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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 4,494
1. There's a Book

This website contains reviews of many kids' books. 

http://www.theresabook.com/archive/

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2. Blog Tour: BATTLING BOY: THE RISE OF AURORA WEST

Attention, residents of Blogosphere-opolis: This is no ordinary review. This is a very special blog tour review, organized by First Second, who kindly supplied me with review copies of the new superhero graphic novels created by Paul Pope: Battling... Read the rest of this post

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3. The Maze Runner movie review

maze runner poster big The Maze Runner movie reviewI’m a sucker for a good secret. The Maze Runner is all about secrets.

If you’ve read James Dashner’s novel, seeing the Twentieth Century Fox movie (released September 19, 2014) is a completely different experience than it would be if you were new to the story. Instead of wondering how a gaggle of teenaged boys ended up trapped in a clearing surrounded by a constantly changing maze with their memories wiped, you wonder how director Wes Ball will handle all the information that the book gradually reveals.

The movie keeps the essence of the book as well as many of its details; the sense of confusion at the beginning is particularly well-rendered. Most of the significant changes are to elements that worked well in the book but would have been difficult to execute onscreen. Unsurprisingly, since the characters’ minds have been altered, much of the novel takes place on a mental level. Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) communicate through telepathy, which doesn’t happen in the movie. In the book, code-breaking plays a bigger role, which might’ve felt dull on film.

But the biggest change is in how the story’s secrets are filtered through Thomas’s mind. Neither the book nor the movie is the sort of post-apocalyptic story whose characters think everything is as it should be because they’ve never seen a better way, though some residents of the Glade are satisfied that the order they’ve established is the only safe option. These characters know that someone is deliberately sending them to the Glade one by one. They just don’t know who or why. If you encounter the story first through the book, you’re likely to spend much of it feeling like questions are being dangled in front of you. Book Thomas has an overwhelming sense that the Glade is familiar and hides this feeling from the other Gladers, which leads to suspicion between them and him. Though the movie Gladers suspect that Thomas holds an important role in their situation, all we hear from Thomas is what he tells them — the secrets he’s keeping from them are not revealed verbally. (The movie forgoes voiceovers and similar devices.) Instead, we see flashes of memory as Thomas sees them, first very briefly and then in more depth when he takes risks to pursue more information. Although these flashes don’t give many details, they do show the setting of Thomas’s memories very early on, giving a major clue as to how everyone arrived in the Glade. Instead of dangling questions, the movie dangles bits of the answers.

A few plot points are eliminated for the sake of pacing, and the ending is structured a little differently, but the general story arc is preserved. So are the important characters’ personalities, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, hardened-but-ultimately-loveable leader Alby (Aml Ameen) is a softie throughout the movie. More importantly, what happened to Teresa? The novel’s only girl in the Glade comes in with useful information and figures out quite a bit, as befits the super-intelligent character she’s meant to be. Movie Teresa still shows up with a note in her hand declaring her to be the last arrival and still remembers Thomas’s name, but most discoveries that are hers in the book come instead from Thomas in the film. As the first Glader to show enough curiosity to bend the rules, Thomas has agency coming out of his ears. The movie could easily have let Teresa keep her more useful lines and still let its main character come off as the hero.

O’Brien and Scodelario play Thomas and Teresa with an appropriate sense of determination, and though some of the Gladers deliver exposition more smoothly than others, the movie is well-cast overall. Blake Cooper is perfect as guileless Chuck.

For a movie whose characters keep saying, “Everything is going to change,” The Maze Runner keeps most of the important things the same.

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4. Lucky Day: An I Hunt Killers Prequel e-book review

lyga lucky day Lucky Day: An I Hunt Killers Prequel e book reviewI’ve been reviewing Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers trilogy (I Hunt Killers, Game) for the Magazine and am about to start reading the just-released final volume, Blood of My Blood. So I was very excited to get my hands on Lucky Day: An I Hunt Killers Prequel by Barry Lyga (Little, Brown, April 2014), one of several digital-only novella prequels to the series.

Lucky Day follows Sheriff G. William Tanner (a mentor and father figure to the novels’ protagonist Jasper “Jazz” Dent, who makes a very brief appearance here) as he investigates two cases in the last weeks before a county election. One girl has been abducted and is presumed murdered, and another is found raped and killed not long after — brutal violence the likes of which small-town Lobo’s Nod and its surrounding county have not seen since pioneer days.

As the cases go colder and the community’s fears grow, G. William’s chances of re-election to sheriff’s office dwindle. But then he makes a connection between the cases, follows an uncomfortable hunch about an upstanding community member, and finds himself face to face with the killer.

Appropriately, given its adult protagonist, the tone of this prequel is very different from the novels’. Instead of Jazz’s teenage first-person narrative, here a partially omniscient third-person narrator relates G. William’s (very mature) concerns and experiences. His guilt about the cases potentially going unsolved, coupled with grief over his wife’s recent death, sends him into a near-suicidal depression. Perhaps this novella is better suited to adult readers of gritty hardboiled detective/jaded cop novels (I’m thinking fans of Jo Nesbø or Tana French) rather than the teen audience the trilogy is aimed at. That said, as a fan of those types of books myself, I enjoyed this suspenseful look at G. William’s — and the infamous Hand-in-Glove killer’s — earlier career.

Available for various e-readers; $1.99. Recommended for young adult and older users.

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5. Review of Very Little Red Riding Hood

heapy very little red riding hood Review of Very Little Red Riding HoodVery Little Red Riding Hood
by Teresa Heapy; illus. by Sue Heap
Preschool    Houghton    32 pp.
9/14    978-0-544-28000-7    $16.99

In this re-imagining, Little Red is a toddler. She’s affectionate, stubborn, imperious, and has no time for the intimidation techniques of the wolf. “No touch my cakes!” She hugs him, calls him Foxie, and proceeds to order him around. Grandmama has her doubts, but Little Red insists that Foxie be invited inside for tea and an exhausting round of preschooler activities. When Little Red succumbs to homesickness, the wolf demonstrates unexpected child-minder skills. Was he ever really a threat or did he just come with a bad rap and a sweet tooth? The sprightly, scribbly watercolor illustrations particularize the characters: Red with her every emotion front and center; game Grandmama in her yoga pants; and the wolf, stylish in a mohair overcoat and polka-dot scarf and increasingly confused by kindness. Varied type sizes give the reader-aloud lots of performance hints. Tantalizing red endpaper maps, locating the houses of Very Little Goldilocks and Very Little Cinderella, expand our knowledge of this fairy-tale world.

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6. Review of Nest

ehrlich nest Review of NestNest
by Esther Ehrlich
Intermediate, Middle School    Lamb/Random    330 pp.
9/14    978-0-385-38607-4    $16.99
Library ed.  978-0-385-38608-1    $19.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-385-38609-8    $9.99

In this debut novel set in the late 1960s, Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein’s sixth-grade teacher tells her, “Your mom is a very lucky lady to have such a responsible girl.” Chirp is very responsible, but her mother is feeling anything but lucky. She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and sinks into a severe depression, ultimately committing suicide. It’s an overwhelmingly sad story, but the sadness never feels gratuitous, only immutable, just like the Cape Cod seasons and the ebb and flow of life in Chirp’s beloved salt marsh. Ehrlich’s characters are all fully developed: the dancer mother in anguish over not being the parent she wanted to be; the psychiatrist father’s well-meaning but hapless response to the situation; and — most of all — Chirp’s best friend Joey, who has his own issues at home. Chirp’s first-person voice is believable; her poignant earnestness is truly heartrending. Ehrlich writes beautifully, constructing scenes with grace and layers of telling detail and insight. She offers Chirp (and readers) no trite and tidy resolutions, just a dawning understanding that her “nest” of family, friends, and salt marsh will give her the support and sustenance she needs to move forward.

