Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Best of Iggy

Image result for best of iggy cover"The Best of Iggy
Annie Barrows
Sam Ricks, Illustrator
Putnam/Penguin, January 20 122 pages
Grades 2-5
Humor/Chapter-Graphic Hybrid

Our faithful narrator begins the book by introducing Iggy, who has impulse control issues, by dangling a carrot. There are three types of things we wish we hadn't done. The types are described and then noted that Iggie has done them all within the pages of this book. Readers are now treated to the hilarious situations in which Iggy finds himself doing the before mentioned things, seemingly without remorse. The first involves luring a scarf-wearing family friend to jump off the roof of the shed. The second is a bathroom incident containing Mom's makeup and Dad's shaving cream. The third-and most serious-is an ill-advised desk race with his buddies with unforeseen results, leaving both Iggy and his teacher devastated. Apologies are made, lessons are learned, and another carrot is dangled, encouraging readers to check out Iggy's second adventure, set to be released in the spring of 2020.

Barrows has plenty of experience encouraging the new chapter crowd to read through her wildly popular Ivy and Bean series. Now Barrows introduces a lovable and painfully human boy named Iggy, who is sure to appeal to reluctant male readers. The book starts with a bang and the hilarity keeps rolling, encouraging kids to turn pages to see what hijinks Iggy will encounter next. Barrows sticks to a linear plot, as to not confusing emerging readers and is not afraid to get a bit serious at the end of the book. Truly, Iggy means well, yet finds himself in trouble. The trouble has repercussions and Iggy takes his punishment on the chin and makes restitution as appropriate. Some kids will relate to Iggy, some will live through him, yet all will fall in love with him. The comic illustrations are generous, well drawn, and perfect for the target audience. Although the book is a natural fit for reluctant boys, girls will also enjoy this new series. Even this fifty year old found herself laughing out-loud in the library staff room as I read this story during lunch. The lesson Barrows leaves us with is that we may mess up in life, but if we say "sorry" and try to make it better, it will not be the end of the world. Readers are congratulated at the end of the book for making it through, further encouraging them to continue on with the series. A welcome new hero who will appeal to fans of Stink and Horrible Harry.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Genesis Begins Again

Image result for genesis begins again cover"Genesis Begins Again
Alicia Williams
Atheneum, 2019 384 pages
Grades 5-7
Realistic Fiction

Our story begins with thirteen-year-old Genesis bringing new friends home from school, only to find her family's possessions out on the lawn. They have been evicted--again--and Genesis and her mom must move in with Grandma until Dad can find a new home. The place Dad finds is the house of Genesis' dreams. It is in the suburbs and the neighborhood is safe and clean. Her new school has many opportunities and Genesis begins to slowly make real friends for the first time in her life. She decides on a whim to audition for the school's talent show and blows her new classmates and teacher away by her voice, earning a spot in the show. Popular kids suddenly want to befriend her and invite her to join their acts. The only problem is that Genesis does not feel pretty enough to have the confidence to stand up to people who don’t have her best interests at heart, including her father who is behind on the rent and has lost his job due to a drinking problem. To fix her troubles Genesis purchases cream to lighten her complexion, hoping that this will make her more beautiful and therefor worthy of being loved. Will she learn to love herself the way she is?

First time author, Williams, explores what it means to be beautiful and learning to love yourself. Genesis has an addicted parent and a backwards Grandmother, who makes her feel insecure and inferior for inheriting her father's dark skin. Through the love of her mother and support of a kind teacher and new friends, she begins to realize that she truly is worthy and lovable just the way she is. This lesson is important for young people, regardless of skin color, and readers will hopefully see themselves in this revelation. The skin lightening made me very uncomfortable, but this may be the point of the author. Hopefully readers will learn from our protagonist’s mistakes and misconceptions. The story line about Genesis' alcoholic father will ring true to many young people in similar circumstances and will reassure them that their parents love them regardless of their addictions. Genesis's spashy singing success is a bit unrealistic, especially considering she has had no formal training, but it was nice to see her excel at something to help boost her confidence. The story ends a bit cleanly with a sense of hope that will satisfy young readers. A timely book with a lot to say that will both reassure and educate.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Roll with It

