Friday, August 31, 2012

Review: The Eleventh Plague

The Eleventh Plague
By Jeff Hirsch, read by Dan Bittner
Published 2011 by Scholastic Audio

Stephen and his family have become salvagers, roaming the devastated American landscape and trying to survive. But after his grandfather dies and his father has an accident, Stephen finds himself in Settler's Landing, a place that seems too good to be true. And when he meets the mysterious Jenny, he might just be proven right.

I had heard good things about this book and it sounded like something I would enjoy so when the audiobook was available as a free download, I happily downloaded it. I am not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I think ultimately I come down right in the middle. There are some really great things about this book. It manages to be post-apocalyptic without being based on too unbelievable a premise - the world is basically destroyed by chemical warfare. This is something that could actually happen, making the book all the more unsettling and raising some excellent questions for discussion. Additionally, this book doesn't have tons of bad language, violence, or sex, making it a good read for kids who want to join in the post-apocalyptic trend but find some of the other entries too harsh and graphic for their tastes or, alternately, for kids who want to read The Hunger Games but their parents don't want them to. However, this book was not as exciting or action-packed as others in the genre. This is much more about Stephen and the people he meets at Settler's Landing and his quest to figure out what the future will hold. This isn't a bad thing - a good character-driven novel is still a good novel. But for me, it just moved a little too slowly and lacked a little too much action. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did but I can definitely see its appeal to tweens and teens.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Chopsticks

By Rodrigo Corral and Jessica Anthony
Published 2012 by Razorbill

After her mother died, Glory immersed herself in music and quickly, her father trained her as a piano prodigy. Now a teenager, Glory has disappeared. Told largely through images in flashback, the story of Glory and her disappearance unfolds.

This book was getting tons of buzz at Midwinter and I was disappointed that I couldn't get an ARC. So, when I spotted it on the new book cart, I snatched it up, knowing it probably wouldn't take that long to get through. I was right. This is an incredibly quick read - I think it took me maybe twenty minutes - but an interesting one. As the text is minimal, readers are left to their own devices in their attempts to puzzle out what the images mean and what exactly happens to Glory. I can see this as a book that readers will want to pick up again shortly after finishing it but, alas, that was not the case for me. This book was a bit disappointing after all the hype at Midwinter. I understand that there may be multiple ways to interpret the events of the story and the conclusion but, in my opinion, it's pretty clear what happened to Glory. And I didn't find it particularly surprising. While the concept and format of the book are quite unique (though I did read Caroline Preston's The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt last year), the story just didn't really impress me all that much. I can see, however, how this book will be immensely appealing to teens and expect it might make a YALSA book list for 2012.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Unspoken

Unspoken (Lynburn Legacy, book 1)
By Sarah Rees Brennan
Expected publication September 11, 2012 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Kami Glass has lived her whole life with a voice in her head. No, she's not crazy - just Jared has always been there, looking out for her, caring for her, and knowing her in a way no one else knows. So imagine her surprise when the voice in her head shows up at her high school in the form of a mysterious (and good-looking) bad boy, a lost member of her village's most powerful family. Kami may be getting much more than she bargained for...

So, this book came onto my radar through a combination of things. First, I read and absolutely loved Team Human, co-authored by Brennan (Rees Brennan? If I go by our library catalog, I think I've got it right with just the Brennan). Then, I read the summary for this book (which is, admittedly, better than the one I made up above). THEN, there was the cover reveal. I mean, seriously? Is this not the most beautiful cover? Absolutely sold on this. I was lucky enough to receive a digital galley from the publisher and I immediately started reading.

What I found was an enchanting book with a fantastic cast of characters and a gothic and eerie mystery sure to keep readers enthralled. I adored basically everything about this book. Let me start with Kami. She's our main character and let me tell you - she's amazing! Kami is clever and smart, funny, strong and vulnerable. She might be in love with her imaginary friend but everybody has their things, right? Only, Kami's imaginary friend turns out to not be so imaginary. I thoroughly enjoyed being on Kami's side throughout this story. And then there is Kami's supporting cast - notoriously napping Angela, peppy Holly, charming Rusty, adorable and sweet younger brothers Ten and Tomo, and then, of course, the potentially dangerous Lynburn boys. All these characters are so real and interesting - I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to be friends with them - well, maybe not the Lynburns.

What else did I love about this book? It's fun! I have to admit, as much as I love horror, I don't really go for the gothic. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was one of my most despised high school English assignments. But this book - if all Gothics were like this, I'd certainly be reading more. As I mentioned before, Kami is funny. And so are her cohorts. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, as well as some quieter clever jokes. What's even more impressive is that Brennan has managed to balance this fun with one of the creepier mysteries I've encountered in recent history. I loved slowly unraveling the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale alongside Kami and this book definitely has a very Gothic tone. Brennan has created a wonderful sense of place with Sorry-in-the-Vale; I felt as if I were there.

Needless to say, I'm completely in love with everything about this book - the characters, the mystery, the intrigue, the humor, the setting - I want more! I'm already eagerly anticipating the next book!

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: Penny and Her Song

Penny and Her Song
By Kevin Henkes
Published 2012 by Greenwillow Books

Penny loves her song and wants to share it with her family - but her mother and father keep putting her off; they don't want to wake the babies after all. Will Penny ever get to share her song?

