November 8, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:27 pm by suebe2

Children of Blood and Bone
by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt

Zélie Adebola remembers when life was full of magic.  But then the king sent out his army to kill the maji.  They lead Mama away in chains.

With her mother dead and her father a broken man, Zélie and her brother do their best move forward.  But the king’s men return again and again, demanding taxes because their was magic in their family.  And they can’t like about it.  Zélie’s hair shines white – revealing her heritage to one and all.

Zélie is in the market when someone runs into her.  The young woman is clearly terrified.  She needs help and she’s clearly trying to avoid the king’s guards.  Zélie doesn’t ask why and she doesn’t really care.  The fact that this girl is terrified and running for her life is all Zélie needs to know.

Only later does she realize what she has done.  She didn’t rescue just anyone but a princess.  And now the crown prince is after them because the princess has stolen an artifact that can bring magic back to their land.

I’m not going to write any more about the plot.  That’s the danger when reviewing fantasy.  The plot and the world are often so deliciously complex that it is tempting to describe it piece by piece.

The world of Orïsha was inspired by Adeyemi’s own West African heritage.  I suspect that if I knew more about the cultures and the countryside, I’d recognize even more than I did.  I love textiles and wild animals so most of what I recognized fell into these two categories.

As with many young adult fantasies, this is a story with romance, friendship, and self-discovery.  The characters have to decide what is truly important, what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve it, and who can really be trusted.  There is newfound magic, powers that have to be controlled and horror when that control slips.

In this world, magic takes many forms.  Reapers have power over souls.  Burners ignite flame.  There are also those with power over cancer, people’s minds, healers and much more.

This is definitely a book that needed to be written.  It brings some diversity to the world of fantasy and introduces a heroine young readers will love.  Me?  The second book in the series has yet to be released but knowing that doesn’t stop me from checking my library.  Is it in yet?

–SueBE

 

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November 1, 2018

The Red Fort by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:51 am by suebe2

The Little Red Fort
by Brenda Maier
illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
Scholastic Press

When Ruby finds some boards, she knows she wants to build something.  Her three brothers refuse to help.  After all, Ruby doesn’t know how to build.  So she learns.  When she asks them to help her draw up her plans, they refuse.  After all, Ruby doesn’t know how.  So she learns.

Again and again, Ruby asks her brothers to take part.  Again and again, they refuse but this doesn’t slow Ruby down.  This girl has a real can-do attitude.

It isn’t until the very end that they want a part of Ruby’s brand new fort.  She sends them on their way.

I have to admit, I’m really happy the story doesn’t end there but this next bit is a plot spoiler.  Don’t read on if that is going to annoy you.

Ruby’s brothers decide to make her fort even better.  They set to work with each of them finding a way to improve this already amazing fort.

Yes, this is a new spin on the Little Red Hen.  And I love it!  But then it is an easy book to love.

  1.  I love Ruby’s attitude.  Those boys and their “ho-hum don’t bug me” aren’t going to get her down.
  2. I love the chorus.  In a picture book, a repeated line of text is the chorus.  When Ruby asks for help, again and again we get this line – “‘No way,” said Jose. I’m too busy.”
  3. I love the way the illustrations add to the story.  When Ruby is learning to draw, her father is in the background with his own drafting project.  When she saws, her mother is helping out.  Grandma lends a hand when the building begins.  This little girl is part of a great big family.

This book makes a great read aloud as a family or in a classroom or library.  Young readers are going to connect with Ruby whether they spend their time building pillow forts or blanket forts or crafting things that start with the dining room table.

Share this book with the young reader in your life and get ready to build.

–SueBE

October 24, 2018

Danza! Amalia Hernandez and El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico by Duncan Tonatiuh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:40 am by suebe2

Danza!
Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers

When Amalia was born in Mexico City in 1917, everyone assumed she would be a teacher.  After all, her mother was a teacher and her grandmother had been a teacher.  Amalia too thought that she would teach.

But one day when her family was on vacation, Ami saw a pair of dancers performing a folk dance.  Ami was entranced.

At home, Ami whirled and twirled.  Her father wasn’t thrilled but her mother encouraged the girl’s enthusiasm.  Before long, she won her father over.  Not only did he have a studio built into their home, he brought in the very best dance teachers he could find.  Soon Ami was a talented ballerina.

In 1939, Ami saw two American dancers.  They didn’t perform ballet.  Their modern dance was powerful.

It didn’t take long before Ami was combining ballet with modern dance.  Then she began working in elements of various Mexican folk dances.  She also choreographed dances based on Mexican history.

