Waking Brain Cells
I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein
This dog takes care of himself. He tells himself to roll over, he throws a stick for himself and then goes to get it, he scratches his own itches. Except for the one in the middle of his back, he can’t quite reach it. So when a human follows him home and knows right where to scratch, the dog adopts him. He teaches the human how to hold a leash, how to play the stick game, and how to follow commands. Yes, he has to clean up after the human, but in the end the two of them become the best of friends.
A clever twist on people getting a dog, in this book it is the dog that gets the person. Stein plays up the humor with his short text that is done entirely from the point of view of this very independent canine. The book is a quick read with a zippy pace that adds to the pleasure. Stein’s illustrations are bright and loose. The watercolor gives a flowing feel to the images and offer gorgeous colors on the page as they mix.
One dynamite dog book, this one will get kids giggling but ends with the honest truth of finding a new best friend. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: dogs, pets
The Fire Wish by Amber Lough
The war between the jinnis and the humans has been going on for years. Najwa is a young jinni who is being specially trained in covert operations and visiting the human world. Zayele is a human, selected to marry a prince whom she’s never met. When the two of them meet, Zayele makes a wish on Najwa and switches their places. Now Zayele is the jinni, living among other jinnis in the crystal caves under the earth and Najwa is the human, heading for marriage to a prince. The two must keep themselves secret, both knowing that they will be killed by the people around them if they are discovered. But war and love make everything more complicated and the two discover secrets about themselves and their worlds that will change everything.
Lough’s debut novel is the first in a series. It intelligently combines the author’s experience in the deserts of the Middle East with the fantasy elements of jinnis and wishes. The setting is vividly depicted, both the crystal caverns of the jinnis with the lakes of dancing flame and the desert world of the humans are well drawn. The differing cultures juxtapose clearly against one another, each with different freedoms and neither considered wrong or right. There is a lot of respect for cultures in this novel.
The two main protagonists are also nicely different from one another. While Najwa is a character who is very likeable and easily related to, Zayele serves as her foil. Najwa worries more for her entire people while Zayele makes choices that focus more on herself and her situation. Neither character would completely work without the other there too and both display nice and natural growth as the story progresses. The book also has an element of romance to it, it too is handled with a natural pace and progression.
A strong debut book that is a tantalizing blend of romance, magic and wishes. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: fantasy, genies, wishes
Another year of the Cybils is upon us! Time to start going through your lists of favorites for the year and coming up with awesome nominations for the best books. But before the nominations open, there is the annual call for judges!
If you are a blogger, this is a great way to get involved with the larger kid-lit online community. It’s also a great way to read books that you missed and debate books with others who are just as passionate as you are.
Join in the fun, you will be glad you did!
Filed under: Awards
You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
An orange bear declares to a smaller blue bear that the shorter one is “small.” The little one says that that is not true, rather the orange bear is “big.” The orange bear shows that he has other big creatures just like him and just his size, but so does the blue bear. The two groups start to argue and fight about whether they are big or small. Then another creature arrives and another one yet that help put size into perspective for everyone.
This very simple book has a great sense of humor throughout. The creatures that seem like bears to me are fuzzy and friendly. Against the white background, the bears pop on the page. With only a few lines per page, this book will be enjoyed by small children learning about concepts like big and small. The humor makes the entire lesson in size and relativity completely enjoyable and it will be a book that children will ask to be read again. There is even a great little (or big) twist at the end.
Weyant’s illustrations are a large part of the appeal of the book. The New Yorker cartoonist has created fuzzy creatures that are loveable and cute as can be, no matter what size they are. Weyant has clearly loved playing with the differences in sizes, creating characters who live large on the page.
Bold illustrations, charming characters and funny situations make this a winning picture book for the smallest (and largest) among us. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from ARC received from Two Lions.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: concepts, relativity, size
The Hollywood Reporter has the latest on the casting of the film version of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls. Sigourney Weaver has now joined that cast that also includes Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson. Weaver will be playing the grandmother, Jones the mother and wonderfully, Neeson will be the monster. Juan Antonio Bayona will be directing the Focus Features film.
