December 5, 2013
The Dream Thieves
by Maggie Stiefvater
It doesn’t take more than a look at Ronan and people know. There are terrors in his mind. Normally, they confine themselves to his dreams but then the Night Horrors follow him into the light of day.
This is Book #2 in The Raven Cycle Trilogy. Book #1, The Raven Boys, was a Printz Honor book and it is easy to see why. The characters are gritty and real and 100% compelling. Reading Book #1 first isn’t essential to understanding Book #2, but it is such a great read that you are going to want to read it. Why not pick it up first?
The Dream Thieves again focuses on the Raven Boys — Gansey, born to a life of privilege; Adam, tortured by an abusive past and the possibilities for his future; Noah, an actual ghost; and Ronan, dark, dangerous and honest to the core. Although the boys are still looking for the legendary Welsh King, Owen Glendower, this quest is often pushed aside for more pressing concerns.
The channel of energy, call it a lay line or a fairy road, that runs through the small Virginia town of Henrietta is fluctuating. One minute, it is blowing the electricity. The next, the power ebbs and Noah disappears. What is causing this fluctuation and what does it mean for Noah?
Then there is the Gray Man, an assassin who has been sent to Henrietta to find something. He knows it is something mystical, something that allows dream objects to become real. What he doesn’t know, at least right away, is that it isn’t a thing. It is a who. Will this assassin turn kidnapper?
Adam wants to help his friends, but he has problems of his own. He is seeing people who aren’t there. First a scared looking woman. Then a man in a bowler hat. Then comes the morning that he wakes up alongside the highway. How did he get there and why can’t he control what is happening?
It is incredibly difficult to summarize Stiefvater’s books because they are delicious complex. One thread effects another and the two together impact yet a third.
Teens will love this complexity of plot as well as the complexity of the characters. The good aren’t all good. The bad have redeeming qualities and life is, in all honesty, a struggle no matter what your circumstances.
December 2, 2013
No Fits, Nilson!
written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
I wasn’t sure what to expect from No Fits, Nilson! but as someone who has lived with a strong-willed child (understatement of the century), the book intrigued me because it was inspired by the author’s son and his volcanic tantrums.
In the fictional story, the narrator is a little girl named Amanda. Everywhere she goes, she brings her friend, an enormous, blue gorilla named Nilson. Well, except for the bathtub. Nilson apparently does not like water and watches from a perch nearby.
Together they play, eat breakfast and help with the grocery shopping. As sometimes happens, a scooter will bump a block tower and knock things over. When Nilson throws a fit, both he and Amanda end up in time out.
I wondered about that list part a little. Why was Amanda also in time out? Stick with the story and it all becomes clear on the last page. Nilson is Amanda’s stuffed animal friend. He has been getting credit for someone else’s fits of temper.
This really is a cute book about temper tantrums. Young readers will learn about self-control, coping mechanisms and consequences. The best part is that this all comes through the story itself so it doesn’t sound like a lecture. Instead, it is simply part of Amanda and Nilson’s day. Yet, the book isn’t unrealistic. There’s a melt down in the morning. Thing go pretty well for a while. Then they totter on the very edge of a meltdown toward the end of the story. Things haven’t just cleared up. Like any habit, dealing with this is a work-in-progress.
The acrylic paintings that illustrate the book are cartoony and fun, taking away some of the fear in having to endure someone else’s tantrum.
In spite of the more-or-less make believe friend, this is a very realistic story in that self control is praised but no one says it will be easy to achieve.
November 28, 2013
by George Shannon,
illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
In honor of Thanksgiving Day, a fun picture book with a turkey hero.
They’re so fat and juicy, Turkey Tot can’t help wanting the ripe black berries hanging over heard. Unfortunately, over head also means out of reach. Not to be outdone by some high up berries, Turkey Tot explores the barn yard looking for what he needs to reach the fantastic fruit.
First he finds a ball of string. He’s excited even though he realizes this isn’t an instant solution. If it isn’t an instant solution, his friends aren’t even interested. In fact, they’re down right discouraging. This doesn’t change when Turkey Tot next finds a hammer and nails and then some cans. Nope. No good. Still can’t reach the berries and hasn’t Turkey Tot always been the strange one.