It is really hard to review this book without simply retelling all of Ami’s accomplishments.  In addition to being a talented dancer, she founded El Ballet Folklórico de México.  The company performs even today in Mexico and all over the world. They are credited with fueling the public enthusiasm for Mexican folk dance and also the pride many Mexicans have in their culture.  Not only did Ami elevate these dances in Mexico, she took them all over the world.

If you aren’t familiar with Tonatiuh’s work, pick this book up.  Even when illustrating modern dance, it is clear that Tonatiuh’s illustrations draw on the style of ancient Mexican artists.  Tonatiuh hand draws his illustrations and then scans and colors them digitally.

If you have a young reader who is intrigued by dance or by Mexican culture, pick up this book.  It would also be a wonderful addition to any library striving for inclusion and diversity.

–SueBE

 

October 19, 2018

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 6:14 pm by suebe2

Julian is a Mermaid
by Jessica Love
Candlewick Press

On Saturday mornings, Julian and Abuela go swimming.  One day on the way home, they spot a trio of women on the subway.  Julian can’t stop staring at their beautiful dresses complete with mermaid tails or their fancy hair.  Soon Julian is lost in imagining that pool time is mermaid time.

As they get home, Julian points out to this grandmother that he too is a mermaid.  She reminds him to be good and goes to take a bath.

Soon Julian is getting creative – making flowing hair from fern fronds, adding touches of his grandmother’s make up and borrowing a sheer curtain to make a tail.  That is, of course, when Abuela wrapped up in a towel comes out of the bathroom. The look on her face makes it clear that she is not thrilled.

Julian isn’t sure what to do but Abuela gets dressed and comes back out carrying a beautiful necklace.  “For you, Julian.”

Love could have ended the book right here.  And it would have been sweet and amazing.  But she didn’t.  She created something more.

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE BOOK ENDS, DON’T READ ON.

SPOILER ALERT!  

Abuela adds the necklace to Julian’s ensemble and the two head on down to the beach.  Soon they have reached the destination of the original trio of mermaids – a brilliant, flamboyant, parade on the beach.  There are mermaids, people wearing fish costumes, and even two little dogs dressed like lobster.  Julian has found his people.

I had heard wonderful things about this book when I requested it from the library.  Still, I approached it with caution.  Too often I’ve been disappointed by crowd favorites.  Julian did not disappoint.

It helps that Love is not only the author but the illustrator because so much is communicated through the illustrations.  From facial expressions to the things going on in the background, all add to the story.

This is a touching piece about love and acceptance and about finding wear you fit into the teaming, swirling mass of people around you. Definitely something that should be in school libraries, class room libraries and more.

–SueBE

October 4, 2018

Judy Moody: Mood Martian by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:12 pm by suebe2

Judy Moody: Mood Martian
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Candlewick

When was the last time I picked up a book with Judy Moody or her kid brother Stink?  Way too long.  So when I saw them on a list of Peter Reynolds books, I had to pop over to the library and check one out.

Sasquatch.  That’s what Judy Moody looks like in her school pictures.  Hairy.  Messy.  And really mad. And losing your temper has consequences in Mr. Todd’s class.  Judy has been sent to Antarctica to chill out three times in one week.  Three times!

Judy decides it is time to turn things around and she gets her start on opposites day.  Instead of wearing a ponytail on the front of her head or her shirt on backwards, Judy dresses up.  She wears a skirt.  Her clothes all match.  And her hair is pinned neatly in place.

No one can believe that this is Judy Moody. In fact, her friends decide she is really an alien.

Judy doesn’t let them get to her.  She’s going to stay in a good mood for an entire week.  Fortunately she has just the thing to calm her down.  Her grandmother taught her to finger knit.  By the end of the week, Judy’s finger knitting is taking over the house.  In fact it is so “everywhere” that when the two siblings are singing in her freshly painted room, Stink gets his foot tangled and trips.  The result is a butt print in the middle of Judy’s wall.

She doesn’t let it get to her.  But what will she do to keep her cool when her parents threaten to make her quit knitting if she can’t corral her craft?

How could I possibly have forgotten how much fun these books are?  McDonald works  positive behavior, neatness, finger knitting, math activities and colors all into one book that is both fun and funny.  As a mom, the best part is that although Judy isn’t perfect, her parents, teacher, and principal all adore her and her wacky ideas.

