional, but once I got in to the story and moved along, the art didn't bother me at all. Again...it's very appropriate for its intended audience. But it does lead to my question...why as a graphic novel at all? Why not a simple reader action book? Let the reader picture Rocket him/herself? Why give not only the story but the visuals, too? In the superhero comics and adult graphic novels, the art is an essential part of the story -- it helps create tone, atmosphere, intensity, etc. In this book, the art just seems ... unnecessarily extra.
I no longer have children of appropriate age for this, but I can imagine, had it been available ten years ago, checking it out from the library and letting my children thumb through this. There's too much art (being a graphic novel) for it to be a book that I would read aloud to my children, but it might be something that they would pick up glance through on their own.
Looking for a good book? This is a nice comic book/novel for early readers.
(This review originally published in blog, Looking For a Good Book.)(less)
If Lego® were a publicly traded company, I would invest without hesitation. It is, without a doubt in my mind, the best 'toy' on earth. Fostering crea...moreIf Lego® were a publicly traded company, I would invest without hesitation. It is, without a doubt in my mind, the best 'toy' on earth. Fostering creativity and dexterity skills. I'm in my mid-fifties, and I can still enjoy sitting down with the Legos that I grew up with or that my children or my nephews and nieces have grown up with.
I've been aware of the various Lego® books, thumbed through a few, but have never really invested my time or money in them. But times have changed and Lego has started to uderstand the book market just a little bit better, I think.
Lego Space reads like a history book (future history, of course), complete with a glossary of terms and diagrams of the ships. It's quite cleverly put together, really, and I understand that the actual book will include directions on how to make each of the objects depicted in the book (my advanced reading copy contained no such directions). This is precisely the sort of book that I would have loved to have had as a child, and that my children would most likely have loved to have had when they were younger and playing with Legos.
But to the story itself, Lego has dropped the ball a bit. It seems a little unclear as to whether it is a story (beginning, middle, and end), or, as I have described it above, a future history article. I think it might have fared better as a story, building action and suspense along the way. Authors Peter Reid and Tim Goddard are fine writers, I'm sure, but it's no surprise that the book reads the way it does considering that Reid has written mostly history books and Goddard a memoir/biography/spiritual book. Lego® could have improved this book by paying a YA science fiction author to create an actual story around their Lego designs. I can think of a dozen names off the top of my head that would have been perfect for a venture like this.
Still...I think this is the ideal venue for Lego® -- science fiction themed books. Maybe it just combines two of my earliest loves; maybe it's the blending of two creative ventures ... but I like the combination.
Looking for a good book? This is a wonderful way to keep a child creative and busy and renewing (or instilling) a love of reading.
(Review originally published in blog, Looking For a Good Book lookingforagoodbook.wordpress.com)(less)
When I read and review a book, I try very hard to take in to consideration the intended audience, knowing full well that it may not be me (though I do...moreWhen I read and review a book, I try very hard to take in to consideration the intended audience, knowing full well that it may not be me (though I don’t know why not…I like reading just about any kind of fiction!). So who is this book targeted toward? This book is clearly aimed at the younger teen-aged male reader. One could easily think of this as a James Bond for teen and pre-teen boys who don’t know James Bond yet. It is action packed, mostly fast paced, and relies a little on the skill of our young hero, Peregrine Harker, and a lot on fortune and luck, with different people saving him at the very last possible moment.
Peregrine Harker is a young boy during the turn of the century London who works as a newspaper reporter. Following up on one story, he stumbles across something so much larger, which produces a chain of events that he becomes intimately entwined within. Fist-fights, sword fights, gun battles, and car chases…this book has it all, even that touch of potential romance that likely speaks directly to those shy teen and pre-teen boys who probably dream about adventures like this every night!
Surprisingly, the book starts off slow. I had started it twice, completely lost interest in it, but, because it’s on my review shelf, returned, determined to finish it. it wasn’t hard, once I actually got in to the book, but that could be a hurdle to some.
