Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Almost Forever

Almost Forever
By Maria Testa
Published 2007 by Candlewick Press

One day, a dad receives a letter. He must go to Vietnam. How long will he be gone? One year. But that year feels almost like forever to his young daughter...

This was a really quick read but it packs quite a punch. This tells the story of war from a young child's eyes, who can't understand why her dad has to go and why her mom worries so much. I found it very easy to fall into this story and the characters were easy to relate to. I think this is a great story for children of today's generation - another generation of children too young to understand war and why their parents had to leave. Testa's novel also speaks to the power of familial love and while it can feel like forever and maybe you start to forget a little, ultimately you can't forget your family. A very rich verse story.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!
By Mo Willems
Published 2011 by Balzer + Bray

A collection of six (and a half) short stories about two friends, this is the latest offering by Willems. I became a gigantic, huge, enormous fan of his after reading the Elephant and Piggie books. Then I learned that Willems is basically a superhero because he used to work on Sesame Street. He is pretty much one of my favorite children's book creators. This book was no exception - the stories are delightful and fun and highlight friendship in the best possible way. His illustrations are simple and pure but complement his stories so perfectly. I find everything he produces to just be an absolute delight and can't wait to share all of his work with anyone I ever meet. As a side note, I actually saw Willems walking around at the ALA conference in June (the only time I saw an author not at an event or signing) but didn't say anything as he was with his daughter (or it appeared that way).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: The Day Before

The Day Before
By Lisa Schroeder
Published 2011 by Simon Pulse

Amber just wants one perfect day. By herself. But, when she sees a really cute boy her age admiring the jellyfish at the aquarium with the same intensity as her, she thinks that maybe the "by herself" part of the deal is flexible...

I'm pretty sure that I've read all of Schroeder's young adult work and found it enjoyable if somewhat repetitive. However, this, her newest, I liked best of all. This was less melodramatic than her previous titles and I found that a welcome change. I liked that the stories of Amber and Cade were revealed in bits and pieces throughout the novel and I thought their chemistry was realistic. This was a very quick and easy read and I think it will appeal greatly to fans of contemporary YA novels. There was enough of a touch of melodrama and romance and it all blended together well to make this a really well-told story. I really enjoyed this one and hope Schroeder continues in this vein in the future.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Man in the Moon

The Man in the Moon
By William Joyce
Published 2011 by Atheneum

We've all seen him and wondered about him - the Man in the Moon. But did you know he is one of the Guardians of Childhood? Acclaimed author/artist Joyce introduces an ambitious new project with this first title, to be followed by a variety of picture books and chapter books and ending with an animated feature film to be released in 2013, I believe. There was a lot of hype about this project at the ALA conference earlier this year in June and I had hoped to snag an ARC while I was there. Unfortunately, I missed out on it, instead picking up the finished book at the library recently. I pretty much loved everything about this book - the story is imaginative and sweet and I think it has great appeal to children of all ages. But even if the story wasn't so engaging and endearing, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and could make up for pretty much any flaw. I want to hang them on my walls. They are lush and evocative - just beautiful. I'm pretty excited about this new project that Joyce is undertaking - it sounds like a really interesting idea. I'm very much looking forward to the next entry in the series.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Pacy Lin series

The Year of the Dog
Published 2007

The Year of the Rat

Published 2008

Dumpling Days
By Grace Lin
Expected publication January 2, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I received an ARC of the third book in Grace Lin's debut series at ALA in June, so I picked up the first two and read all three in one weekend. I was looking forward to them because I had been enchanted by Lin's Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I'm happy to say that this series did not disappoint, though it is very different from Lin's other title.

