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1. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2008)

The Man Who Invented Christmas. Les Standiford. 2008. Crown. 241 pages. [Source: Library]

Different readers will have different expectations when they see the full title of this one: The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.

The focus is not so much on Christmas, as it is on Charles Dickens: his private and public life, his writing career, his inspirations, his fears and worries, his relationship with his publishers. The focus isn't solely on A Christmas Carol. Yes, this work gets discussed in detail. But the same can be said of many of Dickens' novels. The book, despite the title, focuses on Dickens' career as a writer or novelist. This book mentions and in some cases discusses most of Dickens' published works. Not just his books published BEFORE A Christmas Carol, but his whole career.

A Christmas Carol gets special treatment in this one, perhaps, not because it has a Christmas theme, but, because it is a significant to his career. Before A Christmas Carol, he'd had a few really big bestsellers. But. He'd also experienced some failures. His last three books were disappointing to his fans. They didn't sell as well. The critics didn't like them. His publishers were discouraged and worried. Dickens needed his next book to be something wonderful, something that would sell, something that would be loved by one and all. He needed a success: a feel-good success, something to give him confidence and something to give his publishers confidence in him again, and a financial success, something to get him out of debt, something to pay his bills.

The secondary focus of this one is not Christmas. Readers might expect it to be related to Christmas, the history of Christmas, its invention, or reinvention. But. Something gets more time and attention than Christmas. And that is the writing and/or publishing industry. The book gives readers a history lesson in publishing. How books were written, illustrated, printed, published, sold. Not just what went on BEFORE it was published, but also what typically happened next. How novels were adapted to the stage by others, by many others. How little control--if any--that the publisher and author had over their books, their stories, their characters and plots. Plays could do justice, at times, to the books they were based upon. But they could also be absolutely dreadful. The lack of copyright laws or international copyright laws. How publishers in other countries could steal entire books, republish them, not paying the author anything at all. The book even has a chapter or two on fan fiction. Not that he calls it fan fiction. But he writes of how other writers could "borrow" characters and give them further adventures and publish them.

Does the book talk about Christmas at all? Yes. It does. It tells of two extremes: those in the past who celebrated Christmas too wildly, too wantonly, and those in the past who refused to celebrate it all, who would have it be illegal. Either extreme seems a bit hard to believe, perhaps, for modern readers. The book tells of traditions. Some traditions being somewhat established before A Christmas Carol, and other traditions becoming more established by being described in A Christmas Carol. What I probably found most interesting was his mention of how traditionally it was goose served for the Christmas feast UNTIL the publishing of A Christmas Carol. When Scrooge buys a turkey to give to Bob Cratchit and his family, it seems he inspired his readers to change their traditions. Turkeys becoming more and more popular.

For readers interested in the life and death of Charles Dickens, his whole career, this one has some appeal. It provides plenty of details about his books and the publishing industry, how he was received by the public.

For readers looking for a quick, feel-good holiday read, this one may prove to be a chore to get through.

I liked it well enough. I've read a good many of his novels. I have some interest in his life. It worked for me. It was packed with plenty of information.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (2014)

Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. Sheila Turnage. 2014. Penguin. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. I am not sure I loved, loved, loved it as much as the first book, Three Times Lucky. But I'm not sure that matters. What I loved most about the first book is still present in the second.

Primarily what I love about both books is the narration by Miss Moses LoBeau (Mo). I love, love, love her voice, her narration. She's a wonderful character. I love seeing things through her eyes. I love getting to spend time in her community, getting to spend time with her own, unique family, getting to spend time with her friends. This is a book that is just oh-so-easy to enjoy. The writing just has an oh-so-right feel to it.

Mo and her best friend, Dale, have a challenge or two to face in this mystery. Miss Lana has just bought--impulsively bought--an old inn that is haunted. When she bid at the auction, she had no idea that it was haunted. (Not that Miss Lana believes in ghosts.) But Mo and Dale in their exploring before and after, know that it is in fact haunted. And, I believe, it is Dale that impulsively signs him and Mo up to interview the ghost for a history assignment. Regardless if it was Mo or Dale following an impulsive, this quick and hasty decision proves challenging from start to finish. How can they prove the ghost is real? Especially since they don't see it or feel it every time they visit the inn? And even if they happen to capture the ghost in a photo, how are they going to ask interview questions and record the answers?!

Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is a mystery novel. There is a mystery--from the past--to be solved from the community's past.

What I liked best about this one is the characterization, the setting, the writing itself. I also really liked meeting the new kid in town, Harm Crenshaw. I wasn't thrilled with the actual mystery in this one. The ghost story itself.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. A Time to Dance (2014)

A Time to Dance. Padma Venkatraman. 2014.  Nancy Paulsen Books. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I wanted to love A Time To Dance. I wanted to love it as much as I loved Climbing the Stairs, also by Padma Venkatraman. But I didn't. I didn't love it. I'm not sure if it was because it was a verse novel. Or if it was because of the focus on dance. That being said, I liked it well enough. For readers curious about India, Hinduism, or dance, this one may have plenty of appeal, or extra appeal. I suppose this one will also appeal to those that like inspirational or feel-good stories.

What I liked best about it was the characterization. I liked Veda, the heroine. I liked getting to know her and her family. I particularly enjoyed Veda's relationship with her grandmother. I liked getting to know Veda's friends. There is a bit of romance.

Veda is a dancer. She loves, loves, loves to dance. She's always loved to dance. It is her EVERYTHING. So when she's in a car accident and one of her legs must be amputated below the knee, she's devastated. Who is she if she's not a dancer? Dance is what makes her, her. So giving up dancing isn't an option for her. Though plenty expect just that, for her to find a new dream. She will dance again. Someway. Somehow. An American doctor offers her a second chance. His specialty is making artificial limbs. He wants to make her a prosthetic leg that she can dance on...

But it won't be an easy journey for Veda, to dance again, to live again. The book is just as much about finding inner peace and accepting yourself as it is about actual dance. It is a book with a lot of spirituality packed in.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Bo at Ballard Creek (2013)

Bo at Ballard Creek. Kirkpatrick Hill. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2013. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved Bo at Ballard Creek. Did I love, love, love it? I'm not sure. Time will tell. I certainly loved many things about it.