It’s also not a book to be read too closely. This is intended to be read and experienced in the moment. Flash! Move along to the next dangerous moment! etc. If you start to read it too closely, you realize how foolish some of the people are. Why create an elaborate scheme to have someone killed when it could be done so much quicker and cleaner and simply? Well…the asnwer is… it doesn’t create for exciting adventure then!
I’m not a big fan of heroes who survive, over and over again, by luck and the fortunes of others. Occasionally? Sure. But Harker’s fat is pulled out of the fire too many times in this book, by something (or someone) other than his own wits and ingenuity. Still, I liked the breakneck action and intrigue. This is sure to be a hit with its targeted demographic!
Looking for a good book? This is a fun, fast-paced adventure for the teen and pre-teen boys.
(Review originally published in blog, Looking For a Good Book.)(less)
As a behind-the-scenes theatre professional myself, I always enjoy seeing anything that turns the spotlight in on those who, like me, tend to stay in...moreAs a behind-the-scenes theatre professional myself, I always enjoy seeing anything that turns the spotlight in on those who, like me, tend to stay in the background. I’ve learned that it takes a gret deal of education to let people know, even adults and those who know me fairly well, that it takes a great many people to support the artistic talent.
This book looks at many different professions that are attached to what it takes to put on a show. Author Kevin Sylvester does a good job of highlighting a variety of professions. Some of those given the spotlight here are areas that even in other, related books, often not given notice. Long-haul truckers and venue managers, to name two, specifically. But of course, these ARE professions that are necessary to most shows!
Even at my age, I learned a thing or two, but there were also times that I raised my eyebrows and thought, “Really? This person does that work?”
The book seems definitely aimed at a younger reading audience. I think late elementary school to early high school, though even older students with no background in the arts might find it useful for research purposes. The narrative is a bit simplistic and the highlighted jobs are discussed in the very broadest of terms. This is fine, as the purpose of the book seems to be to bring about an awareness that there is a lot that goes in to supporting the on-stage artist.
This is the type of book you expect to find (and should find) in a school or public library.(less)
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this graphic novel. At times it was strong; at times weak. Sometimes it was intriguing; other times dull.
My firs...moreI’m not entirely sure what to make of this graphic novel. At times it was strong; at times weak. Sometimes it was intriguing; other times dull.
My first impression upon finishing was actually, “Hmm…that didn’t seem typically ‘American.’” It didn’t read like most of the graphic novels that I’ve seen today. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But I couldn’t place just what it was that made it slightly unusual. Mythological aspect of the story seemed more ‘old-fashioned’ (and again, I don’t mean that in a bad way). It read like Edgar Rice Burroughs, or Robert E. Howard, or the Tales of King Arthur or Robin Hood, or … like something someone from France might write? Ok…so I didn’t immediately pick ‘French’ as the flavor for this book, but it didn’t surprise me to learn that the author and artist are French.
Let’s start with the art … it’s exactly right for a graphic novel. More than just comic book art, but not full-out paintings for each panel. The art tells a story … you could probably tell most of the tale without words, based on these visuals … and it’s never embarassing (please… there IS art in comic books and graphic novels that I find embarassingly bad). The story needs the art to become complete.
And so the story…. A simple journey. A boy in medieval England (?) decides to leave home to follow his sister, who doesn’t believe their father is actually dead, but trapped between the Earthly realm and another world. Along the way, the young boy encounters unusual characters and magical beasts. Unfortunately it too often feels like the boy is about to wake up from a dream, or he faces another unusual fantasy and you can’t help but wonder what the purpose of it is.
I wanted to like this more than I did. I stopped and started from the very beginning when the journey wasn’t making a lot of sense to me. it still didn’t make a lot of sense, but I did get to the decision that maybe that was okay.
The story needed the art to be complete. Without the art, purely as a story, this would have been too fantastical and childish to appeal to most. With the art, it became almost fun, but at the close of the back cover, I’m still left thinking I didn’t get much out of this, nor did I relish my time here.(less)
Qitsualik's interest in bringing Inuit tradition/storytelling to Inuit (and other) youth in a manner that they might actually absorb...comic books......moreQitsualik's interest in bringing Inuit tradition/storytelling to Inuit (and other) youth in a manner that they might actually absorb...comic books... is truly admirable. And while the art and story are basically quite interesting, I think this falls short of its goal.
