Thursday, September 26, 2019

Capture the Flag

Capture the FlagCapture the Flag
Kate Messner
Scholastic, 2012 231 pages
Grades 3-6

Much like an episode of Colombo, our novel open with the crime. The famous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired the Star Spangled Banner is stolen in an elaborate scheme during a gala at the Smithsonian Institute. The next day as a snow storm socks a group of seemingly unrelated children together at the Washington airport, the news breaks out about the theft. Snooty Senator Snickerbottom is also at the airport and he publicly pledges to discover the culprit. The kids, tired of sitting around, decide that the flag must also be stranded at the airport and become determined to find it. To make matters worse, one of the kid's moms is accused of the crime. Now finding the culprit becomes real and desperate. The search leads them to a mysterious man with a snake tattoo, a new friend whose parents belong to a worldwide symphony orchestra, and a runaway dog. After wandering away from their distracted parents, they manage to find a clue, which leads them to another. Finally, they find themselves trapped in the baggage handling area being chased by the bad guys. Will they save the day and uncover the true thief?

A classic mystery, Capture the Flag delivers the goods to young people new to the genre and learning to decipher clues. The setting is perfect, allowing for everyone to be trapped in the same place and providing adult distraction, freeing up our young heroes to dash about. An airport is a small micro-society, providing the perfect place to host a mystery with exciting nooks and crannies. Although we see the crime being committed at the beginning of the story, the reader is not told exactly WHO did it, allowing for guessing and surprises. Red herrings are offered and just enough characters are introduced to create suspects without confusing the reader. It is hard to find a classic, yet contemporary who-done-it for kids, but this is a great choice. The flag offers a layer of history and readers will learn a bit about the background of our national anthem and the often overlooked War of 1812. For a book that was written seven years ago, there are relevant issues for today's political climate such as the villainization of folks from other cultures, corrupt power-hungry politicians, and the need to protect our national treasures. Messner also illustrates the current trend of children escaping into the world of video games at the expense of living their real lives. Two sequels follow the further adventures of these young armature detectives as they seek to protect other treasures, giving readers a place to go after completing this volume.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Akwarke Emezi
Make Me a World/Random House, 2019
208 pages
Grades 8-Up
Science Fiction

Jam is a black trans girl with selective mutism. She lives with her parents Aloe and Bitter in a town called Lucille, where formally monsters roamed the streets and were hunted by angels. Now the angels are still among the townsfolk but there is no reason to hunt. Or is there? Bitter spends days painting something mysterious in her workshop. Jam wanders in late at night and accidentally drips blood on the art work, bringing the creature in the painting to life. This creature, Pet, is like nothing Jam has ever seen and is able to communicate with her telepathically. Pet says that they are here to hunt a monster and Jam is to aid it in its quest. Jam is not sure exactly what Pet is, but she knows that she cannot tell her parent's about it. Only Jam can communicate with or see Pet. The monster in which has brought Pet to Lucille lives in the house of Jam's best friend Redemption. Could Pet be wrong? Redemption's family is loving and kind. A monster couldn't be lurking in its midst, could it?

Emezi creates a modern folktale about the monsters in our midst for Christopher Myers' new imprint Make me a World. Young readers may have a hard time relating to this newly conceived time and place of monsters and angels, but if they give it a try and stick with it, the rewards will pay off. Jam is an unusual character with whom many readers will sympathize and applaud her growth as the story continues and she finds her strength and voice. Character names are important and interesting and will give the reader more to ponder while reading this deceivingly rich tale. The narration feels like we are dropped into a timeless folktale and remains consistent throughout the telling. Emezi demonstrates that monsters lurk in the most obvious places and it is up to all of us to expose them, even if we don't have the help of a magical creature. Jam makes the tough choices, even if she is in danger of losing her best friend and getting in trouble by her beloved parents. A carefully penned little book with a lot to say, this will best be enjoyed by thoughtful readers.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Shadow Cipher

Image result for shadow cipher rubyThe Shadow Cipher
Laura Ruby
Walden Pond, 2017 476 pages
Grades 5-8
Science Fiction/Adventure/Mystery
York series #1

