Thursday, November 5, 2015

September Round-Up

Image from Scholastic.com
The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2015
9780545448680
“You either see it or you don’t.”
This book explores the power of stories. Stories that empower us, stories that protect us, stories that help us survive. The book opens in 1766 with a ship at sea. On board is a boy named Billy Marvel. The mostly wordless grayscale pencil drawings follow Billy through a shipwreck, into his career in theatre, and then through several generations of Marvel men. The detailed cinematic images employ close ups and wide shots to draw the reader’s attention. The first section ends in a wall of flame and a cliffhanger as readers are cast adrift into Joseph’s story set in London in 1990. The images have been replaced with text and for quite some time it’s unclear how these two stories overlap. However, as each piece of the puzzles is revealed the connections between the two stories become stronger. The story finishes with a wordless, visual conclusion leaving the reader wondering exactly how much the stories overlap. The afterword includes more information on the inspiration behind the book.
This is a story about stories and the characters are strongly developed and compelling. The relationships are complex and poignant. The illustrations are rich with details and symbolism that will make subsequent readings thrilling.
 
More by Selznick:

Readalikes:
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+
 
 
Image from SarahWeeks.com
Pie by Sarah Weeks
Scholastic Press, 2011
9780545270113
Alice’s wonderful and loving Aunt Polly was known for her pies. She didn’t just make pies at home, she started a pie shop where she gave the pies away for free! So when Aunt Polly suddenly dies, Alice, as well as the small town of Ipswitch, PA, are at a loss. Unfortunately, Alice hasn’t inherited her aunt’s pie-making talent, but she does inherit Aunt Polly’s grumpy cat, Lardo. And it turns out Aunt Polly left her top secret lighter-than-air piecrust recipe to Lardo. It seems there’s a sinister someone who is willing to do just about anything to get their hands on that recipe and it’s up to Alice and her friend Charlie to stop them.
Set in 1955 , this historical fiction title is as warm and comforting as a slice of pie. Each short chapter starts with a recipe for pie mentioned in the text. Although Alice struggles to communicate with her unhappy parents and also deal with her grief, the story focuses more on the crime-solving elements of the plot. A small cast of quirky, but loveable characters and realistic dialogue make this a sweet read aloud.

 
More by Weeks:
 
Readalikes:
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+

 
Image CuriosityJones.net
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, Illustrated by Katie Kath
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
9780385755528
When her family inherits her Great-Uncle Jim’s farm, 12-year-old Sophie Brown never imagines it might lead to rising chickens, much less unusual chickens. What’s so unusual about them you ask? The Bantam White Leghorn can levitate things, the Barred Plymouth Rock can disappear, and the three Speckled Sussex are quite handy with a typewriter. Unfortunately, Sophie’s not the only one who finds unusual chickens fascinating. Can Sophie keep her chickens alive and on the farm?
This realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism is written in letters, posters, and the occasional chicken raising quiz. Eager and hard-working Sophie is a compelling protagonist as she fights to protect her chickens. Cultural markers of Sophie’s mixed race family (her father is White and her mother is Mexican-American) are woven into the narrative. Kath’s hilarious black and white illustrations keep even the most serious parts of the story lighthearted. Recommend this book to urban and rural chicken lovers alike.
 
Readalikes:
 
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+
-Amy

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

August Round-Up

Image from Amazon.com
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt, Translated by David Colmer
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2016
978-0553535006
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
Mr. Tibble is a newspaper reporter with a problem, a cat problem. His problem is that every single article he turns into his editor is about cats. Unfortunately, these articles aren't particularly newsworthy. Mr. Tibble has tried to write about non-catty things, but he’s just too shy to talk to people and learn about the town’s news. But then Mr. Tibbles meets Minou a young woman who begins bringing him local news items gathered from the town cats. She’s human, but she has some strangely feline qualities that makes Mr. Tibble wonder. Then Minou uncovers an unpleasant secret about one of the most respected men in town, but all the witnesses are cats! Can Mr. Tibble and Minou unravel the mystery before it’s too late?
Originally written in Dutch and published in the Netherlands, this cat-filled romp has a timeless flavor. The dialogue is witty and the humor is light and breezy, which perfectly matches the pacing of the story. The characters, mostly cats, are quirky, but never exaggerated. This is a great choice for a family read aloud.

