Monday, April 7, 2014

March Round-Up

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Five, Six, Seven, Nate! By Tim Federle
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014

Nate is back and he’s better than ever! Ok, well, maybe he’s a bit bewildered and overwhelmed by the rehearsal process for his Broadway debut in E.T.: The Musical. He’s playing an ensemble child and understudying the title role, so that’s pretty cool. But he didn’t know there was more than one E.T. understudy, that he’d have to dance (yikes!), or that he’d feel so out of touch with his best friend being miles away in Janksburg, PA. Nate isn’t like the other show biz kids and although he’s used to being different, he’s not so sure it’s a good thing this time. Take another hilarious and touching ride with Nate Foster as he learns to live in the Big Apple, masters his choreography, has his first kiss, and saves the show!

The sequel to 2013’s Better Nate than Ever, this book picks up the story the night before Nate moves to NYC to live with his Aunt Heidi. Fans of the first book will be pulled right back into the story, as the dramatic events and fast pacing push  Nate from first rehearsal to first preview.  Written in first person from Nate’s perspective, the narrative is laugh out loud funny and, at all the right moments, tear-jerkingly touching. The story is wrapped in all things musical theatre, which will delight young theatre worshippers, but Federle also includes enough explanation of the rules of theatre culture to include the average reader. 

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 11+/Grade 6+

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A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Scholastic Press, 2014

Felicity Pickle’s mom has a traveling bug that has taken the family from coast to coast. So Felicity isn’t surprised that her mom is moving them again, but she is surprised that they’re moving to her mother’s hometown – Midnight Gulch. Felicity steels herself for another day of being the weird new kid at school, but then the unexpected happens; she makes a friend! A friend who doesn’t mind that she can see and catch words and poems from the air. A friend who has a mysteriously factofabulous secret. A friend who helps her learn the truth about her family’s past. Throw in magical ice cream, the enigmatic Beedle, a curse, and, of course, a spindiddly snicker of magic, and you have a story full of magic, wonder, and above all, love.

This sweetly magical story is written in first person from Felicity’s point of view as she learns about the power of love, friendship, words, and music. Felicity’s father left the family and through time she learns to accept what happen, but also realize that she will always love her father. Themes of forgiveness and loss are explored in a positive, clean manner. Although the townspeople have had difficult pasts, Lloyd keeps the story free of sordid backgrounds. It’s notable that Felicity’s best friend Jonah is in a wheelchair, although an explanation is never provided for this circumstance, nor are readers told why his is “away”. However, it seems as though Lloyd has made a conscious decision to keep the details vague. The characters are unique and broadly drawn and the text is a balanced combination of dialogue and narration. Even though the plot is a tad predictable, Lloyd’s whimsically poetic style of writing will endear the characters and the town of Midnight Gulch to readers. This is a great choice for a family read aloud.

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 9+/Grade 4+

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The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Dutton Children’s Books, 2004

11 year old Annika has had the same dream ever since she can remember – the mother who abandoned her in a tiny church in the Austrian mountains suddenly arrives at the door. She’s never really imagined what would happen after that point, but it’s still a lovely dream. Annika doesn’t daydream about it too much, she’s too busy living and loving life with her adopted family in Vienna. She lives with Ellie and Sigrid, the two women who found her in the church that sunny day, along with three sibling professors, each one a bit lost in their academic worlds. But they all love Annika, in fact the entire neighborhood loves her. She helps around the house, plays wonderful games of make believe with her friends, and every year they celebrate her Found Day. But all that changes the day Annika’s mother really does arrive at the door. Annika is whisked away to the once-magnificent house at Spittal. She knows she should be happy her dream has come true, but then why does she feel so alone? The story that unfolds is full of secrets and unknown treasure, friendship and revelations.

Set in Europe just after the turn of the 20th century this old fashioned story begins predictably, but quickly leads readers on an adventure with plenty of twists and turns. Written in third person, information is revealed slowly as it would be to hardworking, sweet-tempered, empathetic Annika. Vivid descriptions, loveable characters, and humorous observations bring Annika’s world to life in a way that is uniquely Ibbotson. Themes of identity, family, friendship, and determination are explored and celebrated. Close to 400 pages, the first part of the book unfolds slowly, but the pace quickens as dastardly plans are uncovered and Annika is put in peril. Give this book to a voracious reader who loves to escape into the world of a book for hours. The edition I read had a few pen and ink illustrations by Kevin Hawkes sprinkled throughout the story, as well as beautiful maps of Europe in 1908 on the endpapers.

More chapter books by Eva Ibbotson:

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+