I loved the setting, that it's historical fiction, set in Alaska, set in a small mining town, in the 1920s. I loved the perspective, Bo, the heroine is young adopted girl. For most of the book, she's too young to attend school. So perhaps in the four to six range throughout the book. Readers meet Bo, her two fathers Jack Jackson and Arvid Ivorsen. (One is black. One is Swedish.) Readers meet the whole community: other miners and former miners mostly men, of course, all ages and ethnicities; Eskimo families, and the dance-hall girls. I loved the narration and the amount of detail. I love that the book covers a whole year, if not a little more. So readers see the community in detail throughout the year. One gets a real sense of what was like on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis. On ordinary days. On special days. Special days being not just holidays, but, also days where airplanes stop and land, the days when supplies arrive. I love the vignettes of the whole town. I loved the strong sense of family and community in this one. It just felt right from cover to cover. I also loved the illustrations. I'll be honest. It was seeing LeUyen Pham's name that made me pick this one up. That being said, I may have loved her illustrations. But I also LOVED the text itself.

If the book lacks anything, however, it may be a strong plot. Think Little House In the Big Woods. The chapters are strong in description and characterization and little happenings. I loved it. I did. I loved meeting Bo. I loved some of the relationships in the book.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Tell Me (2014)

Tell Me. Joan Bauer. 2014. Penguin. 272 pages. [Source: Library]

I have loved some of Joan Bauer's novels in the past, titles like Rules of the Road and Hope Was Here. I didn't exactly love, love, love Tell Me. Not as much as I was hoping to anyway.

Tell Me is a middle grade novel starring a twelve-year-old girl named Anna. She's been involved in drama--acting--for most of her life. Her current job, her current role, is dressing up as a cranberry for a store at the mall. She loves to dance and be silly and crazy, anything to bring in a crowd. Change is coming, however. Anna isn't exactly welcoming it. Her parents have been fighting a lot. She fears divorce is coming. She loves her Dad oh-so-much. But even she can't deny that he's had problems with controlling his anger since he lost his job. He has changed, their family dynamics have changed. Now her parents are separated and in counseling. Her mom wants her to spend the summer with her grandmother. Her mom needs her to spend the summer with her grandmother. Even though this isn't the way she thought she'd be spending her summer, she handles it relatively well. She arrives. She meets new people. She gets a new role: this time dressing up as a petunia. She makes new friends. She learns to trust herself. She learns to speak up. She learns to ride a horse.

One day, presumably while dressed up as a petunia in the library, she witnesses something disturbing. She sees a scratched-up van arrive in the parking lot. Their is a scared-looking girl being dragged by an Asian woman. They want to know where the bathroom is. Minutes later she sees this same girl try to make a run for it in the parking lot. Anna's instincts say that this girl--this girl that appears to be around her own age--is in big, big trouble. She needs help. Probably. Definitely. Could she be a kidnap victim? Anna is frantic to remember as much as she possibly can. She records all the details she can remember--and she adds to this list throughout a week or two. She is determined to do something, to act, to not let this go until she knows the girl is safe. The local sheriff is unconvinced. But. Anna is one stubborn girl. Surely there are adults that will listen, that will act.

I liked this one. It was a quick read.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. The Night Gardener (2014)

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)

Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.

I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?"
Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em."
"True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Children in the Holocaust and World War II

Children in the Holocaust: Their Secret Diaries. Laurel Holliday, ed. 1996. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries is an almost must-read in my opinion. It is incredibly compelling and emotional. Memoirs are great. They are. I have loved many autobiographies and biographies. But diaries are a bit unique. They tend to stay in the moment; there is a rawness perhaps in the emotions. They capture specific moments in time. They record the best and worst and everything in between. These diary entries are well worth reading.
These children's diaries are testimonies to the fact that telling the truth about violence is not harmful. In fact, one wonders how much greater harm these boys and girls would have suffered had they not written about the horrific events they were experiencing. Far more dangerous than reading about atrocities, I believe, is the pretense that atrocities do not occur. To turn our eyes away and refuse to see, or to let children see, what prejudice and hatred lead to is truly to warp our collective psyche. It is important for all of us--adults and children alike--to acknowledge the depths to which humankind can sink. The children teach us, by sharing their own direct experience of oppression, that nothing is more valuable than human freedom. This lesson alone is reason enough to read and to encourage children to read, these diaries.
This book gathers together diary entries from twenty-two writers. The countries represented include: Poland, Holland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Belgium, England, Israel, and Denmark. Seven of the twenty-two writers are from Poland. Some writers survived the war. Others did not. I believe that all of these entries have been previously published in some format, in at least one language. The listed age refers to the writer's age for the first diary entry printed in the book. This book provides excerpts from diaries. None of the diaries, I believe, are reprinted in full. These excerpts represent the diaries as a whole, and provide a bigger picture for understanding the war.
  • Janine Phillips, Poland, 10 years old
  • Ephraim Shtenkler, Poland, 11 years old
  • Dirk Van der Heide, Holland, 12 years old
  • Werner Galnick, Germany, 12 years old
  • Janina Heshele, Poland, 12 years old
  • Helga Weissova-Hoskova, Czechoslovakia, 12 years old
  • Dawid Rubinowicz, Poland, 12 years old
  • Helga Kinsky-Pollack, Austria, 13 years old
  • Eva Heyman, Hungary, 13 years old
  • Tamarah Lazerson, Lithuania, 13 years old
  • Yitskhok Rudashevski, Lithuania, 14 years old
  • Macha Rolnikas, Lithuania, 14 years old
  • Charlotte Veresova, Czechoslovakia, 14 years old
  • Mary Berg (pseudonym), Poland, 15 years old
  • Ina Konstantinova, Russia, 16 years old
  • Moshe Flinker, Belgium, 16 years old
  • Joan Wyndham, England, 16 years old
  • Hannah Senesh, Hungary and Israel, 17 years old
  • Sarah Fishkin, Poland, 17 years old
  • Kim Malthe-Bruun, Denmark, 18 years old
  • Colin Perry, England, 18 years old
  • The Unknown Brother and Sister of Lodz Ghetto, Poland, Unknown Age and 12 years old
I won't lie. This book is difficult to read. Difficult in terms of subject matter. It is an emotional experience. Readers are reading private diary entries. The entries capture the terror and horror of the times. They capture the uncertainty that almost all felt: will I survive? will I survive the day? will I survive the war? will my family? will my friends? will I witness their deaths? will I have ANY food to eat today? tomorrow? how much worse can it get? when will this all be over? will I be alive to see the end of the war? what if the Nazis win? The diaries capture facts and details. But they also capture feelings and reactions.
Shootings have now become very frequent at the ghetto exits. Usually they are perpetrated by some guard who wants to amuse himself. Every day, morning and afternoon, when I go to school, I am not sure whether I will return alive. I have to go past two of the most dangerous German sentry posts..., Mary Berg, February 27, 1942, p. 233
Dr. Janusz Korczak's children's home is empty now. A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen. Each child carried a little bundle in his hand. All of them wore white aprons. They walked in ranks of two, calm, and even smiling. They had not the slightest foreboding of their fate. At the end of the procession marched Dr. Korczak, who saw to it that the children did not walk on the sidewalk. Now and then, with fatherly solicitude, he stroked a child on the head or arm, and straightened out the ranks. He wore high boots, with his trousers stuck in them, an alpaca coat, and a navy-blue cap, the so-called Maciejowka cap. He walked with a firm step, and was accompanied by one of the doctors of the children's home, who wore his white smock. This sad procession vanished at the corner of Dzielna and Smocza Streets. They went in the direction of Gesia Street, to the cemetery. At the cemetery all the children were shot. We were also told by our informants that Dr. Korczak was forced to witness the executions, and that he himself was shot afterward. Thus died one of the purest and noblest men who ever lived. He was the pride of the ghetto. His children's home gave us courage, and all of us gladly gave part of our own scanty means to support the model home organized by this great idealist. He devoted all his life, all his creative work as an educator and writer, to the poor children of Warsaw. Even at the last moment he refused to be separated from them. ~ Mary Berg, August, 1942, p. 239
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. The Right Fight (2014)