More by Schmidt:


Readalikes:

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+


Image from MacKidsBooks.com
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Feiwel and Friends, 2015
9781250043238
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
Jackson’s worried. Jackson’s hardworking parents can’t seem to make ends meet, so they’re going to have a big garage sale. But will it be enough to cover rent? And what about food? Although his family lives in an apartment, there was a time when they lived out of their minivan. To top it all off, Jackson has been catching glimpses of a giant black and white cat with fingers. Crenshaw. The imaginary friend Jackson thought he has out-grown is back. But why?
Divided into three parts, this realistic fiction title handles the serious subject of homelessness with pathos, but most importantly, humor. Although the threat of homelessness hovers over Jackson’s family at all times, there’s also a spirit of hope and determination. The friendships are strong, but it is the family dynamic that anchors the story. Throughout Crenshaw remains mysterious and inexplicable. By the end of the story, even science and fact oriented Jackson decides to enjoy, rather than question, his quirky and loyal imaginary friend. The vocabulary is rich and the short chapters move the story along quickly.

More by Applegate:


Readalikes:

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


Image from RebeccaSteadBooks.com
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, 2015
978-0385743174
Cat-ear-wearing Bridge, feminist Tabitha, and soccer-star Em have always been a set. A set of friends who drew animals at the top of their homework assignments. A set of friends who never fight, ever. And now they are a set of friends facing 7th grade. Together the girls make new friends, experience first crushes, and grapple with changing bodies, feelings, and perceptions. At the same time, each girl explores what love and friendship means to her through conversations, coincidences, and reflection.
Set in present day New York City, this sensitive and delightful story is written from multiple perspectives that overlap and connect in surprising and thoughtful ways. The short chapters are tied together, but they also highlight moments in the characters lives that explore friendship and love. The linear narrative of the three girls is interspersed and juxtaposed with the story of an unnamed first person narrator who is somehow connected to the girls. This enigmatic element highlights the complex difficulties of friendship. Stead’s character development is strong and includes a multicultural cast. The dialogue is believable, humorous, and thought-provoking. Each word is carefully and purposely placed so even the smallest moments have meaning. All of these elements create a compelling story that begs to be reread again and again to savor the connections and characters.

More by Stead:


Readalikes:

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


-Amy

Thursday, August 27, 2015

July Round-Up

Image from LisaGraff.com
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
Philomel Books, 2015
9780399164064

Trent is dreading middle school. Actually, he’s dreading pretty much everything in life right now. It’s all because he accidentally hit a hockey puck into Jared Richards’ chest. Jared Richards, who looked completely fine, but actually had a heart defect and that one hockey puck killed him. People say it wasn’t his fault, but Trent still feels guilty and angry. Luckily, Trent meets Fallon Little, a girl with a mysterious scar and an unsquashable spirit. Maybe with Fallon’s help Trent won’t feel so lost.
This realistic fiction story is crafted with such grace and humor. Trent is an unreliable narrator, yet his journey of friendship and forgiveness is a compelling one. All the characters, from spunky Fallon to Trent’s step-mom Kari, are strongly developed throughout the story. The settings are vividly created with just the barest of descriptions. Trent’s love of sports, especially baseball, could be a great entry point for many young readers. This is a companion book to Umbrella Summer, however it stands alone quite well. 


More books by Graff:


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Image from JenNielsen.com
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2015
9780545682428
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

The Berlin Wall has changed 12-year-old Gerta’s life and also divided her family. Gerta, her mother, and brother Fritz are stuck on the East side of the wall, while her father and brother Dominic are living in the West. Gerta’s family struggles to live a happy life under the oppressive communist government. But Gerta gains a glimmer of hope when she sees her father on the other side of the wall. And not only that, but he sends her a message. A dangerous message that could save or sacrifice her entire family.
Set in the mid-1960’s, Nielsen’s first historical fiction title is expertly paced for maximum suspense. The book begins with a few black and white photographs of Germany and the Berlin Wall that not only provide historical context. The historical details-- Gerta’s longing for a banana, her love of the Beatles--bring the setting to life.The character development is strong and motivations believable and heart-wrenching.  Chapters begin with quotes from philosophers, writers, playwrights, and more that provide political and social context for the time period. I hope the published version will include an author’s note with historical information and a list for further reading.


