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Results 26 - 50 of 4,231
26. Divergent movie review

divergent poster Divergent movie reviewIn the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the dystopian city of Chicago is run through a personality-based system of grouping. The five factions, to one of which every person belongs, are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Abnegation, with its focus on humility and selflessness, acts as the political power; Amity, the good-natured, peaceful types, are the city’s farmers; Candor, those who value truth above all else, work as the judging body; Erudite are the thinkers and creators; and Dauntless, the bold, are what amounts to a standing army. Children are raised within the faction of their birth but, when they come of age, take a test to tell them where they truly belong. Beatrice (a.k.a Tris) from Abnegation takes her test only to find that she is Divergent — that is, she displays traits characteristic of more than one faction. Divergence is rare, and considered shameful and very dangerous. Tris is forced to dedicate her life to one faction (she chooses Dauntless) and keep her Divergence a secret.

The movie adaptation, directed by Neil Burger (Summit, March 2014), stars Shailene Woodley (from The Descendants and The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Slight and unremarkable-seeming at first, Woodley looks the part of the self-abnegating teen. As the story goes on, she grows into her role as a good YA dystopian female protagonist: sensitive but tough, and the consummate underdog. Woodley is a strong actor, reaching the emotional depths necessary for a character as out of her element as Tris. As the stakes get higher and the situations all the more impossible, Woodley’s Tris remains a hero to root for.

Theo James plays The Love Interest, Four, exactly as we would want him to be played: moody, strong, sexy, vulnerable, and surprisingly funny. Kate Winslet is intelligent and devious as the power-grabbing Jeanine, Tony Goldwyn (Scandal‘s POTUS) is totally believable as an ascetic politician, and Jai Courtney’s Eric is just plain scary. Altogether, the cast delivers an engaging and downright exciting performance, their stories developed over the backdrop of a surreally beautiful dystopian world. I also appreciate some of the content decisions — especially the depiction of sexual assault (in a controversial scene created for the movie) as a very real and constant fear in this society and Tris’s capable, Dauntless response to it.

But I have so very many questions. And while some of them are questions about gaps in the world-building (How does the train keep running? Can anyone be kicked out of a faction at any time? Who is behind all the technological advances in what appears to be a fairly stagnant society?), others raise more problematic issues.

If there is a line between bravery and recklessness, Divergent smashes it to bits. The movie defines bravery as actively choosing to do something scary even though you’re afraid. And yet, the film also portrays Dauntless characters doing scary and downright reckless things without thinking and without fear. I ask you, how can an individual be considered “dauntless” by being both thoughtful and thoughtless at the same time? What is up with the Dauntless, anyway? Why do they run everywhere whooping and pounding their fists? Is that what bravery looks like?

As to costuming — the use of color palettes for the individual factions is very well done, clearly delineating the five groups with visual representation. But… of course the Dauntless are shown as pierced, tattooed, and primarily black-clad. Coming from an individual who is both tattooed and pierced (and who also wears primarily black), I must tell you that tattooing, piercing, and dressing all in black do not a badass make. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure I would be placed in whichever faction is the most cowardly.) Isn’t it time to find another way to show an audience that a group of characters are “dangerous”?

Divergent was an entertaining movie with strong acting, beautiful visual effects, and an exciting plot. Yes, I have questions. Hopefully, the second movie will clear them up for me — because I will definitely be checking it out.

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27. Review of Eye to Eye

jenkins eye to eye Review of Eye to EyeEye to Eye:
How Animals See the World

by Steve Jenkins; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Houghton    32 pp.
4/14    978-0-547-95907-8    $17.99    g

The origins of the eye lie in the need for animals to detect light, as Jenkins explains in the opening to this excellent presentation of the structures animals use to see. After a brief description of the four major types of eyes that have evolved in animal species (eyespots, pinholes, compounds, and cameras), we get to the eyes themselves, prominently featured in well-designed layouts that serve both as study guide and display for the beautifully rendered and reproduced cut-paper artwork. Each page features a single organism in two images: a main close-up of the animal’s eye area(s), carefully framed to illustrate position and function relationships; and a smaller, full-body image of the animal itself. The juxtaposition is very useful — readers can use both images to make sense of the text, filled with fascinating information about eyes that are large (colossal squid), odd (stalk-eyed fly), all over the head (jumping spider), and extremely mobile (ghost crab). Additional field guide–like facts about the twenty-two featured animals are listed at the end of the book.

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28. Penny Dreadful -- Laurel Snyder

Penny dreadfulNEXT STOP, QUIRKSVILLE.

And, despite my difficulty with the ultra-quirk end of the spectrum—inhabited primarily by Stargirl and her ukelele—I adored this book. It's basically Hart of Dixie, if Zoe Hart happened to be a formerly affluent ten-year-old. It's got that same city-to-small-Southern-town move, that same solitude-to-community arc, the same cultural fish-out-of-water story, as well as a lot of learning about friendship and not making assumptions and working together and just plain old summertime kid fun.

THE BOOKS! Penny is a huge reader, most of her understanding of the world comes from living vicariously through books, and thus, that affects her thought process and perspective:

Duncan didn't look especially fragile or sensitive to Penny, no more so than anyone else she'd ever met. But looks could be deceiving. Maybe Duncan was like an upsetting book with an ordinary, happy cover. Maybe he was Bridge to Terabithia.

AHAHAHAHAHA, LOVE.

PENNY AND HER PARENTS! There is a whole lot of strife in the household, most of it due to financial woes—and that, in itself, is another plus: speaking as someone who grew up in a "scrimp and pinch" family, as much as adults try to protect them from it, economic hardship is a very real fear for kids, and it's always nice to see it addressed—but there's also plenty of love and affection. And it isn't just Penny's family. All of the various parents at the Whippoorwillows compound are loving and emotionally generous, with their own children and with the children of others, and the children have those same qualities. While that might seem unrealistic to some readers, it's important to remember that the tenants aren't random: every family living there is there by specific invitation.

FRIENDSHIP! As I mentioned above, there are lessons about friendship, about making assumptions, about working together, and about when to ask for help... but all of them are integrated organically into the story, and it's very much a story about Penny figuring things out, rather than a story created to teach the reader. Upon her family's arrival at the Whippoorwillows, Penny almost immediately finds a bosom friend in Luella. They clearly adore each other, but that doesn't prevent them from having disagreements or from—especially in Penny's case, as she's never really had a real friend before—making mistakes. 

THE ART! I love it so much when it's clear that the artist did a close-read of the text. Abigail Halpin includes so many dead-on-the-money details that I'm going to hunt around for other chapter books she's illustrated. [ETA: Well, then. That was the easiest research I've done, like, ever.]

It's warm and cozy, it's about family and friends and community, and about how you don't have to go out looking for dragons to be a hero: oftentimes, it's everyday life that brings the real adventure.

__________________________________

Book source: ILLed through my library.

