I think my love for this book is directly related to the fact that we are currently reading Beverly Cleary's chapter books to my young son. I had forgI think my love for this book is directly related to the fact that we are currently reading Beverly Cleary's chapter books to my young son. I had forgotten how bland and rote they could seem at first glance- these are just random things happening! There's no story! And yet, that's why they are brilliant. Yes, they are random things happening, and the characters are living them, and there is no moralizing or tidy story arc outside of the importance of the events themselves. That's what makes them resonate with the target audience. My son, you will note, is particularly fond of Ramona, who is starting kindergarten at the same time he is. Her problems seem very real to him.
This book has done the improbable: it has made me use the terms "literary" and "slice of life" unironically while praising it to a colleague. Gross, but accurate. Stead's simple, beautiful prose revolves around a group of middle-school girls trying to figure out how to negotiate friendships, relationships, and the burgeoning process of becoming a new person. The romance aspect is sweetly ordinary, and while the main plot concerning the fallout of taking and sending PG13-rated pictures does have some tension, it resolves itself in a fairly tame fashion. This is a book about simply living, and it's authentic and wonderful.
The perspective shifts sometimes get a little awkward; the only criticism I have of the book is that a particular point-of-view thread could have probably been rolled up into somewhere else for clarity's sake while not affecting the overall quality of the book. But otherwise, this is a singular book that is perfect for school-age kids reading up and middle-grade/teen readers looking for a nostalgia hit. It's certainly not the most exciting book in the world, but I'm very glad I read it....more
I really want to like Nielsen's books. I really, really do. But just as with The False Prince, this one left me unsatisfied. It's action-packed, and fI really want to like Nielsen's books. I really, really do. But just as with The False Prince, this one left me unsatisfied. It's action-packed, and full of both cool fantasy tropes and accurate (and interesting) Roman history, but everything happens at the surface level without lingering too long on the details. There is a lot of hand-waving involved in explaining this alternate Rome's magic and religious lore, and since there are a whole lot of these elements introduced throughout the book, none of it feels particularly cohesive. The characters are engaging but not all that deep, and the protagonist is pretty unlikeable when he isn't in the thick of action (which, to be fair, is most of the book).
I don't know. The star rating indicates that I didn't like the book, but that's not really true; I found it very readable and fun, especially in the latter half. I just think it's squarely aimed at younger teens and those without much experience with the fantasy genre. This is a perfect read-this-next for those coming off of Rick Riordan's books, and is otherwise a enjoyable, if lightweight, diversion....more
This is one of the best classic children’s books in existence. The only knock it gets is for the casual racism and sexism that is a relatively innocenThis is one of the best classic children’s books in existence. The only knock it gets is for the casual racism and sexism that is a relatively innocent byproduct of the author’s time. But Barrie’s original is better than any movie or play adaptation. The original Peter is more nuanced than any version we’ve seen since, as prone to fits of violence and despair as he is to whimsy and mischief. The most interesting thing to note when reading the original is Barrie’s understanding of what childhood really is, as he emphasizes callous heartlessness as much as innocence and gaiety. Additionally, Peter’s night terrors and his last meeting with Wendy are poignant illustrations of what being forever a child really means....more
This sweet little graphic novel is Telgemeier’s memoir of a freak dental accident in middle school, and the effect of the various orthodontic remediesThis sweet little graphic novel is Telgemeier’s memoir of a freak dental accident in middle school, and the effect of the various orthodontic remedies on her as she navigates the already fraught transition into high school. Smile, an Eisner Award winner, has been on my radar for as long as I’ve been a professional librarian, and I’m glad I finally picked it up.
The book is happily thick and meaty for a comic, though naturally it reads fast. The art is lovely. It’s bright and cartoonish, but very expressive and complex when it needs to be, and full of great little details. I enjoyed the settings in particular; many comic artists give background short shrift in favor of the action, but for some reason the setting really grabbed me while reading this. I think the autobiographical nature of the book is part of it, since setting is so integral to memory. Growing up in the same general area as Telgemeier had something to do with it too, I imagine.
In fact, a lot of my love for this book comes from my ability to identify so closely with it. I mean, I’ve never been a Girl Scout, and thankfully have never had any teeth knocked out. But you better believe that I remember not being able to eat Corn Flakes for a week after getting the wires on my braces tightened, because my teeth ached so much. I remember the Loma Prieta earthquake vividly. And I definitely remember the epiphany I had at around the same age as Raina in the comic, when I realized that some of my friends weren’t actually all that nice to me. Telgemeier captures all of these external and internal events beautifully.