I must admit that early/easy/beginning readers (whatever you want to call them) are my weakness. This is the category of juvenile literature that I read the least of. I always make an exception for Elephant and Piggie, but don't really read much else from these shelves. However, I find it hard to resist Kevin Henkes, so I picked this one up recently for a quick read. It's a lovely little story that's a bit more complex than it seems at first - Penny is learning about family relationships and what it means to be one part of a bigger unit. The illustrations are signature Henkes - Penny and her family are his traditional mice. I can't resist how comforting this book feels and the story is lovely and sure to resonant with young readers adapting to changing family dynamics. If readers can get used to searching for Henkes on those early reader shelves, they won't be disappointed with this find. I hope he writes more - this was a lovely addition to his work.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (30)

Stop Thief!
By Adam J.B. Lane
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a fun story about a little boy who no longer needs his stuffed animal. But he may change his tune when he sees a thief stealing away with Mr. Pigglesworth. The illustrations are simple and bold and this would be an absolutely fabulous book for dialogic reading - there are plenty of things going on through the pages to talk about.

Pass It On
By Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Michael Slack
Published 2012 by Blue Apple Books
This book epitomizes the game of "Telephone" as Bee tries to get the message out about his friend Cow stuck in the fence. His message gets more and more garbled as it's passed around the farmyard. Very fun and vibrant illustrations and lots of silly messages would make this a good addition to a storytime.

Aliens in Underpants Save the World
By Claire Freedman, illustrated by Ben Cort
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster
This is sort of a sequel to their earlier book, Aliens Love Underpants. Well, as a matter of fact, Freedman and Cort have down a few different underpants books. They are all a bit silly but sweet, with bright illustrations. This tells the tale of how the underpants-loving aliens end up saving the planet with their briefs. Any of the underpants tales is sure to be a storytime hit.

Piggy Bunny
By Rachel Vail, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
Published 2012 by Feiwel & Friends
I love this book! This is about a piglet named Liam who wants to be a bunny when he grows up. Nobody really understands him but they mostly just let him be. They insist they love him the way he is, but Liam really wants to be a bunny. Adorable illustrations and a fun story about staying true to yourself make this a really lovely new picture book.

Because Your Mommy Loves You
By Andrew Clements, illustrated by R.W. Alley
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I picked this one up because I knew Clements as a novelist but didn't know he wrote picture books too. This is a very sweet story about how mommies love you. And because they love you so much, sometimes they want you to do things for yourself, to figure out how to fix your own mistakes. This is sure to be a popular book with the parents-to-be or new parent crowd. Uncomplicated illustrations gently illuminate the relationship between the mommy and child. Very sweet book.

Hide & Seek
By Il Sung Na
Published 2011 by Meadowside Children's
I couldn't resist picking this up because of the adorable cover illustration. The illustrations are beautiful throughout, accompanying a very simple counting story as the jungle animals play hide and seek. Perfect for a toddler storytime - I just adore this illustration style.

By Adam McHeffey
Published 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
This is kind of a cute story about a little vampire named Asiago who really just wants to spend time with his friends. But there is a slight problem - his friends aren't vampires, so their fun activities are a bit limited. I liked the approach to creative problem solving and the illustrations suit the story quite nicely. This would be a good book for a storytime around Halloween, though it doesn't talk about the holiday, just features the vampire.

Small Bunny's Blue Blanket
By Tatyana Feeney
Published 2012 by Random House Children's Books
Bunny and his blanket are best friends - they do everything together. Admittedly, they get quite dirty during their adventures. When mom suggests a wash, bunny is not pleased. He waits patiently (107 minutes), only to find that blue blanket is not exactly the same. With a little hesitation, bunny eventually finds out that blue blanket will always be blue blanket and their adventures can continue. A very sweet and comforting story for young ones with a special item they worry about letting out of their sight.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, book 3)
By Patrick Ness, read by Angela Dawe, Nick Podehl, and MacLeod Andrews
Published 201 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

WARNING: There will be spoilers for the first two books in the series, and possible spoilers for this title as well. To read my reviews of the first two titles, go here and here.

Todd and Viola have struggled and persevered, only to find themselves now on the brink of a potentially world-destroying war. Both are wracked with indecision and self-doubt as they try to choose the best course of action - one that will keep them both safe as well as preserve as many lives as possible. But each decision gets more and more heartbreaking and Todd and Viola are pushed to a shocking conclusion.

I CAN'T EVEN. YOU GUYS. I MEAN SERIOUSLY. I want to just do this whole review in caps-lock because of FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS and THINGS in this book. I mean, I don't even think I can do a proper review because this series has absolutely blown me away and left me speechless. My first reaction to finishing this was, "DAMN YOU PATRICK NESS!" I simultaneously love and hate Ness for what he's done to me through this series. I love him because he has created one of the most brilliant and disturbing and heartbreaking and wonderful young adult series EVER. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that these are some of the best books I've ever read. I hate him for all the same reasons - I wanted to curl up in a ball and not read anything else immediately after finishing it because I was a total wreck and positive that nothing else would be a suitable follow-up to this. I don't know how much I can speak about this particular book that I couldn't say about the entire series. I do want to note that I think it's brilliant that Ness introduced a new perspective for each title in the series: book one just shows us Todd's point of view; in book two, we get to see Viola's as well, and now, in book three, we are introduced to life through the eyes of 1017 - one of the Spackle. It's a potent narrative device that serves to pull you deeper and deeper into the story and the world and the characters. The addition of 1017's voice in this book is particularly skillful, as New World is on the verge of war and the Spackle provide a unique perspective in this situation. Because I'd read the first two, I pretty much knew that something horrible and gut-wrenching was going to happen in this one. It only became more apparent about halfway through the book when I actually said to myself, "This is clearly not going to end well." And that's part of the beauty of what Ness has crafted - this series will take you from incredible good feelings to complete sadness. As a matter of fact, each book will provide that roller coaster of emotions. These are INTENSE novels that will just grab you and refuse to let you go. But for readers who can handle the disturbing content of the books, they will find themselves rewarded with proof of how truly engaging and meaningful books can be.

