December 30, 2013
A Story of the Galapagos
by Jason Chin
A Neal Porter Book: Roaring Brook Press
“A volcano has been growing under the ocean for millions of years. With this eruption it rises above the water for the first time, and a new island is born.”
So opens Island, Chin’s account of one Galapagos island. He takes readers from the formation of the island, how various plants and animals came to live there and how the plants and animals, and the island itself, changed over time.
Although I have read about the Galapagos, I had never considered what these islands must have looked like as each formed. While today their profiles are low, they were born of volcanic eruptions. They may never have been incredibly tall, they were doubtless taller than they are today. They are also dryer than they would have originally been and Chin shows how this change fed into the evolution that Darwin observed.
Darwin isn’t named when he first appears in the book’s fifth and final chapter, but I loved that about the book. Although the Galapagos have played a huge part in mankind’s understanding of life on this planet, we have played a much smaller part in shaping the islands themselves.
Unlike some of Chin’s earlier books, namely Redwoods and Coral Reefs, Island has no fanciful element, no child included simply to explore the environment along with the reader.
This is an excellent books for young scientists as well as teachers who are willing to address change on our planet. It really should be on every young science bookshelf.
December 27, 2013
Far Far Away
by Tom McNeal
Far Far Away is the story of a boy, a girl and a ghost.
The girl is Ginger Boultinghouse. She brings a yen for adventure and an ability to see the good in people to this tale. She lures the boy into a daring nighttime raid to play a prank on the local baker.
The boy is Jeremy Johnson Johnson. Until he is drawn out by Ginger, his adventures are confined to the pages of the books he reads — fairy tales collected by his mother. Still, he is a a boy of unusual talents including the ability to hear one particular ghost.
The ghost is Jacob Grimm, one of the famous Brother’s Grimm. Jacob is there to keep Jeremy safe from the Finder of Occasions. Jacob does his best but, as in fairy tales, it is sometimes hard to tell what is in peoples’ hearts. Those who seem scary are often hiding their own pain. Those who appear jolly are something else altogether.
These three characters meet in the town of Never Better. Most of the people who live there would agree — it is a nice little place. For most people. There is a quaint diner and a bakery full of amazing wonders. The townspeople wait for the days that green smoke comes from the bakery chimney, because green smoke means Prince Cakes, the most marvelous pastry ever. Even the popular kids flock to the bakery for their slices of Prince Cake.
Jeremy has never had prince cake. Jeremy doesn’t mind being ignored by his classmates, because then they aren’t in his business and business is bad for the Two Book Book Store. Jeremy inherited it from his grandfather and it only sells the two volumes of his grandfather’s autobiography. Jeremy doesn’t want anyone to know that he is about to loose the story which is also his home.
Then Ginger sweeps Jeremy into her adventures. She wants him to have some harmless fun, thus the prank on the baker, but she is also determined to help him save his home. To do this, they must survive.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how scary this book is. I would say it is dark and creepy and very Grimm, but not scary. That said, I put off finishing it when things were at their Grimmest.
McNeal does an excellent job creating this atmosphere and developing a range of characters in this modern Hansel and Gretel. Teens will love McNeal’s honesty. Adults may be annoyed about how hard it is to get people to see the truth.
Check out the book trailer (below) and then request a copy for your young reader.
December 23, 2013
The Clockwork Scarab
by Colleen Gleason
Neither Mina Holmes or Evaline Stoker is sure what to think when the pair are summoned to the British Museum. There the pair are charged with the task of uncovering what is happening among the young nobel ladies of London. Two have disappeared — one of them turning up murdered inside the Museum itself. And both were found with an elaborate clockwork scarab.
Before they can solve the mystery the two girls must learn to work together. Mina Holmes is the niece of Sherlock Holmes and is every bit as observant and brilliant, or she thinks she is. She’s never truly had the opportunity to pit her incredible intellect against a criminal mastermind. Still, she knows she is brilliant and has problems dealing with anyone of lesser intelligence including Evaline Stoker.