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7. Review: Belzhar

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. Dutton Children's Books. 2014.

The Plot: Jam Gallahue was in love with Reese Marfield and it was wonderful and magical and all that made life living.

Was.

A year that has passed since she lost Reese, a year of life not being worth living, a year of Jam barely able to leave her bedroom, shattered by his death.

So Jam's parents have done the only thing they can think of: sending her away from her New Jersey home and all the memories, to go to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for those who are "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent."

Jam isn't happy to be there, but then she finds herself in a unique seminar: "Special Topics in English," with five students intensely studying one author for a semester. This year, the author is Sylvia Plath.

Each student is given a journal, to write in. And when Jam puts pen to paper ... something magical happens. She finds herself in a place where time stands still, and Reeve is hers again.

As the semester draws to a close, Jam wonders what will happen when she reaches the last page. Will she figure out a way to stay with Reese? Should she?

The Good: Another one of those books that I love, but part of what I love is the twists and turns and the reveals. It's not just the secrets: it's finding out the secrets.

Jam is at a school for the "emotionally fragile," so everyone has some type of story Hers is Reeve. Her fellow Special Topics members (Sierra, Marc, Griffin, Casey) each has had a loss; each, it turns out, can also use their journals to return to that pre-loss time. Inspired by the title of Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, they call the place they go to Belzhar.

Jam's whirlwind romance with Reeve was meaningful and magical but short: only 41 days. Actually, that is the sum total of the days they knew each other. It was sixteen days before they kissed. So Jam has only a handful of memories stored up and what she finds is in that Belzhar, she is limited to experiencing only what actually happened. Oh, it's not as if she's stepping back in time: Reeve understands that something is happening, something outside time almost, and impatiently worries about the times she isn't with him.

And... I don't want to get into spoilers, about Jam and her friends, or about Jam and Belzhar, and what it is or is not. But wowza; there was a certain deliciousness in reading and figuring out and discovering, much like there was with We Were Liars (but for different reasons.) Belzhar is not just about "emotionally fragile" people, but it's what it means to be emotionally fragile and how that shapes how you see the world and how you act in it. And aside from that, it's about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, much like The Bell Jar itself is Plath telling her story in a certain way.

And, of course, the language! This, for example -- "to be on the verge of your life, and not to be able to enter it" is just such a good description of someone being held back and knowing they are held back, for whatever reasons.

Or this: "Because when I let go of the story I've been telling myself and just try to think about what's objectively true, I can barely get a grip." And how often is that true, also -- the truth being so frightening that we tell ourselves other things we believe to be true, to get through the day.




Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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8. Review of the Day: Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam

FoxsGarden1 300x177 Review of the Day: Foxs Garden by Princesse CamcamFox’s Garden
By Princesse Camcam
Enchanted Lion Books
ISBN: 978-1-59270-167-4
$14.95
Ages 3-6
On shelves now.

Have you ever read a picture book multiple times, enjoying it with each and every read, and then find later that it was wordless . . . and you didn’t even notice? Now THAT is the mark of an effective title. The publisher Enchanted Lion Books prides itself on its “Stories Without Words” series, and deservedly so. They import wordless picture books from abroad, format them into these long, slender books, and subsequently prove to the world that good storytelling is universal. It goes beyond language. The latest in this long line of beauties is, to my mind, the most impressive offering to date. Fox’s Garden by author Princesse Camcam (who edges out Sara Pennypacker, Mary Quattlebaum, and Robert Quackenbush in the Best Children’s Author’s Name contest) is ostensibly a very simple story about kindness and unexpected rewards. Combined with remarkable cut paper scenes that are lit and photographed in an eerie, wonderful way, this is a book that manages to simultaneously convey the joy that comes after a simple act of kindness as well as the feel and look of winter, night and day.

On a cold and windy night, when the snow blows in high drifts, a single fox plunges onward. When a warm, inviting village appears in a valley she makes her way there. However, once there she is summarily rejected by the hostile townspeople, at last taking refuge in a small greenhouse. A small boy spots the fox’s presence and goes to offer her some food. When he finds her, he sees that she is not alone. Newborn kits suckle, so he leaves the edibles at a safe distance and goes inside to bed. In the early morn the fox and her brood prepare to leave but before doing so they leap through the boy’s window, planting flowers in his floor so that he wakes up to a wonder of blossoms of his very own.

FoxsGarden2 300x175 Review of the Day: Foxs Garden by Princesse CamcamThe fact of the matter is that I’ve seen cut paper work in picture books before, whether it’s the scale models in books like Cynthia von Buhler’s But Who Will Bell the Cats? or the distinctive Lauren Child style of The Princess and the Pea. But books of that sort are part cut paper and part dollhouse, to a certain extent, since they utilize models. Titles that consist of cut paper and lighting alone are rarities. Even as I write this it sounds like such a technique would be some fancy designer’s dream and not something appealing to kids. Yet what makes Camcam’s style so appealing is that it combines not just technical prowess but also good old-fashioned storytelling. The glow that emanates from behind some of the homes in the snowy winter village looks infinitely appealing. You can practically feel the heat that would strike you as you entered through one of those doorways. Even more impressive to me, however, was the artist’s ability to capture winter daytime cloudy light. You know that light I’m talking about. When snow has blanketed the earth and the white/gray clouds above give off this particular winter gleam. I’m used to complimenting illustrators on how well they portray winter light in paint. I’m less accustomed to praising that same technique in sliced up paper.

The shape of the book itself is an interesting choice as well. The publisher Enchanted Lion specializes in these long thin books, so I wasn’t quite sure if the book originally published (under the name “Une rencontre”) in the same format. To my mind it feels as though it was always intended to look this way. Just watching where the gutter between the two pages falls is an interesting exercise in and of itself. The first two-page spread shows the fox struggling, belly low, through snowdrifts. She’s on the right-hand page, the desolate woods behind her. When she spots the village she is on the left page and the town looks warm and inviting on the opposite side. Distant, because of the nature of the layout, but comforting. Interestingly the only time the two pages show two different scenes is when you see people kicking and yelling at the fox. In contrast to the rest of the book the two different images make everything feel tense and angry. Landscapes are calming. From there on in everything is a two-page spread, sometimes presenting a close-up shot (there is an amazing image of the happy fox in the foreground on the left page, while the boy is in the distant doorway of the greenhouse on the right) and sometimes an image of distance, as with the final shot.

FoxsGarden3 300x87 Review of the Day: Foxs Garden by Princesse CamcamIt isn’t just the art that had me fail to recognize that the book was wordless. Camcam’s vixen seems to tell whole stories with just a glance here and there. She’s a proud animal. You understand that even as she’s kicked and cursed she’s retaining her dignity. The boy’s act of kindness may be given because he sees a creature in need, but it seems as though it’s just as likely that he’s helping her because she is worth worshipping anear. And though she and her brood do something particularly un-foxlike near the end she is, for the most part, not anthropomorphized. The storytelling sounds so oddly trite when I summarize the book, but it doesn’t feel trite in the least. You could easily see this book adapted into a ballet or similar wordless format. It’s a naturally beautiful tale.