Fortunately, Turkey Tot is a determined bird and soon he gets to work crafting an actual solution.
In case you haven’t already figured this out, George Shannon has created a Little Red Hen type of story in which one character does all the work while the others poo-poo his efforts. In Shannon’s tale, Turkey Tot never actually asks for help. He simply runs to his friends with each little bit of good fortune.
Jennifer K. Mann’s illustrations combine pencil, water color and digital work to create collages that compliment this story perfectly. Her cartoon-y style keeps the feel of the story light no matter how often, Little Chick, Pig and Hen try to put Turkey Tot in his place.
Like I said before, this isn’t a Thanksgiving story so you could easily order it as an encouraging Christmas gift for the youngster in your life who is a natural problem solver, seeking out solutions that others overlook.
November 25, 2013
by A. S. King
Little, Brown and Company
Everyone knows what Gerald Faust is like. He’s the angry boy who, in a reality show on national television, crapped in the middle of his family’s kitchen table. And his mother’s shoes. And his sister’s bed. Twelve years have passed and that’s still who his classmates see when they look at him, when they are replaying the scenes on Youtube.
And there’s no doubt about it. Gerald was an angry kid. He’s still got the anger management coach to prove it.
But, as Gerald knows all-too-well, reality TV resembles reality vaguely if at all. He was angry. He is angry. It is, after all, a common bi-product of abuse. (I’m not going to go into everything that Gerald experienced, because the way that King reveals it is perfect. I don’t want to destroy her plot in attempting to summarize it.)
At 17, Gerald has a job at the local arena. Who would have thought that a menial job would be something a rich kid would want, but when you can’t count on the adults in your life, a job is an amazing thing. His boss Beth needs him, not only to heft giant bottles of ketchup and do the heavy work but also to have her back when a would-be customer turns nasty. Being needed is an amazing thing.
It is also at work that Gerald meets Hannah, aka the Junk Man’s Daughter. In Hannah, Gerald has met his match. She too is strong willed and misunderstood by the masses who don’t see the smart, funny girl behind the piles and piles ringing her yard. As Gerald discovers, they have even more in common.
If you have never read any of A.S. King’s work, pick this book up. Now. I mean it. Don’t make me come looking for you. As always, her work is part social commentary and part amazingly good read. Do not pick up this book if you have something vital on your t0-do list. Make sure you have a beverage handy and are in a comfortable chair.
I also love King’s work for the reality of her male characters. Yes, I get the irony. Reality tv is fake. No one really knows her character. But her male characters are real and, as the mom of a boy, I appreciate that.
As always with King’s work, there are tough themes in the this book. And remember that these characters are teens. They aren’t always going to do what your mother would want them to do. But they are going to do what’s real.
November 19, 2013
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry
In a world much like our own, magic is illegal. In our world, that wouldn’t be a huge problem but Cassel was born with magic. Imagine having amazing abilities and not being able to use them unless, of course, you are willing to be a criminal. To some people, it might seem like that Cassel was born into a criminal family, small time but a criminal family nonetheless.
One brother, now deceased, was a curse worker. Another works memories. Mom can work someone’s emotions. Cassel? Cassel is the rarest of them all. He can transform people, changing faces or changing them completely. It isn’t surprising then that big criminal families want him for their own and so does the government.
What Cassel wants is getting complicated too. When he was a child, back before he knew he could transform, he wanted to have magic just like everyone else he knew. Now that he has it, he wishes that he could forget the things that he’s done with it. More than anything, he just wants to be a good person, a person his friends can trust.
But how can anyone trust you when you don’t trust yourself? Cassel has signed a deal with the feds and that should make things easier. But when your family is criminal, a deal with the feds means death so he has to hide what he is doing. And then there are the things that they ask him to do. Transforming a person into a living thing isn’t the same as murder but when they ask him to transform a state governor, Cassel starts to ask himself questions — why have them come to someone with no experience, someone they clearly don’t trust? And why should he trust them?