This series follows Grace/Pacy Lin (her American and Chinese name, respectively), a young Taiwanese-American middle child growing up in New York State. In the first book, Grace strives to find her talent and discover what she wants to be when she grows up. She is also thrilled by the arrival of another Chinese-American girl her age in her neighborhood (throughout the series, Grace tries to understand whether she is Taiwanese or Chinese - an issue fraught with very adult political implications). In the second book, Grace is devastated to discover that her best friend has to move to California. She must struggle with the inevitable changes we all face. In the upcoming third title, Grace and her family visit Taiwan for her grandmother's sixtieth birthday. Pacy discovers her heritage and the endless variety of dumplings she can enjoy. This series is really engaging and simple - it's really written in an easy way that I think is easy for children to comprehend and relate to. It's also pretty clear that this series is at least loosely autobiographical (Pacy, after all, decides she wants to be an author/illustrator when she grows up). Lin inserts family tales throughout the main action of the novel which usually serve to illustrate a value or proverb and which are generally quite effective. I think what I like most about this series is that it's pure - it's very realistic in its depiction of being a child of a minority ethnicity. I believe Lin wrote the series for children like she was, to fill a hole in the literature for kids. All kids need to read about people like themselves and Lin's simple yet illustrative and engrossing series is perfect for this. Very enjoyable.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review: Before I Die

Before I Die
By Jenny Downham, read by Charlotte Parry
Published 2007 by Listening Library

Tessa has been battling cancer for years, but now, there doesn't seem to be much more the doctors can do. So, she creates a list - ten things to do before she dies. Number one is sex. And she wants to get started as soon as possible...

Despite the tawdry description of this book (which sort of makes it sound like some weird kind of porn), Tessa's exploits are, for the most part, rather tame (though, I will admit, the sex scenes later in the novel are quite steamy). This book sort of reminded me of a Lurlene McDaniel book with an R rating - someone has a horrible illness but they are inspired to live life to their fullest. Chances are, they're going to fall in love and, in the majority of McDaniel books, be miraculously cured before the novel's end. Downham's novel has the same sort of tone - Tessa doesn't spend a whole lot of time feeling sorry for herself; she's just trying to do what she can while she still can. It's pretty easy to see where the novel is going to go nearly from the beginning - even the bits about Zoe and Adam don't really come as any surprise. I was moved by the ending, but not as much as I might have expected to be (and certainly not as much as by other YA books). I thought the reader did quite a nice job, injecting the right amount of personality and emotion throughout the book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: 43 Old Cemetery Road

Dying to Meet You (Book 1)
Published 2009

Over My Dead Body (Book 2)
Published 2009

Till Death Do Us Bark (Book 3)
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 2011 by Harcourt

This review encompasses the first three books of the new series by the Klise sisters, authors of the beloved Regarding the... series. I know how popular their earlier series was, and I recently read the first one, but when I saw the new series, I thought it might be a bit more up my alley (because of the spooky/scary/ghost story aspect). The basic premise here is that 43 Old Cemetery Road is house haunted by its former owner, failed author Olive C. Spence. Young Seymour Hope now resides in the mansion, abandoned by his parents. Mr. Ignatius B. Grumply initially rents the house in order to complete work on a new book in his famed Ghost Tamer series. Each book features these three main characters while introducing a new evil plot for them to foil in each title. The books are funny and cute, quick to read and interesting to try to figure out along the way. They are not as spooky or scary as I had originally hoped, which is fine, but a bit of a disappointment to me. I enjoyed them and will continue to read the series as it's published, but I don't think I'll be chomping at the bit for the next. I didn't engage as much as I had hoped.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Girl Coming in for a Landing

Girl Coming in for a Landing
By April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Elaine Clayton
Published 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf

This book came recommended to me a couple years ago when another librarian discovered my obsession with verse novels. This tells the story of one year in the life of a teen girl through poetry. This was a really quick and easy read. The inclusion of the illustrations, which work nicely with the poetry, makes it feel like we are simply reading this girl's journal. It makes for a very intimate novel and feels much more personal that way. That being said, not a whole lot happens throughout the course of the novel. So it feels very quiet and at times, slow. I enjoyed it, but having been thrown into the world of verse novels via Ellen Hopkins, this might be a bit too quiet for my tastes. The narrator here is likable and this is a very true depiction of life in high school. But, even though I said I was sick of all the crazy dystopian sci-fi novels, this book was a little too action-deprived for me to love.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Carver