Set in present day alternate New York City, twins Tess and Theo receive the devastating news that their beloved apartment building has been purchased by a developer and they must move to an outer borough. Tess and Theo have lived here their whole lives and the building is not only a historic landmark, but one of their only connections to no longer present grandfather. In order to prove that the building should be protected from demolition, the twins must solve an old cipher designed by twin genius ancestors, showing the world that the puzzle is not a hoax. Their building is a clue in a puzzle that has baffled generations of seekers who even today search to solve the riddles and earn the prize money. Tess and Theo work with neighbor Jamie, dashing around the city, searching for clues and dodging the henchmen of the evil developer. The team discovers a secondary series of clues, which takes them off the well-trodden path of former searchers. They get closer to answers, as the danger also intensifies. No one is to be trusted as confidences are betrayed, clues are solved and they get closer to both the answer--and the deadline.

Laura Ruby is best known for her young adult work and has received a Printz medal and is a national book award finalist. I assumed this book is for teens and as such, it has been languishing in our teen section for two years. After hearing a recommendation from a young friend I decided to crack into it to decide for myself what age reader it is best suited. Without a doubt this is a clear middle grade, sure to appeal to fans of Mr. Lemoncello's library, Rick Riordan, and the Mysterious Benedict Society. Part mystery, part sci-fi, part adventure, this book has a little something for everyone. Readers will identify with the quirky smart twins, who though flawed, are delightfully nerdy and passionate. Neighbor Jamie thinks best visually and is always holding his sketch pad, serving to balance the triangle. Many twists and turns encompass this plot full of surprises and readers will enjoy trying to help the team solve the riddles. A great mystery, what sets The Shadow Cipher apart is the alternate New York setting, adding a rich layer of surprise. Many elements of the city remain, yet new technologies and creatures are added, keeping readers on their toes and engaged. First in a planned trilogy, the second has been released this year. Though not a fast or easy read, smart kids who enjoy scavenger hunts, ciphers, and expanding their imaginations will find much to bite into.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Awesome Dog 5000

Image result for awesome dog 5000 coverAwesome Dog 5000
Justin Dean
Random House/2019 189 pages
Grades 3-6
Science Fiction/Humor

Marty moves with his mom to a new town with hopes of becoming a cool kid in his new school. All hopes are dashed after a series of unfortunate and hilarious incidents land him at the dork table. It is here that he meets Skyler and Ralph, fellow misfits and video game enthusiasts. They are not what Marty had in mind for new friends, but the three kids have much in common. When Marty invites his new pals over after school to play their favorite video game, they discover a box left in the corner by the house's former owner. It contains a robotic dog, which once new batteries are inserted, can do all kinds of exciting things, including fly. Awesome Dog 5000 takes Marty on a crazy inaugural flight, unknowingly interrupting the birthday party of master villain Dr. Crazybrains. The evil scientist becomes so angry at his spoiled party that he vows to take revenge on Marty. This involves putting his various potions to work and disguising himself as a cafeteria lady. Will Dr. Crazybrains take down Marty and his friends? Will Awesome Dog 5000 put his powers to the test and help his new pals save the day? Will Marty ever become a cool kid? All of these questions and more will be answered by the end of this exciting book!

Screen writer, Dean, pens his first book for children, which is sure to be a hit. The target audience are clearly Dog Man fans, of which there are plenty, and this new series will keep them busy while waiting for the next installment--or for their turn with the dozen or so library copies that are currently checked out. Even though Awesome Dog 5000 is the name of the series, the hero is really Marty and his friends. Awesome Dog gives the concept a clever hook and will further reach Dog Man fans. Reluctant readers will sail through this book. It is generously illustrated with black and white cartoons on every page, which help move along and flesh out the plot. There are some truly funny bits and many puns, though a lot of the humor relies on the potty variety. Any book involving a giant food fight, an unlikable character called T.P. McFlush-face, and an evil potion meant to increase butt cheeks to twenty feet will certainly appeal to the intended crowd. Dr. Crazybrains is an interesting and fun villain and his backstory is offered in a different font and drawing style to clue readers into the change in narration. At the end of the day, Dean leaves us with a message of the importance of friendship and picking your pals wisely, as well as a lead in to the next installment due for a spring 2020 release.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Image result for wish oconnorWish
Barbara O'Connor
FSG, 2016 240 pages
Grades 3-6
Realistic Fiction