More by Nielsen:


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Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Graphix, 2015
9780545741651
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

Sunny thought the summer of 1976 was going to be amazing. Her family had planned a trip to the shore with her best friend! But Sunny’s older brother isn’t his old self, so Sunny has to spend the summer with her grandpa in Florida. Her grandpa’s retirement community isn’t exactly thrilling (the post office is a big outing for Gramps), but then she meets Buzz who’s father works at the retirement community. Buzz introduces Sunny to superhero comics and a fast friendship is formed. As Sunny learns more about herself and superheroes, she also learns to face her feelings about her brother’s growing substance abuse issues.
This graphic novel deftly balances themes of friendship (cemented through a love of superhero comics) and the complicated issue of having a family member dealing with substance abuse. The chapters are short, yet impactful. They usually end with a punchline, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious. The full color illustrations contrast Sunny’s current situation in Florida, created in bright pastels with darker toned flashbacks to the past year with her family. The thick, black lines are loose and expressive. The time period, seen in fashion styles, cars, and other pop culture references, is important to the story, yet easily relatable for modern readers.


More by the Holm siblings:


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-Amy

Friday, July 24, 2015

June Round-Up

Image from RandomHouse.com
Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr
Translated from Norwegian by Guy Puzey
Candlewick, 2015
9780763672812
9-year-olds Trille and Lena are neighbors and their adventures take them all over Mathildewick Cove in Norway. They string a ropeway between their windows, recreate Noah’s Ark, save a horse, and sled down a mountain, all with hilarious results. Although their adventures never go as planned and Lena usually ends up with a concussion, Trille is never happier than when he’s on an adventure with his best friend.
Originally published in Norway in 2005, this realistic fiction story set in a rural community follows a year in the life of Trille. In addition to a series of high-spirited adventures, Trille also learns about loss when Lena moves away and his beloved Auntie Granny dies. Set in modern day Norway, each of the episodic chapters ends with a humorous or touching punchline. Puzy’s translation is smooth and suited to Parr's style of writing. Unfamiliar cultural markers and terms are explained easily within the narrative or through context. The characters are wonderfully unique, including Trille’s moped driving Grandpa, his  waffle-making Auntie Granny, and, of course, the vibrant and thrilling Lena.


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




Image from Jabberworks.co.uk
Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Random House, 2015
9780385387958
Astra and her family are on their way to start a new life on the planet of Nova Mundi. With three moons, singing mountains, and herds of floating air sheep Nova Mundi sounds amazing! Unfortunately,  the planet is 199 years away from Earth! That’s why all the passengers on the gigantic space ship will sleep in  pods until they get there. Everything is going according to plan until Astra gets hungry and asks the Nom-O-Tron in the Cafeteria for a bedtime snack. “Oh, just make me the most amazing, super-fantastic cake ever!...I want something so delicious it’s scary!” Nom-O-Tron doesn’t seem able to make the cake, so Astra goes to sleep. But when she wakes up it hasn’t been 199 years and they haven’t arrived at Nova Mundi. Instead, crazy, evil, highly evolved cakes have taken over the ship!


This silly adventure of spoon-loving aliens and friendly robots is complemented with whimsical orange and grayscale illustrations. They provide context for new words and add even more humor to the story. The short chapters that end with cliffhangers are great for new chapter book readers. This is a great recommendation for a laugh out loud family read aloud.


More books by Reeve and/or McIntyre:


Readalikes:
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 6+/Grade 1+




Image from RandomHouse.com
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
9780553497281
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
What do lightbulbs, foil, mirrors, pieces of wood, glass bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard have in common? They’re all items on the list of “The Seven Most Important Things” that Arthur T. Owens must collect for James Hampton (aka the Junk Man). 13-year-old Arthur thinks the list is weird and nonsensical, but he has no choice. This is his probation for throwing a brick at Mr. Hampton. Eventually, the heavenly, spectacular, brilliant artwork in Mr. Hampton’s garage and the seven most important things help Arthur find forgiveness and peace.