Carver: A Life in Poems
By Marilyn Nelson
Published 2001 by Front Street

In this slim volume, Nelson beautifully relates the life of George Washington Carver through her skills with poetry. I don't know all that much about Carver and his life, so this book was really my introduction to the man. And what a wonderful introduction this provides. Nelson creates snapshots of Carver's life with her well-crafted verse and leaves the reader feeling that they really know Carver. What I found intrusive about another verse portrait I read recently (notes along the bottom of the pages) didn't bother me as much here. Perhaps it's because Nelson's notes were usually only one brief sentence and, in most cases, didn't provide much more information than the poem itself. Regardless, this was a truly wonderful read that I was incredibly happy to immerse myself in for an hour or so (it's a very quick read). This is another work of verse that won a Newbery Honor - and this is very much deserved. This book is highly recommended for all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: Boris

By Cynthia Rylant
Published 2005 by Harcourt, Inc.

Another book I stumbled upon while perusing the 800s of the YA non-fiction, this is the simple yet engaging story of Boris, a cat. It's difficult to tell if this is a work of fiction or autobiography, though in the end it doesn't really matter. Rylant has crafted a quiet portrait of the inexplicable love between owner and pet - even when the owner has tried so hard to resist becoming such of this particular pet. This is a quiet book, as nothing really happens over the course of its short length, but a delightful read for anyone who has ever been completely taken with and loved by an animal. Boris has a distinct personality but at the same time, he could be a stand-in for any cat, or any pet, really. It's a wonderful skill that Rylant has executed here. A very sweet read.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Borrowed Names

Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters
By Jeannine Atkins
Published 2010 by Henry Holt and Company

I admit that I had never heard of this book until I found in the 800s of our YA non-fiction (while I was rooting around for other verse works that ended up here instead of in the fiction collection). I was intrigued instantly.

In three different sections, Atkins provides readers with poems of three extraordinary women - all born in 1867 - and their daughters. I found this concept immensely interesting. I had no idea that these women were all contemporaries of each other. I have to say that the only one I really knew very much about was Wilder - and that is because I was thoroughly obsessed with her books as a child. I didn't know, however, that they were encouraged into being and edited by her daughter - who was quite a remarkable woman herself. It was fascinating to see how the daughters of such successful and famous women grew to be amazing women themselves. Sometimes, it's hard to even imagine the life of a child of someone so prolific - it's almost as if one can't even imagine them as real people. I think this book does a wonderful job of humanizing these iconic women and their daughters as well. In the end, they are women like you or I - with an incredible sense of determination and courage. This book could easily find an audience among young women - it screams "you can do anything" and should encourage anyone who reads to achieve their personal best.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: Your Own, Sylvia

Your Own, Sylvia
By Stephanie Hemphill
Published 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf

This book was on my radar long before my obsession with verse novels - most likely a result of every teen girl's obsession with Sylvia Plath. So I was delighted to find it on my library shelves and happily brought it home (even though I really should be reading all those books sitting in my living room).

Hemphill presents a portrait of Sylvia Plath in the form of poems, written by those closest to her throughout her life. Hemphill also crafts a few poems with no particular narrator that are written in the style of several of Plath's own poems. I expected to like this book because I am very much into verse novels, as well as non-traditional biographies (though this is certainly not a strict biography, much of it is based on truth). What I didn't expect was how extraordinarily well-written it would be. Hemphill has a beautiful way with words and, often, her poetry in this volume is easily as tremendous as Plath's. I loved the great variety of narrators that Hemphill chose for this story, from the clearly significant (Sylvia's mother, brother, Ted Hughes) to the more casual acquaintance (a number of boyfriends, mothers she nannied for, etc.). It really creates a comprehensive picture of Plath that I think many people are lacking. My main complaint about this novel would have been the biographical notes at the bottom of each page. While they are clearly they to put each poem in context (most usually by explaining who the narrator is and their relationship with Sylvia), for me, they too often broke the flow of the poetry and disrupted my reading of Sylvia's narrative. I would have liked this information better if it came in the form of an appendix at the end of the book and left the main text's focus on the poetry. I think this is a must-read for any Plath fan and I absolutely can't wait to read more of Hemphill's work, as this poetry was exquisite, reminding me why I used to love poetry so much.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom
By Margarita Engle
Published 2008 by Henry Holt and Company

Even though I have like a hundred books in my apartment that I should be reading right now, I let my book sickness take over and checked out a bunch of books from the library. I tried to justify it to myself because I only checked out verse novels and books in series that I'm in the middle of reading. But I should be reading all the other books I have right now. Anyway...