Eleven year old Charlie does not have an easy life. Her father is being "corrected" in a Correctional Facility and her mother is mentally unfit to care for her or her older sister. Sister Jackie is allowed to stay with friends in Raleigh, but Charlie is sent to stay with an aunt and uncle she doesn't know in a small southern town where she suspects the hillbilly kids eat squirrels. Every day Charlie makes a wish through a variety of different means, hoping to get the results from life that she thinks will be the best for her. To her surprise, her new life isn't terrible. Charlie makes friends with a neighboring boy named Howard and his gentle nature balances out her fiery temper. Charlie and Howard discover a stray dog in the woods and the two pals set out to tame the wild creature and, perhaps, give Charlie the pet she has always wanted. After some growing pains and adjustments, Charlie finally starts to feel at home and secure in her new family and begins to love her aunt and uncle. Just when a new normal is established, mom is ready for her to come home. Is living with her mother still Charlie's greatest wish?

Barbara O'Connor, a master at heartfelt stories for kids, offers another tale that will be sure to please kids who like to read books that are a little sad, yet work out all right in the end. This book seems like a dog story at first glance-and there is certainly a dog involved-but it is much more than that. Wish is really a family story about a troubled girl finally finding home, acceptance, and unconditional love. Readers will immediately care about Charlie and want her to find happiness. As a character, she exhibits much growth, as she learn to tame her temper and gains confidence and security. Readers will long for a friend like gentle Howard, who is truly likable and loyal. The ending is sure to incite a tear or two, as a happily-ever-after ending ensures that Charlie has found home and love at last. The sweet and inviting cover will entice readers to check out this title and the reading level and length is just right for the target audience. Kids in my library love this book, which is why I finally felt compelled to read it. I found myself rooting for Charlie and making my own wish that everything would turn out right for her. Lessons about kindness, accepting others, reigning in jealousy, what makes a true family, and being careful what you wish for are all prevalent themes within the novel. Readers will enjoy time spent in Charlie's world and maybe start doing some of their own wishing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Image result for astronuts coverAstronuts
Jon Scieszka
Steven Weinberg, Illustrator
Chronicle, 2019 217 pages
Grades 2-6
Humor/Graphic Hybrid

Planet Earth narrates this zany tale considering what will happen when our planet is too trashed to live on any longer. It is up to four mutant animals known as the Astronuts, to take to the skies and find us a new Goldilocks Planet. The team is led by the fearless and bumbling AlphaWolf, with SmartHawk, LaserShark, and StinkBug rounding out the team. The rocket is launched from the nose of Thomas Jefferson from the secret lair on Mount Rushmore and its full steam ahead to the Plant Planet. At first glance the Plant Planet seems uninhabited and may make a good fit for settling. Eventually, the brave and knowledgeable team is approached by Major Giant Venus Flytrap and invited to participate in many exciting activities (chores). Are the intentions of the Major as above-board as he assures the adventurers? Surprises for the Astronuts await as they tackle the challenges offered by this plant-filled planet, eventually ending in a mega-battle of epic proportions. The Plant Planet turns out to be a bust, but don't fret: the ending promises further adventures await our intrepid explorers.

Attention fans of Dog Man: this new zany tale penned by the great children's literature humorist, Scieszka, will fill-the-bill for what to read next. Full color interior with comic illustrations on every page, reluctant readers will eat this book right up and clamor for more. Almost more illustration than text, this volume is read quickly and without complaints. The book is carefully designed to generate interest and, although busy for me, will certainly appeal to the target audience. Cliffhangers ensure that pages will keep turning and plot twists keep the reader guessing. The action never stops and potty humor reigns supreme as the jokes and action rolls along, finally climaxing in an epic battle. Yes, it’s absurd and silly, but there is a bit of substance hidden within the hilarity. Actual science is revealed in a sneaky manner within the text. An environmental agenda is prevalent and readers will fear what is to happen if we don't start taking care of Planet Earth. It will be a sorry day when our future depends on the Astronuts, so we better start recycling! Not this year's Newbery, but a very easy sell that won't stay on my shelves for long.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

