Saturday, March 28, 2015

The War that Saved My Life (review)

The War that Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Dial Books (January 8, 2015)

Ten year old Ada has never left her apartment in pre-WWII London, because her Mam is ashamed of Ada's clubfoot. She doesn't even know how to walk, but then her brother, Jamie, brings home news that children are to be evacuated to families living in the countryside as the war threatens bombings. Ada doesn't want to be left behind with her abusive mother and starts a secret campaign to teach herself to walk. When they are notified that Jamie is to be evacuated, Ada's mother says she can't go, but Ada sneaks out and limps to the station to make her escape.

When they arrive, nobody really wants them, but the woman in charge finally convinces a spinster, Miss Susan Smith, to take them in for a while. Over the course of the book, Ada struggles with whether she can trust Miss Smith even as she learns to love her. She knows that at any moment, her Mam may take them back.

Brilliantly written and emotionally engaging, this well crafted book has a powerful message about what we deserve and what we get. It is also a wrenching story, especially with the abuse early on and the well described symptoms that we would call PTSD today. My only concern is that it may be too raw or powerful for some children. I might hesitate to offer it to a class of 4th or 5th graders, no matter what the reading level is. At the very least, a parent or teacher should probably read it first to know what is coming. With that caveat, I would strongly recommend this to boys and girls in 5th or 6th grade.

Five stars out of five.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure (review)

Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure
Author: Ruben Bolling
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (To be released April 7, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley.

Stuart Tennemeier, his best friend, Brian Hrznicz, and Stuart's little sister, Violet, (but only because Mom insists!) have a super secret club. Shhh! In their club, they explore, solve mysteries and do other unbelievable things. Or they plan to, but how are three kids going to find mysteries to solve?

Never fear, they find a mystery and it is a whopper. I can't tell any details because it is super secret, but trust me when I say there are robots, aliens and world-saving involved. All before dinner!

Written as a comic book/case book, this promises to be an absolutely wonderful series of stories for the elementary crowd if this first installment is any indication. I would strongly recommend this for second through fourth graders.

Five out of five stars!

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens (review)

The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens
Author: Henry Clark
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (To be released April 14, 2015)

Ambrose Brody and his best friend, Tom Xui, meet a girl at the carnival and she takes them on a trip back in time to 1852. For three children of color (black, Chinese and Gypsy), it is a dangerous time to land, and they race to escape bounty hunters and other bad guys. Things gt even worse when they return to their own time to find it significantly altered... for the worse. As they race back and forth in time trying to fix what they have broken, they are aided by a copy of the I-Ching, a 3000 year old book of Chinese wisdom that mysteriously uses Morse code to give them clues about what to do.

I felt pretty mixed up about this book. The I-Ching/Morse code part was brilliant and will intrigue young readers a lot, the history was interesting and the action exciting. I had three problems with the book, but I don't know if middle grade readers will overlook them or not. The first is that the time travel issues seemed awfully reminiscent of the Back to the Future plot lines and other time travel tropes. That likely won't bother young readers who may not have read many time travel stories. The second is that the "bad guys" are drawn with such a broad brush that they feel like caricatures. I would guess that this will bother some readers, whether they are able to identify what is wrong or not.

The third problem is the most serious and troubling to me. While I admire the author for trying to include diverse (or one might say, normal and reflective of real life) characters, the result is quite stilted. I never got any sense of Ambrose at all and would not have known he was black if it were not revealed to us. Yes, revealed like an "aha!" moment. The depictions of his friend, Tim, as a Chinese boy and Shofranka ("Frankie") as a Gypsy girl only enforced stereotypes. I especially cringed at the following exchange which starts with Frankie speaking:

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Detective's Assistant (MMGM review)

The Detective's Assistant
Author: Kate Hannigan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 7, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I am thrilled to offer a great new historical novel with a terrific girl heroine for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  From intrigue to history to ciphers, this book should interest many middle graders of either gender.

When eleven year old Nell Warne is dropped off at her Aunt Kitty's door not long before the Civil War, she is not wanted and not welcome. Kate thinks she has no use for the girl, but Nell's indomitable spirit, clever mind and dare devil attitude soon prove to her aunt that there is more to the girl than meets the eye, as Nell helps with some of the dangerous and tricky cases her aunt has to solve. Because Kate Warne is a detective with Pinkertons, and they are called to solve jewel heists and murders, and even to protect Abraham Lincoln as he makes his way through a sharply divided land to his inauguration.

In a very clever juxtaposition underlying the story of Nell and Kate is the story we learn through letters between Nell and Jemma, a friend whose family has fled to Canada. Though they have always been free blacks, the roving bounty hunters have little respect for the law. Nell and Jemma practice ciphers and code words to prevent anyone who intercepts the letters from finding out details about  Jemma's family and the people who help slaves escape to the North. We gradually learn how the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement are intricately involved with Nell's story, and in the end seal the increasing affection between Nell and her Aunt Kate while helping her faraway friend.

In short, the book is delightful. Nell is a terrific combination of smart and careless, take-charge and nervous. She has trouble with her spelling, embarrasses her Aunt and herself, and doesn't always (often) do as she is told. I think girls of today will love her spunk and courage while laughing at how she makes the same mistakes (and decisions) they do.

Five stars out of five!