Evaline Stolker is the sister of Bram Stoker who is writing Dracula as this story takes place. She is also the most recent in a long line of vampire hunters, a tricky profession when you get queasy at the sight of blood. Add to this the fact that vampires are all but extinct. Evaline has supernatural dexterity and strength although she too is largely untried.
The pair has been chosen not because of their vast experience but because of their potential and because they are both female. Who better to negotiate the salons and balls of society to uncover a murderer than two girls. Girls, as everyone believe, aren’t capable of either great intellect or great strength so it is hoped that the evil doers will over look this pair. The more you get to know them, the harder this is to believe.
They quickly discover that the girls have been taken by the Society of Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess with the head of a lion, a goddess known for her strength, ruthless cunning and violence. A mysterious leader named the Ankh is behind the societies attempts to use four ancient artifacts to bring Sekhmet to life no matter how many girls must be sacrificed for this to happen.
Gleason has brought to life two amazing heroines, and three handsome, dashing heroes, in a steam punk novel that will keep you reading from beginning to end. Pick this one up for the young lady in your life who loves history, fantasy, steam punk or a touch of romance. This is a page turner that would make an excellent holiday read.
December 19, 2013
Mitchell Goes Bowling
by Hallie Durand,
illustrated by Tony Fucile
“Mitchell ALWAYS knocked things down. That’s just how he rolled. He even tried to knock down his dad. . . .”
Mitchell has more energy than he knows what to do with, fortunately Dad gets Mitchell and he’s going at helping the channel his son’s energy. One Saturday when Mitchell is “doing his thing,” Dad takes him on a little adventure to the bowling alley.
Brightly colored bowling balls. Delicious pizza smells. And the crash of pins going down. It doesn’t take long for Mitchell to realize that the bowling alley may actually be the greatest place ever. He even gets to see his dad to a funny steaming hot potato dance.
But Mitchell gets frustrated because there’s no steaming hot potatoes in his game. Unlike Dad, he can’t get a strike. Unlike Dad, there are lots of frames where his ball goes in the gutter and sometimes he even falls down. Using the blower to dry his hands, and his hair, doesn’t help. Kicking up one foot like Dad does doesn’t help. Even prayer doesn’t effect his score.
That’s when Dad invites him to be on his team. Mitchell says yes and, working together, they manage to get a strike with Mitchell’s ball and together they do the steaming hot potato dance . . . with salsa.
I love that Mitchell’s dad gets his son. He gets his energy levels. He gets his need to succeed. And the knows how to roll with it all. Dad and boy work together.
Not to mention, this book is just plain funny. The cover art hints at it, but the steaming hot potato dance with salsa is a riot.
Tony Fucile’s digital illustrations are a perfect compliment for this story. The expressions that he captures for both Mitchell and Dad add so much to their respective characters, making them both fun and quirky.
Share this one with the young book lover in your life and prepare yourself to discuss the best ways to use up that excess energy.
December 18, 2013
A Big Guy Took My Ball! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
by Mo Willems
Piggie runs to Gerald (Elephant) in hysterics. She found a ball, a wonderful big ball, and was having so much fun with it. Then along came a big guy and . . . took her ball. As always, Elephant is the problem solver of the pair. “Why do big guys get to have all the fun?” he asks. Because he is a big guy, he won’t have to be afraid of another big guy and he sets off to get Piggies ball back.
The problem is that Elephant is no longer the biggest guy around because the other big guy is a whale.
Piggie is a little annoyed and Elephant is a lot embarrassed when he returns without the ball, but then the two get a surprise.
It was the whale’s ball all along. But it isn’t much fun because no one will play with him. He is too big and everyone is afraid. “Little guys get to have all the fun,” says the whale.
Elephant and Piggie prove that everyone can have fun when they invent a new game — Whale Ball.
As always, I love Elephant and Piggie. They may be a talking Elephant and a talking Pig but they are so real. There is never a doubt in my mind that Mo Willems pays attention to children, their problems and their takes on life. Moms read this and are nodding their heads because we’ve all been through “I found it and now it’s mine” as well as “A big guy took it away.”
The other thing to love is Willems’ illustrations. They are so simple with heavy black lines and just enough color to bring it all to life but his characters are so expressive. Take a look at the pair and you know beyond a doubt when Piggie is worried and Elephant is ashamed. Or Piggie is happy and Elephant is mad.