The Right Fight. Chris Lynch. 2014. Scholastic. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

 I enjoyed Chris Lynch's The Right Fight. Roman, the protagonist, loves, loves, LOVES baseball. But he loves his country even more. That is why he enlisted even before America entered the war--the second world war. The book chronicles his early experiences in the war as a tank driver. Readers see him through training, war games, and going overseas, his various assignments and missions. (Most of the book sees him in North Africa). Readers experience it from his point of view and from a few letters as well. One sees how his fellow soldiers--the men in his tank specifically--form a family. One also sees the many (often-ugly) sides of war.

I enjoyed this one. I thought there was a good balance of action (war) and characterization. I liked getting to know Roman, his fiancee, his war buddies.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. West of the Moon (2014)

West of the Moon. Margi Preus. 2014. Abrams. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Margi Preus' West of the Moon. Astri and her younger sister, Greta, have been left in the care of their aunt and uncle. Their father has gone to America. If all goes well, he will send for them. But their aunt and uncle aren't thrilled to have two additional mouths to feed, to put it kindly. The novel opens with the aunt selling Astri to a stranger, a goat farmer. Her time as his servant is unpleasant, horrible in fact. But she's planning an escape. Not just an escape, but a rescue mission too. She is planning on escaping, rescuing her sister, and somehow, someway, making it to America to find their father. Ambitious, yes, very much so. But Astri is resilient, strong, and determined.

The novel is titled West of the Moon. Throughout the book, Astri makes comparisons between her own life--her own miserable life--and fairy tales or folk tales. The one she uses most often is East of the Sun and West of the Moon. But there are other references as well.

West of the Moon is a historical coming of age story. It is a tale of survival. Astri is many things, as I've mentioned, but she's not perfect. Throughout the entire book, Astri is put into difficult situations, and sometimes a choice is required of her. Choices that will ultimately have consequences. Astri's decisions give readers something to think about perhaps.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. Seven 2014 Picture Books

Santa Clauses: Short Poems From the North Pole by Bob Raczka. 2014. Lerner Publishing Group. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

December 1rst
Wishes blowing in
from my overfilled mailbox--
December's first storm.


I enjoyed reading Bob Raczka's Santa Clauses. The book is a poetic countdown to Christmas. Each of the twenty-five poems is written from Santa's perspective. Each poem is dated. Each poem is haiku. I found this to be a delightful read. I loved some of the poems. I liked all of them, for the most part, but there were a few I did LOVE. The book gives young readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Santa's life. Very cute.
Some of my favorites:
December 3rd
Mrs. Claus making
an angel, becoming a
little girl again.
December 10th
The north wind and I
whistling to "Let It Snow!"
on the radio.
I would definitely recommend it. I've read it a few times now, and I just love it more each time.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

A Little Women Christmas. Heather Vogel Frederick. 2014. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

For people who LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I think this one is well worth reading and rereading. I have read the novel once or twice, certainly enjoyed it well enough, but it's never been one that I've gushed about or LOVED passionately.

This picture book focuses on one of the Christmases written about within Little Women. The 22nd chapter of Little Women. The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are wonderful. If you're a fan of his work, you'll probably want to seek this one out because they are BEAUTIFUL.

I do think it is a picture book for older readers. I think it's a beautiful book for fans of the book or movie.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters. Oliver Jeffers. 2014. Penguin. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

It opens with the premise: "If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters."

Once Upon An Alphabet is indeed a book of twenty-six "short stories," one for each letter. The stories can best be described as odd and quirky. I think you have to have a certain sense of humor to "get" the stories and how they all fit together, if they indeed do fit all together. (Some do fit together. I know. But do all twenty-six fit together? I'm not as sure of that.)

This one will definitely be for older readers, not preschoolers. This is NOT Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But I wouldn't say that it's a book that would appeal to one and all, a book with universal appeal. I could see how some readers might LOVE it and others not so much.

I liked some stories, some letters, better than others. A few I didn't like at all. A few I really did enjoy. But I didn't LOVE this one. I do think it's an interesting premise, however.

Text: 3.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3.5 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

Penguin in Peril. Helen Hancocks. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

One afternoon, three hungry cats ran out of food. They searched the house high and low and found three gold coins. They set off for the grocery store. On their way, the cats passed a movie theater. A movie called The Fishy Feast was playing. They handed over the three gold coins and went in. 

Three cats are inspired by a movie, The Fishy Feast, to kidnap a penguin. Why do they want a penguin? The way they see it, a penguin can catch fish for them. But will the kidnapped penguin agree to such a scheme? Or will the penguin find a way to escape? Will the cats' scheme result in a bounty of fish or in jail time?!

I liked this one. I can't say I loved it particularly. But I thought it was creative and playful. Definitely worth reading at least once.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 5

The Animals' Santa. Jan Brett. 2014. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

"It's your first Christmas Eve, Little Snow. The animals' Santa comes tonight!" Big Snowshoe told his little brother. "Who is the animals' Santa?" Little Snow asked. "We don't know who he is," Big Snowshoe said. "Did you ever see him?" Little Snow asked. "No," the forest animals chimed in. "But we find presents from him on Christmas."

For those of all ages who love Jan Brett, who love, love, love Jan Brett, I think you'll find much to love and appreciate in her newest picture book, The Animals' Santa. The Animals' Santa is in many ways similar to her previous books. (Incredibly detailed illustrations with animals and nature as the subject.)