__________________________________

Previously.

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29. Night of Cake & Puppets

taylor night of cake and puppets Night of Cake & PuppetsThe last book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, publishes today. In honor of that occasion — and in case you need something to tide you over (and excite you further) until you can get your copy of Dreams — here’s a review of Taylor’s digital original Night of Cake & Puppets (Little, Brown, November 2013).

Laini Taylor’s YA fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke & Bone focuses on a never-ending war between chimaera and seraphim in the world of Eretz and the fraught relationship between a chimaera resurrectionist, Karou, and her star-crossed love interest, Akiva, a seraphim soldier. E-novella Night of Cake & Puppets takes place between the first two novels and focuses on two secondary characters, Karou’s best friend Zuzana and her love interest, “violin boy” Mik. This is the story of their meet-cute in Prague, and fans of this couple will relish a closer look at the beginning of their decidedly unstar-crossed relationship. While book two, Days of Blood and Starlight, does reference how Zuzana and Mik became a couple, Night provides all the details from that fateful evening.

Zuzana has had a crush on Mik for three months, but has up until now been too bashful to even talk to him — she doesn’t even know if he knows she exists. Zuzana finally takes the initiative one night at the theater where they both work on the weekends to enact her intricate plan for them to meet. She leaves a treasure map in his violin case in hopes that he’ll follow it to the locations where she’s left objects and clues for him to find. The treasure at the end of his hunt? Zuzana. Mik has a few tricks up his sleeve to surprise Zuzana, too.

As always, Taylor’s lush descriptive language paints a vivid picture for readers, and series fans will be happy to see familiar characters and settings. While Karou herself is not present in the novella, her humorous texts offer support to Zuzana. Karou’s ex Kaz makes an entertaining (unwanted) appearance. The story alternates between Zuzana and Mik’s perspectives, and their endearing insecurities allow their lovable personalities to shine. It’s a night full of puppets, magic, cake, music, and the hope of romance. While readers of the novels already know there will be a happy outcome to this story, the inherent anticipation during its unfolding makes the novella a satisfying page-turner. Carpe noctem!

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30. Ten Eggs in a Nest: Marilyn Sadler

Book: Ten Eggs in a Nest (Bright and Early Books for Beginning Readers)
Author: Marily Sadler
Illustrator: Michael Fleming
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-7

Ten Eggs in a Nest is an early reader from the Bright and Early Books collection. In my house, we've found it to be quite educational (and fun) for a pre-reader, too. The premise of the story is that Gwen the chicken and Red Rooster are going to be parents. Out of supersition ("It's bad luck to count your eggs before they hatch.") Gwen won't tell Red how many eggs there are. As the eggs hatch, in increasing size batches (starting with one), Red rushes off to the worm store. Each time, before he gets back, there are more chicks, with a total of ten. 

This book works as an early reader. The words and sentence structure are simple (though not boring), and there is plenty of repetition. It also works as a counting and simple addition book. Like this:

"ONE plus TWO makes THREE baby chicks!" said Gwen.
ONE! TWO! THREE!"

And, laterL

"ONE plus TWO plus THREE plus FOUR makes TEN baby chicks!" clucked Gwen.

As a read-aloud, it's enjoyable, though I did find myself skimming by the fourth or fifth read. I think for new readers the repetition will provide scaffolding, and work well. The capitalizing of the text of the numbers helps to highlight those, too. 

I think what made my daughter ask to read it again (and again) was a combination of the fun of doing the counting, and the charm of Red Rooster. He's so proud when his babies are born - it's really adorable. Like this:

"Red strutted into Worm World.
He held his head high.
He puffed his chest out.
Pinky Pig was behind the counter."

There's also repeated humor when Red is surprised and says that you could have knocked him over with a feather. That, together with the "don't count your chicks before they are hatched" gives parents a chance to introduce the idea of sayings.

Michael Fleming's illustrations are boldly colored and inviting, with thick outlines and a spare use of texture. The birds are not representational, but they are all cute, especially the strutting red. My daughter noticed that the sign in Worm World is written with worm shapes, and she was quite charmed by this detail. 

all in all, Ten Eggs in a Nest is an early reader done well. It's definitely worth a look, and worth adding to school and public libraries.I look forward to trying it again when my daughter is actually ready to read. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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31. Review of More of Monkey & Robot

catalanotto more of monkey robot Review of More of Monkey & RobotMore of Monkey & Robot
by Peter Catalanotto; illus. by the author
Primary    Jackson/Atheneum    58 pp.
3/14    978-1-4424-5251-0    $14.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-5253-4    $9.99

Monkey and Robot are back (Monkey & Robot, rev. 1/13) in four stories for new readers. Monkey continues to make a mess, and Robot patiently helps him fix things. First Monkey worries about what to be for Halloween. No one wants a repeat of last year when he went as a dentist and stuck his fingers into people’s mouths. He ends up putting a pot on his head, pretending to be Robot (he wants to dress up as “something that everybody likes”). In the second chapter, Monkey and Robot are at the beach, but Robot can’t go into the water, and Monkey won’t go swimming without his friend. In the third, the two figure out the best use for a tire Monkey finds in the front yard. In the final story, Monkey is confused by the clock and unsure whether it is morning or nighttime. Catalanotto weaves humor into each easy-to-read story, inviting the reader to help Monkey with his confusion…and to feel a little superior at the same time. It’s unusual to see such clear personalities in a book for the very young, but Catalanotto has created two distinct and likable characters — unlikely pals who understand each other. Black-and-white pencil illustrations that provide helpful visual cues and lots of easy-to-decode text fill each page, making this the perfect bridge to chapter books for new readers looking for the next book.

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32. Yesterday @KirkusReviews...

What we hide...I wrote about Marthe Jocelyn's What We Hide:

Anyway, enough pontificating from me, right? On to the actual book! Clearly, Marthe Jocelyn’s What We Hide succeeded in at least getting THIS reader thinking about truth; about secrets; about lies of malice and lies of boredom, about lies of omission and lies of desperation, about lies to loved ones and lies to ourselves; about perspective and worldview and, yes, the reliability of any given narrator.

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33. Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

GrandfatherGandhi 287x300 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusGrandfather Gandhi
Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1-4424-2365-X
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Are you familiar with the concept of booktalking? It’s a technique librarians developed to get people interested in books they might otherwise not pick up. The whole concept is to develop a kind of movie trailer style talk that gives a sense of the book’s allure without giving up the plot. Typically booktalking is done for middle grade and young adult works of fiction, but enterprising souls have had a lot of luck with nonfiction as well. Now with an increased interest in nonfiction in our schools it’s more important than ever to make the books we hawk sound particularly good. It doesn’t hurt matters any when the books actually ARE good, though. Now let’s say I’m standing in front of a room of second and third graders with a copy of Grandfather Gandhi in my hands. How do I sell this book to them? Easy peasy. Some books practically booktalk themselves. Here’s how you sell it:

“Have any of you ever heard of Einstein? Yes? He’s the guy that was a total genius. Now imagine you’re his grandkid and you’re not that smart. Okay now, have any of you heard of the Beatles. Yes? Well imagine you’re one of THEIR grandkids . . . and you’re bad at music. Now here’s the big one. Has anyone heard of Gandhi? He was a great guy. He managed to free his country and stop a lot of oppression and he did it without any violence at all. Martin Luther King Jr. got some of his ideas from Gandhi about nonviolence. All right, well, now let’s image you are Gandhi, the most peaceful man IN THE WORLD’s grandson. What if you get mad? Can you imagine what it would be like to have everyone whispering every time you got a little steamed about something?”

