Monday, August 10, 2020

We Are Not from Here

Amazon.com: We Are Not from Here eBook: Sanchez, Jenny Torres ...
We Are Not from Here
Jenny Torres Sanchez
Philomel/Penguin, 2020 344 pages
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction

Alternating points of view relate the journey of three young teenagers escaping from Guatemala, traveling through Mexico, and attempting to cross the United States boarder. Pulga and Chico are best friends. After Chico's mother is murdered, he moves in with Pulga and his single mother. After they witness a murder of a friendly shop owner by a local gang, they are pressured to either join the gang-or face the consequences. The friends realize that the only way to survive is to flee. Meanwhile, Pequena tries to live her life under the radar. One day she dares to look up and catches the eye of a local thug. Now she has been claimed by him and is pregnant with his baby. Once the baby is delivered, he wants to move the relationship forward. Pequena is sickened by her intended, but fears rejecting him. Escape is the only way out. The three young people, who are family friends, leave the only home they have ever known to escape to the land of freedom and opportunity. The problem is getting into the US and crossing Mexico, a country who also does not want them. The best way to get through Mexico is on top of a series of trains called "The Beast". The three friends slowly make their way into and across Mexico on a journey riddled with danger, deception, and hostility. Some folks they meet along the way are kind and helpful, others are out to trick them, but still they head north, always looking over their shoulders for danger.

 

This is a very timely novel that will raise awareness about the plight of hopeless young people in Central America who must make the dangerous journey alone to try to find freedom and opportunity. The multiple points of view offer both a male and female perspective and allow for the narration to continue as one character or another is in a situation where they cannot physically or mentally tell the tale. Sanchez has done extensive research to try to relate the plight of the many young people traveling this dangerous path and does not shy away from harsh realities. There are deaths: including one of the main characters, that will shake readers up and pull at their heartstrings. The writing is careful, poetic and beautiful. Although the action never stops, the characters are well developed and there are period of reflection and rest. I found the book hard to put down once I started and fretted about the outcome of the characters as I turned the pages. Young readers will also care and become better informed citizens of the world as they travel along with the three young people on this dangerous, yet not well known, path. A fun book or light escape it is not, but this is an important tale that readers will be better off for delving into with possible curriculum connections for schools. Already receiving buzz and starred reviews, this book is sure to be on many "best of the year" lists and will receive well deserved awards.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Locker 37

Locker 37
Locker 37: The Magic Erasure
Aaron Starmer
Courtney LaForest, Illustrator
Penguin Workshop, 2020 220 pages
Grades 2-4
Fantasy/Humor
Locker 37 series

It is the first day of fourth grade. Finally, as a member of the oldest grade in the school, it should be a great year for Carson, but the day is not starting out well. First, he forgets his lunch, bully Hunter is in his class and already causing problems, and -worst of all- he has a very noticeable stain on his pants in an embarrassing place. Just when all seemed hopeless, Carson finds a note held by gum to the bottom of his desk. It is from last year's fourth graders, who claim that locker 37 is magical and its access is a special privilege for fourth grades only. Of course Carson has to try it out and inside he finds an eraser. An eraser? Maybe it will remove the stain from his pants. It does all, and removes the pants right along with the stain! Luckily, his friend Riley is on the case and finds him another pair of pants, while causing a flood, an avalanche of cockroaches on the heads of unsuspecting second graders, and the removal of his worst enemy, Hunter. Carson thinks they should try to find Hunter. Riley thinks they should split the eraser between all of the fourth graders. Riley wins out and mayhem ensues. Will Carson ever get life at Hopewell Elementary under control again? And what happened to Hunter?