The pivotal moments in the story are predictable and given a fairly mild treatment, but that’s a meaningless complaint coming from an adult reader. This is a great comic for middle-grade readers (of any gender, I maintain, though it’s an especially good pick for girls), and honestly it’s a good choice for the library of any comic fan....more
I admit, I got turned off right after the dedication, where Willingham gives a surprisingly vehement endorsement of the Boy Scouts of America. It's woI admit, I got turned off right after the dedication, where Willingham gives a surprisingly vehement endorsement of the Boy Scouts of America. It's worded just carefully enough to support plausible deniability of it being interpreted as “never mind the liberals, boys, you go on and exclude gay people all you want.” Which, of course, led to a brief foray into researching Willingham’s politics, and that's exactly the sort of dangerous nonsense that forever ruined Orson Scott Card’s work for me. Since I enjoyed reading Willingham’s Fables comic so much, though, I let all of that go and successfully called upon my librarian superpower of bias-free reading. I ended up being a little unimpressed, personally, but I think this would be perfect for middle-grade readers.
This is a fairly standard adventure tale, with a couple of added perks: it has a nicely crafted fantasy element, and a metafictional twist that felt a bit clumsy but is still extremely clever. The talking animals are by far the best characters; I’d read an entire book about McTavish. Once I was able to dismiss the ham-fisted political overtones in the villains, I found them chilling and fascinating. The story is put together well, and the ending is extraordinarily moving and satisfying. Things get surprisingly violent during the action scenes, considering the juvenile and light-hearted tone of the rest of the book, but Willingham obviously does this on purpose. After all, the whole point of the story is the resourcefulness of a determined boy in the face of the unknown, and the spiritual dangers of Bowdlerizing. Besides, what is a good adventure yarn without some blood, guts, and danger?
But that leads in to the biggest problem I had with the book, which is Willingham’s tendency to over-explain. He trusts his young readers with the content and the message, but he doesn’t seem to trust that they will pick up the subtext, and thus he places unnecessary elaboration all over the narration. Besides being thematically inconsistent, it tends to bone the pace of the book. The story is solid and exciting, and the writing level is simple and perfectly age-appropriate, so I wish the telling was slimmed down a little bit in favor of the showing.
Overall, though, this was a quick, fun read. It’s a sure bet for kids and younger teens who like mystery and fantasy, especially if they’ve already got a taste for anthropomorphic animal heroes. ...more
I was going to start this review with a recollection of how I ended up in a hot tub with Brian Selznick, but I think I’ve dropped that particular nameI was going to start this review with a recollection of how I ended up in a hot tub with Brian Selznick, but I think I’ve dropped that particular name enough for one lifetime, so I’ll just leave it at this: librarianship can make for some pretty weird anecdotes.
Anyway, at first glance, this book seems hefty for a children’s story. Opening the cover reveals an ethereal mix of hand-drawn sketches and sparse, elegant prose that unfolds like a mix of picture book, fable, and silent film. I can’t think of anything else like it.
The story is deceptively short enough that I don’t want to give too much away. Hugo Cabret is an orphan that lives in the walls of a Paris train station, taking care of the clocks and stealing food to survive. Every now and then, he visits the toymaker’s booth in the station and makes off with small windup animals, which he cannibalizes for parts to repair a miniature figurine he keeps in his room. The mysterious automaton is the only memento Hugo has left of his father, and he is convinced that if he gets it working it will impart an important message. When the toymaker catches him one day, it sets off a chain of events that connects Hugo’s mechanical man with the dreamlike movies his father used to talk about, and forever alters the lives of both Hugo and the toymaker.
The most striking elements of the book are the two-page illustrations that frequently intersperse the narrative. They can be disorienting at first, until the reader realizes that they are integral to moving the story along. They are scenes in themselves, rather than mere accompaniment. The pictures are wonderfully drawn, and framed in such a way that something almost like animation emerges if you flip through them in just the right way. Selznick’s prose is simple and straightforward; all of the charm and wonder resides in these visual interludes.
The only complaint that I have with the book is that things get a little anticlimactic near the end. Selznick builds so much fantastic wonder, especially in the beginning, that the resolution feels exceptionally earthbound. This in itself is a bit of a brilliant stroke, though, as the story was inspired by a real turn-of-the-century filmmaker and his odd collection of automata. Taken as a whole, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a paean to how extraordinary the little quirks and foibles of ordinary life can be, especially when you are twelve years old. Despite its impressive page count, this can be read in a day, and is filled with enough enchantment to hook readers of any age. I plan on putting it in my son’s hands as soon as he’s able to read on his own....more
Conor began having the nightmare soon after his mother first began her treatments. It was always the same nightmare, with the same monster waiting insConor began having the nightmare soon after his mother first began her treatments. It was always the same nightmare, with the same monster waiting inside. So, when the other monster came calling outside his bedroom window, Conor wasn’t surprised or impressed. However, this monster was different. It claimed to be as old as time, and had come to tell Conor three stories. After the third story, Conor will then have to tell his own story: the truth he is hiding, at the expense of everything, in exchange for his life.
This is not an easy story to read, for a number of reasons. The grim allegory that forms the core of the story reaches beyond fantasy, and moves well into the realm of magical realism. Readers who are looking for a tidy metaphor or a believable plot will be left wanting. The subject matter itself, as one might expect, is heartbreaking.