So there you go. Quick. Simple. To the point. I’ve met a fair number of picture book memoirs in my day, but Grandfather Gandhi may well be my favorite. Smartly written with an unusual hook and art that will just knock your socks off, this is one title you are going to have to see firsthand for yourself.

GrandfatherGandhi2 300x258 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusWhen young Arun and his family first arrive in his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he’s mighty shy around his incredibly famous relative. Yet right away Grandfather is warm and welcoming to them, and when he praises Arun for walking the distance from the train station the boy swells with pride. Unfortunately, having Gandhi as your grandpa means having to share him with the 350 followers who also live in the village. Arun struggles with his lessons in Gujarati and the fact that there are no movie theaters around, but there are upsides to village life too. He’s pretty good at soccer with the other kids, and occasionally Grandfather will take him for a walk just mano a mano. But then, one fateful day, Arun gets into a skirmish on the soccer field and his anger is overwhelming. Shamed that the grandson of Gandhi himself would react in anger he confesses to his Grandfather immediately, only to find the man isn’t angry or disappointed in him in the least. Anger, Gandhi explains, is like lightning. You can use it to destroy or you can use it to light the world, like a lamp. Which will you choose?

I think it’s fair to say that there have been a fair number of children’s picture books from family and relatives of famous peacemakers. Most notable would be Martin Luther King Jr.’s clan, where it sometimes seems like every son, daughter, niece, and nephew has his or her own spin on their infinitely famous relative. Gandhi’s a bit different. One wouldn’t expect his own descendants to have much in the way of access to the American publishing industry, so biographies of his life in picture book form have concentrated occasionally on his life and occasionally on The Great Salt March. When I saw that this book was co-authored by his fifth grandson I expected the same sort of story. A kind of mix of “this guy was fantastic” with “and I knew him!”. Instead, Hegedus and Gandhi have formulated a much more accessible narrative. Few children can relate to having a famous relative. But what about controlling their anger in the face of injustice? What’s fascinating about this book is that the authors have taken a seemingly complex historical issue and put it into terms so child-friendly that a five-year-old could get the gist of it. That Gandhi’s anger went on to become what spurned him to make lasting, important changes for his people is the key point of the book, but it takes a child’s p.o.v. to drill the issue home.

GrandfatherGandhi3 300x176 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusAbove and beyond all that, this is a book that advocates quite strongly for peace in all its myriad forms. Hardly surprising when you consider the subject matter but just the same I sometimes feel like “peace” is one of those difficult concepts without a proper picture book advocate. I went to a Quaker college where PAGS (Peace and Global Studies) was a popular major, and it was in making Quaker friends that I learned about picture books dedicated to the concepts embraced by that particular religion. Books like The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor, Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle, and more. I’m sure that many is the Quaker household, or really any household that believes that peace is a practical and attainable solution, that will embrace Grandfather Gandhi as one of their own.

It’s been a long time since I ran across a picture book with as long and lengthy a list of materials used in the illustrations as I have here. On the publication page it reads, “The illustrations for this book are rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton, yarn, gouache, pencil, tea, and tin foil. Cotton hand spun on an Indian book charkha by Eileen Hallman.” Phew! You might think that all that “stuff” might yield something clogged up or messy, but that would be doing Mr. Turk a disservice. Observing how well he gives his pictures depth and texture, life and vitality, you might be shocked to learn that Grandfather Gandhi is his first picture book. From the spinning wheel endpapers to montages of sheer explosive anger, Turk makes a point of not only adhering to some of the more metaphorical aspects of the text, but finding new and creative ways to bring them to visual life. To my mind, the materials an artist uses in his or her art must, in the case of mixed media, have a reason for their existence. If you’re going to use “cotton fabric, cotton” and “yarn” then there should be a reason. But Turk clearly did his homework prior to doing the art on this book. He doesn’t just slap the images together. He incorporates the fibers Gandhi knew so well and turns them into an essential aspect of the book’s art. The art doesn’t just support the text here. It weaves itself into the story, becoming impossible to separate from the story.

GrandfatherGandhi4 300x213 Review of the Day: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany HegedusIt’s Arun’s anger that proved to be the most visually interesting aspect, to me, in the book. Turk deftly contrasts the calm white thread produced by Gandhi’s spinning with the tangled black ones that surround and engulf his grandson whenever his feelings threaten to break free. The scene where he’s tempted to throw a rock at the boy who shoved him down is filled with thread, Arun’s magnificently clenched teeth, and black shadow figures that reach out across the field to the soccer net, dwarfing the three other little figures below. Later you can see the negative space found in cut paper turning from a representation of lightning into a thread of cotton in the hands of Gandhi illuminating a passage about making your anger useful. Yet Turk doesn’t just rely on clever techniques. He’s remarkably skilled at faces too. Arun’s expressions when he gets to see his grandfather alone or makes him proud are just filled with wide-eyed eager hope. And his frustrations and anger pulse off the page from his features alone.

Picture books for kids about dealing with their anger tend towards the fictional. There’s Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry and Robie H. Harris’s The Day Leo Said, “I Hate You”. These are two of the good ones. Others veer towards the preachy and paternalistic. Imagine if you started using something like Grandfather Gandhi instead. More than just a memoir, the book offers a broad look at the benefits of channeling your anger. Better still, it’s a true story. Kids respect the true. They’ll also respect young Arun and his uncomfortable position. Fair play to author Bethany Hegedus for hearing him speak more than 13 years ago about this moment in his life, knowing that not only was there a picture book story to be had here, but a lesson kids today can grasp. As she says in her “Note from the Authors” at the end, “We world we live in needs to heal – to heal from the wars that are fought, to the bullying epidemic, to mass killings by lone gunmen, to poverty, to hunger, and to issues that contribute to internal anger being outwardly expressed in violent actions.” Gandhi’s message never grows old. Now we’ve a book that helps to continue his work for the youngest of readers. A necessary purchase then.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Interviews:

  • ReaderKidZ speaks with Ms. Hegedus about the book.
  • Meanwhile Kirkus interviewed the two authors and the illustrator here.

