Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding

Image result for dreadful tale prosper redding coverThe Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding
Alexandra Bracken
Hyperion/Disney, 2017 362 pages
Grades 4-7

Prosper Redding is the underachiever in his superstar family, all of whom are great successes, financial and otherwise. On a town-wide celebration day Prosper notices the family acting suspiciously. When his grandmother traps him in a room and comes after him with a knife, he knows for sure something is up. Rescue arrives in the form of a long-lost uncle, who takes him to his Salem home, where he meets his previously unknown cousin, Nell. Prosper is shocked to discover that an ancestor contracted with a demon during colonial times and this is the cause of the family's success. Making matters worse, this demon is awakening inside of Prosper and begins to grow stronger every day. Prosper must lay low in order that his grandmother does not locate him, as he wrestles with the inner demon, who is growing in strength and power. Meanwhile, Nell, who is an amateur witch, is working to banish the demon from Prosper and send him back underground where he belongs. As the demon fights for control and power, Prosper must resist signing into a contract out of desperation and greed with his capture and save himself and those that he loves.

Alexander Bracken, best known for her teen fiction, including the Darkest Minds series, which is optioned by Fox to be made into a movie, turns her talents to middle grade. This dark fantasy encompasses early colonial witchcraft days, which is perennially popular. A bit edgier than traditional fantasy for this age group, Bracken manages to infuse humor into the story line. The action never stops and readers will want to keep turning pages. Some surprises are in store as the story progresses and it gets really cool at the end, which then leads readers to a cliff-hanger, encouraging them to read the next installment in the series, which is yet to be released. Prosper is a humble character with talents, yet no confidence, to whom readers will relate and care about. It will be easy for young people to experience what it would be like living with a demon inside right along with Prosper. Interesting magical creatures are introduced that will spark the imagination. This new series has a lot of heart and will appeal to both boys and girls who like their magic a little dark, yet also enjoy a good laugh.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Public Library

Image result for the public library dawson coverThe Public Library: a Photographic Essay
Robert Dawson
Princeton Architectural Press, 2014
191 pages

Although I do not blog about adult books EVER (and yes, I read them sometimes), I felt compelled to share this title for my 500th blog post. Recommended by a patron, I thought this book sounded interesting since I am interested in libraries, architecture, and photography. It turns out to be my new favorite book, validating why I went into this business to begin with. Dawson offers a love letter to public libraries in both words and images. A professional photographer, he spent many years visiting and taking pictures of interesting libraries from all over the US, finally dedicating several summers to the endeavor in order to create this book. The photos are beautiful, captivating, and at times emotional. Accompanying these photos are essays written by the famous (authors such as Ann Pratchett) and not so famous (the bookmobile librarian for a rural system in Nevada). Words and photos work together to capture the history of the public library, what it means to its users, It's transformative power, the current changing climate, and fears for the future. Dawson shows that the library is a vibrant and necessary force for the future of our society as a vehicle for community connection and education. Having read this book during a week when Forbes Magazine published a story suggesting that it would save citizens money to close the libraries and simply rely on Amazon and iTunes, it was encouraging to read that what we do is of value to some people in America, especially those who maybe don't have a voice. I am proud to be a public librarian and take great satisfaction in serving my community. It is refreshing to know that what I do is not in vain and is contributing to the greater good and really IS important. Certainly I will continue to fight for library funding and will never stop encouraging young people to read, learn, and grow. Thank you, Robert Dawson, for giving me a much needed boost during these precarious and uncertain times when the importance of community and learning seems to be disappearing from American society.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


Image result for illegal colferIllegal
Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin
Giovanni Rigano, Illustrator
Sourcebooks, 2018 122 pages
Grades 6-Up
Graphic Novel

Ebo's brother has disappeared from their small, poor village in Ghana to seek out their sister who left a few months before. With both of his parent's dead, Ebo finds it easy to walk away from the alcoholic uncle who is raising him and search for his brother, stowing away on the roof of a crowded bus, which takes him to a big city at the edge of the Sahara Desert. Finally, after many weeks of searching, Ebo tracks down his brother and the two find jobs in order to earn the money to cross the desert. Finally, the day arrives and the boys embark on a journey riddled with thirst, starvation, double-crossing, and death. Miraculously, they make it across, only to reach another city with nowhere to live, no food, and no more money to arrange further transportation. A make-shift home is arranged and the brothers go back to working in order to secure the boat fare to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Finally, passage on a boat is secured, only to face more peril as the non-sea-worthy rubber raft is overcrowded, out of fuel and supplies, and all hope seems lost. Will Ebo and his brother survive the precarious journey? And what will become of them if they do?

