Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Straight and Narrows (review)

The Straight and Narrows
Author: Christine A. Emery
Illustrator: Kellie R. Emery
Publisher: Koehler Kids (November 15, 2016)
Digital ARC provided by author

Wide and Curly was born into a family of Straight and Narrows.
She couldn't, wouldn't, didn't fit.

Come along with the Straight and Narrows as they learn in their stick-y situation what it means to be family and the measures they will go through to find acceptance.

I was a little afraid after reading the description that this might be too much of a message book, but with the delightful illustrations and entertaining story, it is a joy to read. After various attempts by the Straight and Narrows make to "fix" their Wide and Curly daughter, they realize that what needs fixing is their attitude.

Perfect for starting discussions in a classroom or with your own kids. In case you worry, this is not a thin vs. fat book, but far more generally applicable to differences of all sorts.

Four stars.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Be Light Like a Bird (review)

Be Light Like a Bird
Author: Monika Schröder
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers (September 1, 2016)
Courtesy of free e-copy from author

Twelve-year-old Wren's life is turned upside down after her father dies in a plane accident. Her mother seems angry and unable to cope, and even more unable to help Wren talk about her grief. They leave their home and move from town to town, settling in each for a few weeks before her mother gets restless and moves on again. Finally, they reach the small town of Pyramid in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Wren decides that whatever it takes, they're going to stay.

Wren struggles to deal with bullies and loneliness, and with her increasing alienation with her mother, but when she finds a mission in the form of protecting a local pond, she starts to make connections and even friends. But she worries that it could all be torn away if her mother decides to leave again.

In time, Wren finds the strength to deal with her issues, and with the very thorny difficulty in forgiving those who may not entirely deserve it. An emotional story that may be hard for middle graders to start, and even harder for them to put down.

I recommend this to all who love the environment, and who may have experienced loss or sadness.

Four stars out of five.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Foxheart (MMGM review)

Author: Claire Legrand
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (October 4, 2016)
Courtesy of our local library

I'm excited to offer a lovely new book by Claire Legrand for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Twelve-year-old Quicksilver is not an orphan, but her parents left her in a convent orphanage anyway. Never fitting in, or wanting to, Quicksilver learns to fend for herself... and take what she wants. With aspirations of being the greatest thief in the Star Lands, and when she finds a stray dog she names Fox, she even has a companion.

But everything changes in a flash when a strange group of seven visit the convent late at night, and wreak havoc in a search for witches (of which very few are left in the world). Quicksilver escapes with Fox, and they head out to perfect her thieving ways, but before long they run into an old woman who changes everything. Soon, Quicksilver and Fox are embarked on a quest they don't much want to help people they don't much like while fighting an ancient king who may not be quite what he seems.

Themes of love and loss, loyalty and sacrifice, and the importance of deciding your own fate are woven into a tapestry that is a delight to watch, and even more fun to live through. I particularly liked that Quicksilver's early dream of being a great thief never fade and are integrated into her new life. Richly imagined with great characters and a very clever fantasy world, this is a delight for middle grade kids, and anybody else who loves a good story.

I strongly recommend this to all who love fantasy, magic and wonderful worlds.

Four and a half stars out of five.

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


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Princeless #1: Save Yourself (review)

Princeless #1: Save Yourself
Author: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: M Goodwin
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment (April 1, 2014)

From School Library Journal: Princess Adrienne is no hero's fair maiden, and she is not afraid to say so! She's the seventh daughter whom her father, the king, has stranded in a tower (his goal is to lure a prince worthy to rule the kingdom of Ashland). Prince after prince has tried to rescue Adrienne, and after Prince Wilcome's failed attempt, she decides to save herself. Along with her protector dragon, Adrienne decides to save her sisters, but their first mission is to find some armor. Blacksmith Bedelia Smith joins their group with her armor-for-ladies collection, and the princess also lets her brother, Prince Devin, in on her plan. After his failed rescue attempt, the very charming Prince Wilcome is banished to the palace's dungeon, but he doesn't bargain on Shadira the elf tricking him into helping her escape. This volume includes the first four issues of the dynamic and female-empowering comic book series. Princess Adrienne is a strong woman of color, and she talks about her femininity in a fresh and fierce new way. Other characters are drawn well, and the side stories of Bedelia Smith, Prince Wilcome, and Prince Devin are engaging. On the whole, the series feels current and skewers well-known tropes. VERDICT Princess Adrienne is not to be missed! Recommended for all middle grade graphic novel collections.

