Saturday, April 18, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

By Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Published 2014 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Book for Young Readers
This is a very simple exploration of Copeland's career path to becoming the dancer she is today. It is inspiring, and will definitely encourage young women, particularly those of color, to dream big. I wanted to like this book more than I did, though. For me, the text stumbles a few times and didn't really achieve the level I hoped for. The illustrations are nice - they capture the beauty and movement of dance quite well. I wish a bit that the book hadn't focused specifically on the Firebird role - one that I'm not at all familiar with - and been just a bit more general, but maybe that's just me.

Louise Loves Art
By Kelly Light
Published 2014 by Balzer + Bray
This is a great story about both art and siblings. Louise loves creating art and she loves her little brother, Art, as well. But when Art tries to help Louise with her other love, he helps in that way that all people who've known helpful young children will recognize. Louise very gracefully forgives and helps Art discover how he truly can be helpful. It's a very sweet story and the illustrations are great as well. A new fun title for talking about art with kids.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a very simple yet beautiful book about a young Matisse and how he found the inspiration to become the artist he is known as today. MacLachlan's prose is absolutely stunning - just a few words per page but they add up to something quite beautiful indeed. Hooper's illustrations are soft and complement the text excellently. I loved how evident it was exactly what level of work went into creating this lovely book. I quite love the rise in wonderful picture book biographies.

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree
By Naoko Stoop
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I picked this up because I love Stoop's style - she's actually an artist I discovered on Etsy before she had published anything. I find Red Knit Cap Girl quite charming and, of course, her reading tree appeals to me as a librarian (with some minor concerns for the welfare of the books kept in said tree). It's a cute story about the value of libraries and reading without being too in your face. The illustrations are just so charming. I'm not sure how kids will feel about it; I'd love to have a library-themed storytime to find out!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review: Hunger

Hunger (Gone, book two)
By Michael Grant
Published 2009 by Katherine Tegen Books

Read my review of book one.

 It's been three months and life inside the FAYZ is only getting worse. Sam is not sure he wants to be in charge anymore but no one else is stepping up. With more kids developing powers every day and the food supply dwindling at an alarming rate, someone needs to be the boss. And the job will only be more difficult when The Darkness is discovered - calling kids, and changing them.

So, I was an extremely latecomer to this series and, as is the typical pattern of my life, even later to finish it. This book, book two, was first published in 2009; I didn't read book one until 2012 and it took my until 2015 to pick up book two. But! I have book three currently checked out from the library, with every intention of finishing the series before the year is over (we'll see how I do).

Since it had been such a long time between books, it took me a few chapters to get back into the story. Luckily, Grant is pretty good at keeping readers guessing and engaged with the story - so many new developments happen in this book that, even if I hadn't waited so long between books, I still would have been in for surprises around every corner.

As the title makes glaringly obvious, the main focus of this book is the extremely limited food supply that the characters find themselves with. The crazy powers that they (and apparently other creatures) have developed make procuring more food a bit of a challenge. Grant doesn't shy away from exploring the extreme lengths starving people will go to in their attempts to remedy their desperate situation. Much like the first book (and, I imagine, the rest of the series) this is not for the faint of heart. There are some nasty characters doing terrible and twisted things in this book and I appreciate that Grant is not afraid of going to that dark place.

On a similar note, I liked the introduction of new characters as well as learning more about previously minor characters. I worry a bit that it will get to be too overwhelming in future volumes, though I think I can say with confidence that some of these characters are not going to last the whole series. There are still characters who I'd like to know even more about, so I'm interested to see if I get my wish.

Though I enjoyed the book (and am hugely impressed by how Grant can make 500 pages fly by), it didn't grip me quite as much as the first. Like I said, I have book three out from the library, so I'm still wanting to know what will happen next. If you have any readers who haven't read this series yet, I think I'm safe to recommend it - for fans of action, dystopia, and conflict.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


If you were here last week, you probably noticed my break from regular reviewing. And then you probably also noticed an immediate resumption of pretty much just reviews as usual. I still worry that my little forays outside of reviewing are just one voice, lost in the crowd, but I feel more sure of the importance of saying something when I feel like doing so.

On that note, if you were on Twitter on Tuesday, I hope you noticed and followed the #ToTheGirls hashtag. It was conceived of by YA author Courtney Summers, to coincide with the release of her newest book, All the Rage (about which I've heard nothing but immense praise), and to reach out to young women where they're at. The purpose of the hashtag was to let young women know the things we wish we'd known when we were there age, the things that other people might try to hide from them.