 

A perfect summer read, kids will love to dive into this new series. Yes, it is silly and relies a bit on potty-humor, but it will be easily picked-up and quickly consumed. Large, cartoon illustrations with green highlights add to the appeal and are plentiful. There are two bonus math chapters that explain something that happens in the book in a playful way, yet add some STEM appeal, making it a perfect fit for classroom use. Further educational bits include the origin of the word "dumpster", which actually checks out, so even I learned something. Carson is a sweet boy who tries to do the right thing. Readers will relate to his frustration with the bully, his friend taking over the magic, and being stuck in his "Monday undies" (every kid's worst fear). Parts of the book are truly funny and the humor hits a bullseye with the target audience. Released in June, the sequel already came out this month, featuring the narration of a different classmate’s adventures with the locker. The third in the series will be released in October. Readers will fantasize about finding a magic locker in their own schools-assuming they return this fall-and dream about what they would do if they found it. A fun book with some sneaky educational merit.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Misfits

Misfits (Royal Academy Rebels): Calonita, Jen: 9781492651284 ...
Misfits
Jen Calonita
Sourcebooks, 2018 254 pages
Grades 4-7
Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Royal Academy Rebels series #1

Devin has no interest in being royal. She enjoys hanging out with her animal friends in the woods and making god use of her skills in animal communication. Much to her disappointment, she receives an invitation to the Royal Academy. Devin's mother is thrilled and quickly has commission’s gowns with high hopes that the school will turn her daughter into a true lady who will snag a prince. The school's headmistress is Olivina the Fairy Godmother, who has exacting rules and is not as warm and fuzzy as she appears in the stories. Although Devin can speak to animals, which is a covenanted skill, she struggles with fitting in at the academy. Her roommates, lady in waiting, and two prince friends try to offer tips and support, but it is no use. Devin is terrible at waiting around for the princes to save her and insists on having pants sewn into her dresses. After repeated warnings it looks as though she may get kicked out of the school--thus causing her family shame and heartache. An anniversary ball gives Devin the opportunity to prove that she is a proper royal and knows how to behave demurely. Only, can she sit back and watch as danger threatens herself and her new friends?

 

A companion series to the author's popular Fairy Tale Reform School series, instead of seeing what happens to naughty folks in fairy tale land, we are treated to the a view of life from the other side. All that glitters is not gold as the school is run by a totalitarian headmistress with sexist rules and complete power. Poor Devin is not a good fit for the Fairy Godmother's definition of proper princess behavior, not is her friend Logan what constitutes a traditional dashing prince. Not content to sit back when danger is lurking while she can do something about it, Devin exercises her abilities to help herself and others even in the face of punishment. Readers will enjoy seeing the famous fairy tale characters twisted in a humorous and fresh manner. Readers new to the genre of fantasy will enjoy this story and, perhaps, crack into the original series or the title's sequel. The story is conversational, funny and never drags. Devin is a relatable and inspirational character (who wouldn't want to talk to animals?) and readers will find much to admire about her. An exciting climactic scene leaves the readers with a cliff hanging ending and an exciting new fairy tale character, naturally leading them to the next book in the series. Perfect for fans of the author's original series or the Descendants.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Fighting Words

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: 9781984815682 ...
Fighting Words
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial/Penguin, August, 2020 259 pages
Grades 5-Up
Realistic Fiction

Right from the start first person narrator, Della, warns us that this book has some hard parts and, oh, boy, does it ever. Della's story begins with moving in with foster-mother Francine, along with her big sister Suki. Ever since Mom set fire to their hotel room while cooking meth when Della was five and was sent to prison, Della and Suki have been living with Mom's boyfriend, Clifton. Clifton provides a home, and also has them living in fear. As the novel progresses, we find out why they left Clifton and why they are now so distrustful and broken. Suki is determined to keep taking care of Della, just as she always has, even though Francine tells her it’s not her job. Finally, Suki snaps and Della is forced to move forward on her own without her sister, learning how to depend on an adult for the first time in her life. Through the friendship of a few trusted adults and a classmate, as well as the support of a therapist, Della finally starts to heal and distinguish exactly what is appropriate behavior. She learns to stand up for herself in a healthy way and no longer be a victim. After once being told that she and Suki were "raised by wolves" by a neighbor, Della learns that wolves are pretty cool and longs to go to Yellowstone to learn more. Yes, Suki and Della have been through a lot, but in the end they lean, most of all, to stand up for themselves and take control of their own stories.