It’s an incredible read, so I hope they do it proud and keep the truly frightening aspects of the book without making the child character older.
Filed under: Movies
Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Released September 23, 2014.
12-year-old Arie Mae loves living in the Appalachian Mountains. She is so proud of her mother, who sings the old songs like an angel and her father who loves modern and traditional music. All that is missing in her life is a best friend. Arie Mae starts writing letters to her cousin who lives far away in Baltimore and whose mother had grown up in the mountains. After sending letter after letter, Arie Mae gets no response, but continues writing anyway, sharing the details of her life and adventures. Then Arie Mae gets another chance to make a new friend. A group of children from Baltimore are coming to the mountains along with the song catcher ladies, who will record the traditional songs and who have also created a new school for people to learn traditional crafts that can then be sold. Arie Mae knows right away that she won’t be friends with the bossy girl who looks down on the mountain children. But there is a boy with a limp who loves to hear the traditional stories and refuses to let his limp stop him from exploring. His mother warns Arie Mae that he should not exert himself much because of his health, but nothing is going to slow either of them down now that they are friends and there are woods and mountains to discover together.
Dowell writes with a beauty that brings the Appalachians to life. She captures the lifestyle of these people without flinching from the poverty that they live in, but also revealing the incredible simplicity of this life that makes it possible. She shows the tension between traditional ways of life and the modern world in a very developed way, where the outsiders are the ones who want the traditions to continue and their lives to be undisturbed by modern conventions. This is a beautiful novel about the power of writing, the question of whether those living in the mountains need saving, and the quest for a best friend.
Arie Mae is a wonderful character. She is the lens through which we see the mountains and it is her love for them that appears on the page. So does her voice, which is clarion clear and written with the rhythm of the mountains entwined in it. Here is a passage from page 22 of the e-galley where she writes to her cousin about how writing has changed her:
I have found that since I started writing letters to you I’ve been paying close attention to all the doings and comings and goings of a day. It’s like saving secrets to share with a friend late in the evening, when the lights are dimmed but for a single lantern hanging on a neighbor’s porch across the holler.
These are the sorts of images shared throughout the book, sprinkled throughout. The setting of the mountains is as much a character on the page as Arie Mae is. And it is brought to life just as vividly.
Strongly written, with beautiful passages, this novel for middle graders invites them to spend time with Arie Mae in the mountains and to join in the adventures. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: Appalachians, historical fiction
Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey
Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him. Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk. But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer. Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles. She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming. She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories. She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him. She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?
Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood. At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well. The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind. Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic. She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so.
Charlie is a very interesting protagonist. He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that. He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress. He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself. He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness. One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie. The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces. Perfectly done.
A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: abuse, families, recovery
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
The author of Zita the Spacegirl has created his first picture book and it has all of the charm and zip one would expect. Julia lives in a house carried on the back of a turtle. They arrive on a quiet beach by the sea where Julia quickly settles in, but it is far too quiet. So Julia makes a sign that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.” She didn’t have to wait long before something is at the door, and then more and more creatures. Soon she has a house full of odd beasts, including a dripping troll, a patchwork cat, a dragon, a ghost, and a mermaid. Things quickly get out of hand as they all make themselves at home. Now Julia needs another plan, and maybe another sign or two.
Hatke’s jaunty protagonist is what makes this book work. She moves quickly and with plenty of determination and is filled with ideas. One can almost see her thinking on the page. Perhaps the best part of the book is when she becomes overwhelmed and has to rethink. The book has been galloping along and then pauses as Julia does, slowing to a pace that lets one catch their breath. It’s a wonderfully done moment just like many others in the book.
Told very simply, the book relies nicely on the illustrations to show much of the action rather than the text explaining it. This makes for a very readable picture book, but also one that is better for lap reading than for a group. Listeners will want to look closely at the page even before the amazing creatures fill them.
An exceptional picture book debut, one hopes that Hatke keeps created both picture books and graphic novels for children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: creatures, fantasy
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