December 1, 2016
Great-Grandmother Nell isn’t a cookie baking, apple picking grandma. She is a glamorous lipstick wearing dragon of a lady. She may not be soft and cuddly but that’s okay because her granddaughter loves her just the way she is.
That said, her granddaughter does wonder about her and there is so much to wonder about from the way Great-Grandmother can strike a glamorous pose to the graceful ballerina doll in her bedroom. There are the perfumes and powders that grace her dressing table and so much more including more than a little heart-break, at least some of which stemmed from her beautiful brown skin.
Just as there is so much to love about glamorous, gruff Great-Grandmother Nell, there is a great deal to love about this book as well. I have to admit that my initial curiosity stemmed from the command not to call her Grandma. I too had a grandmother — a strong, stern country woman who could chop off a snake’s head with a hoe and then cook up venison for dinner. Country to the core, she still had a formal core. My other grandmother, called either Gee-ma or Grandma, was a former flapper who later sold cosmetics. A total clothes horse, she never understood by hatred of shopping although she was more than willing to do it for me.
This book tells the story of an equally unique woman who clearly had a past – some of it joyous and some of it sad. But she also has a load of love for the great-granddaughter that she teaches to blot her lipstick just so.
Among the things that I loved most about this book are the details in the illustrations. In one scene, Great-Grandmother’s family watches from a window while she gives a song bird and earful. Maybe it twittered off-key? There are also old photographs in the background as well as bits and pieces of memorabilia including ballet photos and programs as well as civil rights buttons and news stories. I wonder what were young Nell’s dreams in addition to what she lived through. In this way, Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations add to the story and help to make it rich and rewarding.
Share this book with your young reader today, especially if she has a grandmother who is something else.
November 29, 2016
Etiquette and Espionage
by Gail Carriger
Little Brown and Company
Sophronia spends more time tampering with the dumb-waiter and other household mechanicals than she does choosing the best dress for any occassion. Her curtsy is a disgrace. In fact her mother is desperate when she enrolls the girl in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
It doesn’t take long for Sophronia to discover that something about this school is different and it isn’t just the fact that the school is on a dirigible. One instructor is a handsome werewolf captain. Another is a stylish vampire. In addition to learning how best to dress and throw a dinner party, Sophronia also learns about applying poisons and breaking codes.
Following the rules seems to be less important than getting caught and talking your way out of trouble is rewarded while accepting the blame for breaking the rules is punished. For although Sophronia is learning to care for her appearance, she still hasn’t become a follower of rules as she scrambles up and down ladders in search of coal for a mechanical she shouldn’t have on board. In procuring the coal, the meets a young lady inventor who dresses like a boy and a young man who works among the school’s sooties, shoveling coal into the schools boilers.
Sophronia and her new friends are soon on the trail of a super secret device that will revolutionize modern communication if only it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
I’m not sure how I missed this one because the series isn’t new. Fortunately my niece recommended it to me. Fanciful steam punk it has a fast-moving plot — once Sophronia makes it to the Academy. There is a wide variety of fun characters — some are fun because they are just so awful you can’t help but love despising them. Others are simply silly.
Going by the cover, I thought it was YA (young adult) but having read the first book I would say middle grade. While there is some talk of beau’s and trying to attract the attention of a handsome young man, it isn’t as focused or driven as it would be in a young adult novel.
Share this book with girl in your life who is looking for a good science fiction/fantasy read.
November 25, 2016
Jo Montfort is away from home at finishing school, trying to figure out how to get a story about factory girls into the school newspaper, when visitors from home arrive. She hasn’t forgotten a planned visit. An accident while cleaning a pistol has left her father dead.
Jo doesn’t have time to think as she travels home for the funeral. She’s still deep in grief when she makes a trip to the newspaper her father owned. While waiting for the editor, she hears a reporter talking about Montfort’s death. The young man claims it wasn’t an accident but suicide and that Jo’s family paid to hush up the truth.
Jo confronts the young man and soon finds herself leaving the safe streets of Manhattan to accompany him to the seedy side of New York City. She wants evidence even if it leads to a reality that is far from ideal.
