Amy is a bit of a loner with no friends. Then she starts hanging out at Miss Cogshell’s house. Craig is not a loner, but he doesn’t seem to have any true friends. When Craig finds a baby seal he asks Amy for help. They end up taking care of the seal pup at Miss Cogshell’s house and become attached to each other. This is a story about friendship and responsibility and finding your place in the world.
Julian did something that got him suspended from school. He doesn’t want to talk about it though. When he gets in trouble again his English teacher makes him take on a journal project. He has to write every day and turn it in to his teacher. Julian talks about his friends and the neighborhood and school and girls, but he still won’t talk about what happened over Christmas break.
I actually liked this story a lot more than I thought I would. Julian is a very likable character even if he does seem to just go along with his friends. I thought all the nicknames the kids had were pretty funny and it made me wonder if kids actually did give each other nicknames like that in the 1960s. I really liked Julian’s growth in this book. It seems he really comes to accept who he is and what he has done. I thought the girl part was a little ridiculous, but it added a lot of humor to the story. I think this is a story kids are really going to relate to. Who hasn’t done something they regret and wanted to forget about?
Serafina dreams of being a doctor, but unfortunately she doesn’t even go to school. Her family is very poor, living in Haiti, and she is needed at home to help her mom and grandma. A flash flood wipes out their home and village so the family has to move to another part of the island and rebuild. Soon after an earthquake strikes as well. Serafina is on her own after the earthquake trying to find her family.
I really enjoy novels in verse. I like the fact that authors have to get their story told using so few words. I think Serafina’s story is a good one. You can feel her desire to go to school and her fear when she is on her own after the earthquake. I am assuming this story is set during the recent earthquake in Haiti, but there is no exact date given and it could be at any point in the last century. This is a powerful story and a really enjoyable read.
Judith and her best friend Lottie disappeared. Lottie’s body was found and Judith came back with her tongue cut out two years later. Judith has to deal with her mother and brother’s contempt and the contempt of the people in her village. She keeps her silence and hasn’t told anyone what happened to her. Then her village is attacked and the one person who can help them is the man who kept her prisoner. Judith pours out her heart to Lucas, her childhood love, but only in her head. It is only after she makes a friend and decides to learn to speak again that Judith comes out of her shell.
This was a book I didn’t want to put down. Judith’s story is given out in little bits throughout the book and you are never really sure what happened to her. She is treated like a pariah in her village because she doesn’t speak, but once she finds her courage and her voice things are different. My only beef with this book was the fact that the time and place was so vague. It seemed to be Puritan New England, but that is never specified. However, I really enjoyed Judith and Lucas’s story and how their relationship grew throughout the book.
Gregory comes from a family of mathematicians and her really doesn’t like math. He is the oddball in his family and no one seems to understand him. For Gregory loves writing, poetry specifically. He and his best friend Kelly love to write together and share what they have written. In order to pass his math class and appease his family he has to keep a journal where he writes about math and his life. He also enters the citywide math contest. Gregory learns about the Fibonacci Sequence and decides to do his project on it. But he doesn’t do a traditional math project; he decides to write poems based on the Fibonacci Sequence, which he calls fibs.
Full disclosure, I am not a math person. So a book about math really wasn’t my thing. However, I did like Gregory’s story and how he had to overcome his math deficiencies and find his place in his family. I liked his friendship with Kelly, but didn’t think it was ever fully explained why she and her mom were moving away. It almost seemed like there had to be some tension other than math and the author decided that the best friend leaving was perfect. I think this book will find an audience with the math nerds and the word geeks among readers.
Zach, Poppy and Alice are best friends who like to play games full of imagination and story. Their stories usually center around The Queen, who is a old doll in a glass case in Poppy’s house. One day Poppy decides to take her out of the case and the doll starts speaking to her. It turns out the doll is made of bone china using the bones of a little girl named Eleanor. The three friends head out on a quest to return Eleanor to her grave.
I really enjoyed the friendship between Zach, Alice and Poppy; it was nice to see boys and girls as friends. I do wish they wouldn’t have included the love interest bit, but overall it was a good friendship that can overcome disagreements and quests. I thought Eleanor’s story was creepy and spooky. I loved how the kids figured it out (using the library). Fun, little mystery story.
Castle Glower is alive and it has a mind of its own. It can change its rooms, make new ones and kick you out if it doesn’t like you. It also chooses who will rule the kingdom. And it has chosen Celie’s family as the current ruling family for ten generations. Celie loves Castle Glower; she has been mapping it her whole life and she knows the Castle better than anyone. She is the youngest of the royal children and one of those left at home when the King and Queen go off to bring the oldest son Bran home from the School of Wizardry. Celie along with Rolf and Lilah must take care of things while they are gone. Then word comes that the King, Queen, Bran and most of their party have been ambushed and killed. Suddenly the castle is in an uproar. Their are foreign princes and the royal council interfering in the children’s business and trying to take over the kingdom. It is up to them and the Castle to make sure that doesn’t happen.