Misc: This is a book with a very nicely maintained and updated website of its own.  Some of my favorite posts include this one from Evan Turk on how he got access to the spun cotton fiber featured in the book.  I also light his piece on Light & Shadow and this one on how he chose his art.  Arun even has posts up containing family Gandhi stories that would make an excellent follow up books should the need arise.  Be sure to read the one on pumpkins and eggs when you get a chance.

Video:

One of the top best book trailers I’ve seen in a really long time.  Accomplished and it does a brilliant job of highlighting Turk’s art.

llustration & Animation by Evan Turk

Music: “Ambwa” used by permission of artist Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami
Voices: Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus
Sound: Evan Turk, Carrington MacDuffie & The Block House, Justin Yelle & Kaotic Studios, and William Dufris & Mind’s Eye Productions.
Project Management: Curious City

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34. Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

Holden_aprilartEdith Holden was an artist and naturalist. She lived most of her life in the West Midlands of England where she spent her time teaching art to students at Solihull School for Girls and working as an illustrator of children’s books. Holden’s paintings were often exhibited by the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and in 1907 and 1917, by the royal Academy of Arts. But as these things go, women were not at that time taken seriously as artists and by the mid-twentieth century she was nearly forgotten.

In 1906 Holden created a diary notebook of watercolor paintings. The text that went along with them included excerpts of poems related to the month and time of year and short notes about nature walks she took. She did not create the book as a diary but as a text for teaching in order to model nature observation for her students.

In the mid-1970s, Holden’s great-niece showed the notebook to a publisher. It was published in facsimile in 1977 as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. Through the years over six million copies have been sold. There is a second book, Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady, that was published in facsimile in 1989.

Holden_aprilI read the first book, The Country Diary, and what a delight it is. At first I thought it was meant to be a diary and was disappointed that the text was not more detailed. I do love her neat hand though and the sepia color of her ink makes me want to find a bottle for my own pen.

The beauty and detail of the book is in the paintings. They are a real delight. She had a keen eye for color and composition. While I rushed through the text, I spent time just looking at and enjoying each drawing.

Sadly, Holden died in 1920 when she was only 49. While reaching out over a backwater of the Thames to break off a branch of chestnut buds she fell in and drowned.

I borrowed my copy from the library because of Grad. I am glad I spent time with this book. It was a pleasure to look at the paintings when the snow was deep, the temperatures arctic, and spring seeming so far away. For a little bit more about Holden and some more photos of her art, visit Morning Earth.


Filed under: Art, Books, Diaries, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Edith Holden

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35. Cybils Finalist Review: ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein

Full disclosure: the author of Cybils finalist Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein, is a blogging/writing friend of ours. Yes, that did make me excited to read this companion book to Code Name Verity (reviewed here by Tanita and here by me), which I... Read the rest of this post

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36. Review of You Can’t Have Too Many Friends!

gerstein you cant have too many friends Review of You Cant Have Too Many Friends!You Can’t Have Too Many Friends!
by Mordicai Gerstein; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Holiday    32 pp.
4/14    978-0-8234-2393-4    $16.95    g
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3101-4    $16.95

This retold French folktale (“Drakestail”) stars a farmer duck who, in this absurdist version, is wealthy in the jelly beans he has grown. When the little-boy king “borrows” his jelly beans and doesn’t return them, Duck sets off on a quest to get them back. Along the way, he meets a large, friendly, shaggy green dog who “shrinks and hops into Duck’s pocket”; “Lady Ladder” who does the same; a burbling brook that Duck carries in his gullet; and some wasps transported in Duck’s ear. These new friends all come in handy when the king declines to give back the candy. Listening children will anticipate the role of each of Duck’s pals and will enjoy seeing the king’s nasty acts rightfully rewarded, especially when he’s chased naked out of his bathtub by the wasps. This is anything but a heavy-handed moral treatment, though — Gerstein’s pen-and-ink, acrylic, and colored-pencil illustrations employ a cheerful palette, with scribbly lines and dialogue bubbles. Each picture includes humorous details such as the web-footed claw bathtub and the queen’s fuzzy slippers. And in the end, the king makes reparations, sitting down to a jelly-bean feast with Duck and his odd group of friends.

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37. LAUNCH: Maggie and Milo: frog hunters

Just in time for spring, a grandma (!) sends a surprise package of JUST what you need to Frog Hunt…so off go Maggie, a wee lively gal, and Milo, a huge loving dog!  Our Priscilla Burris brings the characters alive in her usual adorable and spunky way:  do check it out…. and it just begs for more adventures!  Kirkus Review loves it! as do others…. go Maggie and Milo!  and happy Spring finally to all….

A Maggi and Milo pic (3)cover, and below author reading to class….

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https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/juli-brenning/maggi-and-milo/

 

KIRKUS REVIEW

What do you need for a frog hunt? Big polka-dot boots, a book about frogs and one giant border collie best friend.

Maggi, a wisp of a girl with spindly legs and a large, wobbly head, is an excellent adventurer. She can’t wait to try out her new boots and search the pond for frogs. After a good night’s rest—and imparting forbiddingly specific instructions to her brother at the breakfast table (“Please keep the chitchat to a minimum. I’m in a hurry!”)—Maggi and her shaggy sidekick, Milo, are ready. However, after waiting “a million minutes” (or three) in the water, they haven’t found a single frog. With shoulders slumped and head bent low, Maggi declares frog hunting to be capital B-O-R-I-N-G. Until…Milo finds a frog! And another. And another. After 16 frogs total, Maggi and Milo rest. (Frog hunting is hard work.) As the sun sets and the palette changes to a dusky blue, the frogs quietly croak “good night” to their new friends. Debut author Brenning has created a charming duo; Milo’s steadfast loyalty (and joyful, lolling tongue, courtesy of Burris) fully balances Maggi’s quirky proclivities. A simple, everyday adventure is always better when shared with a friend.

Move over Ladybug Girl (2008), there’s a new spunky gal-and-canine twosome in town. (Picture book. 3-6)


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38. The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill: Megan Frazer Blakemore

Book: The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is a historical mystery novel set in a small Vermont town in 1953. Hazel Kaplansky lives with her parents in a home adjacent to the graveyard that they manage. She's prickly and smart, and doesn't fit in very well, despite having grown up in Maple Hill. At a time when everyone is nervous about Russian spies and possible nuclear attacks, Hazel is suspicious of the new gravedigger, a man with the too-banal-to-be-true name of Mr. Jones. Hazel soon enlists lonely new kid Samuel Butler in her investigation. But she soon learns that Samuel has secrets, too, which everyone seems to know about except Hazel. Hazel and Samuel's developing friendship is set against a backdrop that includes a McCarthy investigation of the men in the local factory, and corresponding swirl of local rumor and innuendo.

I think that Blakemore does a nice job integrating the historical time period with Hazel's story. She introduces lots of details, but keeps all of them tied closely to Hazel's perspective. For instance, she captures Hazel's mortification when she sneezes during an air raid drill. The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill covers everything from the scars that remain from the depression and influenza epidemic to how people treated unwed mothers during and after World War II to the fear and gossip triggered by McCarthyism. And she slips in little tidbits, too, like the fact that Alaska isn't a state yet. 