Engle tells the story of Cuba's wars for independence mainly through the voice of Rosa, a healer. For some reason, this book didn't really grab me right away and was, for me, a little difficult to follow through the first part. I can't really explain why because this book has everything I usually enjoy - verse, historical fiction, multiple points of view. But, for some reason, it didn't grab me like it should have. However, this is a really well-crafted novel. Engle does a great job of depicting Cuba's struggles through these characters. I actually found myself more engaged after Silvia was introduced. This is a short book and a relatively quick read that leaves the reader wanting to know more about the facts on which this story is based. I know I have a hankering to find out more about this piece of history. I was a little surprised to see that this was a Newbery Honor book, but after reading it, I'm not quite as surprised (though, still a little bit). One thing, though, is that I have a hard time imagining the kid who would pick this up; I suppose there are kids out there who like historical fiction and might stumble upon this title. I don't think they'd be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Regarding the Fountain

Regarding the Fountain
By Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Published 1999 by HarperTrophy

These books were insanely popular at the school library I volunteered for during grad school. I picked one up recently and, being enamored with epistolary novels, I knew I would be reading it soon. Dry Creek Middle School needs a new water fountain. Florence Waters has been contacted regarding the fountain. What follows is a madcap mystery about the history of Dry Creek, a spirited fountain designer, and a fifth-grad class full of enthusiastic amateur sleuths and musicians. This is an easy and fast read, entertaining and unusual. I really liked having the story told this way - it made it much more interesting than a straightforward narrative would have been, I think. It's really funny, too - the characterizations are incredibly strong, especially considering they are mostly told through letters. This was a really enjoyable read and I will definitely read the others in the series. I've already picked up the Klise sister's new series and can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Andromeda Klein

Andromeda Klein
By Frank Portman, read by 
Published 2009 by Listening Library

Andromeda Klein has some problems - her mom is a tyrant, her hair is horrible, her best friend is dead, and her boyfriend has blown her off. With the help of her friends and her HGA (Holy Guardian Angel), she just might be able to overcome these issues. Well, maybe not the hair.

I loved King Dork so, as expected, I really wanted to like this book. And I did. But not as much as I hoped. I know part of it was the fact that I listened to the book (I'll get into that a bit later) but I'm not sure what the other part of it is. Something just didn't quite click for me. Andromeda is interesting, but a number of times throughout the book, I wanted to throw something at her. Like every time Saint Steve texted her - I mean, COME ON. How did she not see that happening? And Byron - I mean, really. So sometimes, it was hard to be on Andromeda's side because she was just way too obtuse for me. But, I liked the whole idea of the book. The way the action progressed was also well-done and interesting. But still, it just fell short for me. I liked the reader of the audio book - she had an excellent ability for differentiating between characters. Additionally, there were a few moments that felt particularly well-suited for audio - some songs and whatnot. But one thing that was definitely not well suited for listening - Andromeda's unique vocabulary. While listening, I didn't have a lexicon to refer to when I forgot what "bagel warm agony" meant. So that got pretty annoying. But, the book was decent. I like that Portman educates without hitting you over the head with it. I think the book would appeal to a great variety of teens.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Wintertown

By Stephen Emond
Expected publication date December 5, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lucy comes to visit every winter and it's pretty much the only thing good old Evan looks forward to. But this year, things are different - Lucy is different. She's chopped off all her hair, pierced her nose, and only seems to be able to answer questions with one word responses. Evan is determined to bring back the old Lucy, even if New Lucy wants to kick his ass for trying.