In The Animals' Santa readers meet Little Snow, Big Snowshoe, and their animal friends. Every animal is happy to share what he/she knows about the "animals' Santa." One by one, they recall what they've received in previous years, trying to show Little Snow, the skeptic, that the animals' Santa is real, and, that he is coming that night. Every animal seems to have an idea of *who* the animals' Santa might be. But all the talking does little to change Little Snow's mind.

Readers will discover along with Little Snow and all the other animals just who the animals' Santa is. I was a bit surprised by the twist in this one, it was not who I was expecting it to be.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

The Book With No Pictures. B.J. Novak. 2014. Penguin. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

There are no illustrations in this picture book. The book exists in order to make adults reading aloud to children say silly things in silly voices. That is the oh-so-simple premise. That words can be entertaining even if they aren't accompanied by pictures. The premise isn't a bad one necessarily. That being said, I want pictures in a picture book. The text can be as over-the-top and silly and ridiculous as can be. It can say things like "My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt". It won't change my mind, I still want pictures.

I don't think it takes a picture-less book to get adults to read dramatically and make listeners giggle. I think that is just a part of reading books aloud to kids. Depending on the book, of course, some books may be funnier than others and allow for more opportunities.

The book is also "interactive" in that it addresses the reader directly. This has been done in other picture books, better picture books with actual illustrations. My favorite happens to be We Are In A Book by Mo Willems. And earlier this year there was Help! We Need a Title!

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: none
Total: 3 out of 5

The Great Thanksgiving Escape. Mark Fearing. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It was another Thanksgiving at Grandma's. "You can play in here with the rest of the kids," Gavin's mother told him. "We'll call you when the turkey's ready." "Have fun!" Gavin's dad called. But Gavin knew it was not going to be fun. Not fun at all. "Hey," someone whispered. It was his cousin Ronda. "What do you say we break out of here and head for the swing set in the backyard?"

How much fun will Gavin have on Thanksgiving at his Grandma's house? More fun that he expected at any rate, in large part due to his cousin, Rhonda. These two sneaky kids team up. The mission: escape the house and actually have some FUN. But it won't be easy. There are obstacles on the path to freedom. And one of those obstacles is "the GREAT WALL OF BUTTS!" There are also zombies to avoid. (Who are the zombies? The teenagers in the basement that are playing video games or on their phones/tablets.) There are SO MANY people in this house: dozens of adults, dozens of kids, dozens of teens. Gavin's family must be HUGE or else Grandma invited the whole neighborhood. Either way, Gavin is going to have a memorable Thanksgiving.

I didn't love this one. I didn't hate this one. I've never really found a Thanksgiving book that I actually loved.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Steve Sheinkin. 2014. Roaring Brook. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Wow! What a book! Port Chicago 50 is a compelling nonfiction read. It is informative and detailed, but, it never felt like it was too much, like it was too-information-heavy. It was fascinating and at times shocking. It examines HOW African-Americans were treated in the navy during the second world war. It deals with prejudice and discrimination and injustice. Specifically it focuses on a select group of soldiers stationed at Port Chicago. The soldiers moving explosives from docks to ships were all African-Americans. These soldiers received no special training or instructions. It didn't take them long to figure out that disaster could come at any time, that every day came with big, big risks. Disaster did come. It was awful. It changed the survivors--haunted the survivors. So when these men are asked weeks later to go back to work with explosives, well, some decide to say no. The book is ultimately about 50 men who decided that they did not want to obey orders to load explosives. About the consequences of their actions--or inaction as the case may be. The men were charged with mutiny and put on trial. Would justice be served? Would they have a fair hearing?

The Port Chicago 50 is emotional and fascinating. It was a beautifully written story about the fight for justice and equality. It was everything a nonfiction book should be.

Definitely recommended.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Courage for Beginners (2014)

Courage for Beginners. Karen Harrington. 2014. Little, Brown. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I would definitely recommend Karen Harrington's Courage for Beginners. This middle grade novel is a compelling coming of age novel. It would pair well, I think, with The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger.

Mysti Murphy is a seventh grader with special challenges. Her mom is agoraphobic; for as long as Mysti can remember her mom has been that way. Her dad does it all: all the driving, all the errands. But the fall of her seventh grade year, her dad has an accident, and ends up in the hospital in a coma for several months. The guy who has been her best friend--by all appearances--decides to drop her. She won't fit in with his new "hipster" persona. He's decided that by wearing a hipster hat and being a huge jerk, he'll become more popular with people who count. Mysti definitely doesn't count. At least when there's a small chance that others are watching. Mysti struggles. No doubt. The book is about her growing pains--everything going all wrong at once. But does she have the strength and courage to face her problems and cope with them?

I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed spending time with Mysti. I was very glad that she got to make some new friends. I thought there was a nice balance of scenes between home and school.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Family Romanov (2014)

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Candace Fleming. 2014. Random House. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

I've had this one checked out from the library for months, it seems. But once I actually started reading it, it moved quite quickly. That doesn't mean it was an "easy" read, however. It was just as dark and depressing as you might expect. It isn't always easy to read a book when you know the ending.

This one is rich in details, I thought. And it did a great job of putting everything into context, especially in terms of social classes. One got a feel for what life was like for the rich and the poor. It was easy to understand WHY the masses were ready for change, ready to rebel, ready to have a voice, ready to be taken seriously. Desperation. The book dwells on the desperation felt during these decades. That and despair. It's not an uplifting book. It's not a book with a lot of hope to it.

I think it authentically captures the times, the injustice of the times. And in a way, it is fascinating enough. But it's also heartbreaking. Because it doesn't matter if you're looking at the before or after picture, life was HORRIBLE, living conditions were awful.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. The Quilt Walk (2012)

The Quilt Walk. Sandra Dallas. 2012. Sleeping Bear Press. 215 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoy historical fiction. I do. And I enjoy a good pioneer story. The Quilt Walk is a middle grade pioneer story. It was satisfying for what it was.

Emmy Blue and her mom and dad are traveling with a wagon train to Golden, Colorado. Her aunt and uncle are also going. Her dad and uncle are the ones who really, really, really want to go. Her aunt and mom, well, they'd have been happy spending the rest of their lives right where they were. Her mom is more outwardly accepting of this change. Her aunt complains plenty. There are things she's sad about, things she's hopeful about.

The focus is on the journey for the most part. Readers meet several other characters traveling in the wagon train. Emmy and her mom make new friends. Emmy makes one friend close to her own age. Emmy makes several friends who are older than her. One woman is newly married. One woman has three children under the age of four. Every person has a story of their own. What will Emmy's story be?