There is a bit of an old-fashioned feel to The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, as you would expect from a book so decisively set in the 50s. Bike riding, microfiche searches at the library, only mothers expected to show up at school events, etc. I think that the presence of a graveyard, together with active spying, will still keep kids interested, but there's always that risk with historical fiction that it will appeal more to adults than it does to the kids. There's a pretty clear sub-text in some of the scenes, where the adults, particularly Hazel's parents, talk over her head. I suppose that kids who understand this will have the chance to feel superior. Certainly I would expect young readers to be surprised at how different the world was 60 years ago. 

Anyway, I quite liked Hazel, despite (or perhaps because of) that fact that she isn't completely likable at all. She makes mistakes, she runs away with her assumptions, and she is flat out wrong about most things. But she's smart and loves books and doesn't really try to fit in - she is utterly herself. When a popular girl invites Hazel, unexpectedly, to a birthday party, she attends only so that she can conduct her investigation. She attempts to turn a mausoleum into a fallout shelter. She does remind me a bit of Harriet the Spy, writing things down in a little notebook, though the lives of the two girls are quite different. 

Here's a snippet, to give you a feel for Hazel:

"What was in that box?

Hazel sat up in the tree chewing her lip. Something was not on the up-and-up. Last year she had read every single one of the Nancy Drew mysteries, and just like Nancy always did, she had a hunch, but you didn't need to be a young sleuth like Hazel and Nancy to know that when a person locked something up, he was hiding something. And just like that, Hazel had her first real mystery." (Chapter 2)

and:

"It should come as no surprise that Hazel loved the library. She loved everything about it, even the smell, like paper, and paste, and sometimes, when Richard Begos was there, a little bit like pipe smoke." (Chapter 6)

Despite the presence of some mean-spirited, gossipmongers in the town, there are several wonderful adult role models for Hazel, including a service station owner and a librarian. I also liked the fact that the conflict that Hazel has with a couple of mean girls is not resolved to any great degree. This comes across as realistic, and Hazel never feels like she needs their approval anyway. 

A hint of a mystery is left open at the end of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill. It's not a cliffhanger, just something to keep the reader guessing. Kids who enjoy mysteries or realistic historical fiction (like Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now) will definitely want to check this one out. I enjoyed it as an adult, and I think that I would have loved it when I was ten (having been something of a geek like Hazel). Although this is Hazel's story, the engaging cover should help it to appeal to boys, too. Recommended! 

Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BWKids)
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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39. Award news!

LiOS COVEREXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! Life in Outer Space has been chosen as the winner of the 2014 Ena Noel Award, a biennial IBBY Australia Encouragement Award for Literature for Young People. Past winner include Markus Zusak, Sonya Hartnett, Catherine Jinks, and a host of other wonderful writers who I’m totally honoured to be in the company of.

You can find out more about the award here

The good people at IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) have this to say:

Melissa Keil’s debut novel arrived on the YA scene with a refreshing, individual style which has impressed not only its target audience but also readers across generations…Keil has a superb knack of capturing the teenage ‘cringe’ factor: the beach picnic episode is a laugh-out-loud account of awkwardness and developing confidence. The ingenuous style of this novel makes it highly readable and amusing.

Colour me chuffed.

 


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40. Advance Review: Inhuman #1

From the creative team of Charles Soule, Joe Madureira, Marte Gracia and Clayton Cowles, Inhuman #1 finally sees release this week, and Marvel have offered an advance copy for review. Originally planned to be written by Matt Fraction, the series saw delays before Fraction dropped out himself, and Soule came onboard the project instead. Following on from a plot point seeded – pun possibly intended – in the Infinity event, this first issue has a few problems, but actually makes for a surprisingly coherent whole.

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The concept of the series is fairly simple, in that it’s the concept of the X-Men. At the end of Infinity, magic Inhuman dust was sprinkled over the Earth, and it affected anyone on Earth who had Inhuman heritage. If you are descended from the Inhumans, the dust cocoons you in an egg, and you hatch with powers – essentially, a new racial group are invented overnight, and society will both hate and fear these new egg people.

Working off notes from Fraction and what must have been an already half-completed set of comic pages from Madureira, Soule does a decent job of working Marvel method and writing dialogue into an already-existing story. Not very much happens particularly over the course of the issue, and we still don’t have a proper idea of the hook for the series – but Soule manages to make the characters distinct, with interesting voices. He best handles Medusa, who seems as though she’ll be stepping into the protagonist role for the book. With all the other already existing Inhumans conspicuously absent from the issue, she’s the sole voice of experience present in the pages. Every other character here, I believe, is brand new.

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So it’s a little bit of a shame really that Madureira’s designs don’t move beyond perfunctory for any of them. The antagonist, in particular (seen above), is massively uninspired, and looks thoroughly generic. He can tell a story nicely, and towards the end of the issue he does some excellent work in positioning a fight sequence in a very tight environment – but you do also have to be okay with huge exaggerations in anatomy and body shape when you read the issue. His art tends to be very much focused on muscle and boobs in this issue, with Medusa often completely covered in shadow apart from her chest.

Saving the art is Gracia, whose colouring has been some of the best at Marvel recently. Here he mutes the brighter colours from his X-Men run and uses purple and blue as the two primary colours – soaking everything in an Inhuman light, in essence. The issue is set at night, but even when indoors Gracia soaks the characters in purples, which acts alongside Madureira’s already-heightened character models and makes them look truly out-of-the-ordinary. It’s excellent work, and helps to justify the choice of artist for the project. Soule and Madureira don’t feel like a creative team who are working together quite yet (which, as Soule only came onto this issue at the last minute, isn’t the fairest of criticisms for me to make, I understand), and so there’s a nineties sense of melodrama in the art and a more contemporary, cooler and calmer scripting style.

This isn’t to say that Inhuman #1 is a bad issue – this is perfectly fine stuff, albeit without any particular hook to draw you in for the next issue. Things are offered to the reader on a fairly small scale, designed to involve us more thoroughly in the character tics and mannerisms of the new cast, several of whom only get a few pages to make an impression. This dulls down the hype Marvel offered that this was going to be a World-changing type of comic, but actually offers us a far more interesting story than if this were presented as a Great Big Deal. Soule’s dialogue offers the new characters likeability, if not too much individuality as of yet, and his take on Medusa strides across the pages, an excellent choice of lead character.

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Overall, Inhuman #1 is a solid story, despite the various disparate pieces that the creative team have had to reassemble here. This had every chance to be a complete disaster – but it’s a perfectly fine, decent superhero comic. It can’t stand up to the other #1 launches Marvel have had recently (Moon Knight, Captain Marvel, Ghost Rider and Soule’s own She-Hulk all far outstrip this issue for creative content), but Marvel have managed to at least give us a compelling start to a story. It’ll hopefully pick up once the creative team are properly collaborating with one another, or the next artist comes onboard.