I read Emond's Happyface and was totally kicked in the face by it. That book dealt with some heavy stuff that there had been no indication of previously. So I wasn't sure what to expect from this one. The back blurb (of my ARC) is pushing it a little hard - "an illustrated Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." Upon completion, I have to say that I don't really agree. This book is good - don't get me wrong - but those two things that it's compared to were, for me, amazing. Emond falls a little short here. It's hard to pinpoint why exactly this book didn't feel amazing for me. The characters are wonderful and full of depth and I think Evan and Lucy's relationship is perfectly depicted with all the angst and tension that boy/girl teen friendships are fraught with. Maybe part of my disappointment is because I got kicked so hard in the face by Emond's previous novel. This book didn't pack quite the same punch. It just felt a little incomplete, even by the end. Additionally, I like Emond's use of art throughout the story but the comics didn't really work for me. I didn't really feel like they were adding to the story like I hoped they would. Overall, though, this is a good and enjoyable read about how boys and girls can be friends and take care of each other.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Duchess of Whimsy

The Duchess of Whimsy
By Randall de Seve, illustrated by Peter de Seve
Published 2009 by Philomel

The Duchess of Whimsy is fancy and particular and extraordinary. The Earl of Norm is boring and plain and lackluster. But he thinks the Duchess is just wonderful and tries desperately to impress her. She never notices him until the fateful day that the chef is ill and the guests search high and low for ingredients to prepare a fanciful feast. But the Earl of Norm has something more straightforward in mind - and it just might catch the eye of the Duchess. This was an absolutely adorable fairy tale love story that I really enjoyed. I picked it up because it's a Bluebonnet Book here in Texas and I wanted to see what it was all about. The illustrations are indeed whimsical and delightful. A truly sweet tale that I think children will adore.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: The Unforgettable Season

The Unforgettable Season
By Phil Bildner, illustrated by S. Schindler
Published 2011 by Penguin Group

I have a hard time resisting baseball in pretty much any form. So this picture book caught my eye from the "New" shelf and I immediately gravitated to it. Bildner tells the story of 1941, the season of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and Ted Williams' best batting average. It explores the rivalry between the two men, as well as how fans reacted to these extraordinary feats (which, if I'm not mistaken, still stand today). A stirring tribute to the sport and two of its greatest players, I think this book would be a big hit for baseball fans of any age. The illustrations are simple and evoke the game well. The text is more advanced than a simple picture book, so I would recommend this for an older crowd. This book made me appreciate these great players even more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: L is for Lone Star

L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet
By Carol Crane
Published 2001 by Sleeping Bear Press

I know this particular company makes an alphabet book for seemingly everything, so I had kinda rolled my eyes at them whenever I saw them. But this one came across my path recently. And being a new Texas transplant, I thought I'd take a look and find out what exactly a Texas alphabet might look like. To my immense surprise and delight, this book was actually fun and educational. I learned a lot reading through the Texas alphabet - for example, did you know that the nine-banded armadillo (the state's official small mammal) always gives birth to identical quadruplets? Amazing, right? This book is full of other facts and information like that one and I think kids could have a lot of fun with them. A nice pictorial and alphabetical representation of the Lone Star State.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: All the Way to America

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
By Dan Yaccarino
Published 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This is another non-fiction picture book that I picked up at the library. Yaccarino tells the story of his family's immigration from Italy and the little shovel that accompanied them through it all. This is a nice little story of Yaccarino's family and how they came to America - changing the spelling of their name, searching for work, and using that little shovel sort of as a tribute to generations past. Normally, I wouldn't imagine that Yaccarino's illustration style would work for such a straightforward and serious story as this is, but, wonderfully, it does indeed work here. The illustrations are creative and interesting and I think they show the Yaccarino flair. I think this would be a wonderful book for storytimes - it's easy to imagine this as a jumping off point for discussions of our families and the traditions we have kept alive through the generations. A lovely book for children.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: The Marshmallow Incident

The Marshmallow Incident
By Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett
Published 2009 by Scholastic Press

The Barretts are the creators of the fabulous Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, so when I spotted this other title by them on the shelves at the library, I picked it up for a quick read. This is a whimsical tale of a town divided right down the middle by a line. No one really knows where it came from or why it's there, but they have always respected it and the animosity between the people on either side of the line is clear. When someone accidentally strays over the line, the Knights who guard it let loose with their finest weaponry - cases and cases of marshmallows. This is a wonderfully irreverent and enjoyable picture book with a great message about tolerance and getting set in our ways. The illustrations are absolutely perfect for the story - full of details and hilarity. Delightful!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Okay for Now

Okay for Now
By Gary D. Schmidt
Published 2011 by Clarion Books

Doug Swieteck has just moved to upstate New York with his damaged family - his lost dad, his mousy mother, and his accused-criminal older brother. His other brother is fighting in Vietnam and may return home much different than anyone could expect. Doug will have to figure out how to make life in this new place work. What he finds includes ice cold Coke, John James Audubon, and Jane Eyre.