Set in New York City in 1890, the story takes the reader from finishing schools and elite drawing rooms to boarding houses and even brothels. That said, nothing graphic happens. This isn’t that type of book. Honestly, it is more likely to be gross than sexy. Among the many people Jo meets is a coroner’s assistant who applies the techniques of early forensic science to his job.
What it is is a historic mystery with a serious amount of romance. Unfortunately for Jo, she isn’t in love with her fiance but the young reporter she confronted at the newspaper. Yes, the way the author handles it is 100% believable.
Young readers may be surprised by how sheltered Jo and other young ladies of substance were at this time, especially when compared to working class women and the men in general. Even Jo’s maid knows who runs in the local brothels although Jo didn’t even know such places existed. But her ignorance isn’t surprising. Before they are married, young women have no freedom of movement. None. They are always chaperoned and closely watched.
How then does Jo have these adventures? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
November 22, 2016
Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno
Even as a girl, Addie dreamed big. She didn’t want to be ordinary. She wanted to do something with flash.
When she saw an ad looking for girls to learn dance, she made a costume and jumped at the opportunity. Her family was shocked. A good girl on stage? In tights? But then they saw her dance with amazing grace.
Eventually the luster wore off this and it felt to ordinary for Addie. Lots of girls danced but very few were willing or able to ride a “boneshaker,” an early bicycle. The costumes Addie wore while doing her tricks were outrageous (translation: brief for the times) but Addie didn’t care. She was having fun and she was dazzling crowds.
Sailing to American, Addie met a handsome young magician. Addie was amazed by him and told him she wanted to get married. Addie never did do things the ordinary way. Soon Addie was working in her husband’s magic show. They performed around the world with a juggler, tumblers and more.
But then on night her husband’s heart simply quit. How would the show go on? No woman was a magician on her own. Yes, I’m cutting it off here. Why? Because I want you to read this great book.
I have to admit that I had never heard of Adelaide Herrmann but I read about the book and how it handled the death of a main character. If you are the parent of a very young reader, do not panic. The sad event has to be covered in the book because it is how Addie eventually performed on her own. Hint: She became The Queen of Magic. But the book doesn’t go into great detail or dwell on the event.
Bruno first drew his illustrations in pencil and then colored them digitally. I have to say that it was the illustrations that pulled me in – I am a very visual person so this is no slight to the text. The illustrations are detailed enough to be interesting but not so detailed that they feel like a scientific illustration. The colors are rich as are the expressions displayed by the various people depicted.
Do you have a young reader who is interested in magic? Or history? Or simply doing things that no one has ever done? Pick up this book and share it with the young reader in your life this holiday season.
November 17, 2016
I’ll admit it. I started this book 2 or 3 times before I could make myself read it. No, it wasn’t a bad beginning. It wasn’t slow or sluggish. It was engaging and gripping like Stiefvater’s books always are. But I also started it knowing that this was book #4 in a for book series and throughout the series one of my favorite character’s, Gansey, has lived with the prediction that he will die very soon. Quite frankly I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be there when it happened.
Take a deep breath, readers. The ending is inevitable but it is also satisfying and not sad. How can it be all three? You’ll have to read the book and find out.
Gansey’s quest has pulled him forward throughout his life as he searches for the lost Welsh king. As he’s traveled on this journey he’s pulled others into the quest as well.
Ronan is a dreamer. That isn’t to say that the hard-edged boy has an airy-fairy way about him. Nope. He’s all bluster and rage and noise. But when he dreams he can pull things, and even people, back into the waking world.
Adam is a wizard. Not only can he keep tricky, temperamental cars running, he also manipulates magic. Working together he and Ronan can do great things. Unfortunately, there’s an uneasy energy between the two and they’ll have to work it out for great things to happen.
Blue doesn’t have her own magic but she amplifies the efforts of others. She helped predict Gansey’s death before she fell for him.
Henry walked briefly through the other books but he is pulled into the group of friends in Book #4. It is only then that Gansey discovers the connection between Henry and Ronan — a magical, quasi-mechanical bee.