White Bird

Image result for white bird palacio coverWhite Bird
R.J. Palacio
Knopf, Oct. 2019 224 pages
Grades 3-8
Graphic Novel/Historical Fiction

A story within a story. Present day Julian, as seen as the bully in the Wonder stories, interviews his grandmother, a former hidden child during WWII, about her experiences during the war. Sarah lived in the free area of France during the occupation of the Nazis during WWII and is secure in the knowledge that she and her parents are safe. This proves not to be the case as the long arm of the Nazi regime extends to Sarah's small town and gathers up all of the Jewish residents. Sarah hides in the attic of her school and it is here that Julian, a boy stricken with Polio and often bullied for his crooked walk, finds and transports her to his family's barn. Julian and his parents hide Sarah for the duration of the war and eventually come to consider her family. She and Julian become close friends and as they grown up, evolve into something more. The worst happens when the school bully and Julian's tormentor, who now works for the Nazis, discovers the barn and decided to inflict even more torture on Julian. What can Sarah do? Will her hiding place be discovered? And what will become of Julian at the hands of the enemy? The novel ends back in modern times as present day Julian is affected by the sacrifices and courage shown by his namesake and vows to live a life protecting the persecuted.

This new title, both written and drawn by widely popular author R.J. Palacio, is subtitled "a Wonder Story". It is part of the world of Wonder in that Julian, a minor character in the original, is featured and the main themes of bullying and choosing kindness, are also prevalent. The story, based on the real-life experiences of Palacio's mother-in-law, is gripping, powerful, and historically researched. The Holocaust is a terribly disturbing chapter of modern history, yet Palacio manages to deliver its sorrowful tale both honestly and age appropriately. By threading the past and the present together, readers will recognize the need to fight for justice and give voice to the voiceless within today's political climate, making the lessons from the Holocaust still relevant today. Julian, who formally was a nasty character, finds redemption through his grandmother’s story, demonstrating that bullies can change their ways. I was unaware that Palacio has a background in graphic art. I was both surprised and delighted to see the illustrations that she personally contributes. The full color drawings are less cartoonish than the usual fare for this age group, adding a touch of sophistication to a serious tale. The book is beautifully designed and the pages are luxe, begging to be read. Palacio offers much back matter, including historical background. The fans of Wonder are the obvious audience for this new graphic novel, yet it is a stand-alone volume that needs no knowledge of the original book to make a full and moving impact, reminding us to never forget the atrocities of the past in order to best walk towards the future.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Pumpkin Heads

Image result for pumpkin heads rowell coverPumpkin Heads
Rainbow Rowell
Faith Erin Hicks, Illustrator
First Second, 2019
Grades 7-12
Graphic Novel

Josiah and Deja have been working together in the Succotash Hut at the Pumpkin Patch/Autumn Festival for three years. The two friends have become more than co-workers. They share a close relationship that seems to live in the bubble of the festival. Now it is their senior year and the last night of the festival. Josie has been crushing on the girl from the Fudge Shoppe since forever, yet has never mustered the courage to talk to her. It is now “do or die” and Deja encourages him to approach his crush’s stand to ask her out. Josie decides to go for it, only the girl has been moved to a different location of the festival. Josiah and Deja travel all over the fair in search of the fudge girl in this last attempt to capture its magic-and sample all of its snacks. After many near-misses and tasty treats, the friends decide to ditch work completely and enjoy their last night together. Circumstances finally place Josie with the object of his affection, yet the reality of finally meeting her is not what he expected. Will true love prevail with Josie and his longtime crush or will love develop in unexpected places?

Wildly popular teen author Rowell (Eleanor & Park) pens her first graphic novel. This is a sweet story, without the author's usual edgy angst, with endearing characters. The readers will see Josiah's true love long before he realizes it and will breathe a contented sigh once he finally figures it out. This innocent romance is a true Rom-Com with running jokes, quirky secondary characters, and puns a-plenty. I love that Deja is a naturally built woman, who isn't afraid to go in for snacks, serving as an inspiration for teen female readers. She is also confident and comfortable in her own skin. Josiah has little dating experience, yet Deja has plenty, both boys and girls. Still, she seems almost shy putting her true feelings on the line to her friend. The real star of this book is the illustrations. Hicks does a great job conveying emotions and nuances in her characters. The use of color is particularly well executed. The color pallet reflects the autumn season and the background of the panels changes as day turns to sunset and then to night. End papers include a map of the festival, which I always appreciate. There is nothing better than pouring over a good map. Sure to be a hit, give this one to graduates of Raina Telgemeier and fans of Rainbow Rowell.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Liars of Mariposa Island

