January 16, 2019

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:36 pm by suebe2

Trail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Saga Press

Outside the wall, much of the world is now underwater, drowned beneath rising seas brought on by climate change.  Within the wall, Dinetah has been transformed.  What was once the Navajo Reservation in the four corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado), is now a land overrun by magic.

That wouldn’t be all bad except some of this magic comes in the form of monsters and monsters can kill you.  Maggie Hoskie doesn’t want to use her clan powers but if anyone else goes after the monster that just snatched a young girl they will almost certainly end up dead. Maggie has speed and a fighting skill gifted by her clans and even she ends up getting chewed on. When Maggie learns that a witch created this particular monster and others like it, she reluctantly goes on the hunt.

At her side is an unconventional medicine man, Kai Arviso.  Maggie isn’t sure what it is about Kai but something makes him unique.  Just a few years older than her (she’s in her teens), Kai is just too shiny and pretty for the dusty land of Dinetah.  And a man who won’t fight?  Maggie worries he might be worse than useless until he manages to talk them out of a fix that could have easily been deadly.

This isn’t a young adult novel but it does have a teen protagonist that many young women will love.  She’s strong but flawed and by the end of book one realizes that she cannot stand alone.

Yes, book one.  This is the first in the Sixth World series.  Dinetah as portrayed by Roanhorse is postapocalyptic. Drinking and the wild life are still a thing but alcohol is even more important for fueling vehicles like Maggie’s truck. I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I picked the book up because of the truck.  Don’t judge.

But I’m also a sucker for books set in the SW and with strong first nations characters like Maggie and Kai.  This is definitely a world I want to revisit.  I can’t say that I’m an expert on Dine (Navajo) culture but I was glad that I know as much as I do when Roanhorse unapologetically dropped in place names and various terms.  That said, it won’t be too much for devoted fantasy fans who are used to walking unfamiliar paths as they get to know new characters and worlds.

Maggie, Kai and Dinetah?  Definitely worth getting to know.

–SueBE

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January 11, 2019

Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:05 pm by suebe2

Devils Unto Dust
by Emma Berquist
Greenwillow Books

When I picked up Devils Unto Dust, I picked it up for the setting – the Texas desert.  I’ve got a sweet spot for the alpine desert of West Texas. Once I realized that this probably wasn’t my desert – too flat – I had been hooked by the story.

Willie is a survivors.  You have to be when you life in Glory, Texas.

Her parents homesteaded there looking to build a life for their family.  But after the Civil War the rains failed.  Farmers and families struggled.  Then came the sickness.  No one recovers and, before they up and die, the afflicted attack those around them biting and clawing with a savage hunger.

It’s what happened to her mother only she never got to the point that she attacked her own children.  Willie saw to that.

Now in 1877 it’s just Willie and her younger siblings.  Their father has disappeared again but before he goes he steals a gambler’s winnings and sets the law on his family.  Find the money to repay the debt or be put beyond the safety of the wall.

Willie uses money she doesn’t have to pay two young hunters to guide her across the desert after her father. If she can get the money back, she can pay everyone off.  Then she’ll have the space to find a way for their family to survive.

Willie loves the desert – the heat and the sun and the space.  But the space can also work against you because you can only carry so much water and sand storms are always a risk.  She isn’t even sure how far she can trust the two men she’s paid off.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot because there’s no way to do it without giving too much away.  This is definitely a teen book.  There are zombies and there is death.  There is also alcohol and there are references to sex and an attack but anyone who attacks Willie is a fool.  That said, before things are said and done, Willie learns that she can’t do it all on her own and that, if you pick the right people, it is okay to trust.

I have to say that I wish there had been more books for teens like this back in the olden days when I was a teen.  I could have used a heroine like Willie.  And if there’s a second book – I’ll be in line to get it.

–SueBE

 

January 5, 2019

Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:39 pm by suebe2

Maddi’s Fridge
by Lois Brandt
illustrated by Vin Vogel
Flashlight Press

Sofia and her best friend Maddi spend time at the local park.  They scale the climbing wall and have a great time before heading to Maddi’s apartment. Sofia, hungry for a snack, pops open the fridge only to discover that it is virtually empty.

Maddi explains that her mom doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries and makes Sofia promise not to tell.  Sofia wants to be a good friend but it is hard for her to see all the food they have at home, food her little brother refuses to eat, when Maddi and her family have next to nothing.

But she promised not to tell.

So she smuggles fish to school to share with Maddi.  Fish does not, to put it kindly, travel well.

But she’s still determined to solve this on her own.  This time she smuggles eggs.  Eggs?  They don’t travel all that well either.

SPOILER ALERT (the next paragraph gives away the resolution)

As writers we try to create stories where young characters can rise to the occasion and solve problems themselves.  But reality means that sometimes an adult is required to do adult things.  Sofia solves the problem by breaking her promise. Brandt does a great job of showing just how heavily this decision weighs on Sofia but once she tells she can help her mother take food to their needy friends.  

Because this really is a story about friends helping friends.

Vin Vogel’s art work takes a story that is all too real, hunger in today’s world, and makes it a little less threatening.  How so?  The illustrations are cartoony but not so cartoony that young readers will miss the emotions that these characters are working through.

This book came out in 2014.  I’m not really certain how we all missed up at the time because it won a number of awards including the 2014 Christopher Award, Books for Young People, 2014 ILA Primary Fiction Award, 2015 MLA Mitten Award Honor, and a Human Rights in Children’s Literature Honor.

Add this book to your classroom shelf.  Make sure young readers and their parents can find it in your library.  Together Brandt and Vogel have created a book about a serious topic that is age appropriate and accessible to young readers.