I have to admit - I kind of forgot about the hashtag until I opened Twitter on Tuesday (y'all, my memory is just NOT GOOD). But, immediately, I saw so many inspiring tweets. I had goosebumps. Tears. So many warm fuzzies. And so much anger. Anger that something like this is so necessary, that young women so often are not allowed to just be themselves, that some people try so hard to stifle them and stuff them into little boxes that they think are the definition of being a woman. Anger that it took almost 30 years for me to get to the point where I felt confident enough to offer advice to the next generation of young women, advice that I desperately could have used myself as a young woman.

But, it's important not to dwell on that anger because, ultimately, the hashtag gave me joy. Unbelievable joy. To see so many voices calling out and supporting young women. To know that some of those voices joined in despite threats or other people trying to suppress them. To feel inspired enough to compose my own tweets.

Though I don't know Courtney Summers personally, I am so proud of her for this beautiful bit of the internet she created for the girls - and I hope we can make it a little bit bigger every day.

You can read some of the beautiful and inspiring messages by searching Twitter for the hashtag: #ToTheGirls. You can also read articles about the movement at Huffington Post and The New York Times. Most importantly, you can keep the message alive by encouraging and supporting the young women in your life in any way you can.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Anyone but Ivy Pocket

Anyone but Ivy Pocket
By Caleb Krisp
Expected publication April 21, 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Ivy is a young maid who find herself in need of a new position. Luckily, she is summoned by a wealthy and dying Duchess, who enlists her help in carrying out her final wishes. Unfortunately, doing so puts Ivy in unimaginable danger. It's a good thing Ivy has such a plucky spirit - otherwise, she'd never survive.

I'm pretty sure this was a title I downloaded simply because it was middle-grade and it sounded like it might be fun. I'm not really sure what to make of this book in the end.

I had a really hard time getting into this. First, Ivy is a bit of a pill. It was never entirely clear to me if she was meant to satirical or serious, so I struggled with her as character. Her personality doesn't really change throughout the story and her inability to think any way other than her way leads to some frustrating moments. Additionally, I had a hard time believing Ivy as a 12-year-old. Well, perhaps that statement isn't exactly true. I had a hard time believing she was a 12-year-old with a full-time job that no one seemed all that concerned about. Partly because of Ivy's character, I also struggled with the tone of this one. Is the whole thing meant to be a satire, poking fun at characters like Amelia Bedelia? Or are we meant to take Ivy and her situation seriously? I don't know and the tone doesn't make it any clearer. Additionally, Ivy's inability to think outside her own little box seems to be the only thing that really drives the plot forward. This makes for a somewhat tiring sequence of events.

However, the plot does pick up a bit eventually. Readers are introduced to the complicated history of the artifact Ivy has been tasked with delivering and it's pretty interesting. There seem to be hints of more books in the future; certainly there is a very complex secret society kind of thing going on that could be further explored in future volumes. If there are to be more books about Ivy, I don't think I'll be coming back for them. Overall, there wasn't enough in this to capture my interest. Other reviews seem to generally be more favorable, and there is certainly a history of characters like Ivy in successful children's literature, so your mileage may vary.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Release Day Review: Jack

Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk
By Liesl Shurtliff
Expected publication April 14, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Jack is the seven-greats grandson of the infamous Jack the Giant Killer and he knows it's only a matter of time before he lives up to that kind of destiny. So, when giants descend from the sky and kidnap his father, Jack knows his moment has arrived. It turns out, though, that giant slaying is not as easy as it sounded and the world where the giants live is more complicated than Jack had imagined.

So, you might know by now that I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings. Shurtliff's debut, Rump, was on last year's state reading list and I just recently listened to the audio version. I'm really glad I managed to squeeze it in before reading this one.

Though you needn't have read the first book to enjoy this one, I think the experience of Jack is made richer if you have. In fact, I think that was my favorite thing about this book - seeing how Shurtliff tied the world she'd created in the first into the new world she was building in the second. I thought it was brilliantly done and I loved coming upon characters and situations I knew from the first book. As I said, it's not necessary to have read Rump before reading this one - it is almost an entirely new set of characters and any reappearing characters are introduced as though the reader would be unfamiliar with them. Surprisingly, I didn't find this annoying - I think Shurtliff managed to make a read that would be richer for having read the first book but not alienating if you hadn't. Like I said, this was my favorite thing about this book and now I'm eager to see what other stories she'll introduce to this world.