Image result for liars mariposa island coverThe Liars of Mariposa Island
Jennifer Mathieu
Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2019 352 pages
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction

Three narrators relate the story of a family consisting of a recently graduated brother, sixteen year old daughter, and the single mother who continues to dysfunctionally parent them. Mami is not a typical mother. She grew up rich on the beautiful island nation of Cuba and had to flee her home and leave everything behind after the revolution. Never quite adjusting to her loss of status and life in the US, Mami is now a bitter alcoholic who is controlling and abusive to her children. Elena and Joaquin handle Mami in different ways. Joaquin takes the straight approach, staying out as he pleases and doing what he wants. Joaquin would love to leave the Texas seaside town and move to California, only a new girlfriend and worry for his sister keeps him from bolting. Meanwhile, Elena has learned how to best appease Mami. She tells her what she wants to hear and leaves the house only to babysit a family of summer people. Through her best friend Elena meets an older boy with wild habits who makes Elena finally feel like she matters. This pivotal summer of 1986 rolls along alternating between the narrations of Elena and Joaquin. Other chapters with a different font delve into the past and slowly reveal Mami's journey from her homeland to this new life in the United States. She withholds secrets about her past to her children, just as they withhold secrets from her--and each other.

Set in 1986, this book is gently Historical Fiction. The 80’s setting is not too intregal to the overall story, but Mami’s flashbacks to the Cuban Revolution give it an extra layer of a time gone by. Mathieu (Moxie) pens a well-crafted tale of secrets, lies, and the complexities of families. All of the characters are making bad decisions and would benefit from working together instead of hiding things from each other, but that wouldn't make much of a book. Instead readers will sift through the lies to discover what is actually truth as we slowly begin to understand what has made Mami such a despicable creature and why Elena resorts to making up wild stories and picking inappropriate boyfriends. Because of the use of teen drinking, drugs and both teen characters having sex with their significant others (with no mention of birth control), this book is best suited for mature teens. The end feels a bit abrupt, yet provides hope for the one character who seems the least damaged, yet who must make a huge sacrifice to achieve freedom. Reluctant readers will enjoy this book. I had a hard time putting it down and couldn't wait to get back to it between readings to see what will be revealed next. Mathieu thoughtfully labels each chapter with the narrator's name, making it very clear whose story we are hearing. Readers will learn a bit about the Cuban revolution as they keep turning pages to see what will become of this wildly dysfunctional family.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Fountains of Silence

Image result for fountains silence coverThe Fountains of Silence
Ruta Sepetys
Philomel/Penguin, October, 2019 494 pages
Grades 9-Up
Historical Fiction

Multiple points of view relate events in the Spain of the late 1950's under the iron fist of Dictator Franco. Aspiring photographer, Daniel Matheson, is the son of a Texas oilman and Spanish mother. The small family travels to Madrid in order for Dad to negotiate a deal with Franco. They stay at the newly minted Hilton Hotel, where Daniel meets Ana, a beautiful maid harboring secrets. Ana's parents were teachers before the war and were killed as communists, leaving Ana and her sister with an aunt and her brother Rafa to be raised in a cruel orphanage. Now Rafa works two jobs and is promoting his orphanage friend, who has dreams of becoming a famous bullfighter in order to save the voiceless children of Spain from suffering the same terrible fate he endured. Currently working in an orphanage is Rafa and Ana's cousin Puri. She is a dedicated follower of Franco, yet still has many unanswered questions. Why are babies mysteriously appearing at the orphanage and being adopted for large sums of money? Rafa also has suspicions about what is happening to babies all over Franco's Spain and asks Daniel to photograph what he sees. Daniel takes pictures of Spanish culture under the dictatorship as he falls in love with Ana. Will the two lovers be able to overcome their differences I order to make a relationship work? What is happening to the babies at the orphanage? More importantly, how does this directly affect both Ana and Daniel's families?

