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.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Image result for sunny st james coverThe Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James
Ashley Herring Blake
Little, Brown, 2019 384 pages
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Sunny has not had an easy life. Abandoned by her alcoholic mother and left with Kate, Mom's best friend, Sunny suffers from a serious heart condition. When a new heart becomes available, Kate whisks her into surgery for a transplant. Upon waking up, she sees her birth mother, who Sunny suspects is really a mermaid. The surgery is successful and with her new heart, Sunny reinvents herself and decides to become a "new Sunny". The first step in this process is a first kiss. As the summer progresses Sunny makes a new friend, as she comes to terms with the betrayal of her old best friend, and she and Quinn decide to go on this kissing mission together and search for boys as possible candidates. As the search continues, with some hilariously disastrous results, Sunny realizes that she would rather kiss her partner in crime, Quinn, than a boy. Meanwhile, Mom wants to reconnect and begins to teach Sunny to surf as a way to bond. Sunny realizes that she loves surfing, but is she ready to trust Mom and let her back into her life?

It is impossible to read this character driven story without falling in love with Sunny and caring about her outcome. Readers will instantly empathize with her and experience the betrayal of a best friend, the confusion of first love, and the frustration of a body that does not always cooperate. All of the secondary characters are as carefully drawn as Sunny and though loving, are realistically flawed. Coming of age is hard enough, but poor Sunny has a lot to deal with during this pivotal summer. She conquers it all and figures things out in a satisfying manner. Readers will see the crush on Quinn develop before Sunny realizes it. It was with great relief that her adults are all supportive and helpful as she wrestles with her romantic preferences and navigates the choppy waters of first love. Blake offers a few surprises that readers may not see coming, making for an entertaining read, that though quiet, is never boring. Sunny is a poet/song writer and her poems are sprinkled through the book, possibly encouraging other young writers. A well-crafted piece of fiction sure to impress both readers and reviewers and satisfy fans of the author's earlier works.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Aurora Rising

Image result for aurora rising coverAurora Rising
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Knopf, 2019 480 pages
Grades 7-Up
Science Fiction
The Aurora Cycle #1

Multiple points of view take turns telling this exciting tale in a new science fiction series. The story starts off with a bang, as super-star cadet, Tyler, saves Aurora, a human girl who has been trapped suspended in spaceflight for two-hundred years. Because of the rescue mission, he misses the draft and is placed on a team of last-picked misfits upon graduation from the military academy. The team, though all exhibiting weaknesses, making them undesirable, are gifted at varying and complimentary skills, forming them a “Dream Team”. They leave to complete their first mission, which should be boring and routine, and everything gets crazy. On top of enemy attack they find a stowaway on board--Aurora. Aurora seems to be the target of the attack and in defense she transforms into a different creature with almost supernatural abilities. What follows is a mad chase throughout space as the team attempts to track down Aurora's true identity, as different objects and planets call to her. As the young people search for answers, the bad guys are on their heels and danger lurks behind every corner. By book’s end the secrets behind Aurora's powers are revealed and a team member is badly altered, leading readers to the next installment in the series due out in May, 2020.

Science fiction is currently hot and teen readers will flock to this new series by proven authors. The cover is eye-catching and the action starts right away, sucking readers right in. The multiple points of view cover all of the young members of the team, affording different perspectives and making the book equally accessible to readers of all genders. There is an innocent romance that develops between two of the team members with hints of another one to follow in future installments. As with other well written series, certain crucial plot threads are sewn up to leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, yet new ones are introduced, leading them straight to the next installment. Teens will care about the characters, who are a little more developed than most seen in an adventure story. Truly, the plot never slows down and the authors offer us surprises and twists along the way. The book itself is long and thick, but it reads quickly and will be enjoyed by teen readers of all abilities and interests.

Friday, October 11, 2019


Image result for eventown coverEventown
Corey Ann Haydu
HarperCollins, 2019 326 pages
Grades 5-8

Something sad has happened to Elodee's family. She reacts to the tragedy with anger and picking fights, while her twin sister Naomi retreats inside herself and remains quiet and withdrawn. Mom and Dad haven't been the same either and life at home is droopy and grey. One day Mom and Dad announce that the family is leaving everything behind and moving to Eventown, a place where they visited a few years ago and enjoyed very much. Eventown is much as they remember it. The houses are uniform with perfectly manicured gardens, the ice cream shop changes the featured favor every day to something always delicious, food doesn't burn, the weather is always pleasant, and no one gets sick. The perfection of life in this perfect and comfortable town comes at a price. Individuals must attend a session at The Welcoming Center, where they surrender their stories-both happy and sad. It is a wonderful gift to forget the memories holding severe grief, but the joyful bits are lost as well. Naomi adjusts easily to life in Eventown and seems to be happier than she ever has been. Elodee is not so sure. She is secretly holding onto a few stories and is not prepared to give them up. When unconventional events begin to sprout up in their new and predictable town, fingers are pointed at Elodee's Family. Are the abnormal occurrences a result of Elodee holding onto her memories?