Image result for roll with it sumner coverRoll with It
Jamie Sumner
Simon & Schuster, 2019 246 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

After Ellie's grandfather's Alzheimer's starts to become too much for Grandma to handle, Ellie and her mom travel to Oklahoma for Christmas, intending to stay indefinitely. Ellie loves her grandparents, but life in their cramped trailer, especially when trapped in a wheelchair, wears thin quickly. The good news is that Ellie makes two new friends in the trailer park and begins to socialize outside of her new school and gain some independence.  The bad news is that the new quirky friend group is treated like “trailer trash” and do not fit in with the social scene of the school as a whole. Ellie loves to bake and feels that this is a hobby in which she excels and can be a “regular” kid. When she enters a baking competition, she hopes for the best. Can she finally be the best at something? As the year progresses Ellie's new relationships deepen and she even makes a little room for her estranged father. She begins to spread her wings and even Mom seems a bit happier. Will they be able to stay? And what will happen to Grandpa? He seems to be getting worse by the day. There are no easy answers in this slice of life of a young girl who refuses to let life with Cerebral Palsy get her down.

Much as seen in Auggie from Wonder and Aven from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Ellie is a character that refuses to let her disability define her. Readers are given an inside view of what living with Cerebral Palsy is like from the terrible effects of seizure medication to the limitations of a wheelchair. Through it all, Ellie is a regular girl with interests and dreams. The first person narration places readers right into the story and they will identify with Ellie right away. Although the plot is simple and straight forward, the book never lags or gets boring. More of a character piece, there is enough action to move it along. Ellie is truly the star of the show and we experience her growth as she matures and begins to feel empathy and what it means to be a compassionate daughter, granddaughter, and friend. The chapters often begin with Ellie's letters to famous chefs and cooking magazines, giving the book and added layer and reminding the reader that this girl has passion. Problems are sewn up a bit too neatly by the book's end, but that will please young readers, who will be satisfied with the hopeful resolution with no dangling plot threads. Long chapter lengths, lack of illustrations, and middle school aged protagonists make this book best suited for older elementary, yet the plot reads so quickly that reluctant and younger readers will be sure to finish. Give to fans of realistic fiction featuring kids overcoming challenges.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Midsummer's Mayhem

Midsummer's MayhemMidsummer's Mayhem
Rajani LaRocca
Yellow Jacket, 2019 352 pages
Grades 4-7

Eleven-year-old Mimi often feels overlooked as the youngest in a super-star family. She has been particularly lonely since her best friend moved away and her beloved food-critic father is traveling on business. Mimi's passion is baking and she is thrilled when a new bakery opens in her small town announcing a baking contest for kids. Mimi is determined to enter and win the contest, even as she finds the goods in the bakery sub-par and the owner and workers a bit odd. A jaunt in the woods brings a new friend, who though in town only for the summer, also loves to bake and joins Mimi in concocting some yummy treats. As Mimi's family is involved in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, things start to get kooky, mirroring the events in the play. Dad returns from the trip with an insatiable appetite to the point of gluttony, two boys both fall over themselves to capture the heart of Mimi's non-assuming sister, and her brother can't stop looking in the mirror. Why is everyone acting crazy and what can Mimi do to make it stop? Finally the day of the contest arrives and Mimi must bake in front of an audience, as well as a famous celebrity chef/judge. The contest ends with unexpected results. Opening night of the play brings the action to the climax and Mimi learns the truth behind the strange summer happenings as well as behind the bakery and its workers, and the secret behind her own cooking. Mimi learns where her heart truly lies and makes a new friend in the process.

