This is an exciting start to a new series. Fast-paced, lots of action, an intriguing premise. There's a good amount of science woven into the narrativThis is an exciting start to a new series. Fast-paced, lots of action, an intriguing premise. There's a good amount of science woven into the narrative. ...more
A truly cool and original retelling of the classic fairy tale. It's a quick read with few words, but worth reading more than once to put it all togethA truly cool and original retelling of the classic fairy tale. It's a quick read with few words, but worth reading more than once to put it all together. ...more
What a fascinating, thought-provoking book. If you are interested in gender roles, Afghanistan, and/or stories about strong girls you can't miss thisWhat a fascinating, thought-provoking book. If you are interested in gender roles, Afghanistan, and/or stories about strong girls you can't miss this one. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year. ...more
The Depression is taking its toll on Beans's family in Key West. No money, not enough to eat, no shoes, and, worst of all, no father around because heThe Depression is taking its toll on Beans's family in Key West. No money, not enough to eat, no shoes, and, worst of all, no father around because he's looking for work up north. Beans is a tough, entrepreneurial kid. So he finds ways to make money. And, hey, maybe it's not all exactly legal. Or morally defensible. But Beans has to do what he has to do. Even if it means changing babies' diapers and telling a lot of whoppers.
This is great historical fiction, rich with details and facts. And fun to read to boot. The ending was a little abrupt for me, but overall I think kids are going to really like this.
Random thought: Is Beans sort of like a Gary Schmidt hero? Checklist:
-Distinct, vernacular voice -Sort of a tough guy vibe, like nothing bothers him -But his actions betray a sensitive heart of gold
I wanted to like this, but I found it boring. It reminded me too much of Defiance. Both books are about a kid who meets an eccentric old lady with a cI wanted to like this, but I found it boring. It reminded me too much of Defiance. Both books are about a kid who meets an eccentric old lady with a cow. The old lady helps the kid see the world differently. Thanks, magical old lady! Thanks, cow!
I think the blank verse/concrete poetry/creative typography stuff will appeal to fans of, like, Geronimo Stilton? I wasn't impressed by it. It seemed somehow lazy for a writer as talented as Creech. Like, let's write "drip" like this:
d r i p r i p
and, oh, isn't that cool, don't you just get what drips are like from the way the letters are spaced?
(Now I'm just being mean.)
So, if you want a children's novel in verse about how special cows are, I'd recommend Home of the Brave.
Apologies to Sharon Creech for the snark. I suppose this is a sweet book in it's way. I really do love Love That Dog and Walk Two Moons and recommend them all the time. Maybe I'll try reading MOO again sometime when I'm not feeling pressure to come up with brilliant Mock Newbery picks. ...more
Really great audio book. This is very much a character-driven book, which is unusual for a sports book. You expect the plot to revolve around Castle/GReally great audio book. This is very much a character-driven book, which is unusual for a sports book. You expect the plot to revolve around Castle/Ghost getting better at track and winning a race, but it really revolves around Castle/Ghost getting more in touch with himself and his potential. It's definitely about how being part of a team strengthens Castle/Ghost and gives him support and confidence. It seems to suggest that C/G needs a strong male role model since his father is absent and he finds that guy in Coach.
I thought this would be a five-star book for me, but I felt a little underwhelmed by the stakes (how much does C/G change over the course of the book?). I also thought Reynolds spelled things out a few times when he should've let the reader put it together. For example, there's a part when Lou, who is albino, says that bullies call *him* "ghost" and I thought it would've been stronger if the connection between names we choose and names we're given were somehow more subtle.
Overall, C/G is a lovable character with a great, distinct voice and I definitely want to read more about him. ...more
I remember being a young kid learning about slavery and thinking something along the lines of, "Why would anyone accept being a slave?" At the time II remember being a young kid learning about slavery and thinking something along the lines of, "Why would anyone accept being a slave?" At the time I didn't understand a lot of things. I didn't understand the drive to stay alive, even if it means living under unbearable conditions. I didn't understand what it means to be born into a culture that denies your humanity. If I had had the opportunity to read this book back then, I think it would've helped me understand the psychological shackles of slavery, not just the literal ones.
Grace is nine years old and has always lived with her mother in slave quarters on a tobacco plantation. But now Grace is being forced to live and work in the Big House serving the white Master and Missus. It's just on the other side of the hill from her family, but it means Grace won't see her mother. And it means Grace will be scrutinized by the hateful Missus. Through poetry, the reader feels Grace's fear, her intense love for her mother, and also her desire to speak her mind even though it's forbidden. When Grace discovers the Master and Missus intend to sell her mother and brothers at a slave auction, she finds the courage to try to save her family.