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41. Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read

What a relief. Over the weekend I managed to finish Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. I borrowed this book from the library and since there is a waiting list there are no renewals. I have to return it Wednesday. I also finished the book I was assigned for review by Library Journal, The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood. And I wrote and submitted my tiny review; 190 words, I was not to go over 200. I am not sure what the etiquette of writing about that book here is. I’ll have to figure that out.

I started reading both of these books about the same time. I did not get off to a good start with theThe Critic and was very angry that in nearly 300 years of public literary criticism none of the essays focused on a female critic. But I had Lesser’s book going and she was making me happy, so very easy going and chatty, I had a hard time being interested in The Critic. But as irony would have it, I ended up liking The Critic quite a lot and Lesser’s book, meh.

There is nothing especially wrong with Why I Read. As I said, Lesser has an easy going, chatty style and she loves books and reading. She says in the prologue that she decided to write the book in order to figure out not why she reads so much as what she gets from from it. But really the book is about various aspects of books that she finds interesting, that motivate her to read and give her pleasure.

Lesser works her way through the various elements, discussing her favorite books and how they are examples of the chapter topic. She gives us a chapter on plot and character, novelty, authority, grandeur and intimacy, things like that. And it is all very well and good and I now have a short list of books she mentions that sound really interesting some of which I have never heard of.

In the end, however, I found myself wondering why I should even care about why Lesser reads. While I added some books to my TBR list, her discussions were nine parts enthusiasm to one part useful and interesting. Judging from the lack of pages I marked, I might actually need to downgrade that to only 1/2 of one part useful and interesting. She doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nothing fresh, and definitely nothing that would aid a reader in her own reading of any given book.

The final chapter is an “afterword” in which Lessor retreads the digital versus print debate. She owns an ereader and buys and reads digital books but firmly believes in the superiority of print. Which is fine, but I found it hard to care by this point and became really disturbed by her lack of understanding in the realm of copyright and why so many mid-twentieth century books are not available in a digital format.

I feel like I am being a bit too hard on Why I Read because it suffered from being read alongside The Critic. Lesser wasn’t aiming for insightful commentary or an intellectual history. She just wanted to spend some time conversing about all the things that make reading books so enjoyable. In that she succeeds. It just turned out that I wanted thought-provoking instead of easy going.


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42. Cybils Finalist Review: OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys

One of this year's Cybils finalist titles in YA Fiction was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, who wrote the much-acclaimed Between Shades of Gray. Sepetys seems, so far, to specialize in historical fiction, which is a genre I've come to appreciate... Read the rest of this post

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43. A GIft for Mama: Linda Ravin Lodding and Alison Jay

Book: A Git for Mama
Author: Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrator: Alison Jay
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 to 8

When A Gift for Mama arrived, my daughter took one look at the cover and said: "We have another book about that boy." She wasn't strictly correct, but she did recognize that the boy on the cover of this book looks a lot like the boy from The Cloud Spinner, by Michael Catchpool. Both books are illustrated by Alison Jay, and she has a very distinctive illustration style. This works well, because of the tone of the two stories is similar.

In A Gift for Mama, a young boy in old-time Vienna buys a gorgeous yellow rose as a gift for his mother's birthday. Oskar thinks that the flower is "the perfect present" until an artist offers to trade a paint brush for the flower. Oskar decides that if he paints a picture for his Mama, that will be "the perfect present." But then a conductor needs the paintbrush as a temporary baton, and offers Oskar something else in return. And so on. Oskar's mood fluctuates as these trade keep occurring, some without his consent at all, but his innate optimism keeps him thinking that each thing is "the perfect present." 

An author's note at the end of the book gives brief historical context to the Viennese figures that Oskar has encountered, including the Empress Sisi and the artist Gustav Klimt. Understanding who these figures are transforms Oskar's story into a tour of Vienna in 1894. This information isn't really necessary to appreciate the book, but it does add another layer. 

In truth, my almost four year old was a bit baffled by this book, asking "Why does everyone keep taking the boy's things?". But this didn't stop her from wanting to read it again. Oskar is an appealing character, with his up and down moods, and his clear love for his mother. There's a scene in which Oskar experiences a particular disappointment, and my daughter could absolutely relate to his hunched posture (exactly the same way she hunches over sometimes when things don't go her way). 

Lodding's text is full of exclamations and drama, and uses relatively advanced vocabulary. Like this:

"With a tug on the reins, the carriage lurched to a roll.
"Mama's book!" cried Oskar. "It's ruined."

But as Oskar looked up, there was the Empress herself!
She held out a box. "Candied violets," she said kindly. "To say sorry for your book.""

Oskar bower. "Thank you Your Highness!"
The dainty, delicious sweets were the perfect gift for Mama!"

Here Oskar's words as he declares the book ruined, as well as "the perfect gift for Mama" are in slightly larger text, encouraging the adult reader to emphasize those sections. I like books that give cues like this for read-aloud. 

But what I love are Jay's sepia-toned illustrations. They have faint jigsaw lines across each image, like one would see on a very old painting. The people are a bit rounded, wide in their waists, and the use of perspective emphasizes Oskar's powerlessness as the large (and famous) adults manipulate him. 

A Gift for Mama is going on our "keep" shelf. Next to The Cloud Spinner, of course. The conbination of story and pictures leaves readers with a warm feeling. And the fact that there is a bit of historical knowledge hidden in the book adds a special bonus. Recommended for ages four and up for home or library use. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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44. Today @KirkusReviews...

Moon at nine...I wrote about Deborah Ellis' Moon at Nine:

It’s a book that will likely end up in the Important Book category—books that get taught in school or get used in book groups—rather than in the Best-selling Book category, which is unfortunate. Farrin and Sadira’s story is one that deserves to be heard, and as it’s just one of many, it deserves to be heard all the more widely. While it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a sequel, I do hope for one—while the book certainly stands alone, it left me with a BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?-shaped hole in my chest.

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45. Hot Rod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania!: Cynthia Lord and Derek Anderson

Book: Hot Rod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania
Author: Cynthia Lord
Illustrator: Derek Anderson
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Cynthia Lord and Derek Anderson's lovable Hot Rod Hamster is back for a new adventure in Hot Rod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania!. When Hamster and his friend Dog attend the Monster Truck Rally and carnival, the speed-loving Hamster wants to try everything. His goal is figure out which is the BEST attraction. The one that turns out to be the winner is a surprise for everyone, especially Dog. 