Let’s examine that word for a second. Beautiful. I don’t use it enough when I’m describing picture books. It’s not the kind of word you should bandy about for no reason. If I called every other book “beautiful” it would diminish the importance of the word and I couldn’t use it when something as truly stunning as this. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t feel like anything else you’ve seen or read. True and lovely and entirely unique. A book to borrow and a book to own.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

Misc: You can see a whole mess of spreads from the book over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

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9. Banned Books Week 2014

banned books week 2014 Banned Books Week 2014

It’s Banned Books Week! From The American Library Association’s website: “Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information.” Based on 307 challenges, here are the top ten most challenged books of 2013.

  1. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2013′s most challenged children’s and young adult books.

captain underpants Banned Books Week 2014The Adventures of Captain Underpants: An Epic Novel and sequels
by Dav Pilkey; illus. by the author
Intermediate     Blue Sky     124 pp.
09/97     0-590-84627-2     $16.95

Best friends and fellow pranksters George and Harold create a comic book superhero, Captain Underpants, and hypnotize their school principal into assuming his identity. Clad in cape and jockey shorts, Principal Krupp foils bank robbers and a mad scientist until the boys “de-hypnotize” him. Written in a tongue-in-cheek style and illustrated with suitably cartoonish drawings, the story is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the Spring 1998 Horn Book Guide

absolutely true diary Banned Books Week 2014star2 Banned Books Week 2014 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Ellen Forney
Middle School, High School     Little     232 pp.
9/07     978-0-316-01368-0     $16.99     g

The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally — and hilariously and  triumphantly — bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just  broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He’s tired of his impoverished circumstances (“Adam and Eve covered their  privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands”), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren’t exactly with him: “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” But he makes friends (most notably the class dork  Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior’s narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners (“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs”). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though  there’s plenty of sadness, as when Junior’s sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope — only to die,  passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior’s spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. ROGER SUTTON
reviewed in the September/October 2007 Horn Book Magazine

hunger games Banned Books Week 2014 The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School    Scholastic     374 pp.
10/08     978-0-439-02348-1     $17.99

Survivor meets “The Lottery” as the author of the popular Underland Chronicles returns with what promises to be an even better series. The United States is no more, and the new Capitol, high in the Rocky Mountains, requires each district to send two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a reality show from which only one of the twenty-four participants will emerge victorious — and alive. When her younger sister is chosen by lottery to represent their district, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead, while Peeta, who secretly harbors a crush on Katniss, is the boy selected to join her. A fierce, resourceful competitor who wins the respect of the other participants and the viewing public, Katniss also displays great compassion and vulnerability through her first-person narration. The plot is front and center here — the twists and turns are addictive, particularly when the romantic subplot ups the ante — yet the Capitol’s oppression and exploitation of the districts always simmers just below the surface, waiting to be more fully explored in future volumes. Collins has written a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary. JONATHAN HUNT
reviewed in the September/October 2008 Horn Book Magazine

stone a bad boy can be good for a girl Banned Books Week 2014A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
by Tanya Lee Stone
High School     Lamb/Random     227 pp.
1/06     0-385-74702-0     $14.95     g
Library edition 0-385-90946-2     $16.99

“Stupid / humiliated / foolish / stung / heartbroken / pissed off / and a little / bit / wiser.” High school freshman Josie sums up how she feels after falling for an only-out-for-one-thing senior, and she isn’t alone. The three (very different) teen girl narrators in this candid free-verse novel form a chorus of varied perspectives on how a “bad boy” — the same boy for all three — causes them to lose control before they even realize what’s happening. Stone’s portrayal of the object of their (dis)affection is stereotyped, but the three girls are distinct characters, and she conveys the way the girls’ bodies and brains respond to the unnamed everyjerk in electrically charged (and sexually explicit) detail. Finally returning to her senses, Josie decides to post warnings about her ex in the back of the school library’s copy of Judy Blume’s Forever…because “every girl reads it eventually.” Others add their own caveats in a reassuring show of sisterhood. As this scribbled “support group” illustrates, even the most careful and self-aware among us sometimes gets bitten by the snake in the grass. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMAN
reviewed in the January/February 2006 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

looking for alaska Banned Books Week 2014Looking for Alaska
by John Green
High School     Dutton     237 pp.
3/05     0-525-47506-0     $15.99      g

A collector of famous last words, teenage Miles Halter uses Rabelais’s final quote (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) to  explain why he’s chosen to leave public high school for Culver Creek Preparatory School in rural Alabama. In his case, the Great Perhaps includes challenging classes, a hard-drinking roommate, elaborate school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, the enigmatic girl rooming five doors down. Moody, sexy, and even a bit mean, Alaska draws Miles into her schemes,  defends him when there’s trouble, and never stops flirting with the clearly love-struck narrator. A drunken make-out session ends with Alaska’s whispered “To be continued?” but within hours she’s killed in a car accident. In the following weeks, Miles and his friends investigate Alaska’s crash, question the possibility that it could have been suicide, and  acknowledge their own survivor guilt. The narrative concludes with an essay Miles writes about this event for his religion class — an unusually heavy-handed note in an otherwise mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don’t always behave that way, and are thus notably complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the March/April 2005 Horn Book Magazine

smith  out from boneville Banned Books Week 2014Bone: Out from Boneville and sequels
by Jeff Smith; illus. by Jeff Smith and Steve Hamaker
Intermediate     Scholastic/Graphix     140 pp.
2/05     0-439-70623-8     $18.95

When greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. Fone makes friends with a country girl, her no-nonsense gran’ma, and a dragon; Phoney must contend with ferocious rat creatures who are led by a mysterious “hooded one” and who want Phoney’s soul. This graphic novel (originally published in comic-book form) is slow paced but nevertheless imaginative. MARK ADAM
reviewed in the Fall 2005 Horn Book Guide

Are you reading any banned books this week?

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10. Review of Jack

depaola jack Review of JackJack
by Tomie dePaola; illus. by the author
Preschool Paulsen/Penguin 32 pp.
9/14     978-0-399-16154-4     $17.99     g

Farm boy Jack wants to make new friends and live in the city, which is exactly what he does in this minimally plotted book. On his way to ask the king for a house, Jack picks up a chick, a duck, a goose, a dog, etc., each one declaring its own interest in city digs, thus providing Jack with a community of ten new friends upon whom the king is happy to bestow a nice fixer-upper. While the lack of any conflict or obstacles means we aren’t that invested in Jack’s fate, young children will like the simple pattern of the story as well as the cumulating sound effects offered for each animal as it joins the merry band. DePaola dresses the journey in his most sumptuous colors, the carrot-topped hero and his ever-growing group of friends traversing a landscape of deep greens and grays and purple farmhouses to their new home, bright pink in the heart of the city. Storytime audiences will enjoy the trip as well as the sly cameo appearances by nursery-rhyme favorites such as Jack and Jill and Miss Muffet’s eight-legged friend.