This book was just what I needed. After recently griping about the glut of teen sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal/dark and dreary I've been reading, when one of the librarians I work with put this in my hands, I took it home happily. This is a truly wonderful story. Let's see, what did I love about this? First of all, Doug - what a great narrator. Doug is the perfect example of a young teenage boy. And his story is just heartbreaking. I really felt for him - just reading about the bad things in his life and piecing together the whole story made me tear up. He is not always a sympathetic character and that's what makes him all the more realistic. Next, the rest of the cast of characters - from smart-aleck and beautiful Lil Spicer, to the wise and kind Mr. Powell, to the evil gym teacher Coach Reed, to all the customers of Doug's grocery route - Schmidt has populated his novel with wonderfully rich and entertaining characters from all walks of life. How they interact with and effect Doug creates a perfect story. And perhaps most of all, the beautiful and seamless integration of Audubon's work into the story and what it all comes to mean to Doug. This is a truly wonderful story about the power of art - because it is through his lessons with Mr. Powell at the altar of Audubon that Doug learns he is more than his circumstances and he can become whoever he chooses. A truly touching and wonderful novel. Highly recommended!

And just to note - I believe this is a companion to Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, but I haven't read that one and found I didn't need to in order to enjoy this title.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: The Last Badge

The Last Badge
By George McClements
Published 2005 by Hyperion

As a former Girl Scout, I was drawn to this picture book instantly. The charming tale of a young scout who longs to complete his last badge and prove his worth to his family, this book had me hooked. It's an adorable and endearing tale of family and bravery. The illustrations suit the light tone of the story and McClements adds his own light touches to the scouting tradition. The badges are cute and I think this book would be a huge hit among real scouts. A really fun and sweet read.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Henry Aaron's Dream

Henry Aaron's Dream
By Matt Tavares
Published 2010 by Candlewick Press

I am really into non-fiction picture books lately. Maybe it's because in school, one of my teachers stressed the importance of incorporating non-fiction into storytimes and these picture books are the perfect way to do so. Or maybe it's because you can learn so much in a short amount of space. Either way, if the non-fiction picture book is well done, I'm pretty much sold. Such is the case with this beautiful biography of baseball's home-run king (yes, he still is the home-run king, I don't care who Barry Bonds thinks he is) by the incredibly talented Tavares. This tells the tale of Aaron as a young child, enamored with America's pastime and how he wished to someday play in the big leagues. Of course, Aaron was watching when baseball (and most of America) was still segregated, so this dream seemed near impossible. But he never stopped believing and soon, he watched Jackie Robinson break the color barrier. This is a beautiful tribute to one of baseball's best players. Tavares' illustrations are lush and rich and easy to get lost in. I actually teared up while reading this (but maybe I'm just a big baseball softie). Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: Walking on Glass

Walking on Glass
By Alma Fullerton
Published 2007 by HarperTeen

Here is another short verse novel that I picked up for a quick read. I was not expecting the emotional punch that this book ended up packing. This is a heartbreaking story about a teen boy who came home one day and found his mother hanging from the chandelier, broken glass all around her. Now, she is in a coma, with little to no chance of ever waking up. We follow the narrator as he struggles with figuring out the right thing to do, while also discovering some unpleasant truths about his best friend. This is a novel with no easy answers, despite its short length. It manages to be surprising and complicated and really makes readers wonder how they would handle this situation. Readers can easily sympathize with the struggles the narrator is undergoing and wish that there were easy answers. A spare and tight verse novel.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust
By Karen Hesse
Published 1997 by Scholastic, Inc.