Based loosely on the life and art of American folk artist James Hampton, this story features a sensitive, but tough protagonist learning to understand his emotions. Arthur not only deals with the consequences of his brick-throwing actions, but also the sudden death of his father and his mother’s new boyfriend. Strong character development and a believable plot ground this quick, yet thoughtful read. The tight narrative unfolds without fanfare or unnecessary suspense.


More books by Pearsall:


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

-Amy

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

May Round-Up

Image from AlexGino.com
George by Alex Gino
Scholastic, 2015
9780545812542
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

George has always felt like a girl, ever since she can remember. Unfortunately, everyone else looks at her and sees a boy.  So when George’s teacher announces auditions for the 4th grade play, Charlotte’s Web, George just knows she has to play Charlotte. If she plays Charlotte she’ll finally be able to be seen as a girl. And if people could see her like that maybe they could see the real George. Luckily, Kelly, George’s best friend, hatches a plan to make George’s dreams come true.
This realistic fiction story focuses on a shy, but endearing protagonist. Written in third person from George’s point of view, George is always referred to in the feminine form in the narration. This book is not only notable for having believable characters and dialogue, but also because there are few books about transgender children as young as George. The story is reminiscent of Gracefully Grayson, but for a younger audience. Although George’s mother is initially resistant, by the end of the story she realizes that George’s happiness is the most important thing. However, this doesn’t mean that the transition for the family will be smooth. Use this title to begin a discussion on identity and gender. Information within the story about transitioning genders is accurate and age appropriate. I hope the published edition will include back matter with further resources.


Readalikes:

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+


Image from Boom-Studios.com
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis, Illustrated by Brooke Allen
Boom! Box, 2015
9781608866878
1% Lumberjane field guide and 99% awesome, this graphic novel follows the adventures of five diverse and distinctive girls during their summer at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. It’s a good thing these girls have lots of energy, intelligence, and outdoor know-how because something’s not quite right at the camp. Magic foxes, secret codes, underground chambers, hipster yetis, and possessed scouting lads not quite right. And it’s a good thing the girls have each other and always follow the Lumberjane motto, “Friendship to the Max!”, because who knows what will happen next!


Filled with snappy dialogue and fast-paced action this graphic novel zips along at a frenetic clip.  The characters are unique, resourceful, and hilarious. The badges, “The Up All Night Badge: Learn What Goes Bump in the Night”, “The Naval Gauging Badge: Because Drowning is a Scary Way to Go” and “The Pungeon Master Badge: The Best Kind of Punishment”, are just an example of the quirky humor. The ending is abrupt, but this will leave readers begging for volume two.


Readalikes:

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




Image from JessicaLawsonBooks.com
Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Simon and Schuster, 2015
9781481419215
11-year-old Tabitha Crum has a pretty miserable life. Her parents dress her in rags, force her to do all the chores, and have just announced they will be sending her to live in an orphanage while they go abroad. She’s teased at school and her only friend is a mouse named Pemberley. But all that changes when Tabitha and her parents are invited to spend the weekend at the estate of the mysterious and seldom seen Countess of Windermere. Five other children and their parents have also been invited. Why have they been invited? Is the estate haunted? Why are the children vanishing one by one? It’s a good thing that Tabitha likes to read mystery novels. She’s going to need all the help she can get to solve this mystery!


Although it is set in Edwardian England, the characters and dialogue in this page-turning mystery have a modern feeling. Some elements of the mystery are easy to piece together, while others remain elusive until the final reveal. The vocabulary is vast and each chapter begins with a quote from a (fictional) Inspector Pensive novel, which Tabitha knows by heart. Fans of Roald Dahl will be delighted to find this readalike complete with dastardly parents and resourceful children who save the day. Recommend this book to a reader looking for a cozy and engrossing read.


Other books by Lawson:


Readalikes:


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