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11. Monday Mishmash 9/22/14


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. Murderer on the Loose  The biggest thing on my mind is Eric Frein, a 31-year-old man who shot and killed a police officer in my area. He critically wounded another officer, and now, Frein is armed, dangerous, and hiding somewhere in the woods. I'm scared. I wish they'd catch him soon. It's frightening that Frein is evading 200 police officers searching for him. I don't feel safe in my own home.
  2. Campus Crush is now FREE!  To celebrate the releases of Into the Fire and Perfect For You, I've decided to make Campus Crush permanently free. You can get your free copy on Kindle or Nook.
  3. Into the Fire and Perfect For You Reviews  So far, I've been blown away by the reviews for both of these books. Seriously, some have made me cry because people are relating so much to my characters and the emotions in these books. I couldn't be a happier author right now.
  4. #IntotheFireChallenge  The Into the Fire Challenge is still going on. You have until October 10th to get your review of Into the Fire posted on Amazon and be entered for your chance to appear as a phoenix in the third book in the trilogy. You can also win signed copies of all three books in the series. Go enter now!
  5. YA Scavenger Hunt  I'm happy to announce I'll be participating in the fall YA Scavenger Hunt going on October 2-October 5. I'll be part of the Green Team with my Ashelyn Drake title Into the Fire. I'm so excited!
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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12. If I Stay movie review

if i stay movie poster If I Stay movie reviewSo, I saw that movie based on a YA novel about teens in love who are faced with questions of life and death. No, not that one, at least not most recently. I’m talking about the New Line Cinema/MGM adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel If I Stay, directed by R. J. Cutler and released August 22, 2014. (Warning: If you stay with this post, you’ll find some major spoilers.)

When I went looking for a viewing companion, the premise produced shudders from more than one friend. For the uninitiated, the title refers to seventeen-year-old Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz)’s wrenching decision to go on living — or not — as she observes her comatose body after a car accident that left her critically injured and the rest of her family even worse.

In case you haven’t noticed, YA movies are hot these days, and studios seem to get that the books are hot, too. Like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and other recent movies based on YA novels, this one keeps its story very close to the original text. Mia’s cello playing is important in the book, and so it’s important in the movie, too, even though it’s not as “Hollywood” as her boyfriend Adam’s (Jamie Blackley) rock band.

If I Stay is a cinematically paced book, which helps. Forman alternates between scenes of Mia’s pre-accident life and the post-accident drama. This structure saves both the book and the movie from long strings of hospital scenes and breaks up the emotional intensity with happier moments that increase our emotional investment in these characters. Mia’s rocker parents, affably performed by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, and little brother Teddy, played by a sincere Jakob Davies, are simply fun and lovable characters; we want to spend time with them and understand why Mia does, too.

Though the movie mostly adopts the book’s pacing, it does make a few significant tweaks. In the book, Mia and the reader find out very quickly (and slightly more graphically) that both parents have died. The movie ratchets up tension by revealing her mother’s death later and having her father live long enough to arrive at the hospital. The change creates more reasons to keep watching the hospital scenes: Mia has hope for her family early on, and viewers who haven’t read the book (or, well, seen the trailer) might be on the edge of their seats. Teddy’s death comes later in both the book and the movie — but as movie-Mia stays in the same hospital instead of being helicoptered out, she finds out much more directly and it’s more of a defining moment.

If you thought Mia and Adam’s undying-unless-she-goes-to-Julliard love was a little cheesy in the book, you’ll find the same goops of cheddar in the movie. But neither book nor movie pretends their relationship is perfect, and the movie makes their conflict harsher but bases it on the same issues. Although the ending is essentially the same, Adam’s promises leading up to it manage to make the love story more sentimental. (These changes in Mia and Adam’s relationship also make it seem less likely that the studio plans to film the 2011 book sequel, Where She Went.)

Just like that other tear-jerking YA movie about love and mortality, this one emphasizes the choices its characters get to make. Even before Mia must decide whether to live, she’s deciding what to do with her life. Maybe that’s what so many teens like about these kinds of stories. Teens are at a time in their lives when even ordinary decisions start to have higher stakes. There’s something validating about stories that acknowledge that, in some cases, a teenage life is an entire life, and maybe something reassuring about seeing teens confronted with questions so big that choices about school and relationships seem lighter.

Yes, these tragic tales show that some things are beyond teens’ control, but they also make it clear that some things aren’t.

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13. Thursday Review: GIRL ON A WIRE by Gwenda Bond

Right--in the interests of full disclosure, Gwenda and I have the same agent, and we've been blog buds for a number of years, so be aware that any viewpoints herein may or may not be free of personal bias. :) I received a review copy of this book... Read the rest of this post

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14. After-school activities

barnhart dazzling card tricks After school activitiesBarnhart, Norm Dazzling Card Tricks
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Barnhart, Norm Marvelous Money Tricks
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Edge Books: Magic Manuals series. Accessible step-by-step instructions, clear demonstrative photographs, and “what you need” sidebars teach readers to master simple but impressive magic tricks with cards or money. Tips for performing the tricks effectively and smoothly in front of an audience are worked into the narrative. These books will be appealing and useful for anyone interested in magic.  
Subjects: Games, magic, and riddles

bolte oil paints After school activitiesBolte, Mari Oil Paints
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Bolte, Mari Watercolors
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Capstone

Snap Books: Paint It series. These useful books familiarize readers with two types of artists’ paints. There’s a bit of history (oil paints were first used in the 1300s), a little chemistry (watercolors contain pigments mixed with gum Arabic), information on surfaces and brushes, and much about techniques and effects. Step-by-step projects that are not overly complex will nevertheless challenge and satisfy dedicated art students. Reading list.
Subjects: Visual arts; Painting

brown little golden book sof jokes and riddles After school activitiesBrown, Peggy The Little Golden Book of Jokes and Riddles
Gr. K–3   24 pp.  Golden

Illustrated by David Sheldon. “Why did the girl throw the clock out the window? To see time fly!” These mostly familiar standards may be new to beginning readers, who will enjoy learning and sharing them. Humorous color illustrations fit the mood and match the subject.
Subjects: Games, magic, and riddles; Jokes

 

hamen how to analyze the films of the coen brothers After school activitiesHamen, Susan E. How to Analyze the Films of the Coen Brothers
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Hermansson, Casie How to Analyze the Films of Clint Eastwood
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Essential Critiques series. These volumes introduce cinematic criticism, provide summaries of the filmmakers’ famous works, and offer lightly annotated essays modeling the application of criticism through different approaches. Each book leads readers through key steps of analysis and encourages readers’ own critiques. Featuring the work of currently popular directors enlivens these suitable overviews of film interpretation and essay construction. Reading list, timeline, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Visual arts; Coen, Joel; Coen, Ethan; Eastwood, Clint; Writing; Motion pictures

kidd go After school activitiesKidd, Chip Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
Middle school, high school   160 pp.  Workman

Kidd makes graphic design immediate and accessible to middle schoolers and up by posing questions and answering them in engaging ways. The first four chapters — “Form,” “Typography,” “Content,” “Concept” — tackle design essentials and some advanced ideas. The final chapter presents “10 Design Projects.” The book’s inside back cover provides resources including websites, museums, and design organizations.
Subjects: Visual arts

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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15. Careers and community helpers

buckley the arts Careers and community helpersBuckley, A. M. The Arts
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Freese, Susan M. Fashion
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Hamen, Susan E. Engineering
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Lusted, Marcia Amidon Entertainment
Middle school, high school   112 pp.  ABDO

Inside the Industry series. Each book describes four careers; for example, Arts covers artist, dancer, photographer, and curator. Readers learn what each job entails (e.g., “What Is an Artist?”) and what they can do to prepare for these competitive professions (“Would You Make a Good Artist?”). The somewhat bland texts, accompanied by young-person-heavy stock photos, could be useful as general introductions to the title careers. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and Careers; Artists; Dance; Photography; Museums; Fashion; Clothing; Engineering; Performing arts

curtis animal helpers Careers and community helpersCurtis, Jennifer Keats Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Sylvan Dell