As the group finally learns to work together, something dark moves into Ronan’s dreams and into the forest. Unlike Ronan, a maker, it is un unmaker. It is working to unravel not only the group but the individuals in it, starting with Adam and Ronan. The question is whether they will discover what it is and how stop it before it is too late.
As always, Stiefvater’s books are hard to describe without simply retelling the entire book. Her plots are deliciously complicated and she creates a range of characters that are believably flawed and wholly appealing, even dark, surly Ronan. Share this book with the teen fantasy fan in your life and be prepared to discuss Good vs Evil as well as what it means to be a Creator vs a Destroyer.
November 14, 2016
In this innovative story, a child of books sails her raft across a story sea. In a distant land she finds a young boy who has forgotten just how much fun story and imagination can be. She invites him to come on a journey with her and the two make their way up mountains, through forests and more. In the end, the authors invite readers to make their homes a place of story because “imagination is free.”
The world needs a book like this right now. It is a book about the power of story and the strength of imagination. It is a reminder that although the adults around you may be mired in fact and clinging to their news outlet of choice, the child reader can make a welcoming home, a place of imagination that draws everyone in.
The book design is imaginative with the text for the story itself hand-lettered while the “typographical landscapes” are typeset. The image at right is an example of a typographical landscape. They remind me of the book t-shirts in which a chapter of the entire text of a book is printed on a t-shirt in such a way that it creates an illustration reminiscent of the story itself. Illustrations for this story are watercolor and pencil which is then scanned and combined into digital collage.
Share this book with your class or your story time. Follow up the time spent reading the book with a time for them to create their own story-laden art work — drawing, painting, cutting or sculpting. Be sure to give them time to share their stories and perhaps even to form a class story, utilizing their various pieces of artwork.
November 11, 2016
It is difficult for scientists to learn about an animal that lives deep in the ocean but Fleming Shares what they have managed to piece together about this mysterious animal. She discusses where they live, basic squid anatomy, why their eyes are so big, how and what they eat and more. The text is simple and straight-forward without being overly short.
Rohman’s oil paintings perfectly depict the dark depths that the squid calls home. He also succeeds in making the creature look sinous and alive. It might seem that there isn’t much of interest to illustrate when you are showing a squid in water on one spread and water with a squid in it on the next. Rohman overcomes this by focusing in one whatever is being discussed, giving the reader a close-up view of young squid being pursued as prey, an adult squid capturing a fish, and another of the squid’s hooked beak.
If you aren’t in the publishing business you may not appreciate the unique book design as much as I do. Three full spreads before the title page share information about the squid. There is also a marvelous, wordless, fold out, two page spread. The first illustrations shows the giant squid barely visible within an ink cloud. Fold the pages out and you see the squid that is hidden by the ink.
Probably my favorite part of the book is found in the backmatter where a line drawing defines and depicts the various parts of a squid’s anatomy. I knew mantle, beak, eyes and tentacles but I had no clue that that adorable but goofy fin near the back are called stabilizing fins. And that bit that looks something like an exhaust pipe? That’s the funnel.
There is also additional information about giant squid, a bibliography and where to find more information on-line.
Share this book with your young nature lover in your life.
November 9, 2016
Janine is one of a kind. She sings on the bus, collects facts, and is eager to show her classmates what a good friend she can be.
When one of the “in” girls plans a party, she leaves Janine off the guest list and she isn’t shy about sharing why. Janine isn’t cool, she dresses funny and she uses big words.
Fortunately, her negativity doesn’t dampen Janine’s spirits. Janine continues to be friendly to everyone — helping manuever a classmates wheelchair and sharing baseball stats with one of the cool boys.
When the cool girl finally tells Janine that she can’t come unless she changes who she is, Janine decides to throw a party and invite everyone. Not surprisingly, her cheerful friendly attitude pays off as the other kids, even most of the popular ones, share her enthusiasm for a fun party for all of their classmates.
Even if I didn’t know that Janine is based on the author’s daughter, I would love this book. Love. This. Book.
Janine is a girl who is 100% her own person. She dresses the way she wants. She has her own enthusiasms. But none of this stops her from liking other people even if they are different than she is. You just get the feeling that Janine actually relishes their differences.