 

I picked this book up thinking that it was in the same vein of the author's The War that Saved My Life and its sequel. The only thing this new volume shares with the award predecessors is a protagonist that overcomes terrible adversity and carefully crafted writing. This new title has a contemporary setting (as opposed to historical fiction) and is exceedingly gritty. Adult readers will suspect early on that the girls are victims of sexual abuse and as their story is slowly revealed the reader's heart breaks for them. Throughout the book Della substitutes the word "snow" every time she curses. She uses "snow" a lot, depending on strong words to help give her strength and power. As the novel progresses and she learns new skills in therapy, Della is able to control a situation with words that bring her satisfactory results and keep her out of trouble. An author's note at the end gives more information about childhood sexual abuse, offering staggering statistics. As I was reading I thought that, although the narrator is ten, the book belongs in the teen section for content. Unfortunately, many children are dealing with this very situation and will find hope and coping mechanisms within the pages and I think that it is important that it is in the children's section. Parents should be aware of the content, though, and be prepared for a conversation with their children. The book is beautifully written, the voice is authentic, and, although the content is tough, it remains child-appropriate. This is an important story that will offer hope and help to those who need it and enlightenment to those who may have a friend in a similar situation. Ultimately, Suki and Della are survivors and, though they have been through Hell, we are confident that they will ultimately be okay.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy

Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy (The Chronicles of Never After ...
Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy
Melissa de la Cruz
Roaring Book, December, 2020 336 pages
Grades 4-7
Fantasy/Fairy Tale
Never After series #1

Filomena has always felt different. She is constantly bullied in school by a group of rich kids, whom she refers to as the Fettuccine Alfredos, and her only friend has deserted her. Filomena holds onto the one true constant in her life: the book series The Thirteenth Fairy. The thirteenth installment is due for release, yet suddenly, it is announced that a mistake was made and the author has disappeared without writing it. Huh? What a disappointment! After reeling from the news, Filomena bumps into a boy who claims to be Jack Stalker, the main character from the series. He and his sidekick transport her to the magical land in which the series is set and she must help them to defend the land against the evil queen. Meanwhile, the backstory is revealed of the curse placed upon Sleeping Beauty by the "evil" fairy. How does this story connect with Filomena? All is revealed as Filomena delves into the world of fairy tales, discovering that they are, in actuality, not what she once thought, and finding her true identity and some new friends in the process.

 The author of The Decendants series, as well as other bestselling novels for both kids and teens, de la Cruz offers a new series opener for middle grade, perfect for her Decendants fans, as well as The Land of Stories. Famous fairy tale characters are re-imagined and updated in a Shrek-esque manner that will appeal to today's kids. Readers will identify with Filomena and her struggle to fit in, as well as the way her books are her friends. The fairy tale world is quirky, fully realized, and a lot of fun. Readers will wish for their own journey into such a place and their imaginations will be sparked. Beyond the fantasy element and adventure, as Filomena and her friends battle trolls, ogres, and evil witches, there is a lot of humor in the pages and I found myself laughing more than once out loud. De la Cruz offers interesting plot twists and seemingly mild characters rise to the occasion in triumphant ways. Not just for fantasy lovers, give this book to kids looking for a fun, light read that will make their imaginations soar. The ending indicates that a new adventure awaits for the gang-yet to be announced. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Great Pet Heist

The Great Pet Heist | Book by Emily Ecton, David Mottram ...
The Great Pet Heist
Emily Ecton
Atheneum/S&S, 2020 246 pages
Grades 3-6
Animal/Humor/Mystery

When Mrs. Food slips (in dog Butterbean's vomit) exactly one minute before the start of The Price is Right, she appears to be down for the count and is taken away on a stretcher. The super of the apartment building brings a preteen Madison to take care of Butterbean, the cat, bird and two rats living with Mrs. Food. He says that her services are only temporary. He plans to take all of the animals to a shelter soon. What? A shelter? The pets know that this is not an option and decide to get their hands on some cash to pay for their own upkeep. But where to get the loot? It is discovered that a man on the floor above has gold coins. The animals become determined to get their paws on those coins, but how? The team works together to concoct an elaborate scheme involving escaping from both cages and the apartment, the complex ventilation system, wild rats, and an octopus. All of the pets put their unique talents to work, creating a team that is a force to be reckoned with. It looks like they might actually pull off the heist, yet there are, predictably, complications. The real mystery of the story is the secret that Madison is hiding, which is finally revealed and a solution is discovered that is beneficial to all concerned parties.