Appealing close-up photos of wild animal orphans being fed and cared for by specially trained people show how injured or abandoned creatures can thrive with extra intervention. The goal is to reintroduce them into the wild once they are physically fit. Large photos without busy backgrounds and limited text target younger audiences. Appended activities include more detailed information about caring for injured wildlife.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Wildlife rescue; Animals

goldish doctors to the rescue Careers and community helpersGoldish, Meish Doctors to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

Goldish, Meish Firefighters to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

White, Nancy Paramedics to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6   32 pp.  Bearport

White, Nancy Police Officers to the Rescue
Gr. 4–6    32 pp.  Bearport

Work of Heroes: First Responders in Action series. This well-organized series explores the education, specialized training, and daily responsibilities of the featured first responders. Photographs capture the action and enhance the accessible texts, which include details about routine as well as extraordinary incidents, notable rescues, and firsthand accounts. Rescue fans will find much to pore over in these engaging and age-appropriate volumes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Police officers; Doctors; Hospitals; Medicine; Firefighters

oxlade firefighters Careers and community helpersOxlade, Chris, and Thea Feldman Firefighters
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Kingfisher/Macmillan

Kingfisher Readers series. Thirteen two-page chapters introduce newly independent readers to components of firefighters’ jobs, addressing procedural variations and lesser-known aspects such as service at airports and on “fire engines at sea.” Bright, action-filled stock photos are strategically positioned to illustrate new information and support in-text explanations of subject-specific terms (breathing apparatus, hydrants, nozzle). Fact boxes appear throughout. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; Firefighters; Fire

rhatigan people you gotta meet before you grow up Careers and community helpersRhatigan, Joe People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow Up: Get to Know the Movers and Shakers, Heroes and Hot Shots in Your Hometown
Gr. 4–6
   128 pp.  Charlesbridge/Imagine

Each section in this guide introduces an everyday “difference-maker” and offers strategies for how to meet one locally along with questions to ask and websites to visit; interviews and mini profiles conclude some chapters. The subjects (judge, crafter, “someone from a different religion”) are a random assortment and the design is rather busy, but the energetic tone sets this title apart from other community-helper books. Ind.
Subjects: Occupations and careers; City and town life; Community helpers; Work

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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16. Performing artists

cardillo just being audrey Performing artistsCardillo, Margaret Just Being Audrey
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray

Illustrated by Julia Denos. From Audrey Hepburn’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Europe, to a film career, motherhood, and role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, this picture book biography encapsulates Hepburn’s “certain something.” Cardillo’s prose is focused and elegant; Denos’s paintings perfectly depict the delicate beauty and iconic style of her subject. Author and illustrator notes detail the lasting influence of Hepburn’s achievements and charisma. Timeline. Bib.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Women—Biographies; Hepburn, Audrey; Women—Actors; Actors

cline ransome benny goodman and teddy wilson Performing artistsCline-Ransome, Lesa Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Holiday

Illustrated by James E. Ransome. Goodman grew up in Chicago, a working-class Jewish boy; Wilson lived in Tuskegee, Alabama, a middle-class African American boy. The story of how the two jazz musicians met and formed the Benny Goodman Trio (the “first interracial band to perform publicly”) is recounted in short bursts of text, almost like jazz riffs, accompanied by pencil and watercolor illustrations that capture distinctive moments. Timeline.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Wilson, Teddy; Goodman, Benny; Bands; Musicians; Music—Jazz; Race relations; Jews; African Americans

ko from iowa to broadway Performing artistsKo, Alex Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway, My Billy Elliot Story
Gr. 4–6   328 pp.  HarperCollins/Harper

Iowa native Alex Ko trained in gymnastics and competitive dance before focusing on ballet at his dying father’s insistence. Eventually, overcoming injury and financial struggle, Ko went on to star as Billy in Broadway’s Billy Elliot at the age of thirteen. Readers will find this look at the demanding process of making it onstage (and backstage) both insightful and inspiring.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Sports—Gymnastics; Iowa; Performing arts; Plays; Autobiographies; Theater; Dance

powell josephine Performing artistsPowell, Patricia Hruby Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Gr.  4–6   104 pp.  Chronicle

Illustrated by Christian Robinson. This distinguished biography conveys dancer Josephine Baker’s passion, exuberance, dignity, and eccentricity through words and pictures that nearly jump off the page. Powell doesn’t shy away from the challenges (including racism) Baker faced but emphasizes that Baker never let them overwhelm her joy in performing. Robinson’s highly stylized, boldly colored illustrations are at once sophisticated and inviting to young readers. Reading list.
Subjects: Individual biographies; Race relations; France; Women—Biographies; African Americans; Women—African Americans; Baker, Josephine; Dance; Women—Dancers; Entertainers; Women—Entertainers

robertson legends icons and rebels Performing artistsRobertson, Robbie, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson, and Jared Levine Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World
Middle school, high school   128 pp.  Tundra

In this oversize, weighty volume, music-industry-veteran authors offer collected anecdotal sketches, including personal memories, of twenty-seven music “risk-takers” such as Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Their meteoric careers, many touched by tragedy, are justly celebrated. A timeline of these artists’ first recordings (1925–1968) ends the book, which includes two CDs of sparkling audio quality with one iconic song by each artist.
Subjects: Collective biographies; Musicians; Music

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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17. Disasters

goldsmith bombs over bikini DisastersGoldsmith, Connie Bombs over Bikini: The World’s First Nuclear Disaster
Middle school, high school   88 pp.  Twenty-First Century

This book offers a riveting tale of the aftermath of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. The tests themselves and the lives of the Marshall Islanders directly affected by the resulting radiation contamination are described in engrossing detail. Sidebars, quotes from primary sources, and period photographs supplement the informative and thought-provoking narrative. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; Disasters; Marshall Islands; Atomic bomb; Nuclear weapons; Pacific

hopkinson titanic DisastersHopkinson, Deborah Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
Gr. 4–6   290 pp.  Scholastic

Hopkinson provides young readers with a basic introduction to the event without overdramatizing, drawing unwarranted conclusions, or prolonging the ordeal. Her “characters,” real survivors whose voices relate many of the subsequent events, include crew members as well as travelers in first, second, and third class. Appended material includes chapter notes, sources, archival photos, and short biographies of those mentioned. Timeline. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; Titanic (Steamship); Disasters; Shipwrecks

rusch eruption DisastersRusch, Elizabeth Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
Gr. 4–6   76 pp.  Houghton

Scientists in the Field series. Photographs by Tom Uhlman. This terrific series installment features the dedicated geologists of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, which provides technical expertise in eruption prediction. The portrayal of scientific investigation is exceptional: scientists build and monitor equipment, interview residents, and collect ash and rock samples. Photographs not only feature awe-inspiring shots of volcanoes but also depict human vulnerability to these natural disasters. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Earth science; Natural disasters—volcanoes; Scientists

rustad hurricanes DisastersRustad, Martha E. H. Hurricanes
Gr. K–3   32 pp.  Capstone

Smithsonian Little Explorer series. Lots of photographs, diagrams, and charts support a brief, accessible text to introduce hurricanes, their behavior and characteristics, and the destruction they cause. A world map covers different hurricane seasons, and “famous” storms are briefly profiled. The back matter includes “Critical thinking” questions designed (“using the Common Core”) to encourage further exploration of the topic. Reading list. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Earth science; Natural disasters—hurricanes

sheinkin port chicago 50 DisastersSheinkin, Steve The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Middle school, high school   190 pp.  Roaring Brook