This is an amazing conclusion to the Curse Worker trilogy. It isn’t often that the books get better later in the trilogy but that is what Black has pulled off. Themes of goodness and evil, and personal responsibility play out in an amazing way.
And, the reality is, that the louder Cassel shouts that he is bad, the more convinced the reader is that deep down he is a good person, a person who cares deeply about even those who have hurt him. That said, he has a truly wicked sense of humor that will appeal to male readers.
November 18, 2013
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:
A Muslim Book of Colors
by Hena Khan,
From the blue of the hijab covering her Mom’s hair to the red of Dad’s prayer rug, this book tells about the colors and experiences that surround a young Muslim girl throughout her day with her parents and her grandparents.
The book includes information on Ramadan (the month of fasting) and Eid (the celebration at the end of this month) as well as clothing, ornamentation and food. Not sure you can remember all of the new vocabulary int he book? Khan included a brief glossary to help you out.
Those of you who have heard about the controversy surrounding this book might be hesitant to pick it up — a father in Georgia returned the copy that his daughter bought at a school book fair. He objected that the book was an attempt to indoctrinate children in the Islamic religion, but later amended his complaint to say that the fair shouldn’t sell any books that touch on religion.
The fact that someone could raise such a fuss about this gentle book tells more about the man complaining than it does about the book itself. If you want your child to learn something about Islam and see it in the context of a child’s family and daily life, than this is the perfect book. The text is light and lyrical. The rich colors of the illustrations are lush without being jarring in any way. In fact, the depth of color combined with the wide-eyed serenity of the figures reminds me of traditional icon paintings. I found myself flipping back through the book just to study the art work.
Given the growing diversity of our country and our communities, this book is a must for parents who want their children to greet their classmates with respect and an open mind.
November 14, 2013
by Matt Phelan
Prepared for another slow-moving, summer day in Muskegon, Michigan, Henry can’t believe his eyes when the train pulls to a stop and out of one of the box cars climbs an elephant and a large group of people. They look normal enough but who travels with an elephant? Henry soon finds the answer — show people, vaudevillians. They’ve come to Michigan to stay at the summer cottages in Bluffton.
Soon Henry finds his way to Bluffton, a nearby community he’s never visited before, and there he sees a man practicing a high wire act, a zebra and three children who come diving out of a window accompanied by the threatening shouts of the man inside. Henry meets the oldest boy, Buster, and discovers that he wasn’t in danger, this is all part of his family’s act. They are knockabouts — comedians who practice rough and tumble, slap stick humor comedian.
Henry returns to Bluffton with a group of local boys to play baseball with the newcomers. Soon Henry finds himself spending as much time as possible in Bluffton, loving the excitement of the performers pranks which he finds much more exciting than the ho hum hardware store his father owns. This love for the excitement of vaudeville sometimes puts Henry in conflict with Buster who wants to play as much baseball as possible, sip lemonade with a cute girl, and just be.
Phelan does an amazing job with this fictionalized story of the childhood of Buster Keaton. Phelan captures the excitement of vaudeville, contrasting it with the ordinary life that these children might long for but would never truly lead. Subtly woven throughout the story are themes about being yourself and not always longing for what the other guy has.
I have to admit that I’m not always a huge graphic novel fan, but this one pulled me in and held me close from beginning to end. In part, I was drawn in by the gentle water color look of the artwork, which contrasts sharply with the harsh film noir look of so much graphic novel art. This homey, gentle look was perfect for this story.
Pick it up and prepare to be pulled into another time and another place.
November 11, 2013
The Tapir Scientist:
Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
text by Sy Montgomery
photos by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Before I read this book, I didn’t know that tapir are South America’s largest mammal. I would have voted for a jaguar or other large cat, but no. The title goes to this animal about which so little is known. Enter the focus of this book, Brazilian scientist Pati Medici.