There is beauty amidst the rubble, though, and the interesting thing is that it’s a different beauty for each reader. Ness narrates and crafts dialogue with elegant skill, and combined with Jim Kay’s haunting illustrations, the story hums with foreboding. The book is affecting even if you know where everything is heading, as most adult readers will. This is a slim book that seems aimed primarily at younger teens, and anyone with even secondhand experience with illness or grief will see the story for what it is and anticipate the ending well in advance. It’s a testament to Ness’s talent that, despite this, I had butterflies in my stomach while reading it and couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t.
As such, I confess to being a little taken aback at reviews of this book that stridently claim this ambiguity of intended audience is somehow a bad thing. I guess I understand, since I’m in the business of categorizing books and determining their eligibility for fitting a reader. Still, it’s not as if there is any issue with truth in advertising here. This book is therapy for kids dealing with grief, a possible revelation to kids that aren’t, and a powerful (if familiar) fable for anyone else. I can’t think of any higher praise than to state that a book successfully imparts different messages to different readers.
Oh, and for the record, I didn’t cry at the end, but it was a close thing. ...more
This one falls outside of my normal reading habits; while I’ve developed a bit of a weakness for teen lit/YA/whatever you want to call it, I don’t typThis one falls outside of my normal reading habits; while I’ve developed a bit of a weakness for teen lit/YA/whatever you want to call it, I don’t typically delve into middle-grade fiction now that I’m so far beyond my middle grades. I picked up an ARC of this because it looked cute, though, and it didn’t disappoint.
This is apparently the latest in a series of Lin’s books about Taiwanese-American girl Pacy. In this volume, she goes on a summer trip with her family to Taiwan. In the past, Pacy has felt like the odd girl out for being the only Asian kid in the room, but she feels a new anxiety exploring her parents’ homeland as she realizes she now sticks out for being profoundly American. Even her talent for art, the thing that she truly believes makes her special, is put to the test. Thanks to the company of her family and plenty of interesting things to see and do, though, what starts as a scary journey to an unfamiliar land ends up being fulfilling and even profound.
There isn’t much to say about this book that the description doesn’t tell you, but as the title suggests, Pacy’s tour of Taiwan revolves around the food she eats. Maybe my gluttony is showing, but I can’t think of a better way to do it. The descriptions of all the various foods were a nice, immersive touch, and the occasional illustration of said foods and other Taiwanese cultural items were a whimsical addition to the story. This is definitely targeted towards younger readers, but it’s a cute story that offers a friendly introduction to Taiwanese culture, and the travails a kid must go through when trying to navigate their own ethnic identity....more
As I was walking through the exhibit floor at ALA Annual, I chanced to pick up an advance reader’s copy for a children’s book that had some very niceAs I was walking through the exhibit floor at ALA Annual, I chanced to pick up an advance reader’s copy for a children’s book that had some very nice art on the cover, a definite rarity for ARCs. I browsed through the blurbs, and discovered that this particular children’s book is about a girl who grew up in a Thai women’s prison.
I dare you to say no to a children’s book set in a Thai women’s prison. If you say you aren’t interested in how that turns out, you’re a filthy liar.
Naturally, being a children’s book, this story isn’t as eyebrow-raising as one might fear/hope. It’s actually a sweet little parable, set against a very memorable backdrop. Luchi Ann was born behind the bars of the prison, tucked away in the Thai hinterlands and far removed from any semblance of civilization. It is the only home she has ever known, and has always brought here a naïve, sheltered form of comfort. After her mother unexpectedly dies, however, Luchi is propelled into the outside world, more lonely and vulnerable than she has ever been. With only the name and address of an American who might be her grandmother, Luchi must somehow find her way back to a home she’s never known. However, the secrets that sent her mother to prison in the first place may come back to claim her.
While the initial setup and opening chapters of this book are compelling, it doesn’t really have a solid finish. The story starts to come apart about halfway through, and ends with a climax and some drawing-room revelations that are somewhat absurd. The plot works, but the various resolutions to Luchi’s obstacles are too convenient, and overly saccharine. The unique premise and shallow execution make for a story that’s a little hard to take seriously, despite its earnestness. In fact, its earnestness occasionally gets in the way, too, with pages of overwrought internal dialogue and paragraphs of exposition that routinely go purple.
But of course, that’s coming from an adult reader. None of this should present a problem for the school-age readers for which the book is meant. Further, Paquette has a gift for setting; her depictions of Thailand are lyrical and vivid, and even the somewhat unbelievable section describing Luchi's boat trip had me interested enough to look up more information on freighter travel. The story itself has an interesting and likeable protagonist, a carefully constructed theme, and a taste of suspenseful danger without being too intense for the target age range.
Overall: a mediocre but solid book. I wasn’t very excited about it personally, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to a young reader who is looking for a travel story, drama, or a book about Asian cultures....more