This new book is getting a lot of buzz. It falls under the category of "Magical Realism", which is currently trending, and features a diverse cast, including Mimi's family who boast Indian roots, a culture underrepresented in children's fiction. Children will enjoy this book and relate to Mimi's feelings of being the youngest and seemingly without power. Almost like watching an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, tweens will experience romantic complications through the eyes of the amused younger sister. Mimi's summer after the loss of her best friend seems long and lonely, but this fantastic adventure with a new cast of characters offers her both amusement and a sense of purpose. She finds her footing and true powers, learning that she can contribute as much as her older siblings. Cooking terms are defined in the back of the volume, as are possibly unfamiliar Indian foods. A recipe is include, inspiring want-to-be chefs to tackle the kitchen. This story may also lead readers to crack into some of Shakespeare's plays, specifically A Midsummer Night's Dream, which much of the plot of the story mimics. The action never flags and crazy plot-twists and surprises await the reader, which will keep them turning pages. An unusual story with lots of appeal, give to fans of Love, Sugar, Magic, or to anyone who loves their fantasy with a culinary twist.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Image result for pay attention carter jones coverPay Attention, Carter Jones
Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion, 2019 216 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

Carter feels like life is out of control. It is his first day of sixth grade. He will be starting middle school and nothing is right. It is pouring rain, the car won't start, Mom can't get it together, Dad is away with the military, and someone is missing. The doorbell brings a proper, yet unfamiliar man. He introduces himself as Carter's late grandfather's Butler, who has been left to the family in Grandpa's will. In quick order the Butler whips the family into shape, taking everyone to school in his giant Bentley and encouraging the four children in the family to "make good decisions and remember who they are". As time goes on the Butler makes a positive impact on the household, encouraging Mom to re-enter life and plugging the various children into healthy pursuits. Carter becomes the family dog walker at the Butler's urging and learns to become a supportive older brother, all while coming to terms with the fact that Dad may never be returning home and the truth behind the missing family member. The Butler even teaches Carter and his friend how to play Cricket, recruiting the cross country team and inviting a school-wide craze. Life will never be the same for Carter's family, but will the Butler stay forever?

Move over Mary Poppins--a new Brit is here, though this time on our side of the pond, to nurture a family and show both parents and children the best way to behave. Eclectic author for young people, Schmidt, offers a coming of age tale, incorporating realistic situations with humor and gentle morality lessons. Carter has a lot to deal with and, with the Butler's help, learns what it means to be a thoughtful and responsible individual--something that his father could stand to learn. We eventually see the sadness behind this family, though Schmidt reveals exactly what happened to cause it slowly, never giving us the whole story until page 90. I have never read a book that features the sport of Cricket and was happy to see it represented. I know my Indian families, especially, will enjoy seeing this beloved sport featured in a novel. Chapters are introduced by a rule from Cricket that fits in with what will happen in the chapter, which was fun. Do I finally understand the game? No, not at all, but sports kids won't care and will enjoy the action. The sport is not the main point of the plot and did not slow me down from loving the book. As the Butler teaches Carter how to be a responsible gentleman, he delivers the sentiment: "we are what we love". So true! Through the humor there are some truly moving bits that made me emotional. Schmidt really knows how to pack a wallop, all while making us laugh through our tears.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


J.J. & Chris Grabenstein
Random House, 2019 207 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction/School Story

When Piper's Dad is offered a position as the Choir Director at the prestigious prep school that her late mother attended, she has mixed feelings. On one hand, this is Dad's big chance, as well as an opportunity to connect with the mom she never knew. On the other hand, Piper does not want to leave her public school friends and is convinced that all of the students at Chumley will be snotty. Piper is surprised when she is befriended by a bunch of kind fellow-nerds and, although there are difficult people, begins to enjoy herself. Piper's English teacher assigns the class a writing assignment, challenging them to discover "the person they want to be", which gets her thinking. What exactly is true success? A never-before student prize is announced and gets the school buzzing. Does Piper have what it takes to win the coveted award? Maybe if she shows her true talent (astronomy) and wins the science fair she will have a chance. The science fair does not go exactly as planned and Piper decides to demonstrate her awesomeness at the school talent show. An unexpected complication forces her to decide between winning an award and winning as a friend. Which way will Piper chose?