This (or these, as it is really four short comic issues in one) is the sort of book I am thrilled to have around for young girls. It is fun and quick, and I love the diversity and empowerment. I would recommend it for middle grade shelves at the bookstore or library.

That said, it wasn't quite all I had hoped when I read about it. There are a lot of great graphic novels, and I was hoping for something closer to that. This is more of a comic book style, and that doesn't appeal to me as much. (Fortunately, I am not the target demographic, which is why there is a whole series of these already.)

So, good for them for making it, and I hope it gives great pleasure to the young ladies for whom it is intended (and the young men who aren't afraid).

Three and a half stars out of five.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When The Moon Was Ours (review)

When The Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin (October 4, 2016)

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel's wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel's skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they're willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

This was recommended when I was seeking books with transgender characters, and it has that and so much more. Magical realism shows up in various books, but has a special style in Latin American literature. (Note: I majored in Latin American studies in college, and lived briefly in Venezuela.) The magical realism in When the Moon Was Ours is so tightly woven into the story and setting and language, you would have trouble sorting out what it "real" and what is "magic", and all of it is steeped in symbolism and interconnected meanings. It reminds me of both Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

But even if you are not a literature-nerd, this is a wonderful young adult story of love and loss and sacrifice. Miel and Sam are beautifully drawn, and inexorably drawn together. The Bonner girls are fabulous villains, as perfect and flawed as you could hope. Reading about them, you are reminded that every person has their own tragic and heroic story, and I almost wish Ms. McLemore had time to write those as well.

Given that I sought the book out for its transgender character, I should mention that it is a tastefully and lovingly handled. I have too little personal experience to judge or comment on that aspect beyond the fact that the author made the characters feel authentic and true.

But don't take my word for it. Run out and get a copy of this gem.

Five stars out of five!


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles (MMGM review)

Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles
Author: Shari Green
Publisher: Pajama Press (October 12, 2016)
Digital review copy courtesy of NetGalley

I'm very excited to offer a wonderful, poignant book in verse for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

Bailey and her younger brother, Kevin, are staying with their Nana Marie in the small town of Felicity Bay for a month, but it is not quite a vacation. Their parents are struggling, and have gone away on a retreat called Marriage Repair. Bailey and Kevin barely know Nana Marie, but as they have nowhere else to go, they get to spend a month near the ocean with her. Bailey believes in miracles, and hopes for one to make her parents happy again.

Meanwhile, Felicity Bay feels like a miracle of its own. Bailey makes a new friend, Daniel, and loves exploring and playing in the sea. But when Daniel keeps coughing, and she finds out he has cystic fibrosis, she starts to lose faith.

Then a mermaid appears (well, a driftwood mermaid), and a retired pastor with an ice cream cart starts shouting prophecies. Bailey thinks that just maybe a miracle is possible after all, if only everything doesn't fall apart first.

The story is lovely, and winds up in a beautiful way with Bailey discovering that sometimes you have to make your own miracles, and that sometimes even miracles aren't enough. But through the sadness and joy, Bailey remains optimistic, and discovers that families always love each other, even when it is hard to get along.

I strongly recommend this to all who love the sea, and families, and miracles. And even root beer candy.

Five stars out of five!

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


P.S. After I read this, I was pleased to see that this is a Pitch Wars success story. How terrific to see the writing community pull together to support emerging writers.