 

Who couldn't use a good laugh these days? I didn't realize how much I needed one until I fell into this book and started cracking up. Kids will pick up the book from the comical cover and both the humor and the fast moving plot will keep them turning pages. A heist of Ocean's Eleven proportions, these critters work together, creating an elaborate scheme, to ensure their survival in the manner in which they are accustomed. You have to appreciate their chutzpa and willingness to fix their situation. It's hard for me to pick my favorite animal, for they all have fully developed and unique personalities with hilarious idiosyncrasies. A perfect choice for reluctant readers, illustrations by Dave Mottram make the book that much more accessible. The chapters run a bit long, yet they have plenty of designated breaks. The adventure is solid with several minor mysteries to keep readers guessing. My only complaint is that I sometimes struggled with keeping the animal names straight, but the cover thoughtfully labels the names with the characters, to which I often referred. Give to animal lovers or anyone looking for a good laugh--tinged with a bit of madcap suspense.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2020 528 pages
Grades 7-Up
Science Fiction/Dystopian

Collins returns to the world of Panem with a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy featuring the early life of President Snow. Coreolanus Snow is a senior at the most prestigious private school in the Capital ten years after the war, which ripped apart the country and killed his parents. He now resides in the ancestral apartment with his grandmother and cousin, barely scraping by, yet keeping up appearances. In an effort to draw more viewers to the Hunger Games, the Head Gamemaker recruits students from the school to serve as mentors to the tributes. This is considered a privilege and the winner will get a scholarship to University: an unobtainable dream for Coreolanus in his present financial situation. Coreolanus is assigned Lucy Gray, a scrawny recruit from District Twelve, who does not seem to have a chance. Lucy proves scrappy from the first, when she slips a snake down the dress of the Mayor's daughter at the Reaping. Lucy is of gypsy stock and surprises all of Panem when she sings beautifully on camera and wins the hearts of the entire country--including Coreolanus. The games begin and he must do whatever it takes to keep Lucy Gray safe and guide her through the traps and pitfalls, all while trying to provide her with basic necessities. The action heats up, even putting Coreolanus personally in jeopardy, all while he realizes that his feelings for his tribute are crossing over from professional to personal. Who will win the tenth Hunger Games? And what will become of our narrator from the Capital, as well as his songbird tribute?

 

Suzanne Collins knows how to write a page-turner. I devoured the original trilogy and started this prequel out of curiosity--and then couldn't put it down. It features President Snow's backstory and explains his motivations for the evil he exudes in the later books, as well as the start of his path to power. As with all humans, no one is truly evil and President Snow is no exception. Readers will root for him, all while we see him make questionably ethical decisions out of a survival instinct. Elements of later books are seen and are explored in further depth such as Mockingjays and the Hanging Tree song, as well as the development of aspects of the games themselves. The early games prove to be much more like a Roman arena with the tributes being treated as animals. It is up to the gamemakers and the mentors to tweak the games in order to attract more of an audience. I found this book compelling. It is in the world of the first, yet with a different angle to keep it interesting. There are three distinct parts of the book: the events leading up to the games, the games themselves, and Coreolanus's experiences after the games. There were twists and surprises along the way and I especially loved the end. These are not the flashy games of Katniss and Peeta with parades and houses for the victors. This post war Panem is gritty and broken. Fans of the original trilogy will be the natural audience, yet the book could also be read as a stand-alone. A satisfying prequel that fleshes-out this dystopian world, all while providing some great entertainment.