Ugh, like I said, I don't even think this is a proper review. I listened to the audiobook again for this final title and it was just as wonderful as the first two. Though I knew the book wouldn't end well for all the characters I'd grown so attached to, I didn't find myself as truly emotionally wrecked as I expected to be. Perhaps it's because I knew that Ness was going to try to tear out my heart in the end; I was better prepared for it. But that didn't lessen its importance. This series is complex and dark and I loved it all so much that I can't even make sense of it enough to write a sensible review. Just please go read it. Or listen to it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Short reviews: Non-Fiction

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Sea
By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Published 2012 by Scholastic
The authors have chosen a really fascinating and perhaps oft-overlooked topic for this book, which I think is one of its greatest strengths. They make this concept relatively simple to understand for kids of varying ages and provide simple but striking illustrations to accompany the easy-to-understand text. There is some good back matter but no bibliography.

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenhld
Published 2012 by Chronicle Books
If you've ever read William Steig's C D B, you'll get the basic concept of this book - the authors have substituted numbers into words throughout the book. The result is an incredibly fun and playful book/game that I think kids will absolutely love. They will have tons of fun attempting to create their own wumbers and this book is great for practicing phonological awareness.

I, Galileo
By Bonnie Christensen
Published 2012 by Random House Children's Books
Christensen lets Galileo tell his own story by adopting first-person narration, making this a readable and friendly picture book biography of the scientist. The illustrations are quite lovely and evocative of the time and place and the book includes some nice back matter.

Buried Alive: How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert
By Elaine Scott
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This is the first title I've read about the 2010 accident, though I've seen others here and there. Something about this one just caught my eye and I picked it up and read it straight through. I found it to be very appropriately done for elementary age kids. It gives kids a very real sense of what the miners' ordeal was like but is told in very straightforward terms. I found it to be quite moving and Scott provides excellent back matter.

When Jackie and Hank Met
By Cathy Goldberg Fishman, illustrated by Mark Elliott
Published 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children
If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably know by now that I'm a sucker for baseball stories. This tells the separate stories of Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg and their meeting at first base in 1947. Both men just wanted to play baseball but both had endured prejudice and threats along the way (Jackie for being black, Hank for being Jewish). When they collide at first base in 1947, the crowd wants them to fight, but the men just want to get back to the game. I admit that I didn't really know who Greenberg was before picking up this book, but the way their stories are told here easily kept my interest. This is a touching story that baseball fans will enjoy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Glooms
By Laura Amy Schlitz
Expected publication August 28, 2012 by Candlewick

When Clara Wintermute, a solitary and dissatisfied only child, happens upon Gaspare Grisini's magical puppet show, she insists he perform for her birthday party. This small request will set in motion an extraordinary string of events that will leave Clara and Grisini's two young assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, in serious danger.

This book has been on my radar for some time because it's been getting a lot of buzz as a potential Newbery 2013 contender. Plus, it has some elements that I find pretty hard to resist - Victorian England, creepy puppets, and magic. So I was thrilled to receive a digital galley at the recent School Library Journal SummerTeen event. I started it almost immediately.

Now I've come to a bit of a dilemma - I'm not sure what my thoughts are on this book. Admittedly, I just finished it and perhaps require some more time to get thoughts and feelings sorted out, but I wanted to write up my review while the book was still fresh in my mind. I'm almost 100% positive that I liked this book - in fact, I might even say that I really liked this book. But I also have a hard time articulating why I liked the book or even what my issues with it might be. I expected this book to be a bit creepier than it ended up being, but it is atmospheric and quite unsettling. Two of our main characters are orphans, and Schlitz doesn't shy away from detailing the rough life these kids are living. This book feels very Dickensian, but also very magical - I mean, there is ACTUALLY magic in it, after all. But it doesn't feel magical in the way Harry Potter feels magical - generally, the magic here is being used for truly terrible things and the people who possess the magical knowledge are the bad guys. But the children are not defenseless - as one might expect from a Victorian orphan, they have their wits and street smarts to see them through.

I enjoy that Schlitz employs multiple points of view - it gives us time to piece together the story and figure out the mysteries. And, generally, I enjoy the characters - Parsefall is my favorite but it's difficult to not sympathize with Clara or to misunderstand the sincerity of Lizzie Rose's feelings. Some of the secondary characters work better than others for me - Grisini is a bit too villainous to come off as more than just a stock character but Mrs. Pinchbeck is a lovely little spitfire who distinguishes herself from the background. Schlitz does a lovely job of setting the tone for the story - her descriptions of time and place are evocative and really pull you into the setting.