The Port Chicago 50 was a group of black navy recruits assigned the dangerous job of loading bombs onto battleships. When an (inevitable) explosion left hundreds dead, fifty men refused to go back to work, occasioning a trial for mutiny. An unusual entry point for the study of WWII and the nascent civil rights movement. Photographs are helpful, and documentation is thorough. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Modern history; United States Navy; Trials; Mutiny; California; African Americans; History, Modern—World War II; Sailors; Prejudices; Race relations; Civil rights

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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18. All about animals

disiena chickens dont fly All about animalsDiSiena, Laura Lyn and Eliot, Hannah Chickens Don’t Fly: And Other Fun Facts
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Little Simon

DiSiena, Laura Lyn and Eliot, Hannah Hippos Can’t Swim: And Other Fun Facts
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Little Simon

Did You Know? series. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. Each volume presents select trivia about a variety of creatures. For example, the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth, diving at two-hundred miles per hour (from Chickens); and ants take about 250 one-minute naps a day (from Hippos). While the cartoon illustrations make no attempt to be accurate, they add even more humor to these jocular, enjoyable collections.
Subjects: Animal behavior; Humorous stories

jenkins animal book All about animalsJenkins, Steve The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth
Gr. 4–6   208 pp.  Houghton

This thoughtful and coherent book begins with a survey of the animal kingdom, then covers “Family,” “Senses,” “Predators,” and “Defenses.” A section on “Animal Extremes” provides Guinness Book–type facts kids love, and the concluding section, “The Story of Life,” explores evolution. The paper-collage art throughout is taken from Jenkins’s many previous books; each image is recontextualized to serve the book’s purpose. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Natural history; Animals

johnson Animal Planet Atlas of Animals All about animalsJohnson, Jinny Animal Planet Atlas of Animals
Gr. 4–6   128 pp.  Millbrook

Johnson, Jinny Animal Planet Wild World: An Encyclopedia of Animals
Gr. 4–6   132 pp.  Millbrook

These two different ways of organizing animals worldwide both begin with overviews of the animal kingdom; Atlas groups animals by continents and regions, Wild by five major types. Both books are lavish with photos, illustrations, and descriptive captions, and colored borders and headers keep things organized. Overlap is inevitable, but the writing is clear, intelligent, and unsensational. Atlas contains a glossary. Ind.
Subjects: Natural history; Encyclopedias; Animals

roop extreme survivors All about animalsRoop, Connie, and Roop, Peter Extreme Survivors
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Sterling

Stewart, Melissa World’s Fastest Animals
Gr. K–3
   32 pp.  Sterling

American Museum of Natural History Easy Readers series. From fastest runners and swimmers to deep-water and desert dwellers, these volumes present some extreme traits and habitats of animals ranging from the familiar (cheetahs, polar bears) to the unusual (giant tubeworms, microscopic water bears). The striking color photographs and astounding facts delivered via engaging prose (“It can grab an insect faster than you can blink your eyes”) will captivate beginning readers.
Subjects: Animals; Habitats; Animal behavior

ziefert does a bear wear boots All about animalsZiefert, Harriet Does a Bear Wear Boots?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Beaver Sleep in a Bed?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Camel Cook Spaghetti?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Panda Go to School?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Ziefert, Harriet Does a Woodpecker Use a Hammer?
Gr. K–3  
32 pp.  Blue Apple

Think About series. Illustrated by Emily Bolam. These animal behavior/social studies hybrids follow a similar pattern. Silly animal questions (“Does a squirrel cook?”) and informative answers (“A polar bear sleeps on the snowy ground inside a den”) are followed by simple discussions of human customs. Bolam’s inviting illustrations make the most of the premise and reflect the text’s informal tone. Prompts for further investigation are appended.
Subjects: Clothing; Customs; Animals; Animal Behavior; Sleep; Cookery; Food; Schools; Tools

From the September 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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19. Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu-Perkins

AtHomeTomb Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu PerkinsAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Trasures of Mawangdui
By Christine Liu-Perkins
Charlesbridge
$19.95
978-1-58089-370-1
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

When I say the word “mummy” what springs into your mind? Movies starring Brendan Fraser? Egypt and scarabs and rolls of crumbling papyrus? Absolutely. But what if I told you that recently the best-preserved mummy in the world was found? And what if I told you that not only was she a woman, not only was she surrounded by treasure, but she was also Chinese. Now I’ve known about mummies in South America and frozen on mountains. I know about bog bodies and bodies that were dried out naturally in deserts. But I had no idea that there even was such a thing as a Chinese mummy. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins breaks everything down for you, bringing us a story that’s part forensics, part history, part family story, and all interesting.

Same old story. One minute you’re happily munching muskmelons. The next you’re dead and your corpse has been interred with miniature servants, silk paintings, scrolls, and countless other treasures. And the story might stop right there, except that in two thousand or so years nothing changes. Your body does not rot. Your treasures stay complete and unchanging. So when archaeologists excavated the tomb of Lady Dai, they can be forgiven for being completely astonished by what they found. In At Home in Her Tomb author Christine Liu-Perkins takes you not just into the mystery surrounding Lady Dai’s astonishingly well-preserved body, but also into ancient China itself. A more complete and exciting (and I use that word sparingly) glimpse into Qin and early Han Dynasties for children would be difficult to find.

Why do we love mummies as much as we do? I think it might be a mix of different reasons. Maybe we’re so attached to our own bodies that we find a weird bit of hope in the fact that they might last beyond the usual prescribed amount of time allotted to an average dead carcass. My husband, I should note, hasn’t been completely thrilled with the fact that I leave this book lying about as much as I do. As he rightly points out, what we have here is a bloated corpse book. He’s not wrong and it’s not a particularly attractive dead body either. So why the fascination? Why should I care that her joints were still movable when they found her, or that her fingerprints and toe prints were clear? I can’t rightly say, but it’s a curiosity that kids share with adults. We want to know what happens beyond death. The next best thing, it seems, is to find out what happens to our bodies instead.

AtHomeTomb2 500x204 Review of the Day: At Home in Her Tomb by Christine Liu PerkinsThere was a time when the television show C.S.I. inspired whole waves of kids to dream of jobs in forensics. Naturally the real world applications are a lot less fast-paced and exciting than those on television. At least that’s what I thought before hearing about forensic anthropology. Author Liu-Perkins brings it to vivid, fascinating life. It’s not all that’s alluring about this title though since the layout of the book is rather clever as well. Rather than just stick with a single narrative of the discovery of the body and tomb, the author punctuates the text with little interstitial moments that talk about what everyday life for Lady Dai might have been like. Liu-Perkins allows herself a bit of creative freedom with these sections. Obviously we have no idea if Lady Dai “sigh[ed] in weariness” while tending her silkworms. To eschew accusations of mixing fact and fiction without so much as a by your leave, Liu-Perkins begins the book with an Introduction that sets the stage for the interstitial Lady Dai moments. She writes how the artifacts from the tomb caused her to imagine Lady Dai’s life. From there it seems as though the historical fiction sections are directly tied into this statement, clearly delineated in the text from the longer factual sections. Authors these days struggle with making the past live and breathe for their child readers without having to rely on gross speculation. This technique proves to be one answer to the conundrum.