Haydu pens an unusual book that will get readers thinking. Reminiscent of the plot-lines of Margaret Petersen Haddix, this story is a cautionary tale, warning the reader about the price one must pay for a "perfect" life. Kids will wonder if they would also trade all of their heartache for peace-yet while also losing their joyful memories. Residents of Eventown have left their entire pasts behind and though some townsfolk are happy with this arrangement, others are curious about what they are missing. Beyond a great plot-line, this book is lyrically written with a lovely, flowing narrative and plenty of metaphors and symbolism to get brains cranking. My favorite line is "The opposite of worry is hope." This line has kept running through my brain and provided me some much needed inspiration. Readers will experience the realities behind twin-life and understand that though they look alike, twins are two separate individuals. Haydu does not reveal the truth behind the tragedy that leads the family to Eventown until the end, though hints are dropped. The sad tale, once revealed, brought me to tears and I honestly didn't want this book to end. Readers will care about the characters and empathize with their situation. Great for school use, as well as pleasure, this is one of the best books I have read so far this year.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Image result for stepsister donnelly coverStepsister
Jennifer Donnelly
Scholastic, 2019 352 pages
Grades 7-Up

Our story opens with Fate (an old crone) making a wager with Chance (a dashing young man) over the life of Isabella, a young girl of evil stepsister fame. We now flash over to the girl in question as the Prince is traveling door-to-door to find the maiden who fits the slipper. Isabelle's mother forces her to cut off her toes to make the slipper fit She nearly gets away with the ruse, only to have her slipper fill with blood and a raven dime her out. Now both Isabella and her sister are outcasts and life seems hopeless. An encounter with a magical forest witch (fairy godmother) offers Isabella hope: she must find the missing three pieces of her heart and then she may have her heart's desire. Despite the meddling of both Fate and Chance, Isabella moves forward, fighting every step of the way, and refusing to give into the terrible hand she has been dealt. As she slowly gathers the missing pieces of her heart, Isabella grows in strength and confidence. Is her heart's desire what she originally thought it was? Meanwhile, a terrible war is being fought in France and Queen Cinderella is in danger. It is up to Isabella to big deep and find the strength to lead and fight.

I love a re-worked fairytale and in Donnelly's capable hands the Cinderella story will never be seen the same way again. Beginning where the tale traditionally ends, this "happily ever after" includes a terrible war in France, putting both Cinderella and her husband king in terrible danger, all while the stepmother and step sisters lose everything and are shunned by the community. Isabella learns to embrace her wonderful non-conventional traits, find her inner-strength, overcome her jealousy, and trust her instincts. Huge character growth is seen in all of the players and we learn that even Cinderella is not a perfect person. The plot is quick with surprises and twists along the way. Isabella enjoys a gentle romance that, although remaining innocent, will satisfy young romantic readers. The cover is compelling and will attract the target audience and the opening scene with the bloody feet and shoes will provide the hook to keep them turning pages. Not your typical Cinderella story, but one that will spark the imaginations of young readers and encourage them to consider the next chapter in other traditional fairytales.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Two New Graphic Series from Scholastic

Last week I attended Professional Day at New York Comic Con (thank you New York Public Library for a generous and brilliant job hosting) and picked up two exciting arcs from Scholastic. Both new launches are from previously released series with legs and have enormous potential for high circulation. I am very excited to make both titles available to my young readers.

Image result for karens witch coverKaren's Witch
Ann M. Martin
Katy Farina, Illustrator
Scholastic, December, 2019 140 pages
Grades 2-5
Graphic Novel
Babysitters Little Sister series #1

Karen spends the weekend at her Dad's house with her other family, including Kristi of Babysitter's fame. Among one of the rules at Dad's house is "no spying". We find out why as Karen's imagination gets the best of her, as she becomes convinced that her elderly next door neighbor is a witch. Karen gets all fired-up, even to the point of scaring herself, and becomes determined to expose the neighbor and become the town hero. Friend, Hannie, gets pulled into the scheme reluctantly and the two plan an elaborate plot to save the day--only it all predictably backfires.