As with the other books in the series, the beauty of this book lies in Hamster's enthusiasm. On the very first page spread, when Dog says that they have a bit of time, and asks Hamster what he wants to do, Hamster cries: "RIDES!". The big letters, the bold font, and the image of Hamster leaping up from the ground, arms in the air, all combine to show young readers how Hamster feels. When Hamster has a choice of boats on one ride, we already KNOW that he's going to want the pirate boat. And if the bumper cars include a race car option, well... He's like an excited preschooler, but round and furry. 

Dog, meanwhile is the perfect sensible counterpart, and the character that parents will relate to. He weaves coming off of the teacups, and keeps track of how much time is left. He heads into the stadium early, to make sure they get good seats, and then laments when he thinks that his friend is missing the show. The mice make an appearance also, and, as in the other books, play a silent but pivotal helper role. 

Cynthia Lord's bouncy, rhyming text makes for a fun read-aloud:

"Truck day, treat day, cotton-candy sweet day.
Fun day, fair day, music in the air day."

and

"Sports car, race car, fun in outer space car.
Cop car, mail car, make the siren wail car.
Which would you choose?"

Interspersed between the rhymes are bursts of punchy dialog, with Hamster's words dramatized by color and fonts. Derek Anderson's illustrations are colorful and chaotic, and capture the feel of a fair perfectly. The actual monster truck scenes are vibrant enough to almost make this adult reader a tiny bit motion sick. 

My daughter and I both greeted the arrival of this book like an old friend had come to visit. Monster Truck Mania did not disappoint. A must-read for Hamster fans, and a sure winner with carnival and/or car-loving kids. I hope that we'll see Hamster back in the future for many more adventures. Vroom! Vroom!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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46. Cybils Finalist Review: ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

I'm a bit late in coming to this one. I was late in reading it, too, by the time it crossed my desk for Round 2 of the Cybils, and I have to admit—it's often a death sentence (or at least a wrench in the works) when a book has been hyped as much... Read the rest of this post

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47. Friday Feature: Divergent



Divergent (Divergent, #1)In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


My thoughts:
I won this book a long time ago on Medeia Sharif's blog but it's been sitting on my bookshelf. Why? As much as I wanted to read it, I was worried about all the hype. I thought it wouldn't live up to it. But I finally decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did. Tris is a character I could identify with from the start because she felt so real. She doesn't fit in with her family or her faction. And when her simulation says she's Divergent and confirms that she doesn't fit in anywhere, she has to make a big decision. Being Divergent is dangerous. If people found out, she would be killed. So Tris makes a big decision and leaves her faction for one she thinks will save her.

I was really glad that Tris struggled a lot in her new faction. Things were tough, yet she'd have small victories along the way. I thought it was the perfect balance. She also develops some great relationships, though not all end well for her. While it's obvious that there's going to be something between Tris and Four, there were plenty of surprises there too, and I loved seeing what was going to happen next.

I wish I didn't put this serious off for so long, and I'm looking forward to the movie adaptation and book two.

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48. Reading Rainbow app review

reading rainbow friends and family Reading Rainbow app reviewThe Emmy and Peabody–award winning Reading Rainbow, hosted by LeVar Burton, ran for twenty-three years on PBS. Now young readers can explore the Reading Rainbow app (RRKidz, 2012), which retains a similar style to the show complete with its signature, catchy theme song: “Take a look, / it’s in a book, / a reading rainbow…” The app contains a library of hundreds of children’s e-books in addition to book-related activities and live-action “video field trips” narrated by Burton.

When children enter the app, they are prompted to create a profile including name, age, gender, and three things they like — I chose wizards & fairies, things that go, and animals. These choices allow the app to tailor reading options for each child (accounts can be created for up to five children). The app is geared toward kids ages 3–9 and includes fiction and nonfiction book titles, with new e-books and videos being added every week. There is also a web- and app-accessible parent dashboard where a parent can monitor their child’s reading progress, search for specific e-books by title or author, and manage their subscription. There are three subscription options with this app: a free subscription for five e-books and seven videos, a monthly recurring subscription for $9.99, or a six-month recurring subscription for $29.99.

The app itself is very easy to navigate. The home screen allows access to everything in the app, the most important of which is a portal to different themed floating “islands” where kids can explore “worlds of reading”: Action Adventures & Magical Tales, Genius Academy, Awesome People, National Geographic Kids, Animal Kingdom, My Friends My Family, and Music Mountain. Simply scroll to the island of your choice and tap on it to enter. Once inside, you’ll see two scrolling rows full of theme-connected e-books and videos. There is also a scrolling row of videos to watch about fascinating people, places, and things related to the theme (and all of the videos are also available via a button on the main screen). Within the scrolling row of e-books, some are marked as new or recommended e-books “just for you” (based on the child’s age and interests as chosen in their profile). And some e-books will fit more than one category, so you may see an e-book on several islands’ lists. After you select an e-book, there is a sneak peek description to introduce the e-book to a reader. If you want to get the e-book, just click yes when prompted and it will download in your “backpack.”

reading rainbow book recs Reading Rainbow app review

A child’s backpack is reachable via the home screen, where you’ll also have easy access to everything in the app. You can see the e-books you’ve checked out when you click on the backpack (the design of which is customizable — I chose the sports theme). You can only have five e-books in your backpack at a time, so when you’re finished reading an e-book just “return” it through the return slot so you can check out another e-book. There are also helpful “how-to” videos in your backpack. Once you click on an e-book in your backpack, it’s time to read!

There are two modes of reading: “read to me” and “read by myself.” While reading an e-book, there is the option to browse through the page spreads, pause the narration by touching the text, and play a game (although I was only able to play a matching game with each of my five e-books). When you want to leave an e-book, just click on your backpack and it will bring you back out of the e-book so you can continue exploring the app. If you come back to an e-book you haven’t finished yet, the app will return you to the page where you stopped reading. After you’ve completed an e-book, sticker rewards are given to motivate further reading.

Right now the available e-books are from publishers including Charlesbridge, Holiday House, National Geographic Kids, Kindermusik, Abrams, Sleeping Bear, Shenanigan, Peachtree, Kane, and Little, Brown. While there’s nothing flashy to be found within the app’s e-books, the extensiveness of this collection makes it an invaluable resource that will provide children with hours of education and entertainment. “But,” as LeVar Burton says, “you don’t have to take my word for it” — check it out yourself.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 5.1 or later); free. Monthly subscription to content is $9.99, or a six-month subscription is $29.99. Android and web versions coming later this year.

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49. Happy Birthday to Little Passports!

Happy Birthday to Little Passports!

Little Passports is 5 years old and to celebrate, we are offering a 15% discount to all of our readers.