Admit it. A lot of booksellers and librarians are going to be able to hand sell this book to their customers and patrons by playing up the gross factor. Just show that shot on page 24 of the corpse of Lady Dai and a certain stripe of young reader is going to be instantaneously enthralled. Maybe they’ll take it home for closer examination. Maybe their eyes will then skim over to the text where phrases like “her eyeballs had begun falling out” lead to the factors that explain why the decay in the body stopped. They may then flip to the beginning and start reading front to finish, or they might skim from page to page. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to read a book of this sort. When you’re dealing with a title about the “best preserved body in the world” you’re already in pretty awesome territory. Credit then to Christine Liu-Perkins who gives the subject matter her full attention and presents it in such a way where many children will willingly learn about Chinese history in the process. A beautiful book. A heckuva mummy.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy checked out from library for review.

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20. Review: Poisoned Apples

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. HarperCollins. 2014. Reviewed from electronic galley.

The Plot: Fairy tale retellings, in poetry and photographs.

The Good: Seriously, I just adore retellings. Whether it's looking into the historical origins of fairy tales, modernizing them, twisting them -- I just love what people can do with the familiar and the unknown, making them new and fresh.

Poisoned Apples approaches fairy tales with a particular question: what do they say about what it means to be a woman? What does it mean in today's world?

"The action's always there
Where are the fairy tales about gym class
or the doctor's office of the back of the bus
where bad things can also happen?"

Where bad things happen. There, right there, it shows that the darkness of the fairy tales is what will be examined.

So many good, tight poems, and each is independent, so it's hard to write about because how to select just one or two.

Some are cynical -- the "Prince Charming" who is charming to parents but says to the girlfriend
"Girl,
you look amazing. That sweater
makes your boobs look
way bigger."

Others are not. "
Retelling" says, "What the miller's daughter should have said
from the start
or at any point down the line is,
no."

And then offers a better solution:
"Once upon a time
there was a miller's daughter
who got a studio apartment
took classes during the day."

"Retelling" may be my favorite because it says, you can say no. You can put yourself first. And that means a happier ending for everyone.

Poisoned Apples is a short book but not a quick read. There is a lot here to discuss; a lot to think about it; a lot to question. And the questions are not just about fairy tales and the poems. It's about what it is to be a woman, what that means, what society and family and friends say it means.

I reviewed this from an electronic galley; and let me say, I want to get my hands on the final print version because I think it's going to be an even more intimate reading.

Other reviews: Sense and Sensibilities and Stories; Kirkus Reviews.

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21. Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

berry scandalous sisterhood of prickwillow place Review of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow PlaceThe Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
by Julie Berry
Middle School    Roaring Brook    354 pp.
9/14    978-1-59634-956-6    $15.99    g

This airy confection could not be more different from Berry’s most recent (and pitch-black) novel All the Truth That’s in Me (rev. 11/13). Part murder mystery, part girls’-school story, part dark drawing-room comedy (think Edwin Drood, Arsenic and Old Lace, or the 1980s movie Clue), the novel opens in 1890 England at Saint Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies. The seven students — our heroines — are known throughout the book as Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. Their headmistress is Mrs. Plackett, but she’s dispatched in the second paragraph (by poison), followed soon afterward by her ne’er-do-well brother, Aldous. The young ladies spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whodunit while also concealing the deaths (burying the bodies in the vegetable garden; having Stout Alice impersonate Mrs. Plackett; bilking their parents for tuition) in order to remain together at the school. Berry takes her madcap seriously, never breaking character when it comes to the old-timey setting or details (a Strawberry Social is the unlikely occasion of a late-in-the-story death). The young ladies, too, are products of their time: each one’s burgeoning independence and coming-into-her-own — largely gained through the murder investigation and/or cover-up, some also through snagging a beau — is satisfying without being too anachronistic. An immensely entertaining, smart, and frothy diversion.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. How Should a Person Be?

Have you ever watched the television show Girls written by and starring Lena Dunham? If you have and if you like the show, you will like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. It is like Girls in a book. According to a review in the Sunday New York Times, the reviewer felt the same. He even quotes Dunham saying that Heti is one of her favorite authors. Heti herself said she modeled the book after an MTV reality show called The Hills. Having never seen that program, I can’t remark on any similarity.

What I can remark on is how there seems to be a certain tone and persona that young female novelists have in common. Heti has it, Offil has it in Department of Speculation and Kushner has it in The Flamethrowers. Young, smart woman, fairly self-aware but a bit lost for some reason, looking for something, she is not always sure what. There is a wry sense of humor, the story has something to do with art or artists in some way, there is growth in the protagonist but one is not sure just how much, and the ending is rather open-ended giving you to understand that the story continues but the book does not. Does this count as a trend or just a coincidence? Or is this just the common experience of what it is like to be a young woman in 2014? I’m not certain since I am wandering in the desert known as middle age where I am neither young nor old.

The book is a “novel from life” whatever that means. The narrator and person trying to figure out how a person should be is named Sheila. Most of the characters in the book have the same name and occupation of friends of the real life Sheila. And many of the conversations between Sheila and her best friend, Margaux, are copied from actual conversations they had in real life. In the book Sheila starts recording their conversations in an effort to discover the mystery of what it means to be Margaux and in the process figure out what it means to be Sheila.

In the novel Sheila is writing a play commissioned by a feminist group. She has been working on it for two years and is getting nowhere with it. The problem, with the play and with Sheila, is that she wants both to be a work of art. She believes she has a destiny and she wants her play to be so good it brings some kind of salvation to the masses. But while she wants to be god-like in this respect, she, at the same time, worries that she is not human, worries that somehow she is missing out on what it means to be human. She flip-flops back and forth worried she can’t fulfill her destiny, worried she is just like everyone else, worried that she isn’t like everyone else.

Such worrying could get old fast but somehow it doesn’t. Sheila worries about not being human but that worry itself reveals just how human she is, she just can’t see it. Eventually she figures out a few things.

The novel has no real plot. Things happen but they don’t especially pull the narrative along. The one event that does is a an almost friendship ruining argument she has with Margaux brought on by Sheila buying the same dress Margaux does when they are at an art festival in Miami where some of Margaux’s paintings are being shown. The argument is sparked by the dress, but of course it isn’t really about the dress at all.

There is also an ugly painting contest between Margaux and their friend Sholem. Which of them can paint the ugliest painting? Sholem ends up in a rather depressed place after completing his painting but this not being a tragedy kind of book, his situation is darkly funny and he is eventually brought back to a sunnier frame of mind.

How Should a Person Be? is well written, kind of quirky, sometimes grim, and occasionally uncomfortable. It has an honest quality about it. The pacing is perfect, it never bogs down even with the lack of plot. I’m not entirely sure how Heti manages to make it all work but she does.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Sheila Heti

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23. Review of Neighborhood Sharks

roy neigborhood sharks Review of Neighborhood Sharksstar2 Review of Neighborhood SharksNeighborhood Sharks:
Hunting with the Great Whites
of California’s Farallon Islands

by Katherine Roy; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Macaulay/Roaring Brook    
48 pp.
9/14    978-1-59643-874-3    $17.99    g

Look closely at the cover of this impressive account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast: that bright red in the illustration is blood trailing from a chunk of freshly killed immature elephant seal — and a signal that Roy’s book will fully examine the sometimes chilling, always fascinating details of what makes this animal a predator. The dramatic main narrative describes a shark swimming and hunting, while well-integrated information-rich sections tell more about the biology and ecology of these sharks and about the scientists who study their role in the Farallon Island ecosystem. The explanations are thorough, even, and informative and benefit from excellent analogies (in both text and illustration) to elucidate such topics as sharks’ streamlined bodies and visual acuity. Roy’s illustrations masterfully employ color and perspective: blood-reds flow through the blues and grays of the sometimes calm, sometimes roiling ocean. Don’t skip the endnotes, which include behind-the-scenes information on Roy and the research she conducted for the book.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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24. Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

breathe think do menu Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app reviewSimple app Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (Sesame Workshop, December 2013), starring a blue, horned Sesame Street monster, models the “Breathe, Think, Do” problem-solving strategy for the very youngest (ages 2-5): “First…breathe to calm down after facing a challenge; next, think of plans to solve the problem; and then choose one of the plans.” (From the “About This App” note in the “For Parents” section; useful “Tips and Strategies” are also offered).