So I only recently became a gigantic fan of verse novels, which means I missed this early entry into the style. Hesse is an incredibly well-regarded author and this book won the Newbery Medal. How I managed to neglect it for so long is a downright shame.

Billie Jo is a teenager living in Oklahoma. And everyday, she must survive the dust. That is not the only thing Billie Jo must learn to survive during the course of this beautiful and haunting novel. This book was excellent. Very gripping and heartwrenching. Hesse manages to pack quite a punch in this slim volume and it just highlights her strength as an author. I truly couldn't wait to find out how things would turn out for Billie Jo and her family. This is a character that I really wanted to root for. Additionally, this novel takes place in the 1930s, so Hesse has managed to combine two of my favorite things - verse novels and historical fiction - and she does it so beautifully. Billie Jo is such a wonderful heroine and narrator - she has an incredible voice and a strength that is to be admired. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
By Marla Frazee
Published 2008 by Harcourt Children's Books

I know this was a Caldecott Honor book a few years back and I thought I had picked it up since then. But I spotted it on the shelves at my library and started reading and nothing seemed familiar, so I guess not. Anyway, this is about two best friends who go to week-long nature camp and spend their free time with one's grandparents. This is really a heartfelt and lovely tribute to childhood and friendship - these boys have the best week ever in the way that only children seem to be able to nowadays. I haven't always been a fan of Frazee's illustrations but I think they work wonderfully for this story. I really enjoyed this.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: King Hugo's Huge Ego

King Hugo's Huge Ego
By Chris Van Dusen
Published 2011 by Candlewick Press

Sometimes I like to read the new picture books as I'm reshelving them at the library. I couldn't resist this one. The title basically tells you the story - King Hugo is awfully fond of himself and has no qualms about making his subjects know how wonderful he is. In typical fairy tale-esque fashion, he is rude to a villager who just happens to know a thing or two about magic and soon, Hugo finds his head swelling to fit his gigantic ego! All's well that ends well in this very funny and smartly illustrated tale. Van Dusen's art is absolutely beautiful and so perfectly matched to the story. I think this would be a wonderful read-aloud book. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Legend

By Marie Lu
Expected publication November 29, 2011 by G.P. Putnam's Sons

So I realized as I was reading this that a lot of the books I picked up at ALA (and have subsequently read) were billed as the "next Hunger Games" or for fans of that series. This isn't really that extraordinary except when you realize that I've yet to read the Hunger Games trilogy. So all this hype and comparison is essentially lost on me. Maybe that makes me the best reader for these novels because I don't have to worry about how this title measures up to those. Or maybe it makes me a worse reader of these titles because I don't have that context. It's an interesting question to ponder.

Day is the Republic's most wanted criminal. But they don't know anything about his real identity. When Day plans a risky mission to save his family, will this be the Republic's chance to put an end to his notorious spree?

June is the orphaned daughter of two highly respected members of the Republic. Now, she is a military prodigy on her way to becoming the youngest official Republic agent. When June's beloved brother is murdered, she quickly ascends to the top levels of the military and makes it her mission to bring justice to her brother's killer.

When Day and June meet, everything they think they know about the Republic will be thrown into question and their lives will never be the same.

I had kind of a hard time getting into this at first. I think being thrown into the middle of the story, with short chapters alternating points of view was a little disorienting. This is a new world that I have to get a grip on and it was a little difficult to establish any sense of anything with the shortness of the chapters and the dual p.o.v.s. However, eventually, I think this dual narration works for the novel. It's nice to see all the situations that come up during the book's course from both characters. My main problem with this novel really has nothing to do with the novel itself. I think I'm getting a little burned out on YA books of this ilk - two diametrically opposed teens meet, their lives are changed, neither is who they thought they were, and, oh by the way, the adults are totes hiding things from you. This book never really strays too far from that. In fact, I almost think that's a pretty good summary of what's going on here.

That being said, the novel is fast-paced and action-packed, and the web of lies that make up this society are interesting. Lu leaves some questions unanswered, but it's to be expected, as this is (of course) the first in a new series. Will I pick up the next book when it arrives? Sure - the story is compelling enough that I want to know what might come next for Day and June. I'm sure this book will find its audience.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.