And her joy, enthusiasm and sense of self come through in Cocca-Leffler’s illustrations. They are high energy and as expressive as Janine herself.
This is an excellent book for school counselors as well as for the classroom. Use it to spark discussions about kindness, inclusive behaviors and how to handle disagreements with other people. Share it to with the young reader who may need a bit of encouragement to be herself in a world that doesn’t always seem to appreciate her unique sensibilities.
November 4, 2016
Magnus Chase isn’t sure what to expect when his valkyrie, Sam, invites him to meet her for coffee. She’s been distracted lately and he’s hoping to find out what’s going on. What he isn’t expecting is to encounter a goat assassin who leads him on a chase across the roof tops of Boston.
Suffice it so say that The Hammer of Thor is every bit as zany as The Sword of Summer which ends about two months before this book begins. In this volume, readers learn more about the elf Hearthstone and his family as well as Sam, the Muslim valkyrie. Yes, you read that right. She’s both a valkyrie, carrying deceased warriors to Asgard, but also a dutiful Muslim.
But she’s also the chosen bride of a vengeful stone giant. Magnus has to find a way to help her escape matrimony and also locate Thor’s missing hammer. All of this means having to work with the latest resident of Asgard, Alex. Like Sam, Alex is a child of Loki but Alex is every bit as variable as their father.
Ok, I admit it. I so want to discuss a particular point in the story but just deleted a few sentences. Suffice it to say that Riordan gets into some aspects of Loki’s background that I knew about and was wondering if the author would find a way to address.
Alex is gender fluid which makes her . . . or him . . . a hard character to interpret. Some days Alex is definitely male. Others she is undoubtably female which plays directly into the group’s plans to defeat Loki and his stone giant allies.
I have to say that I actually liked this book better than The Sword of Summer. I was definitely in the mood for both adventure and humor and Riordan wove both into this story.
If your young reader isn’t family with Magnus Chase, pick up these books to share. Stories that feature mythology are fabulously popular right now and I love this character. Magnus is a character who works hard to be true to his friends, doesn’t turn his back on his family, all the while struggling to discover who he really is.
Need a Christmas gift idea? Pick up this fast paced story and share it with the young reader in your life.
November 3, 2016
When one of the “in” girls asks Lou what she’s doing that summer, Lou panics. She doesn’t want to admit that her plans consist of nothing more than long Tennessee summer hours spent with her best friend Benzer, her cousin Patty and her friend Franklin. The foursome spend as much time as possible together, much of it at Lou’s run down old house.
Lou promises that she has something exciting in the works. Desperate to make this so, she gets out an old family Bible and gets Benzer to pray with her. If God grants her an exciting summer, she’ll start going to church.
But the excitement she finds isn’t something she would wish on anyone. The town is going to tear down her home unless she can find a way to save it. The problem is that her parents don’t know that she knows so she and her friends have to take care of things on the sly.
Franklin’s is working on his American Heritage scouting badge. Because of this, he’s read up on the National Register of Historic Places. If they can get Lou’s house on the registry, the town can’t tear it down. That means that they need to find a nearby Civil War Battle.
Lou and Benzer like Franklin’s plan but they have a back up plan. Find the long-lost Confederate gold that Lou’s ancestor was accused of stealing.
As the kids dig and explore, they find out some ugly truths about their community. The art studio used by Lou’s mama? It’s more than just an outbuilding. It was a slave cabin. And all the hidey-holes in the house? They may have been used for more than hiding valuables from the Yankees. Lou is in agony over what is true and what isn’t and what it all means for who she is.
I don’t want to say anything more about the plot of the book and I refuse to give away the ending. Sorry! This is something you really need to read for yourself. Tyre does a top-notch job, tying everything together but also creating an ending that is both surprising and inevitable.
Tyre’s book may be set in the 1990s but it is a story that is as relevent now as it was then. It deals with race issues past and present while exploring personal and community growth and responsibility.
Expect this book to lead to some very deep conversations with no easy answers. I wish I had had this book as a tween with both Confederate and Union roots.