If your young reader has only recently started to read independently, check these books out.  This is #14.  The books are smallish.  Pair this with a large font and there isn’t an awful lot of text to conquer on each page.  They are also great books for reading aloud.  Reynolds pen and ink drawings add to the fun.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Stink book this time around.

–SueBE

September 26, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:55 pm by suebe2

Raymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press

At first, the Rancheros seem like an unlikely trio of friends.  Raymie is learning to twirl a baton to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition because more than anything she needs to get her father’s attention.  Two days ago he ran off with a dental hygienist.

Louisiana Elephante, complete with her fainting spells and swampy lungs, needs to learn to twirl so that she can win.  She and her grandmother desperately need the prize money.

Then there’s Beverly Tapinski who already twirls like a pro.  Of course, she can also pick locks and doesn’t intend to win.  Her plan is sabotage.

From visiting the retirement home to perform good deeds to breaking into the animal shelter to rescue a cat that probably isn’t there anymore, the three are soon traipsing around town getting each other into and out of a wide variety of trouble.

Admittedly, I had some troubles getting into this.  I’ve never had much interest in twirling and the whole thing was far to reminiscent of my own dance classes.  How well did they go?  I am probably among the ten clumsiest people on Earth if that tells you anything.  I’m sure my former teachers would agree – it was torture.

So the book had that against it but its Kate DiCamillo so I kept reading.  Thank goodness.

As so often happens in her books, soon I was won over by her quirky cast of characters.  My absolute favorite was Louisiana although I think her grandmother was a close second.

I’ve seen other readers comment that the characters deal with things that simply are not age appropriate for the audience.  Although everything isn’t sunshine and lollipops, none of it is extreme either which some of the comments might lead you to believe.  These are girls dealing with life including a full cast of flawed adults.

This book would  make an excellent read aloud.  Don’t be surprised when the humor draws in some of the kids who consider themselves non-readers.

–SueBE

September 19, 2018

Rice from Heaven by Tina Cho, illustrated by Keum Jin Song

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:04 am by suebe2

Rice from Heaven
by Tina Cho
illustrated by Keum Jin Song
Little Bee Books

A little girl and her father travel to the South Korean countryside.  All around them are rice fields but they are here because across the border, in North Korea, children are going hungry. Because the North Korean government does nothing to help its own people, people in South Korea work to send rice across the border.

They do it by sending the rice up into the night sky on special hot air balloons.

As they are working, villagers come to watch.  Many are not happy that these people are helping the enemy.  One boy gets in the little girl’s face and yells at her.  She answers him that the has to help.  The children in the north are eating tree bark and grass.

This stops the boy.  How can he hate children who are starving? He wants to help.

Two hundred balloons are sent up into the night sky.  How many reach the North?  No one knows but they know that they have to try.

I have to admit – I wanted to know that they helped people.  I wanted a concrete ending.

But Tina Cho respected her readers and gave them the unvarnished facts.  She helped with this mission but cannot name anyone who helped.  She doesn’t want to risk retaliation from the North Korean government.  The author has also included back matter about the historical and political situation as well as the effort to float rice across the border.

Keum Jin Song’s art work is colorful and detailed, bringing the story to life.  That said, the scenes of the North are handled in such way to keep them from overpowering young readers.  Flat colorless landscapes take the place of specific details of deprivation.  It is clear by the art work that the North is empty and void, the South vibrant and full of life.

This isn’t an easy story but it is a story that needs to be told.  Written as a picture book, it is probably better suited to slightly older readers such as 2nd and 3rd graders who will still need to hear about efforts to help those who have little.

–SueBE

 

September 12, 2018

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Last week, I discovered Dev Petty’s Frog books.  Anyone who parents a preschooler is going to understand Frog for what he is – a strong-willed preschooler.

In the first book, Frog makes it clear to his father that he does not want to be a frog.  He’d much rather be a cat or a rabbit, or a pig or an owl. Animal by animal, Frog’s father explains why he cannot be . . . whatever.  Where they live is too wet for him to be a cat.  He may be able to hop, but he doesn’t have long ears.  Eating garbage may sound do-able but Frog hasn’t even tried it.  And the problems with trying to be an owl?  There are so many that Father Frog makes a chart.

Yet, it isn’t his father who convinces him that it is better to be a frog.  If you know me, you can probably predict that I am NOT telling you who does convince Frog. You’ll have to read the book to find out.  But Petty has created a marvelous twist.

The adventures continued with I Don’t Want to Be Big and There’s Nothing to Do. My library didn’t have the fourth Frog book but when it arrives I expect that Frog will continue in all his argumentative, pre-school glory.