Acclaimed teen author, Sepetys, offers another meticulously researched historical novel that is sure to win many starred reviews and accolades. This layered and atmospheric story effectively reflects the Spain of this time in history, a topic that is untouched in literature for young people. I knew very little about Spain in the 1950's, which is a shame considering my mother's best friend-and my second mother-came of age in this place and time. She would tell us stories and was not a big fan of Franco, yet I never really appreciated what she must have gone through until I read this book and now I see her with fresh eyes. Ana, Rafa, and Puri all offer different points of view of young people growing up from beneath the cloud of Fascism, while Daniel interprets the events through American eyes. We see the corruption, disparages, and fear experienced by Spain's citizens and survivors of the horrific Civil War. The writing is brilliant and the book is certainly a cut-above the usual teen fare with an enticing eye-catching cover and all of the plot threads coming together in an unexpected way at the end. That said, I don't think many teenagers will get through this book and will find it confusing and a bit of a slog. I think the audience is the new emerging category of "New Adult", which is a fiction hybrid existing somewhere between of teen and adult. The characters are eighteen for much of the novel, yet the ending section has them aged in their thirties, making it in my mind more of an adult book featuring younger characters. Mature teens, especially those who pick up their parent's books, will find the read worth the time and I would highly recommend it to historical fiction loving adults. An author's note, extensive source notes, relevant photos from the time period, and a glossary of Spanish terms used (though not necessary for comprehension) round out this high quality volume.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Ready Player One

Image result for ready player one book coverReady Player One
Ernest Cline
Crown, 2011 384 Pages
Grades 7-Up
Science Fiction

2044 America is a dismal place. The world is over populated, unemployed, and hungry. Wade Watts is a seventeen year old boy who lives in the equivalent of the Projects of the future: in a vertically stacked row of trailers with an alcoholic aunt and various renters. Wade finds his only solace, as with the majority of the world's citizens, in the OASIS, a virtual world created by late coding genius James Halliday. Before he died Halliday created the ultimate game challenge. A series of clues and challenges will lead the seeker to an Easter Egg hidden within his world. The finder of the egg will inherit his whole kingdom. Wade is determined to find the egg, although it’s been years and no one has even crossed the first gate. An evil corporation is also gunning to discover the egg. If they gain control of the fortune they will turn the OASIS into a for-profit commercial enterprise, compromising its integrity and no longer allowing free access to all. Along with Wade, his best friend is also independently searching for the egg, as is his crush, both of whom he has never met in person. As a game playing child of the 80's, Halliday's writings, clues and challenges all have 1980's references. Luckily, Wade has studied up on popular culture of the time period. He miraculously finds the first key, crosses the first gate, and is on his way through the scavenger hunt to the Easter Egg. The evil corporation is close on his heels and they don't play fair. Will Wade and his buddies manage to save the OASIS?

I generally do not read books after watching the movie first. I saw this movie about a year ago and didn't love it. I had no intention of reading this book, not being a video game lover, but so many teens in my library rave about it and so I decided to give it a try. I planned on reading just a little bit to get the flavor of the book and then stopping. Unfortunately, I got hooked and found myself reading all 384 pages. Luckily, this book reads quickly, goes down like candy, and the action never stops. Perfect for gaming lovers, this is a slam-dunk to give to kids who would rather play video games than read. Today's readers would probably prefer a hunt not dependent on 1980's culture, but I'm sure that's the world familiar to the author. It’s also my world, so I enjoyed the references, but it would be nice for today's kids to relate to the clues a bit more. The plot moves along at a breakneck speed with little character development, much like reading an actual video game. There are deaths, yet nothing worse than a superhero movie. Ready Player One is aimed at teenagers, but would also be appropriate for older elementary. Wade does have romantic moments with his crush, but they remain innocent and are not the focus of the book. Although certainly written with entertainment in mind, Cline also includes some serious warnings about our future and demonstrates what will happen if we, as a society, aren't careful, as well as messages about corporate America, the mental take-over of video games and the popular media, and protection of freedoms. A perfect choice for reluctant readers, give this to kids who think they don't like to read.