To find other posts for MMGM, visit Shannon Messenger's blog where she toils to keep up with them.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids (review)

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids
Author: Ammi-Joan Paquette
Publisher: Tanglewood Press (February 7, 2012)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

This is a follow up to a book (which I have not read) called The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies which received a fair amount of attention. It is a combination story/activity book meant to encourage little children to look and listen and notice when they go to the beach. There is a good mix of fact and whimsy mixed in, with ideas that sound like fun such as making mermaid shapes in the sand much the way you make snow angels in the winter.

The illustrations are a slightly jarring mix of real photographs of children and mermaids illustrations. Part of me likes it, and part of me wishes they had stuck to photographs. I hesitate to make too much of this, as I am sure there are kids who would enjoy this mix, but the effect didn't quite work for me.

I would recommend this for very small children planning a trip to the beach.

Three stars out of five.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Missing Jack (review)

Missing Jack
Author & Illustrator: Rebecca Elliott
Publisher: Lion Hudson (Feb. 20, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

Toby was sure that his cat, Jack, was the best cat in the whole world. He wasn't snooty, he was very friendly, and he didn't scratch even when Toby's little brother pulled his whiskers. Best of all, he was never boring, and bounced around like a Lion who was king of the jungle. But Jack got older and slowed down, and finally he died. Toby isn't sure he'll ever get over Jack's death, but then he meets Humphrey. Humphrey is awesome, and finally Toby realizes that he doesn't have to forget Jack in order to welcome Humphrey.

This is a lovely book with wonderful illustrations, and perfect for any young child dealing with the death of a pet, or even a pet who is growing older. I would strongly recommend it for children from two years up to Kindergarten.

Five of five stars!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other)
Author: Geoff Rodkey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (To be published April 7, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

It is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, so I thought I'd highlight a book coming out soon. It is available for pre-order, so follow the link above if you would like a copy.

Claudia and Reese are twins, but they are nothing alike. They have almost no goals in common, until they start a war (with each other) or pranks and practical jokes that gets increasingly out of hand and involves many of their classmates as well. The problem with a war is often how to end it, and neither one is quite sure how.

Written in an entertaining and often very funny combination of oral interviews (transcribed), texts between the parents (which are hysterical), screenshots and photos (Some quite silly), this book will entertain anyone in grades 3 to 7 who has to endure the trials and pitfalls of school, friends and family. I definitely recommend it.

Four stars out of five.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Adding a Diversity tag

Search for reviews tagged with new Diversity tag.

I have thought about adding new tags to make it easier for people to find books on special interest areas such as LGBT or multicultural or others, but have always hesitated for two reasons.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Night Horses (review)

The Night Horses
Author: Anaka Jones
Publisher: CreateSpace (February 26, 2013)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

It is an unusual thing to find a self-published picture book, especially one created by a sixth grader, and still be able to recommend it, but Anaka Jones is clearly a talented young lady.

In the first part of this lively, colorful story, it is daytime and the horses trot and eat and do normal things, but at night time they get the disco ball out and things get more wild. Children will enjoy the colorful illustrations and the funny things that the horses and other animals do at night(including a small mouse who kids will search to find on almost every page).

I would definitely recommend this for young children 3-6 years old. I was glad to see it is available both in print and digital form, as this would be one I would want to hold in my hands.

Four of five stars.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Bunk-Bed Bus (review)

The Bunk-Bed Bus (Janet and Sam Book 1)
Author: Frank Rodgers
Publisher: Hungry Horse (March 1, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

An absolutely delightful story of Janet and Sam and their wonderful Granny who never believes she is too old to do what she wants, and never stops trying new things. She jogs in a tracksuit she knitted herself, she learns to work with wood and make shelves, and she's never afraid a new challenge.

When grumbly next-door neighbor Mrs. Grimbly-White mentions an art exhibition and dismisses Granny as "too old" to be artistic, Granny puts her mind to it and makes an amazing Bunk Bed Bus, much to the delight of all the children in town.

I strongly recommend this for preschool and early elementary children, and also to their parents, teachers and librarians to read aloud or along with.

Five stars out of five!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Miss Evil (review)

Little Miss Evil
Authors: Bryce Leung & Kristy Shen
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (March 10, 2015)
Digital review copy courtesy of publisher via NetGalley.

I was hoping to review this for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, but work demands prevented it, and it is being released on March 10th, so I wanted to give people a chance to hear about it first.

It is hard enough having crazy parents who are normal crazy, but when you live in a volcano, ride a helicopter to school and your dad is an evil super-villain with a super-weapon, things can get seriously out of control.

Fortunately, Fiona's two best friends are also the kids of evil super-villains who understand what it's like. Even though their parents don't talk to each other, Fiona, Ruby and Jai stay friends.

Unfortunately, Ruby's evil super-villain pilots attack Fiona's volcano, wage war on her father and his Storm Troopers and steal the super-weapon he is protecting. When they kidnaps her father, it doesn't seem like things could get much worse.

Fortunately, Fiona got a portable flame thrower for her birthday this year.

This book is a crazy ride that I would recommend to boys and girls in 4th to 8th grades who like super-heroes and super-villains. I have to say, I was a little dubious at first as the premise seemed too far fetched, but it kept getting better as the story developed. I'm glad I stuck with it, and I think kids would probably enjoy it even more.

Four of five stars.