Here's my main struggle: this book feels like your typical rags to riches, Horatio Alger, happy ending story. But, it's beautifully written, compelling and unique, introducing some decidedly untypical elements to said story. I feel like Schlitz has pulled a really clever trick on readers with this book (and does it consistently - though I've not read any of her other books, I get the feeling that she does this sort of thing quite a bit). Ultimately, I have to say I was quite happy to read this book and found it very enjoyable. There are definite elements with strong kid appeal - did I mention the creepy puppets? - and I think kids who find this won't be disappointed. I'll be interested to see how all the buzz plays out come award season.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a digital advance reader's copy via NetGalley.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Hurricane Dancers

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
By Margarita Engle
Published 2011 by Henry Holt and Co.

Through a variety of narrative voices and in poetry, Engle tells the story of the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck in the 1500s. This wreck will have a variety of consequences for the people involved, including the people aboard the ship as well as the island's natives.

Reading The Firefly Letters basically sealed the deal on my adoration of Engle. Her books are absolutely lyrical and meticulously researched, with fascinating subject matter. Hurricane Dancers is no exception. I love that she uses multiple perspectives to tell these interesting stories; it really adds more depth to read about the situations through many different eyes. I love that she picks little-known but really unique and engaging pieces of history to write about. It's clear that Engle does her research and has a passion for educating others about these forgotten bits of history (particularly Cuban history). What Engle does, she does exceptionally well, and I'm not surprised that this was on many Mock Newbery lists last year as well as winning a Pura Belpre Honor. I hope she continues to write these beautiful historical novels that really capture your attention and show you the beauty of a well-written book.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (29)

We're Roaming in the Rainforest: An Amazon Adventure
By Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Anne Wilson
Published 2010 by Barefoot Books

A fun and rhyming expedition through the rainforest awaits you in this book. The illustrations are bright and eye-catching and the narrative is simple enough for youngsters to follow along (and develop vocabulary at the same time) but with excellent back matter to educate older kids. I thought this was a great read!

If All the Animals Came Inside
By Eric Pinder, illustrated by Marc Brown
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Sure to entertain, this title speculates on the disasters that would occur if the animals came inside the house. It might seem like all fun and games, but what about when you want to play with your toys by yourself? Maybe inviting in the animals is not all it's cracked up to be. This would be a great read-aloud for storytime. The illustrations are definitely appealing and add to the fun of the story.

What Is Your Dog Doing?
By Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Kathleen Habley
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

I love this book! Rhyming text accompanied by simple yet engaging illustrations show us all the various things dogs can do (and there isn't much they CAN'T do). This would work beautifully in a dog or pet-themed storytime and has great vocabulary words for emerging readers. Inevitably, this book will lead dog-owning children to wonder what exactly their own pets do when they're not around.

Plant a Kiss
By Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published 2011 by HarperCollins

So, I'm basically to the point where I don't all that much care what the text says if it's accompanied by a Peter Reynolds illustration; I just absolutely adore his style. However, this book is also a delightful little narrative about Little Miss and her very special gardening: she plants a kiss. This is a sweet story about kindness and positivity, an important message conveyed in a simple and beautiful way. A must-own. Here's the book trailer for a sneak peek!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
By Annabel Pitcher
Published 2012 by Galaxy

Jamie's sister Rose was killed by a bomb in Trafalgar Square. Now, pieces of her live in the urn on their mantelpiece. Now, though, Jamie's father is convinced that a move to the country will provide a desperately needed change for the family. But is it a change for the better?

Wow, this book snuck up on me. I tore through this book in maybe 3 hours total and I was not expecting to cry at the end. But cry I did. Pitcher has crafted a simple yet complex tale of family and grief that packs quite an emotional punch. I spent the majority of this book feeling mad - mainly at the characters. This book made me feel like the characters were real and needed to be dealt with properly. Jamie's parents - ugh, they made me so angry! And Jamie himself - what a wonderful narrative Pitcher has crafted. Jamie is a believable 10 year old, confused about his grief and his family's situation but really just tyring to live as normally as possible. When Jamie befriends a Muslim girl in his new school, he feels an extreme mix of emotions - he is thrilled to have a friend but knows that his father would never approve. While I found it a bit unusual that this girl was enrolled at a church school, I thought otherwise this novel was beautifully crafted. Pitcher does a wonderful job of putting readers into Jamie's shoes - we see the family's implosion through his young but observant eyes. This book tackles some extremely tough subjects but in a mature and confident way. And the last quarter or so is spectacularly moving. I loved the relationship between Jamie and Jas - so beautiful and important - and the way Jamie and Sunya's friendship unfolds. This was a fantastic read and I'll be recommending it to fans of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

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

(Side note: I'm not a fan of the cover above; I much prefer the cover I had. which showed an illustration of the urn upon the mantelpiece.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: Monstrous Beauty

Monstrous Beauty
By Elizabeth Fama
Expected publication September 4, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In the 1800s, mermaid Syrenka falls in love with handsome Ezra, a naturalist who discovers her in the waters off the shore of Massachusetts. When she chooses this love over the immortal life she knows, dangerous consequences unfold. Over a century later, Hester is determined to avoid the curse that has plagued the women of her family. But when she meets a mysterious and attractive stranger named Ezra, avoiding the curse seems more impossible than ever.