Based on the title alone, one can suppose that her story has to do with a quilt. At the start of the journey, Emmy hates quilting. She does. Not that she's ever properly given it a go. She knows that her mom loves, loves, loves to quilt. Loves getting together with other ladies to quilt. But Emmy sees it as tedious and boring. But. Her grandmother gives her blocks to quilt together to make a quilt top for her doll. Blocks to piece together on the journey, on the trip. And her mom expects her to do just that. To piece this quilt together some each day. And Emmy does. And by the end, she might have begun to change her mind about quilting. At least a little bit.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. A Snicker of Magic (2014)

A Snicker of Magic. Natalie Lloyd. 2014. Scholastic. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

A Snicker of Magic would be a great choice for fans of Wendy Mass' 11 Birthdays or Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie. It has that oh-so-magical-feel to it, a certain rightness somewhere between charm and sweetness.

Felicity Pickle is the heroine of Natalie Lloyd's Snicker of Magic. She is oh-so-easy to love. She's a word-collector. She's an awkward public speaker. She doesn't have the easiest time making friends. But she's a wonderful person, very lovely. I loved seeing her relationship with her sister. I did. But nearly as much as I loved her developing relationship (friendship) with Jonah. I loved, loved, loved every scene between Jonah and Felicity. Well, to be honest, I loved most of the scenes in general. I loved meeting so many characters, hearing so many stories, learning all about the town in the past and present. I cared. To sum it all up, this is a book where it is easy to CARE.

Felicity is tired of moving around. She wants to find a place for them all to settle down. And she's really, really hoping that that place to settle down will be Midnight Gulch, the place her mom grew up, the place her aunt still lives. The novel opens with Felicity, Franny Jo, and their mom arriving in town...

From start to finish, the book is lovely. One of those rare books where you could open it up to almost any page and find something to smile about or a quote to share. For example: "Making new friends, in a new place, when you're the new girl, is harder than fractions" (25). That being said, I could have done with a little less spindiddly vocabulary.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Death of a Schoolgirl (2012)

Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]

My expectations were low, so I was quite pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this Jane Eyre mystery was. It may not be perfectly perfect from start to finish. There might be a paragraph or two here and there that bothered me. (For example, I didn't understand why Mrs. Fairfax was pushing Jane Eyre to take the family diamonds with her on her visit to Adele's school. Here she was going to check on the child's welfare, and Mrs. Fairfax is urging her to take jewels so she can dress up for her hosts in London?! I don't know if part of me thought it was foreshadowing--for better or worse--but when she put them in her reticule, I wanted to shout WHY are you traveling with expensive jewelry?!?! Why?! And sure enough--predictably enough--Jane Eyre gets robbed on her way to London. See! I told you not to take the family jewels!) But for the most part, I found the book to be an entertaining read.

Mrs. Rochester (aka Jane Eyre) is a new mother. She loves, loves, loves her new baby boy. But. When she receives a short letter from Adele with a French message included asking--begging--for help, she decides to leave her husband and son behind to check on Adele at her boarding school. If all is well, if it is just Adele being Adele, being childish and wanting her own way, then she may leave her at the school. If the school is less than ideal, if she does not like what she sees--how she sees the children being treated, if she thinks Adele's misery is justifiable, then she may take her out of the school. Because Jane Eyre was beaten up by the thief, because she doesn't particularly look RICH and IMPORTANT, she is initially mistaken as the new German teacher who was supposed to arrive several weeks earlier. That first day Jane Eyre is a bit flabbergasted and too overwhelmed to correct anyone. She has just learned that one of Adele's classmates was murdered. Eventually, one of the teachers convinces Jane that she should continue the deception, that she should resume her teaching duties temporarily and watch over the students herself. She debates what is best. Should she take Adele immediately to safety and let others solve the crime? Or should she become an amateur detective herself and work as a team with others to help solve the case?

Is Jane Eyre the best detective ever? Not really. But to me that almost doesn't matter. I liked spending time in her company. The setting intrigued me. I had never placed Jane Eyre in the Regency time period. But here we have the sequel set during the reign of George IV, and Queen Caroline, the scandalous Queen Caroline has not died yet. This places the book within a specific time frame. The sprinkling of historical details may not speak to all readers. Little details can be easily dismissed or ignored. But to me it's the little things that help ground a book. The book does deal with prejudices and judgments: how the lower classes feel about the upper classes, how the poor feel about the rich, how the rich feel about the poor, do they see them as human, are they compassionate and kind, or, haughty or cruel. One of the characters is VERY prejudiced against French people. Again and again we see characters making judgments or being judged. Sometimes the people that are being judged in certain situations are making judgments about others just a chapter or two later.

There were places I loved this one. There were places I merely liked it. But at times it just felt RIGHT. Maybe it didn't feel RIGHT cover to cover. But I read it quickly and enjoyed it very much.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Wednesdays in the Tower (2013)

Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Even though it has only been two years since I've read Tuesdays at the Castle, I remembered very little about the characters and the plot. So I was hoping that Wednesdays in the Tower would not prove too tricky or challenging. Within pages, I was hooked. I read this one cover to cover without putting it down even once. I do have to say that it has a great opening which worked in its favor: "There are a lot of things that can hatch out of an egg. A chicken, for example. Or a dragon. And when the egg in question is the size of a pumpkin, and almost as orange, not to mention burning hot, you know that you're far more likely to get a dragon than a chicken."

Princess Celie and her family live at Castle Glower. The castle is without a doubt one of the more interesting in literature. This castle has a mind of its own. It does what it wants, when it wants. Usually on Tuesday is when it decides to add rooms, or, perhaps take away rooms. It isn't always adding or subtracting. Sometimes it's rearranging. One thing is for certain, only a handful of people know their way around all the rooms in the Castle. And Princess Celie is trying her best to provide a map or atlas of the ever-changing castle.

As I said, usually the castle is full of surprises on Tuesday. However, it is a Wednesday when Celie discovers a new room, and not just the room, but an egg. The castle leads Celie to this room again and again, but only when she's alone. Anytime she tries to bring someone else, to show them what she's found, it's vanished.

Essentially Wednesdays in the Tower concerns Celie and what hatches from the egg. Also about the magic of the castle as well, trying to understand how the castle works and why it does what it does when it does. In other words, the history of the Castle in general and how it connects with what hatched from the egg.

I found this a quick and enjoyable read. I liked Celie. I liked her siblings and parents. I liked getting to know her friends. I probably would have appreciated them all a bit more if I remembered Tuesdays at the Castle. But. Sometimes it's good to know that a book can be read alone or out of sequence.