Popular and critically acclaimed children's author, Grabenstein, teams up with his wife for an inspirational tale that will encourage kids to question their own choices. Piper feels like a fish out of water and is intimidated by the rich kids, until she gives a group of kids a chance and realizes that people are people no matter how much money they have. There is a predictably nasty queen bee, of whom Piper discovers the motivation behind her drive and meanness and offers forgiveness. In fact, Piper does not seem to have a mean bone in her body. This feels a bit unrealistic, but will serve as a great role model for readers. Our main character does exhibit fears and feelings of inadequacy, showing that she's not perfect and making her relate-able. Readers will cheer for Piper as she continues to make kind decisions and the ending may even make them choke up a bit with emotion. Piper is an amazing character who faces her fears head-on and proves to be a loyal friend. She discovers the person who she is striving to be and learns to accept her own wonderful traits and talents, even if they are different from other around her. A motivating character-driven story sure to both entertain and inspire.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

Image result for jeremy thatcher coverJeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
Bruce Coville
Harcourt, 1991 151 pages
Grades 3-6
The Magic Shop series #2

Sixth-grade Jeremy finds himself on an unfamiliar street and wanders into a magic shop that he never knew existed. Here the mysterious owner. Mr. Elives, reluctantly sells him an egg with cryptic instructions. Jeremy follows said instructions during the night's full moon and is rewarded when a dragon hatches out of the egg. The dragon is super cool, but how will he take care of it? Jeremy does what all good researches do-he heads to the library. Here the librarian hands him more mysterious information. Jeremy learns how to care and feed his dragon and that it is his responsibility to assign her a name. They both agree on the name Tiamat after a famous dragon from days of yore, and a friendship is born. Tiamat is able to communicate with Jeremy telepathically and they both feed off of each other's emotions. Naturally, trouble ensues as Trimat learns to navigate the world and feed his insatiable appetite. The only other person able to see Tiamat is a fellow classmate--and girl--Mary Lou. She is creative and shares Jeremy's love of reading and magic. They bond over the dragon and become friends, only the other guys make fun of him for having a (yuck!) girlfriend. How can Jeremy take care of his new charge without losing his mind and getting in more trouble?

Jeremy Thatcher has been igniting the imaginations of dragon-loving kids for over a quarter of a century and his story is still strong. Perfect for readers not quite ready for Harry Potter or Wings of Fire or looking for something more serious than the silly hijinxs of How to Train Your Dragon, this title continues to fill a need. Readers will immediately identify with Jeremy and imagine hatching a dragon of their own and solving the problems associated with this wonderful gift. Dragons are so cool and are currently trending, so this title is sure to please readers. The length and level are perfect for reluctant readers and a few interspersed pencil drawings will help them to not feel overwhelmed. Even though the book is relatively short, it contains content and will get readers thinking. Jeremy learns many lessons including what it means to be a friend, responsibility, trust, and how to let something you love free. Although part of a series, each title of the series is a completely different set of characters, linked only by a visit to the magic shop, so it does not need to be read in any order, yet will connect kids with something to read next. Still magical after all these years, readers will relish a ride with Jeremy and his dragon and imagine flights of their own.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World

Image result for naked mole rat saves the worldNaked Mole Rat Saves the World
Karen Rivers
Algonquin, 2019 293 pages
Grades 3-7
Realistic Fiction/Magical Realism?

Life tends to be confusing and sometimes overwhelming for kit. Her name begins with a lower case "k", because her mom claims that she looked like a small naked mole rat upon birth and was too tiny for a capital letter. Kit also suffers from a condition known as Alopecia, leaving her bald, and an agoraphobic mother with numerous fears of her own, which she shares with her offspring. After kit watches her best friend Clem get hurt on national television in an acrobatic accident, the stress causes kit to turn into a naked mole rat, who scurries around the small apartment until she has her emotions under control. After the accident Clem is not the same. She goes goth and becomes obsessed with a dead grandfather who joined Jim Jones' cult. Clem's brother Jorge feels guilty about dropping Clem and isn't quite right either. Finally, former friend Jackson has become moody and mean. Will the group every find their way back to friendship? Meanwhile, chapters in Clem's voice narrate her feelings and experiences and we see her side of the tale. A school talent show, a rescue dog, and a local robber bring the kids back together and apologies are made, hurts are forgiven and relationships are mended.