Artemis Fowl author teams up with collaborators for the graphic series, turning from fantasy to a story that's all too realistic and reflects the current news headlines. Refugees are sweeping the world and the answer to the situation is the topic for many current debates. The book creators offer no easy answers to this world problem, but do serve to educate the public about some of the motivations and struggles facing a group of African refugees today. At the core, the team succeeds in presenting the characters as real people, who were born in horrible circumstances that they attempt to overcome despite overwhelming obstacles in order to find safety and security. Ebo's character will allow young readers to identify with his situation and sympathize with a situation far from their reality. The story is told in full color with minimal text, often letting the illustrations tell the tale. The writers do not shy away from gruesome realities and cruelties and there are deaths of key characters. The story ends happy-ish, but not without serious loss. A bonus chapter at the end tell a woman's story in black-and-white interview-style for balance. A serious and timely topic realistically and sensitively presented to a young audience.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Home after Dark

Image result for home after dark david small coverHome after Dark
David Small
Norton, September, 2018 396 pages
Grades 9-Up
Graphic Novel

After enduring a childhood of parental addiction and fighting, Russell's parents separate and he leaves with his Dad to relocate in sunny California in the 1950's. After a brief stint renting a room, Russell and Dad move into a new house and Dad begins work as a prison ESL teacher. Russell befriends neighborhood boys, Willie and Kurt and the three ride around on their bikes, hang out in the junk yard, and build a tree-house. When school starts Russell's two new friends go to a different schools, forcing him to branch out. He befriends Warren and the two begin to hang out after school, avoiding the school bullies as a team. The friendship with Warren must be severed when derogatory gay rumors start floating about his new friend and Russell does not want to be labeled by association. Time passes and Dad's drinking escalates, as Kurt's personality becomes meaner and uncomfortable to be around. Someone is killing neighborhood dogs and fingers are pointed at Warren. Did he do it? Meanwhile, where is Dad? Russell is forced to make some tough choices, grow up quickly, and learn what it means to be a man.

Although not a happy book, Small's follow-up to critically acclaimed Stitches does not disappoint. The volume features a thirteen-year-old protagonist and is presented in a graphic format, making it seem more juvenile than what it is. In reality this coming of age story is very dark and sophisticated and is intended for an adult audience, although will find a readership with mature teenagers (much like Stitches). The illustrations are entirely in shades of black and white and are intended to reflect the French storytelling style of cinema verite. This certainly comes through as the text, storyline, and illustrations work together to create a true work of art. The story, itself, goes very dark and includes topics such as parental alcoholism and abandonment, animal mutilation, severe homophobia, and extreme bullying. Russell must make tough decisions and sometimes he gets it wrong. Role models finally emerge in unexpected places and the reader leaves this powerful story with a sense of hope for this character that we come to care and worry about. Small's 1950's California is not a place of sunshine and flamingos, but of broken dreams and desperation. A thoughtful graphic novel beautifully and carefully constructed into a fine work of art.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Akata Witch

Image result for akata witchAkata Witch
Nnedi Okorafor
Viking, 2011 349 pages
Grades 7-9

Twelve-year-old Sunny's family has relocated from the US to Nigeria. Although her parents are originally from the West African country, Sunny has a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings, both as an American and as an albino, making her stand out in an uncomfortable way. After befriending classmate Orlu and his neighbor, Chichi, Sunny begins to realize that there are even more traits unusual about her. She is slowing awakening magical powers, yet is from an un-magical family and has no idea how to harness them. Her new friends introduce her to a secretly hidden magical world and their teacher. The teacher introduces the trio to a fourth student, also from the states, Sasha, and the four become a team. Sunny discovers powers within herself beyond her wildest dreams, as she cultivates the new friendships, and unearths secrets from her family's past. The new team of fledglings is sent on various starter tasks, only to be challenged with the biggest mission of all: to attempt to take down the corrupt magician who is kidnapping and killing small children in order to gain more power. Does the young team have enough juju to bring the powerful demon down and to save the day?