I'm just going to put it out there right off the bat: I can jibe with pretty much any paranormal supernatural business you want to throw at me but mermaids are not really my thing. I'm not sure how to explain that as The Little Mermaid was basically my favorite Disney movie and I wanted to BE Ariel when I was little (what girl didn't??) but I'm always just rolled my eyes and snickered to myself when anyone has suggested that mermaids were going to be the next big thing in YA literature. That being said, this book sounded different and interesting enough that I didn't hesitate to graciously accept the ARC handed to me by the publisher as Midwinter. I am supremely glad for that. This is not your typical supernatural/paranormal romance. This book is lyrical and haunting and incredibly well-written. It is evocative and emotion-driven and passionate. It is unique and fascinating. It is basically every fabulous sounding adjective that I can think of. In the weeks leading up to my reading of this novel, I began to see a lot of buzz and praise around the internet for this book. I admit, it made me a bit wary to get reading myself. I should not have wasted time worrying. This book is absolutely gorgeous and such a pleasure to read. It is often atmospheric and dark and a bit disturbing, but also lovely and exciting. I think some readers will be put off, if only because they go into this expecting an entirely different book than what they will get. However, if those readers expecting a typical paranormal romance romp just persevere, they will find themselves richly rewarded. This is what a paranormal romance should be - deep and complicated and dark and devoid of melodrama. I hope this book is a huge success; it would be well-deserved.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
By Ben Hatke
Expected publication September 4, 2012 by First Second

After her planet-saving adventures, Zita is an intergalatic hero! But she just wants to find her way home. Easier said than done, especially with the arrival of a robot doppelganger and a turn of events that has Zita a wanted criminal!

I, like many others, was absolutely charmed with Zita the Spacegirl - actually, I fell a little bit in love. Zita is spunky and spirited, fun, funny, and brave. So, I, like many others, eagerly awaited the next installment of Zita's (mis)adventures in space. When I mentioned this to my boss, she kindly let me borrow the signed copy she'd received at TLA and I read it that same night. If I loved Zita before, I don't think there's a bigger word to describe my feelings for her now. This book is every bit as charming and lovely as the first - perhaps even more so. I felt more connected and involved in Zita's adventures and really enjoyed seeing how she handled herself after her first clumsy space escapade. Zita is maturing and gaining space smarts (similar to street smarts). I loved the greater emotional depth I felt with the characters in this story, most likely a result of this being a sequel and me already being attached to the characters. Basically, I have nothing negative to say about this book and just want to squeal over how lovely and sweet it is. Zita is a fantastic role model for girls - she is courageous and innovative and deeply loyal. I can't wait for even more adventures with Zita!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: The Sweetest Spell

The Sweetest Spell
By Suzanne Selfors
Expected publication August 21, 2012 by Walker & Company

Emmeline Thistle was born a dirt-scratcher and, by all rights, she should have died soon after. Born with a curled foot, she was left in the woods to die, only to be protected by cows. Since her unnatural survival, the cows have continued to visit Emmeline and the people of her village think she possesses some sort of black magic. But when the unmarried men of Emmeline's village are taken away by the king (including her father) and a flood sweeps away her home, Emmeline will be set on a course to discover her true magic.

I have never read Selfors before - she always struck me a little too girly for me. But I couldn't resist picking up this one when my boss brought a galley back from TLA. It's basically a fairy tale about a girl who discovers she can make chocolate in a land where no one has seen chocolate for many generations. Yes, this book is pretty girly - I mean it's got all the traditional fairy tale elements and romance bits. But I also found this book quite irresistible. There is just something about the way this story is told that I didn't want to put it down. Emmeline is a sweet heroine who is incredibly easy to sympathize with. And Owen is an adorable hero. I couldn't help but root for their romance to blossom and work out. Selfors peppers her plot with a number of twists and obstacles that made me anxious to keep reading and see how the problems would be solved. I loved the layers of this story and the history of the land that Selfors created. This reminded me quite a bit of Wisdom's Kiss - it was sweet and clever and exciting and romantic. Yes, it may be a silly premise but it's a fairy tale after all - aren't most of them quite silly if you think about it? This book is actually a bit more sophisticated than it may initially come across, and I think it would easily be adored by lovers of fairy-tales and romance readers. There isn't much in the way of "teen" content (that I can think of off the top of my head), so it could also easily be recommended to tween readers. I found this book utterly charming and am thinking I may need to read some of Selfors' other work as well.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (28)

Moo Hoo
By Candace Ryan, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Published 2012 by Walker & Company
A very clever book that uses only words rhyming with "moo hoo" to tell its story. Cow and Owl are best friends and do everything together. They are not exactly excited about Kangaroo trying to butt in on their friendship. But, of course, they eventually see all the things that Kangaroo could add to their friendship and everyone ends up happy. A great book about learning to make friends told in a very simple and clever way.

Frangoline and the Midnight Dream
By Clemency Pearce and Rebecca Elliott
Published 2011 by Scholastic
A cute story about a good little girl who becomes something entirely different at night, this book is most notable for its beautiful illustrations. The tale reads like a cross between a Halloween book and a bedtime story, so it's hard to know when exactly it might be best to read, but it is a cute story. I like that the illustrations are a nice mix of dark and adorable - it's basically my favorite thing.