This is an interesting book. The cover makes it appear to be frothy and funny, but, although there are humorous moments, this is a deceptively deep book. All of the characters suffer from troubles and poor kit could really use some help. Her mother is clearly mentally ill and though she tries to "keep it together", she is often unsuccessful to the point of sharing her neurosis with her daughter and putting her in dangerous situations. Kit is one of those kids who is put in the unfortunate position of being the grown-up and taking care of her parent, instead of the other way around. It is hard to tell if kit really is morphing into a naked mole rat or if this is a coping mechanism that is her brain's way of trying to get control of certain scary situations. It was never made clear to me if the transformation was really happening (no one else witnesses it), so therefore I am not truly positive that there is magic at work. All of the characters are interesting and developed. Their friendship finds resolution a bit too quickly and easily at the end of the story, yet readers will be satisfied at the happy and hopeful ending. For some reason it took me a long time to get through this book and I'm not quite sure why. Kids who enjoy unusual and quirky books will be best served by this title.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Not If I Can Help It

Not If I Can Help It
Carolyn Mackler
Scholastic, 2019 240 pages
Grades 3-5
Realistic Fiction

Willa has lived her life with Sensory Processing Disorder and now in fifth grade is finally getting it under control. Life in her New York City apartment is predictable, as are weekends upstate with Mom and her stepfather. This is threatened as changes rock her world and shatter her control. First Dad starts to date her best friend Ruby's mother. Next middle school is looming and Willa will have to adjust to a whole new environment. Finally, her long-time babysitter is moving and Dad's relationship is leveling up. Willa may lose her room, which is her safe space. Through an understanding occupational therapist, a supportive family, and her friendship with Ruby Willa begins to weather the changes and regain some comfort and security. The promise of a dog of her own keeps Willa moving forward, until something happens to put a hold on her dream. Will this be the final straw for Willa? As the school year draws to a close and elementary school graduation arrives at long last, Willa learns what really is important and that sometimes, even with her differences, she can compromise and make accommodations for those she loves.

Teen author, Carolyn Mackler, turns to middle grade in this new book about a rarely discussed condition. Kids will be instantly drawn to this book with a giant gummy bear on the cover. It will appeal to both genders and is targeted to the Wonder audience. It is the first book for young people that I have read about Sensory Processing Disorder and it helped me to understand what life is like for these affected kids by spending some time in Willa's shoes. Although Willa may act unexpectedly and certain things bother her that typical sensory folks wouldn't notice, she is a terrific friend and has similar hopes and fears as everyone else. Ruby turns out to have her own troubles, demonstrating to readers that everyone is burdened with something and we all have to be understanding of others and kind to ourselves. The adjustment to a blended family will resonate with a lot of young readers, as will the frustration of important decisions not being the hands of kids who must live with the consequences. Willa has an amazingly supportive family without even one tricky adult, which seems a bit unrealistic to me, yet will make readers feel secure. She is learning to navigate her world and relationships and shows much growth as the novel progresses. Readers who aren't quite ready for A Mango Shaped Space will enjoy this story about a non-traditional thinker and fellow animal lover.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them AllThirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
Laura Ruby
HarperCollins, 2019 363 pages
Grades 8-Up
Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Frankie has lived in a Catholic Chicago orphanage with her brother and sister since her mother died many years ago. Her immigrant Italian father remarries and moves to Colorado, taking her brother and step-siblings, yet leaving Frankie and her sister behind. Through the backdrop of World War II, Frankie comes of age, surviving rationing and dodging the blows of the nuns. Even though the boys and girls are kept separate at the orphanage, Frankie manages to find love, only to have him leave to fight in the war. A reunion with family members reveals hidden truths about the past, as well as bringing about more hurt and fresh wounds. Frankie must make some big decisions to ensure the safety and future of both herself and her sister. Meanwhile, our narrator, a young ghost, has her own story to tell. As she zips around Chicago, observing Frankie, as well as other regulars on her rounds, she makes a ghost friend who helps her to come to terms with her violently tragic past. A story within a story, the ghost's past life is slowly revealed, this time during the previous world war, ending in a surprising demise.