–SueBE

 

December 12, 2018

Harpy Eagle by Ellen Lawrence

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:58 pm by suebe2

Harpy Eagle
by Ellen Lawrence
BearPort Publishing

At over 3 feet tall and a wingspan of 6 feet, a harpy eagle is one of the apex predators in the Amazon rain forest. Monkey and sloth, coati and porcupine all fall prey to this winged hunter.  Yes, porcupine.  That one really surprised me.

Their nests are large enough to hold to adult people.  It can take up to 300 branches to build a nest that large.  In it, the female lays one or two eggs although only one chick will live to adulthood.  Raising a chick is a two eagle job with the mom staying with the chick and dad hunting for the family.  And chicks require a lot of food because they are growing fast.  They are the same size as their parents by 6 months old.

If you have an elementary school reader who loves books about animals, check out the books published by BearPort.  This is one of the books in the Apex Predators of the Amazon Rain Forest series which includes titles on the Arapaima, Black Caiman, Bull Shark, Electric Eel, Giant Otter, Green Anaconda, and Jaguar.

Each book discusses what the animal eats, its strengths, reproduction and family life.  Photos illustrate the book.  My favorite?  The one of the feathered out harpy chick – bright white with a fierce-looking black beak. Sidebars include questions, asking readers to observe and apply what they are learning as they read the book.  The back of the book includes activities that once again encourage thought and observation.

I read the entire series and I am one of those people who reads a lot of books about animals. Although I knew a little something about Caiman and Jaguar, I learned something in every book I read.

Share this series with your young reader to encourage reading as well as the development of STEM skills.

–SueBE

November 23, 2018

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle written by Leslie Connor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:26 pm by suebe2

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
written by Leslie Connor
HarperCollins

There’s a notebook that Mason is supposed to be writing in and it is way worse than school work.  School is bad enough.

Mason is the biggest kid at school and he sweats a lot.  It is so bad he brings an extra shirt to school.  And school work is a struggle.  Letters seem to swim around the page.  He can tell a story well enough but reading and writing are tough.  And that’s what the detective wants him to do – write.

Fifteen months earlier, Mason’s best friend Benny is found dead in the Buttle family orchard.  He’s laying beneath the tree fort where he and Mason spent so much of their time.  Mason knows that its important but he doesn’t know what the detective wants him to say.  He tried to tell about seeing pink when he is especially happy, like he was when he left Benny in the fort, but the detective thinks Mason is making things up.

Now the detective stops by every now and again and asks to see the notebook. He’s always disappointed and tells Mason that people are counting on him.  Don’t Benny’s dads deserve to know what happened to their boy?  Benny agrees, yes, they deserve to know but he doesn’t know how he can help.  The two  men act so sad and disappointed when they see Mason.

Then Mason’s other friend disappears.  They split up to run through the orchard and Mason thought Calvin went home.  But he isn’t there and now the police are looking for him.  And they are once again looking at Mason Buttle.

I’m not going to tell you how the book ends except to say that Mason figures it out.  He figures out what happened to Calvin and what happened to Benny.  And it isn’t the story the police expected to hear but they hear it anyway.

As a mom, this book was really hard to read.  It bothered me that the adults in his life didn’t seem to be tending to Mason’s needs.  Yes, they were hurting too but they didn’t seem to see how bad things were for him.  Fortunately, by the end of the book, they had come around but until then it was so hard for me to read.

Still Connor has created a vibrant world with a character you can’t help but love.  Mason had a good heart and is painfully honest even if not everyone sees his vision of the world.

Add this book to your library, at home and at school, and share it with the young readers in your life.  Be prepared to discuss bullying as well as creativity and belonging.  A top-notch book that begs to be read, appreciated and discussed with fellow readers.

–SueBE

November 16, 2018

Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? and Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 5:09 pm by suebe2

Where Are You Going Baby LincolnEugenia LincolnWhere Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?
and
Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick Press

If you have a young Mercy Watson fan on your hands, check out the chapter books about the fabulous characters on Deckawoo Drive.  I picked these two up at my local library because I’ve always appreciated the sisters, bossy Eugenia and spacy Baby Lincoln.

In Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Baby ends up going on a train trip without her big sister.  On your average day, Eugenia tells Baby what to do.  “Yes, sister” is Baby’s typical response.

But one morning Eugenia decided that they will make a list of goals for the day.  Eugenia loves making lists of goals.  And she’s perfectly willing to help Baby set her goals as well.  Goal number one – buy mouse traps.  But Baby hates the thought of trapping mice and refuses to write it down.

Soon she is up in her room where she finds a long unused suitcase.  Without a real plan, Baby packs the book that Eugenia has her reading, her toothbrush, her nightgown, reading glasses, and a sweater. Then she is off to the train station in search of adventure.

In Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package, a box arrives at the sisters’ home.  It is addressed to Eugenia. Eugenia doesn’t want to accept delivery. After all, she didn’t order anything.  But it has been bought and paid for and it is up to Eugenia to get to the bottom of things.

With the help of Baby and her neighbors, young Frank, Mrs. Watson and Mercy, she opens it to discover . . . an accordion.  Eugenia has never seen anything as frivolous or ridiculous in her life.  Who could possibly have sent her something like this?

In her quest to find the truth, Eugenia accidentally discovers that she has a real talent for making music.  Of course that means that people are going to dance and clap (ugh!), but when you have a song in your heart, sometimes you just have to play.

As always, DiCammillo has populated her stories with characters who are too silly to be believed but still manage to be wise and compassionate.  I love that there is much more to both sisters than is initially obvious and getting a look at their early lives and the love that motivates them both.

The short chapters and funny situations would make these books excellent read alouds for Mercy Watson fans.  Add them to your shelf this holiday season.

–SueBE

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

 

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

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