This is a big year for West African mythology (Children of Blood and Bone) and it was weird to read two books influenced by it at the same time. This book was originally released seven years ago and was re-leased in paperback last fall with a jazzy new cover (see above) simultaneously with the sequel, Akata Warrior. Comparisons have been made with the Harry Potter series and I see where these folks are coming from, but this series is purely original in many different ways. That said, it certainly will appeal to Potter fans, as well as those of Rick Rhiordan. The plot moves quickly, the characters are relate-able and likable, and the hidden magical land and lore is very cool. Many kids fantasize about being secretly magical and are just waiting for their powers to assert themselves. Okorafor's series will speak to that desire in a believable and entertaining way. Kids that feel a little different will be validated by Sunny's albinism, Orlu's learning disabilities, ChiChi's temper, and Sasha's penchant for falling into trouble. Sunny also strikes a blow for feminism, as she plays in a boy's only soccer competition and performs well. Certainly a page turner, readers will root for Sunny and her friends and breath a contented sigh of satisfaction as the story draws to a close.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Word Snoop

Image result for word snoop dubosarskyThe Word Snoop
Ursula Dubosarsky
Tohby Riddle, Illustrator
Dial, 2009 246 pages
Grades 3-8

Dubosarsky offers a fascinating look at etymology (the origin of words and language). We all struggle with the weird spelling and grammatical rules of the English language. The Word Snoop illustrates why we write the way we do and where the crazy rules came from. The book begins with a timeline and ends with a glossary of terms. Topics include the history of language, moving into, specifically, the English language, the origins of certain words and spellings, punctuation, figures of speech, word games, and other written ways to communicate. Every chapter ends with a different coded message. The end of the book offers an explanation behind the different codes, yet never reveals the actual secret message.

Cleverly written and designed with generous illustrations sprinkled throughout, The Word Snoop is an entertaining while educational read. I read this book at the insistence of one of my book club kids, who said it was the best book she has ever read. Once hearing this high praise, I knew I had to read it myself. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. There are many things about the English language I have not fully understood and question, still others I just take for granted. Dubosarsky explains the "why" of a lot of weird English idiosyncrasies, offering both the grammatical rule and the origin behind it. This is not a book for everyone, yet after reading it I became as excited as my young reader to pass it onto someone else. Perfect for smart kids who always wonder, The Word Snoop will scratch an itch they didn't even know they had. This book will find an obvious place within a school or classroom library, yet will also be enjoyed recreationally at home with careful handseling or placement around the house. The very end of the book, as the author explores "text speak" and the use of "Smileys" (the precursor to emoji’s), is already a little dated, which just goes to show how quickly language changes and how organic it truly is. Lots of fun, while solving some of life's mysteries such as, "why DOES the word "knife" start with a "K"?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Image result for tight maldonadoTight
Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Sept. 2018 180 pages
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Bryan's social worker mother encourages him to befriend Mike, a boy with a troubled home-life. At first the urban sixth graders seem to have much in common, including comics and drawing. As their friendship deepens Bryan sees another side of Mike, one that doesn't like to share, gets jealous and slightly reckless. When Bryan's dad gets arrested he allows himself to get swept up in Mike's bad choices, including skipping school, throwing rocks off of roofs and illegally (and dangerously) riding the subways. After getting caught for some of his rule-breaking, the boys are forbidden to see each other and Bryan begins hanging out with gentle giant, Big Will, who shares similar interests with less drama and poor decisions. Mike refuses to let go of the friendship and Bryan must decide how to handle the situation without getting in more trouble, while still maintaining street cred.

Maldonado explores important topics such as what it means to be a man, making smart decisions, taking responsibility for your own path, and the complexities of male friendship. Many friendship-drama stories exist for girls, yet very few are out there for boys, who also struggle with navigating this minefield. Bryan is a sensitive boy who wants to be a good kid, yet is surrounded by conflicting messages both in his urban neighborhood and in his own household. Dad is loving, yet lives a less-than-savory lifestyle, and Bryan has to learn that it’s okay to love his father without emulating him. Maldonado offers solid advice for readers facing similar dilemmas and brings to light the foolishness of following friends blindly. Tight has a lot of say, yet does not get bogged does with the message. The book reads quickly, is often written in dialog, and is plot-driven, making it a great choice for reluctant readers. Boys in our country are getting lost and Maldonado has written a book that young men will actually sit down and read, identify with, and be encouraged to follow their own paths, even if it doesn't seem cool or "manly" to our current society.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Trumpet of the Swan