This story is based on new research about the Great Dismal Swamp, a seemingly uninhabitable area in Virginia and North Carolina that was a refuge for people escaping slavery. You can read more about it here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history...
Well, this made me bawl my eyes out. So I have to give it five stars.
Topher, Steve and Brand are sixth graders. They're the target of bullies, but thWell, this made me bawl my eyes out. So I have to give it five stars.
Topher, Steve and Brand are sixth graders. They're the target of bullies, but they're also resilient and fun dudes. Topher is an artist with a wild imagination. Steve is a little like Spock, super logical and intelligent. Brand thinks there's nothing special about him, but the fact that his dad is disabled means Brand has taken on a lot of adult responsibilities, making him especially determined and capable.
These three friends each tell part of the story in turn. They go on a kind of quest to see their teacher Ms. Bixby in the hospital. It is, of course, part adventure and part comedy of errors. They have to skip school, take a bus into the city, and procure certain items, at least one of which is illegal for minors to purchase.
The heart of this story is each boy's connection to Ms. Bixby. She is a Cool Teacher (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php...) but it doesn't play like a stereotype. She gives each of these three boys what they need and they want to give her something back in her time of need.
Like The Great American Whatever, this manages to be both funny and heartbreaking, which is a winning combination like salty and sweet or comfortable and stylish. A perfect book for a 6th grader, just edgy enough not to be babyish (there's a little bit of swearing and just a touch of risque) but not beyond what an average preteen can handle.
There are allusions to great poetry, music and literature (you'll probably want to read or re-read The Hobbit after this and go look up Walt Whitman), which is a hallmark of the Cool Teacher. She turns you on to cool stuff.
Is it a drawback that Steve's character calls on a certain Asian-American stereotype? He has tiger parents and a perfect sister who's a pianist. In popular culture Asian people tend to be portrayed as logical, good at math, and socially reserved like Steve. But Steve is a well-developed character with a rich inner life. He is not just a series of stereotypical traits. Maybe his parents are, though. I'm not sure where I ultimately come down on this but I mention it because I'm sure there are readers who are tired of seeing this stereotypical set of attributes. But I did love Steve. To get into spoiler territory: (view spoiler)[ I thought there was a subtle implication that Steve is gay and feels more than just friendship for Topher. That definitely shades his character, right? To be 12 and dealing with an attraction to your straight BFF? That would explain being reserved in how you express your emotions. (hide spoiler)] And I liked what the author did with Steve's relationship with his sister.
So there you have it. Read with tissues at the ready. ...more
I LOVE THIS BOOK. It's hard for me to even write a review of this book I loved it so much. So I guess I will just list things I loved about it.
-I lovI LOVE THIS BOOK. It's hard for me to even write a review of this book I loved it so much. So I guess I will just list things I loved about it.
-I loved Archer's voice.
-I loved the plot structure, bookended by weddings, and told as if Archer is talking to the reader, guiding the reader through his 1st grade year to his 6th grade year.
-I loved Archer's family: his cook/mechanic dad, his psychologist mom, his architect grandpa, his Uncle Paul. Even his irritating sister Holly and his witchy grandma.
-I loved that the book is realistic and not. Events are believable, but things like Lynette's overly mature outlook and the character of Little Lord Hilary are larger than life. See also: how often Archer's school makes headlines and Ms. Roebuck's computer incompetence. Stylistically, this enhances the feeling that Archer is trying to tell the reader a good story and perhaps fudging a bit to make it better, which accounts for things not being entirely believable.
-I love, love, loved Mr. McLeod (I had to Google how to pronounce that name - it's "McCloud"). I've complained in the past about too many children's books relying on the magic teacher trope - you know, like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. But Mr. McLeod, in my opinion, isn't a magic teacher stereotype. Sure, he's young and exciting, but there's way more to him than just being a great teacher.
-I love how funny and joyful this book is. Especially in 2016, which I dubbed the Year of Sad after reading offerings by some of kidlit's most prominent authors (see my review of Maybe a Fox).
I sincerely hope this will be one of our Mock Newbery books this year. Last year we got a little bit of resistance with The Thing About Jellyfish because there was a relatively minor gay character. Being that most of our Mock Newbery participants are in 5th grade and this book is pretty squarely about 5th/6th graders, I feel confident we can put it on the ballot if the rest of the committee agrees that it's really high quality literature for kids.