The art is fantastic. Jae Korim's work deserves to be acknolwedged. Any youngster who's grown up with comics or graphic novels will appreciate this art work. There's definitely a sense of comic-book style, but there's also a strong sense of aboriginal, or Inuit, style to it.
The downside is that there is not enough of it. I know that a children's picture book is commonly 32 pages, but the number of pages devoted to artwork vary, and this book needs more.
The story itself is interesting. It's not a traditional story I'm familiar with (I'm not widely familiar with Inuit legend), and I was intrigued. Here, too, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the Qallupaluit creatures. Why did they steal a boy and keep him safe? I thought the boys' reaction to his grandmother being mean was a fantastic leap in thought-process. I went back to re-read the story to figure out where that had come from. And while I see it...it doesn't ring true to me.
But for a book like this, my ultimate question is: would I read this to my kids (or grandkids)? The answer is Absolutely, yes! I love exposing my children to a wide variety of legends and mythology and this would be fantastic. Would I buy it to have on my bookshelf? Again, yes. I would buy it. I would read it. But I would always wish it were a little more.(less)
Writing a review of this book is more challenging than most reviews I've written.
Basically, I liked the book, but I really wanted it to be much better...moreWriting a review of this book is more challenging than most reviews I've written.
Basically, I liked the book, but I really wanted it to be much better than it was.
Let's start with the title: Katya's World. this book isn't so much about Katya's world as it is about Katya herself. And then again...it is about the world and the part Katya plays in it. Hmmm...I see the first problem...what IS this book about...?
I'll admit, the title is the first thing that attracted me to this book, but then, I have a niece by the name of Katja, so it's not a big surprise that I was drawn to this.
I was also drawn to this because it is a YA novel, which I often enjoy reading, and for its SciFi/Fantasy nature...a genre that I typically enjoy. It helped, too, that the publisher was having an e-book sale which I wanted to support (so, yes, I read the ebook version).
So let's get to the story...a girl, born on a planet that was colonized despite terrible odds and after much struggle, has just come of age to pilot a vessel (a water vessel, as most of this planet is under water). On her maiden voyage, the ship is commandeered by a government official trasporting a famous war criminal. Ship attack. Destruction. Loss. Thrust in to the middle of a cold war about to errupt. Katya grows up in the heat of battle.
What works here is that Katya is a rather unique character. As other Goodreads reviewers point out, there is no stereotypical love interest, which is a nice change of pace for this sort of story. There is also some very nice world-building and just the right amount of history tossed in which makes it all very credible.
What doesn't work:
It's easy to believe that Katya is above average and a little better than most ... if she weren't we wouldn't be reading her story ... but she still comes across as being a little too good to be true. She takes fantastic leaps in logic or physical prowess that don't seem appropriate for someone her age.
While the world-building is well done, the details on the more intimate spaces are lacking. It's difficult to differentiate one place from another. All places seem the same -- from the inside of Katya's sub, to the inside of the Leviathan, to the inside of the station. Sometimes I had to go back and look to see where we were now because they were all so similar. Part of this comes with the challenge that Jonathan L Howard set up for himself by setting his world under water.
It is nice that, while part of a planned series, this book does have it's own beginning, middle, and end, and if I never read another "Russalka Chronicles" book, I don't feel cheated.
However, I liked it enough, and was intrigued enough, that I would probably buy the next book in the series.(less)
There is a reason that we don't see more novels written by more than one author. It's very difficult to make it work.
The idea is good, and intriguing,...moreThere is a reason that we don't see more novels written by more than one author. It's very difficult to make it work.
The idea is good, and intriguing, but the execution is weak. All the authors are talented, but there was no over-riding arch to the story. In many ways, this played out like ten short stories based on a theme, but even as short stories, these fell short because they were trying to be a part of a bigger picture.
As stories, those written by Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Tim Wynne-Jones were quite good. As chapters to a novel, they were weak because none of them really progressed any story.
An interesting experiment that fails to take off.(less)