The ending. Did it leave me wanting more? Yes. Was that how it should have been? I think so. Not that I'm a fan of cliffhanger endings. But. When the opening of a book and the ending of a book leave you wanting more it can't be a bad thing. Of course, if I'd read this book when it first came out, I might have felt frustrated. But the sequel will be out soon.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. My Cousin Rachel (1951)

My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]

Years ago I read and enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I've been meaning to read more of her books ever since. My Cousin Rachel is the second of hers that I've read. I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I enjoyed it more than Rebecca. But I think it is safe to say that if you enjoyed Rebecca you will also (most likely) enjoy My Cousin Rachel.

My Cousin Rachel is narrated by Philip Ashley. He is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's estate. Ambrose took him in and raised him essentially. These two are close as can be. Daphne du Maurier knows how to do foreshadowing. In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, she uses it generously giving readers time to prepare for tough times ahead. In this case, the foreshadowing is about Ambrose's trip abroad and his surprise wedding to a young woman, coincidentally a distant cousin, named Rachel. Rachel is a widow he meets in Italy. Instead of returning home to England, these two settle down in Italy--Florence, I believe. Philip is angsty to say the least. How dare my cousin do this to me! How dare he marry someone he barely knows! Philip spends months imagining Rachel's character and personality. She has to have an agenda! She has to be manipulative and scheming. She has to be TROUBLE. Now Philip doesn't voice his concerns to everyone he meets. He is more guarded, almost aware that it's silly of him to have this strong a reaction to someone he's never met. But Ambrose's happily ever after is short-lived. And not just because he dies. Ambrose wrote mysterious letters to Philip over several months. In these letters, Philip sees that all is not well. That there is something to his prejudice against Rachel. It seems that Ambrose has regrets, big regrets, about Rachel. The moodiest of all these letters reaches Philip after Ambrose's death.

So. What will Philip think of Rachel once he actually meets her? What will she think of him? Will they be friends or enemies? Will they trust one another? Should they trust one another? Whose story is based in reality? Is Rachel's accounting of Ambrose's last months true? Or was Ambrose right to mistrust Rachel? Will Philip be wise enough and objective enough to know what is going on?

The author certainly gives readers plenty to think about. Readers get almost all their information filtered through Philip's perspective. But I suppose the dialogue in the book might provide more. If one can trust Philip's recollection of it.

I think My Cousin Rachel is a character-driven horror novel. Though I'm not sure if horror is the right description. It is certainly creepy and weird. Not all horror novels star vampires and werewolves and ghosts and zombies.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Late Scholar (2014)

The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed The Late Scholar enough while reading it, for the most part, but the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. I have liked or enjoyed Jill Paton Walsh's sequels to Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter mysteries. The Late Scholar is set in the 1950s. (I'm not sure if it's early, mid, or late 50s. But Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, I believe.) The novel opens with the Duke of Denver (aka Lord Peter Wimsey) learning that he is a Visitor at Oxford. He is being called upon to settle a dispute among the fellows. The person--ultimately one of many suspects, I suppose--who initially requested his interference comes to regret it. Lord Peter is thorough. He doesn't want to just cast a vote on a controversial topic without any thought. He wants to study the situation, learn both sides, draw his own conclusions about what is best. The dispute is about selling a medieval book to get the money to buy land next door that has come up for sell. Is land more valuable to the college than one book in the library? Or is the ancient book more valuable to the college than a piece of real estate? It wouldn't be a mystery book if it didn't turn to violence and murder. Lord Peter, Harriet Vane, and Bunter must follow all the clues to catch a murderer or two.

There were a few things that felt a bit off, that kept this one from feeling like a genuine, authentic Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery. I allow some change would be natural enough. Two decades would change a person, would change a couple. But the changes in a way have a very surface feel to them. I'm not sure the characters have the depth that they need, they are very much reliant on familiarity with the original.

I have not reread the whole (original) series, but, Lord Peter seems changed and not always for the better. I could not show you a passage where Lord Peter reveals a personal faith in God. But I have a feeling I would have remembered if Lord Peter revealed a cold mockery for Christianity and/or stated openly and unashamedly that he did NOT believe in God. There were a few uncomfortable scenes in Late Scholar where Peter's atheism comes to light, I suppose. It was done in an almost ha, ha, don't be silly, of course I don't believe in God kind of way. It just struck me as wrong. I'm not saying that I consider Lord Peter evangelical. But. I always got the impression that he believed there was a God, that at the very least he was agnostic. The reason this strikes me as wrong is that Dorothy Sayers was a Christian, she wrote Christian books. I've read some of her theological essays and they are quite good. I just don't see HER Lord Peter being one to make light of or mock Christianity or the Bible or the fundamental belief that there is a God. Of course times have changed. Decades have passed since his creation, so maybe modern readers assume that naturally Lord Peter is "smart enough" to have outgrown any idea of God.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King. Laura Andersen. 2013. Ballantine. 358 pages. [Source: Library]

Alternate history. What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted and needed? What if she survived her husband instead of being beheaded? What if Henry VIII had only had TWO wives? What if Elizabeth and her younger brother grew up with both parents, relatively happy? King William is that son. His father has died, and, he though under the age of 18, has been England's king. He faces challenges, every king does, and those challenges are what The Boleyn King is all about. The book has four narrators: William and Elizabeth (royal siblings) and Minuette and Dominic (close and trusted friends of both William and Elizabeth). Minuette seems to be the type of heroine that no male character can resist. Elizabeth somewhat secretly is in love with a married man, no surprises as to who that is. William is being pressured to marry well. Will his choice be a) Mary, Queen of Scots b) Jane Grey c) a French princess d) someone of his own choice that will upset his advisers and the court just as much as his father's decision to marry Anne Boleyn. This is the start of a trilogy...

The good news: It's a quick read. I read it in one day. It is also a premise-driven book. For readers who find the premise intriguing, this one is worth the read. Especially if one can get it from the library. Just in case. I liked seeing which characters avoided death and disaster. I don't know if these characters will continue to have happily ever afters, of, if they'll find themselves in troubles of a different sort. But. It was an interesting enough read.

The bad news: It's light on history. This one focuses more on fictional characters than on real people. And the characters based on real people aren't always that accurate. This makes some sense for some characters whose lives were very different in this alternate universe. But this may leave some readers disappointed that there isn't more substance and depth. If you're looking for a character-driven book, this one might disappoint. Also. It definitely is trying to appeal more to romance readers than historical readers. If that makes sense.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Good Night, Mr. Tom (1981)

Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Michelle Magorian. 1981. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

 "Yes," said Tom bluntly, on opening the front door. "What d'you want?"
A harassed middle-aged woman in a green coat and felt hat stood on his step. He glanced at the armband on her sleeve. She gave him an awkward smile.
"I'm the Billeting Officer for this area," she bagan.
"Oh yes, and what's that got to do wi' me?"
She flushed slightly. "Well, Mr., Mr..."
"Oakley. Thomas Oakley."
"Ah, thank you, Mr Oakley." She paused and took a deep breath. "Mr Oakley with the declaration of war imminent..."
Tom waved his hand. "I knows all that. Git to the point. What d'you want?" He noticed a small boy at her side.
"It's him I've come about," she said. "I'm on my way to your village hall with the others."