Similar in tone and quality to Ruby's 2017 Printz winner Bone Gap, the author has penned another winner, already a National Book Award Finalist. Set in the first half of the last century, this book is clearly historical fiction, yet the ghostly element adds a touch of fantasy as well. The ghostly narrator is an interesting perspective and at times I forgot that she was narrating Frankie's story as I fell deeply into it. The chapters where the ghost is having her own adventures and discoveries brought me back and added pacing and contrast to the overall arc of the story. The narration is reminiscent to The Book Thief and it is equally well done. The story is so well written, sometimes it went over my head, yet the plot is interesting enough that I didn't let it slow me down and kept quickly turning pages to see what happens next. An author's note at the end revels to the reader that the story is based on the author's mother-in-law's actual experiences, which adds a layer of authenticity to the tale. Kids are fascinated by orphanages and this alone will draw in readers. Sometimes with high quality teen literature I question if the target audience will read the book. In this case, I think that smart teens will love this story and find much to savor. Perfect for book groups (both teen and adult) and sure to bring home more awards, this new title from a respected author is one of the nest of the year.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Other Words for Home

Image result for other words for home coverOther Words for Home
Jasmine Warga
HarperCollins, 2019 337 pages
Grades 4-8
Realistic Fiction/Narrative Poetry

Jude is happily living in her ocean home in Syria, watching movies with her best friend and singing pop songs: until life begins to change. Her brother becomes political, eventually moving out of the house and into dangerous situations. Finally, her parents decide that Syria is no longer safe and Jude, along with her pregnant mother, journey to the United States to live with Mom's brother and his American family in Cincinnati. Cousin Sarah is as unlike Jude as you can possibly imagine and seems less than enthusiastic, introducing Jude to her cool American friends. Missing her best friend, family, and life back in Syria, Jude makes a new friend named Layla, who though American, has middle eastern parents who operate a restaurant with food that makes Jude feel as if she is home. Adjustment does not come easily, yet help is found in the form of a supportive bunch of new pals from ESL class and the opportunity to get involved in the school play. Jude intends to work on the stage crew, yet finds herself auditioning and surprising everyone, including herself, by landing a speaking part. Can this strange new country be home after all?

As we enter into the end of the year it is time to crack into those books that are showing up on the "best of" lists. This books has excellent reviews and is getting some buzz--enough that I felt compelled to read it. I kept putting it off because it seemed very long and heavy. This is not the case. Because it is narrative poetry, it reads very quickly. The subject matter is a little heavy, yet the story has a quickly moving plot and never drags. At heart, Jude is normal girl. Even though she is from a distant culture, her personality, fears, and interests mirror American girls, who will relate to the character and fall into her story. Seeing the conflict in Syria and then adjustment to American life through Jude's eyes will allow other young people to experience the same without leaving the comforts of their own living rooms. An obvious choice for schools and book groups, this story can also be enjoyed for pleasure with a little hand selling. Muslim girls will appreciate seeing a character like themselves reflected on the cover and other readers will catch a glimpse into a window of what life is like for that new kid who seems so different and sits alone at lunch. An author's note at the end talks about her own experiences and offers websites for learning more about refugee needs. An important, current story, beautifully written, yet highly readable and entertaining.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Lalani of the Distant Sea

Image result for lalani distant sea coverLalani of the Distant Sea
Erin Entrada Kelly
HarperCollins, 2019 384 pages
Grades 5-8