I am a sucker for fairy tales like this and I have to admit that this one enchanted me from the beginning. I loved Celie and I loved Castle Glower. They are really the heart of this story. Celie is smart and spunky and loyal. Rolf and Lilah are too, but they didn’t quite capture my heart the way Celie did. I loved the relationship between the siblings though. They each had their own personalities that worked well off each other. I really enjoyed how they plotted to overcome all the bad guys trying to take over the kingdom and the Castle. And I have to say that I really want to live in a castle that will work with you and against your enemies.
I would recommend this to anyone really because I enjoyed it that much. It was an enchanting book full of adventure and magic and mystery…and a moving castle!
A proper Empire wants a border and currency and some who are high and some who are low. And a really proper Empire, the best and most enviable kind of Empire, has Criminals. You’re not doing Empire right if there aren’t loads of people who don’t like it one bit!
A silent Library is a sad Library. A Library without patrons on whom to pile books and tales and knowing and magazines full of up-to-the-minute politickal fashions and atlases and plays in pentameter! A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can’t-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!
Oh, every place has a Pluto! It’s where a universe keeps the polar bears and last year’s pickled entropy and the spare gravity. You need a Pluto or you’re hardly a universe at all. Plutos teach lessons. A lesson is like a time-traveling argument. Because, you see, you can’t argue until you’ve had the lesson or else you’re just squabbling with your own ignorance. But a lesson is really just the result of arguments other people had ages ago! You have to sit still and pay attention and pantomime their arguments over again until you’re so sick of their prattle that you pipe up to have your own. You can’t learn anything without arguing.
Going straight in a line to anything is the saddest path.
Blood is a word that means alive. You can do without almost anything: arms, legs, teeth, hope. But you can’t do without blood. Life eats life. Blood makes you move, makes you blush, makes the pulse pound in your brow when you see your love walking across a street toward you, makes you r very thoughts fly through your brain. Blood is everything and everything is blood.
Living is a paragraph, constantly rewritten. It is Grown-Up Magic. Children are heartless; their parents hold them still, squirming and shouting, until a heart can get going in their little lawless wilderness. Teenagers crash their hearts into every hard and thrilling thing to see what will give and what will hold. And Grown-Ups, when they are very good, when they are very lucky, and very brave, and their wishes are sharp as scissors, when they are in the fullness of their strength, use their hearts to start their stories over again.
Family is a transitive property.
Love is a Yeti. It is bigger than you and frightening and terrible. it makes loud and vicious noises. It is hungry all the time. it has horns and teeth and the fore of its fists is more than anyone can bear. It speeds up time and slows it down. And it has its own aims and missions that those who are lucky enough to see it cannot begin to guess. You might see a Yeti once in your life or never. You might live in a village of them. But in the end, no matter how fast you think you can go, the Yeti is always faster than you, and you can only choose how you say hello to it, and whether you shake its hand.
I think that about sums it all up. Read this series, you won’t be sorry. It is a literary delight.
Dogs of War is a graphic novel in three parts. Each part deals with a war and a dog who was part of that war. We start out with Boots, a mercy dog in the trenches of WWI. The middle story is about Loki, a sled dog in Greenland during WWII. The final stories switches between flashbacks of Sheba in Vietnam and Bouncer back in Alabama. These stories are interesting, but I didn’t always feel like the illustrations were totally clear. At times I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on in them. I also wondered about the age this was geared towards. It seems meant for kids, but there was some graphic violence.
God Got a Dog is a short collection of poems by Cynthia Rylant. These poems all explore what would happen if God came to earth to explore being a human. He gets a job, gets in a fight, goes skating, eats spaghetti, gets cable and ends up with a dog to warm his feet. I liked the fact that while some of the poems are a little irreverent (talking about writing the bible) most of them are fairly serious looks at what God would find himself or herself doing as a human. I also really liked the fact that God could be any age and any gender; he is everyone and no one at the same time. This book will not be for everyone, but it is filled with thoughtful poems that really explore what it means to be human and who God is.
Gerald Faust is The Crapper and has been since he was five and on reality tv show Network Nanny. Gerald’s family was dysfunctional and Gerald had anger issues. Issues that made him poop when he got mad; so he pooped on the dining room table, in his mom’s shoes and in a dressing room at Sears. But the show didn’t show all the family issues like his older sister Tasha who tried to kill him and his other sister numerous times, or how his mom always sided with psychopath Tasha and never believed Gerald or Lisi. The Crapper has followed Gerald throughout his life creating more anger issues and causing him to be put in special ed even though he doesn’t belong there. Gerald has no friends and no future until he finally gets the courage to talk to his crush register number 1 girl (Hannah) at work. Gerald starts opening up to Hannah and discovers he isn’t the only one with a messed up life.