 Read this book. Read it. At the very least, you should consider watching the movie adaptation. I doubt you regret meeting Willie Beech and Tom Oakley.

Goodnight Mister Tom is set during the early months of World War II. For the most part, it is set in the English countryside. William (Willie) Beech is one of many children being evacuated to the country for safety reasons. Willie has been assigned to a widower, Tom Oakley. Willie isn't quite sure what to think about his new home? Everything in the country seems to surprise him including Tom's dog, Sammy. Tom isn't quite sure what to think about Willie either. He's a bit puzzled because Willie does act a bit off. It's not just the fact that he's never been out of the city. Willie doesn't know how to read or write even though he's almost nine. (He also wets the bed.)

Tom soon learns enough to get him good and angry. Willie arrives essentially with nothing but the clothes he has on. But his mom has included a belt with a note on how and when to use it on her son. Tom soon sees the evidence of abuse for himself.

It was oh-so-easy to care for the characters, especially Tom and Willie. As Willie spends time in the country, it is in many ways his first taste of safety and freedom. And love and kindness. And stability. And friendship. I loved seeing Tom with Willie. I loved his patience and firmness. I loved his kindness and encouragement. I loved seeing Tom work with Willie on his writing and reading. I loved seeing them read together every day. I loved seeing Tom encourage Willie with his drawing.

Willie also finds friends his own age. His best, best friend is a Jewish boy named Zach. Plenty of time is spent with Willie and Zach and their other friends and/or classmates.

The novel is both intense and ultimately satisfying. It it intense for multiple reasons. I expected it to be intense because of the war. And it was. I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be intense for psychological reasons. The novel is ultimately satisfying, but, don't expect sweet scene after sweet scene. The sweetness is found in friendship and hope, but, there are some bitter shocks as well. 

I loved this one. I did. I loved, loved, loved the characters. I am so glad I read this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. The Orphan and the Mouse (2014)

The Orphan and the Mouse. Martha Freeman. Illustrated by David McPhail. 2014. Holiday House. 220 pages. [Source: Library]

I definitely enjoyed reading Martha Freeman's The Orphan and the Mouse, a fantasy novel inspired by E.B. White's Stuart Little. The book is set in 1949. (Note: I haven't read Stuart Little, but, this novel tempts me to seek it out.) This fantasy is told through multiple perspectives: a few mice, one cat who loves to hunt mice, a couple of orphans, and a practically evil orphanage director. It is illustrated by David McPhail.

I liked this one. I liked the setting. It took some time for me to get hooked on the actual story, but, no time at all to get hooked on the premise of the story. I liked the characters. Mary, the mouse heroine, was a great narrator. I also came to care for Caro, one of the orphans living at the Cherry Street Children's Home. The book offers some suspense and mystery, though often the reader knows much more than the characters in the book. Readers get to watch the characters put it all together and possibly maybe save the day.

I also really appreciated the length of the chapters!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Ten 2014 Picture Books

The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One evening, Little Mouse peered out of her hole. She was looking at the moon. "The moon is beautiful," she said as she settled down to sleep. "I would love to have my very own piece of the moon."

I enjoyed reading The Mouse Who Ate The Moon. I liked Little Mouse very much. One night Little Mouse wishes she could have a piece of the moon. The next morning, she discovers that her wish has come true. She is delighted to find a piece of the yellow moon had fallen from the sky and landed on her doorstep. She never expected it. She also didn't expect to be tempted by it, tempted to want to eat it. One thing leads to another, and soon Little Mouse is convinced that she's eaten HALF the moon and the sky will never be the same again... Her friends try to gently tell her that she's just being silly. NO ONE can eat the moon they say again and again and again. Can her good friends cheer her up again?

I love the illustrations. I love "the piece of the moon" that Little Mouse discovers. Readers may realize the truth about "the moon" long before Little Mouse does! It is a simple story that is beautifully illustrated.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

The Way to the Zoo. John Burningham. 2014. Candlewick. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

One evening, just before Sylvie went to sleep, she thought she could see a door in the wall of her bedroom. She decided to look again in the morning to see if the door was really there. In the morning, Sylvie was late for school and forgot about the door until bedtime. 

What will Sylvie find when she opens the door? You'll want to read this one and find out for yourself.  (Or you could read the title and take a guess, I suppose!) I loved John Burningham's The Way to the Zoo. It was oh-so-magical for me. I loved the story progression. How Sylvie brings back animals--small animals, mainly--back to her own room night after night. I loved how careful she was with this magic. She always made sure to leave the door closed. But I also loved that there was just this one time when she forgot...

The story is just fun and joyful. I loved seeing what happened next, what animals she brought back with her. I loved the story, I did. But I didn't love the illustrations. At least not as much as I loved the text itself.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10


Alexander, Who's Trying His Best To Be The Best Boy Ever. Judith Viorst. Illustrated by Isidre Mones. Simon & Schuster. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Can Alexander be "the best boy ever" for one whole week?! After suffering the consequences of eating a whole box of donuts, Alexander sets out to prove that he CAN and WILL be good, better than good, the BEST. His parents and his brothers may have their doubts, big doubts, that Alexander can stay away from trouble for even just a day or two. But Alexander has something to prove to himself. His goal is ambitious, his temptations are many. At home and at school, everywhere he goes Alexander is tempted. There are so many things he wants to do during those six or seven days that are a bit naughty--some more naughty than others perhaps. What will Alexander learn about himself during this week? Is it good or bad that he learned it? Will readers agree or disagree with Alexander's conclusions?

I liked it. I didn't love it.


Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10 


Druthers. Matt Phelan. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

It was raining. And raining. And RAINING. "I'm bored," said Penelope. "If you had your druthers, what would you do?" asked her Daddy. "What are druthers?" "Druthers are what you would rather do if you could do anything at all." 