And, you know, if it won the real Newbery, I wouldn't be upset. ...more
Really crazy stunts in this one. I often thought of Jack Gantos' The Trouble in Me while I was reading it because that one's full of unbelievably dangReally crazy stunts in this one. I often thought of Jack Gantos' The Trouble in Me while I was reading it because that one's full of unbelievably dangerous shenanigans, too.
We read this for my children's book club and the kids loved just rehashing all the insanity. We talked about why people do crazy stuff. ...more
I've had lots of success booktalking this one at schools. The kids are super interested to find out why Perry lives in a prison, and even more why heI've had lots of success booktalking this one at schools. The kids are super interested to find out why Perry lives in a prison, and even more why he LIKES it and is upset when he moves into a normal house.
My favorite part of this book was the description of the mindset one develops in prison. Big Ed's rules and tips for serving time are also applicable to life on the outside and I think a big part of what makes Perry such a good person.
Speaking of Perry being a good person, my big criticism of this book is that Perry and Jessica are a little too perfect to feel real. On top of that, the whole setup is idealized in a way that might make kids who have incarcerated loved ones in real life roll their eyes. The warden is a humanitarian with a heart of gold. There are no mean guards. There are some prisoners that Perry keeps his distance from, but there's no drama around that. A little too good to feel true. But this is a children's book and I certainly don't think the author meant to convey the experience of an average child with an incarcerated parent. I mean, come on. Perry lives in the prison until he's 12 and he's basically a perfect human child. This might as well be named Pollyanna Prison.
I think this is a Newbery contender because of the interesting plot, the exploration of themes around being incarcerated, and the depiction of the villain Mr. Thomas Van Leer. I'm always cheering authors who give us villains with real character besides being evil. Van Leer is a great example of someone who's a bad guy *because* he's well meaning and can't see past the end of his own nose. Very realistic. ...more
I think I'm with Leonard on this one. His review is definitely worth a read.
I didn't finish this because it felt awfully breezy for the violent subjeI think I'm with Leonard on this one. His review is definitely worth a read.
I didn't finish this because it felt awfully breezy for the violent subject matter. Do I sound like I'm against nonfiction being fun? I'm really not. I like fun! But a light tone when talking about atrocity is more appropriate for adults who, presumably, get how serious it truly is, even when the violence took place hundreds of years ago. Booklist called this book "pure excitement" and I'm just SMH that senseless violence is so thrilling to so many.
Ever since I had a baby I can't stomach violence like I used to. I can't watch Game of Thrones anymore. I even have trouble watching the NFL because I feel bad for the mothers of the players getting their brains smashed for entertainment. I'm not the right reader for this book right now. ...more
Set during WWII when many children were transplanted from London to the countryside to escape the Blitz (this seems to be a popular setting, no?). TheSet during WWII when many children were transplanted from London to the countryside to escape the Blitz (this seems to be a popular setting, no?). There are some very familiar elements here (e.g. the villain is a creepy witch who preys on children) but it's got some unexpected twists. It's a good page-turner, but thematically it felt a bit shallow to me. Katherine isn't a super interesting hero and indeed most of the characters felt a bit flat. Except, I will say, I always appreciate a villain with a good backstory, and that was definitely happening.
Another sad one, folks. There has to be a novel published in 2016 that isn't about death and/or other bummers, right? I did really (I mean really, reaAnother sad one, folks. There has to be a novel published in 2016 that isn't about death and/or other bummers, right? I did really (I mean really, really) like this one. But I'm still and ever weary of this theme.
Set in the late 19th century, this is historical fiction at its most exciting. Our 12-year-old hero Joseph is tragically orphaned and alone in rural Washington State. He goes on a quest with one goal: to get his horse, Sarah, back. She's all he has left in the world. Along the way, Joseph faces danger and forges a bond with another lost boy. In some ways this is very different from Gemeinhart's first book (The Honest Truth) but both books have a strong emotional core and riveting (and, if I'm putting on my critic hat, kinda over-the-top) plots.
I grew very attached to Ah-Kee, the Chinese boy who, like Joseph, is all alone in the world. It says something about an author's abilities when they can create a fully realized character with no dialogue. Ah-Kee doesn't speak English and the story is told from Joseph's POV, so the reader doesn't know exactly what Ah-Kee is saying. (Just now, though, I'm realizing that Gemeinhart also does this with his animal characters. No dialogue, but lovable and well-drawn through action and description.) This book explores communication without a common language in a way that's both funny and meaningful. ...more
That was fun! I'd much rather list books I enjoyed last year than dwell on how depressed I am by this year's books. Honestly, Maybe a Fox isn't a bad book. Raymie and Pax aren't bad books either. But they're all so depressing. (Though not one of them actually made me cry, and I'm a crier.)