As for this story on its own, I quite enjoyed it. I thought Jack was a fun character, though I admit I liked his little sister just a bit more. I admired Jack's desire to rescue his dad and live up to his name, even though it led to some frustrating moments. I enjoyed the appearance of a variety of fairy tale creatures and I liked the perspective that Jack brought to the world Above, particularly as it contrasted with the perspectives in Rump.

The book does get a little message-y at the end, but it is a good message and one that I think speaks particularly to children (it certainly would have spoken to me as a child), so it didn't bother me too much. Even if it does get too preachy for some readers, it's really a small fraction of an otherwise action-packed and exciting story, so they shouldn't mind too much.

As I said, I'm looking forward to seeing what other tales Shurtliff will introduce to this world - it looks like Red's story will be next! Very enjoyable and I can imagine lots of patrons I'll be sharing this one with!

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

This Book Just Ate My Dog!
By Richard Byrne
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
I mean, this book is exactly what it sounds like - completely breaks the fourth wall when Bella, the main character, walks her dog, who is then summarily devoured by the spine of the book. Kinda weird and maybe a bit disturbing, but interactive and different. I'd have to use this with a group of kids to see gauge their reactions to it, but it was just okay for me.

By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
Once again, this book is exactly what it sounds like - the characters are playing a game of telephone. In this case, the characters are birds on a telephone wire - just for extra punniness. Mama bird wants to get a message to her baby bird, so she sends it down the line. Of course, as we all know, the message gets garbled along the way. Each bird seems to hear the message based on its interests (which we get clues to through their appearances). Everything works out in the end, and this is a fun book. The illustrations strike me as rather sophisticated, though I think the complement the simplicity of the text pretty well. Obviously, this is a good way to teach about rumors and the art of listening.

The World According to Musk Ox
By Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
I've been a big fan of Musk Ox's previous books, so I was pretty excited to see the newest one. Musk Ox and Zebra travel the world, exploring continents and landmarks. The trademark humor is once again present, rife with puns and visual humor. The illustrations are, once again, bold and eye-catching, and I just love the style. My main complaint about these books is that they're not really meant for storytime settings. This makes me sad because I want to share them as much as I can!

Flora and the Penguin
By Molly Idle
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
Please, please, please tell me this means that we are going to get a whole beautiful series of Flora books! As much as I'm terrified of birds, these books are too lovely to ignore. I would absolutely relish a series of books with Flora dancing with a different kind of bird in each - I hope Molly Idle is listening! In this volume, Flora tries her hand at ice dancing with a new penguin friend. Soon, though, Flora gets a bit of a big head. Can she and the penguin collaborate again? I wish I had even a fraction of the talent of Idle - I just want to frame every page of this book and hang it on my wall. Simply lovely to look at, this is a book I'll be giving to the special children in my life for a long time to come.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: No Normal

No Normal (Ms. Marvel, Volume One)
By G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona
Published 2014 by Marvel

Kamala Khan loves superheroes but she never imagines she could be one herself. Inexplicably, though, that is exactly what happens. Now, Kamala must figure out what being a superhero means - particularly for a Pakistani American Muslim teenager.

I picked this one up for YALSA's Hub Challenge and because I'd heard lots of rave reviews about it. I figured it was time to see what the fuss was about.

To be honest, I didn't love this one. I wanted to like it more than I actually did. However, I think this is completely my own personal bias - I've never really read superhero comics and I don't have a lot of interest in them (in fact, I kind of roll my eyes at the sheer amount of superhero comics that exist). When I pick graphic novels, I tend to choose the ones that more closely resemble my other reading interests - horror, historical, mystery, literary, etc. That's not to say that I would never enjoy a superhero comic, but, generally speaking, they're not really my bag.

So, perhaps I was predisposed to be a bit underwhelmed by this one. I appreciated the diversity of the main character and female superhero - YAY! But, I felt like most of the characters were not developed beyond a superficiality and that was disappointing. Also, while I liked Kamala's journey to figure out how best to use her powers, I thought the actual plot was pretty uninspired. Obviously it hints at bigger bads to come, but I just didn't find it all that interesting. That being said, I'll probably check out the next volume, but my expectations will be much lower this time around.