I really enjoyed reading Matt Phelan's Druthers. I loved how Penelope and her Dad played together on a rainy day. I loved turning the pages to see what she wanted to do next. Each activity was a "druther" of course. For example, wanting to go to the zoo, wanting to be a cowgirl, wanting to go to the moon, etc. Each druther leads to a fun opportunity for this father and daughter to explore together. This is a book that celebrates imaginative play. It also celebrates family! (I suppose you could also say the book handles disappointments as well.) The book is very sweet. I definitely recommend it.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


Frances Dean Who Loved To Dance and Dance. Birgitta Sif. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Once there was a girl whose name was Frances Dean. She loved to dance and dance. 

Frances Dean loves to dance. She does. She loves, loves, loves to dance. But only in private. Only outside surrounded by nature. In front of people, well, Frances Dean gets too shy to dance. Will meeting a little girl who loves to sing inspire her to share her love of dance with another person? It just might! 

I love the illustrations. I do. This is a beautiful book. The story and illustrations are charming. I love how passionate Frances Dean is. This book is dedicated to "all those who live with all their heart."

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10


A Bunny in the Ballet. Robert Beck. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Of the great many things in this world that we rabbits LOVE to do, ballet dancing tops the list! At least it does for me, Desiree Rabbit. But there were NO BUNNIES in the ballet until I came along. And this is my story...

Desiree is a bunny with big dreams. She is a Parisian bunny that wants to study ballet. She loves it so much. Dancing is her life, her passion. She adores ballet. If only she can convince a couple of humans to give her a real chance to learn and perform. Will Desiree achieve her dreams? Will she dance in a ballet? 

This one is a cute read. It's predictable, I suppose. But charming too. I definitely enjoyed some of the illustrations. There were one or two that were just so very right. (I liked the illustrations of Desiree better than the illustrations of the humans in her life.)

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10


My Pet Book. Bob Staake. 2014. Random House. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Most pets, you know, are cats and dogs. Go out and take a look. But there's a boy in Smartytown whose pet is... a little book. 

The boy in this story has a book for a pet. It's not that his parents wouldn't allow a cat or a dog, but, that this boy really wanted a pet book. The premise is quirky and not without potential. For some readers, this one may prove completely charming. 

My problem with the Pet Book was not the premise. I found the rhythm and rhyme to be a bit off or unnatural. The rhyming just didn't work for me. And it felt like it was the need to rhyme that was driving the book, the story. For example when the book "runs away," this is the rhyme we're "treated" to:
"He ran away! He ran away!" The boy began to bleat. "How could a pet book run away without a pair of feet?" 
It continues, 
The maid could hear the crying boy. (That sound was such a rarity.) "I think I know what happened..." (gulp) "I gave your book to...charity."
Text: 2 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 4 out of 5

The Good-Pie Party. Elizabeth Garton Scanlon. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Posy Peyton doesn't want to move. 

Posy Peyton may not want to move, but, Posy Peyton really doesn't have a choice in the matter. What she does have a choice in perhaps is how to handle it, how to cope with it. And one of the ways she does handle it is by baking in the kitchen with her friends. (The kitchen is the only room in the house that hasn't been boxed up...yet.) What she discovers is that GOOD PIE is better than saying good bye. And so inspiration comes, they throw a good-pie party and invite their friends and neighbors. Everyone is to bring a pie....

I liked this one.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

Say Hello Like This! Mary Murphy. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

A dog hello is licky and loud...like this!
bow-wow-wow-wow!
A cat hello is prissy and proud...like this!
purrrrrr...meow

Say Hello Like This! is a fun, playful book to read aloud to little ones. It is all about the animal sounds! It is also rich in descriptive words. (licky, loud, prissy, proud, silly, happy, tiny, tappy, etc.)

I would recommend this one as a read aloud. I love the bright illustrations.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

The Midnight Library. Kazuno Kohara. 2014. Roaring Brook. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Once there was a library that opened only at night. A little librarian worked there with her three assistant owls. Every night, animals came to the library from all over the town. And the little librarian and her three assistant owls helped each and every one find a perfect book. 

I really, really liked this one. I still don't know what it is about it that I do like so very much. If it is the illustrations. If it is the premise. But there is just something magical about this one for me. I find myself mesmerized by the illustrations. Most picture books are after all illustrated in more than three colors. (Midnight Library is all black, blue, and yellow.) They are simple too. Yet I find myself spending time looking at the illustrations carefully. I find the story charming. My favorite part? Well, I guess that would be when the little librarian insists that the tortoise gets a library card. The image of him with the book on his back, it just makes me smile!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. The Magic Half (2007)

The Magic Half. Annie Barrows. 2007. Bloomsbury. 212 pages. [Source: Library]

Miri is the middle child in a large family. She has twin older brothers--Ray and Robbie--and twin younger sisters--Nell and Nora. The family has just moved into a new house, a not-so-new house. Miri's room used to be part of the attic, it is a bit unusual, and not just because of the super-ugly wallpaper. But Miri only comes to realize this a week or two after the move. One afternoon after a horrible fight that ends in punishment for Miri, she discovers something that will change everything. The discovery? A single lens from a pair of glasses taped to the wall near the floor. She looks through the lens. She's curious like that. And that's when it happens. She finds herself in 1935. She meets Molly. Molly's mom is dead, her dad is out of the picture--has been out of the picture for six years. Molly is "being raised" by her aunt alongside her cousins. Think Jane Eyre. That's really all I have to say about Molly's situation! Molly is convinced that Miri is her savior, could Molly be right? Has Miri traveled to the past to save Molly? And what does it mean to save Molly? Does that mean taking her back to the future? How would that even work? So many questions Miri has! She'll need to brainstorm if she's going to succeed.

I liked The Magic Half. I like fantasy novels. I like time travel stories. Is it the best book ever? Is it the best time travel story ever? Probably not. But it doesn't have to be the best for me to like it, to enjoy it. This one might pair well with Laurel Snyder's Seven Stories Up.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Silver Like Dust

Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library]

Silver Like Dust focuses on the relationship of a grandmother and granddaughter. The author--the granddaughter--wants to strengthen her relationship with her grandmother. At the start, she feels like she barely knows her. She knows a few things, perhaps, but not in a real-enough way. For example, she knows that her grandmother spent world war 2 in an internment camp. She knows that that is where her grandparents met, and also where her uncle was born. But her grandmother has never talked about the past, about the war, about her growing-up years. In fact, her grandmother has always been a private, quiet person. So she focuses her attention and begins to do things intentionally. She sets out to get to know her grandmother, she sets out to get the story, the real story. The book isn't just telling readers about the grandmother's experiences in the 1940s. The book is telling readers about the process, the journey, to getting to the story. That was unique, I thought. Not every nonfiction book lets readers in behind the scenes. I also thought it kept the book personal. This is very much family history, taking an interest in your family, in the past, of making sense of it all.

I found it an interesting read.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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