Image result for trumpet of the swan coverThe Trumpet of the Swan
E.B. White
HarperCollins, 1970 210 pages
Grades 3-6
Animal Fantasy

A young boy named Sam is camping with his father in the Canadian wilderness. It is here that he observes two rare trumpeter swans build a nest and hatch cygnets. Louis, one of the new hatchlings, is as healthy as his siblings, only he cannot make any noise. It is imperative for trumpeter swans to make noise especially for attracting a mate and warding off enemies. Louis' father is concerned for his offspring and steals a trumpet from a music store in hopes that his son can make sounds artificially. Meanwhile, Louis finds other ways to communicate. He tracks down his old friend Sam and attends school with him, learning to read and write. Armed with a chalkboard around his neck and his newly acquired trumpet, Louis heads off with Sam to play his trumpet at a remote summer camp. After camp Louis takes his musical skills to Boston, where he plays by the swan boats, hoping to earn enough money to pay off his father's debt from stealing the trumpet. Louis' skills grow, as does his fame. Will he make good on his father's debt? Will he ever find a mate? And what will become of Sam once he grows up? These questions and more are answered in E.B. White's third and final children's book.

E.B. White, of Charlotte's Web Fame, thought of himself as more of an adult writer, having spent his career working for The New Yorker Magazine. Yet his legacy as a writer for children is for what he is best remembered. The least known of his three works for children, The Trumpet of the Swan, is an excellent contribution to the cannon and still holds up over time. Animal lovers are the obvious audience, but enough happens in the plot to keep all readers interested. I love how E.B. White always includes a child who befriends his animal protagonists, thus offering a character for which young people can relate. Louis overcomes adversity with aplomb and cheerfulness. He is not afraid of hard work, traveling to new terrains, or jumping into new situations. Sam is also a character to emulate. He is a true and loyal friend whose kindness, patience, and quiet nature make him a natural with animals. Parts of the book are dated, but not to the point of distracting from the overall story. Certain stereotypical references are made to American Indians, as in walking quietly or being wild. The original cover (as seen above) does not do the book any favors, but more updated covers exist in newer editions and the black and white illustrations inside are sweet and less dated. An American classic worth a second look.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman

Image result for secret life mrs finkleman coverThe Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
Ben H. Winters
HarperCollins, 2010 247 pages
Grades 4-7

Mr. Melville, a notoriously tricky teacher, assigns a special project to his seventh grade social studies class: find a mystery in your life-and solve it. After much consideration Bethesda targets the school's music teacher, Ms. Finkleman. No one knows absolutely anything about her. Bethesda makes it her mission to solve the mystery behind Ms. Finkleman's personal life and hits pay-dirt when she discovers that her mousy teacher was formally in a punk band. After the presentation the entire school is impressed, including the principal. She decides that Ms. Finkleman must change the format of the big chorus competition to Rock and Roll and include her own musical persona in the show. Ms Finkleman strikes a deal with class slacker, Tenny. She forces him to help her mold the new recruits into three proper Rock and Roll outfits in exchange for Bethesda, who owes her for exposing her secret, to tutor him to passing grades in social studies. Sounds straight forward, right? But why does the former rocker need Tenny's help and why isn't she more interested in the process? Secrets are revealed, lives are changed, and values are compromised as the countdown to the big show nears an end.

Part school story, part mystery, Winters explores the age old question: "what do teachers do at night?" This answer is generally not very interesting, but not in the case of Ms. Finkleman. What a revelation to discover that your drab chorus teacher is a former punk rocker, only things are not as they seem and there is more to the story. Along the path to digging up the truth the students at Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School learn that people’s personal life are their own, that cheating is wrong even if it feels like the only answer, that sometimes you need to be honest about who you are even if it disappoints your loved ones, and that rocking out is good for the soul. Many young lives are transformed by the power of music and lives are permanently changed by the whole experience. Winters' book is reminiscent of the work of Andrew Clements. He nails the school experience in a highly readable story that children will both relate to and enjoy. The point of view changes and we get to see the motives and voices of several key players. All of the mysteries are solved by book's end and the characters leave us in a satisfactory place. Readers who enjoy this tale can crack into the sequel, The Mystery of Missing Everything staring the same gang from Mary Todd Lincoln Middle.