Magritte's Marvelous Hat
By D.B. Johnson
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I've picked up a couple of Johnson's books lately and I guess I just don't get them. Do kids find them appealing? Perhaps the style of art and animal characters work well for the audience but the stories always strike me as a bit off for the age group. I found this one more accessible than the Escher-based title, but I don't think these books will ever really be among my favorites.

Vote for Me!
By Ben Clanton
Published 2012 by Kids Can Press
It's an election year so it shouldn't really surprise anyone that this book has come along to try to introduce children to the politics of campaigning. I found it quite entertaining, but I'm not sure if the humor will find its mark among an audience of kids. Even if they miss all the subtleties of it, I think kids will find the antics of the elephant and donkey amusing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Black Heart

Black Heart (Curse Workers, book 3)
By Holly Black, read by Jesse Eisenberg
Published 2012 by Random House Audio

WARNING: There will be spoilers for books one and two in the series. You can read my reviews of those titles by clicking the links.

Cassel's secret talent is also his most desired: both the Mob and the Feds want to hire Cassel to do their dirty work. But what kind of man does Cassel want to be? And will either decision lead to a happy ending for him and Lila?

So, in case you missed it, this is one of the first series in a long time where I have felt the WANT and the PULL of each subsequent book. After finishing the first, I immediately downloaded the second and third because I knew I'd want to read them as soon as possible. This is one of the best fantasy series in YA today and seriously, why aren't you reading it already? Black has completely won me over with these books. But, let's talk about this one specifically - the end of the series. As expected, I faced this book with a bit of trepidation: would I be happy or sad when it was over? Well, dear readers, the answer is both. I think this is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy with an ending that leaves you wondering and, even better, still involved in the world that Black has created. One would expect that a series ender is basically filled with tying up the plot points. Oh, but see, that's where Black has got you - there is so much happening in this book! Not only are we tying up loose ends and watching Cassel (now assuredly one of my favorite YA characters) choose what kind of person he wants to be, but Black introduces an entire new storyline in this one. I think this catapults the book out of the realm of your typical "final novel" and makes it that much more interesting. Like I said in previous reviews, Black does characters extraordinarily well and this installment is no exception. I was 100% behind Cassel the entire time as he struggles with which path to choose. The secondary characters are all there and just as interesting as well. I really find no flaws with book and I can't wait to see what Black does next. What are you waiting for? GO READ THESE!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Program: Tween Olympics

For my final program of the summer, I had a really hard time deciding on what I wanted to do. Like I've mentioned before, I really wanted to try to have all my programming fit into the mystery-ish summer reading theme. Initially, I planned on playing a game of life-size Clue - something I've been wanting to do since I first saw the idea. However, the more I thought about it, the more it just seemed like I wouldn't be able to do it justice. So, my next thought was making a giant labyrinth with challenges at intersections for kids to try to navigate. This, of course, created its own dilemma - what on earth would I possible construct a giant labyrinth out of? So, idea #2 scrapped. At this point, time was becoming an issue. I needed to come up with something because the July calendar of events needed to go out. And then I realized - HELLO, the Olympics will be just about to start! Voila! Program is born. Here's what we did.

Javelin throw: incredibly simple and incredibly popular. I made javelins by taping four plastic straws together. I think I made six. Then I taped a line on the floor from which they had to throw. They were trying to throw the javelins into two small wastebaskets. Kids went two at a time. They loved trying to get as many javelins as they could into the baskets and it was much more difficult than it seemed at first.

Hula hoop: exactly what it sounds like. I bought two hula hoops, set them on the ground next to each other and the kids challenged each other to see who could hula hoop the longest. A teen volunteer got them to start at the same time and then it was easy to determine winners.

Standing long jump: I made a tape line on the floor and the kids jumped from a standing position to see who could make it the farthest. This was, by far, the least popular of all the activities.

Obstacle course relay race: When there were about 20 minutes left in the program, I gathered all the attendees together and split them into two teams. They had to crawl under a line of chairs, balance on one foot for 20 seconds, and then throw a rubber ducky into a bucket. The next teammate couldn't start until the rubber duckies were returned to the throwing line. The kids absolutely loved this and enthusiastically cheered on their teammates.

Archery: yes, we own several of those plastic bow and arrow sets. Since archery is an actual event in the Olympics, I figured I'd let the kids give it a shot (haha). The sets we have don't work very well and the tweens were a bit disappointed, but they tried very hard to succeed at this event. I got some excellent photos of tweens taking fierce archery poses.

Shotput: another actual Olympic event that I tried to incorporate, I simply covered beanbags in aluminum foil. I started out with the intention of the kids throwing straight from the chin (as in actual shotput) but this quickly just turned into a regular throwing competition.

And that was it! Little mess and the kids moved freely between stations (excepting the obstacle course), so they could practice whichever event they enjoyed the most. And the reward for all their efforts? A variety of candies, of course!

What events would you include at your library Olympics?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Exposed

By Kimberly Marcus
Published 2011 by Random House Children's Books

Liz is most at home behind her camera and it shows - her photos garner attention from her teacher and she may have a shot at a prestigious school. Her favorite (and best) subject is her best friend. But everything changes for Liz when that best friend lobs an accusation at Liz's brother, an accusation that can't be ignored.