Lalani is a tween girl living on the pacific island of Sanlagita in an undisclosed ancient time. Her small village is superstitious and male dominated. Lalani wields no power, nor is noticed or respected. She loves tales and enjoys the stories shared by her best friend's mother, especially since her own mother is too busy working and trying to please her abusive husband to tell stories. When a terrible drought hits the village, threatening to ruin the crops, the people get desperate. Lalani finds herself quite by accident away from the village and up Mount Kahna, where villagers do not travel. She meets a mysterious horned man who grants her a wish. She wishes for rain in order to save the village. Upon return, Lalani sees that her wish has come true--only the rain will not stop, threatening to flood the village and wipe out the crops. The villagers blame Lalani and point fingers at her and demand punishment. To make matters worse Lalani's beloved mother is sick and close to death. She decided to go on a dangerous journey, like many dead Sanlagitian men before her, in order to save the village and her mother. What follows is Lalani's dangerous and mystical journey to the neighboring island of Isa where surprises, magic, and adventure await.

Based on Filipino Folklore, Kelly infuses this narrative with mythological creatures, who enjoy sub-stories of their own. These stories, illustrated by Lian Cho, are framed and typed in a different font in order to differentiate them from the main narrative. The book begins with a map--hinting to the reader that this is a serious story. It certainly is. Though beautifully written, the book is dense and a bit too rich for the average young reader. I found it to be too heavy for my tastes; yet do appreciate the excellent writing. Kelly maintains a storytelling voice throughout the book and even the ragged edges of the pages suggest a much older tale than one written in the 21st century. Lalani is a character to be admired and young female readers will be inspired by her courage, wit, and determination. A male friend also serves as an inspiration, as he learns what it really is to be a man and how to stand up to the bullies and do the right thing. The mythical characters are interesting and new to me, the setting is realized and lush, and the plot is a classic adventure tale featuring an unlikely protagonist. This book is sure to win awards, it may, however, be a bit too much for young readers and struggle with finding an audience. Hand to super-smart kids, who like to escape into distant worlds and aren’t afraid to work for their story.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Fenway and Hattie

Image result for fenway hattie coverFenway and Hattie
Victoria J. Coe
Putnam, 2016 162 pages
Grades 3-6
Fenway and Hattie series #1

City slicker, Boston Terrier Fenway's world is rocked when he is uprooted from his urban neighborhood and transported to a single family home in the suburbs. The good news about this new place is that there is a dog park (backyard) right outside the house and two friendly canines next door. The bad news is the floor in the new eating place is evil and slippery, the dog park is crawling with squirrels, and his girl, Hattie, is distracted and distant. Fenway tries hard to adjust to his new surroundings and have fun with Hattie, but his efforts seem to land with disastrous outcomes. Obedience School meets with mixed results as Hattie and her family become increasingly frustrated with Fenway’s behavior. The girl next door and a new hobby make Fenway feel more threatened than ever. Is there anything he can do to get his best buddy back?

Coe pens a dog's perspective of the world in this heartfelt and hilarious novel for newly independent readers ready to step up from chapter books. Fenway is a Boston Terrier with the energy and enthusiasm reflecting his recent departure from puppy days. Young readers, who all seem to have a passion for animals, will fall in love with Fenway and agonize right along with him as he keeps finding trouble along his quest to save his girl. Kids will beg for dogs of their own just like Fenway and cheer when he finally starts to make sense of his new environment. Confidence will build as the reader figures out before Fenway what certain things are, deciphering the dog's interpretation of human events and objects. The chapters are the perfect length for developing readers and the vocabulary is also right on target. The lack of interior illustrations will help to push readers to the next level, while the interesting and colorful story will keep them reading without the visual prodding. The cover is enough to encourage kids to crack into the book and once they see it, they will find Fenway hard to resist. Further sequels keep the fun rolling along and give readers somewhere to go upon completion. A great choice for both animal lovers and those simply looking for a great story with an unusual and lovable narrator.