Pati works in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil to gather information about this animal that is unfamiliar to so many people. In fact, so little is known that her team is gathering as much information as possible on diet, on range, on disease and which tapir is related to/associates with whom. They gather this information by trapping and darting tapir. Once the tapir is asleep, the team gives it a collar and takes a variety of samples and gathers data ranging from gender to size and age.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this particular book is that it portrays the difficulties and failures of science. When darted tapir fail to fall asleep, the team cannot collar them. Instead of bemoaning this failure, they work harder to figure out why the animal didn’t fall asleep. Is there a problem with the medications? Is the dart not working correctly? Are some tapir resistant? Pati and her team work hard to solve this mystery and find a way to safely dart the tapir. Young readers will see that failure isn’t always final and that it can lead to additional discoveries and innovations.
The other thing that I loved was the emphasis that we aren’t just talking safe for the scientist. A tapir, especially a mother protecting young, can be a ferocious animal, weighing in at up to 400 pounds. While they don’t take unnecessary chances, the team works hard to keep the animals safe. Darted animals are carefully monitored. They area in which they live is wetland and an animal that wanders into deep water before collapsing could drown. A small, young animal that is still woozy from the drugs might fall prey to a puma. And staying in a trap for too long is a stress to the animal and might harm its health in some way. Sometimes caring for the animal means letting a stressed creature go instead of gathering data. What a wonderful message when we so often believe that the end justifies the means.
Knowing that her readers are school-aged, Montgomery includes information on how one student helped keep the team in the field and how another inspired them to keep at their work. Readers will be encouraged to look for opportunities to impact the world themselves. This is definitely a worth addition to the Scientists in the Field series and a must for any young science classroom. Readers will come out of it not only with knowledge about tapir but also how scientists in the field work to gather the information that is essential to their work.
The Dolphins of Shark Bay
by Pamela S. Turner,
photos by Scott Tuason
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Scientists in the Field Series
We’ve heard it before — dolphins are smart, but how smart becomes obvious when you read this book and learn about dolphins using tools and various mothers teaching specialized hunting techniques to their daughters.
For over 25 years, scientist Janet Mann and her colleagues have studied the wild dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia. Shark Bay is a unique ecosystem and attracts a larger number of dolphins than anywhere else. Because of this, there are often numerous scientists there as well as fishermen and tourists. It is thus essential to learn how human interaction effects dolphins.
Mann and her colleagues have seen how interactions with humans can alter dolphin behavior, often for the worse. They have also seen how interactions with other dolphins alter dolphin behavior. It all depends on whether or not the dolphin is the same gender, a relative or a higher ranking animal.
With chapters on dolphin families, dolphin communication, dolphin feeding techniques and more, readers will definitely learn about dolphins. They will also learn about how scientists, especially scientists in the field, work.
I can sit and watch dolphins swim for hours, but I was still surprised by how completely this book enthralled me. The reality is that I’m just not nuts about water and dolphins are pretty deeply involved in this particular element. That said, animals and animal behavior interests me, especially as it relates to learning and passing this knowledge from one animal to another.
Whether the reader in your life loves dolphins in particular or simply science or the ocean, consider this book with the wealth of information and inspiration that it brings.
November 4, 2013
Hush, Little Horsie
by Jane Yolen,
illustrated by Ruth Sanderson
“Hush, little horsie,
Asleep on the farm.
Your mama is near
And will keep you from harm.”
Thus opens Yolen’s poetic horse book for toddlers and preschoolers. Read it and you will quickly notice that the verse is closely patterned after “Hush, Little Baby.” Not surprisingly, the book has the same lullaby-like feel.
Readers move from one mama-horse and baby-horse pairing to another, each showing different types of horses in a different environments. Their homes range from the barnyard to the plain and even the seaside.
Whether the foal is galloping, frolicking, or catching a quick nap, the message is clear — whoever you are and wherever you live, Mom loves you and watches over you.
Sanderson’s paintings are beautifully detailed and realistic, composed of warm glowing colors that extend the feeling of being comfortable and safe.
Given the quiet warmth of this book, it is a perfect choice for bed time or nap time reading. It would also make an excellent choice for a baby shower gift for any horse lover.
I’m not sure how I initially missed this one, originally published in 2010 but this is a lovely, gentle books that, in gentle, dreamy tone, reminded me of Owl Moon.