The opening screen shows the smiley monster looking up at five easy-to-identify icons (sneaker, backpack, block, slide, bed). The eager narration — in English or Spanish — urges: “Go ahead, tap on ones of these.” Each icon then takes us to a kid-centric scenario; selecting the backpack, for example, brings us to school. The narrator calls attention to visual cues about the monster’s state of mind: “Oh, no. The monster is frowning and it looks like he might cry. He feels sad because he’s not happy that it’s time to say goodbye to his mommy.” (The “sneaker” scenario models frustration at not being able to put on his own shoes; the “block” scenario models disappointment when the monster’s block tower topples over.)

Step 1: Breathe

The next screen shows the still-frowning monster against a red background. “Tap on the monster’s belly to help him put his hands on it. / Tap slowly on his belly.” The monster breathes in and out, and the background color lightens as the monster’s face relaxes (“Look! The monster is calming down. He needs to take another breath. Tap on his belly again”). After three slow breaths: “Yes! He looks much calmer.”

Step 2: Think

On the next screen we “help” the monster think of a plan. Bubbles appear over his head, and kids tap to pop them (the popping sound effects, along with monster-thinking noises, make this extra-fun) while the narrator says: “Think think think…Aha!” In the “Personalize This App” section (in the parents area) you an record your or your child’s voice to encourage the monster: “Think of a plan! Keep thinking! You’ve almost got a plan!”

 Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

The app then presents three problem-solving ideas; in the case of school: 1. find a friend to play with; 2. draw a picture of someone he loves to look at during the day; 3. ask a grownup, like his teacher, for a hug.

breathe think do school plan Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app review

Kids pick one of the choices, which brings us to:

Step 3: Do

The monster successfully implements the chosen plan. The narrator does a quick recap (“remember: breathe, think, do; you can always ask a grownup for help”), then the monster celebrates with confetti (which kids can tap).

Learning life skills and having silly fun — this is a child-friendly, research-based app that could be very useful for a variety of settings.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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25. Review: Falling Into Place

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Liz Emerson, a high school junior, has crashed her car into a tree.

She planned it, oh so carefully, to look like an accident.

It wasn't.

Now, as she lies in the hospital, hovering between life and death, Falling Into Place examines just what led her to that fateful moment.

The Good: Falling Into Place has some seriously beautiful writing. I dog-eared (yes, dog-eared, don't tell) so many pages to mark passages where the language knocked me off my feet.

"But that afternoon, in the abandoned field by the elementary school, Liz pretended that they were. In love. She lied to herself. Her world was almost beautiful. She didn't care that it was false."

"Had the world always been like this? Why had it seemed so much kinder when she was younger? Why had it ever seemed beautiful?"

In some ways, Falling Into Place is the mirror-image of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah explains her suicide by naming the people who hurt her, who let her down, her gave her no reason to live. Liz's story, also is a list of the reasons she gives herself for aiming her car at a tree... except her reasons are not things done to her. No, Liz's reasons are the things she did to others.

A small aside: if you don't like any spoilers, go no further. Because my conversation will be mainly about the characters and who they are, and aren't, and for some that may be too much.

I'll be honest: Liz is a difficult person to feel sympathy for. Or, at least, it was difficult for me to feel any sympathy for her. I began liking her, the way you would any character, but as the way Liz treated others piled up, action upon action, I just -- couldn't. I felt sorry for her mother, as her daughter's life hung in the balance, because that is a terrible situation to be in. But Liz herself.....

Liz is the type that hurts people because she can. Because she feels it's better to hurt others first, before they can hurt her. Because she has some own deep childhood wounds -- a father who dies tragically, a distant mother who cannot connect either emotionally or physically with her only child. She is, inside, a hurt and jealous child: "It made her remember that there had once been a time when she was in love with the sunshine and the wind and each brief flight. It was like watching the sky change colors, his playing. And then it made her jealous, because Liz Emerson was never at peace like that. Not really. Not anymore."

Liz both recognizes what she does and hates what she does yet cannot stop herself; she knows she does hateful things but does nothing to stop or make amends. She thinks she cannot fix what she does, so she doesn't even try. Instead, her solution is to end herself. "She looked around and saw all of the broken things in her wake, and then she looked inside herself and saw the spidering cracks from the weight of all the things she had done. She hated what she was and didn't know how to change, and half an hour before she drove her car off the road, she that despite all of that, she didn't have enough force to stop the world from turning. But she had enough to stop her own."

And... despite the glimpse into who Liz is, and seeing those who both love her and forgive her, despite not wanting her dead, I find I cannot feel much for Liz. I feel for those who she breaks: there's at least one suicide, plus a handful of teens whose lives get sidelined with pregnancy, drug use, failures. It's nice that we see at least one of her victims put aside Liz's actions and words, see her vulnerability, forgive her, and get on with his own life instead of letting Liz ruin his whole future -- but it wasn't a real balance. Not to me. And Liz herself had nothing to do with it. One of her good friends thinks, "she doesn't remember when she turned into such an awful human being" and the friend is thinking about herself, but it could be about Liz, and the thing is -- they are awful. And they feel bad about it, when it all comes crashing down....but where do they go after that?

These are the teens who I hope against hope that the real life teens I know never, ever encounter. And that if they do -- they are the type who don't care what the Lizs of the world think or do.

What is frustrating about Liz is the obvious: her world, the world she wants to escape, is her own creation. She sees a cruel world because of who she is; and that Liz has shaped her reality to be her is something she doesn't recognize. She doesn't see that she can stop it by changing how she sees the world: by looking, once more, for the beauty she saw as a child.

But what matters about Falling into Place is not what Liz learns or does not -- it's what the reader figures out. That the reader realizes, like one of Liz's targets, that just because someone like Liz is "never careful with her life or anyone else's, and in her disregard was a coldness, a deep cruelty, a willingness to destroy anyone, everyone", there is no reason to let Liz destroy everything: "he found that there were still beautiful things in the world, and nothing could ever change that." What the reader can also see, as Liz's full life comes into view, that Liz's world is also the sum of her own choices, her own times of going for cruelty and power instead of understanding and kindness.

What also matters about Falling into Place is the language. It's beautiful writing, that makes the ugliness more bearable -- much like Liz herself looks for beauty, yearns for it. I look for the beauty in Falling into Place. And I find it, in how the story was told. In how the pieces fall into place. And how, finally -- I do find, underneath it all, that I have sympathy for Liz, after all. In how she and her world spun so far out of her control that she felt like there was only one answer.



Other reviews: Scott Reads It; The Perpetual Page-Turner; Queen Ella Bee Reads.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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