Much as it was when the original series was launched in the 1990's, this is a perfect fit for those kids who are bursting to read The Babysitter's Club, but aren't quite ready. The full-color illustrations are rounder and better suited for a younger audience than the original graphic series and the panels are simple with a linear story-line that sticks very close to Martin's. The pictures help to move the plot along and the witch is not quite scary, but just creepy enough for the audience to get where Karen's brain is going. This book is sure to fly off the shelf and wake up the imaginations of this new video-game-obsessed generation and hopefully encourage them to go out to their own backyards to find adventure.

Image result for survived sinking titanic graphic coverI Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
Lauren Tarshis/Adapted by Georgia Ball
Haus Studio, Illustrations
Scholastic, 2020 157 pages
Grades 3-6
Graphic Novel
I Survived series #1

George and his little sister, Phoebe, are traveling first class on the maiden voyage of the much lauded Titanic with their Aunt Daisy. Excited to explore the ship, George has many adventures, usually landing him in trouble. His curiosity comes in handy when the great ship begins to sink and Phoebe is nowhere to be found. The small family finds themselves below decks and it’s up to George to lead them through unknown passageways up to the main deck. Aunt Daisy and Phoebe find a place in a boat, but there is no room for George. What will he do? There is only one answer: to jump, but will he drown in the frigid arctic waters?

Tarshis' popular series gets the graphic treatment in this new launch that is sure to appeal to fans and attract new readers. This exciting series has always been aimed at reluctant readers and now in this new format, it’s a slam dunk. As with the chapter books, the action never stops and readers will be at the edge of their seats flipping pages to see what happens next. The full color illustrations are a bit more sophisticated than what is generally seen for this age group, reflecting more of a superhero vibe. The text is in full caps, also giving the superhero comic feel. It is clear who the target audience is--and they will eat this series up. The end of the volume contains historic information told in a highly digestible way, leaving readers with some knowledge about the truth behind the event. A bibliography is included in the back, nudging readers to read more on the topic.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

We're Not From Here

Image result for were not from here coverWe're Not From Here
Geoff Rodkey
Crown, 2019 256 pages
Grades 3-7
Science Fiction

Lan's family has been stuck on Mars since the destruction of life on Earth. The problem is, resources are running out and the survival of the human species is at risk. Luckily, a distant planet with an atmosphere similar to Earth has agreed to take the humans in, especially since they are also made up of groups of former refugees. More problems develop as the Earthlings arrive on the planet Choom after a biosuspension journey of twenty years, during which time a new government has taken over and the new folks in power do not want the humans to land because of their violent history and presumed nature. There is nowhere to go, so an agreement must be struck. Since Lin's mother is a diplomat, her family is sent to the planet to try to assimilate and convince the inhabitants that they are peaceful in order for the whole spaceship of Earthlings to be granted access. Massive ignorance and discrimination makes school unbearable for Lin and her sister Ila, but they make some unlikely friendships and discoveries. Emotions are discouraged upon on this new planet, as is disagreement with the each other and the species currently in power. How can Lin and Ila prove that they are friendly? They have two secret weapons: Ila can sing and Lan is funny. Can they use these skills to break through to their seemingly humorless and emotion hating hosts?

Rodkey of the Taper Twins fame pens a new novel reflective of current American society and our hostility towards accepting refugees. At first glance a zany sci-fi pleaser, Rodkey slips in his thinly veiled agenda in hopes of raising awareness and tolerance in youth.  Science fiction is currently on an upswing and readers will enjoy this fast paced yarn. It is infused with humor with some truly funny bits and the dialog and pratfalls keep the story light. Lin is a likable protagonist and readers will put themselves in her situation and relate to her struggles. She faces her situation with grit, determination, and ingenuity. Ila is having a harder struggle with the transition. She had a brief moment of fame from singing in an American Idol-type broadcast and refuses to sing since leaving Earth. She must rise to the occasion, despite her fears, and help to save the day by using her gift. Kids are reading this book. In my library system only sixteen out of forty copies are currently available, demonstrating that this book appeals to children. The fast moving plot, quirky characters, interesting premise, and absurd moments will keep them chuckling and turning pages. Adults will easily see through to the agenda, but the true intent of the book will fly over the intended audience's head as they enjoy the tale, hopefully becoming more tolerant citizens of the world in the process.