Finally, a snippet of verse from the book showing how wonderfully Shari Green captures this age.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Wilf the Mighty Worrier Battles a Pirate - Review

Wilf the Mighty Worrier Battles a Pirate
Author: Georgia Pritchett
Publisher: Quercus (To be released November 1, 2016)
Advanced Reading Copy provided by publisher

Wilf worries about everything. Peanuts, bears, scorpions, salt water and so forth, but especially Alan, the man next door who keeps trying to take over or destroy the world. Alan worries Wilf so much he has to get a pamphlet with hints about how to not worry. When Alan decides to build a pirate ship with a big gun thingy, Wilf feels so worried he "wanted to knit himself a big woolly hat that went over his eyes so he couldn't see what happens next."

Fortunately for the world, Wilf's worries never get the best of him and he has to take action. We set off on a series of manic "kerfuffles" filled with wild invented words that always make sense in context. It is humor somewhat in the vein of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, but with less toilet talk and more genuine affection by the hero for Wilf's bizarre little sister, for his best friend and pet, Stuart the woodlouse, and for all the random, sometime very random, people he meets along the way. I laughed out loud, and would have happily bought these for my kids if they were even close to the right age.

Highly recommended for young readers, and their older siblings, and especially their parents who get to read along. Since this will not be released until November, I recommend you start with Wilf the Mighty Worrier Saves the World, and pre-order this book so you get it when it is released.

Five of five stars.

Amazon US
Amazon Canada

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness (review)

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness
Author: Tricia Springstubb
Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (April 12, 2016)
Borrowed from library

Cody is a delightful, impetuous girl whose adventures will delight early middle grade readers. Whether she is making friends with shy Spencer who lives nearby, or hypnotizing his cat, MewMew, or trying to set up her older brother with the beautiful Payton, every adventure iss a mix of marvelous and mishap. No matter how many times her mom reminds her to think before she acts, she never quite thinks enough.

Every character is this delightful book is endearing, and a little quirky. I can't wait to read the sequel.

Five of five stars.

Amazon US
Amazon Canada

Note: I added the Diversity tag because a major character, Spencer, is African-American.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Grayling's Song (review)

Grayling's Song
Author: Karen Cushman
Publisher: Clarion Books (To be released June 7, 2016)
Digital review copy courtesy of NetGalley

Grayling's life is not easy and her mother, the local wise woman (witch), is demanding and tough and belittles Grayling constantly. But when a dark force burns down their house, steals her mother's book of spells and roots her mother to the ground where she starts to turn slowly into a tree, it is up to Grayling to find the spell book and rescue her mother.

Gathering a strange group of companions on her way, Grayling goes forth, doubting her companions and herself most of all. But as they struggles through many perils and entrapments, Grayling learns that there is more to magic than sheer power, and that she is capable of far more than her scant magical abilities might suggest.

In a richly developed world both like and unlike medieval England, the author takes us on a helter-skelter trip where magic is woven into the tapestry of the world, but is never the main thread. Middle grade readers will love Pook the shape-shifting mouse and Grayling's sundry companions, but most of all Grayling herself.

Five of five stars.

Amazon US
Amazon Canada

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Most Magnificent Thing (review)

The Most Magnificent Thing
Author: Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press (April 1, 2014)
Digital review copy courtesy of NetGalley

A girl and her dog, both unnamed, set out to make something magnificent. At first, it all seems to be going well, but as the girl tinkers and hammers and measures and the dog pounces and growls and chews, the thing turns out wrong, not magnificent at all. She tries again and again, accompanied by delightful illustrations of both her efforts and her growing frustration until finally she quits.

But after a walk to settle her down, she discovers a wonderful thing about her failures, and learns to turn them into a magnificent thing after all.

I have to say, I liked the book a lot the first time through, but loved it by the second. Even aside from the fun illustrations, this is a story about a girl, a real girl, who tries, gets frustrated and tries again. She doesn't go ask for help. There's no parent or boy who saves her. In a simple and elegant way, she does what she needs for herself. Filled with lively language, full of laughs with a great message, this is a book I'd be happy to give to a young girl or boy.

Five stars out of five.

Available on:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada