Thursday, January 30, 2014

Navigating Early

Image result for navigating earlyNavigating Early
Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte, 2013     306 pgs     Grades 6-9
Historical Fiction

13-year-old Jack Baker is still reeling from the death of his mother.  His Navy officer father returns home from WWII and places Jack in a military school in Maine.  Here Jack struggles with loneliness and acceptance.  He reluctantly makes friends with Early Auden, a brilliant yet strange boy with undiagnosed Aspergers, who is struggling with demons of his own.  After being disappointed with his father, Jack joins Early on a quest through the Maine wilderness to seek a huge black bear.  On the way the boys meet some truly memorable characters. have dangerous adventures and Jack discovers the real motivation for Early's quest.  The narrative of the book alternates with Early's story of pi, a myth featuring an anthropomorphed version of the unending number.  Pi's story runs parallel to that of the boys and both reach a satisfying conclusion by the end.

Navigating Early is the sophomore offering by 2011 Newbery winner, Clare Vanderpool.  As with Moon Over Manifest, it is beautifully written, set in 1900's America, deals with similar themes such as loss and change, and has elements of surprise in the tightly woven plot.  Also, as with Moon Over Manifest, it has two alternating stories, a lot of characters to keep straight and complexities that would go over the heads of average young readers.  Personally, I enjoyed Navigating Early and thought it was a brilliant piece of fiction.  That said, I don't know any young people that I would recommend it to.  I  have a wonderful group of 5th and 6th grade kids who are smart as whips in my Bookworm Club and I don't think they would bother to get through this book.  I thought that this book would be a Newbery contender, but it was actually just award a Printz honor, putting it in the teen category.  I think the characters are too young for teens and the plot requiring too much patience for young kids, so I'm not entirely sure of the audience.  I'm sure there are kids out there who will appreciate Navigating Early.  I hope they find it at the end of my fiction section earnestly hanging out with Moon Over Manifest, waiting to be asked to dance.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

See You at Harry's

See You at Harry's
Jo Knowles
Candlewick, 2012     310 pgs     Grades 6-9
Realistic Fiction

Twelve-year-old Fern's family owns and operates a local family diner.She and her two older siblings help out at the restaurant and watch their three-year-old brother, Charlie.  Fern begins middle school and witnesses first hand the daily bullying her brother, Holden, endures and experiences a changing relationship with her male best friend.  Often resentful at having to watch her little brother, Fern is racked with grief and guilt as tragedy strikes and Charlie is killed in an accident.  Through Fern's eyes we watch as the family tries to deal with their feelings of responsibility and grief in different ways and eventually attempt to continue with their lives.  Fern's bullied brother finally accepts his homosexuality, comes out to the family, and stops allowing the bullies to have power over him.  The novel ends with a feeling of healing and hope and a hint that Fern and her friend are on the road to romance.

See you at Harry's is a tightly written book that deals with some powerful subject matter.  I had to stop reading it somewhere in the middle because it was making me too upset.  It seems like lately in half the books I read for kids at this level, someone dies.  The fact that there was a death didn't bother me so much.  The fact that it was a three-year-old did.  It was further upsetting that Fern was with Charlie when he was hit by the car.  So, although it was clearly not her fault, it was easy to feel empathy for her when she struggles with responsibility of his death.  Even harder for me to read was the struggle of Fern's brother with both the bullies and his acceptance of his sexuality.  I became very angry at the parents.  The father was so caught up in his restaurant, he wasn't paying attention to the family and the mother wasn't paying attention, period.  As a mother I wanted to help Holden and reassure him, let all three kids know the accident wasn't their fault, and give everyone hugs.  The mother in this book wasn't doing any of that.  A good book is one that makes you feel something, even if its feelings that aren't happy or comfortable.  Harry's is such a book.  Although the book is not particularly girlie, I would recommend it to girls over boys.  I often get middle school girls in the library who are looking for "sad books".  See You at Harry's would perfectly fit the bill.  Even though I didn't necessarily enjoy reading this book, it was written beautifully and was well worth my time.  And besides, how can you not love a book where all the children in a family are named after literary characters?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
Little Brown, 2007     485 pgs     Grades 4-7
Adventure, Mystery, Science Fiction

This is the first book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series.  Orphaned Reynie take a test for gifted children, which leads him to the residence of Mr. Benedict.  Mr. Benedict, a mysterious yet jolly man who suffers from narcolepsy, is putting together a team of gifted children to go undercover and discover what is going on at a mysterious island boarding school.  Strange messages coming from children are entering the heads of people around the world and Mr. Benedict feels they are coming from the island and wants to put a stop to it.  It is up to Reynie, who is excellent at solving puzzles and his new friends, Kate,an always prepared daredevil, Sticky, a boy with a photographic memory who is excellent with languages, and Constance, an undersized and sassy girl whose usefulness is revealed at the end of the adventure.  The person behind the evil plot is a surprise and many twists, turns and puzzles to solve abound.

Another entry in the "smart kid fiction" category, this is a perfect suggestion for children who love to read and need a book of substance, preferably with sequels to keep them busy for a while.  It is not a passive read, as the reader is encouraged to solve the same puzzles as the children in the book and mysteries and plot twists keep the reader guessing.  I first read this book when it came out (and loved it!) and recently re-read the book for my fifth and sixth grade book discussion group.  Half the kids loved it and the other half didn't finish it.  This is not a book for everyone, but it perfect for smart kids who like a mental stretch.  The Mysterious Benedict Society has the dark humor of The Series of Unfortunate Events and Matilda with a more complex plot.  Also, as in the a fore mentioned titles, the characters are orphans, which young readers seem to love.  Why so many children's books featuring orphans?  My friend in the publishing industry says its a vehicle authors use to get the parents out of the way so the kids can have adventures.  I think a child's worse fear is to loose their parents and in literature they can explore that fear in a safe way.  At any rate, orphan books fly off my shelves and The Mysterious Benedict Society is no exception and remains wildly popular with my library patrons. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds
by Lisa McMann
Aladdin, 2011     390 pgs     Grades 5-8
Fantasy, Adventure

Its Purge Day in the drab, mythical land of Quill.  As expected, Alex is deemed "Unwanted", while his twin brother becomes a covenanted "Wanted".  Expecting extermination, Alex and his fellow rejects are transported to a beautiful land where creativity and humor are valued and encouraged and mythical creatures co-exist with humans. After a certain degree of creative readiness is reached, Alex and the new recruits begin to learn magic as a weapon to fight the land of Quill if a battle was ever to commence.  Alex, himself, sets off a chain of events leading to a great war encompassing all the players on both sides.  Alex must not only battle the hard-nosed Quills, but face off against his twin, along with other families with members on the opposite sides of the conflict.  The battle concludes, leaving room for a sequel (Island of Silence, 2012 & Island of Fire, 2013)  and a hint of romance to come.

The Unwanteds is what I classify as "Smart Kid Fiction".  There are many characters to keep straight and the plot is advanced.  I feel that the book would appeal to boys more than girls, but certainly not exclusively.  Although it is a fantasy, it has a hint of dystopian fiction to it and the broken machinery in Quill lead us to believe it is set in the future, albeit a future with magic.  The battling magical creatures feel like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and the book would appeal to Percy Jackson fans.  The Unwanteds has a great concept and is not your typical fantasy.  It does get a little intense at times and is completely lacking in humor, although some kids might not find that a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Image result for mr lemoncello'sEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
by Chris Grabenstein
Random House, 2013     289 pgs     
Grades 4-6
Mystery, Adventure

Kyle is an average 12 year old boy who loves to play games.  He wins a chance to participate with a group of kids in an opening night scavenger hunt for the town's new library.  This is not your ordinary library.  It has been designed by the world's most famous game maker and millionaire: Luigi Lemoncello.   The library includes holograms, a domed ceiling that projects changing images, interactive displays, games, an imax theater, a cafe, and many other bells and whistles.  The tween to figure out how to exit the library without using the main doors will become the new face of the game company with accompanying fame and fortune.  The kids begin to compete independently and then realize that team work may be the best way to proceed.  Who wins?  You must read the book to find out!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library was my favorite book that came out this year, and not just because it involves a cool library.  The plot is tight and moves quickly, there is an evil character, the mystery is interactive and solvable.  And it is set in a very cool library.  The mystery in the library was developed by a game maker and the book feels almost like you are playing a game.  Beyond the mystery it has a mad-cap scavenger hunt feel to it.  Mr. Lemoncello is The Westing Game meets Chasing Vermeer.  It wasn't the best written book I've read from 2013, but certainly the most fun.  It will appeal to both boys and girls and is perfect for reluctant readers.  I plan on using it for my 5/6th grade book discussion group in March.  My only question after reading this book is "Is Mr. Lemoncello looking to hire a new children's librarian?"  I would love to throw my name in the hat!