If you aren’t familiar with Elephant and Piggie, pick up a few of these early readers. Your young reader will enjoy a book he can puzzle through himself even as he enjoys fun characters who solve their own problems and are fun and funny at the same time.
December 12, 2013
I want out.
See you on the flipside.
The truth is that Cricket Cherpin has reasons to be disgruntled. He’s the oldest kid in a group home in small town Maine. Small town Maine is not the best place to grow up parentless, poor, with a name like Cricket and scars on your face. Cricket’s tells himself that he’s making the best of his bad situation but the adults in his life don’t seem to agree.
Mother Mary, head of the group home, is definitely Mother Mary Moral. She surrounds Cricket with rules and regulations and a lengthy list of shoulds. She also has an endless supply of chores to keep him occupied until he turns 18. That’s when he has to leave the home whether he has someplace to go or not.
The Caretaker is what his name suggests. The caretaker for the home. He has taken Cricket under his wing and lets him help with various repairs. That’s how he developed the skills that Mother Mary so often puts to use. The one skill she ignores is boxing. The fact is that Cricket is good with his fists and Caretaker hopes that this will be a way for Cricket to support himself in just a few short months.
Then his English teacher gives the assignment. Write a letter to someone you are mad at but cannot confront. She is giving her class a chance to complain about something that is out of their control and about which they feel powerless. Sure, Cricket has a lot to complain about but there are things he doesn’t talk about to anyone. Besides, she asked for it so why not mess with the teacher a bit. He’s convinced that his answer will send her into a tizzy when she reads that he is contemplating suicide.
But the problem is that Cricket is thinking about suicide. It is one way to deal with turning 18. Or he could become a drug dealer like his only friend, Grubs.
Thus ends my discussion of the plot, because I simply don’t want to give anything away.
I will admit that I had a really difficult time getting into this book. Cricket is as sharp tongued as he is sharp witted, tossing about a creative patter that he weaves together as he talks. It took awhile for me to wrap my head around his own particular form of communication.
But Blagden has created a character who keeps people at a distance for a reason. If they don’t know him and they don’t get close, they don’t have as much opportunity to hurt him and the scars on his face tell you all you need to know. Someone at some time hurt Cricket and hurt him badly. By the end of the book, I was firmly in Cricket’s corner, cheering him on.
Blagden has created a realistic teenage boy who is abrasive and arrogant and more than a little annoying. But he is true to his friends and is no harder on everyone else than he is on himself. Young readers will appreciate this character for just these reasons as well as his willingness to take on the world of annoying adults, put them in their place and do things in his own way.
December 9, 2013
Picture Day Perfection
by Deborah Diesen
illustrated by Dan Santat
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Have you ever read a picture book and then looked behind the door to make sure the author or illustrator wasn’t hiding in the house, spying on your kid? That’s how I felt when I was reading Picture Day Perfection. Not only does he wake up with major bed head, but his favorite shirt is wrinkled and stained. That’s my son in a nut shell.
As if this wasn’t enough to prevent a top-notch photo, just like me, the parent’s in this book refuse to go with one of the stunning new background options, such as Peacock Blue or Pizzazzy Purple. These parents are deadly dull and instead opt for “traditional gray” with which our main character’s favorite shirt blends perfectly. Otherwise, it doesn’t exactly make for the best possible picture.
Unless of course, that’s your plan.
For reasons known only by certain young males of our society, the main character is out to ruin his school photo. His plan is to make an absurd or horrid and disgusting face at just the right moment. Unfortunately, while he’s chuckling about this fantastic plan, the photographer snaps the picture and catches him with a sappy grin.
Santat’s brightly colored illustrations are the perfect compliment to this boy’s dark plans. The scowls, glares and shocked indignation that Santat manages to capture on his character’s face contrast perfectly with the vibrant color pallet used for the illustrations.
This would make a fun read aloud for family time, school picture time or story hour, providing of course that someone brings along a camera to capture the antics that are sure to ensue as everyone demonstrates their own photo wrecking face.
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.