I loved this book. It was raw and real and kind of made me uncomfortable at times. Gerald had a horrible, hidden life that is revealed during flashbacks to the show. Gerald’s story really makes you wonder about everyone who has ever been on a reality show and how messed up their life is because of the notoriety they received. Having your secrets and problems revealed on national television can not be good for you. Gerald and Hannah are equally messed up and you will applaud them when they finally take a stand and demand a better life. This book was fresh and creative and unique and a truly enjoyable read.
Anna, Henry and Jose are back for another adventure. This time they are headed to Costa Rica to find the legendary Jaguar Cup. The cup was supposed to be on display in Washington, DC, but a fake was in its place. Turns out the cup has been stolen and it is up to the Jaguar Society to find it. The kids are once again on their own with their parents stuck in San Jose. And once again the culprits are right under their noses. It is a race through the jungle with deadly snakes, bullet ants, swinging rope bridges and zip lines. It is a fast paced adventure mystery with lots of twists and turns.
I think Kate Messner writes great mysteries that kids will really enjoy. Anna, Henry and Jose are all smart and creative thinkers. I really liked Sofia and the knowledge of the jungle she brought to the book. I was glad this one didn’t rely as heavily on the stereotypes as the first one. Anna isn’t in junior investigative reporter mode the entire time and Jose’s nose isn’t always stuck in a book. Henry however is still the same video game obsessed kid he was in Capture the Flag. I think once Messner gets him totally fleshed out this series will really take off.
Jack Baker is leaving his Kansas home to go to boarding school in Maine. His mother has just died and his father is in the Navy. It is WWII and Jack has nowhere else to go. Maine is completely different from Kansas and Jack has a hard time fitting in. He makes friends with weird kid Early, but that doesn’t help him with the other kids. During a school break Jack and Early set out on a quest…a quest to find the great bear and prove that Pi (the number 3.14) is alive. Early is convinced that if he can just complete this quest he will also find his brother Fischer. Fischer was the school golden boy who we are told died fighting in France. Early is convinced he is still alive though. He has concocted a story about Pi, told through the numbers, that explains the journey Pi has to take. Early and Jack’s journey mirrors Pi’s as they head out into the wilderness.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think of this book as I was reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. Clare Vanderpool is completely unique in her storytelling. The whole time I was reading I was getting flashes of the types of stories Mark Twain would write, but this was different. There is a quest as Early and Jack set out down the river to find the great black bear. Along the way there are obstacles that distract them from their quest. What I found really interesting was how Pi’s story was woven through their own. As Early tells the story of Pi, his adventures are reflected in the boys’ adventures. Of course they are rewarded at the end of their quest but not in the way I expected. This is a unique and beautiful story about friendship and family and determination.
The Wild is real and it is hiding under Julie’s bed. It likes to steal her shoes, but other than that it is manageable. Julie lives with her mom Rapunzel and her brother Puss in Boots. Her grandma Goethel owns the Wishing Well Hotel. All the characters are happy to have escaped into the real world, but then someone sets the Wild free and suddenly everyone is trapped in the stories again. It is up to Julie to figure out how to set them free again. She has to work around the stories and try to not get caught in one. An ending will mean the end of Julie and her life.
I really enjoy reading fractured fairy tales and this one didn’t disappoint. It was fun and entertaining. I loved how Durst wove all the fairy tale stories together and made them real. Julie is the perfect hero for our story; she is spunky and smart and determined. I really enjoyed trying to identify the stories as she came upon them in the Wild.
True Blue Scouts is a meandering, lazy book full of beautiful, swampy descriptions. It has an environmental message but the urgency of the message is lost in the meandering story. There are the racoons Bingo and J’miah who climb trees on missions and wait for the Voice of Intelligence in the Information Center. There is Chap who’s mom runs the Paradise Pies and who’s grandpa just died. There is Sonny Boy Beauchamp who owns the swamp and wants to turn it into a Gater Wrestling Area. Then there is the Sugar Man, a creature of myth and legend who protects the swamp and has been sleeping or a long time. There are wild pigs rampaging on a quest for sugar cane. We want to save the swamp from Sonny and the pigs and the only one who can do that is the Sugar Man. I didn’t really enjoy this one. It was too slow and meandering for my tastes. It is a decent story but the urgency of the message seemed lost in the meandering text.