Sale: 15% Off New Subscriptions through 4/8
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50. Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary Blackwood

Curiosity Review of the Day: Curiosity by Gary BlackwoodCuriosity
By Gary Blackwood
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3924-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves April 10th

Blackwood’s back, baby! And not a minute too soon. Back in 1998, the author released The Shakespeare Stealer which would soon thereafter become his best-known work. A clever blending of historical fiction and adventure, the book allowed teachers the chance to hone Shakespeare down to a kid-friendly level. Since its publication Mr. Blackwood has kept busy, writing speculative fiction and, most recently, works of nonfiction for kids. Then there was a bit of a lull in his writing and the foolish amongst us (myself included) forgot about him. There will be no forgetting Mr. Blackwood anytime now though. Not after you read his latest work Curiosity. Throwing in everything from P.T. Barnum and phrenology to hunchbacks, Edgar Allan Poe, automatons, chess prodigies, murder, terrible fires, and legless men, Blackwood produces a tour de force to be reckoned with. In the press materials for this book, Penguin calls it “Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction.” They’re not wrong. The man’s about to acquire a whole new generation of fans and enthusiasts.

Fear for the children of novels that describe their childhoods as pampered or coddled. No good can come of that. Born weak with a slight deformity of the spine, Rufus lives a lovely life with his father, a well-respected Methodist minister in early 19th century Philadelphia. That’s all before his father writes a kind of predecessor to The Origin of the Species and through a series of misadventures is thrown into debtor’s prison. Fortunately (perhaps) Rufus is a bit of a chess prodigy and his talents get him a job with a man by the name of Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. Maelzel owns an automaton called The Turk that is supposed to be able to play chess against anyone and win. With Rufus safely ensconced inside, The Turk is poised to become a massive moneymaker. But forces are at work to reveal The Turk’s secrets and if that information gets out, Rufus’s life might not be worth that of the pawns he plays.

Making the past seem relevant and accessible is hard enough when you’re writing a book for adults. Imagine the additional difficulty children’s authors find themselves in. Your word count is limited else you lose your audience. That means you need to engage in some serious (not to mention judicious and meticulous) wordplay. Blackwood’s a pro, though. His 1835 world is capable of capturing you with its life and vitality without boring you in the process. At one point Rufus describes seeing Richmond, VA for the first time and you are THERE, man. From the Flying Gigs to the mockingbirds to the James River itself. I was also relieved to find that Blackwood does make mention of the African-Americans living in Richmond and Philly at the time this novel takes place. Many are the works of historical fiction by white people about white people that conveniently forget this little fact.

Add onto that the difficulty that comes with making the past interesting and accurate and relevant all at once. I read more historical fiction for kids than a human being should, and while it’s all often very well meaning, interesting? Not usually an option. I’m certain folks will look at how Blackwood piles on the crazy elements here (see: previous statement about the book containing everything from phrenology to P.T. Barnum) and will assume that this is just a cheap play for thrills. Not so. It’s the man’s writing that actually holds your focus. I mean, look at that first line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.” Heck, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Check out these little gems:

“If my cosseted childhood hadn’t taught me how to relate to other people, neither had it taught em to fear them.”

“I was like some perverse species of prisoner who felt free only when he was locked inside a tiny cell.”

“Maelzel was not the sort of creator imagined by the Deists, who fashions a sort of clockwork universe and winds it up, then sits back and watches it go and never interferes. He was more like my father’s idea of the creator: constantly tinkering with his creations, looking for ways to make them run more smoothly and perform more cleverly – the kind who makes it possible for new species to develop.”

As for the writing of the story itself, Blackwood keeps the reader guessing and then fills the tale with loads of historical details. The historical accuracy is such that Blackwood even allows himself little throwaway references, confident that confused kids will look them up themselves. For example, at one point Rufus compares himself to “Varney the Vampire climbing into his coffin.” This would be a penny dreadful that circulated roundabout this time (is there any more terrifying name than “Varney” after all?). In another instance a blazing fire is met with two “rival hose” companies battling one another “for the right to hook up to the nearest fireplug.” There is a feeling that for a book to be literary it has to be dull. Blackwood dispels the notion, and one has to stand amazed when they realize that somehow he managed to make a story about a kid trapped in a small dark space for hours at a time riveting.

Another one of the more remarkable accomplishments of the book is that it honestly makes you want to learn more about the game of chess. A good author can get a kid interested in any subject, of course. I think back on The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, which dared to talk up the game of Bridge. And honestly, chess isn’t a hard sell. The #1 nonfiction request I get from my fellow children’s librarians (and the request I simply cannot fulfill fast enough) is for more chess books for kids. At least in the big cities, chess is a way of life for some children. One hopes that we’ll be able to extend their interest beyond the immediate game itself and onto a book where a kid like themselves has all the markings of true genius.

It isn’t perfect, of course. In terms of characterization, of all the people in this book Rufus is perhaps the least interesting. You willingly follow him, of course. Just because he doesn’t sparkle on the page like some of the other characters doesn’t mean you don’t respond to the little guy. One such example might be when his first crush doesn’t go as planned. But he’s a touchstone for the other characters around him. Then there’s the other problem of Rufus being continually rescued by the same person in the same manner (I won’t go into the details) more than once. It makes for a weird repeated beat. The shock of the first incident is actually watered down by the non-surprise of the second. Rufus becomes oddly passive in his own life, rarely doing anything to change the course of his fate (he falls unconscious and wakes up rescued more than once,) a fact that may contribute to the fact that he’s so unmemorable on the page.

But that aside, it’s hard not to be entranced by what Blackwood has come up with here. Automatons sort of came to the public’s attention when Brian Selznick wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Blackwood takes it all a step further merging man and machine, questioning what we owe to one another and, to a certain extent, where the power really lies. Rufus finds his sense of self and bravery by becoming invisible. At the same time, he’s so innocent to the ways of the world that becoming visible comes with the danger of having your heart broken in a multitude of different ways. In an era where kids spend untold gobs of time in front of the screens of computers, finding themselves through a newer technology, Blackwood’s story has never been timelier. Smart and interesting, fun and strange, this is one piece of little known history worthy of your attention. Check and mate.

On shelves April 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

First Line: “Out of all the books in the world, I wonder what made you choose this one.”

Notes on the Cover: And now let us praise fabulous cover artists. Particularly those creating covers that make more sense after you’ve finished the book. The glimpse of Rufus’s eye in the “O” of the title didn’t do much more than vaguely remind me of the spine of the The Invention of Hugo Cabret at first (an apt comparison in more than one way). After closer examination, however, I realized that it was Rufus in the cabinet below. The unnerving view of The Turk and the shadowy Mr. Hyde-ish man in the far back all combine to give this book a look of both historical fervor and intrigue. And look how that single red (red?) pawn is lit. It’s probably not actually a red pawn but a white one, but something about the image looks reddish. Blood red, if you will. Boy, that’s a good jacket.

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

Misc:

  • Care to read Edgar Allan Poe’s actual article for The Messenger about The Turk?  Do so here.
  • A fun BBC piece on the implication of The Turk then, now, and for our children.  It appears to have been written by one “Adam Gopnik”.  We’ll just assume it’s a different Adam than the one behind A Tale Dark & Grimm.

Videos: Want to see the real Turk in action?  This video makes for fascinating watching.

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