What can I say? It's a verse novel so obviously I was going to read it. I picked it up for a quick read between other books, not really sure what to expect. I thought this book was really well-done and actually think the format suited the story exceptionally well. The narrative voice of Liz is very realistic - readers won't be hard-pressed to sympathize with her as she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a horrid situation. By this point, I've read a lot of novels in verse and I think I enjoyed this one because it deals with a tough subject without being brutal; it's almost a contrast to the novels of Ellen Hopkins. Don't get me wrong; I adore Hopkins' novels. I just found this to be a well-written book that also dealt with a tough subject frankly but perhaps a little less sharply. Marcus does a great job of creating characters that I care about - often, it's hard to find the balance between characterization and plot development in a verse novel. I think Marcus has found it here. The poems that make up the narrative of Exposed are beautiful as well. This was not a disappointment and I highly recommend this to readers looking for a realistic and well-written story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Hurt Go Happy

Hurt Go Happy
By Ginny Rorby, read by Emily Bauer
Published 2011 by Blackstone Audiobooks

Joey Willis is used to being left out - deaf since age 6, she's never been allowed to learn sign language and must rely on reading lips to keep up with conversations. When she stumbles upon Dr. Charles Mansell and is introduced to his signing baby chimpanzee, Sukari, Joey begins to understand that things could be different for her, if she learns to find her true voice.

This book caught my eye a few years ago - the cover and title are sure to catch many people's eyes (though there is something slightly off-putting about the illustration on the cover; maybe her hair is just TOO red). This was before I knew it won the Schneider Family Book Award (I'm always interested in seeing how young people's literature portrays people with disabilities). I downloaded the audiobook on a whim and listened while I drove. I have mixed feeling about this book. I really wanted to like it and, for the most part, I did. Joey is a very realistic character with a voice that it hard to ignore in a situation that is frustratingly realistic and heartbreaking. She undergoes a beautiful transformation throughout the course of the novel as she begins to realize that she has opinions of her own and maybe she needs to work harder on expressing them. Joey's family is also full of believable characters who make you feel much like real people do. And the story is wonderful as well - the impact that a stranger and Sukari have on Joey's life is portrayed nicely. For me, the drawbacks of this book are few: it is dense. Rorby is tackling a number of difficult and complex issues in the course of one 300-page novel (is it really only 300 pages?!) and it definitely feels like it through some parts. The book covers quite a significant portion of time and I almost wondered if it needed to be drawn-out so much. I'm not opposed to single titles; in fact, I often crave more of them. But with the depth and breadth of this story, I wondered if, perhaps, it might have been more easily digested in two separate parts.

Overall, though, this is an incredibly important and well-done book, tackling some difficult and complicated issues. I recommend this highly to anyone looking for a great realistic read.

Note on the format: I listened to the audiobook, which I enjoyed. However, Bauer's voice didn't strike me as perfectly fitting for Joey's character. She has a bubbly sort of voice and it just didn't feel like the best fit to me. Additionally, I had listened not too long before to another audiobook narrated by Bauer, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, and I felt her voice was much better suited to that title.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

My last storytime of the summer!

Welcome, introductions and reminders - we had a bonus reminder this week as we are having trouble with our castle door (why, yes, our storytimes take place in a castle, did I forget to mention that?). I let people know that Miss B would be there to let them in and out as needed. This week we were talking about fruits and veggies - delicious food that's good for you!

Opening: Open Shut Them - ughhhhh, I can barely muster any enthusiasm for this nowadays. I'll need to work on finding a replacement during our storytime break.

Book: No Peas for Nellie by Chris L. Demarest - I had never seen this book before but it was one pulled especially for storytime this week. I thought it was cute - Nellie recounts all the things she'd rather eat than her peas. The kids loved it - they shouted "NO!" after every thing Nellie said she would eat (because they surely wouldn't eat a spider or a warthog).

Flannel: Vegetable Guessing Game - I hated all the flannels we had (as usual), so I settled for this guessing game. I read a short rhyming verse about a vegetable and the kids tried to guess which one I was talking about. They were pretty easy and the kids got them all right and had fun shouting out the answers.

Book: Rah Rah Radishes: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre - I wanted to sort of extend the guessing game by showing kids the great variety of vegetables and maybe introducing them to some they weren't familiar with. However, this book did not go over well. The kids shouted over all the words, naming the different vegetables and declaring their favorites. They weren't really that interested in looking at the pictures or learning about the new vegetables. I probably wouldn't use this one again in a storytime.

Song: "Bluegrass Jamboree" by Hap Palmer - still a popular choice, the kids love to run in place and, of course, fall down.

Book: Jamberry by Bruce Degen - we need some fruit in our storytime! This is a lovely and silly rhyming book that features all varieties of berries being enjoyed by a boy and his bear friend. The kids were not really that interested in the rhymes and just wanted to talk about the different kinds of berries.

Big Book: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson - this is a very simple story but I thought the kids would enjoy the surprise at the end. They ended up being pretty ambivalent about it.

Big Book: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood - this is one of my favorite books, so I couldn't resist sharing it in this storytime! I tried my best to build tension and suspense by emphasizing the BIG HUNGRY BEAR who wanted the delicious strawberry and I think it worked pretty well. The kids loved the strawberry in disguise (of course) but most had figured out the end before I got there.