Summer and her brother Jaz are headed out with their grandparents on harvest. Her grandfather will drive a combine as they travel the country harvesting wheat. Obaachan and Jiichan are an old Japanese couple who argue constantly and are always trying to help with Summer and Jaz. The family’s luck hasn’t been very good ever since Summer got malaria in Kansas and almost died. Her parents had to go to Japan to care for dying relatives leaving the kids with the grandparents and a mortgage to pay. While on harvest Obaachan keeps antagonizing Mrs. Parker the head of the harvesters and Jiichan gets sick. Summer has to step up and help out and change the family’s luck.
I found this book a little on the slow side and I have to admit I was a bit bored by all the information on combines and harvesting wheat. I did like Summer’s journey to help her family and was pretty entertained by Obaachan and all her complaining. I like the fact that Kadohata’s writing is filled with Japanese words and information on that culture.
Roan Novachez has always dreamed of going to Pilot Academy, but when he doesn’t get in he thinks he is doomed to the Tantooine Agricultural Academy. Then he is offered a spot at the Jedi Academy. Roan is way behind his classmates who have been learning the ways of the Jedi for years, but he slowly catches up. He makes friends and learns about the force from Master Yoda and his other teachers. Soon Roan realizes he doesn’t need to be a pilot anymore because he is destined to be a Jedi. This is a book I am sure kids are really going to like. It is about Star Wars, it has graphic elements and an entertaining story. I appreciated the fact that the book had several different elements: graphic, doodles, illustrations and straight text.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is the retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. George does a fantastic job with this reimagining. I am not really familiar with the original tale, but I loved it! This is the story of Pikka, the ninth child of a poor woodcutter family. Her mother was so disgusted at having another worthless daughter that she didn’t give her a name. The girl’s life changes when she catches a white reindeer and it gives her a name and the ability to speak to animals. It changes further when the isbjorn (the white bear) asks her to come live in his palace for a year. The palace is made of ice and filled with strange creatures and markings. The girl finds herself drawn into the isbjorn’s world and wants to find out more about his curse. When he is taken away to marry the troll princess she must find the palace east of the sun and west of the moon to save her true love.
I loved this story. I loved the fact that it was filled with Norse mythology and Norse words. I am fascinated by this culture even though I know little about it. Pikka is a strong girl despite the treatment she receives from her mother. She is brave and is filled with drive and spirit; just the kind of heroine I like in my books.
P.S. Be Eleven is the follow up to One Crazy Summer. It picks up with the three Gaither sisters on the plane back to Brooklyn from Oakland. They are no longer with their revolutionary mother Cecile learning about “the people” from the Black Panthers. They are back under Big Ma’s rule where they are not to make a negro spectacle of themselves. Things are different in Brooklyn; their father has a new lady friend he intends to marry and Uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are also introduced to the Jackson Five and go crazy! They start saving their money to see them at Madison Square Garden. Delphine has a new teacher in sixth grade who is different from anyone else. She has to get used to his teaching style and the change in the boy/girl rules. Seems like sixth grade is when boys aren’t nearly so gross to some of the girls. Delphine writes letters to Cecile to try and come to terms with all the changes in her life. Her mother responds to her letters with good advice and a reminder to Be Eleven, to not grow up too fast and be worried about things you don’t need to worry about.
This is a more enclosed story than One Crazy Summer. A lot of the action happens at home among the Gaither family as Big Ma and Pa clash over Uncle Darnell and Miss Marva. I really enjoyed the actual events that were woven through this story. There is of course the Jackson Five coming on the scene and the craziness that ensued from that, but also the election of Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) and the effects of being in Vietnam. We still have a bit of the Black Panther movement, but it isn’t nearly as prevalent as it was in the last book. I also enjoyed the clash of cultures between Big Ma, who doesn’t want to call attention to herself or offend the White Man, and Miss Merva, who is more hip and socially aware. It is an interesting peek at an exciting time in history.
Smile is the true story of Raina Telgemeier’s journey through orthodontia. It was not a pleasant or a short journey. It began with an overbite and a fall resulting in the loss of her two front teeth. The journey consisted of false teeth, braces, surgeries, headgear, and four years worth of visits to various dental professionals…all during junior and high school. Poor Raina! Throughout it all Raina is also dealing with boys, pimples, friends, mean girls, and all the other trials and tribulations of high school. She comes through it stronger and happier, but it is not an easy journey.
As someone who has had braces and retainers (thankfully not four years worth) I completely sympathized with Raina. They are an invented torture to make our teeth look perfect. They work but are definitely not pleasant. I winced with her when her braces were being tightened and when all she could eat was mashed potatoes. I think Raina definitely remembers this time of her life perfectly and she really captured it on the pages of Smile. The story and illustrations embody the torture of braces and the agony of middle and high school. I would recommend this to just about anyone.