So here we go. This is a book about grieving. There are not one, not two, not three, but four deaths in this story. ((view spoiler)[I'm counting Sylvie's and Senna's deaths separately. I can't believe that poor girl had to die twice. (hide spoiler)])
There's a unique kind of spiritualism running through this book. You can call it mythic. You can call is animism. You can call it fantasy. It's hard to pin down and I suppose that's what makes it interesting. Jules and Sylvie often like to guess at what happens when you die. Maybe you turn into a star. Maybe you disappear. Maybe you fly to another planet. I don't think they ever say, "Maybe you go to heaven," or "Maybe you turn into a ghost," like one would expect. The clue to what actually happens in this book is right there in the title.
This is undoubtedly beautifully written, especially if you're into Appelt's signature style of simple, poetic repetitive phrasing. It did leave some loose ends dangling ((view spoiler)[they never find Sylvie's body, and the Zeke/catamount story fades away without resolution (hide spoiler)]) but the main plot ties up in a mostly satisfying way. I think this will be appealing to fans of The Underneath but I doubt I'll be recommending it unless a kid comes into the library and says, "Do you have any good books for morbid animal lovers?"
I listened to the audiobook, which I thought was very well done as read by Allison McGhee. ...more
Love, love, love this seafaring adventure with so much historical detail and a moving unlikely friendship. Definitely recommended for fans of CharlottLove, love, love this seafaring adventure with so much historical detail and a moving unlikely friendship. Definitely recommended for fans of Charlotte Doyle and Jacky Faber. ...more
Jeez, here I go again, not really digging another big release of 2016 by an author I love (see my review of Raymie Nightingale). What is up? I don't kJeez, here I go again, not really digging another big release of 2016 by an author I love (see my review of Raymie Nightingale). What is up? I don't know. Maybe I'm just not the right reader for such major bummer, sadsadsadness right now.
My biggest issue with this book is that the setting is completely ambiguous and I struggled with it throughout the book. When and where does it take place? In what world is there a little league game taking place a few miles from a war zone?
It's also become a really tired cliche for a sad kid to randomly meet a magical friend who fixes them (and, of course, the kid fixes the friend, too). I could go a good ten years without reading another story where that is a major plot line. Peter and Vola are both characters with a lot of backstory, but I still didn't feel like they had real depth. They both came off as flat portrayals of sadness and guilt personified.
I don't mean to vent about this book, because it did have some good parts (e.g. Pax's POV), but as I sit to write this review I'm just frustrated that both Pennypacker and DiCamillo have disappointed me so far this year. Ladies, I love you, but you're bringing me down. ...more
I know this is going to be a minority opinion, but I found this a little boring. My expectations were really high, so I was surprised it took me so loI know this is going to be a minority opinion, but I found this a little boring. My expectations were really high, so I was surprised it took me so long to read. I didn't feel a lot of motivation to go back to it when I put it down. Maybe because there wasn't much of a plot and the whole thing felt pretty bleak. I felt really bad for Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly. Each girl is deeply troubled by her family situation and each is dealing with it in her own way (Raymie trying to win the pageant to get her father's attention, Beverly wanting to sabotage the pageant to work through her anger, and Louisisana fixating on getting her cat Archie back).
I'll also say the whole thing felt a little weird to me, which is to say at the end of the book a lot of motifs still felt random. So much toe flexing. So much soul shrinking and growing. So much quirkiness from the Elefantes. And there were so many older ladies with some sort of significance - Ida Nee, Mrs. Sylvester, Mrs. Borkowski, Ruthie, Florence Nightingale, Isabelle, Alice Nebbley, Clara Wingtip. They all represent something to Raymie, but it was a bit of jumble. Especially in a book for young readers. My book club kids often express frustration when they can't keep all the characters straight and that's how I felt reading this book.
And, this is a finicky thing, but a student would not refer to her school librarian by their first name. Edward Option was confused in my head with Edgar the lifesaving dummy. It's not a big deal, but this is just another way the book felt like a jumble to me.
I keep saying the word jumble. I guess that's how I feel about this book. I suppose I will need to read it again before I really make my mind up about it. I always admire DiCamillo's craftsmanship as a writer. I just didn't hook into this story and these characters. ...more