Closing: Wave Goodbye by Rob Reid - why can't Miss Sarah just memorize this? It's not that many lines! Someday, I will be the victor in Miss Sarah vs. memorization!

And that was my fruits and veggies family storytime! Overall, they were too wiggly and rambunctious for most of the stories, but that's unusual for this storytime. Now, I get a break until the end of August!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (27)

What's in the Witch's Kitchen?
By Nick Sharratt
Published 2011 by Candlewick
A Halloween-themed lift the flap book, this is a very innovative use of the flaps. Each flap is engineered to be lifted in two opposite direction and, in the case of this book, one side will show you a trick and the other will show you a treat. Kids are sure to be amazed by the technology at work here (I know I was) and will also have fun giggling over some of the tricks found in the witch's kitchen. A delightful book.

The Family Tree
By David MacPhail
Published 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
This is a sweet story of a tree that grows alongside a family and the boy who comes along late in the tree's life to save it. A beautiful blend of the personal and the global, this is a lovely tale to introduce young readers to a simple version of environmentalism. This could be shared during a nature storytime as well. A very touching and lovely story.

What Little Boys Are Made Of
By Robert Neubecker
Published 2012 by Balzer + Bray
In this updated version of the classic rhyme, Neubecker delights in making readers aware of all the things little boys are made of. He provides an excellent mix of what we'd expect but also shows the softer and sweeter side of little boys. A perfect gift for mothers of little boys.

The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans
By Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
Published 2011 by Random House Children's Books
This is a cute ghost story set in New Orleans with illustrations in a style that I think is likely to draw kids in. It tells the story of Fred the Ghost, who is not scary enough to prevent a man and his daughter from moving into his house and opening a restaurant. So, Fred does his best to try to scare them away. It's a happy ending for all when Fred and the living occupants find a way to exist together peacefully. I don't imagine lots of kids seeking out this kind of book, but it could be a nice surprise for the kid who stumbles on it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: The Firefly Letters

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba
By Margarita Engle
Published 2010 by Henry Holt and Company

In mid-19th-century Cuba, young women do not have the freedom to do as the please. But when Fredrika Bremer visits from Sweden, a woman who believes that women have as many rights as men, things may begin to change for a few young women on the island.

This is the third book by Engle that I've read and the first where I was truly engaged the entire time. Engle has created a beautiful homage to Cuba and its natural lushness as well as presented a realistic portrait of the struggles for young women at this time in history. I had never heard of Bremer before picking up this novel and I think Engle has done her a great service by featuring her - she has a fascinating story to tell. I quickly became attached to all the characters in this short but powerful book and found Engle's verse concise and lovely. This book is quite deceptive. It's a quick read, like many novels in verse, but it touches on some deep topics and handles them quite nicely. I wanted this book to be much longer; I didn't feel ready to leave its spell when I came to the last page. It's clear to me that Engle is a passionate writer - she always chooses topics that are interesting and relevant to her and she does her research. I am very glad I picked this one up because Engle has definitely won me over.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: Red Glove

Red Glove (Curse Workers, book 2)
By Holly Black, read by Jesse Eisenberg
Published 2011 by Listening Library

WARNING: There are probably spoilers for the first book in this review. If you'd like to read my review of book one, go here.

Things are radically different for Cassel now - now that he knows his memories were being altered by his brothers and now that Lila, his best friend, is back in the picture (VERY back in the picture as a matter of fact). But that doesn't mean things are any easier - Cassel's older brother has just been murdered and now Cassel is being recruited by both the FBI and the Mob.

Black surprised the heck out of me with book one, seeing as I wasn't much of a fan of her earlier title that I'd read. So I was very eager to read the second book in the series, especially after the killer ending of the first. Black's second volume does not disappoint. In fact, I love this series even more now. The intrigue and inner turmoil Cassel feels is very realistic and incredibly well-done, especially as a female author presenting a realistic male POV. It was slightly less jarring for me to listen to Eisenberg's narration this time, mainly because I don't think Cassel's race was mentioned this time around. But I love the direction that Black has taken this series in - it's much more than just a really heavy and dark family drama. There is crime and magic and a true internal conflict for our main character - actually, Cassel is finding himself conflicted about a number of different things, not just whether he should work for the FBI or the Mob. I really love that Black is able to make this series both dark and sad at times, but also quite humorous. Cassel is a wonderful narrator and, even though I know he's a con artist (and much more, of course), I'm inclined to believe everything he says. It's interesting actually - I hadn't really thought about Cassel as an unreliable narrator before. But he could quite possibly be one. I mean, he is an admitted con man and actually quite a good one, so perhaps he is conning the reader as well. Hmm...have I just come up with an alternate ending for the series? I'll have to read Black Heart to find out. One of my only disappointments with this volume was in terms of Lila, at least in the beginning of the book. I thought she was a fantastic surprise character in book 1 and I was interested to see how Black would handle her in book 2, especially consider the ending of the first. I was a little sad to see how she seemed more of a placeholder, another thing for Cassel to be conflicted about for the beginning of this novel, but I think she became that same surprising character by the end. Needless to say, I am eagerly anticipating book 3.

This series is (so far) highly recommended by me - to all fans of paranormal and fantasy and certainly to boys.