Wednesday, March 18, 2015

February Round-Up

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A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, Illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2015
After Fluffy died, Miss Drake wasn’t quite ready for a new pet, and certainly not a new pet like Winnie! And somehow stubborn Winnie has gotten the idea that Miss Drake is a pet for her! As if a dragon could be a human’s pet! Winnie just won’t go away, so Miss Drake takes it upon herself to introduce her new pet to the magical side of San Francisco. Magic that includes kobolds, dream-casting moths, air sprites, and invisibility spells. But when Winnie draws in a cursed sketchbook, she learns that magic isn’t all good. It’s up to these two vastly opposite creatures to work as a team to save the day.
Set in modern day San Francisco, this whimsical adventure is as fluffy and fun as a magical cloud. Written from Miss Drake’s point of view, the narrative is witty and well-paced. Each short chapter begins with a bit of a pet-owner advice--”If you value your happiness and sanity, take your time and choose your pet wisely.”--and a black and white illustration by GrandPre. This is a good choice for a family read aloud or for independent readers ready to take a step up from series books like The Magic Tree House.

More books by Yep:


Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 2+

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Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Scholastic Press, 2015
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
On the day Otto gets lost in the forest, his life is changed when he encounters three mysterious sisters, a prophecy, and, most importantly, a harmonica. The harmonica travels the world, changing the lives of more children through music and magic. There’s Friedrich, who lives in pre-WWII Germany and longs to become a conductor. Orphaned Mike in Philadelphia who desperately hopes he can find a way to stay with his younger brother. And in Southern California, there’s Mexican-American Ivy, who learns first hand about racial prejudice. These children are tied together by their love of music, and their passion and love for life and their family.

Ryan deftly blends elements of historical fiction, magical realism, and fairy tales to create a compelling and haunting story. This book is divided into four section and is bookended by an original fairy tale full of magic, evil witches, and above all, the power of music. The narrative is lyrical and powerfully emotional. The use of music--sometimes the lyrics and other times descriptive passages about how the music feels or sounds--provides a counterpoint to the action that makes the climatic scenes even more vivid. The plot is tightly woven with historical references that bring the setting and time periods to life. Although the book is lengthy (500+ pages), the characters' stories are so compelling the pages seem to fly by.

The ARC that I read included two short pages of backmatter on how to read harp tabs, which were sadly missing from the published first edition copy that we received at my library. Although brief, this friendly introduction to playing was a great way to encourage young readers to pick up a harmonica of their own. I hope it will be included in later editions.

More by Ryan:


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

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The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
In the 4th book in the Penderwick series, the Penderwick children are growing up. Rosalind is in her first year away at college and Jane and Skye have become teenagers. The new additions to the family, Ben and Lydia are growing, too. Ben loves to play elaborate games of make-believe with his best friend and Lydia will soon be getting a "big-girl" bed of her very own. Which leaves Batty, now in 5th grade, squarely in the middle. Batty can’t wait for spring and her birthday, for Rosalind to get home from college and for Jeffrey to visit so they can talk, talk, talk about music. But then there are secrets, so many secrets and they start to weigh shy Batty down.
The charm, love, and coziness of the Penderwick family continues in this delightful book. Like the others in this series, this book can stand alone, but it is much stronger in the larger context of the series. Readers who know and love the Penderwick sisters may feel some bittersweet growing pains at the start of the book, but soon the magic of Gardam Street takes over. The character development is strong and the dialogue believable. The narrative, in third person from Batty’s point of view, is humorous and touching by turns.

Start the series from the beginning with the first book, The Penderwicks.


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


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