Petty’s text is simple and straightforward with each story told entirely through dialogue. These books would be great fun to read aloud especially if you enjoy doing voices.

The characters in Mike Boldts’ illustrations are expressive, making it clear to young readers when Frog is curious, amused or frustrated. The animals are silly and cartoony which is important in the first book when you see who sells Frog on being a frog. Definitely a fun group of books to share with the young book lovers in your family, class or library group.

–SueBE

September 5, 2018

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code:
A Navajo Code Talker’s Story
by Joseph Bruchac
pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
Albert Whitman and Company

At 8 years-old, Betoli is sent to the Fort Defiance School.  It is a boarding school where Navajo children are taught to live in the white world.

Step 1. Give them white names.  Betoli is called Chester.

Step 2.  Forbid their language.  Navajo is bad.  Children who speak Navajo have their mouths washed out with harsh soap. Never mind that they don’t know English.

In the summer, Chester goes home where he can speak Navajo and practice his religion.  In the fall, he goes back to school.

He understands that he needs to learn to function in the white world.  But he also sees the beauty of the Right Way. He comforts the younger children who have nightmares.  He studies and learns English.  He learns about Catholicism.  But he is still Navajo.

When World War II arrives, the Marines realize that they need a solution for the code problem.  They have a machine, aptly named The Shackle.  It takes 4 hours to code, send a message, and decode it on the other end.

The Marines have heard of the Navajo language.  They go to the Reservation and explain that they need men who speak both English and Navajo. Of the many men who volunteer, Chester is one of 29 chosen to be in Platoon 382.  They create a code and use it to send, receive and decode a message in less than 3 minutes.  They are the solution to the Marine’s problem.

Chester and his fellow Navajo are sent to Guadalcanal and other places.  In the heart of battle, they see men die.  Many of them become sick.  But still they work on because they know they have an important job.  With their help, the US wins the war.

Back at home, they are not allowed to talk about their work because it is top secret.  The Marines may still need to use their code.  This secrecy isolates the men and they have nightmares.  Chester’s family saw he needed help and they bring in a singer to do a healing ceremony called The Enemy Way. Through the ceremony, Chester rediscovered the Trail of Beauty.

This amazing true story shows how Nez maintained his Navajo identity in the white world.  Joseph Bruchac is the author of well over 120 books and is known for his writing on native topics.  He ends the book with the Navajo code and a timeline of events.  Amini-Holmes is both a fine artist and an illustrator.  Her work brings the actions and emotions to life in a way that is accessible to young readers.

Written as a picture book, the topic is most appropriate for slightly older readers from second to fourth grade.  This is a vital story that should be in every school library.

–SueBE

August 29, 2018

Breakout by Kate Messner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

Breakout
by Kate Messner
Bloomsbury

“Welcome to the Adirondacks!”  The sign on the grocery store welcomes visitors and residents alike and it fits how Nora Tucker thinks of her home town, Wolf Creek.  It is a friendly, welcoming place except for when it isn’t.

School is almost out for the summer when Elidee Jones joins the class.  Everyone is working on their contributions for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule and prepping for the mile-long run that is part of track and field day at the school. Nora is ready to win that race and uphold family tradition.  But Elidee is fast, faster than Nora.

As if having Elidee threaten her plans wasn’t enough, two inmates break out of the prison where Nora’s father works as warden.  The escape brings in the media and everyone is questioning how things are run. How could this have happened? Whose to blame?

With two felons on the lose, the community is thrown into turmoil.  Kids aren’t allowed to play outside, Nora’s dad is never home because he’s always at the prison and Elidee and her mom can’t visit the prison where her brother Troy is an inmate.  Visits are suspended and the prisoners are being kept in their cells.

That’s it on the plot folks because you are going to want to explore this for yourself.  I don’t want to give away the plot!

Messner tells the story through letters, interviews and recorded conversations, all things that have been turned over for the time capsule.  Unfortunately, the prions break makes residents questions everything and everyone.  And that’s one of the things that I loved about this book.  It asks who society sees as “good” vs who is sees as “bad.”  It also questions why we are willing to let “good” people get by with abusing “bad” people.

Cleary, the book is also a call for social justice. It openly questions the racial make up of our prisons, both the guards and the prisoners.

But it would also be an excellent tool for bringing poetry into the classroom. Much of Elidee’s part of the story is told through poems as she emulates the styles of Nikki Grimes, Jacqueline Woodson and more.

This is simply a book that should be in every classroom, every school library and every home book shelf.  It is just that relevent.

–SueBE

 

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